Climate Change Mobilization: To Fear, or Not to Fear?

By Grist staff. Originally published at Grist.

In just the past year, the public conversation on climate change has turned dire. Wildfires scorched parts of the American West, wiping an entire town off the map. Blazes also torched parts of Greece, which — along with many regions above the equator — was suffering through one of its hottest summers on record. In the fall, Typhoon Yutu tore through parts of the Philippines and China and leveled several western Pacific islands.

Amid all the carnage, the leading global authority on warming, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, detailed the horrors in store if average temperatures pass 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. (We’re already over 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and worldwide carbon emissions hit a new high in 2018.)

Scientists are now sounding the alarm. Young activists are skipping school and taking to the streets. And in the U.S., a bold proposal to remake the American economy is sending shockwaves through climate legislation discussions that had been stalled for a decade.

Into that now-bubbling climate cauldron comes the book The Uninhabitable Earth, a distressing review of climate science designed to jolt us out of complacency. David Wallace-Wells, who characterizes himself as a concerned liberal who “wasn’t really focused on this issue until a few years ago,” channels the panic he felt at reading reams of scientific reports into a vision of a dystopian future that we’re not doing enough to avoid.

The question is whether fear is the right emotion to play on to get people to sit up, listen, and take action. According to Grist’s own Eric Holthaus, who’s been writing about climate change for more than a decade, it’s not. To him, it’s best to accept the scientific consensus and inspire our fellow humans to roll up their sleeves and ensure we do whatever it takes to decarbonize the global economy rapidly.

So Grist asked the two climate writers to discuss telling stories about the end of the world, facing their climate fears, and finding a sliver of hope in the face of studies detailing the melting of Antarctic ice. (The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Eric: You’ve written a book about a lot of things, but I think that this question of, to be afraid or not to be afraid is what most people are taking from it. So in that context, I’m wondering what’s your personal motivation? How do you keep going? Do you feel that fear constantly?

David: Even as I’m working on this material, even as I’m sitting with it, writing about it, I’m still slipping back into a status quo expectation for the world and a perspective on the future wherein which I expect it to look like the world that I live in now or the world that I grew up in.

I find myself pinching myself and reminding myself: No, no, no, the science is real. The predictions and projections are the best understanding we have for what’s going to happen. They are a better guide to the future than the world that we see outside our window and experience walking down the street.

And I do think whatever you call looking at that science and taking it seriously — whether you call it fear-mongering or alarmism or responsibility, whatever term you use — I think it’s really important for all of us to look squarely at it. Because we’re so trained by the world we live in to look away.

Eric: I can see how the first reaction to this information at a deep level would be just shock and alarm. And that’s what it seems like you have experienced personally. That’s what it seems like your book is speaking to.

David: I have the same basic feeling that you do about storytelling. I think that everyone’s experiences and everyone’s perspective is valuable. But also I can only write this myself. My experience has been not just dominated by alarm, but also I found myself motivated by that and mobilized by it. I still would be reluctant to call myself an advocate as opposed to a journalist.

I do think my main obligation really is to truth telling. So if there’s science that I find notable and alarming, I think I want to share that rather than considering its rhetorical messaging from an advocacy point of view. But as you know, it’s basically impossible to sit with this material and not feel …

Eric: Something.

David: … at least in part motivated by advocacy because the issue was so pressing, and the stakes are so high. I know that from my own experience that this kind of messaging can be awakening. And it seemed to me that there was actually very little of it being done up until a few years ago. And I felt, well, if I respond to the story this way and the story isn’t being told this way very much, maybe other people will respond to it as well.

I don’t think it’s the only way to talk about climate change. I think there are people who are going to respond to appeals to eco-socialism, and there are people who are going to respond to the most Davos-friendly techno-optimism. And there are people who are going to respond to really intimate stories about individual families and the problems they’re facing. And there are people who are going to respond to a more Gaia-like perspective on the whole situation. All those approaches are valuable. My impulse as someone who’s trying to reckon with this is just to tell a story as I see it.

Eric: In essence, you’re presenting the material in a way that is like a science writer’s version of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report. If there was someone that had good writing skills, that took all that raw information and translated it into a way that would make the biggest possible impact, that’s what you’ve done.

David: I think that also what I’m trying to do is move a little bit beyond the science to think about what these impacts will be on our politics and our culture and all that stuff.

I hope that I’m not crowding out other people, but I’m adding my own voice to the chorus. I think, when I look around, it seems very much to be the case that more people are speaking out, and speaking out more aggressively and boldly. In all these interviews I’m doing, people keep asking why is there no movement on this? I say when you look at the polls, there’s actually quite a dramatic movement on it.

Eric: Did some of that movement happen even after your book deadline? Because I notice that you didn’t have any mention of the Green New Deal. or, say the Sunrise Movement.

David: Yeah. Certainly since I wrote it. It really feels like a few years ago, the average American liberal, at least, would have felt really, really frustrated with inaction and inertia on climate change. Of course, that is still the logical response because we haven’t, practically speaking, done much. But it still does feel like there’s so much movement afoot, and so much reason for hope.

What do you think is important about pushing some of these values more aggressively?

Eric: I’m trying to make sure that people see the implications of the facts as quickly as possible. I think that doing the data dump of how horrible the world is feels a little bit counterproductive to me without this clear sort of call to action at the end.

I also interpret the need for action as just the facts, too. The IPCC says we need to radically remake the world economy in less than 12 years, so that’s a fact. That should shape everything that we do and think about.

And that becomes a policy question, and that’s absolutely not for me to decide, clearly, as a journalist. But getting that conversation going is where we need to be, which I think has happened in the last several months at least.

I’m also trying to learn from people of color that have gone through different existential threats in the last several hundred years. I was really moved by this column from Mary Heglar, who wrote about the existential threat of climate change and how it relates to specifically living in the Jim Crow-era South. She’s a black woman that grew up in the South. She said that climate change is not something that we’re fighting because we think we can win — or even because we’re afraid of it. She said we fight it because we have to.

David: That’s beautiful.

Eric: That to me is a perfect embodiment of this sense of courage. I feel like once you face these fears you’ve helped bring to light in the last couple years, you have to decide what to do about that. Like you said, you personally sometimes sink back into denial. I do, too. For a lot of people, they just don’t have that luxury.

David: There’s sort of this weird impulse to think we need to beat it. Or if we can’t beat it, fuck it. It’s a really privileged position to think that you could possibly escape this at all.

It’s not about making sure we don’t pass 2 degrees [Celsius], and if we can’t, then it’s over. No, every tiny tick upward makes a difference. The different suffering at 2.4 degrees versus 2.1 degrees, it’s sort of like the Richter scale in that way. Those numbers are misleadingly close together, but in fact, they spell really dramatically different outcomes.

It’s also just the case that the economic conventional wisdom is now that fast action would save us a ton of money, would make us a ton of money very quickly. It feels a little ugly to be leaning on that as an argument, but I also think it is the argument that is likely to persuade many of the world’s leaders that fast action is necessary. I think once that news reaches them we will start to see the kind of change among our policy leaders globally that we’ve seen at the grassroots level over the last few years. Hopefully those two things together will spell real aggressive action.

For me personally, it’s hard to imagine that we halve global emissions by 2030. I think it’s unlikely, but the faster we get started, and the more countries of the world, the more leaders of the world, the more people of the world we have fighting for that, the better off we’ll be.

Eric: From my perspective, it just has to happen. We have to cut global emissions in half by 2030. There’s just not a choice, so let’s just figure out how to make it happen. I’m not letting myself …

David: … off the hook.

Eric: Maybe that’s a form of denial as well. But I also know that my obligation not only to my kids, but to the science, is strong enough where that it’s just not a negotiable thing to me.

