Andreas Malm Versus Property: ‘Because Nothing Else Has Worked’

Yves here. As much as Tom Neuburger is careful to make the point that he isn’t advocating Andreas Malm’s enthusiasm for destruction of property, in my view the fact that Malm is get attention supports the notion that the urgency of climate change and ideas like radical conservation aren’t getting the hearing they remotely deserve.

Breaking things as an answer is a nihilistic, desperate impulse. Mind you, we long ago predicted that America would be very unlikely to have a revolution, but instead would see more random acts of violence, like school and workplace shootings.

The reason I’m not at all a fan is our only hope of avoiding worst outcomes is building communities and networks. By contrast, attacks on property, even if they are unquestionably bad carbon-emitters, violates one of Sun Tsu’s rules of combat: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.”

If you don’t think the government won’t support aggressive and heavily subsidized programs to rebuild energy infrastructure destroyed by “domestic terrorists”, you are smoking something strong. And that means even more carbon generation in transportation and construction. And property destruction (which may wind up involving deaths or maiming) is also a gimmie to carbon emitters, since it will help them in depicting climate change realists (as in those who correctly say radical action is necessary) as allies of thugs.

And while you can agree on a higher level with his contention that property rights are the root of our climate disaster, where do you go with that? Remember that the Biblical prohibition was not against money but the love of money. I suspect that most people actually would be satisfied with “enough,” as in food, shelter, companionship, sufficient leisure time, and a safety buffer. But not that many are in that position, despite our supposed material wealth, plus the avaricious are for the most part the ones driving this bus.

Malm, and his commentators like Ezra Klein, seem bizarrely clueless as to how society operates. We are all part of a complex system. No one has much power; look at how little even Trump as President was able to do of pet initiatives like his wall. And aside from everyone but the independently wealthy or landowning subsistence farmers needing to conform to a fair degree merely to survive, there is also the wee problem of obligations, like to one’s spouse and children, for starters. As I wrote in a post at the start of 2020 (the very end of Life Before Covid):

Maybe it’s a function of who I follow on Twitter, but I didn’t see much in the way of “ring in the new year” chipperness. Seeing Australia go up in flames might have something to do with that, but even those who seemed awfully domestically focused also seemed subdued….I thought I might be so bold as to offer a theory.

It’s not hard to see plenty of reasons why all save a select few (which includes the deluded and End of Days fans) have reason to be downbeat. Climate change. Mass species dieoff. Poisoning of the planet, particularly with plastics (that overlaps with dieoff but also creates day to day health and diet worries). Student debt. Short job tenures combined with mainly McJobs on offer. Often unaffordable and crapified health care. Having kids who ought to be able to go to college but need to be talked out of it since the debt load would be punitive. Fear over one’s likely inability to retire with the real risk of not being able to work. And that’s before getting to personal tragedies, like suffering a foreclosure or bankruptcy, or death, disability or drug addiction in the family. Shocks like that are even harder to take when so many things seem precarious.

To add to that long list, there’s more anxiety. Bizarrely fearful parenting even though the overwhelming majority of kids are safer than their free-range parents were at a similar age….and the riskiest thing kids do today on a regular basis is ride in a car. Anger and frustration over seemingly more and more Kafka-eque bureaucracies wreaking havoc. Surprisingly widespread diet fesithism. Anger about Trump. I’m sure readers could add to these lists.

None of these are news, but what seems to deepen the general gloom is a lack of confidence that anything will get better, a sense both of sorely limited personal power and lack of trust in those nominally in charge to do the right thing. And that is made more intense by concerns about pending collapse. When the very richest people in the world are acting like preppers, there’s reason to be worried.

I am personally upset at being part of the problem. I now live in a freestanding house, which means energy inefficient. I use a car to get about. Public transportation here is pretty much non-existent, and please don’t advise walking or biking. Both are physically impossible.

I also despair at my inability to do anything other than take pathetically trivial steps to reduce how much plastic I wind up using. Even with being a Yankee and using things until they are about to or do fall apart, I do wind up buying some things. Even socks are in plastic! And forget about buying food in the US. Eggs? Yogurt? Berries? You’d be surprised at how few egg vendors use cardboard cartons. It’s even gotten hard to to buy loose lettuce down here (although oddly loose kale is a different story). Admittedly not everything is this way….but way too much is.

So why are we so stuck on a bad trajectory? Simple explanations are always simplistic, but I hazard that humans have seldom been good at working out how to manage competing levels of responsibility, and the tensions and contradictions get greater as societies become more complex. Let me turn the mike over to that great philosopher, Jamie Lannister:

So many vows…they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.

More specifically, one’s most pressing duties are to immediate family. Neoliberalism has somewhat weakened that; even Japan now sees young people regularly neglecting their parents, something that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. But in many societies, those ties are extremely strong, to the degree that some countries are run on a tribal/clientelist basis.

Traditionally, religion as well as settled systems of obligation (like feudalism) provided something of a framework for working to serve broader social/community interests as well as personal/family ones.

Neoliberalism has weakened community ties while religion has come to play a much less powerful role in organizing society than it once did. Western society, even down to marketing, fosters individualism, yet individuals have little power. And people who are struggling to survive or substantially occupied with earning an income and doing their best with their spouse and kids in a society that keeps them leisure and even sleep deprived barely have the slack to think about the looming problems bearing down on all of us, let alone do much about them….

So the inertial forces, of continuing to do what works or seems to work for you to provide for yourself and those important to you swamps anything other than too-small efforts to be more responsible. For instance, I imagine the overwhelming majority of poachers of endangered species would take other work, particularly steadily-paid work, if it were to be had. Some environmental groups have successfully stopped some type of poaching by hiring former poachers to work in conservation roles. But they couldn’t get out of that box on their own.

