Framing “Climate Change”: Denialism vs. Exterminism

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Framing “Climate Change”: Denialism vs. Exterminism

In this simple post, I’m going to be taking the notion of climate change (or, as some like to call it, the Jackpot) as a given. I share Robert Pollin’s views, from the New Left Review:

Climate change necessarily presents a profound political challenge in the present historical era, for the simple reason that we are courting ecological disaster by not advancing a viable global climate-stabilization project. There are no certainties about what will transpire if we allow the average global temperature to continue rising. But as a basis for action, we only need to understand that there is a non-trivial possibility that the continuation of life on earth as we know it is at stake. Climate change therefore poses perhaps the ultimate ‘what is to be done’ question.

(I think “non-trivial possibility” is capacious enough to take in the fact that although “the science” may be settled, we are making new discoveries every day; and that the complex systems in which we are embedded are quite possibly much smarter than we are. Nevertheless, given that “the continuation of life on earth as we know it[1] is at stake,” “climate change” becomes one of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s ruin problems: “Outcomes of risks have a non-zero probability of resulting in unrecoverable losses,” and (hence) where the Precautionary Principle should be applied.)

Those who urge that there is no, or little “basis for action” on climate change are generally categorized in polemic as “denialists,” employing “denial.” For example, from last week’s New York Times Magazine special issue on climate change:

The Heritage Foundation ought to know; for decades, it has demonstrated mastery of the dark arts of climate-change denialism. This strain of influence peddling would be harmful enough had it managed merely to deepen the public ignorance about global warming. But denialism has had devastating downstream effects (to borrow an industry term). It has managed to defer meaningful consideration of nearly every urgent policy question that now awaits us, if we are serious about trying to stop this.

The most fundamental question is whether a capitalistic society is capable of sharply reducing carbon emissions. Will a radical realignment of our economy require a radical realignment of our political system — within the next few years? Even if the answer is no, we have some decisions to make.

From the Monthly Review:

Nevertheless, denial of the extent of the conflict between capitalism and the climate remains pervasive. Recently, former President Barack Obama, the World Resources Institute, and even radical economist Robert Pollin writing in New Left Review, have all separately supported the view that absolute decoupling of economic growth and carbon emissions is now feasible and has already been accomplished over several years in a handful of countries, including the United States. The implication is that, due to increasing efficiencies that will finally separate economic growth from carbon emissions, the goal of reaching zero carbon emissions mid–century is fully compatible with the continuing expansion of the capitalist system, to be accomplished by technical means, and without a wider ecological revolution that would mobilize the whole society and challenge existing social relations.

From James Hansen:

Atmospheric CO2 resulting from the emission scenarios of Fig. 26a is shown in Fig. 27a. Emission reductions in scenarios with declining emissions (reductions of 3% and 6% per year) begin in 2021, which is probably the earliest conceivable date for a substantial downward trend in global emissions to begin, given the denial of science by the current Executive Branch of the United States government and the slow pace of the Judicial Branch.


Despite the recent turn toward increased global authoritarianism and denial of scientific facts, we have also recently witnessed the heart-warming sight of marching Australian children, defying their Prime Minister’s instruction to stay in school. It may not be long until there is another chance at a day of reckoning. This time it must be clearer what young people and other life on our planet need to assure their future. We must be sure that thoughtful people at high government and industry levels have a good understanding of the climate change situation.

From George Monbiot:

Today, Extinction Rebellion takes to streets around the world in defence of our life-support systems. Through daring, disruptive, nonviolent action, it forces our environmental predicament on to the political agenda. Who are these people? Another “they”, who might rescue us from our follies? The success of this mobilisation depends on us. It will reach the critical threshold only if enough of us cast aside denial and despair, and join this exuberant, proliferating movement. The time for excuses is over. The struggle to overthrow our life-denying system has begun.

And Bill McKibben:

Obama’s Catastrophic Climate-Change Denial

This is not climate denial of the Republican sort, where people simply pretend the science isn’t real. This is climate denial of the status quo sort, where people accept the science, and indeed make long speeches about the immorality of passing on a ruined world to our children. They just deny the meaning of the science, which is that we must keep carbon in the ground.

Examples could be multiplied, but I’ll stop with McKibben. Now, why am I flagging a seemingly harmless word like “denial”? Let’s look at definitions and usage. From my Oxford English Dictionary (which I love, so I’m going to quote the whole entry):

noun. e16.
[ORIGIN: from deny verb + -al1.]
1. The act of saying ‘no’; refusal of something asked or desired. e16.
Shakes. Tam. Shr. Neuer make denial; I must and will have Katherine to my wife.
2. A statement or assertion that something is untrue or untenable; contradiction; refusal to acknowledge the existence or reality of a thing. l16.
B. Jowett The denial of abstract ideas is the destruction of the mind.
3. (A) disavowal, disowning; esp. refusal to acknowledge a person as leader etc. l16.
AV John 18 Peters deniall.
4. Law. The opposing by a defendant of a charge etc. made against him or her. e18.
5. A drawback, disadvantage. dial. m18.
6. Bridge. A bid intended to show weakness in response to one’s partner’s bid. e20.

