Hoisted from Comments: What Climate Change Reformers Get Wrong

Yves here. As many of you know, I am considerably frustrated with Green New Deal advocates, because I see them as selling hopium. They act as if we can preserve modern lifestyles as long as we throw money, some elbow grease, and a lot of new development (using current dirty infrastructure to build it) at it. We’re already nearing the point where very bad outcomes, like widespread famines and mass migrations due to flooding, are baked in. And even that take charitably assumes that a rump of what we consider to be civilization survives.

One impediment in discussing this topic is that too many are focusing on the wrong issues. The fact that Andreas Malm is advocating breaking things as if that solved anything is a sign either of desperation or intellectual bankruptcy (not necessarily mutually exclusive).

These two reader comments from a recent post by Thomas Neuburger on Malm’s ideas might help put more focus on the core issues and leverage points.

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.

Grumpy Engineer’s concerns bring up a second problem: existing infrastructure, and in particular, dispersed single family homes which are hugely inefficient on many levels. As an aside, one of the reasons that apartment living has such a bad name in the US that most were built for poor or young people; they were envisioned as way stations to middle/upper middle class dwelling. As a result, many cringe at the suggestion of living in them because they once were in a unit with thin walls. It’s entirely possible to live nicely in an apartment. I’ve done so repeatedly in New York, Sydney, and London. But it’s hard to overcome prejudice.

Rolf below advocates for what I have long believed is key for us to have any hope of preventing a total train wreck. I’ve been calling it “radical conservation” but his formulation is much more user-friendly.


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 excessatmospheric 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.

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  1. Isotope_C14

    Great posts, but with the accelerating feedback loops, I don’t even see this as an option.

    “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.”

    Again, we’ve heated the planet to the point that the microbial life is it’s own driver of GHG emissions. All of these great ideas would have been useful in 1970-1990, and the powers that be decided no.

    The next scary thing is when they are going to tell us they are going to start geoengineering – and this is coming. Humans are clever, but not wise. Waiting to see what unforeseen consequence will come from spraying sulfates in the upper atmosphere.

    1. Herb

      There are a number of promising approaches to cool the planet or at least parts of it besides stratospheric atmospheric injection. I am part of a group of 30 scientists and policy analysts who are advocating to world leaders that these approaches must be systematically researched and if shown to be effective rapidly deployed. There is literally no other alternative approach to buying humanity a couple of decades to continue emission reduction and more importantly begin massive carbon dioxide removal. These three approaches -reduce, remove, and refreeze- are what I call the Climate Triad.

      1. Isotope_C14

        If you ever need a non-PhD microbiologist/scientist/expert level bench person to assist in any of these projects – I fully allow my e-mail to be shared with your group and i’d love to help.

        Sadly, I don’t believe our betters have any intention of funding anything like this. They want a reduced population of particular countries before geoengineering will start. They likely already have some horrifyingly uncreative plans.

        Our esteemed rocket surgeon Secretary of State from a few years back “Rex Tillerson” said in a famous speech to the CFR that “Global warming is happening, but it’s just a matter of engineering, we need to move the farms north”. Good luck with that pristine topsoil in the Canadian Shield geologic area.

        1. Mantid

          Exactly! “Good luck with that pristine topsoil in the Canadian Shield geologic area.” I get blank stares when I say that when one goes north long enough one begins to go south.

          A friend recently got her car stuck in the pavement outside of the Seattle area. The tarmac (black top) had softened and fused to her tires. That’s at only a few days above 100F. Imagine a week above 120F.

          I’m in the Rolf camp. The only possible way out (though there is no way out) is to have everyone become local citizens. Do the best you can to learn and teach food production and shelter creation. I have no idea what the 14th floor apartment dweller in Chicago will do. The idea that the Amazons and Googles will share their wealth to help city dwellers is of course fantasy. Governments of course are only pawns.

          As I read and respond to a few comments on NC, I sit on my back porch finishing my second batch of canning fruit juice. First yellow plums and now my batch of peach juice is nearly done. Peach liquor on a sinking ship – that’s how I’m gonna approach it.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            If you are living in a detached stand-alone house in a suburb, you have a better chance at having a future than any of the millions of people living in multi-apartment barracks in the concentration labor-camps known as “cities”.

            1. Jason

              Exactly. A city is inherently unsustainable and can’t exist without abundant quantities of outside land, labor, and resources.

              Let the city folk try to survive with their cutesy window plants and rooftop gardens.

              1. Anders K

                The thing is, a city is better suited to deploy certain infrastructure to more people than the same number of people situated in detached houses, especially if said houses are intended to have gardens enough to feed themselves.

                It’s great to have collapsed early, but expecting everyone to be able to do so without some sort of propaganda and organized collective action is naive.

                Don’t expect the people left behind in cities to die to act in the way you’d like them. This is where I think the “let them eat tarmac” powerful people will be surprised, and I expect bad things from that particular future path.

                1. drumlin woodchuckles

                  i think the non-powerful smaller town and out-country people have been thinking about this for some time.

                  I remember during the Reagan period reading a strange guest editorial in the New York Times Op Ed pages. It was by someone who claimed to be a doctor and further claimed to have been living several years in rural Maine. She reported that after living there long enough, she found herself trusted enough by the small towns and country folk to be let in on the unpublicised existence of a broad though informal-ish network of people being a sort of rural counterdefence against the assumed-to-exist Civil Defense plans to move millions of city people to country areas just ahead of a planned or suspected nuclear war. What this Op Ed guest writer claimed was that plans existed for who would destroy what bridges, who-all would be posted as sharpshooters above what highway chokepoints to kill enough out-fleeing motorists to stop traffic on the highways, etc. That the plan was to make sure that no masses of city people ever reached the countryside alive.

                  The self-claimed doctor said she was writing the article in order for city people leaderships to understand that the Civil Defense aspect of surviving nuclear war would not be permitted to unfold by the countryside people, and so the plans for nuclear war should be reconsidered and cancelled.

              2. BlakeFelix

                Eh, although per capita cities can be much more efficient also. A well built city lets lots of people live using relatively few resources, although in the US I think that only NYC and SF had the pull to NIMBY some of their neighborhoods out of being engineered into car focused garbage.

      2. Eloined

        Is involvement with high-profile projects exploring these “promising approaches” so perhaps so appealing to some among you “scientists and policy analysts” that you would pursue them even if you did not in fact believe they’d do much good, but would certainly aid in personal career development and facilitate income / prestige flowing to your families, giving them a leg up in the likely resource-scarce and hyper-competitive world to come? This is just to say, how much purer are your group’s collective ambitions than those of any other group of 30 professionals pursuing a glorifiable task?

        Years ago I saw a video put out by climate scientists at Harvard, MIT, etc. arranged an appeal to unnamed governments who may already be working on solar radiation management to please, pretty please, involve them in the efforts. No editorial commentary on risks, for example, just a plea to hang with the truly powerful. In my estimation it’s as likely as not that any group of PMCs seeking funding for “promising” ideas screws humanity harder and faster than we’d get it in the already volatile baseline case.

        Personally I don’t advocate a do-nothing policy — most all risks can be mitigated — but am deeply opposed to do-something policies advocated by easily cowed busybodies who have prolonged this mess by going along to get along in a rotten system.

        Nothing personal, just nothing different I see in your baisc “Climate Triad” spiel than than in myriad jargon-intensive press releases put out by money-losing tech firms before a funding round.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Its hard to bite the hand that feeds you when the hand that feeds you is wrapped around your throat. I can only blame the go-along-to-get-along scientists only so far for going along to get along. I suppose one could blame them for having failed to invest their savings into turning their personal houses into personal F-ck You fortresses of F-ck You survivalism. If they had done that, they could have said F-ck You to the system which can starve them to death at any whim or instant. But they can’t, because they have zero basis of Separate Survival.

          So they dare not bite the hand which beats them.

      3. Pelham

        Cooling the planet isn’t enough, is it? Isn’t the excess CO2 in the atmosphere threatening to create vast dead zones in the oceans, independent of any warming effect? Maybe I’m getting that wrong, or perhaps you take this into account.

        In any event, what you describe sounds promising. While we need to drive ahead full speed to slash emissions, the more pressing priority, it appears, is doing something to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere as we’re already well beyond acceptable levels.

        1. Rolf

          The ‘excess’ atmospheric CO2 depresses surface ocean pH, making it more difficult for calcifiers to produce and maintain their CaCO3 hard parts (ocean acidification).

          The other fly in the ointment is the effect of warming on cold, dense water formation in polar regions. I think most models have shown that high CO2 weakens this process, thus depressing density-driven (thermohaline) circulation in the Atlantic, which transports heat (also oxygen). I recall Yves had a recent link to this (AMOC).

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          I think it is the excess nitrate and phosphate runoff from Corporate Chemical Mainstream agribussiness farmfields washing into the ocean which fuels the dead zones.

      4. Jeremy Grimm

        Out of curiosity, what are some of the promising approaches to cool the planet besides stratospheric atmospheric injection?

        I can understand ways to achieve the first ‘reduce’ in the Climate Triad but how are remove and refreeze accomplished?

        1. George

          Paint your roof white and oh yeah, take your ICE auto to the junk yard and have it crushed.

        2. BlakeFelix

          Giant space mirrors reflecting some light away before it hits Earth are IMO the least stupid, although I could be wrong, and I consider them pretty stupid. The cheap and easier one people talk about is adding something to the upper atmosphere, usually sulfur dioxide.

      5. MICHAEL

        Herb. Thanks for you efforts. Let’s say a person has, independently, developed such equipment & technology, in the U.S., but is unaffiliated with a university or large company? How could they proceed to successfully get the equipment out, especially if some components are not locally manufacturable? The path to production here seems murky, especially, given the isolation of academics from the public and the hollowing out of small and mid-sized companies willing to work with private individuals. While Fortune 500 companies do have the engineering, prototyping & manufacturing capacity, even mid-sized companies say they can’t even get a call back from the big gorillas on the block. There is a lot of talent at top tier companies, but they aren’t doing much innovation. And bottom up innovation has for a long while been hampered by top-down consumerization of public spaces. Good local machinist are closing down. And save for the squillionaires and unicorns, US technology has become 3rd rate in a 3rd world country. So, what to do?

      6. kramshaw

        Just have to add this part. I saw a presentation by David Keith about atmospheric geoengineering. The most astonishing fact I took away from this is that atmospheric geoengineering on planetary scale is *cheap* for nation-scale actors, like in the tens of billions of dollars. And I think, without violence it is very complicated to stop another nation from pursuing their own solution.

        Who’s to say Saudi Arabia or some similarly positioned country doesn’t decide to run their own program to keep their country livable in the short term?

    2. Jon Cloke

      Geoengineering – Eugenicist Professor Branestawms providing a last desperate attempt to avoid getting rid of mass consumption.

      Some truly scary shit.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      If no one else does it ” in time”, the ChinaGov will do it with or without permission from a dithering world.

      1. Felix_47

        If anyone can address global warming it will be the Chinese. They are building nuclear plants at a rapid pace. When our elites figure it out they will contract with the Chinese to build plants in the US or perhaps in Mexico and export the power. And we can be sure that fuel reprocessing will be part of the Chinese program. They don’t tend to waste like we do. The US is crippled by its legal system and its undemocratic pay to play political system. I share Gore Vidal’s view of the current political system. And although Hillary was not happy with it I see China incentivizing a one child policy in any areas such as Africa that are plagued with overpopulation. China, for all its faults, has the can do attitude the US had in the late 19th and early 20th century combined with a labor force happy to work and have a job. And the Chinese see their society as the model for the future of the world just as the US used to see its own before our leaders sold themselves full bore to the financial industry. Just as England pressured Germany as it developed a superior industrial and societal model we are pressuring China. My wife, who is Chinese, is convinced that the future will be in the East. She may be right since she has been right about most things for the last forty years. For the planet’s sake I wish the Chinese the best of luck in their own quest to solve global warming. There is nothing being done here. Not even raising the gas tax, albeit regressive and perhaps not ideal, tells us that nothing is going to change.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Let me yet again mount upon my little hobby horse and say that . . . if we could get America to abrogate and defect from every aspect of the Free Trade System and the Forcey Free-Trade Agreements, then we could at least protectionize ourselves behind a big beautiful wall of economic defense and fix things here without being flooded by carbon dumping production from all our Trading Enemies all over the world, worst of all China.

          For example, behind a Big Beautiful Wall of Protection, we could institute the Full Metal Hansen FeeTax-Dividend against fossil carbon products at point of first sale from the ground itself. And we could forbid imports from any country which didn’t adopt the same rigid anti-fossil FeeTax-Dividend system.

          Snarky-poo liberals stuck in the junior high school Hypocrisy Sniffathon Sweepstakes would say: ” but . . . but . . . .that would give other countries with even stricter anti-fossil standards the right to ban imports from America.” To which I would reply: ” well, but of course it would. And of course they should. That’s how we get a forced march to the top instead of a forced race to the bottom, like we have now.”

          Since I think establishing a National Peoples Protecctionist Republic of America is unlikely,
          it becomes up to Blue People and Blue Zones in the meantime to try evolving Separate Survival Standalone Societies within parts of the US and try moving these societies onto a zero-fossil energy basis. Or at least towards it.

      2. JTMcPhee

        Not to worry, the squillionaires who are Supra-National and free of silly faux-democratic constraints are already well along the way to geoengin-erring the next proof of human unfitness for purpose. Plotted out to benefit their broad ownership interests. There’s a reason Gates etc. are buying up arable land all over the place. And securing bolt holes in places like New Zealand.

    4. Chris Smith

      Family blogging “geoengineering.” Good gods! The TPTB need to take a look at the Aral Sea to see how our attempts have gone in the past. Or the attempt to drain the everglades, or the loss of the Mississippi delta from flood control, and so forth

  2. .human

    Something as simple as paying one spouse a living wage to enable the other to stay home to perform the myriad household chores with less energy intensive methods could halve a household’s energy footprint.

    We spend a huge amount of energy for convenience, albeit necessary in our current climate to be able to have some discretionary time.

    1. HotFlash

      Dingity ding ding ding! With two workers or more per household you need ‘servants’ — dishwasher, dryer, convenience foods, car or two, door dash, gyms, ready-made clothing, — just to keep household chores done in the 24 hours we get in a day. GEngineer is right, that’s why my urban house is going 12v dc. I can make it on my roof. This grid-tied make-120v-60-cycle-AC PV is just dumb. Also too, we have only had plentiful oil since 1859 and humankind* survived w/o. Many accommodations will have to be made, much planning, and hard choices. Unf, individuals will have to lead since ‘leaders’ won’t. As as been advised by wise people, decline now and avoid the rush.

      * discussion of *that* for another day.

    2. Mikel

      Probably looking at a future will include more multi-family households, polygamous types of households, or a variety of things. There won’t be as much building to support a bunch of nuclear families.

  3. mrsyk

    IIRC, “COVID is a pop quiz, climate change is the final.” was a popular idea towards the beginning of the pandemic. Not looking good is it. Putting all our eggs in the vaccine basket because we want to solve our problems with magic bullets. This doesn’t really shock me. Solving problems with tech is how we roll. As a society (let alone a global community) I’m not sure we’re capable of the effort, cooperation and sacrifice needed to address looming climate disaster. Most my friends won’t even talk about it. Same with my family. And I think it’s because it hurts to look at, and most the people I know aren’t practiced at looking hard at things that cause distress. Since I’m an old man subject to verbal rambling I feel entitled to give some advice. Get outside and enjoy some nature while you can.

    1. Krystyn Podgajski

      We have been climbing up a ladder for 150 years. Now they say we have to come back down in 30 seconds. Impossible IMHO. Some people started climbing down the ladder years ago however, so humanity is not doomed, just the way we know it is gone.

      mrsyk, I just spent four days at a national forest campground reading “The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics”. A handy book for coping with climate change in a round about way. The author posits that both time and motion are illusions. It was more than convincing and it helped me relax quite a bit.

      1. ChrisFromGeorgia

        On a much longer timescale than any of us will be around, this is a self-correcting problem. Do folks really think that humans will be able to escape the mass extinctions that radical climate change will entail?

