Goodbye, Climate Deniers. Hello, Climate Bullshitters

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Yves here. While I appreciate Tom Neuburger’s critique, I don’t think it goes far enough. On my list of climate bullshitters are Green New Deal promoters. They are selling a vision of not merely a pain free transition to a much lower carbon-used economy, but one with unicorns and rainbows in terms of economic groaf and jobs, via building new infrastructure….which has to be done with the current carbon-using infrastructure and limited and sometimes environmentally nasty inputs, like rare earths and lithium. 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.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

“How to spot carbon greenwash? A good rule of thumb is whether the proposal actually cuts emissions, by a significant amount, and soon.”
Damian Carrington

“America can’t be fixed because Americans don’t want it to be.”
Umair Haque, who’s only partly right. The Americans who don’t want it to be fixed own the place.

As Damian Carrington points out in a recent Guardian piece, we live in a time when the “impacts of the climate emergency are now so obvious, only the truly deluded still deny them.”

And he’s right. Almost no one today — at least among the civilian population, those not engaged in politics professionally — really doubts that climate change is happening.

Yet we still all go about our merry social way as though the problem will fix itself (it won’t); or the next generation will deal with any real crisis (they won’t get the chance, since it will hit this generation first); or the election of Joe Biden means the nation is back on track for curbing emissions (it isn’t, not with anything close to the speed required).

And that’s the problem: the speed required.

The most important chart from Michael Mann’s 2014 Scientific American article, “Earth Will Cross the Climate Danger Threshold by 2036.” The green dashed circle (which I added) shows earth crossing the 2°C warming threshold under “normal” assumptions in 2036.

If a giant meteor were barreling toward the earth and the best scientific minds said it would hit for sure, ending almost all life on the planet, would we start working now to end the threat, even if it were predicted for decades in the future? Or would most of us go back to television and our (economically miserable) lives and say, “Cool. Tell me again when it matters”?

Frankly, and I say this with all the love I can muster for our easily deluded species, if the meteor were predicted to hit in, say, 2060 — for all practical purposes, hit the next generation — I’d bet on the delay; I’d bet that next year’s Super Bowl mattered more.

But what if the meteor were predicted to hit this generation, hit less than 15 years from now? Then I’d bet actual serious work would start immediately, and everyone would be engaged.

Our Rulers and Their Wants

But the climate crisis is not a meteor. Altering a meteor’s deadly course through space is not an existential threat to our ruling class and its self-dealing, self-enriching economic system. Only its impact poses such a threat.

The climate crisis, however, threatens to end our economic system not only if it’s ignored. It threatens to end our system if it’s addressed. And no one, not Joe Biden, not any ruler of any major nation in the world, not banks, corporations, fossil fuel companies, hedge funds, or the whole of the investor class, wants that.

And yet each of these entities — governments, corporations, the finance system, the whole of the investor class — will be SOL the day that death ship reaches the harbor of a panicked and pants-soiled public’s active awareness.

The day the public truly figures out the mess we’re in is the day the world changes forever, never to go back. And on that day, everyone on the planet, rich and poor alike, will ask a single question: Where can I go that’s safe?

The answer for most will be: Nowhere; nowhere at all. And yet that day is further out than the day when we must force capitalism to be transformed so we can solve the problem it cannot. That day, the day of needed transformation, if we truly take the crisis seriously, is today. Thus the bullshit, all to serve delay, all to keep our capitalist rulers rich and in their chairs.

It’s really that simple. By praising profit-first, or empowering those who worship that gold calf, we doom ourselves to die before our time — among the young, only the lucky will see natural deaths.

Judging Climate Policies

It’s in this light, as Carrington suggests, that we must judge climate policies and those who propose them. We’re past the day of mainstream denialism. We’re almost past the day when the climate isn’t mentioned at all in official circles; soon you hear about it regularly even on CNN and MSNBC.

Which means we’ve reached the day when climate pretenders — in Carrington’s words, climate bullshitters — start to take the center stage, all to keep the current deadly system alive and well, up to the furthest minute it can be sustained.

The Endless Stream

So far that’s all we’ve seen since Biden was elected, this climate bullshit, an endless flow of “here’s how much we care,” followed by an endless refusal to act in ways that matter.

In Biden’s case, that means refusing support for any deed that threatens fossil fuel profit, such as shutting down drilling on federal lands forever, or cutting off for good all subsidies to oil and gas operations and their investors.

Here’s Carrington on how the rest of our ruling class is offering to save us. Let’s start with governments:

Let’s start at the top, with the world’s governments, which have been setting out more targets than an archery competition. The global leader is the UK, which recently pledged a world-beating emissions cut of 78% by 2035. Targets are a necessary first step, but need action to be met and the instant, universal response: “Show me the policies!”

The problem is some actual UK policies are pushing emissions up, not down: massive road building, a scrapped home energy efficiency programme and slashed electric car incentives, new oil and gas exploration, a failure to halt airport expansions and block a new coalmine (instead, the government belatedly ordered a public inquiry).