Again, I can’t prove it, but my belief is societies can cope better with competing levels of obligation when there is more slack, or in Tainter terms, when energy costs are affordable. It’s easier to make modest sacrifices if they don’t put you in a state of deprivation or if you are confident there will be some reward or acknowledgment of your contribution. That is one reason the idea of the Green New Deal is so appealing: it promises personal betterment, or at least a basic level of employment, while holding the promise of Doing Something Serious about the environment. We gloomy types worry this idea has come thirty years too late, and the best prospect for collective survival is radical conservation, which means radical lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to see given the primacy of family that that won’t happen voluntarily.

To put this more simply, an attack on the system of property is a completely different exercise that blowing up some nasty infrastructure.

By Tom Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

While I don’t yet advocate for Andreas Malm’s ideas, I strongly advocate discussing them.

While most people take the climate crisis seriously these days — the headlines from the Northwest makes that almost impossible to ignore — it’s very difficult to get most people to take the crisis seriously enough to act effectively.

Could that be true because most people realize that “acting effectively” means acting outside the bounds of what most, these days, are prepared to do? And if so, why is that?

Consider this a preliminary piece on the ideas of Andreas Malm, of whom I’ll write more later. While I don’t (yet) advocate for his ideas, I strongly advocate for discussing them.

Andreas Malm & Attacks on Property

The book of Malm’s that people are talking about is the one pictured above, though he’s written others of note. That book and its subject are discussed at some length here:

also here:

and also here:

among many other places.

Even Ezra Klein, the Alex B. Keaton of his generation, is getting into the act. So let’s start with Klein and his thoughts:

I spent the weekend reading a book I wasn’t entirely comfortable being seen with in public. Andreas Malm’s “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is only slightly inaptly named. You won’t find, anywhere inside, instructions on sabotaging energy infrastructure. A truer title would be “Why to Blow Up a Pipeline.” On this, Malm’s case is straightforward: Because nothing else has worked.

We could stop now and the whole point will have been made. Why blow up a pipeline? Because nothing else has worked.

Decades of climate activism have gotten millions of people into the streets but they haven’t turned the tide on emissions, or even investments. Citing a 2019 study in the journal Nature, Malm observes that, measuring by capacity, 49 percent of the fossil-fuel-burning energy infrastructure now in operation was installed after 2004. Add in the expected emissions from projects in some stage of the planning process and we are most of the way toward warming the world by 2 degrees Celsius — a prospect scientists consider terrifying and most world governments have repeatedly pledged to avoid. Some hoped that the pandemic would alter the world’s course, but it hasn’t. Oil consumption is hurtling back to precrisis levels, and demand for coal, the dirtiest of the fuels, is rising.

Every word a true one. And nothing we’ve done so far has dented in any noticeable way the shiny car we’re riding to our doom (by which I mean, back to our ancient hunter-gatherer lives).

Why So Little Effective Action So Far?

The reason Klein is uncomfortable carrying the book, of course, is the reason we’re stuck to begin with in this “capitalist hellhole” (to borrow a phrase from a friend who’s planning his escape). That reason is our worship of property and individual property rights:

“Here is what this movement of millions should do, for a start,” Malm writes. “Announce and enforce the prohibition. Damage and destroy new CO2-emitting devices. Put them out of commission, pick them apart, demolish them, burn them, blow them up. Let the capitalists who keep on investing in the fire know that their properties will be trashed.”

Why don’t people do this? Klein spends the rest of his essay trying to answer that question. He concludes that the “discordance between the pitch of the rhetoric on climate and the normalcy of the lives many of us live” is due to “a constant failure of human nature.”

My own answer has more to do with the purchased blindness and banal wickedness of our political leaders, the hubris and wealth of those who own and direct them, and the greed-soaked media that elevates only their ideas and no one else’s.

Klein himself seems to admit as much in passing when he writes:

“North America chokes in smoke, looks like an ashtray from space,” read a Weather Channel headline. But you’d never know it watching C-SPAN.

Or watching MSNBC, despite its attempt to appear to be taking some notice. Really taking notice means doing something to actually prevent the disaster, not advocating something that, if it pleases Joe Manchin, might take maybe 2% off the massive damage to come.

“Violence” Against Property — The Capitalist Mortal Sin

Yet “violence” defined as “harm to property” is the capitalist mortal sin, and today’s America holds that concept dear. No one ever considers that the greatest proponents of the moral rightness of protecting property are those with most of it, and most of that likely stolen.

For contrast, here’s a taste what “harm to property” was valued at during the actual attempted revolution of the 60s and 70s:

The Yippies took a radical approach to the Democratic National Convention. They wrote articles, published fliers, made speeches and held rallies and demonstrations, to announce that they were coming to Chicago. Threats were made that nails would be thrown from overpasses to block roads; cars would be used to block intersections, main streets, police stations and National Guard armories; LSD would be dumped in the city’s water supply and the convention would be stormed. However, none of these threats came to fruition. Nonetheless, city officials in Chicago prepared for all possible threats.[8] A vilification campaign led by Chicago authorities worked in favor of the Yippies’ plan.

Not that these were good ideas. But they were met with a lot less opposition by the movement of that day than similar ideas are met with by ours.

It shouldn’t be lost that the yippie rebellion happened before the Reagan Counter-Revolution, the successful revolt of the rich against anything that constrained them. The relentless propaganda that supports that counter-revolt steals most people’s critical thinking, even today.

The Choices Left Are Few

Yet the climate crisis is upon us now, as we speak and write, and Ezra Klein, the hippie-hater’s anti-hippie from Central Casting, knows as much. Even your right-wing Trumpist uncle and aunt know we’re in trouble.

Yet the choices left us are few. Either surrender to fate, as determined by our geriatric leaders and the money-obsessed men and women who control them, or do … something else:

“Here is what this movement of millions should do, for a start,” Malm writes. “Announce and enforce the prohibition. Damage and destroy new CO2-emitting devices. Put them out of commission, pick them apart, demolish them, burn them, blow them up. Let the capitalists who keep on investing in the fire know that their properties will be trashed.”