David: I think we’re sort of talking around this big theme, which is that each of us as individuals is motivated by a variety of different impulses on this issue. I think we are moved, both of us, by a variety of different kinds of stories. There might be one day when I am really freaking out about an ice sheet paper. There might be another day where I’m crying over the story of a flooded prison, like a colonia in South Texas, or something. There might be another day where I’m really thinking about my daughter. And there might be another day when I’m thinking about the project of human civilization and whether it will endure. At different times I’m motivated by different things; at different times you’re motivated by different things. That means there are just so many different stories to tell about this subject.

It has to come from different kinds of people living in different kinds of places with different kinds of perspectives and different storytelling tools, from wonky science writing, to memoir, to sci-fi, and poetry. It’s kind of like all hands on deck, all stories on deck.

When you read a newspaper about say, the rate of melt at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet or something, what is your emotional response to that? I’m sure it’s different on different days.

Eric: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say, it’s different on different days.

David: How do you manage your own emotional responses to this material which can be so overwhelming?

Eric: Honestly, there are days, probably I would say like one day a week, where I read something like that and it’s like, “Oh, it’s not gonna happen today.” It’s like I just need to process this. And so, I’ll do email or I’ll work on a different project or something like that. It’s really hard to always be on and always be in the right mindset to write something about this sort of grand problem. And so I try to give myself space to respond how I need to respond on any given day.

David: How did this become the predominant occupation of your professional and emotional life?

Eric: I grew up in Kansas and so there’s not much else to do but watch the weather. So, I went to undergrad for meteorology and then was on the path to being a research PhD. I spent a year volunteering with farm workers in Oregon right after undergrad, before grad school. I thought that there had to be a way to do this work in a way that was focusing on justice aspects of weather because I saw firsthand how so much of the world is so different than my personal experience.

So, then I went to a masters program at Columbia on climate and society, which was exactly designed for me I think, because it was sort of equal parts making the world a better place and climate science. And then after working on that, I was working in East Africa for six years on a climate change adaptation project and realized that it’s not really my role to make the world a better place — like, again, with that colonialist mindset. So then I switched to journalism after that. I’m better suited to telling the stories. I felt awkward towards the end of the adaptation project, like this is not right. It just doesn’t feel right to me.

David: Right.

Eric: And then I had kids. It changed my urgency. That period after Hurricane Sandy and before my oldest son was born was probably one of the darkest times of my life in terms of feeling that despair of thinking about like, “We don’t have a future really. Full stop.” I think it was the process of caring for a baby that made me think there’s a lot that we can still do and that I should redouble my effort to focus on courage and hope rather than indulging that fear and dystopia that I had been for a few years.

David: I write a little bit in the book about this. It’s like you do feel when you have a kid a certain emotional sense that the whole story is starting over — or I have that sense anyway. And when you think globally, it’s really ultimately empowering to think that really every day we’re deciding what to do.

One of the lessons of climate change that we haven’t yet really learned is that, actually, we’re entirely driving the story. In a certain way I think that’s why extreme weather is kind of a good teacher, as grotesque as it is to say. While it inflicts so much suffering, it also shows us what we’re doing in real time. Whereas with pollution in the ’70s you could see the smog, it’s hard to see the carbon but it’s impossible to look away from those wildfires. The more people see that kind of terror, I hope that the more that they’ll be moved to action. Although, as you know better than I do, it’s not just terror that moves people, there are a lot of other motivations too.

For me, the question is, if we have 70 percent of the country that’s concerned about climate change, how do we make them concerned enough that they’d really make it their top political priority — and think about it not just in terms of their own narrow self-interest or their own national self-interest but globally? We’ll see how it all unfolds.

Eric: I always talk about importance of individual action and systemic, radical systemic change at the same time. Those two cannot be separated from each other. If you see somebody adopting a vegan diet or giving up flying or something like that, those are radical changes in your own personal life that mirror the radical change that should happen on a bigger level. That’s how social movements spread is by word of mouth or by example. So we’re seeing that.

David: I think you’re totally right that the power of example is strong and important for building movements. I worry a little bit, personally, that if what we ask of everyone, as proof of their commitment to the cause, is to live completely in line with their own climate goals for the planet. We may be alienating many people who would, say, support really aggressive public policy and want to see policy makers shape our choice architecture in ways that made irresponsible individual choices impossible, but who are not yet themselves ready to give up their vacations by plane and stop eating meat.

Although, like you say, it’s also valuable to show that you can live a happy, prosperous, satisfied life without some of the carbon costs that we’ve been taught to depend on. And I know you’ve done a lot of that yourself, which is truly admirable and honorable. I haven’t yet but it’s really hard not to feel extremely guilty when you get on a plane.

I think some of these things take time to sink into one’s worldview and really change the way that you think about the world. So, I’m expecting that down the line I’ll be making many of the same choices that you have. It just takes time to reorient yourself and I’m still young — as a climate activist, not as a human. I’m still learning, you know?

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About Lambert Strether

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


  1. cnchal

    > . . . We may be alienating many people who would, say, support really aggressive public policy and want to see policy makers shape our choice architecture in ways that made irresponsible individual choices impossible, but who are not yet themselves ready to give up their vacations by plane and stop eating meat

    Whenever I read a climate scare story that mentions something like that without once previously mentioning that our current food system turns oil into calories, and that one half of all calories produced are thrown in the garbage, I come to the conclusion the authors of the story are as un-serious as you can get.

    1. Ignacio

      …said the only serious person in the world!

      Sorry dude but IMO this kind of answers are just another way of skipping the hard questions.

      1. cnchal

        I know. I can be a fatuous blowhard.

        An analogy would be a homeowner insulating the attic and walls as much as possible, getting the most efficient and miserly furnace, using the lowest energy light bulbs and appliances while simultaneously ignoring the blown out living room picture window.

        Consider a heap of food thrown in the garbage. Oil was used to plant, fertilize, grow, harvest, transport, process, transport to the store, transport from the store, keep the food in the fridge, prepare and cook the food and then after all that, not one calorie goes to actually feed anybody except the microbes in a garbage dump, where with one final insult, oil is used to take the plate of food to the garbage dump.

        When it comes to this colossal waste, it is completely ignored by practically everyone that self identifies as woke about climate change.

        An easy question coming up. Why?

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      ” Adopting a vegan diet” . . . ? ” Stop eating meat” . . . ? Moral-superiority stuff-strutting and virtue hair-shirting which achieves little carbon reduction.

      How about those two interview subjects giving up other spending so they can buy Gabe Brown’s carbon-capture meat at $20.00 a pound to help keep Gabe Brown in bussiness sucking down the skycarbon and bio-sequestering it in the soil under his multi-species pastures and plantings and cattle?

      Or if not Gabe Brown’s carbon-capture beef specifically, then someone’s expensive-and-worth-it carbon-capture beef-on-pasture from right around where they live at?

  2. Darius

    A sustainable food supply would probably include meat as an incidental. A condiment. Pigs, for example, are useful in consuming table scraps. Chickens and ducks can roam the garden and consume bugs.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      And cows/goats/sheep/etc. in tight fast-moving bunches on multispecies pasture and range are net-carbon-capture if managed correctly. More and more people are finding that out.

  3. The Rev Kev

    Statistically, most of the people reading this article will still be alive in 12 years time when crunch-times kicks in. There is also a high probability that many of the people reading this article will be experiencing the extremes of climate change first hand in the form of floods, wild fires, hurricanes, droughts or whatever else may be coming down the track. In the most extreme form, some people here may find themselves as climate change refugees. New Orleans may be a foretaste of things to come if you are trying to get a handle on it. Or Hurricane Sandy if you live in a big city. Twelve years is not a very long period of time.
    In a different timeline, America might be taking the lead in combating the effects of such catastrophic consequences. However, in this timeline, Donald Trump is the leader of America and the free world. A man convinced in his bones that there is no such thing as climate change. Maybe he figures that it would not matter if he was wrong as he would be dead by the time things got bad and his money will protect him until then – “Après moi, le déluge”. Mar-a-Lago could be flooded and washed into the seas but Trump would merely collect the insurance and shrug it off. Considering the likelihood that he will win again in 2020, about half those 12 remaining years will be under the leadership of Donald Trump then.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I gather the East Anglia emails amounted to a million words or more. I didn’t feel I had time to read all those words. I know that some commentators portrayed the emails as showing scientists faking data, disinterpreting data, etc. But since I am not going to read all one million or more words of all the emails, I guess I will never know whether those commentators are presenting an accurate picture of the meaning of the East Anglia emails. The picture presented is one of scientists behaving badly.