        Once the oceans are fished out, pollinators gone, and most of the arable land turned into desert or sweltering rain forests, there is no path forward for mankind. It will be another great extinction event, and the planet will slowly recover over geological time scales. Some lucky species will have evolved to survive it and recover, just not us.

        That thought does give me some comfort. If we want to do something about it, it is probably too late, or would require the elimination of so many things (air travel, container ships, the idiocy of herding people back into downtown offices that require burning tons of fossil fuel while stuck in mindless traffic) as to be just “unlikely to the nth degree.”

        1. whiterab

          I give Homo Sapiens an 80-90% chance of surviving what is coming.

          However; the chance of civilization as we know it…..

  4. cocomaan

    Grumpy Engineer’s concerns bring up a second problem: existing infrastructure, and in particular, dispersed single family homes which are hugely inefficient on many levels. As an aside, one of the reasons that apartment living has such a bad name in the US that most were built for poor or young people; they were envisioned as way stations to middle/upper middle class dwelling. As a result, many cringe at the suggestion of living in them because they once were in a unit with thin walls. It’s entirely possible to live nicely in an apartment. I’ve done so repeatedly in New York, Sydney, and London. But it’s hard to overcome prejudice.

    It’s not prejudice, it’s biology. Single family homes/40 acres and a mule are probably more inefficient than apartments, but I would say most people crave the privacy of a home. Privacy is sought even by the tiniest animals. It would be a lot more efficient for all the squirrels to get into one tree every winter to share resources and heat. They don’t, and there’s an evolutionary reason for it.

    With privacy hard to get anywhere else in the world, because of tech, not having neighbors breathe down your neck is important for people’s sanity. Maybe even their self actualization, if you’re talking Maslow. I also crave having a garden and natural spaces that are mine to cultivate in the way I see fit, which happens to be fully organic permaculture.

    Someone will have to shoot me dead in order to take me off the property where I’ve put down roots of both the metaphorical and the actual variety.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I never found privacy to be an issue in any of my apartments (when I got past having a roommate) and I am very introverted. I’ve lived in nine and gotten to two others for weeks at a time. You again are assuming thin walls.

      1. cocomaan

        It’s about more than four walls. For instance, I’ve gotten intro trouble with neighbors and property managers for smoking in my apartment and for cooking something that smelled bad: Indian food and cigarettes apparently pissed off my neighbors. I can’t keep chickens in my apartment, but I plan on keeping chickens for the rest of my life, because they’re neat.

        There’s no way you can convince me that a single family home has equivalent privacy to an apartment.

        1. SpainIsHot

          The point here is that we may like and prefer all sorts of things, but they come with a cost. We’re at a point where that cost may involve civilization collapse and the continuing extinction of hundreds of thousands of species. So yeah, single family homes may be more convenient (I, like Yves, am not sure of that…), but they may not be viable.

          1. cocomaan

            This attitude is fascinating. It’s ultimately going to fail, as well.

            Crushing people into whatever mold fits the narrative of the day has never worked. It did not work in Prohibition, where alcohol was seen as a scourge to society. People rebelled. It had huge downstream effects, including organized crime.

            What’s being suggested smells a lot like the Great Leap Forward. Didn’t work then, won’t work now. There’s plenty of tech out there for scrubbing the atmosphere that I’d rather see at work before we start shooting people for wanting a piece of ground for themselves.

            1. SpainIsHot

              I have re-read my comment and I don’t think it advocates “shooting people for wanting a piece of ground for themselves”. It simply points out that some of the things that we may want might not be possible in the near future (or now).

              A couple of weeks ago a local minister here in Spain (“minister of consumption”) posted a video and some comments on Twitter essentially saying that we should consume less meat (for reasons related to climate change –a (v. low, some say) 15% of global emissions due to livestock , 15000 liters of water needed per 1kg of cow meat, health issues, etc.). It caused such hysteria, it’s hard to relate here. Eventually the “socialist” prime minister gave a press conference and said that his steak was non-negotiable.

              Ultimately, I think the mismatch here is in the sense of urgency that we perceive, and the trade-offs we think we need to make. It’s a vision of what life is possible, and what the good life is.

              1. cocomaan

                You’re right, I have to feel a HUGE sense of urgency to use government to push people into apartment buildings. I say “use government” because that has so far been the only enforcement mechanism for environmental protection.

                Theres plenty of other options than controlling consumption of steak. Because it won’t work. People will be having black market steak, that’s guaranteed. If prohibition has been any lesson, it’s that people want to consume what they want to consume, and you have to use force to stop them from doing it.

                Are you willing to put people into cages because they want to have an 1/8th of an acre to mow? Or keep chickens on? Or plant their own garden?

                1. southern appalachian

                  I thought the 40 acres and a mule referred to self-sufficiency, not privacy. Nothing wrong with country living, it’s just some work without using fossil fuels. You can grow your food and have a wood lot and chickens, cow or goats, something – and so on. Might not need to come to a city much. That’s how it was. I live in a rural area, that’s all familiar to me.

                  I don’t know if the biology is the best argument, there are a lot of people in cities. That could be biological, we are social animals. But I find extrapolating things like land use and housing from biology hard to do. Many of our desires are inflamed and manipulated by advertising, from a young age. It’s pervasive.

                2. The View From Howe Street.

                  Mike Tyson’s observation regarding the persistence of plans relative to being punched in the face could be modified to include the first few massive crop failures and the concern one has for personal proclivities.

            2. LY

              Sure, no problem if they live like the Amish or Buddhist monks. Less extreme, small towns where there was a main street was within walking (or biking) distance.

              Instead, we have zoned suburban sprawl of oversized energy inefficient houses with wasteful lawns, where people hop in their full-sized pickups/SUVs and drive half-an-hour for basic chores and services.

              1. drumlin woodchuckles

                The wasteful lawns can be changed into wasteless high intensity micro gardens, micro-orchards, etc. at any time.

                The suburbanites can ride bicycles to pick-up-points served by electric shuttle-jitneys taking aggregated bunches of these bicycle suburbanites to bigger fewer pickup points for bigger electric buses and etc. Thereby solving the wasteful transportation problem.

                Some people will take their chances living and dying in their concentration-apartments in the Great Urban Deathtraps. Other people will take their chances living and surviving in the Suburban Slum Settlements where at least some food can be grown, roof-water harvested, etc.

            3. Mikel

              “Crushing people into whatever mold fits the narrative of the day has never worked…”

              Buy a house, have 2.5 kids, a boat, and commute from the suburbs is a “mold” and narrative too…

            4. Soredemos

              This entire privacy debate is, frankly, insipid. It doesn’t matter which side is ‘right’ (if any is). Because if putting huge numbers of people in apartments is something that is necessitated by the collapse of the environment, than that’s what will be done. Whether the people think they have enough privacy or not is immaterial. Which would you rather have? Privacy or baking to death out on the street? Because those may be the only two choices in the end.

              There’s also an element of narcissism to all this. Vast numbers of people throughout the world get on just fine in apartments. If tens of millions of Tokyoites can survive in their micro-closet apartment rooms, you can get on just fine in one as well.

              1. HotFlash

                This is just silly. Apts are just so fragile. When Toronto had a big blackout, the people who suffered most were in apts, esp high-rises. A co-worker had to go to his mom’s suburban apt daily to bring her cooked food and water, for herself and her toilet — no water pressure at her height. Oh, and no elevators, refrigerators no worky, TV no worky, internet no worky, bedtime was sundown. Fortunately, that one was in Aug so people didn’t freeze, but ventilation a huge problem (teeny tiny windows) and of course AC not working. My friends on the 37th floor of a snazzy downtown condo had a looooooong climb up and down. Meanwhile, on my little urban street we arranged freezer use to open one at a time and keep the others closed to conserve cold, and did coop cooking and water heating outdoors with grills and thermoses (thermi?) to conserve our propane/charcoal/wood. Ice was nonexistent.

                Here on my tiny lot I am self-sufficient for well, not much, but in summer we have all the greens we can eat, herbs and herbal teas, a few medicinals, and I am propagating plants for barter or sale. I harvest my rainwater and have a Berkey to filter it. in a pinch. Maybe you can do that in an apt but I doubt it. I can also make soap, ferment stuff (including various alcoholic bevs), save seeds, am a pretty good urban forager, and have a growing collection of manual gadgets incl a grain mill, for if/when it goes pear-shaped. Oh, and I can fix bikes.

                IMO, we will all have to choose where we want to live — and/or die. I chose this illage-within-a-city place 40 yrs ago and had end times in mind. We may all chose different paths, but any knowledge or artifacts kept in any place or way will help those who come after.

              2. drumlin woodchuckles

                How will tens of millions of Tokyoites survive in their micro-closet apartment rooms when their survival grids all die? No water, no power, no gas, now what?

                1. Soredemos

                  Explain to me how houses will survive without any of those things?

                  I’m not even saying we should all move into apartments. What I’m saying is that if that is what the climate collapse necessitates, then it will have to happen. If a bunch of people get butthurt about losing their privacy, well, sad day for them. There are more important matters at play.

          2. Objective Ace

            The best arguements anticipate what their critics will say and ideally placate them. If unable to placate them, at least make it clear that the cost/benefit of the criticism pales in comparison to the alternative. You are right of course that “privacy” is trumped by not destroying our planet. But it’s important to recognize that that is the actual arguement.. not that apartments can be/are equally private as SFHs.

            It’s also possible to placate some of cocomans concerns. Public gardens/grounds for raising chickens/gardens etc. Would make appartments more appealing

            1. SpainIsHot

              I agree with you. I did not say that apartments are equally private –that was Yves’s comment, not mine. My comment was exclusively about the trade-off.

              I am married to someone who grew up in the Soviet Union… fortunately it was already in its later years, and they didn’t have to share apartments with 54 other families, as it was in the early days. So I am aware of the need for privacy and the horrors of ignoring it. I am also aware that for some eating all the meat in the world is great, and I have myself enjoyed my fair share of world travel without care for the environment. My point is, once again, not that those things are silly desires, but that they pale in comparison with the other needs (to have a livable planet).

              And, yes, definitely, as I say in a longer post below : we should focus as much as possible on providing public/shared resources to address our human needs and desires.

              1. SpainIsHot

                Incidentally, here’s a very recent analysis published in Global Environmental Change on the ” Socio-economic conditions for satisfying human needs at low energy use: An international analysis of social provisioning”

                I think it’s pretty good. Their highlights:

                * No country sufficiently meets human needs within sustainable levels of energy use.
                * Need satisfaction and associated energy requirements depend on socio-economic setups.
                * Public services are linked to higher need satisfaction and lower energy requirements.
                * Economic growth is linked to lower need satisfaction and higher energy requirements.
                * Countries with good socio-economic setups could likely meet needs at low energy use.

                Same thing: social support for human needs, rather than our current modes of atomization.

          3. Elizabeth Burton

            I think the important point being overlooked here is “single-family homes”. That is, a house wherein dwell the “nuclear family” of two adults and X children. How many of those homes are large enough to house two or three of such families these days? Or mixed families of varying descriptions?

            In my view, part of the problem is precisely the repetition of the idea that the best solution to mitigating climate change is for everybody to move to the city and live in a high-rise. It’s not true. In fact, it could be suggested that kind of rural-to-urban migration, driven by both the loss of manufacturing jobs and the rise of Big Agriculture, has exacerbated the problem.

            Agriculture done properly not only captures carbon but improves the health of both the environment and those living in it of all species. We should be encouraging people to move out of the cities, drive out factory farms, and start working to return the land to as normal a condition as can be managed. And paying them to do so. So, how about we start fighting for that jobs guarantee and UBI, then providing training in something besides coding?

            1. Henry Moon Pie

              Chris Smaje wrote Small Farm Future as an argument for this as one of the primary “solutions” to our plight. Resilience.org has a number of his pieces. The idea is to combine a higher level of household self-sufficiency with remediation, all employing permaculture and backed with a UBI. The primary argument is that the only way to turn agriculture from a huge CO2 producer into a “consumer” is through lots of human labor.

              1. Tom Pfotzer

                I endorse this view also. I would extend that notion by developing appropriate tech to make small scale farming more possible.

                If you have ever done small-scale farming, you might agree that the tools, methods we currently have for it aren’t all that developed. If you’re trying to feed yourself, or provide for your energy req’mts using local ag, you know how much effort it takes.

                If you’ve ever watched Eliot Coleman’s video – he’s a local-farming exemplar – which he delivered in Asheville NC (youtube), it’s a one-hour tour-de-force on … here it is, guys… “technology”.

                He talks about his time in France where he learned the state of the art from great practitioners, then he took those baseline methods and extended and adapted them to his Maine locale, then layered on lots of emergent tech (mostly around greenhouses, but also product devel, marketing, etc.) to come up with a _system_ that fits into the environment, provides a decent living and a great lifestyle.

                Great intentions, supported by _appropriate_ tech. Winning hand.

                The guy is a masterful innovator.

        2. Krystyn Podgajski

          The problem is not privacy. The problem is lack of community and trust that makes us think we need privacy. (Because you are not really talking about privacy.) Someone cooking Indian food is not “privacy”, it is just something that bothers you. If that was a community of Indians living there it would be no problem. And if you knew your neighbor maybe you could work something out together, like an exhaust fan.

          Technology has made it so easy to just run away when things get hard.

        3. Pelham

          I’m afraid I’ll have to agree with cocomaan. I lived in apartments most of my adult life and didn’t particularly mind. Only once did I have a problem with thin walls. But shortly after getting married and adopting a child we moved to a suburban house, and I loved it. From that quiet, shady perch it seemed as if previous apartment experiences amounted to living only half a life.

          Collectively, though, the two main problems with suburban living are the heating/cooling inefficiency that Yves mentions and the sheer consumption of land. The first can be addressed with retrofits and Passivhaus designs. The latter (an original idea with me!) can be fixed by offering incentives for each homeowner to allocate a section of his property to organic farming. For those without a green thumb, traveling farmers (on bicycles) could be hired to tend the crop. Crops could be coordinated across neighborhoods to meet local demand. And larger acreages could accommodate livestock.

          There. Problems solved.

          1. cocomaan

            Thanks for the input. Doug Tallamy’s latest book, Nature’s Best Hope, goes into detail about how if property managers large and small put a third of their “yard” aside for natural cultivation (native meadows, forest, etc), it would be the largest national park in the world and would go a long way toward helping the planet.

            This could be done through an incentive system. I mentioned CRP down thread, because the CRP has done immense good in saving natural spaces on ag properties. Many of these CRP areas are used by hunters and anglers every year and often just by folks looking to take a walk through a naturalized habitat.

            1. Tom Pfotzer

              Tallamy’s books are great. If you’re looking for some hope and something specific and very useful to do, read Tallamy.

          2. d w

            while i too spend most of my adult life in apartments, but i cant say that i had the experience. most of the time, i could actually hear neighbors as they talked, or what ever else they were doing. and not just walls are thin, ceilings and floors are too

            and given what just happened in Florida, we can see that allowing builders to build flimsy, or badly built/designed structures (SFH, apartments, etc) will just lead to more of what Florida did. its not just a Florida problem, many (if not all) have the same problem, builder builds it, local government inpects (some times they dont even do that when the structure is being built, let alone later).

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              As I said, this is a poor construction problem. I’ve never heard neighbors.

              And as for cooking smells, I’ve pretty much never had that either. And here, on nearly an acre, I DO smell every time neighbors barbecue or have a fire.

          3. Yves Smith Post author

            I now live in a single family home and hate it. Huge time sinks, staring with a yard and a car. You guys ignore costs and loss of your freedom, as in expenditures of effort and/or hiring people and having to manage them.

        4. Yves Smith Post author

          First, to your biology assertion, that’s false. People lived in tribes, and close together, for safety against predators and marauders.

          Second, I’ve had more trouble with neighbors here in Alabama in two years in a house on 0.9 acre than in my entire nearly 40 preceding years in apartments. And you can’t blame this on Southerners; the offending neighbor is from Vermont.