(If there’s an evolutionary chokepoint, I want to be sure to bring the OED through it.) Clearly, in all the usage examples above, sense 2 is meant: “Refusal to acknowledge the existence or reality of a thing.” There are two problems with this. First, at least in the American political context, it’s just a fancy way for liberals to do their favorite thing, which is to call their opponents stupid (which in at least some areas — say, maintaining political and financial power — conservatives most definitely are not). More broadly, the focus is on the denier; the state of mind of the individual (“in denial“). The focus on the individual is even more evident in the cultural context. Alchoholics Anonymous:

Denial: A person’s refusal to admit or accept that he or she is an alcoholic. Denial is one of the symptoms of the disease of alcoholism that makes recovery so difficult. There is a saying in AA, ‘Alcoholism is a disease which convinces you that you do not have it.’ Also, there’s a joke that goes, “She’s called Cleopatra – the Queen of Denial”

A person. Both denotation and connotation of denial and denialist put the focus squarely on the individual’s internal, even psychological state.[2] Is that any way to attack a system?

That brings me to exterminism (exterminator), which I propose as an alternative to denialism (denialist). (I am indebted to alert reader Grant not once but twice for bringing the term in context to my attention, although it only clicked for me the second time.) The term was at least popularized by the great E.P. Thompson (The Making of the English Working Class, Whigs and Hunters) during campaigns against the nuclear arms race in the 1980s and the geopolitics of the Cold War. I’m going to strip away that context (probably unfairly) and go straight to his definition. From Verso, “Notes on Exterminism, The Last Stage of Civilization (Part 2)“[3]:

Exterminism designates those characteristics of a society — expressed, in differing degrees, within its economy, its polity and its ideology — which thrust it in a direction whose outcome must be the extermination of multitudes. The outcome will be extermination, but this will not happen accidentally (even if the final trigger is “accidental”) but as the direct consequence of prior acts of policy, of the accumulation and perfection of the means of extermination, and of the structuring of whole societies so that these are directed towards that end….

It seems not inappropriate to characterize a system of social relations that has produced “a non-trivial possibility that the continuation of life on earth as we know it is at stake” as exterminist. Further, with exterminism we have, not simply individuals with (who among us…) psychological issues, but agents. Antagonistic agents: The exterminators and the exterminated. I think that’s clarifying. Returning to the first example of denialism that I quoted:

The Heritage Foundation ought to know; for decades, it has demonstrated mastery of the dark arts of climate-change denialism. This strain of influence peddling would be harmful enough had it managed merely to deepen the public ignorance about global warming. But denialism has had devastating downstream effects (to borrow an industry term). It has managed to defer meaningful consideration of nearly every urgent policy question that now awaits us, if we are serious about trying to stop this.

Despite the adjectives (“dark,” “harmful”, “devastating,” not “serious,” doesn’t calling the Heritage Foundation flaks “denialists” rather let them off the hook? Why not a rewrite:

The Heritage Foundation ought to know; for decades, it has demonstrated mastery of the dark arts of climate-change denialism exterminism. This strain of influence peddling [notice how mild “influence peddling” seems now] would be harmful enough had it managed merely to deepen the public ignorance about global warming. But denialism exterminism has had devastating downstream effects [as one would expect!] (to borrow an industry term). It has managed to defer meaningful consideration of nearly every urgent policy question that now awaits us, if we are serious about trying to stop this.

Wouldn’t it be more truthful to at least imply that the exterminists at the Heritage Foundation are putting the lives of millions of people at risk, as opposed to saying that they’ve managed to “defer meaningful consideration of nearly every urgent policy question”? Yes, I do understand that one musn’t be strident, but I don’t really see a reason to be gentle with the Heritage Foundation; they’re doing far worse damage than the tobacco, well, exterminsts (and some of them are the same people). Of course, the Heritage folks are mere hirelings; their paymasters are exterminists, too. For example:

$200 million? That’s all?


My one concern with “exterminism” is euphony; to this American ear, “exterminationism” has a more pleasing sound. An alternative would be omnicide, but I think that lacks agency, somebody doing the exterminating.


[1] One perspective I would like to see in climate change discussion the idea that we should save as many people as possible. Obviously, the 0.1% who plan to rocket off to Mars, or who are all-too-obviously making plans for human dieback with robots and AI — the fact that they’ve bought their own bullshit and crapified the engineering on their own lifeboats doesn’t mean that’s not their impulse — hardly share that perspective. Less obviously, some cohorts in the 10% are concerned with “population control” (not that they themselves will be subject to this, since after all they’ll be setting up the complex eligibility systems needed to administer the project for others). That’s all well and good — I did give myself some wiggle room on carrying capacity with “as many as possible” — but I have the uneasy sense they intend as few as possible.

[2] From AA, we branch out into pop psychology generally; for example Kubler-Ross’s model of the Five Stages of Grief, the first of which is denial.

[3] The parallel to Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism is no doubt intentional. Fascinatingly, Thompson speaks of “addiction to exterminism,” psychologizing the concept in exactly the way I have decried. Thompson writes: “But exterminism itself is not a ‘class issue’: it is a human issue.” I think that’s just a touch wooly. You do not, I suppose, have opium without the Opium War, but you do not have the Opium War without an Empire; the ships, the guns, the bureaucrats, the bills of lading, the insurance, the trade monopoly.