But it is not just Boris Johnson’s government that says one thing while doing another. All are talking tough on climate, but China is building one large coal-fired power station a week, Japan remains one of the biggest financiers of overseas coal plants and Norway is developing giant new oil and gas fields.

Canada’s premier Justin Trudeau says climate change is an “existential threat”, yet the country’s emissions have actually increased since the 2015 Paris deal, thanks to its tar sands exploitation. Oh, and many nations still subsidise fossil fuels, which is like buying more cigarettes when you’re trying to quit smoking.

The world’s forests are suffering because of the same doublespeak. Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Peru and Colombia all pledged in 2014 to end deforestation by 2030. Yet in official carbon-cutting pledges submitted to the UN since then, none have confirmed that commitment.

Corporations aren’t faring any better, especially the fossil fuel companies: “Many are still exploring for new reserves, when we already have more than can ever be safely burned.” The list of their other obfuscations is long, including investing billions in highly expensive “hydrogen fuel” technology in a vain attempt to salvage stranded fossil fuel assets.

The banks and financial system?

Next up, big banks – their financing of fossil fuels was bigger in 2020 than in 2016 or 2017, after the Paris climate deal. Top of the pile is JPMorgan Chase, despite it launching a “Paris-aligned financing strategy” and “aiming to finance and facilitate” $1tn in green initiatives by 2030.

Barclays and BNP Paribas both became founding members of the UN-backed Net-Zero Banking Alliance last month, yet both are in the top 10 financiers of fossil fuels since 2015. Over at BlackRock, the world’s biggest investor and a company that says climate change is a “global threat”, its “Carbon Transition Readiness” fund includes Chevron, ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel giants.

Get ready for more of this, and prepare to reject it all. If a policy proposal delays effective action — either because it makes the problem worse, or because it’s picked to subvert a much more effective action — those proposing it want you and yours to suffer tomorrow so they and theirs can add to their wealth today.

That’s truly a psychopathic trade, but one we’re used to. Time to not be used to it?

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    I think there is a lot to unwrap here, as we need to distinguish the greenwashers or bullsh**ers as you put it. There have always been both intentional and unintentional greenwashers around – the latter being those who have good intentions but simply haven’t worked out the deeper consequences of what they are doing. In my experience, they are the most common, and the most insidious type, because its so hard to persuade them that everything they are doing is wrong, even when it very obviously is wrong.

    There is also – I think this is the most important issue – the hard fact that a transition of countries and large organisations will be very, very difficult, and we must distinguish between those failures which are due to cynicism, or those which are the inevitable pains of changing course. As an example, China appears to be genuine in its aim to address emissions – their leadership are mostly engineers and scientists and they don’t have the ideological blinders of many leaders in the West – but there are huge layers of interest groups within China and an enormous momentum behind a high growth at whatever cost policy which makes turning things around very difficult. The disjunction between what Xi says and what happens on the ground may be because he and the Beijing leadership are lying, or it may be because it will take years for them to engineer the type of structural changes needed and for the results to bear fruit. I suspect that if you could get an honest answer from them, their explanation would be ‘We know we need to transition rapidly, but we aren’t quite there yet in terms of technology and wealth, we need a few more years to be in a position to do it, in the meanwhile, people need their electricity and so we will build more coal’. This might be a good strategy, or it might be just a way of kicking the can down the road. Or it might be a bit of both.

    I don’t think the situation in the West is really all that different. I think people like Trudeau and Biden and Merkel and many a CEO (those who aren’t straight up sociopaths) are aware of the issues do genuinely want to do something. What they aren’t willing or able to do is make the very radical changes needed. I don’t think they are any more immune than the rest of us from the ‘I recycled today, therefore I’m green’ type thinking. I think that in many ways they are in the FDR situation where he said ‘I know what needs to be done, now make me do it’. Unfortunately, ordinary people aren’t forcing their politicians do do what needs to be done.

    As for the Green New Deal – needless to say, any such all encompassing policy is going to be packed with pork and unicorns. But I’m not really sure what the alternative is to make changes. Sure, we can tell everyone that to save the world you must give up eating meat, dump your car, stop flying, buy only second hand clothes and learn to live with heat in summer and cold in winter. Yeah, see how successful you’ll be. I doubt if even a fraction of 1% of people will willingly do all those things to make a difference (most would maybe do one or two, but not all of them). I hate to say ‘only technology will save us’, but really, only technology will save us, there is simply no obvious route to a genuine low consumption society, at least low enough to make a difference. You need to have a positive goal for people to focus on – the most effective war propoganda was never ‘lets endure and crush our enemies’, it was always ‘endure, crush our enemies, and we’ll make our future better’. That is, I think, the only message that can drive deep change. How to actually do that…. well, thats the question.

    1. vlade

      “Unfortunately, ordinary people aren’t forcing their politicians do do what needs to be done. ”

      You answer yourselves in the next para. No politicians will get people to do it, because if they tried, they would not be at power for long.