          He’s been trying us from trimming his trees that extend onto our yard, a right enshrined everywhere since Roman days and in a AL Supreme Court decision. Two are safety hazards, since the branches impinge on our power lines. For the others, we aren’t taking anything even remotely on a level that would hurt his trees (and even if they did, we have a right to remove intruding branches and roots). These are almost entirely branches of 2 inches in diameter or less; most are more like one inch, and they make the yard near the fence looks like there might be old tires and gas cans hidden in the mess. The one large branch (about 4 inches) I was inclined to leave alone. I’m now tempted to have an arborist and remove all roots on our side of the property out of spite. But the poor trees aren’t responsible for this jerk’s behavior.

          I’ve had to make multiple calls to the city about him, send him a cease and desist letter, and write the city twice. He even tried to get our yardman in a ton of trouble by accusing him of running an unlicensed tree trimming service (our city takes an expansive view of who has to pay for a license to operate here).

          Our aides now carry (guns or Tasers) when they go in the backyard for a smoke, because it is in eyeshot from his property. Not having gotten his way, he’s taken to menacing us from his yard. I regard it as silly but not everyone is as thick skinned.

      2. James Simpson

        I find privacy to be a serious problem and have done all of my 55 years. I live now in a small one-bed flat on my own – brick built – with neighbours above and on two sides. The sounds they make, while hardly excessive, are constantly stress-inducing. I do my best to keep as quiet as I can, such as never putting radio/TV/music on when any of my immediate neighbours is in – I listen mostly on earphones. But I would love to be in a detached house well away from other people. Am I rare? I think not. I’d hate to live in a communal house with just a room of my own.

        1. saywhat?

          Just one example of stress: the possibility of flooding adjacent and downstairs neighbors if one’s toilet overflows. So flush and trust isn’t an option with me; I’m tethered to the vicinity of my toilet until I’m sure the water has cut off. This is especially true since I have neighbors who may stop-up our common waste pipe too, unbeknownst to me.

          And that dang Amfortas is subversive! I’d love to have 20 acres (10, 5?) where I can do as I please outdoors or in a workshop such as build my own furniture, garden/farm, work on my car, etc.

          And then there’s the night sky problem where I live; I’d love to see meteor showers, comets, etc but can’t because of the light pollution.

          And really, hasn’t Covid put paid to the idea that humans can be closely packed safely?

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            You must not have a well managed building. Every time we had a water issue, the management./super was there in two nanoseconds. Water damage will ruin a building.

            And if you flood, you flood your own house just as well. You are telling me you wouldn’t be worried about damage to your property if you were on your own?

          2. Felix_47

            With water shortages why not use a composting toilet? And why not tax gas so much that living in a McMansion in the burbs becomes a very expensive enterprise? And why not consider birth control?

      3. Ian Ollmann

        It’s more of an issue when there is nowhere for the kids to play. If there is enough safe place around, you can just throw them outside. If there isn’t, they tear up the house.

        That said, if you are fine with them playing with iPad 24/7, you can do that.

    2. Larry Gilman

      I’ve lived in apartments, presently in a house. We can talk about the appeals and burdens of both, which vary greatly depending on physical construction, but please don’t conjure with speculative appeals to evolutionary hardwiring. Hominids aren’t squirrels, and if you can cite a single study showing that there is a heritable neural mechanism in humans which drives preference for standalone homesteads, I’ll eat my porch.

      Here’s a great rule of thumb: We should leave evolution entirely out of every discussion of human behavior, every single one, except in those very rare cases — all pertaining to specific medical pathologies — where there is hard, published proof that an inherited mechanism exposed to selection is in play. Absent such proof, evolutionary just-so stories are just preference packaging.

      1. cocomaan

        and if you can cite a single study showing that there is a heritable neural mechanism in humans which drives preference for standalone homesteads, I’ll eat my porch.

        You won’t find one. It would be impossible to conduct such a study without violating research ethics. I don’t live my life by badly-constructed studies, and I doubt you do either.

        1. Larry Gilman

          Yes, there are obviously good reasons such evidence doesn’t exist. That it does not exist remains, however, a fact. And absent such evidence, all talk about evolutionary hardwiring of human behaviors is, to use the kindest possible word, speculative.

          1. cocomaan

            I’m absolutely fine with speculation. Speculation is warranted, especially where an ethic like privacy is involved. If we refuse to explore ethics because of a want of academic studies, we’re going to be very poor souls indeed.

            1. Basil Pesto

              well, he did say that speculative was the kindest possible word for a cockamamie invented use of evolutionary biology as a rationalisation for living in standalone homes. I’m sure he has others up his sleeve.

          2. juno mas

            Yes, it is not about evolutionary hardwiring. It is about aculturation. The culture of individualism as preemptive to a larger society is dominant in the US. (Maybe it’s the dog-eat-dog capitalism or general precarity of the general population.)

            1. Henry Moon Pie

              Absolutely. And this thread contains a fascinating case of essentially arguing about how far to go back in the future. Is is too much to hope to return to a hunter-gatherer’s mindset (Leary’s solution)? What if we just go back as far as the medieval period, but without the feudalism (Smaje’s solution)? Jeremy Lent suggested Neo-Confucianism. The Stoics have some strong, dedicated advocates. I like Lao-Tzu, especially as modulated through Ursula Le Guin. Poor Jesus. Monotheism just isn’t going to cut it in our situation unless medieval monasticism or mysticism is your thing.

              And then there are those who say no even to the brakes, much less reverse, and demand we hit the accelerator even harder.

              I’m excited about the monarchs showing up for our intentionally late-blooming milkweeds, and I enjoyed playing a little hunter-gatherer myself, plucking some ripe beauties from among the blackberry thorns.

              1. Tom Pfotzer

                For some reason this has been a good year for milkweed. I have set off a section of the hay fields for milkweed, and I’m seeing quite a few monarchs this year.

                I want to select some sections of the past to propagate to my future, and I want to make some new stuff that has never been around to include, too.

                I like creativity guided by good will.

      2. Jason

        If we’re having people compare not living in single family homes to the Great Leap Forward we’re probably too far gone to save.

    3. CuriosityConcern

      Would you say that those who can’t make an apartment work would need to become carbon stewards on their land(I know you may be someone who lives simply, gardens, etc, but what about the avg person)?

        1. drumlin woodchuckles


          Do I remember your having written once that you are a beekeeper?

          If you are, do you live in the Northeast or Upper Midwest? In the sugar maple zone?

          If you do, and you know anyone who taps sugarbush maple trees for sap to boil into syrup, here is an idea which occurred to me once. Is maple sap all by itself as sweet as nectar? If it is, would bees drink it? What if, as an experiment, a few gallons of maple sap were ultra-pasteurised and stored away till the height of bee activity season. And at the height of bee activity season, it were brought back out, and offered to bees to see if they would accept it.
          And if they would, give them the few gallons of it and see if they can make it into honey.

          Maple sap honey. Or “maple honey” for short. If all that could work out, there might be a way to get the bees to evaporate maple sap down to a honey-like consistence without burning any fuel to do it. The bees themselves would be burning some of the maple sap sugar as metabiofuel.

          Just an idea in case you find it interesting.

          1. Tom Pfotzer

            That is a very interesting idea.

            Sugar is really nice to have around, but it uses a lot of energy or back-breaking labor to process it.

            The beekeeper that owned the hives here at my place regularly fed them sugar-solution to prep them for the winter after he’s harvested some of their honey. Seems like that’s a close relation to maple sap (almost water).

            A while back I planted 25 sugar maples, and I often wondered how my successor would harvest and use the syrup once the trees matured enough.

    4. vlade

      Evolutionary reason. Right.

      I doubt you have extended apartment experience, and if so, you’d be careful putting out patronising stuff out, especially proclaiming “evolutionary reasons” for privacy. Evidence is that most humans lived in large extended family groups (and that may mean easily 20+ people) for most of their history. A common family dwelling in medieval times was a place where at least three generations lived together, often in two rooms only. Privacy? Hahahah. It was always a luxury good.

      In Europe, apartment livingis pretty common, and has been for ages.

      In the Czech Republic, post regime change in 89, where hardly anyone had a family house (never mind large one), most people wanted one, and moved into newly built suburbs. Which had no social services (daycare, GP, shops, what have you). These days, many people like the apartments exactly becasue they can be close to many amenities. My brother, who never lived in anything but apartment, was thinking of buying a house. But to do that, he’d have to move, and would basically have to drive to get to any amenities, which right now he has in walking distance.

      And if you think only apartments can have neighbors from hell, then you are either lucky or didn’t move much or both

      1. cocomaan

        A common family dwelling in medieval times was a place where at least three generations lived together, often in two rooms only. Privacy? Hahahah. It was always a luxury good.

        Right, I’m talking about families. Family units, whatever size, do not like to live on top of other families.

        Seems like it’s controversial to say that organisms and their direct descendants like to spread out in their own private, exclusive territory. But when I look at trees using their canopies to starve out the plants underneath them, then feeding their progeny, as many trees do, I’m pretty sure I’m right on this. Urbanization is the exception in human history, not the rule.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Come on, if you think you have privacy in an extended family, you are smoking something very strong. My siblings and I can barely stand each other, and my grandmother (who did live with us off and on) hated me. And I regularly had to room with her.

          Apartments rock.

          1. Susan the other

            Our kids got used to apartment living in NYC. Then moved to Portland where they bought a house. Didn’t much like it; sold it, and moved back into an apartment complex where they are very happy. So are the grandkids Apartment living for them is much more convenient. Not to even mention energy efficient.

    5. bertrandbuttery

      If not American, I think the need for this level privacy is more of a globalist/capitalist sensability of independence. Lots of people in different times in places have gotten by great with multigenerational big family housing.

      Today apartment living often means people from all over the country (or world) incidentally living next door, often very temporarily. Few people know their neighbors or are interested in building community. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

    6. WalterM

      Late to the argument, as usual.

      Apartments vs. single family homes? In the U.S. we have vast numbers of freestanding houses, great masses of apartment buildings, many townhouses, a fair few farmhouses, some tiny homes, treehouses, and plenty about which I know nothing (and, perhaps not germane, but also far more empty residences than homeless people). We also have many buildings that could become housing if used properly. A rapid, wholesale teardown of a large category of housing is not helpful.

      Take the structures you’ve got and make them better. Can many singe-family homes be modified to accommodate more residents? Can apartments get upgrades (plumbing, wiring, pest-obstructing, and the odd solar panel on top)? Can we insulate, seal and re-window all kinds of homes? These would be massive efforts, but I can’t believe they would generate nearly as much waste or consume as much energy as demolition and rebuilding. If you’ve got a decent building, try to make it better, safer, lower energy.

      Do tear down structurally unsafe buildings, buildings in floodplains/wetlands or ecologically sensitive areas (maybe *that* would be every human structure ever built :-)), and certain buildings that are poorly situated or hinder a more important objective. Maybe tear down a house in the middle of the block to make a garden space for the remaining houses. That kind of thing.

      And, yeah, I know, it’ll have to wait until after the revolution… [sigh]

      I have a really evil, developmentally-disabled idea, but only if somebody wants to hear it.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Hey, I’ll bite. Ya never know where the next killer app’s going to come from.

        I can’t wait to see what “developmentally-disabled” is. Sounds like my brain, starting around age 5.


  5. Tom Stone

    Thank you for this.
    A rational response to this crisis is not politically or societally feasible.
    And the crisis is here, now.
    The changes are not linear, a concept many of the people I talk to about climate change have difficulty accepting.
    Large parts of the SF Bay Area are going to be heavily impacted (It’s my stomping ground, so I’m familiar with it) by salt water intrusion, levee failure, lack of water to to changing precipitation patterns in the Sierra’s…
    A lot of Bay Area Housing is built on fill or in low lying areas, those homes will start to be abandoned within a decade if current trends continue.
    Add the devastation from the inevitable Earthquake on the Hayward Fault which our local and State Governments are totally incapable of dealing with and it is going to be a godawful mess.
    I looked at the Disaster planning for a quake on the Hayward Fault some years ago and all of the assumptions are for a “Best Case” scenario.
    The quake won’t come in October during a drought and a high wind event, it won’t come at the wrong time of day, it won’t come in the spring during a high water period when Levee’s are stressed…
    The Bay areas disaster response center was built in the 1950’s to withstand a nuclear attack, it is underground and was built smack dab in the middle of the Hayward Fault.
    Have I mentioned that 20 years after 9/11 the various emergency responders do not have a commonality in their communications gear?

  6. Lambert Strether

    > slow down.

    Let’s abolish consumer advertising (except, perhaps, in local, printed newspapers). As a happy side effect, that will destroy social media, which civilization did very well without until about ten years ago.

    1. GramSci

      Yea, it is socialism-for-the-rich that has given us social media. Not community centers, God forbid communes, or even communities.

    2. Eric Anderson

      You spelled “consumer advertising” wrong Lambert. I think you meant to say Capitalist Propaganda.
      But, I fully agree with your point.

    3. eudora welty

      I was on the company shuttle for work this morning: the driver controls the radio. Today, it was that advertising for pharmaceuticals: “tell your doctor if you experience hot flashes, extreme bleeding, there is a risk of death..” etc. I am led to believe that these commercials, often for cancer drugs, are very successful at whatever the metrics are (boosting awareness?). Anyway, I was also thinking about the furor related to the covid vaccines: I know the covid vaccine is a medical experiment with a drug that doesn’t have long-term studies, but still – terrible side effects seem providential in some circumstances, and totally shockingly evil in other circumstances.

    4. drumlin woodchuckles

      Social media is what allowed mere-citizen observers to take police-atrocity videos and show them to the world. Without that, police would still be murdering and torturing in “open secret” with gay abandon.

      If we banned digital consumer advertising, someone might give subscription-payed-in-advance social media a try, and we would have a different social media than what we have now. It would be a Shinola social media, maybe.

  7. Jackiebass62

    I think a switch to electricity is misleading in it’s claims. A major consideration is how the electricity is generated. Presently there are 4 alternatives to carbon based generation. You have wind, solar, hydro and nuclear. Nuclear, with present technology has many problems. Three being waste disposal, safety, and cost. People push changing to non carbon energy like it can happen overnight. The reality is it would take decades at a huge cost. I’m a big supporter of stopping the man made heating of the planet. That said we need to be realistic about how and when it can happen.

      1. gc54

        Ooops, that Jacobson et al paper is notorious. It was debunked in 2017 by a National Academy study that is summarized here (but read the paper) because of its fantasy “dam(n) every trickle, full speed ahead” conflict with the reality of attenuated stream flows due to climate change. But then triggered a lawsuit by Jacobson that was dropped.

        A plausible trajectory outlined here region by region by NREL was to replace only US electricity generation with a large fraction of renewables by 2040. Sadly has not been updated, but I believe that it forms the quantitative basis of current approaches, They did not scale the increased rate of replacing ICE with EV. Their approach does include nuclear power but underestimates the cost reduction of solar since the mid 2000s.

        1. Grumpy Engineer

          Aye. The Jacobson paper was terrible. He wanted to scale up hydro production in the US by a factor of ten, basically enslaving our rivers to a master control system that would control water flows solely for the purpose of keeping the lights on. River ecosystems and downstream communities be damned. As an additional note that’s rarely highlighted, Jacobson assumed that the “refill rate” on hydroelectric reservoirs would be utterly stable and would never deviate from the average, which is definitely not true. Just witness our current drought west of the Mississippi.

          And then there’s the whole energy storage thing. His plan called for 540 TWh of storage, which is a “spray your coffee all over the keyboard” kind of number. Stupendous beyond all reason. If the US deployed even 1 TWh over the next decade, it would be a major technical accomplishment. 540 TWh is hopelessly out of reach.

          1. Grumpy Engineer

            And speaking of large-scale battery installations, here’s some breaking news from Australia: https://electrek.co/2021/07/30/tesla-megapack-caught-fire-giant-battery-project-australia/.

            This is a 129 MWh installation, and 3 MWh is currently on fire. It’s the equivalent of burning forty (40) Tesla vehicles simultaneously.

            This blaze will be extremely difficult to control, as battery fires are essentially electrical fires where you can’t cut the power. Even if all flames are fully extinguished, stored energy inside the batteries (which now have damaged insulation) can re-ignite the conflagration. And will, repeatedly. If the 150+ firefighters can’t suppress the flames long enough to pull the burning container away from the other containers, they may lose the entire station.

            [And as a side note, we’d need 4.1 million of these 129 MWh stations to reach Jacobson’s goal of 540 TWh for the US.]