        But I remember various ice formations ( glaciers, ice cap edges, etc.) shrinking and melting back during the whole time span covered by the writing of the East Anglia emails. So however badly the East Anglia scientists did or didn’t behave, the ice was continuing its real-world response to real world conditions.

        Hopefully scientists have stopped behaving badly.

        As to Trump, if he sincerely believes the global is not warming and that therefor sea level is not rising, he should not feel the need to build seawalls around his Irish resort or any other resort. And the governments where these resorts lie should hold him to his stated belief in global no-warming and deny his Organization’s request for permission to build seawalls or any other mitigation-work against a rising sea.

        1. pretzelattack

          from what i understand, they cherrypicked certain words and phrases from some emails, and used that to smear the scientists.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Well, that’s what I have read too. And I don’t have the time or interest to read millions of words to find out how true that is, or not. Nor do I care, because the Arctic kept warming and the surface ice formations kept melting back as predicted, however badly the East Anglia scientists may or may not have behaved.

            Publishing those emails was Julian Assange’s great gift to the global warming debate. Let us now praise famous Assange.

    1. John Wright

      I don’t believe having Trump in office or not will make much difference.

      Given that about 80% of the energy consumed in the USA comes from hydrocarbons, one can look around and see what that energy has wrought, the cities, homes, cars, travel, food and entertainment that people will be reluctant to give up.

      Effectively humans have turned the ancient hydrocarbons buried in the earth into much of what of humans believe is necessary for human existence.

      And an entire educational discipline was created, economics, that encouraged hydrocarbon fueled economic growth as a goal and pitched that human population growth could always be accommodated.

      And globalization spread this message around the world.

      Perhaps insects, and their recent die-off, are the “canaries in the mine shaft” indicating it is already too late.

      Trump and his beliefs are very minor factors in this entire drama.

      The USA political class is quite likely aware of the predicted catastrophic consequences.

      We know the US military already is aware and planning for climate change.

      Kicking the can down the road, be it in climate change or USA’s multiple military actions is the usual response of both Republicans and Democrats.

      My cynicism will be tempered if the Democrats replace “Russia, Russia, Russia” with “climate, climate, climate” and pull the US back from all its military actions.

      We will see…

    2. TimR

      We’ve been given “crunch-times” before… Again and again, the dire predictions have not played out. Yet somehow Believers dismiss past failure, and always trust in these hysterical short term predictions.

      The recent wild fires etc. don’t really convince me that “it’s here” because it’s clear all catastrophic weather or happenings are hyped and spun as confirmation. And Believers suffer from confirmation bias.

      1. notabanker

        One could argue ‘non-believers’ suffer from cognitive dissonance.

        The science is pretty clear. Average global temps are breaking records, ice is melting faster than projected, vast oceanic regions are dead zones, drought and weather disasters encompass exponentially larger geographic areas than decades ago, deforestation is happening faster than projected, permafrost is melting faster than projected, insect populations have plummeted, Alaskan food chains have become contaminated and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are the highest in tens of thousands of years. Many books are written on the subject, I could go on for days.

        Our best weather forecasting models lose accuracy within 7 days. No one can predict the consequences or when. Maybe they are 20 years out, maybe 100, maybe 2. Any scenario seems a bad bet. Waiting for something catastrophic to happen as “proof” seems pretty sadistic to me.

      2. John Wright

        I believe that dire predictions are newsworthy while more tempered ones are not.

        I also believed in climate change prior to the Northern California wildfire that burned down the house in Santa Rosa, CA

        Yes, there was a 1964 fire that covered much of the same area.

        But it took 4 days to reach my area in 1964, this time it took 4 hours.

        Maybe Climate change did not contribute to this, but then there was Redding and Paradise.

        Something to ponder from:

        “In the same general period that scientists first suspected climate change and ice ages, Joseph Fourier, in 1824, found that Earth’s atmosphere kept the planet warmer than would be the case in a vacuum. Fourier recognized that the atmosphere transmitted visible light waves efficiently to the earth’s surface. The earth then absorbed visible light and emitted infrared radiation in response, but the atmosphere did not transmit infrared efficiently, which therefore increased surface temperatures. He also suspected that human activities could influence climate, although he focused primarily on land use changes.”

        Fourier was no crackpot and was a very important figure in mathematics (probably an algorithm named after him is used in one’s smart phone right now – the Fast Fourier Transform).

        TimR please explain more.

        On December 11, 2018, TimR wrote in NC

        “My own view is that “they” are using CC as a Big Idea to simplify the Demon, as is the nature of propaganda. You don’t tell the masses your real motive. I can only speculate what the real motive and agenda is. And yes, maybe many of “them” are also true believers. I think some know it’s a sales job for other purposes.”

        I’m curious, what is TimR’s speculation about why climate change is being promoted if it is indeed false?

        1. TimR

          My speculation is that it’s being done to make major structural changes in society… But not for the sake of climate, rather because top level social planners in think tanks and global policy bodies want these changes made, probably for many different reasons. One could speculate further whether these are disinterested technocratic reasons, or self interested class reasons. Or some mix of the two…

          I’m not suggesting anything shocking— plenty of public intellectuals e.g. Max Weber, Edward Bernays, Noam Chomsky etc. have said that modern social planners don’t try to reason with the common man, but instead manipulate him through sophisticated propaganda. Climate change certainly seems to fit that description to me…

          Could there be some truth in it, was Fourier onto something? Well propaganda is always better if it’s based on at least a kernel of truth…

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            If you are correct, then you have a potentially lucrative contrarian-investing opportunity laid out before you.

          2. Isotope_C14

            “…but instead manipulate him through sophisticated propaganda…”

            When the crops die because it is too hot, are you going to still say it’s a social planning conspiracy?

            Just asking for a friend.

        2. Andrew Thomas

          The truly dire, and probably much closer to correct, predictions are not covered at all in the media, much less given any attention by the political class. The truth is that the IPCC has been very, very conservative in its predictions and everything that has happened has come to pass far more quickly than was thought possible 20 years ago. If you look at Dr. Hanson’s testimony as year zero, we have had 30 years of no progress, thanks in large part to US intransigence made acceptable here politically with the use of the same massive disinformation strategy and tactics that made the Iraq invasion acceptable. Remember 350. .org? Well over 400 ppm now with no possibility of it even slowing down until 2030. And that is if we accomplish more than is conceivable. The lady he talked to is right-this is not a fight you undertake because you think you will win; you fight because your soul cannot accept what your brain is certain will occur.

      3. Ape

        Doesn’t this fall under agnatology? Fuzzy descriptions of failed dire predictions that anyways aren’t compared to under which conditions equivalent historically accurate but criticality-dependent events occurred, throwing around of emotive language (“hysterical”) rather than a meaningful statement, and so forth.

        Obviously, singular events or catalogues of event aren’t evidence of anything other than the existence of those events — it’s the model that you put them in that becomes an evidentiary stream. Otherwise, what you get is post-hoc theory (“conspiracy theory”). Which is clearly where the poster is going…

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Perhaps our hosts are letting this agnafecal comment stand as an example of the agnafecality we can expect to encounter in the analog meat-space wild. We are being offered an opportunity to figure out how to respond to it without taking much time and energy.

