Can We Have Both Industrial Civilization and a Habitable Planet?

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Yves here. Thomas Neuberger raises a question that has troubled us for some time: how much do we have to give up of our modern lifestyles to save the planet? On the one hand, if we don’t, Little Home on the Prairie-level civilization is likely to be a good outcome circa 2250. But on the other, few are willing to give up much. As an illustration, a friend who ought to know better is adamant that she won’t live in an Amsterdam-sized apartment with no dishwasher. And that’s before getting to massive collection action problems….unless you can go prepper (which requires a decent level of physical fitness and cultivatable land), it’s hard not to be a big part of the problem.

By Thomas Neuberger. Originally published at God’s Spies


“Companies are involved in these activities to make money. … What they’re actually talking about is sustaining high-energy ways of life at the expense of the natural world.” —Bright Green Lies, trailer


Not long ago I wrote about the problem of stopping climate change, or at least mitigating its worst results, and concluded:

The climate crisis threatens to end our economic system not only if it’s ignored. It threatens to end our system if it’s addressed.

This is the Catch-22 that makes the coming climate crisis different from a meteor strike, for example. In the meteor case, the current economic order is destroyed only if the meteor lands. Diverting its impact preserves the economic status quo.

Not so the climate. In that case, preserving the economic status quo guarantees collapse, as does the meteor strike, but addressing it effectively also guarantees a different economic and political order, since the current economic and political system cannot address it at all. Quite a dilemma for those presently in charge.

Is the Ruling Class the Problem, or the Economy Itself?

But I think the problem is greater than that; it can’t be fixed only by changing the economic order and removing the current ruling class from power. The problem that needs to be fixed is, in fact, modern life itself — specifically, “high energy” life. Watch the trailer for the new film, Bright Green Lies, to see what I mean.

There’s a book associated with the film, also called Bright Green Lies, available at a number of places, including here. Its premise is simple:

The only way to build the bright green narrative is to erase every awareness of the creatures and communities being consumed. They simply don’t exist, and if they do exist, they don’t matter. Take, for example, the Florida yew whose home is one single 15-mile stretch, now under threat from biomass production. Or the Scottish wildcat who number a grim 35, all at risk from a proposed wind installation.

“Progress,” Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan reminds us, “is a sort of madness that is a god to people. Decent people commit horrible crimes that are acceptable because of progress.” And so our culture hurtles towards are new industrial paradigm, and the wildcats are consigned to history.

The true facts about supposedly renewable energy are hard, and worse than inconvenient. The first truth is that industrial civilization requires industrial levels of energy. The second is that fossil fuel—especially oil— is functionally irreplaceable. Scaling the current renewable energy technology, like solar, wind, hydro, and biomass, would be tantamount to ecocide. Consider that 12 percent of the continental United States would have to be covered in windfarms to meet current electricity demands. But electricity is only one-sixth of the nation’s energy consumption. To provide for the U.S.A.’s total energy consumption, fully 72 percent of the continent would have to be devoted to wind farms. In reality, solar and wind development threaten to destroy as much land globally as expansion of urban sprawl, oil and gas, coal, and mining combined by 2050.

Third, solar, wind, and battery technology are, in their own right, assaults against the living world. From beginning to end, they require industrial-scale devastation: open-pit mining, deforestation, soil toxification that’s permanent on anything but a geologic timescale, extirpation and extinction of vulnerable species, and use of fossil fuels. In reality, so-called “green” technologies are some of the most destructive industrial processes every invented. They will not save the earth. They will only hasten its demise. [emphasis added]

Don’t miss the detail buried in the second paragraph. First, there’s not enough land left — after the land required to sustain a seven-billion-plus population — to provide solar and wind farms. Second, building those energy farms is itself a high-energy, destructive industrial process.

So the question we’re left with is simple: Is industrial civilization incompatible with a habitable planet?

The film, which so far I’ve only seen in part, seems to be clear in its answer: If we try to have both, we’ll have neither. Partly because of the reasons hinted at above, and partly because of the definition of life itself. (How bound up in each other are the hundreds of billions of living “things” on the earth? How much is the life of any of them dependent on the lives of them all? If so, what’s really alive? The individuals? Or the system itself?)

A Truly Open Question

But I want to leave the question of the viability of industrial civilization open for now, because the implications are so broad. I want to see the numbers on which the conclusion depends, which I think the book provides, though I suspect the authors are way beyond right. It just seems so likely that “manufacturing our way out of the problem” encapsulates and enshrines the problem itself — manufacturing.

Must we surrender manufacturing to survive? If so, how does that happen?

As many have pointed out, even if an enlightened politician were president (we don’t have one), the surest way to get unelected in a hurry is to ask for sacrifice from the modern American people. As Yves Smith pointed out at Naked Capitalism, “The only hope we have of non-catastrophic outcomes is radical conservation, and just about no one in a position of influence is willing to say that. After all, we live in a society where some regard mask-wearing as an unbearable hardship.”

My plan is to read the book, watch the film, and make a decision after that. I encourage you to do the same.

And if the answer to the question I posed in the title turns out to be no, I’ll try to address that as well. If we’re going to be witness to a spectacular sunset-of-the-species, we should at least be attentive and thoughtful about what we’re seeing. And even in the direst of circumstances, action — intelligent and well-designed — is always better than passive and pained acceptance.

What Does “Bright Green” Mean?

The term “bright green” describes the kind of environmentalist who proposes industrial solutions to ecological problems. According to the book, these are the classes of environmentalists across the full spectrum:


The living planet and nonhumans both have the right to exist. Human flourishing depends on healthy ecology. To save the planet, humans must live within the limits of the natural world; therefore, drastic transformations need to occur at social, cultural, economic, political, and personal levels.


Humans depend on nature, and technology probably won’t solve environmental issues, but political engagement is either impossible or unnecessary. The best we can do is practice self-reliance, small-scale living, and other personal solutions. Withdrawal will change the world.


Environmental problems exist and are serious, but green technology and design, along with ethical consumerism, will allow a modern, high-energy lifestyle to continue indefinitely. The bright greens’ attitude amounts to: “It’s less about nature, and more about us.”


Ecological issues exist, but most problems are minor and can be solved through proper management. Natural resources should be protected primarily to enable their continued extraction and human well-being.


The earth is made up of resources that are essentially infinite. Ecological problems are secondary. Technology and the economic system—whether free-market capitalism or socialism—will solve all ecological problems.


Humans should transcend biology by investing heavily in technology. We can also avoid the possibility of human extinction by leaving planet Earth behind, and we should ultimately move toward cybernetic enhancement and uploading human consciousness into machines in order to defeat death.

I hope you will watch the film and/or read the book with me. I’ll have much more to say on this subject later.

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  1. Synoia

    The best outcome is to revert to about the mid 1600s, well before the industrial revolution.
    Which includes mid 1600s standard of living, population and resource consumption.

    Which will not be a managed transition. It could only be violent, driven by desperation.

    The real outcome probably includes pestilence, famine and death on a grand scale. I suspect only the primitive tribes in remote places will have the skills to survive, and probably will survive.

    The resources for human kind to recover as not easily found any more, and it appears almost impossible for the few survivors to build an industrial civilization again.

    The message here is that our form of civilization is not an evolutionary advantage,

    The complete failure to detect any civilization similar to ours in any epoch in the universe would appear to support this outcome.

    1. LifelongLib

      My understanding is that it was over-consumption of wood (mostly for charcoal) in the 1600s in England that led to the development of deep coal mines, with the first steam engines being used to pump water from the mines. I don’t know if this was a uniquely English problem, but it does suggest that a 1600s level of consumption isn’t necessarily sustainable either. A truly sustainable human existence might look more like 10,000 BC…

      1. vlade

        We could, I believe, sustain the current “western” lifestyle. For about 1bln people stable population, mostly concentrated. Which means more like European that the US on the “western” scale.

        1. Anthony Stegman

          You neglect to mention the European “model”. For centuries Europe exported its excess populations to its colonies, including to North America. Those avenues are largely closed off now due to enormous human population growths globally. Europe is now facing a tidal wave of immigration from other places having excess populations. As is North America. And the beat goes on. There is no “model” of lifestyles that will offer a solution to the human problem. Humans are a cancer on the planet. Unless you eliminate the cancer cells in their entirety they can still reproduce, so fewer numbers of humans will provide only temporary relief at best.

        2. dw

          course we have to eliminate the remaining 9 or billion people, even with with shrining to 1 billion. to be back to 1600s, might have to eliminate even more people. to go back 10000bc…would probably mean almost all but a very few would need to die

          so roughly 99% of humans would have to die.

          is it any wonder you have trouble convincing others to go along with your plan

          1. d w

            well it doesnt much to back up that current agriculture is much efficient than it was in 1600 or 10000 bc . all one has to really do is look to see how many folks actually ‘work’ in agriculture. today in the US, its less than 1%. so that means less than 4 million people work there, and most own the farms. lets say just for grins, it was closer to 10 million…out of maybe 300 million in the US. if one goes back to look a Rome and its ‘economy’, you find that roughly 90% of the entire population were involved in agriculture work. so given how much worse 1600 agriculture is than efficient and advanced than Rome’s (lots of knowledge was lost because of the dark age). so trying go back to 1600, would also require a population about the same size. as lots of technology would have to go with 1600 Earth.

        3. margaret bartley

          Do you have *any* data to back that up?
          I suspect we would have to live like the native Americans were living when the Europeans first arrived.
          That is the only type of culture I’m aware of that was able to maintain a sustainable standard of living for thousands of years.
          Anything that would require mining and manufacturing is not sustainable. Period.

          1. d w

            1600 Earth tech didnt last a 1000 years, Rome was the only one i know of to have lasted that long

    2. PlutoniumKun

      The 16/17th Century was a period of enormous ecological destruction in Europe. The entire Dutch economic miracle, for example, was based on large scale peat extraction which in turn made the construction of the dyke system essential. Ireland was deforested to supply the wood for the Royal Navy (and to make it harder for rebels to hide). Britain had already stripped most of its forests and destroyed its uplands and peatlands and wetlands. Japan also more or less destroyed its native forests in that period. More recent analyses of climate change indicate that it had a much more significant impact on climate that has previously been judged. Humans have been churning out too much CO2 since the invention of agriculture. Going further back, you can still detect the massive amounts of toxic metals released by Roman mines and metallurgy.

      1. Aumua

        It could very well be that (Western) civilization simply started off on the wrong foot altogether, and there is no version of it, past present or future, that is not fubar’d. I have no idea what this implies, or how the situation can be remedied absent total destruction/transformation.

    3. d w

      hm, you have looked at how people lived in the 1600s right? the majority were serf or below. and the live span was just say live spans werent very long. leading to very large families to make up for that. plus getting enough food to eat (starvation was wide spread). the large families (farms needed labor….and families supplied most of that) which may have lead to the starvation problem since there were so many people and agriculture was so unproductive that it couldnt support the population.
      so living in a 1600s level planet would mean starvation for those who survived long term, with short life spans

      and lots and lots of wars, to keep the plebs distracted

      1. juno mas

        In the 1600’s North America was nothing like what was occurring in Britain. Most, if not all, native americans had a culture that understood natural processes and lived relatively low consumption lifestyles. They had there own ideas about agriculture that didn’t degrade the land.