“Were we governed by reason, we would be on the barricades today, dragging the drivers of Range Rovers and Nissan Patrols out of their seats, occupying and shutting down the coal-burning power stations, bursting in upon the Blairs’ retreat from reality in Barbados and demanding a reversal of economic life as dramatic as the one we bore when we went to war with Hitler,” he says.

As Klein himself admits, “there’s was no peaceful American Revolution,” and Malm’s suggestion is far less drastic than what happened way back then.

Bottom Line: Don’t Silence the Discussion

Property violence kills no one. And yet, to say it again, I’m not today advocating property violence. It am, on the other hand, advocating a discussion of it.

Why? “Because nothing else has worked,” and even the discussion advances the idea that the problem is exactly that serious.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Joshua

    A recent post by Branko Milanovic, Is Norway the new East India Company?, seems very relevant here. His conclusion:

    There is here a very important lesson for all climate change activists. They need, as I have many times insisted, to think much more seriously about the trade off between economic growth and climate change control. While in their models, the advantages of controlling climate change are incontrovertible, when they come to policies that need to be implemented, from taxes on airplane fuel, to taxes on gas (which provoked the Gilets Jaunes movement in France), they face popular resistance. The popular resistance is due to the unwillingness of almost anyone in the world to accept lower income. Climate change activists might talk in their conferences about people “thriving” on lower incomes, but when offered that alternative, even the citizens of the richest country in the world decline it.

    is not reassuring.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      If you frame it that way, the answer is no.

      If you gave people nicer commmons, I think you’d see otherwise. I hate cars and would much rather use public transportation if it were clean and ran often enough. That amounts to a decline in living standards as commonly measured. And even though it is more convenient to have your own washing machine and drier, I similarly never minded using machines in the basement of my apartment building.

      But look at Japan. They’ve maintained high lifespans despite an fall in economic status. But they value social cohesion.

        1. Susan the other

          Yes, the intro today was definitely a kick-start. The very well placed kick: personal property in our society is a huge stumbling block to getting things cleaned up and turned around. I can’t help thinking of Stephanie Kelton’s little demo about taxes: first the government gives us some form of wealth/employment and after that it can tax it for maintaining the social structure. But… but… we’ve been so nickel-and-dimed by neoliberal commodification of everything except poop that we are constantly trying to work enough hours to pay up or be turfed out. We get nothing in advance to operate on. So we cling to our “property” as if it were a lifeboat. We live in a state of property-based insecurity. I’d agree with that, just from personal experience. So to change things at the level of society, where all the CO2 gets created, we need to stop the relentless policy of putting the cart before the horse. We can change behavior, imo, by giving people sufficient well-being; a job with a living wage, decent health care, education, blablablah. And when we have achieved that (hopefully fast) we can set new standards not based on the commodification of everything but based on cooperation. So when you ask, ‘How do we combine “radical conservation” with building a world for a sustainable future?’ I think we do it by coughing up all the funding for these social liabilities and offering only good, clean choices. We don’t have to burn down property or smash cars – we have to fund new options. In advance. That might give society a clearer scaffold to manage “competing levels of responsibility.” No more heater-skelter survivalist angst.

          1. m sam

            “I think we do it by coughing up all the funding for these social liabilities and offering only good, clean choices. We don’t have to burn down property or smash cars – we have to fund new options. In advance. That might give society a clearer scaffold to manage ‘competing levels of responsibility.'”

            But how do we get there, and anticipating your answer, I think this simply leads back to Malm’s main point: nothing so has worked to get us to an effective solution so far. What do we do so that your solution can be put in place?

            I do not want to advocate for the use of violence in any way. But I think it is very relevant to point out that 1) global warming is is very much an issue of inequality, and 2) Walter Scheidel made a pretty convincing case in his book, The Great Leveler, that only one thing throughout the history of humanity has reversed its constantly rising tide (no pun intended): violence.

            So while keeping an eye on what we need to accomplish (as you outlined), what needs much more serious thought is how do we get there, if anything is possible without some kind of violence, and what behavior people must engage in. Straight up, I agree that violence looks like a clearly losing strategy. But as Malm points out, so are all the others thought up so far.

            1. Susan the other

              We start spending money like there’s no tomorrow. Because if we don’t there won’t be. We infuse the “economy” with enough money per person to function as default socialism – everyone will have enough money from the government to cover the living expenses of a modern society. We do this for however long it takes for the money-conservatives to realize that it is the only way. When they stop reacting to “inflation” and other nonsense straw men, then we can pass some sane and effective social legislation. For now we use the Treasury and the Fed; and whatever green jobs programs we can get past the stumbling block we call congress. And then we put our totally dysfunctional congress in lockdown, until things are stabilized. Or just send them home. Let them resolve their own existential crises not at our expense; they are useless.

      1. Dave in Austin

        Japan. A biologist once told me that two random Japanese passing each-other on the street are roughly as related as third cousins in the U.S. Social cohesion seem to go hand-in-hand with ethnic homogeneity and monocuturealism, which is not a good sign for the U.S.

        1. Kouros

          Because they don’t move as much as the Americans. Probably that is the case in many other places…

        2. Felix_47

          I live in a developed European country. That is exactly what we are seeing here. As the demographics have changed the natives are moving out of the cities where there is public transit infrastructure, they are moving into suburban developments just like the US, buying SUVs, driving to work and doing what they can to segment themselves from the new arrivals who are clustered in the cities that are dying. Often the claim is that this is motivated by fear for personal safety. I hear it at home and it seems women bring it up a lot more than men since women seem to be targeted more than men in the cities. I believe that was one of the marketing strategies Ford used in developing the Explorer, one of the first SUVs. So the demographic experiment western European countries are trying really is leading to a dramatic increase in CO2 production as we emulate the US social, economic and geographic structure although we are starting to generate a lot of solar and wind power. It seemes Dave in Austin is right in that for the moment social cohesion seems to go hand in hand with ethnic homogeneity and monoculturism and here we are losing it. What the governments need to do is figure out how to get the newcomers to adopt the new culture and abandon theirs. 20 years in Afghanistan did not seem to lead to significant cultural change but perhaps it could work with them in Europe away from their home country. Morally and practically I find it difficult to think that we should force people to change cultures but I guess that is what the Chinese are doing with the Uigars for understandable reasons. My guess is China will be the first country to really clean up its CO2 footprint for similar reasons. They have a government that aims at certain goals that is not so unduly influenced by campaign contributions. The recent almost unanimous move by Congress to increase the defense budget asked for by the current administration suggests the US is not thinking much beyond the next election.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            New York City has a great deal of social cohesion. So does Australia, which (as of when I was there in 2002-2004) had 25% of its population as first generation.