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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. Summer

    “Despite the recent turn toward increased global authoritarianism and denial of scientific facts, we have also recently witnessed the heart-warming sight of marching Australian children, defying their Prime Minister’s instruction to stay in school.”

    Wasn’t the big controversy actually over “models” as opposed to “facts”?

    1. Summer

      What I’m thinking is that Heritage and others pick at certain models to criticize more than the hard numbers. Kind of “look over here, not there”.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      The “controversy” over “models” was a fake controversy designed to divert attention away from facts and ongoing outcomes. Much of it was strategic trolling designed to trick global-heating realists into defending “models” at the expense of forgetting to note facts and visibly ongoing process.

      The hidden-hand black-advance exterminationists who hide under denialist cover are very skilled trolls and will have to be countered as trolls with successful counter-troll behavior. One should not worry about trying to “convince” the extermitrolls. One should worry about trying to convince the audience and especially about getting the extermitroll to discredit itself in open view.

      We need to figure out how to lead the extermitrolls to the Old Hanging Tree and how to give them enough rope for them to hang themselves upon it.

  2. clarky90

    Re “a non-trivial possibility that the continuation of life on earth as we know it is at stake. Climate Change, (The Neo-AntiChrist),….. the ultimate ‘what is to be done’ question.

    French bishop Martin of Tours stated that the world would end before 400 AD, writing, “There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established already in his early years, He (Climate Change) will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power.”

    The constant evoking of Infernal Names, (Hate, Denial…) to instill terror and docility in the population, by our neo-clergy?

      1. clarky90

        Au contraire, “The Heritage Foundation….has demonstrated mastery of the dark arts of climate-change denialism.” We are in the midst a medieval-style, mass panic! Thus “the dark arts (Satanic!) of climate-change denialism.”

        “According to psychologists, possible explanations for why people believe in modern apocalyptic predictions include (1) mentally reducing the actual danger in the world to a single and definable source, (2) an innate human fascination with fear, (3) personality traits of paranoia and powerlessness and (4) a modern romanticism involved with end-times due to its portrayal in contemporary fiction…..

        ..Such a culture is credited with the rise in popularity of predictions …such as the 2012 phenomenon, (The Mayan Long Count calendar) while maintaining the centuries-old theme that a powerful force will bring the end of humanity….”

        1. Grebo

          Confusing the use of a metaphor with the reality of the subject is a category error.

          Equating superstitious hokum with scientific observations is a category error.

          1. clarky90

            “The Geologic temperature record”, are changes in Earth’s environment as determined from geologic evidence on multi-million, to billions of years, time scales.”

            “……..(Our) recent period of cycling climate, is part of the more extended ice age that began about 40 million years ago with the glaciation of Antarctica.”
            We are still in an Ice Age!

            Many millions of years earlier….

            Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum

            “In the earliest part of the Eocene period (about 55.500,000 years ago), a series of abrupt thermal spikes have been observed, lasting no more than a few hundred thousand years. The most pronounced of these, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) is visible in the figure at right. These are usually interpreted as caused by abrupt releases of methane from clathrates (frozen methane ices that accumulate at the bottom of the ocean), …. During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, the global mean temperature seems to have risen by as much as 5-8 °C (9-14 °F) to an average temperature as high as 23 °C (73 °F), in contrast to the global average temperature of today at just under 15 °C (60 °F). Geologists and paleontologists think that during much of the Paleocene and early Eocene, the North and South Poles were free of ice caps, and palm trees and crocodiles lived above the Arctic Circle, while much of the continental United States had a sub-tropical environment…..”


            Foolishly, we imagine that the status quo is immutable.

            1. Jeremy Grimm

              No! Foolishly, we dumped 100 ppm CO2 into the atmosphere over a period of roughly a century and began propelling our climate out of the Goldilocks climate zone we had enjoyed — pushing it toward new heights of temperature and sea-levels characteristic of the less pleasant regions of the Earth’s past climate. Foolishly, we changed the status quo for the worse.

            2. Jeff

              You seem to forget that ‘earth as we know it’ (including human civilisation) grew and exists only in the conditions of the (current) Holocene. When temperatures go up, agriculture as we know it will end, and humans will die by the billions: exterminism (now planned for AD 2045).
              Btw, those spikes still took several thousand years (leaving time for alligators and palm trees to move up to the Arctic and back down later on), and not a single century.