      4. Sanxi

        Hold your breath and count to 100, the proof will arrive. Science has always been hard for those that don’t believe in it.

  4. jfleni

    Look, the answer is something like green new deal, but the plutocrats
    and their OVER-RICH buddies will never go along, because they are too
    busy screaming G I M M E, oil monkeys, coal monkeys, meat monkeys,
    the whole putrid gang!
    Meantime good solutions go begging while the plutocrat monkeys and their dimm-witted politicians line up with ignorant has-beens like DIFI!
    Lot’s a luck brothers and sisters!

    1. TimR

      Who do you think funds IPCC and the rest of the climate change industry? And who funds the media that promotes it? Why have you even HEARD OF “climate change”? Hint: it’s not the “little people”.

      1. Sanxi

        No, stop it with radical doubt. IPCC Conclusions, are those that by their definition are beyond doubt. No one is arguing with them. Some may feel at world at 3° F provides wonderful investment opportunities. Maybe. I doubt it.

        1. Isotope_C14

          From a 2012 paper, I see they have a 7M/year budget.

          Oh, they are laughing their way to the bank.

          Some of the funding is from the NSF, ca-ching.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        Who do you think funds the Greening Earth Institute and the rest of the climate change denial industry? And who funds the media that promotes it? Why have you even HEARD of “climate change denial”? Hint: it’s not the “little people”.

    2. Ignacio

      US plutocrats are on “dynamic space entepreneurialism” mode. Undeniably helpful when figthing climate change.

  5. floyd

    For all the talk on global warming, I’ve yet to see any real discussion on what tradeoffs average people will need to make. Those around me whose hair on fire concerning global warming still haven’t given up large homes in the suburbs, large gas guzzling vehicles, frequent air travel, large ship cruises in the Caribbean, etc. So far I see it like that ditty about taxes: don’t tax me, don’t tax thee, tax the fellow behind the tree. In other words, make that guy in Oklahoma change his ways, don’t mess with my lifestyle.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      We are all human with all the frailties (and strengths) that implies. The discussion in this article strikes me as particularly valuable in that it tries to deal with our short comings in an effective rather than a punitive or opinionated way ( repeat tries) which is probably critical if we are to get anywhere. Hard as it will be, I suspect (inspired by but not necessarily derived one to one from the article) compassion and understanding will save our sorry asses more effectively than recrimination though what ever is human and thus recrimination too will have it’s place.

      I found the article curiously VERY hopeful.

    2. Grumpy Engineer

      @floyd: You said, “I’ve yet to see any real discussion on what tradeoffs average people will need to make.

      Oh, yes. That’s the real problem. The Grist’s article is yet another piece discussing how we can get people to do something, but without described what that something is. I see this failing over and over and over again. “DO SOMETHING”, we shout at our political leaders. But there is no plan. There is not one single politician out there who has presented a realistic plan for addressing CO2 emissions and climate change. Not one. [AOC’s “Green New Deal”, with it’s plan to switch the US economy to 100% renewable energy in 10 years, is wildly unrealistic. It’s on the level of Trump declaring that he’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Is a person who makes such proposals even fit for office?]

      And I think people sense this. They hear the predictions of dire consequences, but then our leadership passes bills declaring that we’ll reduce CO2 emissions without specifying how. There’s a major disconnect here.

      1. ambrit

        I get the feeling that those who will have to ‘sell’ any major remediation programs are waiting for some technological fix, a “deus ex machina” to come along and obviate the need for truly hard sacrifices.
        The Manhattan Project to build the atom bomb is trotted out as an example of the sort of dedication of time, brainpower and resources that will be needed to address this crisis. Most ignore the fact that the Manhattan Project was carried out in secret, was run by the military, and was the ‘creature’ of a small coterie of Allied elites. It was not a society wide program. Something closer to a society wide program that engenders major changes would be a revolution. So, yes. those leading the way in the fight against human caused climate change should more properly be referred to, paraphrasing Marx and Engels, as “The Vanguard of the Climatoleriat.” As with most other revolutions in the modern period, expect to see this revolutionary movement arise out of the newly endangered middle class.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          There might be a simpler easier-to-say version of your word Climatoleriat. And that might be . . . Climatariat. I offer it for free in case you might find it useful.

          1. ambrit

            I dunno drumlin. If I used the term as you posit it, and I do find that it is already in use, I’m afraid that it could be mistaken for ‘Climacterium,’ ie. menopause.
            So, my climate themed socio-political movement becomes freighted with the meanings and controversies of a feminist themed socio-political movement.
            Still, before I bow to common usage, “Vanguard of the Climatariat” is a redundancy. As used, Climatariat already describes an elite group. The acroelite segment of an extant elite group?
            Hence, I am left searching for a concise word that describes the entire group of people who will suffer from climatological chaos.
            Perhaps there is a handy word in German to describe this ‘entity.’

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              Ahhh . . . you are referring to the targeted First Victims of climate decay.

              I can think of a couple of phrases designed to get people riled up and angry.
              ” Darwin’s Discards”.
              ” The Expendables”.
              ” The Jackpotted”.

    3. Sanxi

      No, stop it with radical doubt. IPCC Conclusions, are those that by their definition are beyond doubt. No one is arguing with them. Some may feel at world at 3° F provides wonderful investment opportunities. Maybe. I doubt it. ..

    4. Sanxi

      David didn’t write a book on people with their hair on fire. Do you know how to read? If so read his book then come back with your gin-soaked remarks.

    5. drumlin woodchuckles

      Those people around you illustrate the “personal credibility” problem. If they downsized their homes and their cars and shrank their personal fossil carbon footprint, would you feel they had up-credibilized themselves enough to be worthy of a respectful hearing? If you would, then the value of personal conservation lifestyling would have been demonstrated right there . . . . if these people you reference actually

  6. Louis Fyne

    That UN IPCC report also assumes any mitigation strategy includes a substantial increase in fission. (It’s in the pdf at the IPCC site)

    Go convince Greenpeace or many environmentalists that more fission a good thing. Just relaying what the IPCC wrote. Don’t shoot the messenger

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      More fission is probably not a good thing, but may be a necessary one. Go try and convince anyone, and that would include anyone who contributed to the UN IPCC report, to live next to a dumping ground (err, storage facility, for radioactive waste built by cost cutting short cuts, opps, I meant built by profit minded good ‘ol capitalist companies making the lowest bids -or the highest campaign contributions- to get the job.) and agreed, no need to shoot the messenger while you’re at it.

      1. Susan the Other

        Nuclear power would be good if they could only come up with a fail-safe, environmentally clean process. They can’t. They hedge their language to make it sound clean and safe, but the technology just isn’t there. The technology isn’t even there to clean up the awful mess of tailings we already have accumulated. (Not to mention the scam that was “clean coal”.) The latest design project is, apparently, reactors that refine spent uranium into plutonium. Which, as I understood it, was exactly what the Japanese were doing in Fukushima Daiichi. Cold fusion is either permanently top-secret or going nowhere fast. They talk about higher efficiency but they never mention the deadly pollution involved. And, at this point, even if they made a big announcement that there was a technological breakthrough and Nuclear was now as safe as ice cream I would not believe them. Regardless of the distrust among the population, the industry has gone ahead with their plutonium reactor idea, somewhere around Idaho Falls – more or less in the middle of nowhere.

        1. notabanker

          Rupert Read swung me on this issue. Previously, I was all for taking advantage of what we had in place to get rid of FF as quickly as possible.

          His view was that given the built in risks of disaster and the chaotic nature of exactly what they will be and where they will strike, having hundreds of radioactive sites dotting the planet, many built near coastlines, is a tremendously foolish.

          When I watch the documentaries on Fukushima, the people that built it and worked there were absolutely shocked that the backup systems failed. It was literally unthinkable to them that it could happen. This kind of says it all.