        It was when those Brits (and their culture) arrived in the New World that the land degradation accelerated. It’s been downhill ever since.

        1. Aumua

          We should definitely be looking to Native Americans and other indigenous, colonized and/or enslaved peoples for the kind of solutions that might work. This is part of the real woke shit.

        2. dw

          dont think i mentioned britain, but Europe of the 1600s was in the midst of the 30 year war, among others. some europeans had some comforts almost all didnt. and while they may have been some better off than north america in some ways. neither had much comforts as we would know them. and both were just barely better than in starvation mode all the time.
          and trying to go back to either time, will require a mass extinction event for humans every where. as we couldnt feed the numbers of people using the ways food was done then.

    4. Peter Lynch

      I know this problem, of what to do and we cannot do it anyhow seems to hang around as something that is not doable, too expensive, existing technology cannot be enough. Well, all three of these are WRONG. It is doable, it is NOT expensive, in fact, it is FAR cheaper than any other way and current technology SWB (solar wind and batteries) are far cheaper than any fossil fuels – so why can’t this be done? Well, the answer is right there looking everyone in the eye – we have not really tried. Really try means to move forward together and address the problem – we have not even started – there are still people who do not believe climate change is real – what percent of these people still think the Earth is flat? WE NEED TO CUT THE BS and just do it – it can be done.

      1. dw

        yes it defiantly can be. but each of us must start it, it wont happen by law, not with a certain party having influence (R). but if we all start buying more economic and environmental safe products, business will change what they sell. otherwise they wont be in business for long. but thats what we buy what we use is a different story. if business will let a large chunk (and for those where all can) work from home we would reduce transport pollution (this may require some changes in the law to actually encourage them…like having a fee for those who require their employees work from a central office, or reducing he tax credit for their offices when there is not required for their job….and given how many business changed to work from home during the pandemic it would be harder to claim that wasnt so. thats a start, its not the end of the beginning , but the beginning of te end. is it perfect no? but requiring perfection is the enemy of getting started…and accomplishing the goal.

        as it is, we will have large impacts from climate change, there is no avoiding it. the best we can do is at least start…

      2. margaret bartley

        Whether climate change is real or not is not the question.
        Climate always changes, it’s called “weather”.
        What’s in question is whether it is caused by what humans are doing, and whether we know how to change that, and whether we are willing to make those changes.

        There is so much fraud in the climate change science, you really need to spend a lot of time, not just a few hours, going over the scientific debate and political exposes.

        1. dw

          lots more fraud in those who ‘oppose’ it too. many are on the payroll of legacy energy.

  2. Bun

    Yes, we have to start using less, a lot less. But in the meantime Why in these types of discussions is nuclear always left out? It has an energy density massively higher than FF (order 1. Million times), emits no greenhouse gas, and there is plenty of it. New designs solve most of the problems of the relics we use today, and with a fraction of the R&D $ spent on solar and wind it could develop even faster. We gotta get over it and use a solution that is kicking us in the shins.

    1. Isotope_C14

      You won’t be getting your nitrogen fertilizers out of a reactor. Roughly half of the nitrogen molecules in your body are from the haber Bosch method. Also, you know there is a finite amount of fissile material on the planet right? Fossil fuel mining costs of the fissile material, as well as the concrete used in reactors hardly make them carbon neutral.

      Compassionate degrowth is the option, and the powers that be will not allow that.

      1. Hepativore

        Uranium and other fissile materials are by no means rare elements, and uranium is mostly mined by in-situ leeching rather than pit mines which are an entirely different process.

        Keep in mind that even without mining more fissile material, 90% of the spent fuel that comes out of a light water reactor can be reprocessed which is why we need to close the nuclear fuel cycle.

        Also, the US is stuck with light water reactors as a legacy design for political reasons. There is a huge array of different reactor types that can both greatly reduce the length of time spent fuel is stored as well as breed more fuel in addition to greatly reducing the volume of it to be disposed of.

        The really interesting applications come from what you could potentially do with the process heat of some of these reactor designs, whether for a source of hydrogen to make synthetic fuels, desalination, or even for things like district-heating in municipal areas.

        In terms of synthetic fuels, dimethyl ether shows the most promise, but part of the reason why it has not been widely-adopted is the lack of a cheap source of hydrogen which can be produced with nuclear process heat.

        1. Isotope_C14

          It didn’t take long to find this: “On land, some estimates say we have about an 80 year viable supply of uranium left, whilst other estimates say we have a 230 year supply of uranium at today’s consumption rate for undiscovered uranium.”

          I have no idea if this is a reasonable source.

          That said, for those of you that *don’t* believe we are looking at 1-15 years of good times before major agricultural collapses, the commensurate resource wars, and massive uncontrolled de-population coupled with a rapidly heating planet:

          Wouldn’t it be better to save these materials for our deep space future? I mean, seems a little silly to use up what we got here, and then end up being trapped on this planet cause we used up everything needed for interstellar/planetary travel.

          I mean unless we got a warp-drive on the table, and can figure out how to make dilithium crystals.

          1. Amfortas the hippie

            it’s worse:
            see: Peak Phosphorus–

            the answer to the question is “No”.
            we cannot have both.
            the only way to ‘solve” the problem is to do something about the underlying fundamental problem that causes all the rest of the gigantic, intractable interconnected problems: human population overshoot.
            we’ve out grown our Niche by orders of magnitude.
            I’m what this dude calls a “Lifestyler”, with the hopes of transitioning towards Deep Green…but I’m also all for space colonisation.
            but all of that is really a pipe dream, and i know it.
            cut the human population down by 1/20th(starting with the rich and powerful/violent, parasitical elites, of course), and the Earth will find it’s equilibrium(it will do so with us, maybe…but definitely without us)

            from my “mind palace”(tarpaper shack, by the hill of Picard, near the Mare Crisium= really broad view)), the Vulcan cost-benefit analysis says that pandemics are good, medicine is bad and a carrington event is probably the best we can hope for.
            this is the true reason we make beer.

            1. Isotope_C14

              Amfortas, If you ever want me to join your homestead, please let me know.

              I love reading your replies.

              I can probably afford a van with a mattress or a tiny house.

              I’m also able to work hard, but I can make everyone laugh for hours – sometimes the hard work isn’t enough, smiling makes it better. I have some great stories.

              I can make antibiotics with a 1 year period of supply acquisition (I have a bit of it on-hand already), same with quite a few other drugs/pharma compounds. I don’t have the equipment to make full synthetics, although it’s possible a rotary evaporator ended up in the storage space (I can’t remember)…

              I’m also able to produce wine – and have a few of the compounds in storage to make it drinkable.

              Happy to make Faraday cages as well.

              Be well, happy and healthy.

            2. Nce

              Nobody likes to say this, but the .01 percent don’t need us when mechanization and AI replace human labor. I bet their global heating mitigation strategy is to eliminate most of the world’s human population as soon as they can get away with it. That day isn’t so far away, so I’m glad that I didn’t have kids.

              1. lordkoos

                When things really start to go to hell, I think that human labor will be more important than ever.

                1. tegnost

                  Yes, the .01% think they don’t need us, when it’s us who doesn’t need them…

                  1. time2wakeupnow

                    That the vast majority of the non-.01% somehow believe the opposite: we fundamentally do “need”, or even require, depend, and greatly admire this tiny fraction of these super-rich, super-elite fellow homosapiens is the real tragedy here.

            3. dw

              well we seem to have stumbled on how to control population, as most of the developed world population is shrinking

          2. c_heale

            I can’t believe there is any future in space. It is completely hostile to human life. All current space activities are also extremely harmful to our planet.

        2. topcat

          There are other short-term problems with thermonuclear processes such as the cooling water required for ther reactor and the steam turbines. There is no way to turn atomic fission directly into electricity without using the usual Rankine cycle. Hence you need rives which are in ever shorter supply or you could try sea water but building niclear powerstations on the coats seems to be a not so good idea.
          Apart from that there is the further problem that endless free energy even if it were possible would just make our plight even greater as we would have no constraints on destroying what is left of the earth. Furthermore, any thermal process producess waste heat and enough waste heat will cook us and the earth. We have to live in thrmal balance i.e. we must allow excess heat to radiate into space. However, at some point the amount of excess heat will simply broil us.
          So sorry – more energy is not the solution.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Nuclear is not an option because your third sentence is entirely and demonstrably false. Even the nuclear industry doesn’t claim that anymore. Nuclear is very expensive and the new generation of reactors are far more expensive than renewables. The potentially useful reactors – Thorium fueled, molten salt based, pebble beds, etc., are classic unicorns, always 10 years away from viability, just so long as someone signs of a monster free subsidy for them.

      1. Charles 2

        Thorium fueled, molten salt based, pebble bed reactors (and I would add submarine SMR) are like reusable first stage for rockets : it is impossible until it’s done ( usually by people one or two generations younger), then it is deemed as inevitable !

    3. The Historian

      Your ‘solution’ is just exchanging one poison for another. What do you do with all the waste that is created? And for those who claim ‘reprocessing’, well, what do you do with all the reprocessing waste – it is still highly radioactive.

      My career was in the nuclear industry – I have no illusions about what nuclear can and cannot do. I suggest you not drink the nuclear kool-aid that is provided for you by the nuclear industry.

      There is only ONE solution to the energy/pollution problem – and that is to use less of it. But we won’t – we still think there is something out there that will ‘save us’ from ourselves, so we will continue to gorge on energy – until we can’t.

    4. TalkingCargo

      Admittedly I am biased against nuclear power. I think that generating electricity by nuclear fission is one of the dumbest ideas humans have ever come up with. But in the interests of fair play I have some questions for you.

      First, how are you going to power commercial aircraft with nuclear? Airplanes need to be relatively light and nuclear reactors are quite heavy.

      Second, what about all those giant cargo ships and even the not so giant ones that run on diesel or bunker fuel? Are all the merchant vessels supposed to switch to nuclear reactors? If so, I’d expect shipping costs to increase dramatically.

      Third, will nuclear be able to power all the heavy equipment used in mining, construction, and road-building? Some of that equipment is bigger than my house and those monsters only run on diesel.

      Fourth, there’s the issue of plastics which require ff as a feedstock. Maybe there’s a substitute that’s acceptable but I don’t expect it to be produced by a nuclear reactor.

      Fifth, as someone else has mentioned, fossil fuels are heavily used in our industrial agricultural system. Nuclear reactors won’t produce fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides that are currently used. Even if they could, I suspect that our current ag system is not sustainable in the long run.

      Finally, I’d add that nuclear reactors are not entirely green. Like solar panels, batteries, and wind turbines, a lot of fossil fuels are needed to manufacture these things.

      For some reason, many people seem to think that green electricity generation will solve all our problems, but that’s not the case. Electricity generation is only a part of the energy problem and not the biggest part.

      1. Hepativore

        Here are some things to answer your questions. In terms of fuels for transportation, I think the best option is to use nuclear process heat to create carbon-neutral dimethyl ether which can be used for automobiles and ships.

        Also, synthetic fertilizers can be made using nuclear heat to create hydrogen and other hydrocarbons.