      2. John

        Speaking as someone who lived to witness what nicer commons means ( in what was known as East Germany), I fear that approach is not feasible without all of us having had experienced a serious decline in goods and services we westerners are used to have every day.
        Even back then and there it took effort to just keep the industrial wheel turning at all (and we all know the result of that) because the tragedy of the commons is real. As long as there is a shiny world that promises individuals to be entitled to consume more than in a “shared world scenario”, or more than your group of social identification, people will not settle for less than they think (or are influenced to think) they deserve.

        So, yes, social cohesion is key but it will not be a smooth transition from individualistic societies as we are now.
        Or in other words: not even my oldest living relatives would truly lower their carbon footprint free of choice. Not even the most environmentally conscious of them.

    2. tegnost

      I may be wrong but wasn’t the gilets jaunes protest because of the willingness not for shared sacrifice but rather for those other people to sacrifice so the globalist class wouldn’t have to?
      Just another page in the the ruling class diminishing others so they could go on consuming and making more and more euros, dollars, or what have you. Class warfare.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        My recollection is the Gillet Jaunes consisted significantly of people, mainly men, who had to drive a lot to get to or as a part of their work and were barely getting by as it was. so high fuel taxes would impoverish them.

  2. vlade

    “Property violence kills no one.” Hahahaha. Most of the wars were about property, one way or another. And I’m going to ignore the fact that if you destroy a farm of a substience farmer, blow up a dam, and a zillion of other “property violence acts”, you’ll kill people.

    IMO, the author is beyond naive.

    I do agree that if views like these get airing though, it talks about desperation.

    But, to an exent, we’re in a vicious cycle, where people want to get better, but to get better (in the current terms) means more energy consumption, means more greenhouse gasses, means worse climate change.

    We _could_ get into a situation where the poorest are better of, despite us consuming less energy overall, but it would require considerable sacrifices of not just middle classes, but others. The people who you meet on RyanAir flights aren’t middle classes, but they see their European pub crawl or beach holidays just as much as a right as their “betters”, in a way even more so, because they can afford it maybe only once a year, or even less vs. middle classes who could (pre-covid) spend a weekend/month flying out.

    We’ll change our way of life, one way or another. Or maybe, one war or another.

    1. Cheney's Toy

      Destruction of property, to the extent it could be a solution, is only an intellectual exercise in the first world. Tom may think its worthy of discussion, but such a discussion will be limited to a very small cohort. The current discussion in the US Pacific Northwest is “how soon can I get air conditioning installed”!

  3. cnchal

    Is the new Ford F150 electrified pickup with 600 HP and 6000 lb of road crumbling mass a CO2 emmiting device? I just want to be sure its politically correct to drive one of those instead of a Range Rover.

    1. Alex Cox

      The author apparently believes that electric cars are pollution-free devices manufactured without the use of fossil fuels.

      Since he is committed to destroying new CO2 emitting devices, will he start with the fire trucks or the water tenders?

  4. zakly

    I have yet to read this book, but I did read malm’s “Fossil Capital” in a grad program years back, and found it to be a thoroughly well researched and cogent presentation of the historical contingencies which gave rise to dominance of coal fired steam power over power generated from the ‘flow’ of renewable water power during the industrialization of britain. I recall that towards the end of the book, Malm advocates for a number of community based solutions to climate change, however he pays a great deal of attention to the historical rebellions of english working class against steam power and the control of such by capitalists – the workers quite literally pulling the plugs of the steam boilers that powered the machinery, engaging in property destruction, etc. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in exploring the development of malm’s ideas and writing.

    1. Sub-Boreal

      Yes, it’s a fine book. It makes a good companion reading for Timothy Mitchell’s “Carbon Democracy”, which deals with the coal to oil transition.

  5. PlutoniumKun

    Back in the 1990’s I knew a lot of people involved in what was described back then as monkey wrenching. Mostly Earth Firsters and other anarchist groups such as the Dongas people. There was a lot of discussion back then about the usefulness of a variety of direct actions, from slowing down streets (unofficial street parties and mass cycling events), to ‘altering’ billboards, occasional hacking and outright vandalism. I once witnessed a very large and expensive road digger go up in flames on Twyford Down. Not that it stopped the road there. The popular slogan at the time was ‘The Earth is not dying. Its being murdered. And the killers have names and addresses.’

    As Yves says, the crucial problem with this was that it was satisfying for the people who talked about it (only a minority of a minority actually did monkey wrenching), but it was all tactics, no real strategy. A strategic approach would be to make it simply too expensive for businesses to invest in fossil fuel (even if the governments stepped in to compensate, the cost of insurance, security, etc could well tip them over), and make it too risky and hazardous for individuals to park 5 litre SUV’s in public places. But the potential for backlash would be much worse – just look at how the stupid decision by Extinction Rebellion to try to block the London Underground backfired. No doubt their motivation sounded good the night before over a few pints, but you don’t beat capitalism by getting a few headlines.

    I think social scientists would say that the only way to get mass change, is to tip the balance of action over to ones that are environmentally virtuous in the way that, for example, people changed from chucking waste into their fireplace to putting it in bins. Societal changes happen remarkably fast and people often forget that they did things very differently a few decades ago. Just look at how in Europe a ‘holiday’ has become a regular flight a few times a year to Spain, not something you do locally. I’m old enough to remember when that kind of holiday was very exotic and only rich people do it. Now my office cleaner regularly complains to me about how Covid has deprived her of her Spanish booze holiday with her friends.