      It’s “we need to cut consupmtion, but why me?”. The fascinating thing on this is that the reason is “lower quality of life”. Yet Europe is managing to have same (and in places higher) quality of life than the US for considerably less energy consumption. I think most of the one-use disposable stuff (from cuttlery to razors) was invented and mass-produced in the US first (the really first one being disposable white-collar. what does that tell you?)

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Yes, thats a key issue. Those sceptical about technolocial advances point to strong links between GDP PP growth and emissions, but there is clearly a huge variation in energy use and pollution between advanced societies that are not reflected in quality of life issues. The Swedes and Swiss emit about one third of the CO2 of the average North American. So there is very obvious scope for huge reductions without impacting on ‘real’ quality of life issues in advanced societies. Thats a very obvious piece of low hanging fruit that needs to be grasped, and grasped quickly.

        But this is one area that I have a lot of sympathy with politicians. Its very hard to see any progress made that doesn’t make a lot of people very angry, and its not just businesses or billionaires. Here in Ireland by far the worst sector for CO2 emissions and damage to water and wildlife is agriculture, specifically dairying, beef and lamb production. There can be no progress nationally without tacking that sector. But there is enormous opposition from this from rural areas, and while big business is doing some manipulation, it is primarily bottom up opposition from some of the poorest in society, who are simply refusing to accept that their farms and businesses (and car based lifestyles) are environmentally unsustainable. It is political suicide to try to reform the sector, at least without throwing mountains of money at key players.

        1. vlade

          Ha. That was a problem with the NZ, when years ago they tried to limit the methane emissions by agri. The govt took it back really quickly. Clean green? Only when suits (NZ also had some of the most poluted rivers, but not chemical-factory polution, agri polution).

          1. awm

            Thanks for that. It’s easy for us American’s to think of NZ as some sort of anglo-nirvana.

        2. upstater

          Re-engineering and rebuilding housing stock and transportation to massively reduce CO2 in the US is anyhing but “low hanging fruit”. And while disposables and single use items are a problem, it is a trivial contribution to CO2 when compared to housing and transportation.

        3. Zamfir

          I am not so sure that this is low hanging fruit. The difference in CO2 levels between Europe and the US are the result of many many decades (even centuries) of different policies and of different availability of fuel. The result is now physically built into world. In the size and type of buildings. In the transportation fleet, in industrial equipment. In the locations of buildings and the associated travel distances. The location of entire cities with heavy HVAC usage. Millions of people who have moved great distances for work, on the expectation that they can hop on a plane back to visit their parents. Et etc

          Changing that is massive, on a scale of only devades. As ambitious as any “technologist” plan, probably more. And that’s only the “low hanging fruit”, to European levels of emission. A factor 2 or 3, where 10 or 20 is required. Either those next steps are mostly from technology, or they will hit hard at standards of living.

          1. John Wright

            Yes, for example, Las Vegas, a city that exists due to air conditioning.

            In California per

            “California’s water system is energy intensive, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to the most recent estimates, approximately 20 percent of statewide electricity use—and 30 percent of business and home use of natural gas—goes to pumping, treating, and heating water.”

            Getting California to change this energy usage pattern much will be, in my view, very difficult, especially as California is in a drought.

            If one looks at the various pressures to increase greenhouse gas emissions (population growth, world wide desire for an easier life with more things, resource depletion (top soil, forests, metal ores) which will require more energy to compensate for shortfalls, it is difficult to see where much will be done.

            Climate change is a different problem than humanity has dealt with in the past as prior problems (poor living standards, increasing agriculture, ending wars, ending economic crises, decreasing pollution) were all handled by expending MORE energy not LESS.

            Unless some technological breakthrough happens (fusion, carbon dioxide capture) it seems that humanity will simply watch as climate change hits with a vengeance.

            1. MichaelSF

              When I lived in Houston TX for three months in 1976 I saw a bit of Chamber of Commerce literature that crowed about Houston being the most air-conditioned city in the world. What that meant to me was that I mostly couldn’t stand to go outdoors, as I was there from the end of August through October.

              I’ve relatives and friends who live in Las Vegas and Phoenix, and I can’t understand why they continue to live where it is so brutally hot. But then I’m not keen on living where it is brutally cold either.

          2. Carolinian

            Thanks. The US is a huge emitter because we are a country where oil was once abundant and there was no science at the time to say using it would be a problem. But surely the above is correct that–now we do know–capitalism and its bullshit proponents are at the root.

            The bro and I like to hang out at the local aerodrome and last time he was here a jet landed–no doubt from some Caribbean vacation spot–and two casually dressed passengers and their dog emerged. Reportedly one of our local fat cats owns three jets at the same airport in case family members need to go to different places. “Dad, can I have the keys to the Lear?”

            When it comes to this particular problem the fish very much rots from the head.

            1. BillC

              Milliken? Or is there a new generation of SC elite?

              My 2-3 years working for the state gov’t in Columbia in the late 80’s left me thinking SC’s social/political milieu evolves on a geogical, not biological, time scale.