            3. Susan the other`

              Yes, but when the interglacial periods of warm weather happen over a period of 10,000 years we come to think it’s normal. The joke’s on us. Because our civilization has prospered during this warm period and civilization itself has created further warming – just by eating and breathing. That’s not to mention the use of fossil fuels and all the CO2 in the atmosphere. There is no denying we have added massive amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere, making global warming accelerate. Even if we had not done so, global warming would have accelerated on its own because (they’ve known this process since the late 50s) as the arctic ocean melts it adds enormous amounts of moisture to the atmosphere. Witness the density of the jet stream these days. That moisture creates a cloud cover that both cools the planet during the day and warms it at night. The at night part is the worst culprit because new ice isn’t forming, it melts from beneath because the ocean is warming everywhere. The process is self-correcting, or used to be, ice ages bring on warming because they eliminate all that cloud cover and warm periods bring on glaciations because so much rain and snow fall on the northern hemisphere, etc. We are also, in this aging interglacial, facing a cooling sun whose magnetic field is taking a little nap. Which also leads to cloud cover. (Danish research.) Ice cores going back hundreds of thousands of years show a rise in CO2 in the atmosphere just before the onset of a new glaciation. The danger is we are putting so much CO2 into the atmosphere that we could cause massive climate disruptions – which nobody can deny we are seeing happen regularly. Nobody knows where the best balance is but science is pointing to erring on the side of caution by cutting our CO2. To stabilize climate change. It’s going to be a wild ride, in spite of our best efforts but without them it could be much worse. We need to do everything we can to eliminate the accumulation of atmospheric CO2. And establish best practices for civilization to live by.

              1. pretzelattack

                it should be cooling, from what i understand, if not for our contributions of co2. so the answer to the question of how much warming we are responsible for is “more than all of it”.

    1. Stadist

      You are correct that this “a non-trivial possibility that the continuation of life on earth as we know it is at stake” is a dubious claim. The ‘hardcore’ nihilistic-albeit-realistic scientific arguments I have read about this generally conclude that runaway climate change will cause massive collapse in human populations. This collapse in human populations then will allow the planet the re-equilibrate.
      As far as I know the likelihood for man made runaway climate change wiping out all life on earth is insanely small. I would even suspect that extinction of humans is not possible at this point, at least not directly because of climate change, however population and societal collapses combined with loss of knowledge and technologies could allow some infectious diseases to wipe out the rest. This would be because of climate change, but indirectly.

      Of course the whole quote can be understood in several ways, we can argue “life on earth as we know it is at stake” is correct in a way if consider it from human perspective: Life on earth as we know it would certainly be different if human populations and societies collapsed because of climate change.

      In general however you seem to cling to one single sentence and try to make whole climate change discussion seem silly because of that.

      1. clarky90

        I am a “deep ecologist”. I despair at our constant meddling; our insatiable desire “to make a difference”. We lurch from one Utopian scheme, to the next Neo-Utopia. Always an innovative failure that generates piles of inorganic garbage. A quest to usurp God and become gods ourselves.

        IMO, rising CO2 and increased temperatures are the least of our worries. I tend plants, and plants love “the hot house effect” (heat, moisture and CO2).

        An Inconvenient Neo-Truth; We have ceased talking about the ecology. The soil, the worms, the fungi, the forests; a world without pesticides, insecticides, antibiotics, genetic engineering……….The old ways of living.

        The ecology narrative has been appropriated by urban, political activist “theoreticians” who have got the “climate change meme” in their one track brains. No mention of ecology anymore. Veganism (cashew nuts from India…) and electric self driving cars seems to be the plan…? Rube-Goldberg i-machines to save the day.

        “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.” Walter J. Savitch

        1. pretzelattack

          plants don’t love rapid increases like this, and we aren’t plants. and scientists who study climate aren’t urban, political activist “theoreticians”–they’re just telling us what they find. none of this is relevant to ecology as far as i can see.

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          When you get heat, drought, and CO2; that’s not the sort of hothouse effect plants like. When you get category 6 and 7 hurricanes razing off all the plants in their area at ground level, plants won’t like that either. When you deprive temperate zone plants of the winter Chill Hours they need for proper breaking dormancy the next spring, those plants dislike it so much that they boycott the flowering-fruiting process.

          And lately the deprivation of bark-beetle-killing deep chills out west has allowed bark beetle plagues to kill millions of acres of trees.

          For a deep ecologist who tends plants, you don’t seem to know much about plants.
          Or ecology.

  3. Jon Claerbout

    How about a scientific CO2 lover? Search Youtube for Patrick Moore. He’s a founding leader of Green Peace.
    Try also a search for science writer Matt Ridley. And Google for Freeman Dyson. He never won a Nobel Prize but he defined the nuclear chemistry of our sun and has about 20 honorary degrees from colleges and universities. I quote him,” Climate models solve the equations of fluid dynamics. They might do a good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry, and the biology of fields, farms, and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in.”

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Dyson is one of those clever strategically-trolling trolls. Someone should ask him if he has made any correct predictions about the general trend of climate and weather behavior.

      And someone should ask him how he explains all the predictions which the global heating realist climatologists have gotten right so far. Make him either answer or refuse to answer in public.

    2. gardenbreads

      Patrick Moore Did Not Found Greenpeace

      Patrick Moore frequently portrays himself as a founder or co-founder of Greenpeace, and many news outlets have repeated this characterization. Although Mr. Moore played a significant role in Greenpeace Canada for several years, he did not found Greenpeace. Phil Cote, Irving Stowe, and Jim Bohlen founded Greenpeace in 1970. Patrick Moore applied for a berth on the Phyllis Cormack in March, 1971 after the organization had already been in existence for a year. A copy of his application letter and Greenpeace’s response are available here (PDF).