    There are some signs I think that some parties in the Green movement is learning to be a little less pompous and holier than thou, and learning how to frame policies in a way that will not put people off. But its probably too late.

    1. Rod

      … just look at how the stupid decision by Extinction Rebellion to try to block the London Underground backfired.
      PK–not every battle goes the way you want–you know that–but you don’t stop the war because of that.

      .To state that Societal changes happen remarkably fast and people often forget that they did things very differently a few decades ago.
      means you understand a bottom line truth of

      We set our mission on what is necessary.
      Mobilising 3.5% of the population to achieve system change – such as “momentum-driven organising”.

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        Emphasizing “societal change” is almost entirely the wrong approach with climate change. It provides almost zero value. We aren’t dealing with anti-racism efforts here, or talking about gay marriage. Simply changing people’s minds and a few laws isn’t enough. What we ultimately need is equipment change, and on a massive scale.

        What do I mean by this? Well, individuals (and businesses) need to be able to get where they’re going without using a vehicle that burns gasoline or diesel fuel. This means disposing of literally millions of cars and trucks and coming up with substitutes (millions of electric vehicles or other alternatives) that still provide adequate transportation.

        Individuals (and businesses) need to be able to heat their homes (and facilities) without burning natural gas or fuel oil. This means replacing millions of gas- or oil-burning furnaces with millions of heat pumps (or other alternatives that work better in extreme cold).

        Electric utilities are still legally obligated to provide electricity of the correct voltage and frequency 24 hours a day, regardless of electrical demand. They currently use equipment that burns vast amounts of coal and natural gas to make this happen. All of this equipment must be replaced with alternate non-CO2 producing equipment that is equally capable of providing enough power to match demand, regardless of the time of day or state of weather.

        Far more than 3.5% of the population is greatly worried about climate change. It could easily be 25% or even 50%. And yet little has changed. Why hasn’t it? Because societal concern isn’t enough. The equipment is what burns the fossil fuels. The equipment is where the CO2 is released into the sky. The equipment must change, and it must change in a way that still lets people live their lives.

        The Extinction Rebellion doesn’t get this. They “demand that governments act now“, but don’t talk about what equipment needs to change. They also demand that politicians (who are rightly untrusted) hand responsibility over to “citizens’ councils”, but that’s just asking somebody else to “act now“. What actions would they actually take? What equipment changes would actually happen? It’s completely unspecified. XR is effectively screaming “I’m scared! Do something!“, and that isn’t enough.

        1. Tom Pfotzer

          Grumpy – please keep repeating this. I think this the number-one blind spot our society has with respect to climate change.

          Our economy needs massive innovation & replacement; almost the entire physical plant of our existing economy needs major upgrade, or replacement. Ag, transport, housing, energy, construction, education, health care, almost all manufacturing. The works.

          We have to re-do almost everything we’ve built in the past 100 years, and we have a whole lot less time to do it in.

          And most of us aren’t emotionally ready to do it … that’s the “social” part, and that’s a big blockage. That’s why what you’re saying is so important. No change is possible _until the alternative is created_.

          Let me emphasize: no alternative route is taken until the alternative route is created.

          We need alternative products, services, business models, livelihoods and values.

          And by the way, you’re not “grumpy”. You’re “right”.

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          If the whole population-load of people collectively demanded half as much electricity as what they demand now, they would need half as much equipment to make the half-as-much electricity.

          Replacing half as much carbon sky-flooding equipment with carbon non-skyflooding equipment would be twice as easy as replacing the current amount of carbon skyflooding equipment demanded for meeting the full demand for electricity currently.

  6. Steve H.

    From “Why Class Formation Occurs in Humans but Not among Other Primates”:

    Exploitability of the resources (T) is a key variable.

    the absence of classes among mobile foragers is due to the absence of resources that can be hoarded and thus exploited

    Obviously, stored food, as found in sedentary or complex foragers or food-producing societies, or real estate is much more easily appropriated or taxed, and therefore exploited, especially if these resources are in high demand and their supply can be controlled. Once resources become even more easily tradable and transferable, T will approach 1. By definition, the currency decided by a group will have T= 1.

  7. aleric

    Matt Christman (Chapo) has talked frequently about John Brown in his vlog series over the past year. With respect for his achievements, but cautioning against focusing only on his violence and not his love for humanity and sincere belief in something larger than himself, as well as having a strategy instead of just tactics.

    Looking at the modern struggles between Water Protectors and robber barons just standing your ground against the corrupt system is enough to provoke violence.

    1. Jim Young

      I’ll take Martin Luther King, Jr., over John Brown any day. One softened the opposition, the other hardened it.

      I remember my dad telling me how Paul Robeson changed the minds of many at an event I think was the “Peekskill Riot,” though I can’t find a trace of the film my dad pointed out. It seems at one event, Union members had formed a human shield (against many Veterans opposed to him), to allow Robeson to take the stage. When a sniper fired a shot at him, the Union members gathered tightly around him, but he climbed to the highest point he could to make a better target of himself, according to my dad.

      My dad, though I doubt he was there, seems to have been one of the many Veterans that instantly developed huge respect for his determined courage, and changed their views to counter the senseless hate that fueled acts like the Moore’s Ford Lynchings in 1946 that had Robeson tell Harry Truman that if he wouldn’t enact legislation to end lynching, “the Negroes will defend themselves.”

      It seems Robeson found a better way to inspire people, though, by the time of the 1949 Peekskill Riots.

      1. juno mas

        …that is what the Black Panthers were doing in the 1960’s. Defending and supporting Negroes.

      2. JBird4049

        If we are talking about John Brown or MLK that is a mistaken view of the times. Different times mean different tactics and strategies.