    2. upstater

      Here in New York State we have green bull*hitters extraordinaire. Cuomo has a commitment to reduce CO2 by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030. First, energy consumption in NYS rose in the 1990s, but has been largely flat since. Coal fired power plants no longer exist, having been priced out by fracked gas. The recessions and NAFTA/WTO gutted the largest industrial users; they are simply gone. So one third or even half the reductions have been already baked in the cake.

      Conservation is very, very modest and really relies on federal mandates (e.g., LED lighting, EV incentives, etc). There is no attempt to improve energy performance of homes and businesses. Nothing remotely approaching radical conservation is ever discussed.

      The largest share of emissions in NYS is transport, but it is fanciful to suppose they can be meaningfully reduced anytime soon. Cars and trucks easily last 10 or even 20 years even with the huge amounts of winter road salt. Outside of NYC itself, public transportation is a sad, ineffective joke. Electrifying personal transportation has barely begun and has huge infrastructure costs for charging, particularly at residential houses or even more complex at apartments. Ultimately EVs simply are an attempt to keep the existing model of the FIRE sector roaring with suburbs, big box retail and office parks while center cities are decrepit shooting galleries.

      New York has the largest state owned electric generation and transmission utility in the country, the NY Power Authorithy. Aside from constructing CCGT peaking plants in the city, there has not been any new NYPA generation built in decades. There has been only limited NYPA new transmission. What new renewables that have been built are all PE or foreign utility owned, to play the deregulated markets. New transmission proposals are all the same structure, as rentier toll roads. NYPA, of course, could do the job faster and cheaper and it would be a public asset (in a decade 60 years ago it constructed massive hydro projects of 4000 MW and thousands of miles of transmission). Only the grifters build now.

      Putting the icing on the greenwashed cake, deindustrialized upstate has become a center of bitcoin mining. A 100 MW coal thermal plant near me was converted to gas, with public assistance, and has an attached datacenter mine. The largest single bit bitcoin mining facility in the world (435 MW) is attached to NYPA hydro plant in Massena at a former aluminum smelter (we’ll source aluminum smelted by Chinese coal plants instead). How can this even be permitted?

      I mean, how serious is Andrew Cuomo about climate? All the US leaders are lying hacks, while the world heats inexorably. It is hopeless…

    3. TomDority

      Asking corporations or investors to be more environmentaly responsible will not work – ever. It is not that there is a majority of evil greed stricken sociopaths at the top – except maybe the Koch Bros and other various lothsomes in Congress and in the investing world …. well maybe a higher proportion of sociopaths at the top 1% than the rest of us but..
      These people are in an economic environment where investors demand top return in an investement… if they do not diligently do their jobs they can be sued or terminated. Many corporate heads know they owe no duty to shareholders short term interests …but the long term business… yet shareholders being owners can oust underperformers and those being compensated in stock options will juice stocks at any rate out of self interest. Everyone looks for the easiest create wealth and make a living, wheather it be a easier ways to hammer nails or create music or easier ways to increase the amount of money via money.
      The-way to curtail sociological and environmental destruction is by making it harder or damned near impossible to make money in a way that is sociological and environmentally destructive. In the USA we have congress and legislatures that have the power to Tax — but apppear chicken because TAX is such a scary word to use because it has been so incompetently wielded and abused by campaigns of no-new-taxes- gov bad deregulate good – run government like business……..all this depite fact that most businesses fail, despite the fact that most deregulation was designed to remove regulation from the financial sector, despite the fact that the rentier sector…the one that should most be taxed IMHO, the monopolists and the most destructive industries have been by far and away the most deregulated and de- taxed entities on the planet. The most taxed – labor. The most regulated – Labor. The people who always pay the price Labor- who by the way are consumers. Most of us pay the price for the folly and incompetence (IT security breach at pipeline) to the financial and preditory least taxed sector – easiest sector to make money from money and also, the most destructive of wealth sector– they that benifit the most are both. So fuel prices spike because of incompetence of the fuel sector…those spike in prices directly benifit the the casino..the dollar making from dollars sector – while destroying the wealth and pocketbooks of everyone else.
      Change is not going to happen until that which needs changing is not profitable.

      1. Susan the other

        This is the answer. But what an enormous task. Gail Tverberg has given us the formula – in a cryptic way – by saying that if it costs too much to pump the oil, producers will just shut down. Because capitalism. So we either nationalize oil so that we can produce what we need for agreed purposes or we let the entire industry collapse. Because there is no way to let it “compete”. So there is no longer a reason to “invest” in oil/fossil energy. (Or much else being offered really.) Energy will be a controlled and rationed commodity. The same logic applies to all natural resources and basic commodities. When profits and hyper-consumption cannot be allowed to drive growth it’s over. So what do we replace this engine of the economy with? With sustainability. In all its incarnations. All of them properly regulated. And when the profiteers scream “freedom” the counter argument is “survival”. We will need a big safety net to catch everyone jumping from the skyscrapers… But once people realize there is a silver lining of leisure, things won’t seem so bad. I’m not pessimistic about this. I think a lot of the pieces are already in place.