          2. drumlin woodchuckles

            People are going to reduce their use of electricity down to whatever the systems of the day can provide. They may not like it. But they will do it once nature itself and its breakdowns forces them to do it.

            Of course, if they were to learn how to do it now, they could pad the bumps on the way down, and we could all degrade more gracefully.

    1. d w

      you missed geothermal, while not available every where, where it is, its more reliable than all but nuclear

    2. d w

      while on the surface having 5 choices for alternates is at least appealing, even if 3 of them arent exactly always on, just because what makes them work isnt always there. so you still end with the base load problem (since electricity has to be 24/7, or it wont work. i suppose if we could fix the power grid, but you can only send electricity so far, before losses impact how much is sent. course we also a grid reliability problem (Texas any one? and while some try to blame renewables, it wasnt, it was caused by the gas power plants going offline)

      the real issue with addressing this the ‘simple’ way, is that will guarantee a huge number of people to die. the only reason that 1% (or less) that allows US farmers to be productive, is the technology they use, without it, it likely mean famine. can we replace the ICE in farming? yes, EV can do that, and considering that its a whole lot easier to control the generators (try enforcing pollution standards on millions of ICE vehicles…) its a lot easier. while some say the EV isnt any cleaner than ICE, they arw wrong, any study that shows that, has excluded a few things, like drilling for oil, refining it, transporting said to distribution points, then to the end user of the products. each of those lots of energy to do. and that doesnt include the pipelines.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        It wouldn’t have to mean famine. It could mean that every non-farmer goes back to the land and we all become peasants again, using hand and animal labor. Non-mechanized agrihorticulture supported millions of people in the Mexican Valley and Andean and Amazon Basin civilizations, for example. But most everybody lived a hard-work-life on the land.

  8. SE

    Speaking if slowing down, need to stop stigmatizing having no children or one child. No one likes to say it, but the land use constraints are significant at this scale of humanity.

  9. Paul Handover

    Your piece, Yves, that you published from Rolf was excellent and so was Tom Stone’s comment above. The scale of the issue is immense but at least climate change has now become a mainstream topic, and rightly so. National Geographic magazine published a special edition in May, 2020 to commemorate the anniversary of the fiftieth Earth Day. I think it was 1962 when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. So we can’t complain that this isn’t a new issue. But whether or not we make it to the one hundred anniversary of that first Earth Day depends on the myriad of actions that we, as in all of us, including especially our leaders and politicians, make NOW! Let me spell it out. NOW means within the next 5 years at the latest. I am 76 and a passionate advocate of a change in mass behaviors. For I have a single grandson, Morten, living with his parents back in England who is 10. I fear for his future and for the future of all of his age.

  10. William Hunter Duncan

    I’ve been the raving maniac at the edge of the village saying this in various forms most of the 30 years of my adult life. It is nice to see people with actual technical skills getting it. That seems like progress. That makes me more hopeful than any bright green advocate telling me I can have my consumerism and my renewable revolution too.

  11. Martin

    As I father, I find it very troublesome to address this issue with my kids without at the same time conveying a sense of despair. But I honestly believe that they (and every kid in the world) should be gearing up for this. Anyone care to share their approaches?

    1. Samuel Conner

      It’s a small step, but perhaps can multiply:

      This overlaps with the “even backyard production” last resort mentioned in Rolf’s comment. Given the large area of and large investment in the maintenance of suburban lawns, home growing in that environment seems to me eminently feasible. Maybe water would be a problem if this were to be done at scale, though perhaps home-scale rainwater catchment and storage could help to address that.

      (I occasionally daydream about what a house designed to facilitate home growing might be like. Among other things, it would have an unpainted metal roof and “plumbing” to save rainfall in a large underground rainwater storage tank. The South-facing wall would be full of windows to heat a sun room [with long eaves to keep out summer sun; passive solar principles]. In late Winter that room could function as an in-home green-house for seed starting. I wonder if there are architects designing homes with this use in mind)

      I’ve set up an informal plants nursery in my back yard, several dozen feet of DIY garden benches made from dimensional lumber laid across concrete blocks. Sturdy watering trays and associated plastic items (pots, inserts, web trays, etc.), and a dechlorination filter for the municipal water complete the “infrastructure”. There is also a hardening off enclosure with shade cloth, which is really useful for outdoor adapting of seedlings that were started indoors.

      (As an aside, germination of seeds that require cold treatment may be most easily done by setting up the seed-starting trays in autumn and simply letting them overwinter out-of-doors, with appropriate measures to avoid the trays either waterlogging or dessicating)

      The point of the benches is, beyond easing my aching back, to reduce plant loss to slugs and rabbits. Other measures are needed to deter squirrels, and I have not yet found a solution to the ground hogs; the easiest fix may simply be to not grow plants that they find most tasty; Kale and Lettuce seem particular favorites among my mix this year. Cabbage White butterflies are also IMO hard to control, but I didn’t grow broccoli or brussels sprouts this year and they seem to have left everything else alone in terms of laying eggs; they do nectar at the plants’ blossoms but are not causing serious damage to leaves.

      For the last 2 years, I’ve grown a mix of annual vegetables and decoratives (mostly perennial, but some annual), with a few perennial herbs and the indispensable annual herb Basil. The plants are easy to grow; the challenge has been finding takers, but gradually my network of contacts has grown, and this year I think I will find homes for most of my output, about 1300 plants. A local community garden has accepted about a third of this target, including perennials that have been distributed into their contacts in the community.

      This year’s distribution target is close to the capacity of what my benches will support, and for 2022 I hope to distribute significant numbers of seed starting kits to people who were previously receiving plants (which I will continue to start and distribute; I find this activity to be therapeutic).

      Most of the (few) seed starting kits distributed this year went to families with young children, and this might speak most directly to your question. Children can learn from a young age to “steward” the portion of the planet that is within their reach.

      The free plants are kind of a “gateway drug” into gardening for people who are open to that, with the “addiction” hopefully escalating to people getting “in” to seed starting and plant propagation on their own since the mix of plants I can offer is relatively limited and may not include what they prefer. The distribution of decoratives and herbs also has some intangible benefits for people and tangible benefits for pollinators.

      The total $ outlay for this setup has been, over a couple of years, in the mid to high $$$ range. Provided that people return the plastics, future outlays on that should decline; I have been requesting that the plastics either be returned or, if kept, used for their own plant propagation efforts. The biggest ongoing expense may be growing medium (which is a peat moss based material and I imagine not sustainable; I aspire to become skilled at compost production but there never seems to be time to build hot piles properly).

      It’s a small effort in the scheme of things, but perhaps can have a multiplicative effect in my community. It has given me a small sense of “agency” in the midst of the “continuing crisis” and the work itself is therapeutic.

  12. James Simpson

    Return to local farms, or even backyard production.

    Seriously? The only way that our current population survives is by massive industrial farming. Indeed, it’s likely that the development of that industry drove the huge increase in world population. How do we end that industry, given its completely unsustainable nature, without returning to the periodic and huge famines which blighted humanity since the beginning of agriculture? You tell me.

    1. Big River Bandido

      “Massive industrial farming” contributes more to the greenhouse effect than any thing we do other than drive cars, because of all the fossil fuels used in the process. To say nothing of the chemicals in that “food” which are also killing Americans through cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

      American farming wasn’t corporatized until the mid-20th century. How did we avoid famine for the century and a half before?

    2. Samuel Conner

      I have read that labor-intensive farming can produce higher output per unit land area than present day industrial growing practices, and can improve rather than degrade soil.

      But it is labor-intensive, which would require a larger proportion of the population working in the food growing sector than at present. So there would be implications for living standards; food would be more expensive and something would have to “give” in terms of other present uses of income.

      1. HotFlash

        Perhaps all those university and college administrators could get them some ‘real jobs’ shoveling manure on the farm? Any other suggestions?

        1. Samuel Conner

          I agree that there is a lot of “economic activity” that seems kind of pointless. My favorite target is advertising, but I’m sure that many others could be identified.

          And on top of that, we are no-where near “full employment”.

          I don’t think “labor shortage” is the most significant obstacle to more sustainable ag practices.

          1. d w

            probably not. its the cost, farmers arent exact flush with cash, and would struggle to pay employees. and its not like they actually make a lot of money either. i dnt think we are close to full employment (but some jobs maybe at their peak availability).
            have to remember when Rome was the empire, that Rome had a million residents, the majority of which were…


      2. oledeadmeat

        You are effectively talking about slave labor, at least in the US. The reason migrant farm workers harvest many crops in the US is because that is economically a step up for them from extreme poverty and/or instability in the nations they came from.

        For everyone else, that sort of stoop labor is so far beneath their aspirations that there is no way to compel them to do that work, save lilterally out of the barrel of a gun.

        And bear in mind, the harvests by migrant farm workers are still benefitting from vast use of fossil fuels.

        Take those out, and even more labor is needed for fertilizing, weeding, fighting insects and transporting.

          1. Kit

            I’ve read that the first time human societies made a switch to corvée-powered agriculture the organizing principle was the labor pays for your year’s bar tab and the new clothes you bought on credit months ago.

            I’ve also read: that which has been done is that which shall be done.

            Actually, come to think of it, the economy already works that way for most people.

    3. CuriosityConcern

      I agree with what I think is the main point of your comment, that we cannot replace industrial ag overnight. I do think an individual can start to supplement their diet with home grown food, and as their gardening chops grow, improve their plot and supplement their diet more. This is assuming that person doesn’t just mimic industrial ag techniques.
      Surely such a small beginning among a large group of individuals would be a start?

      1. d w


        massive changes dont always go well, and the downside to some of them, are catastrophic.

        while i do want us to get of current energy sources, i dont want to sacrifice billions to do it?

        and i think we actually frame our argument as to why we want to do it. its not the planet that will fail, its the ability of humans to survive.

        and many will argue against that because they dont like change, especially if its not from their real bosses

    4. lance ringquist

      When fascism came to america in 1993 bill clinton sold it has free trade alleviates poverty and spreads democracy.

      of course anyone who knew the history of free trade said that was utter BS. bill clinton helped to build up a huge cottage industry of myths about the wonders of free trade, when in fact, its simply a race to the bottom.

      lots of people who represent civil society sounded the warning bells about what bill clinton was doing, only to fall on deaf ears.

      i remember saying that there will be vast amounts of fossil fuels being burned to carry out bill clintons disastrous free trade policies. a few economists spoke out also, only to be drowned out that new technologies would come on board due to the wonders of free trade.

      so we fly chickens and fish to china and back for processing in unbelievable human and environmental degradation to make a few more pennies a pound for parasites.

      in fact, just about everything we consume, has to be shipped from asia, but really in fact from china.

      the pollution from all of that shipping has super charged climate change, that pollution is now spreading from china to blanket the western part of north america, and is pushing eastwards.

      one of the posters in the article touched on this. it has to go back to coming from locals. it was that way to a point after the new deal. bill clintons un-dueing of the new deal left america and the world in the hands of giant corporations that ship from where ever its the cheapest to produce.

      in many areas of america, a loaf of bread travels hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles to get to the consumers, same with milk butter, egg’s etc.

      when pre bill clinton, that was rare, many consumables like food could be had relatively closer to home.

      so you cannot be a environmentalist and a free trader at the same time, its impossible. and any one barking about climate change and does not say one word about free trade is a complete fraud in my book.

  13. upstater

    Private property, the legal structures to support it, and the sales or rents associated with it forms a good part of the foundations of capitalism. Grumpy Engineer correctly points out all the private property that needs to be decommissioned and replaced. But the corporate owners of said property are driven to maximize returns (e.g. oil companies or utilities) and minimize CapEx for new facilities. The same is true for existing retail, education or health care facilities, office buildings, logistics/warehouses and manufacturing. There is no quick return for the owners of private property to avoid a climate disaster so they won’t miraculously change.

    For instance, electrifying freight railroads and having conventional electrified passenger rail service is hugely efficient and greatly increases capacity on existing infrastructure, but is also hugely expensive and would take a decade or more to accomplish. Railroad companies simply would never make that investment, nor would capital markets fund them. Government, of course, would never mandate electrified railroading much less assume public ownership of the infrastructure to do the job itself.

    At the micro (individual) level, homeowners or apartment dwellers largely do not have the resources to replace heating and cooling systems, junk gasoline vehicles, buy EVs, add car chargers, junk inefficient appliances and gadgets, improve home insulation and windows, etc, etc. Who pays for the stranded assets and their replacement? It would run at least $50-100K for each house, if not more. The shoddy built apartments owned by the likes of Jared Kushner are even more challenging to retrofit.

    Rolf says “Complete conversion to renewables is unavoidable and must take place ASAP” which is absolutely true in an ideal world. But capitalism is simply incapable of accomplishing such a task. No government is going to shutdown big box retail or Amazon. Government has been bought and paid for by the property owners a very long time ago.

    The only thing that changes the current trajectory is either revolutionary change or collapse, unfortunately.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      Another really well-stated unfortunate reality. We are making some great progress today.

      To reinforce:

      The economic redesign we need isn’t going to happen top-down. We are currently captive to a set of powerful people who have made it abundantly clear that their own status, comfort and control are vastly more important than the well-being of everyone else. We are surrounded and contained by carefully constructed apparatus whose explicit function is to maintain the status quo.

      And a bottom-up redesign hits humans where we’re weakest: we have to do a lot of sacrifice right now to avoid an outcome we dimly understand, and are on almost every other dimension heavily incentivized to dodge.

      We are victims of our own human nature. It has really caught up to us.

      This “human nature” issue the toughest nut of all. The technical stuff, rough as it is, is the relatively easy part. Changing what we are, which took millions of years to evolve and entrench itself in the architecture of our minds…we need to change that in the space of a few decades.

      It might be possible to do. Identifying the actual cause of a problem is the biggest, most important step in its resolution.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Part of human nature is a desire for revenge. If the lower class majority were offered a way in which lowering their own standard of living would really truly lower the standard of living of the upper class minority even more, they might endure the pain in order to inflict greater pain on their upper class enemies. Thereby getting revenge on the people who put us here.

        That’s using human nature as a facilitating design feature.

  14. Tom Pfotzer

    Glad to see this issue, and the two selected posters’ remarks get elevated to the front page. I think we’re finally making some progress:

    a. We’re getting the first glimpse of a handle on just how massive and pervasive the required economic redesign must be

    b. We’re openly stating that “complaining and obstructing” isn’t going to work. It’s a failed policy

    That’s good progress, and I hope it continues.

    And while it sinks in, time’s ticking by. Time is not on our side right now.

    If you’ve done R & D, or product development, you’ve probably got some idea how slow and arduous it is. As Grumpy Engineer points out – and he only grazes the edge of the scope – there’s an awful lot of devices installed in our economic physical plant that are obsolete.

    Not only do we have to replace them, we have to first invent them, and test them out. That lovely, awkward, slow, serendipitous R & D and commercialization process. Just think about the tortured, slow process of developing solar panels. How many decades was that? That’s just one little piece of the puzzle.

  15. Larry Gilman

    I’m a grumpy engineer too (PhD EE), and although most of what Grumpy Engineer No. 1 says is fine, what’s this? — “Any energy conversion process involves ‘waste’ (entropic losses which limit efficiency), i.e. some ‘externality’ — there is no way around this.”

    There is also no way around the fact that this statement has nothing to do with renewable energy. Fundamental energetic constraints on conversion efficiency are relevant only when converting a limited, costly, or polluting fuel and thus producing “waste.” Wind and sunlight are not fuels: unconverted wind and sunlight do no harm and are not a form of “waste.” Solar and wind system efficiencies are relevant not thermodynamically but via system sizing, i.e., more-efficient solar cells and wind turbines produce more energy at a given system size. This tends to lower cost and impact.

    But given free and unwastable primary energy (wind and sun), the real limits on wind and solar energy’s costs (both fiscal and environmental) are 100% technical: what the harvesting devices are made of and how much of it, and how much energy they harvest given that input. This input cost is declining constantly as know-how increases. Entropy has nothing to do with it how harmful or harmless renewables ultimately are. In this setting, entropy is an irrelevance deployed to make renewables sound crippled by deep physics. They aren’t: the limiting case, the absolute demonstrable bound on how much harmful an energy-conversion mechanism must be, is a green plant.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      Well said, Larry Gilman.