        Anyway, there used to be a nuclear chemist on Daily Kos (I know, I know, but this was before Daily Kos jumped the shark!) called Nnadir who details the process of synthetic fuel production using nuclear power

        Hydrocarbon production from nuclear process heat

        How breeder reactors work and produce more nuclear fuel than is consumed

        I can find you more stuff, later if you guys want, just that it will take me awhile as a lot of scientific and engineering research papers have now been paywalled by the internet.

        1. c_heale

          Dimethyl ether also needs other inputs apart from heat like biomass or natural gas. Not really viable imo.

      2. Charles 2

        First, the Navy is already working out on producing synthetic jet fuel from electricity and CO2. Check Heather Willauer
        Second, the world can easily absorb the doubling of shipping cost due to nuclear carbon free carrier. The technique is mature, the only obstacle is political (I.e. charge a carbon tax worldwide on ships fossil fuels)
        Third, the argument for Synthetic jet fuel also applies to diesel. In static (like construction sites)and semi static (like mining or even agriculture) laying a network of direct feed cable or densely packed charging stations is not an insurmontable problem.
        Fourth, methane is the feedstock. Again, Methane can be produced from electricity rather than the other way round. Sure, it will be pricey, so plastics will be expensive, but that is a good thing !
        Fifth, AI based permaculture must replace the current Ag system. Pesticide and herbicide must be replaced by robots that will essentially do what pre-industrial peasants were doing by hand

      1. d w

        there is no free lunch, whether FF, solar,wind, geothermal, nuclear they all have their down sides
        . the same is true of living, we all exhale carbon dioxide. its part of life on planet Earth. and we a;l need food, which hasnt always been productive.

        and the other downside, is that our current civilization level has lead to less death.
        and for a while we humans kept growing our population. but over time most of the highest developed countries, have actually low population growth (if not negative)

        so shrinking the technical level of the planet also means much more suffering and death, and more wars.

    5. alohaxtc

      Because as Einstein said nuclear is a stupid way to boil water. because profit over safety makes them to dangerous. because store the waste is unworkable.

    6. Copeland

      Respectfully, I think you missed the point of the article. More energy, even if it were to be entirely free, is not the solution to the human predicament, and in fact it would hasten humanity’s demise*.

      *Not total demise, humans=rats, extremely resilient, never to be extinct, until, inevitably, Sol does the deed.

    7. Briny

      Further, there is an abundant source of light Helium (3H) right next door (the Moon) as everyone involved in various space programs are well aware, and it far easier to construct fusion reactors that use that as its fuel. Give it a neutron and you get tremendous power out. This also ignores constructing automated manufactories on the Moon, using Lunar material, for massive orbital solar arrays to beam power down to the Earth.

      As for earthbound energy storage, Li-ion batteries are last generation technology, and one we will need to ditch soon as the ecological destruction that results from mining and refining is staggering. We’re already seeing extremely promising results from incorporation of graphene in future super/ultra-capacitor designs. Nanotechnology is also turning out other interesting results and the materials required are common, nothing requiring environmental destruction. All those lead-acid batteries could become useful feedstock here, as all the most promising examples incorporate it. We also know that the next iteration of chips after silicon and gallium-arsenide will also be graphene based due to much smaller geometries, extreme speeds, and far lower power requirements.

      These are a few examples of what has already been found in labs and are already in the pipeline, provided our capitalists follow through, or are pushed through by government via the national laboratories. There’s a reason I set aside a couple of hours a day to read journal articles and I’m only scratching the surface as I don’t have classified nuclear access these days.

  3. A.

    I remain astonished at how humans remain convinced of their ability to effect permanent change on the planet in either direction, never mind the fundamental asymmetry of difficulty between repairing something and destroying it.

    The planet is a complex cybernetic system operating far outside the human life span, and no one seems to consider the possibility that our fates are already set in stone, instead seeking comfort in the impossibly tidy 2-degrees-by-2100 tale. Inaction is seen as intolerable, so naturally we must be seen to be doing something.

    At any rate, we will not eradicate life on the planet, but it will happily eradicate us to ensure its longevity, and we are but one facet of life. So, a call for a little intellectual honesty and epistemic humility: No one really cares about “saving the planet”; we know it does not need saving. This is really all about saving ourselves.

    I also remain fascinated by the West’s persistent delusion with respect to nuclear power, which is clean and safe. Did you know that China installed an experimental thorium-based reactor just this week? It will be a delight to watch Western leaders’ faces in the coming years as comprehension dawns on them that they have willingly handed off energy leadership to China.

    1. urdsama

      Unless this theory has been debunked there is a way all life on Earth could be lost:
      Runaway Greenhouse Effect

      Think Venus. Any life there?

      Carl Sagan raised this as a very real outcome decades ago. Now look where we are.

      1. vlade

        The planet recovered from PETM (see link below). PETM equivalent would most likely kill human civilisation as we know it, reducing CO2e emissions subtantially. That’s not to say that it can’t happen, but we can also be hit by a giant asteoroid the day after we would celebrate CO2 reduction to pre-industrial era.

        1. Massinissa

          There are hypotheses that Mars used to be more habitable than it is now, on some long timescale. As for venus I have no idea.

    2. d w

      Earth is a mix of geological and biological systems. not cybernetic system. and even if we tried, by exploding every nuclear weapon the planet we couldnt destroy it. and the biological part has been destroyed more than a few times over the billions of the years the planet has existed( asteroid 65 million years ago? which isnt even the largest hit o the biology of the planet.
      so in reality what we are really concerned about (and talk about) is can we humans survive what we are doing? and lets just say we can convince the entire planet (good luck…that has a 0 chance of happening) to kill a large portion of all humans. the deaths of billions would be on the hands of the survivors, who might also have survivors remorse, and kill them selves. so even going back to the 1600s would end up with mass death rates that rival the asteroid from the dinosaurs, and many other mass die offs

      in the short there is free lunch here, do any thing and dies off

    3. Larry Gilman

      1) “We will not eradicate life on the planet.” Who says we will? Total sterilization of Earth’s mass is a straw man, not an outcome mooted by those of us terrified by the trajectory of the Anthropocene, who include tens of thousands of scientists ( You may be less astonished by the concerns of the imperceptive masses if you look at what those concerns actually are — i.e., mass extinction and the possible collapse of much or all of human civilization.

      2) Even if nuclear power is cleaner and safer than daisies — the waste doesn’t exist, weapons proliferation has never happened and never can, US-built plants like those at Fukushima cannot fail catastrophically — it is dead in a ditch in terms of cost. After half a century of subsidized development, newbuild nuclear costs are now higher — much higher, and still rising — than those for any other grid-scale form of electricity generation. LCOE for its low-carbon rivals, wind and solar, has fallen by 70% and 90% respectively in the last decade alone and continues to fall ( There is no engineering case that thorium, SMRs, fusion, or any other variation on the theme is ever going to catch up. In 2020, 90% of new generation installed globally was renewable ( — because cost. Slow-deploying and expensive, newbuild nuclear has ceased to be a significant contributor to world energy development and there is no technological miracle waiting in the wings to make it one again.

      It’s game over. Nukes are a dead technology walking even if the corpse is “clean and safe.” If China is seizing energy leadership, it’s because they’re leading the world in solar-panel manufacture (

      1. A.

        Your first point: Humans are already mass extinction machines. That we are able to think intelligent thoughts and discuss things on the Internet should not distract from the trivial fact that human proliferation on Earth has been an unprecedented catastrophe for other species on the planet. We are infinitely finer and more surgical than any asteroid strike or volcanic extinction event. The only difference in perspective should arise from how comfortable one is with this reality. So I would ask you to consider that the collapse of human civilization may in fact be a benefit to diversity on Earth.

        Again, it’s fine to want to save human civilization. The masses would garner more sympathy from me if they outright stated this was the goal, than presume to speak for the planet.

        As for your second point, I would like to ask that you to be prepared to come back to this comment in a few years. Note that In promoting nuclear I did not decry solar energy because it would have been stupid to do so. (You should nevertheless reconsider your views on wind, the extent of nuclear waste and your use of the lazy descriptor, “catastrophe”, produced by nuclear reactors failing.)

        Otherwise, I think you will find that your defeatist attitude and learned helplessness with respect to nuclear is not something that is universally shared by every nation. Within the confines of such a mental landscape it is easy to say that technologies are dead, that there are no engineering cases left for them; then a breakthrough happens. My point is that one country is actively, practically investigating these as we speak, and is much better placed to benefit from the potential upside. The West can lead, or they can follow. It will be one, or it will be the other.

    4. Massinissa

      Killing all life on the planet isn’t being claimed by this article. Making it so it would take longer than a human timescale to recover is. You’re essentially trying to argue “Mother Earth is so powerful compared to us we could never interfere with its natural processes”, despite continuously gaining evidence of the contrary. We can have a proper discussion once you stop using straw mans.

  4. The Rev Kev

    Would it really kill us if we got rid of the disposable society? Years ago I read how in the US that when people went shopping in malls, six months later about 95% of those purchased items were no longer in that home. So you are talking about manufacturing and using porcelain cups instead of disposable paper cups for example. Yeah, this means turning back the clock a century or so but would getting rid of plastic in our lives be the worse thing that could happen? No doubt some people would say that it would be too expensive to do but if so, how could they have done it before the arrival of plastics. Manufactured gear would have to be of good quality and be repairable on a local level. I can go into an antique store today and find gear that can be put straight to use. How much of what we buy today will we be still serviceable in less than fifty years? *crickets*

    The fact is that if we do nothing, then before the end of the century I would not be surprised if nearly all people will be on a ration-system like used in WW2 as farm lands/soils/water supplies get crushed. Putting back a lot of resiliency into or present society would not be the worse thing that we could do. And we would have to break up larger ag corporations so that people could purchase local produce instead of buying produce that has been shipped from three thousand miles away. Synoia above suggests reverting to a mid-1600s economy but I am more hopeful at a late 19th century economy – but without the smog of course. Hell, maybe we should just go full Retrotopia-

    1. James Simpson

      Getting rid of plastics is one of the hardest problems. Pretty much everything we depend on relies on plastics. Food storage is vastly cheaper and more effective; healthcare has plastics from the smallest syringe to the most complex MRI scanner; most of our clothing has some level of plastics… Replacing them is not without enormous consequences. Wool requires sheep which denude the environment of almost every plant. Cotton requires a lot of water. All metals are from ores mined at huge environmental and social costs. Wood: trees (Nelson’s warships took at least 2,000 trees each). And so on.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        If we produced more staples locally and didn’t expect to have grocery shelves stocked with items from all around the world, we would be fine.

        You could go in my uncle’s cellar right now and find a bunch of root vegetables from last years harvest – very easy to preserve for many months. When my grandfather died 20 years ago, there were a bunch of dusty jars of canned beets and other vegetables in that same cellar. When I asked my uncle how long they’d been there, he said he remembered the same jars since he was a kid. Nobody was in any hurry to eat 60 year old vegetables, but you could still tell what was in the jars at least.

        The other problems you mentioned can be solved by the one real solution to all this – far fewer people on this planet.