      Greenpeace Statement On Patrick Moore July 6, 2010

      Patrick Moore often misrepresents himself in the media as an environmental “expert” or even an “environmentalist,” while offering anti-environmental opinions on a wide range of issues and taking a distinctly anti-environmental stance. He also exploits long-gone ties with Greenpeace to sell himself as a speaker and pro-corporate spokesperson, usually taking positions that Greenpeace opposes.

      Updated March 11, 2019.

    3. Grebo

      Patrick Moore is not scientific, he is a mercenary shill. Conservative demolition.

      Matt Ridley is science writer and a “libertarian” coal mine owner.

      Freeman Dyson attacks models in broad terms, he doesn’t seem to have a problem with the basic science. He just likes to be contrarian.

    4. Jeremy Grimm

      About the only thing I might agree with in your comment, though with caveats: “They[climate models] do not begin to describe the real world that we live in.” Most of the climate model could describe the real world climate we live in but the questions they are tackling regard the real world we will live in. The current real world provides one set among many — including various past conditions — of initial conditions for running climate models.

      You need to read a broader set of sources for your information on climate models:
      “A new study published in Science Advances [03 Apr 2019] shows that the main features of natural climate variability over the last 3 million years can be reproduced with an efficient model of the Earth system.” [] This post at written by Matteo Willeit the chief author of the paper published in Science Advances makes a particularly chilling statement in the conclusion:
      “In the context of future climate change, our results imply that a failure to significantly reduce CO2 emissions to comply with the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming well below 2°C will not only bring Earth’s climate away from Holocene-like conditions, but also push it beyond climatic conditions experienced during the entire current geological period.”

    5. Jeff

      I’ll give you Tamino. A scientific like Freeman Dyson (astronomer, he creates statistics for a living), he started out more than sceptical about this climate change thing, so he worked out the statistics and models for himself, only to admit, that yes, he was wrong.
      Contrary to Dyson, he is not in the business of profiteering from Brexit, but is still publishing scientific papers (on astronomy AND Climate change).

  4. Peter Dorman

    Shameless self-promotion. Here is the opening paragraph from my forthcoming book on climate change:

    “There are many books that confront what has come to be known as climate denialism: the refusal to recognize the reality of climate change and the human role in instigating it. This one begins where those end, challenging the second-stage denialism that, while conceding the issue in a general way, seeks convenient solutions that, on closer inspection, are not solutions at all. This more nuanced form of denial takes many forms: diminishing the scale of the problem, evading the necessity for a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels, minimizing the costs this imposes on our carbon-dependent economy, and failing to acknowledge the political barriers a serious climate policy needs to overcome. I don’t want to terrify or demoralize you: we face a difficult task, but I still believe we can succeed. We won’t, however, unless we are honest about what it is we have to accomplish and what it will take to get the job done.”

  5. Stadist

    All the western countries could easily tie up non-trivial amounts of CO2 with massive reordering of both nutrition sources and general planning.
    1. Changing diets to 90% Vegetarian would allow massive reforestation and carbon capture with the farmland that is not needed anymore. Meat production, especially beef is extremely inefficient when compared to various ‘vegan’ options if we consider the land use.
    2. Concentrating people to live in apartment buildings (5-8 floors tall at least) in cities, villages and other urban centers. Bulldozing all the single family houses and lawns and planting forests in the places of these would again allow more reforestation (= natural carbon capture).
    3. Concentrating populations in smaller areas allows higher local population densities which makes all sort of public transportation options to be more efficient than in the dystopian urban sprawl that demands everyone to own private vehicle.
    4. Building Apartment buildings from mostly wood will remove carbon from general cycle for say 80-150 years, acting as a sort of carbon capture. Cutting down trees to build buildings and replanting the trees is not climate destructive, the carbon is tied to the wood. Current option in use is the concrete and cement, which currently produces 5% of all the man-made CO2 emissions.

    You know what is the funniest with above? Everything could be implemented right now, there are no major technological obstacles. Real obstacle are all the private vehicle and house-with-a-lawn owning people, but also politicians and urban planners but this all ties back to the middle class and rich people who will vigorously defend their own acquired privileges. Instead we have all these other miniscule efforts thrown around that predominately target people in the lower and lowest income brackets when the actual massive shift is needed in how our societies are structured and function currently.

    Above list is not going to solve the problem of climate change, however I would argue any possible increase in reforestation and carbon capture we can do will slow down the process and give us more time to act.
    The fact is massive reforestation is the only quick way to enact carbon capture at the moment. Meanwhile latest data on climate change indicate warming up is accelerating with the current atmospheric CO2 levels. The planet will continue warming up even if all the human-caused CO2 emissions stopped today and never continued. But instead the mainstream debate is going around whether we should reduce CO2 emissions 1% or 2% next year.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      ” Meat production, especially beef is extremely inefficient when compared to various ‘vegan’ options if we consider the land use.”