      And this is why I think the rural theater has a much greater chance of working than urban or suburban settlements.

      In a rural setting, after construction is done, the main inputs required to operate a household – food, energy, water, shelter, clothing can be obtained on a continuous basis from the natural world, and this can be done in such a manner as to _restore_ that natural world.

      I’m not sure the city or suburban settlement pattern can accomplish this. If you agree that humans need to learn to fit into the natural world….that natural world doesn’t really exist or operate in a city, even in the suburbs. The remaining core inputs – health care, information, and the occasional advanced-manufactures needed are either quite light (electrons) or rare (replacement parts).

      Land confers a lot of advantages: energy from the sun, plants to capture and convert that energy to human-useable form, a viable biosphere, water (in most locales), nutrient-cycling ability … just to name a few.

      Food, energy, water, nutrients, building materials, clothing…most of the necessities can be obtained without going far afield if you have land.

      A while back I computed the amount of energy that bounces off the continental U.S. every day. It was about 10,000 times the energy consumed, all sources all uses.

      Plenty of room for some entropy losses. And plants make great solar collectors.

    2. gc54

      “green plant” … which is <1% efficient in converting solar flux into carbohydrate stores. It's not energy that is our downfall, it's power. I’m surprised, engineers understand this but physical scientists sometimes don’t. Waste comes from increasing power. No question that they are much less dirty than FF, but of course renewables produce "waste" during their fabrication and disposal. Let's see what the impact of those activities will be once renewables scale up to take more of the full power load.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        It’s true that plants only convert a small amount of solar flux to carbs, but it needs to be remembered that:

        a. Plants grow themselves in the wild. They need no help from us. The also propagate and restore the environment all by themselves, and they provide habitat for lots of different species, and they store water. These are valuable services that get overlooked…until lately.

        b. Plants are ubiquitous. They’re everywhere they’re not stamped out.

        c. They produce food for all other life-forms

        And why are you making the distinction between energy and power (energy over time)?

        And why the blanket statement “waste comes from increasing power”? My current conception is that waste comes from poor design in thermodynamic or (relatedly) electronic systems.

        Pls elaborate. This is interesting.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      The sun is entropifying itself all the time. We harvest some of the energy-byproduct of the sun’s decline into total entropy in the meantime, and can build it up into some short-term narrowly-considered ” proximate reverse entropy” in the short-term here-and-now.

    4. bob

      “But given free and unwastable primary energy”

      There wouldn’t be any problem. Ever.

      “the real limits on wind and solar energy’s costs (both fiscal and environmental) are 100% technical”

      No, they aren’t. You need to produce the turbine or solar panel which require energy, natural resources and labor.

      “This input cost….”

      The subtle switch to cost accounting which keeps allowing these conversations to be subverted and sidetracked into carbon credit trading schemes.

      I don’t know if people like you actually believe this PR, of that your are being paid to run it.

  16. SpainIsHot

    Andreas Malm’s “How to blow up a pipeline” is aimed at his fellow Extinction Rebellion comrades, pointing out the urgency of the situation and the need to change tactics –including violence. The book dismantles the attachment to non-violent modes of protest and points out how many movements in the past succeeded thanks to actual violence or the threat of it (Gandhi, MLK, etc.). Given the urgency of the situation, and the resistance to change (not just among the elites, I must point out, but among the vast majority of the population), I don’t see it as intellectual bankruptcy. Desperation, yes –but it seems quite hard to keep calm.

    The book is, again, a wake up call to the Climate Change movement. It is not a program for change, or a deep analysis of the situation. He has written other, better books, which I recommend –all with a marxist/leninist approach to the problem. “Fossil Capital” (based on his PhD work in history) traces the connection between early capitalism and the initial adoption of fossil fuels instead of other, more sustainable sources of energy (an analysis based on notions of class struggle, accumulation, profit motive, etc… a lens with which most readers of this site are familiar with). “The Progress of this Storm” is a much deeper analysis of the cultural debates around Nature and an invitation to use historical materialism as the way to analyze the problem –it is also very clear and highly recommended, if nothing else for the way it ridicules postmodern quacks who claim that “Nature doesn’t exist” or that “Nature has agency”). Finally, “Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency” is probably the most readable one and most accessible to the common public –it details the relationship between capitalism, accumulation, profit, consumption, and advertising and the current pandemic, shows that for all the anti-covid measures of the last 2 years absolutely nothing has been done to diminish the chances of another pandemic hitting soon, and ends with a nice meditation on the value of WW II as model for the kind of transformation that is required –since WW II in the US did not basically threaten the capitalist class (it was a struggle to keep things the same) and it was predicated on the burning of astonishing amounts of fossil fuels, Malm rejects it as a model, and proposes instead something akin to the “war communism” of the 1917s in Russia.

    Of course there are many problems with this analysis and proposals. I’ve had a few informal conversations with Malm and my own criticism is related to Yves’s: the kind of violence that he advocates right now wouldn’t achieve much, in my opinion, and it would not gather much popular support (that is also my main criticism to Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Ministry for the Future”). Banning private jets seems like such an obvious first step, and destroying them doesn’t seem like asking for too much… but the problem is that for most people private jets are an ideal, an object to strive for. Cristiano Ronaldo posts pictures of his jet on Instagram because having a jet is a symbol of success, not of failure. As Yves says, “I suspect that most people actually would be satisfied with “enough,” as in food, shelter, companionship, sufficient leisure time, and a safety buffer.” I agree 100%. Actually, it’s not that I would be satisfied –I would in fact very happily trade my (relatively affluent even for Western standards life) for a life with more leisure time, health, and security. We urgently need a new definition of what the good life is –and from that new vision a ton of other things will come (e.g., hopefully a different conception of and relationship with Nature). Malm frequently cites and praises Kate Soper’s work on this area (e.g. her “Post-Growth Living –for an Alternative Hedonism” work), which I also recommend.

    The capitalist mode of social organization will present a lot of resistence to that change, and I agree that breaking down that resistence is a) necessary and justified, and b) will require violence. But right now that violence would be tactics without strategy, as Yves points out. But I think that Malm’s work must be read, taken seriously, and debated. It is not a solution (yet), but it is a serious push forward even if the details are wrong… and I think that it’s a good think that it’s getting attention. (Again, Malm would completely agree with ideas like radical conservation, and is equally impatient with Green New Deal fantasies)

    1. Keith

      So, back to the 20th century violence of capitalism vs Marxism, except now under the guise of climate justice. Yup, humanity has come a long way.

    2. Michael Fiorillo

      Any group that shuts down public transportation to protest climate change, as ER did a few years ago in London, has a lot of studying and praxis consideration to do. Until then, I’ll look elsewhere for direction.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      If the Malmites succeed in blowing up a supply pipeline getting natural resources to China, China will send in engineers to rebuild it and if China deems it necessary, China may well send in the Peoples Liberation Army troops needed to exterminate the pipeline-bombing Malmites.

      China has invested too much in its own march to mastery and ownership of this high energy civilization to allow any pipeline bombers to take it away from them.

  17. Tom Stone

    I still have the first edition of “Silent Spring” my Mother bought when it came out.
    It was a subject of dinner table conversation at the time and part of that conversation came down to what could be done to alleviate the consequences.
    It is now 2021 and nothing substantive has been done and given the political realities nothing will be done.
    Pandemics were also a subject discussed at those dinners, Mom’s hobby was epidemiology ( She was a microbiologist).
    If Covid becomes more virulent and contagious, as seems likely, it’s game over for modern society.
    I have been interested in Asymmetric Warfare since I was young both due to the Vietnam war and the tales I heard about a great aunt who ran a rat line out of Vichy France.
    A large part of that involved looking at supply chains and vulnerabilities at various choke points.
    And my conclusion in 1972 was that our society requires active cooperation by the majority of the populace to function at all.
    I concluded that collapse was inevitable whether it was caused by terrorists slamming a few barges loaded with pig iron into the old river control structure or a general failure caused by pervasive corruption.
    Which is where we are now.
    American Society has been a high trust society for a long time ( Undeservedly) and its functioning depends on a high level of trust in our institutions.
    That trust has been pissed away and we are beginning to see the consequences.

    How long will things hold together if Covid disables 20% of the populace world wide?

    The response of the elites is easily predicted, repression.

    My advice?
    Go local, build community, try to save who and what can be saved.
    And never give up.

  18. Larry Gilman

    I’m a grumpy engineer too (PhD EE), and although most of what Grumpy Engineer No. 1 says is fine, what’s this? — “Any energy conversion process involves ‘waste’ (entropic losses which limit efficiency), i.e. some ‘externality’ — there is no way around this.”

    Misleading and irrelevant. Wind and sunlight are not fuels: unconverted wind and sunlight do no harm and are not a form of “waste.” Solar and wind conversions efficiencies are relevant not thermodynamically but via system sizing, i.e., more-efficient solar cells and wind turbines produce more energy at a given system size, which tends to lower cost and impact per unit of energy generated.

    But given free and unwastable primary energy (wind and sun), the constraints on wind and solar energy’s costs (both fiscal and environmental) are 100% technical, not thermodynamic: what the harvesting devices are made of and how much of it, and given those inputs, how much energy they harvest. In this setting, entropy is an irrelevance apparently deployed to make renewables sound beneficence-limited by deep physics. But they aren’t: actual solar/wind impacts per unit of energy generated are declining as know-how increases, and how low they can go is not determined by thermodynamics.

    The limiting case, the absolute lower bound on how environmentally harmful a mechanism which converts solar energy must be, is a green plant (which, by the way, has extremely low thermodynamic efficiency). I don’t think a solar panel will ever be as harmless as a daisy, but that’s the limit.

    1. Bill Smith

      At what point do the wind turbines change the local environment? For example, they will slow down the wind. Is that not detectable at the levels we are using the wind turbines currently?

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        Yes. It’s already known that wind turbines alter wind patterns. One well-known side effect is the drying of soil downwind of turbines. The reason this occurs is that the turbines “swirl” the air and push some dry high-elevation air downward while pushing moist near-ground air higher.

        I also wonder what will happen to pollen distribution patterns near wind farms, but I’ve seen no studies on the subject.

    2. Rolf

      Larry, I think you’re missing my point, which wasn’t some arcane argument about PV efficiency, or thermodynamics. My point is that there are always limits — I fail to see how there can be any doubt about this. Any large scale change we make will have some attendant effect, perhaps one we haven’t predicted. I don’t think it’s misleading to point out that we got ourselves into this mess by assuming that we could ignore limits to growth (in energy use, population, etc.), that we could solve them ad hoc when the need arose. My worry is that the notion of energy sources as completely “free” (i.e., we can exploit them as we wish with no ill effect for ourselves) will only encourage continued growth and other, “unforeseen” calamities. I’m talking about the larger (and more complex) picture: the way the Earth operates as a system (I’m a geochemist, PhD oceanography): it is that limit that we are bumping up against. We can deliberately set those limits ourselves, and devise strategies that limit catastrophic effects, particularly to the underlying ecosystem that we rely on: that is what I argue we should do. Will we avoid collapse? Open question. There is little good news, really, in my view.

  19. martin horzempa

    Good points all!

    It is my contention that the only way the cimate Crisis will EVER get fixed is by population reduction. Period. Full Stop.

    We are intelligent enough to realize that we need to manage our fish stocks and maintain the populations of various wildlife to maintain a healthy ecosystem but we have a blind spot when it comes to our own numbers.

    The Chinese were right. A one child policy actually worked. They forstalled a population increase on the order of the current population of the US.

    We should be considering this for humankind if we don’t the earth will do it for us.

    If there were less of us there would be less of everything that is heating the planet.

    This could be initiated in days and costs practically nothing and the effects are almost immediate. Why are we not even considering it.

    If we had started a one child policy 50 years ago when the population was ~ 4 billion we could have forgone the effects of 3 billion people rushing about, driving autos, heating their homes, etc, etc, etc.

    It just boggles my mind how simple and obvious this is.
    Cilmate change isn’t a problem at all, it is a symptom of mankind over running the planet.
    Fix the population explosion and the earth can finally begin to heal.

    just sayin …

    1. Becklon

      I find it curious that this is the only post referencing population reduction. That said, it would take so long to reverse the trend through natural methods (a lower birth rate), that it’s probably too late.

      1. martin horzempa

        Actually it can happen very quickly. In reality in one year ~ 56 million people die over the globe, if one takes the crude death rate of ~8 / 1000 according to the CIA world fact book data. Thats more than the population of Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Virginia, Washington and Ohio combined. Its as if in one year these states had stopped 100 % of their contribution to global warming. While the rest of us talked!
        All we have to do is not make more of us!!!!

      2. ambrit

        Don’t forget that processes like pandemics, extreme weather induced crop failures, massive wars over resources, and the like are also “natural” methods. Terran humans are going to be ‘re-educated’ in the harshest ‘school’ that there is, Nature. This latter century or so has been intellectually based upon a fallacy; that humans are in control of Nature.
        World population will be reduced, only not in a ‘controlled’ fashion.

        1. Hannah Inez

          Depends on how you measure success. The one-child generation is referred to as the spoiled brat generation. And it created a massive sex imbalance (everyone wants to have male children so they carry on the family name) and subsequent trafficking of women for wives from surrounding areas that do not have one child policies.

    2. David in Santa Cruz

      I was born on a planet with an unprecedented population of 2.8 Billion souls, began university just as the population crested 4 Billion, and am about to sign-up for Medicare in a world crawling with 8 Billion human beings.

      This focus on consumption ignores that we have exceeded the planetary carrying capacity at a rate of increase that our social structures and institutions are incapable of accommodating.

      This is why Our Billionaire Overlords are obsessed with interplanetary colonization or building bunkers in which to survive a Nuclear Winter. Jeffrey Epstein’s billionaire pals weren’t simply funding his personal peccadilloes — the creepy undercurrent was the coercion of young women to act as “breeding stock” for his “genius” cronies to repopulate the planet after an apocalyptic collapse.

      There is simply no democratic and cooperative means of changing the consumption patterns of 8 billion human beings fast enough to avert some sort of climate apocalypse and the inevitable human conflict driven by the displacement of billions of people from their current homes.

    3. Keith

      Problem with population reduction is it impacts the free stuff govts promise to provide, hence China reversal.

    4. Societal Illusions

      i’m not convinced that the earth is so limited that we have overpopulated the planet; perhaps if given how we live, which can’t be considered in harmony with the planet.

      but what if we assumed the role of steward instead of annihilator? how many then?

    5. liam

      This argument is tiring. First answer the question: how many malawi’s need to die for Jeff Bezos to go into space? The problem isn’t the numbers of people, it’s resource consumption and distribution. I thought this was obvious.

  20. David

    Sorry to say this, but I have a feeling that, at some deep level and half unconsciously, large parts of the human race have simply given up. Billions of people around the world are, of course, mainly concerned about surviving to the end of the year, and few of them have any agency here. But among those like us who have, I find a mixture of despair, powerlessness and simple refusal to accept what is happening. Like Florentine aristocrats telling each other stories during plague-time, or Byzantine intellectuals discussing the finer points of theology while the Turks were at the gates, we take refuge in hate campaigns in social media, political squabbles over meaningless distinctions, and neurone-killing so-called entertainment. This typically happens when reality is too painful to grasp. I hope I’m wrong, I hope that some of these ideas are taken up and acted on, and in my humble way I do what I can. But I think many of those who need to be convinced, from politicians and the PMC downwards, take a look at the problem, freak out completely, and go back to hiding under the pillow. If there was any moment when we needed to take a long term view it is now. If there were any society in history the least capable of doing so, it is probably ours.

    1. cnchal

      It is farce. Nearly half of the calories produced is thrown in the garbage, never mind that a lot of those calories is psuedo food.

      The insertion of digital crapola into everything, the latest a paper cup FFS and the growing chip shortage crisis that 10’s of billions in subsidies allocated just for that. Moar energy sucking data centers to store the ever increasing data being harvested from every little piece of chip. Electrified natural gas power good, even if its an absurd 600HP behermoth, small gasoline powered car, bad.