          1. The Rev Kev

            They were warned. Geologists surveying the area years ago found evidence of previous tsunamis not on record and that were higher than the plant’s defenses were built for. But the company ignored that warning as it would have cost money to upgrade the plant’s defenses.

        2. ambrit

          There are several competing designs for fission based electricity generating plants. The best one, presently being used in China, is the Pebble-bed reactor design. It was tested once, at the German experimental reactor site, at full mechanical breakdown conditions and passed the test. It is probably the safest design now known. All fully passive safety design. As an added bonus, it can use a very wide array of fuels. Recycling warhead materials through this reactor is a built in feature.

          1. susan the Other

            The Pebble-bed reactor design. It sounds like a solution for stockpiles of waste. Thanks ambrit.

        3. Acacia

          FWIW, the situation in Japan is rather worse than Susan describes. Yes, the original plan was to recycle the spent fuel from reactors like Fukushima Daiichi, via the Rokkasho facility in Aomori Prefecture and the Monju fast breeder reactor. The latter has been a total failure, costing Japanese taxpayers around ¥1.13 trillion ($10.3 billion) now down the drain. Monju is now being dismantled. So the spent fuel can’t be recycled and is mostly sitting in cooling tanks at various nuke plants around the country. The reason that a large area of land around the Fukushima plant was contaminated by the hydrogen explosions was due to this spent fuel sitting in cooling ponds was blown up into the atmosphere and then came raining down on nearby towns. Iitate Village and Namie Township, both over 20 km from the plant were seriously contaminated and remain no-go zones. The local industry was mostly agriculture and this has of course been ruined. Also, to try and minimize the cost of reparations for the thousands of refugees, the Japanese government disregarded the UN consensus on the maximum acceptable radiation per year, raising it from 1 to 20 millisieverts per year (i.e. 20 times the international consensus on the max “safe” level of exposure). If this had not been done, the cost of reparations would have been far greater. Economically, some of the contaminated areas will probably never recover and are now being used as vast waste storage areas for radioactive earth scraped from other “less radioactive” zones.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        Somewhere in the middle of James Hansen’s book Storms Of My Granchildren is a couple of pages about better designs of nuclear reactors which are said to have existed and been suppressed . . . designs which kept radioactivating and then fissioning all the destabilizable nucleii within the fuel rods or pellets down to where only a small residue of low-level slow-to-fiss radionuclides remains.

        Hansen feels massive deployment of these safer nukes in time to help exterminate the coal, gas,and oil industry fast enough to make a carbon difference is the only hope of avoiding super-hot runaway.

    2. irenic

      According to Jeremy Rifkin the nuclear reactor business is finished.

      “Here’s the issue: Nuclear power right now is six percent of energy of the world. There are only 400 nuclear power plants. These are old nuclear power plants. But our scientists tell us [that] to have a minimum impact on climate change — which is the whole rationale for bringing this technology back — nuclear would have to be 20 percent of the energy mix to have the minimum, minimum impact on climate change — not six percent of the mix.

      “That means we’d have to replace the existing 400 nuclear plants and build 1,600 additional plants. Three nuclear plants have to be built every 30 days for 40 years to get to 20 percent, and by that time climate change will have run its course for us. So I think, from a business point of view, I just don’t see that investment. I’d be surprised if we replace 100 of the 400 existing nuclear plants which would take us down to 1 or 2 percent of the energy [mix].”

      and that’s just the business aspect. Add the problems with nuclear waste, a uranium deficit, and lack of cooling water and there is no way nuclear power will be of any help in dealing with global warming.

      Fear can be a great motivator but I agree with Holthaus and Wallace-Wells that there aren’t enough more optimistic solutions publicized along with the legitimate scare stories about the ongoing climate catastrophe. Though fear can overwhelm us, if real solutions are included in the narratives maybe that will give us some hope of mitigating global warming and get people to do something about it.

      1. ambrit

        There are simpler and safer nuclear reactor designs. This might not scale up to a society wide benefit level, but I’ll bet that some of the elites are investing in these energy sources for insular, exclusive habitations.
        During the late Roman Empire period and the Middle Ages, major outbreaks of pestilence saw the elites withdraw to country estates and other domiciles to ride out the storms of death. Boccaccio’s “Decameron” is based on such a scenario.
        Given the probability of the next generations having to transition through a Great Social Triage, the atomic energy plants that can be built now might suffice to supply those that are left alive.

  7. Pelham

    Agreed, nuclear is essential and probably should be the first and perhaps the exclusive priority at this late stage.

    Also agreed about the waste problem. We have a lousy record. However, Sweden and France seem to be doing fine with their major nuclear programs. How do they handle the waste?

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      There is still no good answer to storage. Everyone, France included, is punting for the time being – meaning they are generating far more waste than they have capacity for permanent storage. An no one, anywhere, has come up with a cost effective viable long term solution (even at “spare no expense” levels). But in all cases, the poor, those without a voice, will most likely end up being the ones to “absorb” the real costs.

      Here is a fair article on the French efforts:

      France is actually trying to reduce it’s nuclear dependency, not increase it. They have indeed done well with nuclear energy (with a few serious scares) s-o f-a-r. But as their reactors age, they are mindful of the increased catastrophic risks and the astronomical cost of removing, never mind replacing, the old sites. Even then, people like Macron probably wouldn’t mind a few Fukushima like incidents as part of the cost of high living except for the fact that – like the classic train wreck – those poor first class passengers can get hurt as well as everyone else. That is not acceptable.

      Where do they store their nuclear waste would probably better be phrased as, “what unlucky poor or under represented,” folks have been chosen to soak up all the radiation by sitting on top of or next to it or to drink the contaminated ground water of, and so on. And that remains true even though the French are apparently trying hard to build viable solutions. But you won’t find those solutions next to well off communities or even well to do individuals, and the article linked to above even mentions those sites being tested in France are not “volunteer” communities, even if they are getting a pitiful pay off for their “glowing” efforts..

      Some countries will solve the problem with money, that is, ship it to countries (such as the US) where government regulations are seen as the enemy particularly for demographically poor or remote areas.

      Fortunately for everyone that has no voice, the cost of building nuclear facilities is still much much higher than doing the same thing with renewables. And better and better solutions for energy storage will help.

      1. Sanxi

        Indeed storage is a problem, but in game theory only nuclear allows us the time to get to a world with electric to a world with very little. It nuclear may be our end but not before carbon.

  8. simjam

    “The Fate of Rome” by Kyle Harper (Princeton University Press 2017) establishes beyond a reasonable doubt the linkages between climate change, disease and the end of an empire. It is not difficult to see parallels to our present situation.

  9. notabanker

    I can place my marker on Jan 15th, 2019. The fantasyland GND post here at NC made me look at this topic in great detail. I consider this blog a leading indicator and when it’s primary author is shouting from the rooftops that you people just don’t get it, I took the message to heart. It’s fair to say I haven’t been paying attention and should have been on this a lot sooner, but it is what it is.

    It is impossible to absorb all of the information available on this topic, but it doesn’t take long to sift through what’s hysterical, grounded in science or denial propaganda. My own conclusions were stark.

    Personally, I don’t see how anyone can predict specific outcomes with specific timeframes, it’s just too complex and major topics are still not well understood. The impacts of cloud cover, interactions between layers of the atmosphere and feedback loops are just a few examples. What is clear to me, is that catastrophic extinction events are now in play as tail risks. I interpret that as catastrophic human suffering events are so likely as to be a given at this point. It seems useless to me to debate over how large those will be or who specifically is most likely to be impacted. That’s a fools errand. This is global.

    That makes this post highly relevant. I realize I am in the earliest stages of this process, but it has already been profound. There are many swings I’ve gone through. The thing that has resonated with me the most are stages of grief. Following this, the theme that we need courage, not hope, has stuck and I don’t think it will go away.