        1. Copeland

          Root cellars are an incredible technology, I would love to have one. Unfortunately it is not easy for everyone to have one*. If they were easy, everyone would have one.

          *No basement, no easy access to crawlspace, water table too high, building code wont allow, HOA wont allow, not possible in apartment/condo, etc.

        2. c_heale

          Everytime I hear people advocate a reduced population, I think, “Are you volunteering to sacrifice yourself and your family or other people?”

      2. lordkoos

        It would help if people were forced to bring their own reusable containers while at the same time stores and shops were forced to sell in bulk. The amount of packaging we have at present is insane and not sustainable.

        The use-and-throw-away culture is outrageous.

      3. Jeremy Grimm

        Plastics are a very important material. The way they are used in throwaway products is a terrible waste of such a remarkable material. The problem is what to do with all the naptha components left after cracking petroleum to extract diesel, and gasoline. It is not unlike the problem of trying to extract and burn up as much diesel and gasoline as we can to increase this quarter’s profits. I believe plastics include a great number of the elastomeric materials used in seals and gaskets. And what about tires? Isn’t their synthetic rubber included in the category plastic?

    2. d w

      doing any thing can to fix the climate crisis can lead to mass deaths

      replacing current underlying materials without new replacements, means we go back to older ones, with their own downsides (metals require mining). and higher costs.
      most of the short term use of tools, is driven by more that business needs customers for their products, not materials, or even manufacturing of the products them selves.
      course reducing sales, means that jobs tied to manufacturing die off.

    3. David B Harrison

      What your saying is the last taboo. I work in retail and long ago learned the truth about waste. Over 90% of our waste and consumption could be eliminated and we would still be able to live like kings and queens. Mother nature and the human waste stream could provide the materials. I meet many interesting people in this business(travel related)and learn much from them. One customer was a wholesaler of unsaleable goods. He said that Sears had thousands of acres of unsaleable goods in warehouses across the country and that he was attempting to buy it(he later came back and said he was successful). An article in consumer reports quoted the spokesman of the national retail federation saying that 80% of the products on retail shelves did not sell. I was born into the dying agrarian society and watched as the positive things about it were destroyed by neoliberalism. Frugality, making things last, not wasting anything, building your world with your hands if possible, not buying cheap junk, a distaste for the wealthy, and a distaste for ostentatious shows of wealth. Is was not perfect and some things needed to change but it beats the Hell out of what replaced it. This is a reply to The Rev Kev.

    4. lyman alpha blob

      Wish I could track it down, but I remember reading a short article in Harper’s years ago from a man remembering his life as a kid in Lebanon IIRC before there was garbage. Nothing really came pre-packaged for him and all food waste was fed to the animals. Sounded like a really nice place and time to live.

    5. Jeremy Grimm

      Every time I replace a light bulb I am reminded of how so many things we use have been carefully designed to fail and become trash. When I drive I notice how much we are encouraged to waste — fuel, tires, wear on our cars through high speeds, long commutes designed by the way our Society has been designed, and the way our highways are torn up by the heavier truck loads Reagan made possible.

    1. Foy

      That is quite the article rjs, thanks for posting. He’s certainly created an excellent summary of all the problems that we have created and are now facing that are species threatening on every level. I’m gonna keep the first part of the article as a reference. First time I’ve read about his suggested solution though, yikes.

      “our “last hurrah” as self-conscious organisms may be to see the fruition of the installation of our replacements, to play god rather than to blindly worship one, and to do so before all life & the chance to do so slips completely into oblivion”

      He could use some paragraph spacing, had to copy and paste it into a doc and then put in paragraph spacings myself in order to stop my eyes and head spinning trying to read it – pretty much everywhere he had typed ‘…’ which was often, try hitting the return button instead mate!

      1. rjs

        that was first written in the 80’s, and only slightly updated when it was first posted online in 2009, so you can get a sense of how far along the road to oblivion we are already..

    2. CuriosityConcern

      I’m picking just a portion to quibble with – author strikes me as immature, striking disdain for “breeders” makes me think he/she has not raised a child and doesn’t realize the amount of time/energy/attention it takes to raise even one, nevermind a larger family.
      This lack of empathy coupled with the idea of creating superhumans is raising my hackles but I don’t disagree with them about our current precarioussness.

      1. tegnost

        I was with him up until the idea that humans are a hopeless case so we’d better get on with designing our replacement

      2. lordkoos

        Having made a conscious choice to not have children (my wife as well) it’s sometimes hard for me to relate. I love kids and am an uncle, but the mindless, instinct-driven need to breed is killing us. People are completely irrational about this, but then that’s hardly news…

  5. vlade

    “The first truth is that industrial civilization requires industrial levels of energy.”. Yes, that’s a trivial truism. The devil is in the detail though. The US requires twice as much energy as the Europe. Does it mean Europe is less industrialied than the US?

    “Third, solar, wind, and battery technology are, in their own right, assaults against the living world.” So is anything else we do. Again, it’s s a trivial truism trying to mask as a deeper truth, ignoring the detail. Any natural process changes the world. The question is how, and how much. Is strip-mining for (recyclable) rare-earth elements better or worse than strip-mining for low quality coal to be turned into CO2? Intentional I made the sentence biased. Beause again, in reality the process of both extracting and recycling the rare-earths may be so polluting that the strip-mining for coal might be snow-white compared. I can’t tell.

    I will ignore the fact that CO2 emissions are a global, while even the worst strip-mining is local. Even the wors (current) strip-mining still does less damage to humans than 2C to the average temperature *)

    But there are some real facts. The US produces, per-person, twice as much CO2e as the Europe (including the UK) – and that’s excluding the emissions outsourced to China etc. which I suspect would add more to the US than Europe anyways. The US could significantly reduce CO2e emissions just by accepting the European standard of living. Which is way less different than say 19th century standard of living. And do include dishwashers, even in 20sqm flats like I lived for 5+ years.

    *) Here I’ll point out that the planet went through something like that at least once already. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum had the temperature rise by +5 to +8C (compared to ours), pretty quick (the estimates wary, most assuming slower CO2 releast than now, but I believe the error boundaries are massive). Who knows, it could have been another short-lived civilisation doing what we’re doing now.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yup, the problem with the problem is…. that its enormously complicated, and trying to summarise the issues in a meaningful way is impossible.

      As so often, everyone is right, and everyone is wrong. There is no simply solution, but nor are solutions out of our grasp (at least technically, politically its another question). We have to reduce overall energy use (although this may mean increasing electricity production), but we also have to shift to renewables and ‘tech’ based solutions – we can’t simply wind back the clock to some sort of perfect period in the past when we all lived in harmony with nature (spoiler alert: this never happened). We can’t abandon science and technology, we have to use it for human ends. We can’t avoid catastrophic climate change and ecological breakdown, but we can at least mitigate it to some degree.

      It must be emphasised though about renewables – when so-called Greens and Progressives are dissing on renewable energy they are repeating talking points straight out of the Exxon/Koch brothers playbook – often quite literally so. There are enormous issues with transitioning to a renewable based economy, but no serious analysis I’ve seen things there is a real alternative. Its not by itself nearly enough (personally I think ecological protection and agricultural revolution is equally if not more important), but it is a necessary move.

    2. Henriux Miller

      Replying to: vlade May 19, 2021 at 3:26 am.
      You wrote (and quoted from the article):

      Why is it so important to figure out which one is more or less industrialized? The point it that both are based on a system that requires enormous amounts of artificially created and harvested energy, and to do that they depend on technologies that keep on “assaulting” (and not merely changing; and they are not at all “natural processes”) the planet and all its living forms, humans being one of those forms. That seems clearly unsustainable.
      And those systems, by the way have been embraced as the ideal by human societies beyond the USA and Europe, so the need for ideological change involves pretty much the entire world, and as seems obvious from human history, humanity will never come together as a whole to deal with anything relevant. See climate change and Covid-19 as recent examples of such inability to come together when it matters.

      You also write: “The US could significantly reduce CO2e emissions just by accepting the European standard of living. Which is way less different than say 19th century standard of living. And do include dishwashers, even in 20sqm flats like I lived for 5+ years.”
      I believe it must be clear by now that Americans as a whole won’t accept such a thing as a different standard of living as the one they were promised by the “American Dream”, a specific type of 20th century nightmare that has now been exported and ingrained as the ideal in billions of humans around the planet. Let’s have two or three cars on every garage and sprawling golf courses and big air-conditioned houses and huge supermarkets everywhere around the world, that is what capitalism is basically selling people, still today, and many keep buying it. (And it is not as if Europe doesn’t have its own versions of sprawling suburbs, I have traveled extensively there and I have seen them; perhaps not as gigantic and deformed as the American ones, but they can be found in Madrid and Santander as in Frankfurt and Milan). Let’s apply that 20th century American model (including the large areas of concrete and asphalt set aside for parking, the highways, the shopping malls, etc.) as intensively as possible in Lagos, Sao Paulo, Port-au-Prince, etc…that is the goal. That is what is being sold to humanity as supposedly achievable with “green energy”. “Green New Deals” are just a modified extension of the same thinking and ideology that brought humans and the planet to where we stand today.

  6. GM

    It is a myth that human were in any way sustainable prior to industrial civilization.

    The wrecking of the planet started with the venturing out of Africa. Australia underwent a thorough ecological transformation, with the loss of most of its megafauna, shortly after humans arrived there 50,000 years ago, and megafauna went extinct on every new landmass that humans appeared on not long after they did so — North and South America, the Caribbean Islands, Madagascar, New Zealand, various other smaller islands, etc.

    Wherever and whenever there were somewhat sustainable cultures, they were invariably outcompeted by not-so-sustainable expansionist-minded neighbors. For obvious reasons

    The only way out of this mess is for each and every human being to have a very high level of ecological understanding and to have also fully internalized the simple but quite difficult to grasp concept that it is in one’s long-term evolutionary interest to not pursue maximization of inclusive fitness at all costs in the short term, because if we all do that, we are all collectively doomed as a species, and with that our genes are doomed to extinction too.

    The problem is that evolution has wired us (and all other organisms on this planet) to maximize inclusive fitness in the short term, not in the very long term, so that self-destructive behavior is what we have practiced all throughout out history.

    It takes a lot of education to overcome that, so much that even most formally “educated” people alive today have not developed that understanding. A big part of it is the dysfunctionality of the educational system, but even if we were to fix that, there is a floor of material comfort below which it becomes impossible to give people that education.

    Sure, subsistence farmers pollute less than American suburbanites, but sustainable they are not, and we have to do away with this myth that we can solve the problem only with less consumption and return to the preindustrial state. In the preindustrial state we had no understanding of our nature as biological organisms and how it drives our behavior, we had no understanding of the ecosystems of the planet and its geologic history, etc. etc. We have that understanding in the industrial state and because of it.

    A return to the preindustrial state on its own will just restart the overshoot-and-collapse cycle.

    So the only way out is a lifestyle that is certainly nowhere near as extravagant as the one in the modern US, but is also quite a bit more comfortable than life in Sub-Saharan Africa. This means a lot fewer people though so that it can be sustained on renewable energy flows and whatever non-renewable resources we have left for as long as possible. A lot fewer. And it will only work if the culture has it as its utmost priority to hammer into everyone’s head the proper understanding of their nature as selfish replicators and the proper place of the human species in the history of this planet, and to constantly work to overcome the innate behavioral patterns of each and every of its members.