    4. GlassHammer

      So normally the offer for any political project has to be more self-serving than just the survival of the participants, it has to be an increase in wealth/standing for those that already have a great deal of it.

      Well, that normal offer isn’t on offer.

      The offer is a managed voluntary drop in standard of living across class lines as we adjust our energy/resource inputs and outputs or…. an unmanaged involuntary drop in standard of living across class lines as our current energy/resource inputs become constrained.

      I am 90% sure we have picked the later.

    5. lincoln

      I think greenwashing might be a little different that climate bullsh**. According to wiki, greenwashing is:

      “a form of marketing spin in which green PR (green values) and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization’s products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly”.

      Maybe an example of this is when companies explain that Uberizing the trucking industry is actually good because its environmentally friendly.

    6. Monte McKenzie

      yes ‘it’s being kicked down the line by all I think it’s to late already as when we move into high gear to convert to thorium Geothermal and advanced solar it will be to late to modify society into the most extreem effeciency man has known since he started using fire to cook part time!
      It takes energy to produce to infrastructure of self suffeciency using energy some or all of that is poluting! the world screwed up starting in 1960 when a massive effort wasn’t undertaken to convert all power needs to electriicity and produce all that with thorium liquid salt which we had back then.
      The second bigest killer has been corporate profit protection which has kept any benefits of conservation or lower cost electricity from being produced as it kills Profits! The system that is given credit for promoting effeciency,,, kills effeciency! call me 3044661350 I’ll defend my argument against any !

  2. cnchal

    Radical conservation = massive mountian of debt becomes a landslide.

    Let’s see. Nearly half the calories produced are thrown in the garbage.

    Twitcoin and it’s digital ilk are consuming ever greater quantities of energy.

    Roughly 200 lbs of cell phones and the embodied energy to make them = the embodied energy to make one car.

    Do you know what we will never have enough of? Moar power sucking data centers to store all the zeros and ones generated by cell phones and the real time continuous spying on the data the phone generates just by being on, to sell you crap you don’t want or need. As a bonus, data “scientists” can use those data centers by unleashing AI to figure out how to stop using energy for frivolous and useless things to save our ass, not!

    Newish cars are so full of digital crap, a couple of sensor fails can scrap it. Now there is a chip shortage and instead of using this as an opportunity to decrapify cars, moar power sucking fabs to make ever moar energy intensive chips are on a fast track, worthy of massive government subsidies. Priorities, priorities. Do you really need a rearview mirror loaded with chips and lights that cost thousands to repair when the inevitable backing out the garage or going through the drive through and misjudging distance rips them off?

    Ah well. Yesterday was beautiful. Perfect temperature, blue sky with nice puffy clouds. What crisis?

    1. zagonostra

      Those “blue skies with nice puffy cloudy days” are becoming a rarity that most people don’t seem to be aware of or ponder. I observe the sky very carefully and too often I see a milky haze created by man-made activity that turns the blue into gray as if I was looking through a “glass darkly.”

      Radical conservation is the right approach, let the land slide begin…

      1. sharonsj

        Well, if it gets “hazy” enough, more people are going to die from air pollution. And if enough die, there should be less consumption. I’m being sarcastic, but most people are too ignorant to make any connections between cause and effect. Except perhaps the inhabitants of small islands who are packing up and moving to higher ground. Also, people like Jeff Bezos are just going to get on their fully stocked $500 million yacht.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          That plan could work for Bezos unless an angry frogman attaches a $500 limpet mine to the hull of Bezos’s $500 million yacht.

  3. ChrisFromGeorgia

    I think we ought to add to the “Climate BS-ers” group anyone who claims we can have our cake and eat it too, i.e. have economic growth (as currently measured/defined) and mitigate/reduce climate change.

    Behind every unit of GDP is a unit of energy. Our consumption-based economy depends on more stuff, produced with fossil fuels, or shipped overseas in energy wasting cargo ships.

    Unless there is a revolution in economics we’re not getting anywhere. Shifting the problem overseas to China or lower wage countries with no environmental laws doesn’t count for obvious reasons. Lies like “we can have a growing economy and less carbon emissions” have to stop.

    Sorry to go into psycho-babble, but the first step for addicts is to admit that they have a problem. Growth addicts are no different.

    1. Rod

      Amen, Amen

      the Chart above was 2014 and CO2 bouncing at ~400ppm


      The global average atmospheric carbon dioxide in 2019 was 409.8 parts per million (ppm for short), with a range of uncertainty of plus or minus 0.1 ppm. Carbon dioxide levels today are higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years.

      Behind every unit of GDP is a unit of energy. Our consumption-based economy depends on more stuff, produced with fossil fuels, or shipped overseas in energy wasting cargo ships.