    Rupert Read does a nice of job of presenting the case that this civilization is over. This is where I’m at. Consequently there are three likely potential outcomes:
    1. Change this civilization to adapt to what has become irreversible. This includes mitigating future impacts to the greatest extent possible, drastically changing the way we live and dealing with the fact that there will still be large population loses and suffering on the planet.
    2. Prepare for those that might survive to prevent the extinction of the species.
    3. Humans become extinct.

    To me, these are inescapable truths, and arguing ‘if’ is useless. Equally arguing ‘when’ greatly increases the chances of 2 and 3.

    What nobody has really talked about is that when it comes to the military / intelligence complex nothing is ever as it seems. World leaders know this is coming and they are preparing for it. DOD published a relatively benign report in 2007.
    Recommendation 1: The national security consequences of climate change should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies.
    Are the Americans, Russians and Chinese collaborating or competing on this? Does it really matter? I don’t think anyone is going to like what they are planning to do.

    Finally, the more people become enlightened about this, and they will, the more the generational gaps will become problematic. I have a rather karamatic view of the world, and when I see people in their 50’s, 60’s and beyond lecturing the young it just makes me cringe. A trip to Cambodia will provide a horrifying lesson on what happens when a society turns on itself. This is the most primal of issues, and older generations would be well advised to tread carefully here.

    I haven’t decided what specific actions I’m going to take, but I am definitely sorting through the list. I’ve already taken some basic steps to focus the rest of my life on this. I’m not one to rush headlong into things without thoroughly thinking them through first. Once I come to a conclusion on a path forward, there won’t be any turning back though. I don’t think there are “wrong” answers here, other than doing nothing and hoping for the best.

    The people that have resonated with me on a holistic view of the issue are David Wallace-Wells, Dahr Jamail and Rupert Read. Richard Manning has fascinating perspective on the historical evolution of the problem. James Hansen is a must as well.

    Thanks for this post and for the platform to comment. I do look at as a privilege and hope that it has some level of relevance for others. It is very much appreciated and most helpful in sorting through this issue.

    1. Susan the Other

      With the “climategate” info cited above by Brooklin Bridge; and the strange behavior early on of James Hansen (he looked like he was accompanied by men-in-black whenever he did an interview about GW) who is now studying ocean currents to better understand the weather dynamic of GW but is not saying much about it; the weird chaotic climate we are actually experiencing, and the interesting info coming from the astrophysicists in Denmark (which has been trashed hysterically by other climate scientists) – I don’t know what to think. Clearly we’ve got change. And if the military is getting ready for it, my assumption is that our government is also. Their refusal to acknowledge anything regarding the climate is one of the tells. I’m convinced of one thing – we are in for very hard times and we’ll have to scramble to survive. When it comes right down to it, I believe my lyin’ eyes – the climate is definitely changing – I can see it. If governments are taking action quietly, it wouldn’t surprise me, but I’d expect to be observing it somewhere. Like the logistics of it all. Maybe that’s where the military is stepping in. They are probably figuring out how to produce and distribute the things we need to survive. But it will be the proverbial long, cold day in hell before we hear about it.

      1. Susan the Other

        One more thing, well two. The first is the New York Canyon project in southern Nevada. (I think that’s the name of it.) Harry Reid’s autobiography, about 10 years ago, spilled the beans on what he then called the “Saudi Arabia of geothermal energy” and it was being developed in Nevada. He claimed that plenty of nice hot magma lurked just below a relatively thin crust of earth and could be tapped – all they needed was water to make the steam. So, that’s another topic that has gone underground. And the second thing is Yellowstone – the same thinking is going on up there. The military are studying how to tap and defuse that dome of destruction and turn it into geothermal. These are the things we never hear about. I assume they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to serious possibilities for our future.

        1. Wukchumni

          The first 3 miles of the Colorado River below Hoover Dam are amazingly thermal, with Gold Strike Canyon, Boy Scout Canyon and Arizona Hot Springs Canyon all having hot creeks that run down to the river from about a mile above. You walk up slot canyons through the 90-105 degree creeks, it’s otherworldly.

        2. juliania

          That indeed is a good suggestion about geothermal energy. Years back, in New Zealand, I remember reading about a thermal energy project that actually had a noticeable effect upon the tourist area in and around Rotorua – so they shut it down, deeming the value of the area lay with its bubbling hot pools and geysers. But indeed the threat of imminent destruction would seem to outweigh such concerns, so long as it did not precipitate such an occurrence. And certainly technology must have advanced since then.

          Tip of the iceberg indeed, thanks Susan!

        3. Ape

          But you know that Harry Reid is full of crap, right? He’s also a big UFO’ologist as well — when I see “secret knowledge” from the inside, it’s usually just a scam, and the high-ranking person may be the shill or the mark.

          Science, what’s worth knowing about it, is usually open. The “great genius” model, which must be true for “secret science” to function, is BS. Most of what’s known was known (almost fully) by many people. When it looks like it’s “secret”, it’s just that you don’t happen to have the background to know it. This is generally true not only in hard sciences, but also political studies, sociology and so on — it’s not really conspiracies, just a requirement of extensive background before you know where to look.

          Short: it’s usually not a secret, but personal ignorance. If it’s really a secret, most of it is a scam.

          1. Susan the Other

            No. I don’t think Harry Reid is abnormally full of crap. The UFO thing is interesting. ;-).

          2. ambrit

            The Manhattan Project was about as secret as it gets and the project did a bang up job.
            The issue could more accurately be presented as Open Secret versus Closed Secret.

            1. Ape

              The science behind it was developed openly.

              You can keep engineering secret usefully, details of implementation, parameter values and tolerances. Thats what was secret in mp.

              But the principles were known openly. I don’t know of any case where secrets were more than that, where any principle breakthrough was secret.

              Maybe work on air valve computers? But again as far as we know, the breakthroughs were publ8c. In AI it’s the same – the secrets are just magic sauce.

              1. ambrit

                I’ll counter with the distinction between theoretical versus applied science. The first lays out the possibilities. The second produces, if successful, actual applications. The applications are what are usually kept secret. Until they are used.
                As for us not knowing of any fundamental breakthroughs, well, we can digress far into terra incognita with that remit. This is probably a case where paranoia is a rational attitude to adopt.

      2. coboarts

        “They are probably figuring out how to produce and distribute the things we need to survive.” I would suggest that “They” are probably figuring out how to produce and distribute the things THEY need to survive.

      3. notabanker

        Anything is possible in this world, (other than a rational Congress). You can certainly reframe the issue as human over-population and use climate change as an excuse to do something about it.

      4. Tangled up in Texas

        “They are probably figuring out how to produce and distribute the things we need to survive.”

        You are far more optimistic than I am, STO. If the military is figuring out anything, it is how to take [things we need to survive] from other people and their countries – by force. In the U.S., this is sadly the American way.

  10. Wukchumni

    Who can say what the new normal will bring and it is going to be difficult to wean us off the oil age, and we’d best get started, but you have to train for it…

    Backpacking is a great way to learn to use less.

    In a week’s time in the backcountry, i’ll use about 1/10th of a gallon of isobutane fuel-all in heating food.

    3x AAA batteries typically are my sole electricity source for a 7 day stanza, slightly lighting up the dark with a headlamp.

  11. juliania

    Thank you for posting this article, Lambert. I had a thought whilst reading it. I know nakedcapitalism has always been life-oriented in format, with input from readers and from the site staffing on all aspects – human, animal, flora – that is selfevident every day and we all appreciate that. But as here, and on this day, what a great move it would be to concentrate one day exclusively for this subject, that of saving our planet!

    I realize that is asking a lot, and it is just a thought I had while reading the piece, so I’m putting it forward. I know you already do more than we have a right to ask, but to concentrate our efforts, and do what this article is suggesting, put in our own words the measures we are taking in order to encourage others, this one day seems very aptly chosen. I’m Christian myself – I know others aren’t, so just please don’t take this as an insult on your own belief system, but I am struck that today’s pre-Lenten readings are one from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that begins: “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do…” And the Gospel reading is the famous one about “When did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?”