    Needless to say it’s not happening.

    It’s also not a stable state — as I mentioned above, selfish expansion-oriented actors will always outcompete those focused on sustainability, and in the long term it will be very hard to forever prevent their appearance.

    1. vlade

      As I wrote, any process changes the world. It doesn’t matter whether it’s human, or other. The question is, will the process move the world to some sort of stable(ish) local (in time and location) equilibria *), or will it end up with a dislocation (what you refer to as overshoot-and-collapse)?

      *) this is actually a contradition of terms. There are no equilibria, equilibrium sort of implies freezing in time, and the only real equilibria that exists is a heat-death of the universe. There is always a process. But I’ll use the term nevertheless.

    2. James Simpson

      From what I’ve read elsewhere, hunter-gatherer societies could sustain only comparatively few people per area of land. This meant that unwanted infants were routinely eliminated, often by the mother. Well, we have abortion on demand in many societies; that is only the next step.

      1. d w

        also likely to be a lot higher incidence in the population than today’s level.
        when the choice is death of the child now or later, after living for a short while, with nothing but misery, and starvation, the choices are intolerable.

    3. JEHR

      GM, your analysis is the closest I have read to being realistic, if not applicable. If we could get rid of the so-called “selfish gene” we would have a good platform on which to begin our ecological survival. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Charles 2

    Yes, but with a lot less people, to allow for growth of energy consumption per capita with a diminution of total energy. But the path from here to there is going to be so violent that there is a possibility that humanity won’t be able to stay industrialized, which functionally equivalent to its extinction.
    Women in developed countries are by and large prescient to this, which explains their low fertility, but even South-Korean levels of fertility are too high to achieve the right level of population in two centuries. Killer robots will have to make up the difference, directly or indirectly. Of course, they won’t be tagged as such : they will be farming/mining robots with territorial/self defense functionalities, keeping natural resources safe for a minority of humanity. What is happening in Gaza now is a good preview of what is going to happen globally.

      1. Charles 2

        No, I don’t think it will be WW3. It will be more like the conquest of the American continent, eradicating 95% of the natives through warfare beyond their capacity to fight. In the case of the American continent and Australia, it was mostly biological warfare through smallpox. In the 21st century, I expect it to be a mix of AI augmented fencing and eventually biological warfare once organisms are weakened.
        A few rich countries will be able to be inclusive and have everyone at the right side of the fence (Think… Canada, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Japan, Singapore), a few poor countries will have practically everyone on the wrong side of the fence (think Haiti or Palestine), and most of the rest will incur an internal “enclosure” process driven by their local oligarchy. Depending on the country, that “enclosure” process will reveal itself explicitly sooner or later depending on their demographic and cultural structure and the availability of the “smart fencing” tools made available by rich countries in exchange of dwindling resources (Think Israeli Iron Dome technology, or Chinese social monitoring technology exchanged against Saudi Oil)

  8. Alfred

    Julian Lennon photographs the Kogi of Columbia.

    ‘The most common words that they [the Kogi] use when talking about almost anything are words that mean “thinking”, “analysing”, “considering” and that is absolutely at the heart of the culture.

    ‘They are in a sense a philosophical reserve which has protected a mental approach to the world from outside influence.’

    Touching on how they see westerners, Ereira added: ‘[They see us as] dangerous because we lack the capacity to think clearly, to hold on to an idea for any length of time and to listen to instruction.’

  9. Samuel Conner

    Re: consuming less — I think of lawns as a form of “social display” consumption. They use lots of water, methane-based fertilizer, and fossil fuel. It would be good to convert suburban lawns into wildflower meadows or food forests. My local muni regulations don’t permit that, but I’m growing things in the back and giving away loads of plants to interested parties — over 400 since March — and also some basic seed-starting kits. It’s a tiny effort in the scale of the problems, but perhaps not completely futile. Some of the recipient families have children, and the kids seem fascinated by growing things from seed.

    FWIW, which might be very little, there are varieties of backyard-growable food plants that are reputed to be “heat tolerant”.

    Merlot lettuce is an example: slow to bolt to seed in the heat of Summer (though what will happen in high Summer when early Spring is hot … that I know not) and growable from early Spring through late Autumn. It’s the color of red wine, and very high in beneficial phytochemicals. One might be able to grow this in plain sight as a faux-decorative in jurisdictions that forbid food production in the front lawn. One could harvest it a leaf at a time, and when it bolts and gets unsightly, replace it with another started a few weeks earlier.

    Groundhogs like it, however.

    Another “new to me” plant that may be of interest to home growers is “Fresca” strawberry. It’s easy to grow from seed, bears fruit at a slow steady pace throughout the warm seasons, and is reputed to be tasty. I like plants that have a long bearing season, as one can get by with fewer varieties. I’m not very good at managing complexity.

    1. Copeland

      Good for you Samuel, and I used to be you, three years ago. My physical health collapsed, or I still would be.

      I don’t doubt that Merlot lettuce is delicious, but how many calories does it provide, vs calories input?

      I humbly submit: ‘Painted Mountain Corn’: dense calories, stores under your sink for at least a year, no root cellar needed.

  10. thoughtful person

    We will have to think outside the box, unfortunately not popular with neoliberal PMCs. However climate change is becoming more educational as the years go by.

    There are plenty of happy fulfilling cultural alternatives that use a small fraction of what is used in the USA per capita today. As pointed out, Europe is already 1/2. I lived communally for 10 years, that lifestyle was maybe 1/10.

    Amory Lovins has pointed out the importance of first looking at how to reduce demand before addressing production. A super insulated building uses so much less energy passive solar and waste heat will keep it warm.

    A room of ones own is nice, do we need a whole house each too?

    We need alternative social technology.

    1. tegnost

      The problem is that every time we come up with a way to save energy it’s viewed as a way to increase consumption on something else, i.e. urban sprawl was beneficiary of better gas mileage…
      Right now the push is to replace public transportation with an army of single vehicle operators which is definitely the wrong way to go if one considers climate change a problem.

  11. John

    Can we have a habitable planet and industrial civilization? No. Will there be effective steps to deal with climate change (overheating)? Not in time to ameliorate what is coming in the near term. Are the mass of those of us who enjoy the apparent benefits of industrial civilization willing to change? No. Where does that leave us? It leaves us on a degraded and hot planet which will dispose of very many of us at times and in manners we would rather not think about as it seeks to redress the balance we have upset.

    1. vlade

      Can we pleeease stop that cr*p bout “degraded” planet etc? Earth went through worse than humans can do to it (short of actual full-scale nucelar apocalypse, and even that is a close-run with a large asteoroid strike). It survived, and I’m pretty sure it will survive humans too.

      Humans may not survive humans, and that’s what should concern us.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        We’ve had this discussion before, but I remain as puzzled by your ostensibly tough and realistic take. Yes, there have been mass extinctions before, but none of those were caused by humans, or for that matter, any other species on this planet. Should we not feel responsibility for the killing of the coral reefs, the massive loss of animal life, the wiping out of species? We are degrading the Earth as a place of abundant and diverse life, and not even so we can acquire enough food to eat (as may have been the case in hunting megafauna in the Ice Age) but for air-conditioned McMansions built in the tropics, SUVs so we can live 50 miles from work and quickie vacations in Tuscany.

        None of this motivates you to do more about our ecological destructiveness?

        1. vlade

          It does. But it does for humans’ sake, not planet’s.

          And that’s my point. The big universe doesn’t give a toss about us. If we don’t care about us, our survival and reasonable living, no-one will. Nor should. We’d care about fellow humans, the ones we live with right now as well the ones that will come after us. Because that’s bigger than just “care about the planet”.

          The house you live in doesn’t give a toss about you. It’s entirely up to you whether it’s well maintained and works, or is falling apart around you. Would you say “care about the house, because it’s a nice house! (and if you don’t, it will fall apart)”, or “care about the house if you want to live well!”?

          1. Keith Newman

            Actually not only humans, all other large mammals as well. But as humans we are interested in ourselves, of course, and perhaps other mammals to some extent. I don’t get irritated about the inaccuracy. What does it matter?

          2. Henry Moon Pie

            Your argument by necessity uses only a huge, abstract concept–the universe–along with an artifact of human construction, a house. Meanwhile, my argument rests on living things.

            I’m open about wanting to develop a worldview that aids in the difficult transition ahead of us, and part of what is required, in my view, is expanding the circle of care beyond human beings. As long as we keep it limited to our species, it will be quite easy for the argument to revolve around which humans do we care about, or more to the point, which humans do the people with power care about.

            Your insistence that humans and human survival be the sole consideration does not offer this expanded view of what matters, and is less effective in motivating changes in behavior and values.

            1. vlade

              Duh? I say I care about humans first, and human race’s survival, and you tell me that “abstract-concept-universe”? While you have `specific` living things?

              CF comment before. If you care about living things, kill all humans. That will remove most near-term threats to all living things.

              You somehow don’t seem to get into your head that if humans do not survive, there won’t be anyone to give shit about the Gaia or whatever. There won’t be anyone to “value” it. Stuff just will be, as it was before humans, and as it will be after humans.

              For humans TO survive long term, they need a liveable environment, with biodiversity, temperatures that are not boiling everywhere except poles etc. etc. It’s not even a question of some estethical value (which they may need to survive well), but of bare necessity.

              You’re projecting your ideas on the universe, with “consideration”. Consideration of what? The world, any part of it large or small, will be fine w/o you, thank you very much. You might not like it, but it was fine w/o you for billions of years, and will be fine w/o you for more billions (and that’s true whether “you” is you personally, or “you humans”). Species come and go, it’s the part of what life means, one could argue THE defining part of the life.

              Human race on the other hand does NOT have any other world. It has no other chance, no other time, no other planet. IF we value humans at all, we’d do all in our power to understand that, and behave accordingly.

              1. Henry Moon Pie

                I’m not quite sure why it is so important to you whether the universe, the Earth, my house or my old tennis shoes care about any of us individually. As far as the latter two go, I owe my existence to them whether they “know” it or not. As to the third, it shelters me from the rain and cold, provides a good deal of security for me in a dangerous place, and its windows let in the light this time of year in a very nice way. If that’s not care, I don’t know what is. Those old shoes? Maybe it’s time to re-purpose them.

                Christianity along the way can leave us feeling as if we want or need a universe that loves us, and rejection of Christianity can leave one feeling all tough and self-sufficient, but one part of what you say is very true: we’re not even pimples on the universe’s ass. But that doesn’t mean the whole thing isn’t awe-inspiring. In fact, it’s evidence of it. If the life-giving drive of the universe is so strong that it gave me existence, then that’s worthy of my awe. And if the universe has given my kind the awful power to hamper (see, I softened that word ;) ) that life-giving process–and that’s what is happening here–then I’m agin’ it, and not just for me and my kind.