        Brown only resorted to violence after the proslavery advocates started to burn, pillage, and murder often unarmed, peaceful abolitionists during the conflict in Missouri and Kansas between the Free-staters and the Slave-staters. The proslavery faction in the United States had already violently destroyed newspapers, killed writers and publishers, kidnapped Blacks from the North (any Black person free, escaped, or slave) to sell down South, threaten both law enforcement and the judiciary with violence and death, and had their legislative adherents assault, beat, even cripple their opposing abolitionist legislators on both just outside of, and on the floor of, the Congressional chambers. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Abolitionists tried to be peaceful, but the proslavery faction was only interested in trying to violently shut the abolitionists up during several prewar decades of the Abolitionist Movement.

        It is true that people called John Brown crazy because he treated Black people precisely like he treated White people, down to having them eat at same table as his family (and gasp! His wife) and say the meal’s prayer. It is also true that some of his sons did not like his violence, and some of the more refined newspapers and politicians were just outraged, with the proslavery faction outraged, just overwrought by Mr. Brown’s actions, but William “Bloody Bill” Quantrill he was not.

        Also, just under four million people were slaves in 1860 enduring rape, torture, murder, horrific abuse and working conditions with the slavocracy willing to start a war so horrible that up a million people died from it. This does not count the injured and the homeless by the way. How was violence not required or inevitable?

        In King’s time, slavery was illegal, people were not willing to start a civil war so that they could own people or maintain apartheid, there was strong backing from the North, support from the Federal government, with the Southerners not as inclined to violence. Also any attempt to be as violent as the Bushwhackers of the 1860s would have brought an immense backlash as the violence of the Klan did bring to it. The peaceful methods of Mahatma Gandhi were doable in the fifties and sixties or now especially with television. Sheriff Bull Connor’s police dogs, fire hoses, and billy clubs were there for all the world to see.

  8. Rod

    Big bloat after this fine breakfast.
    Thank you Yves. Fine, very fine introduction.
    Followed an embedded link above the ‘says it all’ poster addressing Israel in the context of Native Americans to the Balzac quote—

    Where directly below was this quote

    Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.

    Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

    Which I believe circled me right back to the gist of Malm’s voice.


  9. Robert Gray

    I thought Malm’s ‘No Safe Option’ interview with Wen Stephenson (linked above) was interesting but there was one bit that confused me. In framing one question, Stephenson commented

    > … the movement has finally begun to address whiteness and white privilege, and there’s no
    > denying the fact that risking arrest and going to jail is seen as privileged and exclusionary …

    and in his reply Malm said

    > … I would never try to convince people with an immigrant background, or Black people
    > in France or the UK or Sweden, to do that kind of civil disobedience action, giving oneself
    > up to arrest. It would be the height of insensitivity. And I understand the logic of saying that
    > kind of action in itself is an exercise of privilege.

    So, for white people, going to jail for civil disobedience is bad because it is yet another manifestation of white privilege. And for non-white people, going to jail for civil disobedience is bad because … because it’s just bad? Going to jail while non-white?

    The real question, though, under such circumstances, is who can then ‘walk the walk’ and put their arses on the line, risking arrest for challenging the powers that be, even if only symbolically, by pounding on missiles with hammers, etc.?

  10. Jim Zelenski

    The social sciences and the humanities are being discouraged by GOP governors for their states’ public universities, whether in terms of scholarship money or even having such programs offered at all. When I taught graduate economics the dullest students were the ones with business degrees, vs. those with almost any other undergrad. degree. Our present and our future, I guess.

  11. deplorado

    So, yeah – breaking the pipelines — what are you going to replace them with?? How are you going to get to the store when your car is out of gas because the refinery stopped working? Take your kid to school? Breaking infrastructure is just stupid and it hurts everybody.

    This infrastructure has been installed by the powers that be and can be only change by the powers that be. Take the power and change them, or make the current powers change the infrastructure. Tall order, likely to fail.

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      And if you break the pipeline that feeds nearby power stations, you get blackouts until the pipeline is repaired. File this under “How to win friends and influence people: counterexample“.

      1. GF

        I think the idea is to not allow new pipelines to be built and decommissioning those beyond their planned obsolescence use-by dates. Unfortunately there may not be enough time left to wait for planned obsolescence to save us.

        1. Grumpy Engineer

          Alas, blocking only new pipelines is not what Andreas Malm advocates. From (emphasis mine)

          The main argument of “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is simple: The climate movement should itself enact, through direct action, that prohibition on new fossil fuel infrastructure, and that dismantling of existing pipelines and power plants, which governments have so far refused to take on.

          I can’t think of a better way to lose public support.

            1. JBird4049

              There are a lot of ways to have forceful, even violent, protests without putting people into the dark to freeze to death. Our we sure that this is not a Cointelpro style op?

  12. Nce

    The Biden Administration has already planned for this, we’re now all DVEs.
    I’ve never lived anyplace with a strong sense of community, at least one where I felt welcome. Where to go?
    I posted this once before, but it’s so relevant that I’ll do it again:

    Gore Vidal here makes a case for an Article 5 Convention of the States. Maybe today this is too late, if not another tactic without a strategy, but if we’re at the point of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, why not? Nothing else has worked in the 30 years since this was videotaped. Besides, I can tell you that an opportunity to rewrite the constitution would have widespread appeal for both the left and right. We may not agree on what we want, but why not bring everyone to the table first?

    1. JBird4049

      Problem is that currently the Koch Brothers have long planned for this and have their adherents and operatives ready to hijack the convention and put in an extreme libertarian constitution favoring the rich and the corporations. I can’t think of a better way to start a civil war.

  13. Rolf

    All of the current patterns of modern life in the US — where people live, what they do for work, the distance to their jobs, markets, schools, the types and quantities of food produced, the transport thereof, the density of urban and suburban spaces, on and on and on and on — quite literally, every aspect of modern life, is built around consumption of fossil fuel. Yes, I know that other energy sources (wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, nuclear, tidal, etc.) are important, and becoming more so. But my point is that what got us here in the first place — everything we recognize as remotely modern, is relatively cheap oil, gas, coal. And we have burned a huge amount of it in getting where we are today.