      Unless there is a revolution in economics we’re not getting anywhere.

      leads to:
      but the first step for addicts is to admit that they have a problem. Growth addicts are no different.

      it is just too clear, imo, that Consumptive Capitalism is the ‘Pusher’ System and ‘Dealer’ Institution.

  4. Eelok

    Yves’s comments on the GND reminded me that I’ve been meaning to pick up Charles Marohn’s Strong Towns again and freshen up on his arguments about the cultish, fetishized nature of infrastructure investment in North America. I remember being shocked at how direct and aggressive his arguments were in such a slim, friendly looking little book back when I read it a couple of years ago. It’s basically Kunstler without the doomer aesthetic.

    He excoriates a lot of the basic assumptions built in to the process of suburban development, pointing out that municipalities with massive backlogs of unfunded road maintenance are frequently building more, and that many of the economic calculations used to justify this kind of activity are complete bullshit. I remember the example of how the ASCE equates saving millions of commuters 30 seconds of drive time gets totaled up to be providing billions in economic benefits to justify new lanes.

    Where the Green New Deal is often presented by its proponents as a sort of revolutionary shift in thinking and approach, from this perspective it’s just more of the same. A true paradigm shift would involve some pretty ruthless calculations about the viability of our existing developments, cutting off the ones that can’t be saved and infilling those that might have a chance. If the GND is the best we can muster up and the great progressive hope of the moment, we’re clearly nowhere near the shift needed.

    Also on the topic of this post, I read this article a couple of weeks ago on how the oil majors’ greening up their asset base by offloading their most emissions-intensive projects is often a net loss for the planet. Obviously they don’t mothball these assets. They sell them, often to a smaller operator with a much worse track record, much less public scrutiny, and a business model based on squeezing every bit of profit out of dirty oil plays that they can.

  5. a different chris

    We’re screwed. Totally. I don’t think “the people” actually have much more say in this than my dog does when she gets to go to the park. And those people do include many, many politicians who actually try but get their, um legs cut off one way or another.

    To wit, here is the latest atrocity, read it and weep. I can find plenty more:

  6. The Rev Kev

    It seems the strategy is to adopt the “Yes Minister” approach to what to do-

    Sir Richard Wharton: “In stage one, we say nothing is going to happen.”

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.”

    Sir Richard Wharton: “In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there’s nothing we can do.”

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it’s too late now.”

    And why not? This strategy worked so well for the present Pandemic.

  7. Bobby Gladd

    “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.”

    Yep. FreeDumb. Liburtee.

  8. John

    I find it interesting that the Colonial pipeline ransomware attack is showing the fragility of our wasteful, resource squandering transportation system.
    Its not clear what is actually happening…tampered billing system or antiquated, failing pipes but gas stations are shutting down.
    It would be extreme irony if radical conservation got imposed by radical greed’s failures to repair, maintain and protect.

    1. Synoia

      Whatever the cause of the Colonial Pipeline failure, root cause is “single point of failure.”

      Similar to the Semiconductor Manufacturing shortage.

      It seem that our system promotes single monopoly suppliers, which when they fail exacerbate the failure because we have created so many single points of failure.

  9. Keith Newman

    As pointed out in the comments above taking any meaningful climate action is impossible because the opposition would be overwhelming. This has been clear for at least a decade. The only way to make true progress is to just allow the population of the high consuming developed countries decrease substantially and associate this with other serious climate action (hard and increasingly strict cap on emissions, etc.)
    This would be happening by itself were it not for the concerted actions by our elites to increase our population through immigration. All business associations, the banks, etc., and their politicians say this quite explicitly in Canada where I live. From the perspective of wealthy countries immigration serves to loot the “best and the brightest” from poor countries, provide downward pressure on wages, and ensure high consumption levels are maintained. Not very long ago all this was part of common discussions, except perhaps the enviro angle. However since immigration can no longer be discussed rationally without those questioning it being called racists, nazis or fascists nothing can be done.
    But today is lovely. The sky is blue with wispy clouds. Can’t wait to get out for a bike ride through the forest near my house. (cf cnchal above)

    1. wilroncanada

      Thank you Keith Newman
      I’m also Canadian, as the moniker indicates. I would add to your note about immigrants: that we steal the best and brightest from poor countries, but also the “entrepreneurial” grifters who have enwealthened themselves at the expense of their country people but don’t want to live themselves, or bring up their children, in the mess they have left behind. We have sponsored refugees, and for the most part I would welcome them, but wealth should not be a criterion for entry, rather the opposite,
      This morning we have unexpected but welcome rain (the west coast). 50 years ago, the first time I flew back to my family in southern Ontario, I was already flying from blue into grey, and not just around the edges. It was disturbing. Flying back into Vancouver on my return was like flying into another world. Not any more, even on the oceanside.