    Even if it is not possible to concentrate such earth oriented posts on this day of the week, I thank you for doing it today. My own personal reflection is that here in the mountains of New Mexico we are experiencing a current bounty – more moisture coming in from California and the Pacific than this region has seen in some time. I know that is because the poles are melting faster than they should. So it is good, but it is also frightening. What can I do? I have children, and I have grandchildren. Well, I don’t have a car. And I will never fly in an airplane again, but that’s not saying much because I am a senior with not very much money. But I do, poor folk can, eat as sustainably as possible and grow as much as possible on my small plot. On birthdays all I send my children and grandchildren now are seeds, preferably organic if I can find such. We must encourage these things and this is one way to do that. Nature will be doing this as well, I feel sure; but we are part of nature, so we must participate in the redress of past mistakes.

  12. coboarts

    So, let’s get something done that will have major impacts. Radical solution: rebuild and repopulate America’s heartland, curtail long supply chains in favor of local production, devolve political power to the county, city, town – with police power over their jurisdictions (in other words, if they don’t want to host the garbage dump for some city, they don’t have to), let the mega-cities and their associated suburbs whither, go back to a lifestyle that is local in nature and correspondingly more natural. Sea level rise will kindly help wash away the remnants of the coastal mega-cities, but we can rip a lot of valuable materials out of them before they’re washed away. Crusading for Gaia and screaming about what your neighbor needs to do to save the planet from the heart of a concrete and asphalt jungle is insane, and all the urbanist fantasies are fantasies provided by the corporate and technocratic elite. Yes, I support a GND that can do something beneficial with the population and resources of the country that doesn’t come from a marketing slick. Science and technology are great. But they need to be servants of the people, not its masters.

  13. lambert strether

    > The question is whether fear is the right emotion to play on to get people to sit up, listen, and take action.

    I’m not seeing many readers address the central question of the article — flagged in the headline — which has obvious tactical and strategic significance. Odd.

    1. coboarts

      The commentariat knows my position on fear:
      hype ’em up, get ’em scared, and take ’em for the ride…

      1. Wukchumni

        Do something that looks as if you’re corresponding to the fear, that’s productive, not a bunch of hot air.

        I’ve been burning off the assortment of dead fuels on the ground and in trees above here on the many splendored acres of the all cats & no cattle ranch for the past decade, and probably have another 5 years to go. If we had a pine needle fueled wildfire such as Paradise, then you might say, why bother?

        But we have an oak savanna with a much lesser degree of flammability, in a similar setting in the foothills.

        And besides, the land looks so much better when great grandfather Fester the Oak* isn’t sprawled dead all over the place, in search of a spark.

        * my current project: Fester looks to have fallen down in the midst of the Reagan era and has recently really lit up our lives in a meaningful way, via the fireplace.

    2. Susan the Other

      but consider all the conflicting fears – all serving to cancel each other out: the fear of losing one’s car; the fear of all the gas stations closing; the fear of restricted consumer commodities; the fear of destructive production as usual; the fear of losing a job; the fear of not being able to drive to work; the fear of special interests; the fear of corrupt government; the fear of polluted water and air; the fear of monsanto; the fear of subsistence living; the fear of a chaotic society without a goal; the fear of an ultra coherent narrative control; of truly bad services; of no services. When there are so many soul-destroying conflicting fears confusion shuts us down. One or two well placed fears, treated like issues that cannot be ignored wouldn’t clog our drains as bad.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Well , as Will Rogers once said: ” I never Meta Comment I didn’t like.”

  14. Jerry B

    ==The question is whether fear is the right emotion to play on to get people to sit up, listen, and take action==

    As the authors mention it depends on what “moves/motivates” each individual. Some people have a low startle response ( it takes a lot to motivate them to action) whereas some have a high startle response (hyper-vigilance). I think that is one reason for the difficulty in addressing climate adaptation/mitigation issues is to many people it “seems” in the future and is no immediate threat today.

    In a similar vein with startle response it fight vs. flight and the freeze response. Under fear some people freeze so that may not result in action. Then you have the elites who IMO are using the flight response and preparing their bunkers and urban clusters leaving the rest of us to fight.

    To Lambert’s query of readers avoidance of the article’s central question, is we do not talk about our fears or for that matter any emotion. We may talk about our emotions behind close doors or to counselors/therapists but not in public. And in no place in our culture do we focus on emotional development. I believe there are more parents today that try to teach their children emotional awareness but many do not due to cultural pressures of jobs, long hours, poverty, etc. And with the removal of the arts, music, and humanities from all levels of school, there is little focus on personality or emotional development in school.

    I think females as a whole (there are many exceptions) process and share their emotions with others more than males. I consider myself to be a highly sensitive person and for those familiar with Elaine Aron’s work. By sensitive it means not just emotional, but environmentally as well (sounds, nature, certain materials). But I also have a low startle response and it takes a lot to get me to react to something. Even with a low startle response I am aware of the changes that need to happen to address climate change but it is not fear that motivates me. In my case it is my “sensitivity” and that my awareness of my personal sadness to what is going on in nature that drives me.

    My wife has a high startle response and carries a lot of “fear based” hyper-vigilance. But in a different way than I, she is also very sensitive and nature oriented and that is where her motivation comes from.

    Lastly as I mentioned above we as a society do not deal well with Affect. But in looking for motivation we need to get in touch with our affect (even fear). There has been numerous books and academic papers on affect and it’s relation to motivation, and no affect then no motivation.

    I have mentioned the book Environmental Melancholia which deals with the concepts of apathy, denial, fear and how they relate to climate change action. In a similar vein I had a psychology mentor who did a lot of writing on the concept of blocked grieving. The concept of block grieving is similar to Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief. We have to go through all the stages to heal and if we get stuck, the result can be depression or apathy and unfortunately inaction and lack of motivation.

    Even as early as the 1950’s Rollo May wrote in Love and Will about US society’s unwillingness to deal with their affect/emotions and the result was widespread apathy. Sound familiar? Daniel Kahnemann has mentioned loss aversion and we as a society must grieve the loss of our current way of life so that we can move on to deal with climate change and create a new way of living sustainably.

    Apologies for the usual long winded comment. I could have said it all in one sentence. We are a pleasure seeking and pain avoiding species.

  15. polecat

    I have a friend who has, in the not too distant past state that by 2020 “Were All Gonna Die !!” … because McPherson said so … So far, I don’t see evidence of mass deaths, and we’re what, 10 months to supposed Armageddon OMG!!!!!!!! This same individual thought nothing of driving outta state to witness the full solar eclipse of a year or so, here in the western U.S. .. wasting gas, and probably contributing to the general congestion such an event garners. When I asked him why not watch in situ … his reponse was ” well, there’s too much light pollution here, so I’ll drive to where the sky is clearer, and besides, I’m not using very much fuel, certainly NOT as much as those evil, evily, evilists who fly by jet !!
    So basically, he helped to contribute to the collective spewing of hydrocarbons, and the associated congestion, so view a celestial event … with the certain knowledge (Ha!) that we’d all be toast within a couple of years. …
    Just a wee bit hypocritical in my estimation, and makes me want to not take him seriously where climate issues are concerned. When I call him out on such, his response is that “It is what it is” “and hell, I’m too old to care anyway” … especially where young folk are concerned, as he don’t have progeny to be worried about !

    1. kareninca

      Yes, I have a neighbor who is frantic about climate change due to her two sons. She and her husband just bought a second home 170 miles away that they now drive out to every weekend. As far as I can see, her fear causes her to grab at everything she can get while she can get it. Multiply that by just about everyone I know around me.