          3. Larry Gilma

            I get caring about humans, but the idea that there is this non-toss-giving thing called “the planet” that will “survive humans” whether we extinguish ourselves or not is at best intensely artificial. Weird, actually. First, because there is no human future without a functioning global ecological system of some pretty large extent. Since we don’t know how much we can annihilate and still survive, and we’ve already annihilated a whole hell of a lot, it would seem prudent to start saving as much of possible of what’s left right away. So yeah, you’d better be thinking about saving “the planet,” that is, everything left alive on it, even if all you personally care about is humans. Because, practical fact, we can’t even save our own asses by worrying only about our own asses.

            Second, contrasting care for “the planet” with care for humans is weird because one thing lots of us humans do is recognize the innate value of other life, non-human and even non-sentient; many of us even recognize the the non-living world as sacred. And always have, not just since the invention of New Age music. It’s uniquely albeit not universally human to give a shit from the heart that we are mowing down our fellow creatures, both sentient and nonsentient, at mass-extinction speed. So if you do manage to Save the Humans you will also, as it happens, save Giving an Inclusive Shit About What is Not Human. Why not join the human race you’re so anxious to save, and care about more than Homo sapiens?

            1. vlade

              Because, as you said ” if you do manage to Save the Humans you will also, as it happens, save Giving an Inclusive Shit About What is Not Human”

              And your point is? That we’d “save a giving shit about non-humans at the expense of human race”?

              The _best_ way to save the planet is a human genocide. Well, except of course it doesn’t save it, because it will be still subject to many various shocks, but _IF_ we accept premise that it’s humans destroying the planet, then it follows that removing humans from the equation is the best thing for the planet since the last ice-age.

  12. Henry Moon Pie

    One way to come to grips with our situation is through story-telling and creation of myths and narratives. I ran across this visitor-from-another-planet approach on this morning:

    Carbon addiction has induced a state of delusional superiority and grandeur. You even claim to “produce” the fossil energy that sunlight, ancient plant life, and Earth’s geological forces created long before you came along. Instead of using this precious gift wisely, you’ve become seduced and enslaved by its powers. Addiction has transformed you into a self-absorbed species surrounded by an artificial world of push-button technology, cars, plastic, and cement.

    In your isolated, grandiose state of mind, you believe you are far more important than the rest of Earth-life. You have lost all respect, empathy, or obligation to nurture the community of life that made you. Instead, like desperate addicts, you kill each other with carbon-powered weapons over a vanishing supply of fossil fuels. Then you use this energy to pillage the planet’s resources, turn them into commodities, consume them, and clog the planet with toxic waste.

    You have lost your way.

    Jimi Hendrix tried this angle 50 years ago in “Up from the Skies” in which the “narrator” is a visitor from another time/universe/planet:

    I have lived here before, the days of ice,
    And of course this is why I’m so concerned.
    And I come back to find the stars misplaced
    And the smell of a world that is burned,
    A smell of a world that is burned.

    Yeah well, maybe, hmm
    Maybe it’s just a change of climate

    1. Rod

      One way to come to grips with our situation is through story-telling and creation of myths and narratives.

      Nimrod and that Tower do come to my mind…

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        For that matter, the second Genesis story that includes the Fall is a pretty good one:

        For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

        Or Joni Mitchell’s midrash:

        We are stardust
        (billion year old carbon).
        We are golden
        (caught in the devil’s bargain).
        And we’ve got to get ourselves
        back to the Garden.


  13. James Simpson

    While I subscribe to the point of view of Mr Jensen, my reading of the Deep Green Resistance website which is, so far as I know, the most prominent advocate of the deep green philosophy left me initially intrigued, then disturbed and finally horrified. Not by the notion of abandoning industrial civilisation but by the many cultural aspects which the contributors are advocating. They are severely anti-trans people, against even the concept of sex work and generally so socially conservative as to make the Tories look progressive. Why deep green has to mean verging on fascist is not clear to me. Perhaps they think that the outlook is so grim that only an authoritarian government will save us.

    The politics appears to be right-wing anarchist with the ideal being everyone having his own land (emphasis on the ‘his’) for subsistence farming and with weapons to defend it. Socialism and solidarity are anathema to those particular Deep Greens. I suggest readers take a look and see that they think.

    1. Return of the Bride of Joe Biden

      From the website:

      Deep Green Resistance is a radical feminist organization. Men as a class are waging a war against women. Rape, battering, incest, prostitution, pornography, poverty, and gynocide are both the main weapons in this war and the conditions that create the sex-class women. Gender is not natural, not a choice, and not a feeling: it is the structure of women’s oppression. Attempts to create more “choices” within the sex-caste system only serve to reinforce the brutal realities of male power. As radicals, we intend to dismantle gender and the entire system of patriarchy which it embodies. The freedom of women as a class cannot be separated from the resistance to the dominant culture as a whole.

      Wow — that doesn’t sound “socially conservative” to me, regardless of what else I think about it.

      1. Aumua

        Yeah the the political lines tend to get blurred sometimes when you get into more extreme fringe movements, but I the appearance of right wingism in the Deep Greens is more a manifestation of the famous fragmentation of the left. The conflict between feminism and the non-binary acceptance movement for instance spans across more than just the Deep Green milieu.

        As far as I have delved into it I haven’t seen a specific aversion to Socialism, per se. But I might have missed it. Perhaps it’s just the particularly white male dominated versions of Socialism that are repugnant to them.

        1. Massinissa

          Wouldn’t that be most of what wasn’t written by Emma Goldman? Other than Goldman most important socialist writers were men.

  14. TomDority

    On the water side of our planet – 70% – commercial fishing is doing far more damage to the environment than on land activities – Stop eating fish … yea I know – you can’t do that but, commercial fishing has caused such a decline in life in the oceans and ocean habitat that some people can no longer eat fish – sort of an underground low level fever of man-made famine. As far as the old supply and demand thing – this economic system is designed to pillage and not designed to promote – the conversation about how expensive or how much energy is required to do x,y and z is distorted by the economic system. efficiency is measured in money terms and not in energy terms. You have polluting industries fighting against any regulation designed to increase say, transportation energy use, housing and commercial space energy use — the list goes on because of – ‘cost’ – ‘jawbs’ – ‘Burdonsome’ – ‘we can’t afford'(who the hell is we)
    As for energy use and the extractive measures used – energy production and minerals extraction it in a environmentally sustainable way is entirely within current tech ability – so is cleaning up our human trash biproducts – except it is not ‘economical’ to do so or ‘costs’ to much – economical and cost are both relative terms, economical is a human invention and cost is relative to what baseline?
    Surely, the human progress made over hundreds and thousands of years should be smart enough to figure a way, to muster resources and inventiveness for a planet, our spacecraft that we appeared upon recently, to figure a way to save our only spacecraft for all it’s creatures and biodiversity. We would not have the knowledge we have if not for all of natures blueprints and this planet — so, most certainly we are the cause of our dilemma, we most certainly, by either smart thinking or becoming extinct, can solve it……
    My advise (for whatever little its worth) is to pull our collective heads from our asses and correct the economic systems, tax systems and creditor/debtor relations that have been going on for 5 thousand years (see Michael Hudson) and have been driving what appear to be constant inter specie conflicts that drive us ever forward toward destruction. What is efficient about a denuded planet, what is efficient about constant war and internal conflict.
    The best way to stop war is not to start it. The best way to stop famine is not to create it.
    You can have a system designed to cooperate with the environment for far less energy than using energy to go against the system. No economic system can survive without our ecosystem and no amount a cost can cover the expense without an ecosystem. An economic system will thrive if it supports a healthy ecosystem. I submit that we do not have a proper economic system by the telltales of the dying ecosystem
    Sorry – ranting again

  15. Bobby Gladd

    As part of my “life-long unlearner” Jones, I read a lot of new books ongoing (2-4 a week in addition to all my periodicals and online stuff). My book purchase vetting includes reading the critical reviews first (e.g., at Amazon) and reading the “Look Inside” previews.

    That’s frequently a show-stopper (funds are finite). It was just now in this case (abetted by many of the NC commentariat).

    Frase’s “Quadrant IV” perhaps draws nigh.

  16. William Hunter Duncan

    I went through all of this a decade ago now, ad nauseam, as an Admin at the Doomstead Diner in it’s heyday , after the global credit collapse (DD has died a grim death with the physical decline of founder RE). We were all sure after that near economic apocalypse the world was ready for radical change. After a few years of proselytizing for that change, it occurred to me, change is inevitable, and the most avoided thing. And there is no room for talking about regrowth, decline, or ordered and conscious scaling back, in the vast majority of circles of Progress.

    John Michael Greer summed it up best I think: Collapse now and avoid the rush. Be conscious of the change and you will ride it at least better than most. Which is why the madness of Trump and assoc or the arrogance of Biden’s PMC doesn’t trouble me all that much, because it is all of a piece of civilizational collapse, the ebb and flow of time, as inevitable as the rising and setting of the moon and sun. I garden, I skill up, I stay alert, I set intentions and follow the path. It is all I can do.

    1. diptherio

      The Parable of the Sower‘s protagonist, Lauren Olamina, is, I think, a pretty good model for how to be in times like these. For anyone looking for a bracing and relevant piece of fiction, I highly recommend it.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        And Butler gave her heroine the task of creating a new religion, which Olamina called Earthseed, as a necessary step in turning things around. Similarly, Le Guin gives her Anarres anarchists Odonianism as a religious/philosophical glue to hold their more-or-less leaderless society together (though Le Guin doesn’t provide nearly us much of Odonianism’s substance as Butler provides with Earthseed).

        Earthseed isn’t a bad model though the “destiny in the stars” seems out of tune with our times when Musk and Bezos tout a move to Mars as an alternative to ending our destruction of Earth.

  17. Larry Gilman

    It’s true that we can’t redeem our current system of extraction, consumption, and biological annihilation merely by hooking it to a vast array of renewable generators. A gigantic, howling, world-eating chipper powered by renewables is still a gigantic, howling, world-eating chipper.

    But trying to supersize that truth with the claim that renewables are a gigantic naked-emperor scam that can’t deliver the terawatt-hours we need without hyper-destructive levels of land use, so that “fossil fuels are functionally irreplaceable,” is a false step. The claim is untrue. Statements like “12 percent of the continental United States would have to be covered in windfarms to meet current electricity demands” are misleading for several reasons, the foremost being that nobody is proposing such a world. Actual 100%-renewable proposals rely on both solar and wind and assign only ~1.6% of US land to onshore wind farms, with tower footprint and access roads a minute fraction of the spacing area and the rest available for
    agriculture, grazing, and open space ( There is more than enough space for solar panels atop pre-developed areas such as landfills, rooftops, parking lots, highway dividers, and the like to meet current US electricity demand several times over: panels on suitable rooftops alone could supply ~39% of current US electricity demand ( Nor, as existing grids in Europe prove daily and with higher reliability than US grids, does a high-penetration mixture of solar and wind require the cyclopean arrays of lithium-iron batteries often conjured. Denmark got 62% of its electricity from wind and solar in 2020 without significant grid-scale storage: storage isn’t even mentioned in the 2020 Ember review of the EU power sector ( Nor are lithium-devouring batteries the only viable storage option: grid-scale storage using earth-common materials (molten salts, hot water) or flow batteries is already in the field, while hydrogen can power vehicles (with platinum-free fuel-cell catalysts now in view).