      1. Keith Newman

        Hi Wilron.
        Totally agree. Canada encourages the arrival of grifters and very definitely the upper classes who no longer want to reside in the countries they have looted and made increasingly unlivable. This especially want to get their children out. I know 4 people this applies to re Mexico personally.
        Agree as well re refugees, well at least real refugees running for their lives or for the lives of their family members. Most definitely we should welcome them. Again I know personally 3 people this applies to, all of whom escaped from countries destroyed by the US.
        Not sure though re “economic” refugees. A neighbour left Albania and states quite honestly hers’ was a case of Canada looting an educated person (an engineer) from a poor country.

        1. ObjectiveFunction

          Sorry [or as we Yanquis would say, ‘sari’], Canada should just go right on cherrypicking Tamil, Nigerian and Ukrainian chemists and CPAs. It’s a great problem to have, really.

          Do NOT get guilted into stuffing your cities and farms with ‘refugees’, read largely young male day laborers reading at 4th grade level, which is what America and Europe have been doing. Your lovely social contract will be gone forever inside a generation.

          You may think your city streets are sketchy now with the druggies and drunks but believe me, it could be far worse. I passed through Moncton NB once a decade ago, and tried to visit an ATM after dark in the outskirts of town. And this ex New Yorker felt discomfited enough by the umm, immigrant youth loitering nearby to get right back in his car and drive on. Don’t freekin’ go there, Canada.

  10. Anthony Stegman

    Every politician, at least since Reagan, knows that they cannot ask the American people to make sacrifices if they wish to be elected and re-elected. Tackling the climate crisis will require significant sacrifice across the board, but that is a political non-starter. So the best we will get is greenwashing and lots of BS. In a capitalist system we will all go down with the ship. There is no viable alternative.

    1. Prairie Bear

      Yes, I am often reminded of Poppy Bush declaring that, “The American way of life is non-negotiable.”

  11. Prairie Bear

    The article makes some good points, but it barely scratches the surface of how bad the situation is. If you want a comprehensive, well-reasoned and -written account of just where we are and how bad it is, check out Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert.* The authors do the arithmetic and show their work on the energy claims made for “renewables” and things just don’t “pencil out,” as we used to say in farm country.

    It is not a cheerful read, but, as Dr. Phil says, “If you don’t own it, you can’t fix it.”**

    * Link is to Jensen’s website, where you can buy it from him directly and he will sign it to whomever you specify, and he will get a bigger cut. You can also buy from Lierre Keith’s website here and from Max Wilbert’s here. Also available from Barnes & Noble.

    ** I’m definitely not a fan, but a former boss used to quote that sometimes, and even the worst people can say something that’s true, and it seems like a good way of putting it.

    1. John Wright

      I bought this book directly from Derrick Jensen.

      Some minor evidence of his commitment was the receipt that was with the book.

      It was on a coffee stained recycled piece of paper.

      1. Prairie Bear

        Yes lol! He collects used paper from the public library and other places, blank on one side, to print out his manuscripts for editing, etc. I have even sent him small stacks of it, along with books I have read and am done with that I email and ask if he might be interested in. In exchange for the books, he will give me credits for my Reading Club subscription. I actually got one of those pieces of paper back with a note.

  12. Pelham

    Realistically, radical or even moderate conservation is out. Wind and solar basically don’t work. And, as Yves suggests, there’s a lot of embodied carbon in such solutions. (Relatedly, I read a pre-internet analysis many years ago of the California Bay Area BART system that estimated it would have to operate at full capacity every day for more than 400 years to save enough carbon from lower auto emissions to compensate for the carbon emitted in the system’s construction.)

    There’s a lot of embodied carbon in nuclear as well, but at least it works better than wind/solar and new forms promise a good deal better performance. Then there’s carbon extraction from the atmosphere (a dawning technology) and geo-engineering, with all the perils it may pose.

    These appear more plausible.

    1. upstater

      It seems hard to believe that removing 400-500,000 cars per day from the SF bay area in perpetuity would require 400 years to net out the carbon from building BART. This was from Pre-internet sources, huh? Who was doing carbon accounting in the 1980s? And this claim assumes that density and ridership on BART would never increase and highway commuting and trips would remain at 1980 levels. Seems like an implausible claim, doesn’t it? And what about the carbon footprint of building all those beautiful California freeways? Hardly carbon neutral construction, either.

  13. Temporarily Sane

    Totally agree with Yves that the Green New Deal is not a realistic climate change solution. It’s a pipe dream. Letting the Davos crowd and tech oligarchs take the lead is equally ridiculous. These are fool’s errands.

    The bottom line is we humans, particularly in the wealthiest countries, have to make some serious changes in how we live and relate to the earth and how we make use of its resources. That will only happen if governments take the lead and draft a realistic plan that’s in line with the data and what climate scientists have been observing for decades. They could begin by seriously, and in good faith, consulting with actual climate scientists.

    In this scenario the oligarchs and the “business community” will have to suck it up and accept that their wings are going to be clipped.

    But that is not going to happen. Society (in the west) is far too fractured, private capital too dominant and governments too cowardly to take the lead. What will probably happen is all sorts of BS and Kabuki theater type “solutions” like the GND or the Great Reset will be floated while the carbon hungry countries try to protect themselves from the worst effects of climate change by offloading the consequences of their carbon intensive lifestyles onto the “poor”countries of the global south.

