COP26: Can a Singing, Dancing Rebellion Save the World?

Yves here. I know that Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies and the various climate change activists they recognize in the post below mean well. So I hate to make an unflattering but accurate comparison: their grasp on the magnitude of change needed to prevent the worst climate outcomes is as least as poor as Pete Buttigieg’s of what is required to get the West Coast ports unjammed.

Most people now accept that planetary warming is largely if not entirely the result of industrial activity. But even if there is now more tacit acceptance, that is a hell of a long way from devising and implementing the necessary and massive reworking of how society provisions itself.

In mere high school debate, the affirmative side, which advocates for change, must establish either a significant need for change or provide a significant benefit. But that is not sufficient for the affirmative side to win a debate. It must also set forth an action plan that is sufficiently developed and substantiated that it will survive attack by the “negative” or status quo supporter.

Regular readers may also recall that we were critical of both advocates of a Greek exit from the EU and Brexit. For both, we stressed that for them to succeed, it would take war level planning and mobilization. For Greece, the government was so diminished due to years of austerity that it couldn’t even field a proper negotiating team to square off with the EU, let alone devise and implement a massive economic restructuring. For the UK, we were dumbfounded by the Tories having no interest in even understanding the magnitude of the undertaking, let alone doing very little to prepare. And we had also assumed the British civil service was much more able than it proved itself to be.

Managing an economy-wide transition to clean energy sources, which is what most climate change activists call for, is at least two orders of magnitude more difficult. A substantial portion of economic activity is international, including some elements that are crucial for anything within hailing distance of life as we now know it. For starters, ~80% of US active drug ingredients come from China, with a big portion of the remainder from India. Nearly 90% of US chips come from abroad. And I suspect that a lot of those chips don’t come to the US as naked chips but as subassemblies or other higher-valued-added components. Shipping is a particularly high carbon activity yet undergrids a huge portion of how goods come to market. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I’ve heard crickets on this topic. And even countries that are resource-rich enough to become near autarkies like the US would have to undergo massive restructuring, with a lot of upfront investment (financial and carbon costs, along with the result of more expensive products) to get there.

To put it another way: Covid has exposed how fragile and failure-prone our supply chains are. Transitioning to renewable energy sources means in many cases building new infrastructure in parallel to what we have now and then moving activity over to it. That sounds all well and good until you appreciate that some of these new networks need to be very fully built out before anyone will use them. This is why Federal Express is unique as a precocial startup, with the planes and the Memphis hub and the software and the offices all set up and ready the day the business went live. Yet some hoped-for future systems require precocial development, as in the buildout of an entire system before anyone will adopt it. Fully autonomous cars fall in this category (the climate advantage of fully autonomous cars is they could be operated like public transit, hence more efficiently from an energy and materials perspective). But to get to fully autonomous vehicles, you need all cars to be fully autonomous (I will spare readers the full argument but the very short version is you need to change the infrastructure to suit the cars).

Similarly, I haven’t heard great ideas from climate chance activists about what to do about detached single family homes, which are inefficient to heat and cool due to their outer walls and costly to provision. Solar panels are not a magic bullet.

Thus I am bothered by the climate change activists wanting to build a new boat and step into it while we are currently in a leaky boat on a rough river.

A second issue not acknowledged enough is endowment effect. People like what they have and don’t want to give it up because they have it. Seriously. As Investopedia put it, “Studies have repeatedly shown that people will value something that they already own more than a similar item they do not own.” Asking people to give up elements of their current lifestyle will trigger endowment effect reactions. They’ll be more attached to them than they are actually “worth” in concrete terms.

These considerations argue for radical energy conservation as the most important step we can take now. First, it offers the best chance for reducing greenhouse gas emissions now. Waiting to build out new green energy sources means more use now of dirty old sources.

Second, it demands least of leaders who appear unable to manage even something comparatively simple, like election campaigns, and can’t really be trusted to handle highly complex multi-year projects and their political fallout.

Third, radical conservation could be made to seem chic. Just put Marie Kondo on it. To add to her minimalist philosophy you would need to add doing things more slowly. The supply chain crisis is already undermining shopping as instant gratification.

To put these objections more simply: neoliberalism/capitalism is not the biggest problem climate change activists face, even though it is the one they have to neutralize first and is a daunting challenge.

But even if capitalism were abolished tomorrow, we would still face the even bigger and harder problem of dealing with existing conditions, as in the location and nature of the means of production. Neoliberalism, as powerful as it seems, is merely ideology and legal arrangements.  As the failures of our supposed elites are revealing, managing complex, interconnected and not terribly long-lived equipment, operations and infrastructure is harder. Large-scale startups are hardest of all.

By Medea Benjamin, cofounder ofCODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Nicolas J. S. Davies, an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq

COP26! That is how many times the UN has assembled world leaders to try to tackle the climate crisis. But the United States is producing more oil and natural gas than ever; the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere and global temperatures are both still rising; and we are already experiencing the extreme weather and climate chaos that scientists have warned us about for forty years, and which will only get worse and worse without serious climate action.