      No it isn’t. See these videos.;_ylt=A0geK.ODUrZcHjoATIhXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEyMnJndHVuBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQTA2MDJfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=you+tube+gabe+brown&fr=sfp

      Someone should start answering the question as to whether tree-growing forests or multi-species-growing pasture-range-prairie biosequesters more carbon. I wonder which side’s carbon-capture claims are more reality-based.

      Wetlands suck down and store huge amounts of carbon. If we were to restore all the wetlands which existed at the time of Columbus, we would be sucking down much carbon into the growing muck and peat beds under the water of each wetland.

      1. Stadist

        Interesting videos, thanks for sharing this.

        I actually went to read mainstream scientific studies afterwards about the trees and forests. Current understanding with forests and how they affect climate change is under debate at the moment. One scientist, Nadine Unger, has claimed publicly that forests are harmful and increase warming because forests 1) soak more heat being dark 2) when cut down increase ground albedo. Personally I found her logic lacking, but I’m going through the material.

        But on your counter-argument to my argument: Are you saying beef production is more efficient than grain, vegetable and various other plant-food (= Vegan) production? If this is true we should all just eat beef I guess.
        Also if you would argue against the whole paragraph than just one sentence: “Changing diets to 90% Vegetarian would allow massive reforestation and carbon capture with the farmland that is not needed anymore. Meat production, especially beef is extremely inefficient when compared to various ‘vegan’ options if we consider the land use.” I’m claiming that ‘Vegan’ food production demands less land area than equivalent calorie amount of Beef production. To remind you, your ‘counter-argument’ was not even a single video link, you link video search results. Do you seriously expect me to watch 3+ hours of videos to find out what was your exact argument?

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Not any old beef production. Certainly not mainstream feedlot beef production.

          Strictly, limitedly and only beef production on multi-species pasture and range. And farmer Gabe Brown as featured in many of those videos has integrated fast-moving tight-bunched packs of cattle into his no-till rotating cash-crop and multispecies pseudo-pasture operation.
          He states that his soil organic matter began going back up after adopting no-till and multi-species cover cropping between the cash crops. He claims that his soil organic matter began going even more up even higher and faster AFter he integrated fast-moving packs of cattle into this operation.

          The videos cover it. His recently written book covers it in print. The only reason so few other farmers can be cited for the same results is that so few other farmers are using the same methods. He and those desperately few other farmers are trying to spread the word around about their achievements in hopes that a few more lonely farmers here and there might do the same. Perhaps a rising fanbase of urbanites and suburbanites with enough money to be able to buy higher-priced shinolafood instead of lower-priced sh*tfood would provide those farmers with a stable enough living that more other farmers might begin to dare to take the same steps.

          So the limited answer is not to eat “more” beef. The limited answer is to eat pasture/range beef and integrated no-till farming-and-livestock-system beef, because that is carbon-capture beef. Feedlot beef emits carbon and should be boycotted into extinction. It might mean everybody eating ten times less beef than what they eat now, but that ten-times-less would all be carbon capture beef — part of a system sucking down the skycarbon and capture-storing it in and under the soil.

          Some will say that cattle belches contain methane and therefor livestock should be banned regardless. To which I would reply that #1: I have read here and there that feeding seaweed meal and feeding biochar to cattle reduce the emitted methane. And feeding both together might reduce cattle methane emissions even further. And #2: growing rice emits significant methane. So if we are going to ban a sector of agriculture for releasing methane, we must be consistent and ban rice as well as banning beef.

    2. Math is Your Friend

      “Changing diets to 90% Vegetarian”

      I’m sure that this will be very comforting to the 23% or so of people of European descent who have the genes for a vegetarian diet.

      Humans are very adaptable… in several thousand years they adapt to specific dietary patterns. Hence adult lactose tolerance in Northern Europe approximates 98% while reaching about 2% in parts of Southern Asia.

      Eskimos (Alaska) and Innuit (Canada) and ?something? (Greenland) are adapted to a diet of about 98% animal derived foods. The change in their diets to include more plant based foods is likely a factor in the enormous incidence of diabetes in their communities.

      Imposing a diet without regard to the consequences to the victims is a bad (and essentially racist – though we probably need a different term) idea.

      I know my system gets very unhappy when the percentage of plant based food gets too high.

    3. Math is Your Friend

      “Meat production, especially beef is extremely inefficient when compared to various ‘vegan’ options if we consider the land use.”

      This statement is essentially an example of unjustified generalization.

      Some forms of meat production are inefficient as practiced now and optimized for a different set of criteria than those you are applying.

      There is no reason to assume that no forms of meat production can be optimized for different criteria. I suspect that the correct approach could render it extremely productive in ways designed to minimize external environmental impacts, quite possible to an extent that production is a net carbon sink. It would take some more physics, engineering, and almost certainly, biology, but not developments that are out of reach from where we stand today.

      Indeed, over the next 50 years or so, there are things in the science/engineering pipeline that would probably result in steady improvements in such practices.

      Not much you can do about the CO2 from humans metabolising food, but if you source the food intelligently, releases would drop below values typical for conventional agricultural methods.

      1. Stadist

        Well I do agree with you in here to a degree.

        The rough plan I blurted out was to show an example of things that could be done right now.