    Fossil fuels are “functionally irreplaceable”? Curious, if so, that Europe was generating twice as much from coal as from wind+solar just 5 years ago but that proportion is now almost reversed, with 12% from coal and 21% from wind+solar (

    I’m not a cornucopian or unicornian or Green Capitalism pill-swallower. I agree, we shrink the destructiveness of the human enterprise radically or we die. But we also die if we fail to keep on producing energy at some pretty big scale, or if we fail to produce it less carbon-intensively than we do now. The urgency of replacing fossil-fueled energy with renewables is real, as is the technical opportunity to do so. That opportunity is a technical reality demonstrated daily and globally. Recognizing this fact does not entail the belief that renewables are magic. There is such a thing as necessary but not sufficient.

    In sum, the claim that fossil fuels are “functionally irreplaceable” is false. See, for example,

    “Terawatt scale photovoltaics,” Science,

    “100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all sector energy roadmaps forthe 50 United States ”

    “Renewable Electricity Futures Study”

  18. Keith Newman

    I find these discussions peculiar. The obvious central element of the solution is never even obliquely mentioned. Arguments are presented about how Industrial society will destroy the environment humans (and probably all other large mammals I might add) depend on, etc. Solutions acceptable to our economic and political overlords, let alone the majority of the population, don’t exist and so forth. All true. To believe otherwise is delusional if you are honest with yourself.
    The obvious solution, or at least a good start, is to let the population of the high consumption developed world decline substantially as it would by itself if just left alone. The steady state replacement rate for population in the developed countries is 2.1 children per couple. In almost all countries (not the US I think) we are far below that. I believe in Canada we are at 1.6. Japan and European countries are less. What population number should we target? 20% of the current number? I don’t know. I do know that when we had 14 million (pre-WWII) practically no-one talked about the environment.
    Yet, until Covid, Canada had one of the highest rates of population increase in the world! Our political and economic overlords want the population to increase to keep up business profits in construction, banking, sales of junk, and so on. Our appalling former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, explicitly states he wants Canada to aim at a population of 100 million (currently it’s 38 million) achieved through massive population transfer from poor countries (aka immigration). This was given big play by our most influential media group Bell Globe Media in its flagship Globe and Mail.
    To point out this obvious fact about fewer people in Canada is to invite accusations of racism or fascism so it’s a non-starter.
    It’s going up to 30 Celsius today in southern Quebec where I live. In mid-May! Amazing. Time for a bike ride though the forest. Later I’ll go and sit by the river behind my house, sip on a coffee, and watch the ducks.

  19. Rod

    Yves, thanks again for the stuff you put up about the CC and being relentless on ‘what is not spoken of’–(radical conservation).

    I like the ‘Positions Chart’ at the end, and have found it useful here, today, in the Commentary.

    Think global Act Local is embodied in Samuel Conners comment and actions described.

  20. Anthony Stegman

    In my view homo sapien is not a specie that is compatible with a viable living planet. Period. It is a predator that knows only how to destroy, including its own home. Going back tens of thousands of years there is no evidence of human civilization that was sustainable. Earth will eventually become a dead planet unless homo sapien becomes extinct and there are still enough simple life forms left that can restart the entire multi-million year life generating process.

    1. Larry Gilman

      “Going back tens of thousands of years there is no evidence of human civilization that was sustainable.”

      Homo sapiens has been living on this planet for about 300,000 years. And I choose not to believe that the people who first developed language, cooked meat, religion, singing, visual art, laughter, human sex, and probably ping-pong were living worthless lives without “civilization.” Even if greatly reduced numbers and tribal organization are what it takes — I hope they aren’t, but even if they are — sustainable humanity is possible. Because it already has been. So enough with the lazy, gesturing-at-the-cosmos misanthropy already.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        That misanthropy usually does is mistake what is instinctive human behavior with what is culturally programmed. With the latter, change the culture and change the human.

  21. Don W.

    fully 72 percent of the continent would have to be devoted to wind farms

    I didn’t know wind was so poor at energy per unit area compared to solar. I am not going to redo the math, but I did use a crappy efficiency number (by modern solar standards) and a conservative hours of sunlight number, and calculated that the entire US energy consumption (including transportation) can be covered by something around 2% of US surface area in solar. And, that is not accounting for any energy covered by hydro, nuclear, wind, and/or geothermal. Nor does it account for how much of that could be accounted for by covering existing human surfaces (roofs, parking lots, etc…). I can’t find any numbers on how much surface is already covered by humans. I think people under-estimate how much energy from the sun reaches the Earth’s surface.

    The consequences of manufacturing that much solar and any other renewables are still similar to the post, but the 72% surface area number is disingenuous. An issue that I don’t know how to account for is making sure that the energy to produce the generation needs to be a lot less than that generation produces over its lifetime to be self-sustaining. I also don’t disagree with the premise that the economy should also change. Using less energy is easier than trying to produce current energy levels from renewables. I am a fan of the happiness index for measuring the economy over “growth” because I don’t think a significantly lower energy economy is necessarily less happy than the current economy.

  22. Basil Pesto

    In my view homo sapien is not a specie that is compatible with a viable living planet.

    it necessarily is, because “viable”, “living”, “planet” are constructions of our own concoction.

    No humans, no planet, life, or viability. A viable living planet is only a theoretical possibility because we can conceive of and and give name to it. Otherwise, it’s all just stuff (another concoction!). Such is the wonder of man, even thougb it looks like we’re going to fuck it all up in the end.

  23. Susan the other

    Anthills. In several ways. A cone shape is a good heat collector. An earthen mound maintains a good temperature for life. It naturally sheds rain. Going underground is accessible and maintains an even 50 degrees or so. Sunlight when you want it, otherwise its a great passive resource. The very geometry of anthills is a water collector and a form of terraced gardening around the base. Anthills love synergy; the more condo units the better. Or individual little hills. If you back your little anthill up against a bigger hill then you have exponentially more heat in winter and coolness in summer. So, anthills. And stop manufacturing anything that is not compostable. A second stone age anyone? This time with a supply of good long underwear and a recumbent bicycle electricity generator for occasional hot water or fried eggs. There are a thousand solutions; the problem is they are not “profitable”. Gee, I feel so bad.

  24. Jason

    It’s a massive addiction issue. Addiction is multi-faceted and not very well understood. 12-step programs remain the most common “answer” to addiction issues, though we know that only a small percentage of people ever exposed to 12-step groups stick around. Many, if not most, 12-step advocates insist the only reason people don’t stick around is because they’re in denial and not ready to confront their addiction yet. This is a rather narrow take on the issue, but said narrowness is often necessary for people to get better, at least initially.

    Regardless, some sort of “spiritual” program* is in order. The answer will not be found in further science-based solutions, as these have been shown again and again to create even more problems.

    See Science, Hegemony, and Violence – A Requiem for Modernity, edited by Ashis Nandy, for a broader illustration of the problem.

    *Or cultural program? Science and modernity destroy cultures in the interest of “progress.” We need to rebuild place-based cultures.

    1. Return of the Bride of Joe Biden

      Science, Hegemony, and Violence – A Requiem for Modernity

      That’s a tough book to find. I was intrigued, and looked.

      1. Jason

        It’s a brilliant treatise. I’ll quote a bit of what I’m reading right now, as a teaser:

        “I shall illustrate the principle connections between science and violence in two arguments, one from methodology and one from history. These may at times overlap. Elements of both arguments have been pointed out by others; my intention is to provide a reasonably comprehensive picture. More illustrative material could be provided later.

        The first argument, which relates to scientific method, concerns the functional, violence-disposition of the method. The method vetoes or excludes compassion. Its postulates require the excision of values. In actual operation, both the method and its metaphysics require mutilation or vivisection as an integral part of science. Aware of this disposition, often too easily translated into practice, the propagandists of science have offered to make extensive changes, including changes in the offending metaphysics; they have even offered to make science more holistic. These changes cannot alter the fundamental disposition. The change required is not cosmetic but cosmic.

        The second connection between science and violence became apparent soon after the scientific method was invented: colonialism. This is a historical and political argument, and specifically underlines the close and continuing ‘blood relations’ between science and imperialism. The problem has been recognized, but efforts are being made to suggest that science can be delinked from colonialism/imperialism. I shall argue here that since science and technology are both colonizing activities, any suggestions about delinking them from technology can only be fraudulent.

        Following closely on these are two other arguments that work out an analysis from negative consequences. The theoretical arguments, in this second set, are sewn up with empirical demonstrations. I have divided this set of arguments into the ‘first series’ and the ‘second series.’

        The fist series examines the application of modern science to life processes in agriculture, forestry, medicine, and food. In all these, the application is seen as leading to serious harm. Suggested popular remedies include the introduction of soft technologies. The real argument should concentrate on the irrelevance of modern science to such processes.

        The second series, which concerns the fabrication of machines through the application of physical laws, is a problem area because it concerns the application of a basically fragmented science. The result is pollution and ecological imbalance. Industrial processes are almost always at variance with life processes and with natural events. The fragmented nature of applied knowledge produces a reaction/response in the concept of the technological fix. This is no solution. It is postponement, for one becomes involved in an absurd merry-go-round of circular production.

        A radical break is required, for the connections are not merely intrinsic, they are dynamic and actively colonizing. They help increase the political clout of modern science. The final section of this paper contains suggestions on how one might counter the violence of modern science, suggestions that approach Ludditism.

      2. Jason


        Method as Madness

        Philosophers of western origin have themselves made devastating critiques of western science, and have required little help from their counterparts in the east. Lewis Mumford lays bare the origin of modern science from the days of its early veneration, in two splendid essays, one on Galileo and another on Francis Bacon.

        Mumford argues that Galileo’s ‘crime’ was the extinction of what he calls ‘historic’ man: Galileo’s method involved the elimination of all subjective elements, rendering suspect all qualities except the primary qualities. ‘Only a fragment of man – the detached intelligence – and only certain products of that detached, sterilized intelligence, scientific theorems and machines, can claim any permanent place or any high degree of reality.’

        For the first time objectivity was defined in a specific, highly distorted, way. Later, such objective knowledge’ became identified with modern science. Still later, such a stipulatory definition was enshrined within a positivist worldview. As Britain took the lead in institutionalizing this worldview and as Britain in that epoch ruled not only the waves and thus also the mind and manners over men over the globe, this new creed was easily accepted in different centers of the intellectual world.

        Yet, as many commentators have set out to show, this particular form of objectivity was not a phenomenon foreign to the west. Western civilization, because of its absolute faith in reason (extended to elaborate rational proof for the existence of God), has been compelled to swing between two poles of what may be called a scale or continuum of restrictions. A society that values reason as its prime instrument for grasping truth will also tend to move along a continuum of more or less dependence on the principal character of reason, abstraction. (Abstraction and restriction are two sides of the same coin; in the process of abstraction, one restricts reality by abstracting certain features and restricting others.) Such a scale of restrictions has been inoperative with other civilizations like the Chinese, or the Indian, which only give a subordinate position to reason in their scheme of things. By and large western civilization has maintained a homeostatic balance between reliance on total experience and pure abstraction.