      Bezos blasting off with funny munny cajoled out of thin air by the FED while Amazon has a criminal employee churnover rate of 150% annually. This is celebrated as innovation by the whip holders, everyone that pushes that buy button.

      What does radical conservation look like when we have a system that rips raw material out of the ground, ships it to China where it get’s made into crapola in the most polluting way possible, and then clogs the ports of the rest of the world with said crapola?

      When looked at systemically, what can an individual do other than lie flat, down tools, go on a consumer strike to whatever extent possible, which frees up resources the gluttons get cheaper, so lose for you – win for gluttons. No one dares go first.

      1. lance ringquist

        100% agreement. ship back and forth, back and forth, so that a few parasites can make a few pennies more of profit per unit.

        you cannot be a environmentalist and a free trader at the same time, its impossible, and any environmentalists that says they are, or ignores free trade are complete frauds.

    2. liam

      If most have given up, it’s before they’ve even tried. One of the things I see every weekend in my part of the world is an increase in traffic. Everyone talks about the daily commute, but they use their cars more when they’re not in work. Going to sports, gyms, ferrying children around, shops, or maybe even just as a leisure activity in and of itself. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m going out for a drive”?

      When I see the a new giant Volvo SUV on the road, I don’t see someone who has given up, but someone who just doesn’t care. They can afford a giant SUV that cost tens of thousands, but not to insulate their homes. It is of course, not all people, and maybe even not most, but it is enough, that their impact, and their statement completely derails efforts of others. When no-one cares around you, why would you care yourself. The reason people talk about governments doing something, is that laws and taxes are the only things that will make enough people care. Otherwise, they’re doing alright. Their house hasn’t burnt down nor flooded. What’s it got to do with them.

      There’s an obviousness to so much of this. Billionaires going into space, mega yachts, private jets, “homes” with a hundred odd rooms. Freezers entirely for different flavours of ice-cream. I could go on…

  21. truly

    Great posts, however I never take any conversation about saving our environment seriously if there is no mention of shutting down the U.S. war machine. We, as citizens, can make all the changes we want to our living styles, automobiles, and even farming styles. If the U.S. war machine continues to burn thru carbon at the rate that they do, and I would add- force our so called adversaries into trying to keep up to us, then the end is nigh.

    1. Nce

      Thank you. I was surprised nobody had mentioned this. I heard somewhere- I have no clue if this is true- that it wouldn’t matter if every American stopped generating carbon today, because the military generates so much more. So, we aren’t just looking at changing our own lifestyles, but US gov priorities in significant ways. I don’t see that kind of revolution happening, not without a significant crisis. The US IS the military/industrial/congressional/big tech/academia/media/wall st complex, and I don’t see that as being reformable (like Gore Vidal’s suggestion of an Article 5 Convention of the States.) The US needs to completely fail.
      Oh, just wondering, would the elite be so batshit to think that nuclear winter might be a way to deal with global heating? Hah, asking for a friend…

      1. cocomaan

        This is exactly where I sit. Upthread, people are talking about stopping people from living in single family homes and banning steak. Presumably this would be done through government mandate,=, I see no suggestions to the contrary.

        Meanwhile, the military probably has 100 jet planes idling on runways as I write this, blasting out god only knows what kind of emissions, wasting unbelievable amounts of fuel, all for nothing.

        1. SpainIsHot

          Dude! I think you have some serious reading comprehension issues –or are willingly distorting people’s comments and arguments. We are NOT talking about stopping people from living in single family homes and banning steak. The comment said very clearly that the spanish minister had recommended the *reduction* of meat consumption …. Nobody talked about banning, and certainly not pushing, forcing, or shooting people … those are all things you made up.

          And yes, shutting down the US war machine goes without saying (or taking that enormous infrastructure and capacity and putting it to a different use).

          And yes, leaving land for re-wilding, as you suggest, is also important.

          One point in which I think we do disagree is that you don’t seem to see “government mandate” as a good thing in any circumstance. I don’t see how we can get out of this without a state.

          1. Ian Ollmann

            There definitely needs to be bans though. We should start banning production of items with a long lifespan that have a significant impact on carbon. This includes new aircraft engines, ICE cars, and fossil fuel power plants. The installed base can see us through while we replace production. However, if we don’t ban them, then anything new made in these areas will live out its life spewing CO2 until its lifespan is utterly spent in 40 years. The time to stop these things is at purchase time, not retire them half way through their lifecycle. There are too many vested interests in keeping existing investments running.

            What the ban will accomplish is to send a very clear signal to producers that if they want to stay in business they need to retool immediately to clean tech.

            1. tegnost

              send a very clear signal to producers that if they want to stay in business they need to retool immediately to clean tech.

              so supply side here, and…

              We should start banning production of items
              This is the government side…

              where is the demand side? What do those people do.
              Because that is most people.

  22. Bill Smith

    Amazon is about to move past the point were half their sales are services. That might be considered some sort of progress in this area.

  23. Big River Bandido

    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.

    This is key. The neoliberal project is a failure in part because of globalization, which burns fossil fuels at greatly accelerated rates.

    Last November I ordered 3 bookshelves from a furniture store in the mall. Four months of shipment delays followed and every time I called the delivery was pushed back, but no explanation. Finally when I called in March the salesman said “the reason for the delay *this time* is that the ship your shelves were on sank, but I don’t wanna talk about that because people died.”

    Mealy-mouthed, poor salesmanship aside, I cancelled the order upon hearing the word “ship”. That they need to go halfway around the world for a simple wooden construction is an indictment of an entire economic system. And a death sentence for the planet.

  24. Larry Gilman

    Abolish consumer advertising? Ban multichild families?

    The first enemy that we must destroy, if these prescriptions are to be taken seriously, is the First Amendment. Yet commentators here spit upon the Green New Deal as a contemptible fantasy. Whoosh.

    While it’s true that the Green New Deal does not speak of banning advertising, meat, automobiles, or two-child families, it is neither contemptible nor (given its wholesale reliance on our tool of government) reducible to Green Capitalism. The Green New Deal, specifically in the extended form issued by Bernie’s campaign, is the closest thing I’ve yet seen to a science-proportioned, justice-centered, multi-sectoral climate effort that has bid seriously for implementation in the US or anywhere else. Compared to quippy calls for radical scaledown that can name no better pathway to realization than imposing absurdly authoritarian bans on various commonplace behaviors, it is a fucking masterpiece of realism.

    Our society has so far turned its back on even the painless suite of positive measures The Green New Deal does prescribe: if Bernie et al. flashed an inch of hairshirt we would be smothered under commentary about the political cluelessness of the Left, the self-indulgence of preferring the perfect to the good, virtue signaling, the Grim New Deal, etc.

  25. Whiterab

    As another engineer (my career was based on Real Time Thermodynamic Modeling) who has been following climate change for some thirty years, I was thinking about identifying myself as another “Grumpy Engineer” but I think I’ve moved passed that now as anything we do now is too late to avoid major disruptions.

    We still haven’t gotten past the “When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout” phase in solving the problem. The best book I’ve read recently is Bill Gates book on climate change.

    While I’m not particularly enamored by his solutions, he has at least identified the worst culprits, manufacturing necessities (Concrete, steel and plastics). We are not going to be able to build our way out of this one.

  26. Socal Rhino

    Others have touched on what I think the central issues are, which is how to share the costs of change, within our country and across the globe and how to manage the necessary coordinated efforts. The only scenarios that seem remotely plausible to me involve muscular government responses to catastrophes. Things I think about are what level of accumulated disasters would be needed to prompt those actions, and what options might still be feasible by that point, including whether strong central governments would still exist.

    I’m fairly confident that the ruling groups are not suicidal , that they will act when they feel an imminent threat to their own survival, and their survival will be their core goal. I’m less confident in their judgment, vision, or competence.

    1. Starry Gordon

      “Ruling groups”, even fairly dictatorial ones, still have to maintain the political order which supports their rule, which in various ways involves the consent of the governed. Very little of what has been written in this discussion seems to consider that. A lot of the proposals are materially feasible, and some not all that difficult, but most are politically impossible, regardless of how much power you think the ruling class has.

  27. David McClain

    In listening to all the calls for green conversion, I find it remarkable that the energy costs of this conversion are being ignored. Constructing wind propeller blades does not come for free. Nor do batteries. And then there is the terrible cost of cleanup from expired batteries.

    There is an energy balance equation that is being ignored. Meanwhile, under the cover, every one of these green items must rely on expensive fossil fuels to extract the necessary raw materials.

    1. Eric Anderson

      Personally, I think the only way we get there is changing our reproductive behavior. We need to get the planet somewhere inside of 1 Billion people and stabilize it.

      1. Louis Fyne

        native-born US birth rates (arocss all races) have been at ~2.0 for 2.5+ decades. US pop. growth is virtually all from inbound migration and higher fertility of non-US born.

        Western Europe is the same.

        and if the PRC can’t stick to 1-child (for a variety of reasons), no Western country can do it.

        1. Bill Smith

          It looks like the US is about 1.80-1.90.

          If you look at the list of countries seriously above 2, does it become a split between poverty and religion?

    2. Larry Gilman

      The manufacturing energy paybacks required by renewable and other generation devices, though not mentioned so far today on this forum, are not ignored by engineers and scientists, but exhaustively studied and re-studied. There is a large literature.

      Energy payback time is presently less than a year for wind turbines (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306261916309990) and about 1-2 years for solar panels (https://dracoudisenergy.com/what-is-the-energy-payback-period-for-new-photovoltaic-systems/).

      For solar cells, an energy payback time of one day has been shown to be energetically possible: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2012/ee/c1ee02728j . Unlikely to be achieved, but that’s where the goalposts are.

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        The problem with the renewable energy approach isn’t so much the wind turbines and solar cells themselves, but it’s the fact that they need backup during periods of unfavorable weather. Right now we provide backup with coal and fracked natural gas. Additionally, getting beyond 30% renewables penetration is proving problematic because of the “curtailment” problem (http://www.caiso.com/informed/Pages/ManagingOversupply.aspx), where wind and solar assets are deliberately turned off to avoid oversupplying the grid.

        Curtailment results in capital costs being spread out over fewer kilowatt-hours, making “cheap” renewable energy less cheap. Even worse, early providers of renewable power were guaranteed “first access” to the grid, which means that providers who get into the business later will always be the first ones to get kicked off. This ruins the economics, and many potential providers will look at the math and conclude: “Why bother?”. The rate of adoption will inevitably slow. It’s already happened in Germany and Spain and is arguably happening in California right now, even though all three locales are far short of their renewable energy goals.

        One way to solve both of these problems is to use energy storage, where excess power from favorable conditions is stored to provide power for unfavorable conditions. Unfortunately, the amount of storage required is enormous. I’ve seen multiple studies putting the number for the US in excess of 100 TWh. Mark Jacobson of Stanford University infamously computed a number of 540 TWh in his “100% WWS” renewable energy plan.

        If his number is correct, this means we need 3600 years of current worldwide battery production (~0.15 TWh/year) just to supply the batteries for the US alone. Scaling this up means massive mining and refining. So the question isn’t just the cost and energy payback time for just the wind turbines or the solar panels, but is instead the cost and energy payback time for a complete system that provides power 24/7.

        Now I’ll note that lithium ion batteries aren’t the only energy storage technology out there, even though it seems to be the favorite of the industry at present. There are other battery chemistries, as well as pumped storage and electrolysis into hydrogen and/or ammonia. Unfortunately, all of these would also require significant material and energy investments. And they may be even more expensive. [The lithium ion batteries may be the favorite for a reason, even though they’re still far too expensive to deploy at TWh levels.]

    3. Ian Ollmann

      They are being ignored because they are small one time energy costs in exchange for large ongoing clean production. You do have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

      If energy infrastructure cost more energy to make than it creates, then we couldn’t have an energy infrastructure. There would be no surplus energy for transportation, home and industry. So obviously it doesn’t work that way, and that is why we aren’t talking about it. The concern is not important.

      1. tegnost

        They are being ignored because they are small one time energy costs in exchange for large ongoing clean production.
        Promises, promises…
        Easy to make, hard to deliver.
        For instance, self driving cars (not programmed cars, self driving…level 5)
        are always just around the corner.
        But they’re not.

      2. juno mas

        I agree with Ian on this. There are going to be some environmental costs for a transition to cleaner energy (radically reducing fossil fuels). PV and wind have limitations, but they are the best solution today for transitioning away from oil and gas. PV and wind coupled with radical conservation can get us on the way to CO2 reduction sooner rather than later.

        And as Ed Milliband writes: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jul/30/climate-denial-delay-inaction-british-government, there is no time to waste.

        I live in a community that is taking tangible steps (renewable energy sources, local food production, requiring home/rental energy upgrades, etc.) but, of course, they are small scale—it does build momentum. As Milliband describes, it is effective national leadership that is necessary to build national momentum for the transition to a lower carbon future.

        It is clear from the comments that the time for action is at hand. (Once again, it is Yves who starts the discussion.)

        1. tegnost

          Do you now, or have you ever ordered a prime delivery, taken an uber, or used grub hub?
          If so they would like to thank you for your shared sacrifice, as it leaves more for them who have no intention of sharing anything.

          I pity the poor salmon…all this electrify everything to save the world will be the end of them…but zero emissions! from hydro and the tech giants (you know, the not shary people) are parking their power guzzling data centers as close to the dams as they can get them. Not shary people like to be first in line.
          As always, everything will be great, as long as you ignore that elephant over in the corner…

  28. Eric Anderson

    Ian Welsh had a good post up a few weeks ago basically highlighting the need to prepare for what is likely to be an extinction level event. I see his point. All species have their checks and balances in the form of the predation/prey cycle. Humans’ prey just so happens to be the entire planet.

    So too “learning” is defined as relatively stable changes in behavior as a resulting from the application of positive or negative stimulus. But, as a species, prior generations have been positively stimulated by our consumerism with the negative stimulus kicked down the road for future generations. And when the negative stimulus is locked into a future that we can’t feel negatively, in the now, our simple little brains that evolved in times of plenty just don’t experience the negative stimulus that allows the smack over the head necessary to change behavior.

    So, we go through an extinction level event, that hopefully leads the few survivors toward evolutionary cognitive change — because our “learning” mechanism simply isn’t up to the task.
    If humans do possess something akin to ‘original sin’, I propose our inability to learn from future predicted consequences is it.

    1. Jason

      So too “learning” is defined as relatively stable changes in behavior as a resulting from the application of positive or negative stimulus. But, as a species, prior generations have been positively stimulated by our consumerism with the negative stimulus kicked down the road for future generations. And when the negative stimulus is locked into a future that we can’t feel negatively, in the now, our simple little brains that evolved in times of plenty just don’t experience the negative stimulus that allows the smack over the head necessary to change behavior.

      Anyone who has struggled with it personally would instantly recognize that you are describing all the problems inherent to ADDICTION.

    2. Tom Pfotzer

      Yes. I think this is actually the root of nearly all our problems, especially the environmental-meltdown. The architecture of our brains is not keeping up with a changing environment.

      That said, there clearly _are_ individuals that have been able to over-ride or modulate their innate responses. And they can do so continuously, and maybe even ever-more-intensively.

      So, maybe the “architecture is fixed and bad” premise is actually false. Apparently _some_ minds can self-adapt, and in near-real-time.

      Anybody got a recipe for that “secret sauce”?

      By the way, I keep posting into this (aging) thread because I think this is one terrific set of exchanges…one of the best I can remember reading anywhere, on a subject that I think is of paramount importance.

      Like others have said… “thanks for posting”.

      1. Rod

        Your last sentence regarding the “staying power of the thread” recognizes something important.
        You have lent much to it.
        I think Yves and Lambert have taken notice.
        Left so unregarded is Radical Conservation, the easiest and most far reaching of places to start.
        Count the number of achievable ‘soft’ solutions offered up in the 245 comments and hope is flickering.

  29. Bobby Gladd

    Thank you all for your comments. I find the tone and relative overall elevated rationality here to be a principal reason I keep coming back, mostly to lurk and learn.

    I am now 75. When I was a young kid, our world seemed “infinite.“ Now, within the span of my one lifetime, humanity seems to be lurching toward willful(?) ecological collapse.