    To set this in perspective, if you can tolerate some technical diversion: Earth’s long term (geologic) thermostat, the buffer of atmospheric CO2, is fixed by the rate of weathering of silicate rocks on land. That process consumes CO2 (as dissolved carbonic acid), produces aqueous bicarbonate, which is transported by rivers to the ocean. Half of that bicarbonate is used to form carbonate sediment (the rest is released back to the atmosphere). That sediment, deposited on the deep seafloor, is eventually subducted, heated, and decarbonated, and released back to the atmosphere via volcanic activity, thus fully completing the (Urey) cycle. The pace of the weathering process is roughly ~0.3 Gt-C/y. The pre-anthropogenic net balance of all CO2 uptake and release fluxes gives a steady state atmospheric CO2 mass of about 600 Gt-C. This flux wasn’t constant over time, but also varied with the pace of seafloor spreading (icehouse-hothouse transitions), but those changes are extremely slow and long-legged, requiring tens of millions of years. Glacial-interglacial cycles are higher frequency (order of ~100K years), and driven by well-documented changes in our planet’s orbital parameters: so-called Milanković cycles.

    Current ‘excess’ (anthropogenic) fluxes from fossil fuel burning alone are on the order of 6.4 Gt-C/y and increasing — i.e., more than an order of magnitude greater than continental weathering. This has created an excess atmospheric CO2 mass of about 160 Gt-C, for a total of about 760 Gt-C (the oceans have also taken up significant C). Comparison of the background, “natural” rate of geochemical kinetics (0.3 Gt-C/y), shows that we have perturbed this system more or less instantaneously by much more than an order of magnitude — a perturbation for which there are very few analogs in Earth’s multi-billion year geologic record. We are thus in uncharted territory. This is part of the problem — the rapidity of such changes, and the complex nature of feedbacks and knockon effects, make this a difficult system to model in a predictive sense.

    My point is that in order to put a dent in our current perturbation of this system will involve some radical changes. We need to accept this. Can we accomplish these changes with alternative (“green”) energy sources? This question is not as simple as it seems. Any energy conversion process involves “waste” (entropic losses which limit efficiency), i.e. some “externality” — there is no way around this. In addition, transition to other energy sources will also involve significant constraints and other externalities (availability of rare earths, difficulty in recycling the materials involved, and their relatively short service life, etc.).

    There is no magic bullet, in my view. Complete conversion to renewables is unavoidable and must take place ASAP, but even that conversion will (as pointed out elsewhere) involve significant energy expenditure, likely from dirty sources, and will take decades, considering the engineering, logistical, and political hurdles. So, short term, how can we bring about changes without killing the very ecosystem that supports us?

    Scale down and slow down. This is primarily a kinetic problem, a problem of rates multiplied by the population involved. An extemporaneous list: Localize, reduce the need for transportation of consumables (at the moment, literally everything). Recognize that there is a cost for everything, so reduce the rate involved and the scale over which that rate is applied. A huge fraction of energy consumption is transportation. Where possible, walk, cycle. COVID demonstrated that at least some jobs could be done remotely, requiring only periodic face-to-face interaction. Redesign urban spaces to create smaller, local markets. Close big box stores and mega-supermarkets, all of which depend on cheap transportation of goods and customers. Return to local farms, or even backyard production. This requires political changes to local zoning, homeowner associations, etc. Difficult, but not impossible. Create goods that last longer, that can be repaired or otherwise renewed. Stop burning waste. In fact, stop producing so much crap in the first place, stop creating livelihoods that depend on production of non-durable stuff of little real social or environmental value. Create structures of locally derived materials (rammed earth, e.g., or other ‘green’ designs) — again these require political changes. Buy renewable fabrics, avoid hydrocarbon-based synthetics. Be satisfied with delivery of goods next week versus next day (sorry Bezos, instant delivery is an incredible waste for most goods, completely unnecessary).

    There is a long list of such changes that one can make. Yes, this is a drop in the bucket on a per cap basis. But millions of people doing so does create an immediate change. But public education is key. We must start changing people’s behavior, educate them, and address their ignorance, self-destructive behavior, and wishful thinking. This is something we all can do on a person-by-person basis. People need to understand the severity and necessity of change: the cost of continuing business as usual will be catastrophic. Jimmy Carter urged lower energy consumption decades ago, and was ridiculed for it. And now, here we are. Given the long tails of the carbon cycle, some changes are baked in, and we should also prepare for the worst. We are in trouble, but the biggest problem is people recognizing just how bad things are. There is no planet B.

      1. Rolf

        @Sub-Boreal, thanks for these links. Great book, and talk — Langmuir is a solid, down-to-earth speaker.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      That was a great post, Rolf, and I’d like to build on it.

      As a thought experiment, let’s divide society into these groups, with respect to their motivation and capacity to implement the remedies cited in your post:

      Group 1: Unmotivated incapable. “you’re making it up, and I ain’t changing”

      Group 2: Unaware so unmotivated. “Gee, there’s a problem? I was so busy, I hadn’t noticed”

      Group 3: Motivated, incapable. “Somebody do something! Right now, I gotta get this report out, or I’m fired”

      Group 4: Motivated, Capable. “I know why, what and how. No time to chat, got stuff to build today!”

      The first three groups are emotionally, or intellectually or economically stuck unless and until someone _else_ provides a clear, well-resourced path out, with plenty of examples, so that risk and fear and expense are wrung out of the traversal.

      But that’s definitely not where we are.

      The path is unclear, there are very few coherent, functional examples of households doing what you advocate above, and (economically) living to tell about it. And for those few examples that exist, the bulk of the population can’t make the technical and emotional leap to do what the exemplars did.

      Until the 2×4 hits them in the head, and of course by then, it’s way too late.

      So, there needs to be a vanguard of motivated-capables whose job is to build the yellow-brick-roads.