      I already walk the walk (as well as almost anyone I know) for my own reasons which have nothing to do with climate change, and nothing to do with fear. In fact, I find the idea of being told that I should be afraid insulting; it would be the last thing that would work on me. When I’m told to fear, the first thing I think is that I’m being fed propaganda. I doubt that I’m the only person who feels this way, but I don’t know what proportion of the population would have that response.

      Personally I think that love works better for encouraging environmental stewardship than fear – love of the world about us. It works with some religious people I know who are not fearful because they do not fear death – however, they do love the world and its creatures. Love makes people generous; fear makes them grab and waste.

  16. Rhondda

    I don’t think fear is the best catalyst. People often make awful decisions when they’re afraid, so awful they can hardly be called decisions– more like just reactions. And, speaking just for myself, with the media’s constant click-baity fear headlines — it’s like the boy who cried wolf– I’ve become a bit immune.

    So I asked myself, What is the opposite of fear? The interview suggests something along the lines of ‘inspiration’ — but that doesn’t seem right to me. I guess the opposite of fear is courage. Real courage, not the ‘lean in’ and Fearless! BS that’s used to sell books printed on dead trees. Is courage inspired? Or do you just have it — or not? Some people respond to a frightening situation with courage, while others curl up in a ball — so it seems to me it’s probably not inspired but wired — part of a person’s nature.

    I don’t have answers, really, just more questions. But this blog and its commentariat are the smartest and wisest group of people I know of, so no doubt others will weigh in with thoughts that are worthy.

  17. Rhondda

    I was also reminded of this:
    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    Perhaps mindfulness and self-mastery, a la the Bene Gesserit way, is a strategy to gain the courage we need.

  18. another David

    It seems simple enough. Cruise ships sail where the Franklin expedition disappeared, something must have changed. Go easy on the meat, don’t buy shtuff you don’t need.

    On the other hand we feed, breed and collapse like all other organisms that come into a jackpot of nutrients.

  19. super extra

    I don’t think fear is the correct way to motivate people to action. We (at least in USA) have been immersed in fear for years (decades?) now. Fear in that context actually seems like the precursor to inaction or the illusion of change, because it’s such a part of our culture’s interpersonal drama.

    I think the best way to motivate people is to provide a new, compelling story. Quite a lot of my generation (millennial) and younger consider themselves communist, and as far as I can tell the urge is almost entirely rooted in two things: not having to worry about homelessness via some form of central planning or excess wealth appropriation, and some form of justice or retribution thanks to that same wealth appropriation. I realize that homelessness and economic inequality is not a generational thing, but young people don’t have the same examples of the elder generation’s youth to immediately dismiss communism as a bad thing. They’re jumping right to what they see as a possible solution and they’re reading Krypotkin to figure out how to implement it.

    Rather than jumping on the ecohorror bandwagon, the next phase should include lots of stories about the positive things that could come out of a society that was focused around living in harmony with the environment. Everyone seizes on the no meat thing, well, okay – where are the stories about semi-rural cooperatives running a permaculture and pastoralism closed loop and feeding their community between tending to their happy cows and, I don’t know, playing music for each other by candle light? Or organizations to find homes (in abandoned heartland towns) for the homeless on the west coast, which include a process to start small businesses and renovate the homes so they are ultra low energy? Stories about labor cooperatives for child care and house work and how that could lead to job guarantees and degrowth?

    1. Jerry B

      Thanks Super!! I enjoyed reading your hopeful and positive comment.

      ===We (at least in USA) have been immersed in fear for years (decades?) now. Fear in that context actually seems like the precursor to inaction or the illusion of change, because it’s such a part of our culture’s interpersonal drama===

      As Lambert would say “everything is going according to plan” i.e the elites, etc. using fear especially as a means of control.

      ===I think the best way to motivate people is to provide a new, compelling story.===

      You are correct. There is actually quite a bit of research on giving people a compelling story to motivate them. As you point out, our society has lot of internalized fear and anxiety, and people just need to see the possibilities of something better.

      ===I can tell the urge is almost entirely rooted in two things: not having to worry about homelessness via some form of central planning or excess wealth appropriation, and some form of justice or retribution thanks to that same wealth appropriation===

      That is very encouraging that you believe a lot of the younger generations feel that way. My son is 27 and he tells me similar things about the younger generations

      I believe it is also encouraging that some of your generation are reading Kropotkin. I have enjoyed all his books.

      Your comment reminds me of a recent New York Time article about many young Chinese who are reading Mao, Lenin, Marx, and others, and taking the positive aspects and trying improve lives in China.

      IMO a lot of what you write in your comment can be applied to a recent post on NC on the topic of fieldwork.

      Thanks again for a positive and uplifting comment!.

  20. VietnamVet

    Donald Trump is an excellent example of neo-oligarch thinking. “Noblesse oblige” is long gone. It died a century ago in WWI. Extract the resources and damn the consequences. This is the Old Growth Forest/Spotted Owl verses jobs conflict expanded globally. The earth is finite and overpopulated. This is denied by the oligarchs who are getting richer and those working to extract the resources. Both Pakistan and India backed down from the war that could have gone nuclear. Reality can have an impact on governments. The flooding of the NYC train tunnels, salt encroachment on coastal North Carolina farmland, the unrepaired damage from hurricanes Maria, Michael and Harvey, and early March tornados in Georgia and Alabama are getting hard to ignore. But, at a basic level, unless the Federal government stops being run for corporate greed and again is directed to pursue life, liberty and happiness for the American people; the unfolding disasters and endless wars will only escalate.

  21. Duck1

    An interesting recent book is called Climate Leviathan. It hypothesize that a global ruler Leviathan is necessary to make decisions and suppress and advance what is necessary and possible. Analytic framework is a 4 box matrix is counterclockwise from upper left 1: Climate leviathan, post colonialism northern hemisphere technocrats take the lead, 2: Climate Mao, where China is leader, 3: Behemoth where deniers and political types suppress change, 4: Climate X, ie solving for the unknown–kinda like revolution.

  22. drumlin woodchuckles

    Several commenters upthread suggest love as a motivator. It could be if properly targeted and applied. Love for a multi-species green-grow environment/surroundings which inspires the effort to learn scientifically valid and technically-possible ways for people at whatever level to live in green-grow supporting ways. Enough people doing that will begin to see eachother and figure out how to create persistent broad-scale cultures able to support focused strike-force movements and lethal targetted head-shot initiatives against certain key perpetrators of climate change-o-genesis.

    Intelligent informed hatred and desire for revenge will be just as necessary as love for what deserves to be loved. What could be achieved in America by a hundred million Americans with a reasonable amateur-science-buff level of knowledge of how energy, technologies, ecosystems, etc. work who are also motivated by an exterminist-level of hatred against the Leadership Players of Big Fossil Carbon and the industries they keep paying their butlers-in-office to keep in dominant existence?

    Again I suggest imagining One Hundred Million Pairs of Strong Blue Hands wrapped around the neck of Big Koch, Coal, Gas and Oil. Is it not a beautiful vision?

  23. JMor

    I find it laughable that we think we can control a climate process whose cycles are on a scale of millenia. If an ice age were coming, that covers 1/3 of the earth in glaciers, do you really think we can stop that? Likewise, if a warming age were coming, that covers 70% of the planet in tropical seas, do you really think we can stop that? Guess what? That IS the natural cycle. Those things HAVE occurred over time and will reoccur again. You don’t have that control. And this whole thing about the tipping point in 12 years? Give me a break. You lose ALL credibility when you say stuff like that. Not to mention the diet balogne.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Thank you for your interest in our comments. We are always happy to hear from you. Please let us know if you have any other concerns.

    2. pretzelattack

      people can’t cause forest fires. forest fires have occurred for as long as there have been forests. it is the height of arrogance to think people can start forest fires. ignore that arsonist with the gas cans and lighter.

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