  30. Jason

    So too “learning” is defined as relatively stable changes in behavior as a resulting from the application of positive or negative stimulus. But, as a species, prior generations have been positively stimulated by our consumerism with the negative stimulus kicked down the road for future generations. And when the negative stimulus is locked into a future that we can’t feel negatively, in the now, our simple little brains that evolved in times of plenty just don’t experience the negative stimulus that allows the smack over the head necessary to change behavior.

    Anyone who has struggled with it personally would instantly recognize that you are describing all the problems inherent to addiction.

  31. Hannah Inez

    The aside that living in apartments is lovely and comfortable is true for adults without children. But living comfortably with children in apartments is almost impossible. Especially young children. I’ve done it. People complain about them walking and it’s impossible to get stuff done while also getting them enough time outdoors. With young children you have to bring lots of stuff with you on outings, snacks, toys, change of clothes, water, etc. so just the prep of going outside takes time. Then because you have to leave with them, you can’t watch soup on the stove or do the dishes or do a load of laundry or any of the million things you need to do.
    I think this is rarely addressed because young moms are too busy running after their children and doing menial tasks to have any political power.

    1. Michael

      Excellent perspective! SFD FTW!

      What would a race of US citizens who only lived in apartments look like in one generation? (Europeans?!?) Walmartians? Millenials?

      Building the local economy from the ground up via a networked population is a start.
      Just stop doing bad shit. It doesn’t have to be the same for everyone. Plenty of targets.

      How about “It’s a club and you ain’t in it!” for us.

      OR, continue down the road we are traveling where the military/police state and excess population clash to the point we get/need less of each.

      1. Hannah Inez

        Sorry. I’m not up on the acronyms.
        Eliminating single family houses and moving people into larger cities is an often repeated ultimate goal both for climate change and conservation.
        Things are nuanced and sometimes solutions have unintended consequences. My experience having kids has made me realize that most people do not think how policies impact moms and children.

        1. Michael

          single family homes for the win!

          Here in Calif, a group of electeds are trying to eliminate single family zoning. SB9&10.
          These are horrible bills that will turn neighborhoods into speculator free for alls. Further there is no guarantee any affordable housing will be built.

          I appreciate your perspective and will use it in my arguments going forward!

    2. Stephanie

      Thank you for this. The first place my husband and I had together was the upper floor of a duplex and within a week we had complaints from our landlord about my step-sons walking around “too early” (7 a.m.) on the weekends and every year we were there made noises about how he couldn’t keep renting to a family with kids.

      There were also issues getting them outside. They soon out-grew the small backyard and the nearest park was across a very busy street – not that I would let the youngest, a Bran Stark-wanna-be, traipse there to get concussed on his lonesome. And there was no place for them to work out energy on rainy or sub-zero days, so our option there was to pack them up and drive them to the community center or library, and yeah, nothing got cooked or cleaned when that happened.

      People mention the privacy of a single-family home in the suburbs but what I think of is the utter luxury of being able to do an afternoon’s canning in a kitchen large enough to move in, knowing I just have to look out the window or pop into the basement to see that the kids are still playing and nobody’s bashed their head open yet.

    3. Temporarily Sane

      But living comfortably with children in apartments is almost impossible.

      This is BS. It might require an adjustment period if you’re used to living in a suburban McMansion but there are plenty of apartment dwelling young families around the world, and in cities like New York and Chicago, and they manage to live quite comfortably.

      1. Jason

        I’m not sure this comment is appropriate. Someone else’s experience is not “BS” because your own disagrees with it. Your experience may be “BS” to them, though they’re decent enough not to say it that way. You’re arguing with people who have lived with children in apartments and have then decided that they’d prefer to live in a single house of their own. I would suggest making your point without the “BS” tag.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Not just Chicago and New York. Berlin, many many European cities.

          And your desire for space is part of what is destroying the planet. So having yours is more important. Got that.

          1. Hannah Inez

            It’s not about space. It’s that motherhood is currently a solitary activity and requires lots of immediately necessary activities like cooking, cleaning, laundry, getting kids to a bathroom, etc. If you have no one else to watch your young children then it becomes very difficult to complete basic required tasks while also meeting children’s basic needs of physical activity and outdoor play.

            1. Hannah Inez

              The argument “single family homes bad, apartments good” feels very simplistic.

              It reminds of vegans and vegetarians arguing that their lifestyle choice is saving the environment, while eating huge quantities of cashew cheese and soy.

  32. Larry Gilman

    Abolish advertising? Ban multichild families?

    The first enemy that we must destroy, if such prescriptions are to be taken seriously, is the First Amendment. Yet commentators here spit upon the Green New Deal as a contemptible fantasy. Whoosh.

    While it’s true that the Green New Deal does not speak of banning advertising, meat, automobiles, or two-child families, it is neither contemptible nor (given its wholesale reliance on our tool of government) reducible to Green Capitalism. The Green New Deal, specifically in the extended form issued by Bernie’s campaign, is the closest thing I’ve yet seen to a science-proportioned, justice-centered, multi-sectoral climate effort that has bid seriously for implementation in the US or anywhere else. Compared to quippy calls for radical scaledown that can name no better pathway to realization than imposing absurdly authoritarian bans on various commonplace behaviors, it is a masterpiece of realism.

    Our society has so far turned its back on even the painless suite of positive measures The Green New Deal does prescribe: if Bernie et al. flashed an inch of hairshirt we would be smothered under commentary about the political cluelessness of the Left, the self-indulgence of preferring the perfect to the good, virtue signaling, the Grim New Deal, etc.

  33. The Rev Kev

    I do wonder what the lifestyles of our grandchildren will be like. I suspect that they will be living with a base of 19th century ways of doing things and technology with a veneer of 21st century technology to leverage productivity to the full. And I suspect that the whole concept of having houses where services will go to them like electricity, water, gas, communications, etc. will be gone and each home will be as self-supporting as possible. There are demonstration houses like that now with recycled water, ponds, gardens, rain-water collection, etc. But maybe first we should send the younger generation a message like Caitlin Johnston suggested. Here it is-

    ‘Dear younger generation,
    Sorry for destroying the environment, but in our defense we did everything we possibly could short of inconveniencing ourselves in any way or doing anything we don’t like doing or taking any kind of meaningful action.’

    1. gc54

      I tell my kids that their offspring will be the last generation to live on continuously on the surface. Neither of them plan to have children and are ok with that.

  34. Daniel Raphael

    It is not at all a matter of “societal change” OR “equipment change”–both are needed, and urgently. What should be obvious (isn’t it?) is that societal change determines equipment change. What we have right now is everything moving towards producing more zeroes in the accounts of those who are destroying our ecology. It’s called capitalism, and indeed, replacing that with policies, practices, and equipment that serve the commoners (us) is not only desirable, but urgently necessary. Technology doesn’t just exist “out there” in the featureless void favored by libertarians and others who construct policy fantasies on the basis of their ideas–the world is on fire, now, because certain equipment is being used (and others not used) to serve private interests, the world be damned. There’s no way to finesse this–who is in charge and whose interests will be served, are the front load to deploying technology. We’re out of time…playing with this isn’t going to serve.

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      The beginning of my comment (that Yves quoted at the top of her article) reads a little funny out of context. I was specifically replying to an “Extinction Rebellion” supporter who was touting the 3.5% metric, i.e., where “historical evidence shows that we need the involvement of 3.5% of the population to succeed.” [Per https://extinctionrebellion.uk/act-now/]

      I agree that societal involvement is necessary, but only 3.5%? Really? That seems hopelessly inadequate. Especially when the concrete actions (i.e., changes to the equipment) that must be taken will involve real costs and sacrifice for everybody. And that’s where things are lacking. We say we must reduce our carbon footprint, but what concrete actions should society take? Most people have no clue on how to proceed, even if they genuinely want to help.

      And in fairness to individuals, what can they do? Detroit still sells millions of gasoline-burning vehicles every year, and if you need transportation, that’s probably what you’re going to buy. Trane, Carrier, and the other HVAC manufacturers still are manufacturing oil- and gas-fired furnaces by the hundreds of thousands, and if your furnace craps out in the middle of winter, that’s probably what you’re going to buy. Many businesses are similarly trapped by the lack of alternatives.

      So what should individuals do? What should businesses do? What should government do? The answers are not obvious. And until we have firms answers that specifically address the CO2-emitting equipment that’s currently in use, trying to rally society around a goal with no real plan behind it provides little value.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        I agree: we need a plan.

        A whole lot of societal buy-in isn’t necessary to get a decent plan built. A few hundred of the right people, from various walks of life could do a pretty decent job.

        With a problem as complex as this one is, we’re going to need to simplify a lot at the outset, and layer on complexity later.

        Where to start? At the household. Theoretically, all production is to support end-consumption, so let’s start at the end and work backwards.

        Identify the core household needs which are non-negotiable. Defer “wants” until later, after the basics have been sorted out.


        a. Identify three implementation theaters: urban, suburban, and rural. Strengths and weaknesses of each theater are significantly different

        b. Set design criteria, like:
        “what waste streams are tolerable, and “how much per person per day” is tolerable
        “what’s the max input resource budget per household per resource item (energy, water, etc.)”
        there are several other relevant criteria, just keeping this short

        c. What are the household components (machines, facilities) necessary to support the basic needs

        d. What are the resource flows. Supplies into the HH, and waste streams out

        Ignore the supply functions (what they are, what they do) at the outset, and layer them on after the household needs have been identified. Note that you won’t know what suppliers you need until you design the HH ops. You might get surprised.

        Set this requirement – to build this model – out in front of people. That’s a public relations problem, and a bit of an IT one, but nothing that’s not been done before.

        The challenge, announced to the participants, is to “build a model that meets basic HH needs, meets or exceeds the performance criteria, and uses existing, commercially available components where possible. It’s OK to design new components if nothing is commercially available”.

        Entries are ranked on feasibility, environmental impact, and cost to install. There are three first prizes, one for each theater, 3 second prizes, and three third prizes.

        First prize winners get a check for $10Million.
        Second prize winners get $6Million, and third prize winners get $4Million.

        That’s $60M in prize money. About what it costs to launch a rocket these days.


        Gets us out of fear-mode. We’re dithering.
        Gets something tangible on the table that people can discuss. Gives the talkers something to talk about, and the do-ers something to actually do

        Once that’s done, break into sub-groups and do crowd-source, open-source, or regular old capitalist commercial production of the components.

        The core question to answer is “how do I run my household so that I’m fixing the planet as I live my life”.

      2. Daniel Raphael

        Your comments are much appreciated. It’s nice to have a thoughtful exchange, something not possible on Twitter, e.g. “What should I do, what can I do” is indeed the question for anyone who hasn’t simply given up, or who is willfully self-seeking in the face of ecocide. One thought to keep in mind is that not all individuals are equal in what they can do. A hefty portion of the paradox that is strangling our world, is that it’s precisely those with the most wealth/power who are complicit in the slide towards societal/natural breakdown. No need to name names, we know who they are, however we label the lot…and if you’re wondering how we motivate these characters, I suggest that at every turn, they should be confronted/reminded that it is us, the “shadow people” they barely acknowledge, who are being impacted by them. Every contact the powerful have with us should be an opportunity to remind them–and, as possible, push it into their faces. Would there be any effect if the driver of the taxi, the waiter at the table, the people in the elevator, the staff at the hotel…were letting them know how bitterly disappointed we are at the gleeful parasitism of the 1%? Perhaps not serving them in these “small” ways, especially if it were a pattern, might serve. Is this a solution? Perhaps part of a larger one…but one thing’s for sure: doing nothing about the parasitic drain on our labor, our everyday needs, assuredly is not a part of any solution. I think we’re way beyond “voting the rascals” out sort of thing–we’re too short on time. Informal uprisings (as I’ve just sketched) coupled with broader, more-or-less spontaneously created ones a la Occupy, strike me as worthwhile. Better than going silently into that bonfire…

      3. Rod

        What an engaging dialogue that has been going on since the7/27 original post by Yves on Neubergs Review of A. Malm’s book, How to Blow up a Pipeline.
        It is my opinion that the four comments that bracket(above-by DR and GE and below-by TP and DR) the comment I am making really are the heart of the matter, and there is a lot of very good commentary.

        ~Change the system to see what equipment to change or just change the equipment and see how the system changes?~
        ~Who gets to choose what sytems and what equipment, those effected or those who know better?~
        ~And for what purpose?~
        ~And on what timeline.~

        It’s complex because we humans are complex–Nature is already paring down and simplifying its answers.

        But I wanted to get back to Grumpy Engineer and clarify a couple of things he has asserted.
        I agree that societal involvement is necessary, but only 3.5%? Really? That seems hopelessly inadequate.

        The link I originally supplied (and hoped you would look at) to https://rebellion.global/about-us/ states speciffically: an uprising which had the active participation of up to 3.5% of the population

        apply the math for the USA–350,000.000pop x .035= 12,250,000 people in Active Participation
        That’s a lot of people in the street at one time over a common goal–probably just like the Wars, or Original Earth Day, or Occupy or —you have never seen that before–ever.

        #2 on 7/27 Original Post on Malm you responded to a comment I made with:
        The Extinction Rebellion doesn’t get this. They “demand that governments act now“, but don’t talk about what equipment needs to change.
        Equipment, or Solutions, you claim XR doesn’t provide a Prescriptive.
        You are 100% right on the missing Technical Prescription.
        That is a Deliberate and Strategic Choice XR has made.
        Using the Link I provided, you could choose to go to News Tab and look for the Friday, March 12, 2021 Announcement.
        But here it is in short–
        It’s sometimes asked why Extinction Rebellion (XR) doesn’t set out any solutions to the climate and ecological emergency. Some critics argue that highlighting the problems is easy, but that XR isn’t doing the difficult part: providing the answers. It’s true that attempting to tackle the climate and ecological emergency is an incredibly complex and challenging task, but it isn’t an impossible mountain to climb.

        The truth is that the solutions already exist – what doesn’t currently exist is the political will to implement them rapidly enough – changing this is what XR aims to do. XR is trying to force action, rather than just highlighting the failure of government and institutions.

        Thanks for your Engineering POV throughout the discussion–it was thought provoking.
        I think we both agree with TP below:
        I agree: we need a plan.

        Hope the clarification on XR is helpful in your future.

  35. Jokerstein

    All this talk is getting much closer to Furbish Lousewart V’s Revolution of Lowered Expectations, as described by Robert Anton Wilson in 1979 in The Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy.

    Here is a good summary. It’s eerily prescient

  36. Dr. John Carpenter

    I really appreciate this commentary here. I agree with a lot of what’s being said.

    I hate to be a downer, but I agree with the idea that maybe a lot of people have just given up. So many of the ideas and hopium being peddled seem to be more like foaming then runway with the emperor’s new clothes. We can pretend these measures are enough and pretend that just having discussions about them are progress, all the while knowing we’re probably too late.

    I’m not and expert and I am sure I have no special insight, but I am also sure to really do what’s necessary would be a full-scale, top to bottom change of the foundations of modern life. I certainly can’t imagine what that would look like and it seems no one else can either. Unfortunately, the modern world wasn’t build in a day, nor can it be reversed so quickly, even if there was a push to do so.

    I wish I had some answers. It seems like all anyone does is kick around possibilities to make the time we have left a little less unbearable. Maybe that’s all there is?

    1. Dr. John Carpenter

      I wanted to add I really don’t mean this to sound so know-it-all. I really don’t. Like everyone I know, I am doing my recycling and using reusable bags and on and on. It just feels so small ball and futile. I don’t mean to diminish doing these things though. They matter even if the only outcome is giving the doer a feeling of “at least I tried”. It’s just the old trying to drink the ocean with a straw kind of effect. The problem is larger than one individual’s actions, and maybe larger than society as a whole. It just gets overwhelming if you try to think about it in any honest and realistic way and it’s obvious the defenders of the status quo have no interest in doing that at all. (Carter, for all his faults, is the only President I can think of who even came close to that point and he got skewered for it.)

      1. Timothy Dutra, MD, PhD

        Yes, Carter was the last President to be speak honestly, and he did get skewered for it. I used to get depressed about this stuff, especially after I understood that our corporate oligarchs will use control of media and ‘public relations’ to protect their profits until the last barrel of oil is combusted and the last tree is harvested. I’ve even tried to think of another species that has so ravaged its ecosystem that it went extinct. We wring our hands and whine about the tragedy, hypocrites that we are.