        Personally I feel like it’s better to do too much than too little right now, land use restrictions and forest cover targets can be relaxed later if efforts were overdone. The ‘too little’ option however is problematic for so many reasons. In the big picture it’s looking like the climate change is picking up speed at increasing rate while global carbon reduction efforts so far have not even been able to stop the atmospheric CO2 increase. So far it does not look like anyone is doing too much, instead everyone is almost competing to do less than the others which should come as no surprise as it’s the essential crux of capitalism itself: Do as much with as little as you can.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        Gabe Brown claims to be using cattle to INcrease the rate of skycarbon suckdown and soilcarbon buildup NOW. And he SAYS that he welcomes scientists onto his land to study his operation.

        If he is lying about any of that, wouldn’t he have been exposed or debunked by now?

  6. Jeremy Grimm

    To my mind ‘climate denialism’ is the term for a broad campaign of agnotology. Denialists are what we call people who for have adopted one of the stances advocated by climate denialism. They deny that the climate is changing or accept the reality of climate change but deny the changes are threatening and require immediate action, or argue the climate has always changed and deny that the present changes are alarming, or …. For a long time some denialists refused to believe that actions of Humankind could affect Earth’s climate, and even now many discussions of climate begin by asserting Humankind’s culpability for climate change. I believe denialists chose their position and choose their arguments from the long menu of widely disseminated and broadly spread arguments of climate change agnotology, and their individual motives vary as widely as the arguments they choose.

    With respect to the term ‘exterminism’ I’m not entirely convinced of the agency behind our nuclear war planning. I believe the nuclear war planning seems to have life of its own as a sum of individual actions with a range of motives and rationales, some of them plainly insane. The resulting ‘Fail-Safe’ nuclear war planning which Elsberg describes is jury-rigged and extremely error prone. For that reason I prefer the word ‘omnicide’ to refer to the outcome of nuclear war.

    Climate Chaos has many actors working at cross-purposes, and some of the key actors are not human. Many of our cartels have strong interests in “business-as-usual” and I’m not sure any human will be able to turn the cartels away from their efforts to make the most profits possible in the immediate future. In this respect I think this post begs the question of our having a capitalistic society. Calling our present political-economy stretches the term ‘capitalistic’ well beyond any meaning that term once held. Cartels and monopoly are late term degenerations of capitalism. But whether fully culpable or not I do not absolve the high-level individuals in the Cartels and their wholly owned government from my condemnations for their ambition and love of power, their greed, their stupidity, and their cowardice.

    But what is the point of arguing these terms? Why is framing “Climate Change” important now? The arctic pole is melting. The weather is growing chaotic. Just those two changes are sufficient for concern about “… a non-trivial possibility that the continuation of life on earth as we know it is at stake.” Our agriculture relies on relatively stable weather, and the almost 7.5 billion members of Humankind [there were less than half that number when I was in grade school!] rely on our present levels of agriculture. As the pole melts the weather will grow even more chaotic. But the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to increase with no indications anything will be done to stop that increase without some very radical changes to our political-economic system. Our cartels do not care whether Humankind or all life on this planet is exterminated, and they do not care about the end of life as we know. They are working day and night to bring about the end of life as we know it, as we continue to burn through the second half of our fossil fuels, adding more and more CO2, as quickly as humanly possible with no plans for what’s next.

    1. Stadist

      I would argue some of the more affluent among us will see the climate change is ‘righteous’ culling of the more unproductive members (‘takers’) of the society who are ‘holding back the virtuous people.’ Of course they may not consider this in such a harsh, extreme terms, but I there is a difference whether the passive (not caring) or active (hoping for) inaction ends up with the same ultimate result?

      But these attitudes tie back to the discussions about supposed meritocratic society and stoicism used to justify injustices. If one subscribes to more extreme views of meritocracy in a twisted way it’s ‘ok’ if significant amounts of people die because of climate change as they are responsible for not being able to react, i.e. it’s their own fault they are poor. Handily these views also allow more privileged people to ignore all personal responsiblity as their own success and survival is a virtue following the meritocractic principle.

      But then I wonder whether I’m more cynical than some other people are nihilistic.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Strange, I too sometimes fantasize that the population collapse might have eugenic effects. However, one problem with social eugenics is defining what traits are best. I believe notions of meritocracy and any concept of the poor ‘deserving’ their poverty, or the wealthy deserving their good fortunes, have long ago met arguments and evidence sufficient to quiet most who might reasonably claim belief in advocacy as a means to settle a question.

        I am impressed by how recent present Humankind appears to be. Our species was around for some time before something happened sometime between 100,000 and 70,000 years ago. Further — more convincing — evidence for the peculiar abilities of our species didn’t leave evidence until around 35,000 years ago. Humankind seems a very new kind of animal indeed. The forces of evolution move slowly, much more slowly, weeding out traits and characteristics of a new creature which limit its long-term viability, which suggests some basic, possibly fatal flaws, lurk within our species. I believe the humans who carry certain psychopathic and sociopathic traits, traits which might fit them high into your meritocracies, carry the possibly fatal flaws which must be expunged from Humankind if we are to survive as a species. Many billions of quite innocent humans, with traits well-suited for the survival of Humankind, will die as our civilization collapses. My hope is that in the collapse some of these innocents might assure that the psychopaths and sociopaths who so wantonly crafted the collapse might be among the lost. Perhaps the human mind might be rid of the ghost of Wotan and other ghosts haunting that machine, and threatening the existence of Humankind.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        No, you are not too cynical. What you describe is a facet of Jackpot Design Engineering. It is why I wonder if the first barrier to solving our problems is the physical existence of the people who make up our overclass. I wonder if we would have to round them all up and physically exterminate them first in order to remove the opposition their existence poses to us solving our problems.