And yet, the planet has so far only warmed 1.2° Celsius (2.2° F) since pre-industrial times. We already have the technology we need to convert our energy systems to clean, renewable energy, and doing so would create millions of good jobs for people all over the world. So, in practical terms, the steps we must take are clear, achievable and urgent.

The greatest obstacle to action that we face is our dysfunctional,neoliberal political and economic system and its control by plutocratic and corporate interests, who are determined to keep profiting from fossil fuels even at the cost of destroying the Earth’s uniquely livable climate. The climate crisis has exposed this system’s structural inability to act in the real interests of humanity, even when our very future hangs in the balance.

So what is the answer? Can COP26 in Glasgow be different? What could make the difference between more slick political PR and decisive action? Counting on the same politicians and fossil fuel interests (yes, they are there, too) to do something different this time seems suicidal, but what is the alternative?

Since Obama’s Pied Piper leadership in Copenhagen and Paris produced a system in which individual countries set their own targets and decided how to meet them, most countries have made little progress toward the targets they set in Paris in 2015.

Now they have come to Glasgow with predetermined and inadequate pledges that, even if fulfilled, would still lead to a much hotter world by 2100. Asuccessionof UN and civil society reports in the lead-up to COP26 have been sounding the alarm with what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called a “thundering wake-up call” and a “code red for humanity.” In Guterres’ opening speech at COP26 on November 1st, he said that “we are digging our own graves” by failing to solve this crisis.

Yet governments are still focusing on long-term goals like reaching “Net Zero” by 2050, 2060 or even 2070, so far in the future that they can keep postponing the radical steps needed to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius. Even if they somehow stopped pumping greenhouse gases into the air, the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere by 2050 would keep heating up the planet for generations. The more we load up the atmosphere with GHGs, the longer their effect will last and the hotter the Earth will keep growing.

The United States has set as horter-term target of reducing its emissions by 50% from their peak 2005 level by 2030. But its present policies would only lead to a 17%-25% reduction by then.

The Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP), which was part of the Build Back Better Act, could make up a lot of that gap by paying electric utilities to increase reliance on renewables by 4% year over year and penalizing utilities that don’t. But on the eve of COP 26, Biden dropped the CEPP from the bill under pressure from Senators Manchin and Sinema and their fossil fuel puppet-masters.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military, the largest institutional emitter of GHGs on Earth, was exempted from any constraints whatsoever under the Paris Agreement. Peace activists in Glasgow are demanding that COP26 must fix this hugeblack holein global climate policy by including the U.S. war machine’s GHG emissions, and those of other militaries, in national emissions reporting and reductions.

At the same time, every penny that governments around the world have spent to address the climate crisis amounts to a small fraction of what the United States alone has spent on its nation-destroying war machine during the same period.

China now officially emits more CO2 than the United States. But a large part of China’s emissions are driven by the rest of the world’s consumption of Chinese products, and its largest customer is the United States. An MIT studyin 2014 estimated that exports account for 22% of China’s carbon emissions. On a per capita consumption basis, Americans still account for three time the GHG emissions of our Chinese neighbors and double the emissions of Europeans.

Wealthy countries have also fallen shorton the commitment they made in Copenhagen in 2009 to help poorer countries tackle climate change by providing financial aid that would grow to $100 billion per year by 2020. They have provided increasing amounts, reaching $79 billion in 2019, but the failure to deliver the full amount that was promised has eroded trust between rich and poor countries. A committee headed by Canada and Germany at COP26 is charged with resolving the shortfall and restoring trust.

When the world’s political leaders are failing so badly that they are destroying the natural world and the livable climate that sustains human civilization, it is urgent for people everywhere to get much more active, vocal and creative.

The appropriate public response to governments that are ready to squander the lives of millions of people, whether by war or by ecological mass suicide, is rebellion and revolution – and non-violent forms of revolution have generally proven more effective and beneficial than violent ones.

People are rising up against this corrupt neoliberal political and economic system in countries all over the world, as its savage impacts affect their lives in different ways. But the climate crisis is a universal danger to all of humanity that requires a universal, global response.

One inspiring civil society group on the streets in Glasgow during COP 26 is Extinction Rebellion, which proclaims, “We accuse world leaders of failure, and with a daring vision of hope, we demand the impossible…We will sing and dance and lock arms against despair and remind the world there is so much worth rebelling for.”

Extinction Rebellion and other climate groups at COP26 are calling for Net Zero by 2025, not 2050, as the only way to meet the 1.5° goal agreed to in Paris.

Greenpeaceis calling for an immediate global moratorium on new fossil fuel projects and a quick phase-out of coal-burning power plants. Even the new coalition government in Germany, which includes the Green Party and has more ambitious goals than other large wealthy countries, has only moved up the final deadline on Germany’s coal phaseout from 2038 to 2030.