        Experience consists of historical events that are irreversible and unique, and can be immediately grasped. The mystic, for example, offers a clear example of direct experience. The function of the intellect in mysticism is zero. Radical anarchism, as another example, could also fall in this category. Most non-human species operate at the level of total experience. A tribal group survives very close to full integration with experience. One should remember that no preferred values are assigned in this analysis to total experience or to pure abstraction. It is my argument that a mystic’s perception of reality is no less significant than that of a pure scientist. The scientist may object to this, but the mystic could not care less.

        Abstraction involves restricting experience to zero. Abstraction means zero history. The other features of abstraction are mediacy and communicability. Plato’s World of Ideas is pure abstraction. The Galilean experiment, or scientific rationality, merely purified such abstraction to a further extreme. The experiment ideally restricts: it first eliminates historicity. The scientific experiment is, in fact, an exercise in total abstraction.* This may sound strange to many, since what is really supposed to distinguish modern science from metaphysics or religion is precisely the idea that it alone is empirical, that it appeals to fact as the final arbiter.

        It is when we examine closely the nature of this fact that we discover something seriously amiss: the scientific ‘fact’ is not the ordinary historical event or object, with all the relevant historical forces acting on it at the moment. It is a theory-laden fact, a fact created out of a certain metaphysics. The empiricism is not the empiricism of the ordinary English language, but carries its own stipulated meaning. The main feature of the experiment is that it is devoid of historicity, of uniqueness, of time. In order to experiment, one has to create one’s facts to fall in line with certain postulates. These postulates themselves are not subject to ‘scientific’ scrutiny nor to any systematic reasoning as to why one postulate is preferred to another.

        A scientific fact has to stripped of all its unique features, its essential nature has to be extracted, to make the new information fit other similarly anesthetized events. The fact that an experiment distorts reality is no longer doubted; what is striking is that such ‘objective knowledge’ is passed off as the final and the only reality. The method thus becomes the sole criterion for truth. It makes possible the invention of a certain kind of truth, a ‘scientific’ truth. The point can be elucidated by a simple comparison between two western thinkers, Aristotle and Galileo.

        Aristotle determined that if one were to drop a stone and a feather from a height, the stone would fall faster than the feather. And in reality, in history, as a rule, stones do fall more rapidly than feathers. Galileo’s invention of scientific rationality eliminated all the possible historical forces acting on both stone and feather: if all such influences were removed, he hypothesized, both stone and feather would fall at the same speed. Toricelli later constructed a vacuum to prove him right. A vacuum is total emptiness, zero experience; the scientific fact created by Galileo and Toricelli was not a natural fact, it was an artificial fact. The argument of this paper is that violence results when ‘artificial’ or ‘perfect’ nature is imposed on ‘natural’ or ‘imperfect’ nature (seen as being in an unscientific state).

        Modern science is thus not a presupposition-less activity, though it may often pretend to be. It seems to start from scratch, from empirical fact, and its postulates seem to deny all metaphysics. Nevertheless, its postulates front for a new metaphysics, and because they, like all other kinds of postulates, are assumed, they distort reality and define it selectively.

        There is a metaphysics that enables scientists to detonate an atomic bomb over a human population purely as an experiment, or to endorse the planting of a monocultural forest under the garb of scientific forestry. One common strand runs through all the perverse manifestations of science in our world. Our business must be to locate it and to determine how it can be progressively ruined.

      3. Jason


        The postulates upholding science are not the result of critical scrutiny, nor are they the result of any democratic process. The scientific worldview argues that there is no real need for democracy in science, as personalities, history, time have all been excised. Here lie the origins of modern intolerance. On the scale of restrictions, an event of pure experience, because it is unique, is incomprehensible and often incommunicable. For this reason, it is quite tolerant of other unique events. Abstraction demands the reverse set of qualities. It provides a basis for communicability precisely because the irreversible, unique, historical character of any event has been eliminated, and this placing of the event outside time and other historical forces enables public agreement on what modern science is about. The event has been reduced in status from the unique to the non-unique and repeatable. In the Indian tradition, there was no basis for such a view, as reason itself was considered defective for reaching truth. The postulates were different, and while they permitted earlier science, they effectively and fortunately eliminated the rise of Galilean science.

        One of the qualities of abstraction, communicability, also lays the basis for a close alliance between science and authoritarianism. The scientific worldview is an totalitarian worldview: it compels universal acceptance of its postulates, without providing an equivalent ‘scientific’ argument for such acceptance. While the method demands that teleology must be kept out of experiments, the general nature of science correspondingly urges that societies should operate as if teleology were a figment of the imagination.

        Science claims for itself a method for arriving at indisputable knowledge, knowledge that is not the result of negotiation, bargaining, or choice, and that has no basis in politics. One is not free to choose scientific knowledge on principle. That is a given, declared final after the efforts of thousands of researchers. One is free (and often encouraged) to reject the statements of religions or art but he who refuses to accept the basic scientific worldview runs the risk of being labelled ignorant, insane, or irrational. Science has redefined the rational to mean its own method, excluding all else.

        The implications for a democratic order are obvious. Science, to be science, concentrates all knowledge within itself while access to scientific knowledge becomes itself a matter of privilege. The non-scientist is then seen as an empty receptacle into whom is poured the benefits science confers; and he must ask no questions. But democratic rights include the rights to assess, or claim, true knowledge, and to reject impersonal knowledge. The right, in other words, includes the power to certify knowledge on any scale. Under the dominance of science, such rights have been eroded, and ordinary people (those who do not wear white coats) are no longer considered able on their own authority to provide true knowledge of the world.

        Nature acts according to her laws. The scientist wishes to discover these laws. He may discover a few, but the totality eludes him and will always do so. Despite this, his effort is to substitute his knowledge of natural laws for such laws themselves. The scale of restrictions could be rewritten, therefore, as a scale stretching between organism/nature and machine/science.

        The transformation of medieval man into modern man is now clear; the movement of western society has taken it from an organic base to a machine base, while the earlier reliance on natural principles has been supplanted by one on principles invented by modern science. For western man, the mechanization of the world image is diametrically the opposite of what constituted the earlier organic perspective.

  25. Kris Alman

    I watched the documentary. And like Jeff Gibbs’ “Planet of the Humans,” it was difficult to watch. Not a hopeful premise; not a hopeful conclusion.

    The documentary takes aim at mining, the supply chains and energy needed to develop renewables. We consumers have become too dependent on disposable technologies that rape our planet. David Suzuki, who is interviewed, counters the logic of not doing anything to replace fossil fuels, but he doesn’t dispute our voracious appetite for more and more energy so that we can consume.

    The documentary points fingers at agriculture as the beginning of the Holocene. Humans chopped down trees in forests and grasslands in prairies to deplete rich top soils to unsustainable levels. How can carbon sparing vegans even keep the planet habitable?

    I guess I have become a Holocene accepter. Hubris and greed are not going to allow us to turn back this dial.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I streamed “Planet of the Humans” and got a copy of the DVD which was surprisingly difficult and distasteful since it was only available from Amazon. I also listened to the audio responses to the furror around this film. The level of condemnation amazed me after watching the film. All it did was checkout some instantiations of “sustainable” “Green” energy to capture the lies in claims made by respected environmental heroes — heroes no more.

      I doubt I will watch “Bright Green Lies”. After reading this post and your comment I get the impression it waxes moralistic. Just your mention of the movie’s pointing to human agriculture as the beginning of the Holocene warns me. I haven’t noticed the same level of condemnation that greeted “Planet of the Humans”, which seems strange. Perhaps someone noticed the Streisand effect.

  26. Jeremy Grimm

    I am not sure what to make of this post. It starts off talking about Scottish wildcats and Florida yews and quotes a Chickasaw writer about progress. From there it states what seems obvious that industrial civilization requires industrial levels of energy; the sources for those levels of energy are finite and will be exhausted sooner rather than later; solar, wind, and battery technology does not scale up to match the present energy usage. As far as I know neither does any other alternative energy source “sustainable”, clean, or not. From there it leads to the question: “Must we surrender manufacturing to survive?”
    My first thought reading that question is what does that question mean exactly?

    Big Money is anxious to exploit “Green” for profit, and if any good comes of their Big Green push, it would be strictly collateral to making that profit along with the damage. Agonizing about Scottish wildcats and Florida yews, beating tribal drums and asking vague ambiguous questions does not impress me as auspicious means for dealing with the Big Money Green threat — a threat growing ready to misdirect and probably sour efforts to find some way out of impending and probably catastrophic changes we will experience in the near future.

  27. KD

    Humans, especially elites, crave luxury goods, leading to civilization, wars, and environmental degradation, at least according to Plato. There is a certain percentage of monks out there, but they are a distinct minority. As it stands, North Korea has the smallest carbon footprint. You don’t see Greens lining up to live there, but if you want to live on a more primitive level of development, first, you need massive repression to keep people in line, and two, how long before you get conquered by some technologically superior political order? Would you actually want to live your life in North Korea just to save the Planet in 100 years?

    European states were born in the security competitions in the 16th century, and as states got more centralized and capable of projecting power, there was a strategic convergence on the dynastic state and then the nation-state. The choice was between survival or being conquered.

    Industrialization, capitalism, imperialism, science, technology, the gamut was in large part a means of making states stronger. No nation will unilaterally disarm, and no state will find popular support if it threatens the collective security of its people. Even if you form some world government, the conflict will simply shift to civil war from the ordinary state of war.

    Perhaps the Apocalypse if coming (I think the concerns are overstated), but nation-states will never cooperate on environmental issues, any more than they can avoid wars and conflicts. We are trapped in the iron cage of slaughter. We have to have the biggest meanest, strongest, most technologically superior military because if we don’t the Russians/Chinese/Americans will eat our lunch. To accomplish collective security, we need an economy humming on all gears, lots of technology, gizmos, etc. Lots of environmental impacts. You need lots of people to grown the GDP and for conscription, and you need them to consume to stimulate economic growth. Just eat, drink and be merry.

  28. Christopher Horne

    Huh. I was reading some interesting factoids over on
    such as that by 2030, Muslims will represent the population majority
    in Russia. Also about the same time, China will have its population reduced
    to about 700 million, due to the One Child policy and the strict limits the
    Chinese immigration policy sets. I believe the correct term for this kind
    of thing is called is ‘hubris’. I am sure that these things have not been mentioned by the learned masters of prognostication on this blog,
    which I have been following for years now. Yet this is the ‘real’ world
    of Putin and Xi, both of whom are ‘leaders for life’.
    It is one thing to not know verifiable trends of this sort if you are ‘Master
    of The Universe. Yet these are the sort of Panopticon surveillance
    states (of which America may soon be a member) which pride
    themselves on their actionable intelligence. Fair enough…. hide the
    truth from the People. Yet the punditcocracy should know better.
    The menagerie of pet theories I read here have a strong tendency
    to be ‘Straw Ponies in the Wind’- good for predicting windy days ahead,
    but completely lousy for forecasting the chain of hurricanes which are
    known to be just over the horizon.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Huh? Did you intend your comment for some other post? This post is about Green climate initiatives in a political of industrial civilization .

      Out of curiosity, what sort of show horses and thoroughbreds do you forecast in the chain of hurricanes to come?

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