        1. TimR

          Omg… ROFL… Now who are the “exterminists”? The irony is rich…

          I kind of saw it coming I have to say. These deniers/exterminists subhuman ones must be eliminated, one would think… After being given these dehumanizing propaganda labels.

          “Exterminate the brutes!”

          1. pretzelattack

            how do you think anti vaxers should be treated in the middle of an epidemic? and do you seriously think the danger to civilization is posed by people who recognize there is a problem that we are causing by co2 emissions?

            1. TimR

              Pretzel- Maybe you’re well versed in the science… Or even credentialed?… And can be so confident in the righteousness of your cause as to justify violence against those who disagree.

              But do you think most of your allies are in that position? Most movements are made up of True Believers who buy in for various psychological reasons. Including weaponized language like Denier or Exterminist.

          2. drumlin woodchuckles

            If you have a better idea about how to work around them or under them or over them while they remain in place, this would be a good place to share it.

            Do you think we have a way to prevent the Jackpot-by-Design while the Jackpot Design Engineers are still in place and active?

  7. Musicismath

    I think the “exterminist” framing—and the theoretical borrowing from E. P. Thompson—is an excellent one. It really helps us focus in on the fact that a great deal of this is to do with contradictions inherent within liberal individualist ideology. “Denialism” is just another way of converting an existential threat into an individual moral problem—a favoured tactic of liberal individualists. “Denialists” are stupid, morally bad individuals, while we, the good and the enlightened, at least recognise on an individual level that the problem exists, though we will, as always, stop at the “recognition” step and refuse to go any further in practical terms. A really good speech will have to do instead.

    But it also lays bear the extent to which there is (and perhaps always has been) a strong exterminist logic within liberal individualism, a logic that obviously also underpins the concept of meritocracy. We saw it during the first Gilded Age, in the form of Herbert Spencer-inspired Social Darwinism and the eugenics movement that grew out of it. And something very similar seems to be operating in the currently dominant “woke” moral framework. According to this way of thinking, all our problems are due to the actions of our political opponents, who are morally bad people (racists, etc.) If we could only wait for these irredeemables to “die off,” then everything would just automatically fall into our laps. I saw this “die off” meme spread across the liberal and formerly-left parts of the internet in 2015-16 (I’m not sure where it originated), and the logic has only got more ruthless and more exterminist since. We can see it in the thinking behind the Second Brexit Referendum, whose supporters seem to believe that enough bad old people have died since 2016 to swing the thing Remain’s way. HRC’s “basket of deplorables” comment was also inherently eugenicist in nature, implying the existence of a “dangerous class” of voters whose minds and attitudes could never be changed. We could also view what Haidt and Lukianoff call “vindictive protectiveness” in this light, implying a no-holds-barred attitude to moral transgressors as “bad actors.” It’s the reason why so many Clintonite-style liberals now seem to take badly against the idea of universal benefits (Medicare for All; Free College) and embrace means testing as a way of morally assessing the beneficiaries.

    At its base, liberal individualism concerns itself with sorting people into moral hierarchies, separating the “deserving” from the “undeserving.” It’s great for those who want gigs administering the proliferating array of means tests this logic produces (in practice, a large and growing proportion of the professional-managerial 10% layer). But it obviously means casting into the outer darkness the vast majority of people who will “fail out” for one reason or another.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Your comment is very perceptive. I think the flaws you identify in what you term “liberal individualist ideology” are also among the flaws that enable psychopaths and sociopaths to find high place within our society. Similar flaws in the “liberal individualist ideology” are a basis for the protective legal and coercive power which gird our cartels and other large organizations. I view these social manifestations as embodiments of deep flaws in Humankind — freely extrapolating from the concepts of Arthur Koestler’s “Ghost in the Machine”.

      1. Musicismath

        Thanks! And I agree entirely with your observation that the contradictions in liberal individualism are also the cracks into which sociopaths and psychopaths can crawl and, eventually, make their kingdoms.

    2. Math is Your Friend

      I may need a spot of help understanding this.

      What do you mean by “liberal individualist ideology”?

      Not a phrase or term I’ve encountered before….

      1. Musicismath

        Sorry: it’s all a bit loose at the moment. These are ideas I’m still working through in my head, so the use of terms is probably a bit idiosyncratic. I guess I’m saying something similar to what Slavoj Žižek argues in Living in the End Times: that liberal individualism (a system that places the needs and interests of the individual first, and posits the market as the basic model of society) ultimately ends up as a kind of pervasively moralistic “war of all against all,” a war that manifests itself (when there is no countervailing force) as exterminism.


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