      To get out of this mess we’re in – in a timely way so most of us get included – we are going to need a ground-level supernova of innovation, evolution, and promulgation. And that innovation needs to be narrowly focused on “stones to pave the yellow brick road(s) – the paths out”

      The question I wonder – a few times a day – is “what is needed to instigate and sustain that explosion of innovation, evolution, and promulgation?”

      The migration steps have to be easy and small, or the crowd won’t come along until it’s too late.

      Groups 1-3 above cannot lay the stepping stones. Group 4 might be able to, but currently isn’t.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        We may need more and other than just innovation. We may need retrovation as well. “Retrovation”? The study and re-learning and re-application of what lower-carbon things worked in the past and can work in the future again.

        There is a website about that called . . . Low Tech Magazine. They have even printed some of their webposts into the form of an ink-on-paper book which will last for years and which will not keep re-emitting carbon every time it is opened up and read.

  14. Rod

    All of the current patterns of modern life in the US … And now, here we are. Given the long tails of the carbon cycle, some changes are baked in, and we should also prepare for the worst. We are in trouble, but the- biggest- problem- is- people- recognizing- just -how -bad -things -are. There is no planet B.

    Thank you for distilling and expressing the Science and this thought very well.

  15. WhatdoIknow

    The problem with property is that you cant demolish it.
    All you can do is alter rights to the said property.
    And usually if you are successful at that you alter the rights as to be beneficial to yourself.
    Unless a just God makes him/herself known to humanity and takes charge of such a historically flawed process that is justice and equality

  16. BeliTsari

    At any rate. To those of us who’ve actually inspected, audited and rejected on the 19 Marcellus pipelines (and even ATTEMPTED to blow a whistle, only to be ignored): much of the current green-washed Infrastructure, like converting NYC to fracked PA gas (or Biden blatant bail-out boondoggles) were concerns David Brock’s Correct The Record was kicking us of lefty blog-aggregators, for stating the obvious, back in 2016. They simply HAVE to slow the Market’s acceptance of renewable, regenerative, resilient & efficient products and services; convince the commercial class that “it’s too late!” Then gavage us: geo-engineering, GE monoculture, carbon sequestration, privatizing water, arable land; crushing innovative, pragmatic & effective competition, as we’re 1099’d ever deeper into indentured serfdom?

  17. Charger01

    Chris Hedges has acknowledged that it will take middle class people volunteering for jail time for civil disobedience until the contradictions are simply to great to enforce. He suggested that law enforcement will stop the arrests or the judges will start tossing out cases en masse as a response.
    I don’t think its viable as a strategy, as most people (middle class or not) do not have the means to have an arrest on their record and maintain employment.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Who will work … those who work now … but they will work to a different script

    1. jereme Grimm

      Today I received a brochure wherein Senator Bob Menendez — or his surrogates — asserted the great wisdom and wonderfulness of Bob Menendez’s rejection of “socialized pricing for drugs” — whatever that might mean.

      I cannot express how underwhelmed I am by Bob Menendez’s position. I can certainly understand how Senator Menendez could have received the Champion of Health Care Innovation award for his … efforts. But I am truly touched by his concern for “innovation, new treatments, and access to life saving cures.” I shed a tear, which I squeezed out with effort.

      Government price fixing!? How could I not recognize the self-serving efforts of Big Pharma to assure their lock on Federal funding for research.

      ‘Government innovation in drug developments, and government “price-fixing”, and American ‘innovation’ and drug development … really … really really!? Who designed this piece of mail? They are mad to think the US public has not seen how compromised [a very NICE way to say it] the government has been, in its efforts to stem the Corona virus. Good luck Senator Menendez, I will probably vote for a ground squirrel before I would waste my vote on you or a mirror Republican for Senate. I can only hope my — No! vote … like those that ousted Pinoche missives — might have some small impact on your presence in office.]

      Who will work — what? — … among those who work now … but work to a different scrip.

  18. Anthony Stegman

    Lots of intelligent people are spending lots of time and energy thinking about how we can save ourselves from ourselves. When all is said and done we will be unable to do so because “rape, pillage, and plunder” is who we are and what we do as a specie. Humans have never been able to live in balance with the rest of the natural world. The problems we are experiencing now have been building for thousands of years. There is no hope for a brighter future. Only a long slide down into oblivion. Gates and Besos’ money can’t alter that trajectory.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      So . . . the millions of Amazon basin Indians who up-terraformed the Amazon were not human, then?

    2. tegnost

      Gates and Besos’ money can’t alter that trajectory.

      especially since they consider it a profit opportunity

  19. King

    February’s Texas sized natural gas bill shows how the incumbents are okay with a squeeze or disruption. Great for profits. Same with the Colonial gasoline pipeline and chip shortage for autos. At this point its obvious even to those who’d prefer to look the other way.

    You want to spend the year’s gas budget in a week because you have to? Best model the economics with such events at least once every ten years for projects that use gas.

    Better make plans for the next shortage of some critical part of our drive everywhere culture. Really going to get fun when wages don’t cover auto costs for a larger number of people.

    As people recognize these are no longer reliable I think we’ll see some dramatic shifts. In the here and now reminding them about the recent past may be effective in starting that.

  20. Convenient Truth

    Here is an inescapable fact (assuming you’re in the US): look around you, right now. For every one individual you see, there are 8.. yes, 8 chinese and/or indians on this planet.

    Whether I drive my Tesla or my O.G. Hummer to work, or sip my komboucha of a paper straw while I choke down an Impossible Meat burger or eat some pink slime beef out of a non biodegradble serving container… it DOES NOT MATTER.

    but, supposedly i need to fork over MORE tax money, MORE hardship, etc to fund graft-gilded organizations, non-profits, and the like so as to “do equity” and implement a “green new deal”? no thanks.

    This is why there’s so much breath being wasted about per capita emissions and the original sin of past CO2 activity, by the way. It’s the only way these pork-barrel charlatans can even try to avoid the elephant in the room.

Comments are closed.