  37. Susan the other

    This is going to be so massively expensive (remember the 60 Tr coin – that’ll last about 2 years) that our whole way of finance, profit, investment and spending will be blown out of the water. It can be replaced by direct spending but everyone will be apoplectic. Possibly paralyzed. And after spending to save the planet we’ll have to reconfigure the whole idea – what sort of capitalism or socialism or environmentalism will we have? The reason I make this point is that it is the only thing that really needs to be acknowledged. Everything else can be mobilized. So I don’t see spending wildly as a bad thing. Yes, set useful priorities and eliminate the frivolous, wasteful and toxic behavior – (I’d be willing to bet the farm that those priorities are already construed.) – and then go with them. Money doesn’t matter. Why do we even have money in the first place? Well, to spend it for things we need. That’s it. That’s all.

      1. Susan the other

        I kinda disagree with that idea right off the top because scarcity is something we can learn to live with. And exterminism, the thought of which makes us all paranoid, just isn’t … practical. To kill off billions of people so the earth can survive is clearly bad policy. Unless democratic decisions are made to reduce the human population over several generations and clean up the planet as we go. Then it’s not really “killing”. It’s what any species does to survive. Sustainability is a better concept for all of this. Which is also why money is not important…

  38. EGrise

    Apartments are not bad places to live, if they’re decent apartments.

    Here in Texas, the vast majority are thrown up quickly and cheaply, and feature very thin walls, so they get a bad reputation for noise and lack of privacy.

    That could change – or at least be changed – with new construction regulations that specified wall composition, insulation, etc. but neither local nor state governments are able or willing to do so. Then there’s the issue of compliance inspection and approval which can be extremely uneven (not to mention corrupt). Real estate development is a very powerful lobby.

    So many moving parts, and this is just one part of one issue. I honestly don’t know how we’re going to get out of this mess.

    1. gc54

      OSB+Tyvek shells with granite countertops = “luxury appt”, that’s all they throw up around here.

  39. Anthony Stegman

    I take issue with what I perceive as the Grumpy Engineer’s overall message – that we can live our lives more or less business as usual simply by changing the “equipment”. So-called renewable fuels are not a panacea. Neither are electric vehicles. And as far as transportation goes, to think we can continue being transported hither and yonder as usual, though using different energy sources is foolish thinking in my view. We all need to use less energy in our lives. We need to produce less, consume less, travel less, etc…We basically need to chill. This means ambitions need to be dialed way back. Forget climbing corporate ladders, forget about accumulating vast wealth, forget about vacation homes, jetting off to here and there on a whim. Our lives essentially must be simplified and made smaller. This requires orders of magnitude changes to current mindsets. Can we get there before this planet becomes largely uninhabitable? The $64 million dollar question.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      Anthony – I agree completely with the chill out philosophy, and on a lot of levels, not just what’s good for the planet. I think it would be good for us, too.

      But I do support G. Engineer’s core thesis. Consider for a second the transition from the economy as it is, to the economy you propose. Don’t we need different kinds of services, processes, livelihoods, villages, homes?

      Do you think we’re going to use the same equipment, fuels, technology in that new economy as we do now? In my opinion, the toolset and methods are quite different.

      And they’re not present now in nearly enough scale to support us. We’d starve if did the cut-over to that “new economy” in the next decade.

      I do agree that our “wants”, are quite malleable, and are often outside-in programmed, and a good bit of that stuff can safely be socialized away by .. for ex.. turning off the TV.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      That is not what he said. He stated it as a design requirement that too many are ignoring. Determining what that would entail comes next.

  40. Temporarily Sane

    If by some miracle governments and industry do begin taking climate change seriously, you can bet there will be tons of people screaming “OMG the government is using global warming as an excuse to destroy my way of life and implement global communism. We must resist!”

    I’m thinking particularly of the “plandemic” crowd and anyone who takes the ravings of the WEF a bit too seriously. Any policy that impacts their preferred lifestyle of maximum personal freedom without responsibility will be seen as part of a dastardly plot to subvert their solipsistic right to live as if no other people exist.

    There is a great urban planning channel on YouTube I watch (called Not Just Bikes) that’s run by a Canadian who lives in the Netherlands and he talks a lot about how Dutch city planning is superior to the North American car dependent suburb version. The comment section is regularly visited by wingnuts who rant and rave about higher density, less car dependent neighborhoods being a communist plot to take away people’s freedom.

    1. Edward

      People are correct not to trust the government . The list of lies and deceptions is long and infamous. Some people can be wrong about the particular issue where they evince their distrust, but the general sentiment is right given the outrageous betrayals like the 2008 bailouts, the lies about Iraq, and so on.

  41. Henry Moon Pie

    Here’s what we might do if we were a little closer to our hunter-gatherer roots. We’d gather the twelve greatest shaman whom we’d draw from a pool suitably diverse in all the identity aspects important to hunter-gatherers back in those days. Then we’d barricade them inside a kiva furnished with suitably ample and diverse supplies of medicinal herbs, and we’d feed them on a regular basis. But we’d refuse to let them come out until they and their spirit guides had come up with a plan.

  42. Jeremy Grimm

    Grumpy Engineer states that dealing with Climate change by changing people’s minds and a few laws isn’t enough — equipment change, on a massive scale is necessary … and it must change in a way that still lets people live their lives [I am not sure exactly what that means].

    Rolf begins with a brief discussion of the current patterns of modern life in the US, which notes housing as one of the items of equipment that must change. I believe the single family house in the suburbs was created and promoted in the middle 1930s as a way to deliberately push the use of fossil fuels and sell automobiles. This worked when GIs came home from war and back in those happy days when what was good for General Motors was good for the USA.

    Rolf discusses Climate Change dynamics best summed up by: “the rapidity of such changes [additions of CO2, and other gases into the atmosphere], and the complex nature of feedbacks and knockon effects, make this a difficult system to model in a predictive sense.” [Fans of geoengineering should read Rolf’s brief summary several times.]

    We must “scale down and slow down” — hardly the formula advocated in most Green happy talk. So how must we alter the current patterns of modern life to do that? Rolf follows with a series of excellent ideas. I am not entirely sure who would, or how would any of these ideas be implemented in the US given its current political-economic structures. Much as I am in favor of public education I disagree with the idea that public education, in its “current patterns”, is key to making the changes Rolf suggests.

    Climate change must be addressed through some quick changes on a massive scale — changes in the physical capital that supports our way of life coupled with massive scale changes to our way of life to scale down and slow down. We do not have a lot time left to make any changes. Worse, as others have suggested in their comments, these massive scale changes can not reverse the engines of Climate change already moving toward an unknown future.

    Yves makes the point that Malm’s violence is tactics without strategy. Could the same be said of current nonviolent protest movements? I do not advocate violence. I do not see any remedy possible with our current political-economic system. Climate adaptation is left for us to address as individuals, or small groups of individuals, as best we can.

    1. Rod

      Could the same be said of current nonviolent protest movements?

      From the ground I stand on the first struggle is just for visibility.

  43. FrankW

    Barack Obama just bought a 7,000 SqFt ocean front mansion that likely consumes more resources in a year than people in a modest home would in a decade, maybe a lifetime, yet people like the author and the commenters here are still devising ways to enforce radical austerity on themselves. It’s like an elderly parishioner scraping out a way to make their tithe each month while the bishop lives like a prince, just somehow far less dignified.

  44. Gulag

    The continued allure of our centralized, hierarchical and effective bureaucracy seems irresistible– especially when articulated in terms of endless growth, progress, expansion, and control– all essential parts of what now seems an almost sacred deity.

    This entity also appears to absorb all types critique (whether MMT or the Green New Deal). Conservatives, Marxists, Liberals, Neoliberals, libertarians and nationalist of all stripes bow before its capacity to destroy cultural limits and homogenize everything–with even revolution now being largely conceptualized in terms of interest in more money.


    1. Tom Pfotzer


      This messes me up. I was planning to sequester carbon in soil.

      I guess it makes sense that Nature would not be highly motivated to sequester carbon. Can’t grow a lot of plants with no carbon in the atmosphere.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Given all the coal, gas, oil, calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, etc. buried here and there in the earth, I think nature is sufficiently motivated to sequester some carbon over the patient long term.

        Every wetland is a fast-forward sweet spot for recapturing and resequestering skycarbon. Peatlands, the Great Permafrost, etc.

        And proper soil and agriculture management can re-carbonize millions of square miles of farmland soil back to where it was before the Bonfire of the Soil Carbon. And then the restored soil carbon levels can be kept at their high once-and-future level by continuing good management. So much soil carbon was flooded into the sky over the last two centuries of the Bonfire of the Soil Carbon that sucking it all back down to former levels would downcarbonize the sky one time in a very substantial way.

        Then it becomes up to organized mankind to lower the carbon skyflooding level to the point where such soil carbon resequestration would not be rendered pointless by a whole new round of carbon skyflooding all over again.

  45. drumlin woodchuckles

    Here is copy-paste of a short garden sub-thread for easy refinding. I have removed names and stuff so it will take less bandwidth to post.

    I have pulled my garlics up out of the ground and have them set aside for slow-cure slow-drying in the dark. In the bed where they were, I have begun a two-foot-deep dig and mix. The topsoil is a foot deep and the subsoil is a foot deep and mixing them will give me a two foot deep sub-topsoil. After I have actually done something with that sub-topsoil, I will offer a tiny comment on what I have done once I have really done it.

    Ah, Russian penicillin. We’ve been selecting for head size for 20 years. Most heads are now the size of field polo balls.

    Indirectly, here’s how I got my start w/adult gardening in 1972, from a former student of Alan Chadwick’s at Santa Cruz.

    The site below offers an in depth look at the lasting impact that Chadwick has had on gardeners in the US. It is a poignant read.

    Note Bene: FL Wright was adamant that Taliesin’s first apprentices grow all the ‘tute’s food. They used horses for draft power.


    I looked up ” field polo ball size”. The interwebs tell me that’s about 3-3.5 inches wide. So that is big impressive garlic.

    I have decided to try selecting for garlics that can be pulled straight up out of the ground without breaking apart on the way. And will only replant those garlics. Any that break up will be dug up in pieces and eaten.

    The very long-lastingly hottest garlic I ever had was some garlic bought at Plum Market from Mexico. I tried saving a bunch of it for planting in season, but I oversurrounded it with too much paper bags in an excess of caretaking and its growing points-and-cores all rotted in storage in the fridge. I keep watching for it but have never seen it again.

    hi drumlin
    We harvested our garlic and onions from our backyard garden 2 weeks ago. They are now lying in state. We will hang the garlic later. It sounds reversed, doesn’t it; lie in state first, hang later. Today my wife is processing our Florence Fennel, pre-sliced, to freeze for the rest of the year. Cherries, strawberries, raspberries, Cascade berries, and peas are pretty much done. Blueberries are plentiful from our 3 bushes now. Prune plums, 5-variety apples and pears, beans beans and more beans to come. Early lettuce finished, 2nd planting not quite ready yet. Carrots are perennial (staged planting), kohlrabi bulbs bulbing, zucchini–well, what can you say–butternut squash showing flowers and some gourds. Tomatoes gone wild, not trimmed soon enough.
    A backyard garden.on a 50-foot property can really produce. Southern Vancouver Island in the continuing heat. Oh, and we collected 20 dozen figs from a neighbour’s tree–chutney for me, fig jam for other family, along with 8 dozen for our youngest daughter to process in Victoria.

    That is neat and inspiring. I hope more other people will also submit backyard garden reports from time to time.

    You are getting a lot more actual gardening done than what I am. Hopefully some of your neighbors are sometimes interested in what you are doing and will start doing the same.

    Something I have noticed about parsley and fennel, two members of the family Apiaceae ( used to be ” Umbelliferae”) . . . that the very immature and still-soft unopened flower buds have somewhat the same flavor as the mature herb but sweeter and more vegetal and less herbally strong and harsh.
    So very immature fennel flower buds go very well cooked with combinations of tomato/onion/fish/etc.
    Any savory place where fennel seeds might be traditionally used could be an interesting experiment-site for immature fennel buds.

    And with the least protection from harshest winter freeze-up, normal stem-fennel can be a perennial. And the flower heads attract many kinds of pollinators, which is fun to watch. Would Florence fennel go perennial in place if left in the ground past year one?

        1. Rod

          Hey Lambert
          Thanks for staying with this dialogue—I don’t need to tell you there is ‘something exciting’ that the post kicked off.
          Many soft solutions proposed point out that ‘will’ and ‘heart’ are the main impediments—imo
          And thanks for more Soil.
          You have got to be tickled at the ‘Garlic Loop’—I know I was—

  46. drumlin woodchuckles

    @Tom Pfotzer,

    These comments were sourced from Naked Capitalism its own self. As was the Soil Science Paradigm Shift article I re-posted the link to right up above.

    I did that to quietly begin a little experiment in people putting high-value soil science and other planticulture links here in the easiest-to-find-again way that I could think of. Because NaCap posts thousands of articles and millions of words and if someone re-remembers a certain soil article and wishes they could find it again, it can be very hard to find. So I decided to see if putting them here would make it easier for me to find them again in the future, and if easier for me then perhaps easier for others.

    If it works, and if our hosts think it is a more-good-than-bad thing to keep permitting us to keep doing, then perhaps the Permaculture category can become a repository for a growing list of links to high value articles where people know that they can circle right back to and find them again at some future time.

  47. drumlin woodchuckles


    In getting your garlic to the size of field polo balls over twenty years, was it strictly through patient selection over time? Planting the biggest of the big over and over again?

    Or are there also methods and inputs you have and use for growing the garlic which helps it to reach that huge size potential? Any special treatment? An garlic-planting-hole soil food? etc?

    Also, have you noticed whether garlic grows better after certain particular plants or crops were grown in the space the garlic is about to grow in? Do certain immediately-garlic-preceding crops or plants stunt the growth of follow-on garlic? Any companion plants grown beside or among the garlic which helps it grow better or bigger or tastier or longer-storing after harvest?

  48. drumlin woodchuckles

    Speaking of garlic, an interesting emerging concept in garlic is “true seed”. “True seed”?

    For thousands of years, garlic has been reproduced, replanted and spread vegetatively; either by replanting cloves or by planting the little “air bulbs” which form on the top of the stalk in hardneck garlics or which form sometimes somewhere on the “stem” in softneck garlics.

    But recently, garlic-fan members of the Seed Savers Exchange began wondering if there was a way to get garlic’s vestigial flowers to grow to functional size, and get them to pollinate and set real true little black seeds. They have been trying with various Central Asian garlics which are considered most related to garlic’s wild ancestors. They are reporting some tentative early successes.

    A plant breeder named Joseph Lofthouse has written an article about this.

    There is a garlic site where this is discussed.

    To me this seems terribly interesting. If two or more varieties of species garlic could be induced to produce actual seeds, and baby garlic plants grown from those seeds to maturity, and then progeny of those two or more types of genetically different true seed garlic could themselves be hybridised; then there is a possibility of crossbreeding different types of garlic to get progeny with blends of features.

    In a year or two I myself might try ordering some of the very small amount of True Seed descended garlic which is starting to become available for purchase in a few places so far.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Thank you for making my blog day with some genuine validation of my efforts. It will spur me onward to keep right on trying.

  49. drumlin woodchuckles

    Here is a garlic growing video from Japan. It has a few subtitles to help explain. But it is mostly just footage and relaxing music.

    The footage is very clear and informative and offers some very interesting possibilities about how to grow and manage garlic. It also shows a blending of little and tiny machines to do some parts of the work combined with many workers doing other parts by hand in the same overall system.

    At timepoint 1:33 it shows the little old ladies hand-inserting garlic cloves through spaced holes in the plastic soil covering into the soil visible through the spaced holes. At timepoint 1:43 it shows those workers using some kind of longish plastic one-hand tool to push the garlic cloves down deeper into the soil. Since they are using these tools to ” push ’em in” to the soil, I will call this tool a “pushemin”. I think I saw it well enough to try building one myself out of plastic bottle parts and other things.

    Here is the link.

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