    As the climate continues to heat up and the global north can no longer dodge the climate change bullet, the wealthiest people in those countries will try to protect themselves and their lifestyle by offloading the worst effects onto the poorest citizens. Next in line after that will be what’s left of the middle class. But sooner or later the super wealthy, too, will have to face reality. It’ll be a kind of slomo apocalypse.

    It doesn’t have to be this way but neoliberalism is as, or more, ideologically rigid than the communist Soviet Union was in the decades leading up to its demise. The COVID-19 pandemic fiasco is a gentle preview of how the “advanced” countries will deal with the climate crisis.

  14. Dick Swenson

    I would like to survey all those concerned with climate change in regard to the following question: “Does it really matter what anyone thinks about this problem, is it still possible to do nything meaningful about the disaster confronting us?”

    My opinion is that we are faced with terrible consequences no matter what we actually start to do today, much less what our political leadership will propose and then debatem, and then fund, and then ….

    As you might conclude, I am a pessimist.

    1. Synoia

      Is it still possible to do anything meaningful about the disaster confronting us?”

      Yes, die quickly.

  15. Larry Gilman

    Yves seems to understand that if GND advocates like Sanders and AOC proposed radical conservation they would be ignored (“After all, we live in a society where some regard mask-wearing as an unbearable hardship”). Why excoriate them, then, for not choosing irrelevance? If they had done so, wouldn’t we be drowning in kvetches about the folly of virtue signaling, the perfect killing the good, the idiocy of peddling a Grim New Deal?

    The GND would significantly reduce how materially and humanly destructive our system is. As a big baby step, not an all-sufficient blueprint for saving the planet, I’ve seen none better, much less one with a flower child’s chance in Hell of getting implemented. If we can’t do this, what hope for radical conservation? Ever try shifting into reverse without first hitting the brakes?

    Rage against the inadequacy of the attainable seems to invite the fallacy that whatever isn’t salvific is utter bullshit. Witness this site’s recent post on the “ugly truth” that solar and wind are intermittent, which allegedly makes grids falter and and commits us to mountains of batteries. Pure codswallop. ( for insight into renewable technologies — really?) European countries with far higher levels of solar and wind than the US have more reliable grids by every metric, and they have them without massive battery deployment.

    So, no: renewables haven’t decreased grid reliability, nor will they. (Those turbines in Texas could and should have been winterized.) The DOE’s 2017 Staff Report to the Secretary on Electricity Markets and Reliability ( ) did not find that renewables threaten US grid reliability; wind and solar variability primarily requires “dispatchable power plants to be operated more nimbly” (p. 11), not lockstep deployment of expensive batteries.

    If you agree that we need radical conservation, then put your shoulder to government-boosted renewable generation, end-use efficiency, and the rest of the GND, as well as whatever else is pointing in the right direction. Doing the good one can is the only way to bring the good one can’t within reach.



    1. juno mas

      Yes, renewables (wind/solar) are not the bane of the electrical grid. California generated 98% of its electric grid power from renewables, recently. However, only for a short span. Combining nimble power generation with regional sources (Wind power from Wyoming transmitted to Calif. for morning coffee) can work in a smarter grid system. (Reducing transmission distance from source to consumer is a form of conservation.)

      I would like to see more parking canopy PV installed to offset the coming local demand to recharge electric veheicles. In any case, the greater the conservation of energy the greater the reduction of CO2; the closer we get to climate stability. Renewable energy (especially PV) have environmental impacts on the rural land where sited. Conservation, radical by US standards, is an essential element to reaching climate stabilization goals.

      I agree that the GND is simply an opening salvo in the attempt the change current politics on AGW (warming). But we do need to go further faster. Unfortunately much US consumption is built into our lifestyle. The narrative needs to change.

  16. JohnB

    Is there room for a Job Guarantee with radical conservationism? What would the jobs be?

    I’m definitely one of the GND advocate types, but my primary interest is the JG. I do believe that it’s possible to use a JG to help retrain people into a climate-change-fighting R&D program – where we don’t start with GND infrastructural development, we start with rapid technological development in areas like e.g. eliminating the carbon footprint of infrastructural development, substituting rare earths etc..

    The Job Guarantee GND-style is just barely beginning to become politically palatable, which is a big deal and I very much welcome the popularity of having a JG. I am going to keep pushing whatever JG narratives work, even if they may work against radical conservationism – as I view it as a critical first goal, before attempting to switch to a JG-based RC narrative.

    What would a complete economic/political plan for radical conservationism look like, though? I’ve always found NC to be well ahead of the curve in things like this, and in principle I’ve always agreed that RC is the right goal based on past discussion of it here.

    The narrative/picture for what it would look like is incomplete, though – it would be good if it were possible to have an article that outlines the general principles of what it would look like – and especially, gives a good first attempt at explaining how it could be made politically palatable in a post-JG world?

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