The Indigenous Environmental Network is bringing indigenous peoplefrom the Global South to Glasgow to tell their stories at the conference. They are calling on the Northern industrialized countries to declare a climate emergency, to keep fossil fuels in the ground and end subsidies of fossil fuels globally.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) has published a new reporttitled Nature-Based Solutions: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothingas a focus for its work at COP26. It exposes a new trend in corporate greenwashing involving industrial-scale tree plantations in poor countries, which corporations plan to claim as “offsets” for continued fossil fuel production.

The U.K. government that is hosting the conference in Glasgow has endorsed these schemes as part of the program at COP26. FOE is highlighting the effect of these massive land-grabs on local and indigenous communities and calls them “a dangerous deception and distraction from the real solutions to the climate crisis.” If this is what governments mean by “Net Zero,” it would just be one more step in the financialization of the Earth and all its resources, not a real solution.

Because it is hard for activists from around the world to get to Glasgow for COP26 during a pandemic, activist groups are simultaneously organizing around the world to put pressure on governments in their own countries. Hundreds of climate activists and indigenous people have been arrestedin protests at the White House in Washington, and five young Sunrise Movement activists began a hunger strikethere on October 19th.

U.S. climate groups also support the “Green New Deal” bill, H.Res. 332, that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced in Congress, which specifically calls for policies to keep global warming below 1.5° Celsius, and currently has 103 cosponsors. The bill sets ambitious targets for 2030, but only calls for Net Zero by 2050.

The environmental and climate groups converging on Glasgow agree that we need a real global program of energy conversion now, as a practical matter, not as the aspirational goal of an endlessly ineffective, hopelessly corrupt political process.

At COP25 in Madrid in 2019, Extinction Rebellion dumped a pile of horse manure outside the conference hall with the message, “The horse-shit stops here.” Of course that didn’t stop it, but it made the point that empty talk must rapidly be eclipsed by real action. Greta Thunberg has hit the nail on the head, slamming world leaders for covering up their failures with “blah, blah, blah,” instead of taking real action.


Like Greta’s School Strike for the Climate, the climate movement in the streets of Glasgowis informedby the recognition that the science is clear and the solutions to the climate crisis are readily available. It is only political will that is lacking. This must be supplied by ordinary people, from all walks of life, through creative, dramatic action and mass mobilization, to demand the political and economic transformation we so desperately need.


The usually mild-mannered UN Secretary General Guterres made it clear that “street heat” will be key to saving humanity. “The climate action army – led by young people – is unstoppable,” he told world leaders in Glasgow. “They are larger. They are louder. And, I assure you, they are not going away.”

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  1. vlade

    Thanks Yves for the intro.

    That is something I keep missing again and again with many of the activists. Don’t just say “this is wrong”! That’s the easy party. You _have_ to have a solution, and a realistic one, not a magic wand one.

    Although, as can be seen (cf Tories in the UK, but others elsewhere too), magic wand one can work if all you want is to kick people to start something, and then deal with the consequences on the fly.

    So I’d add to the above – you need to have a realistic plan _IF_ you want a reasonably peaceful and non-chaotic transition.

    In the absence of a (realistic) plan, a transition can occur, but very likely will be very painful (well, even a planned one will be, but part of it is to try to manage the pain), and who knows what the outcome will be.

    That said, it could well be that we’re past the point where we can make a managed transition, so to hope for a success of an unmanaged one is the best we can do. Sort of Jackpot-light.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I agree that we are probably too far into this to have anything other than a Jackpot-ish outcome, since no one has the guts to advocate radical conservation, since that sound too much like wearing a hairshirt. But the “we can transition to green energy” is too slow and has way way too many moving parts. It’s as if the climate change activists just think enough solar panels and wind farms are the answer when much more infrastructure change needs to happen.

      Maybe having some higher order components worked out would help. At least in the US, they need a better answer to the single family home than just solar panels. It probably requires multiple models depending on housing density and proportion with school age kids.

      1. vlade

        Well, there are single-family houses in the EU, and the EU is still way more energy efficient than the US, and none of the people I know wear hairshirts – even though I guess some people may consider using public transport an equivalent of a hairshirt – more and more people seem to see it like that in Europe, unfortunately.

        I suspect a lot of it is not so much because of the heating/cooling of the SF homes, but because of their geographical distribution requires you to transport things extremely inefficiently, while in the Europe, transportation can be (relatively) efficient due to shorter distances, high density rail etc.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          That’s what I was thinking too. Detached single-family houses are only as energy-inefficient as the badness of their design and building makes them. Properly insulated and passive-designed detached houses are energy efficient. As energy-efficient as multistory urban high-density urban labor-camp barracks? I don’t know.

          If someone does know, it would be nice if they could tell us.

          1. 2GeekRnot2Geek


            This is what it took to become energy efficient in a 3,000 SF detached SFH.

            We found a house in a great neighborhood that was going for well below market because it had sat empty for over a decade. We lived in an apartment for a year to pull this off and did as much of the construction as we could ourselves.

            1. Gutted the house back to the studs and started over with a new floor plan.
            2. Geo-thermal heating. This included wells being drilled and a specialized HVAC system.
            3. Made sure every piece of ductwork in the house was properly taped agains leakage in the walls and basement before the drywall went up.
            4. 10 KW of Solar on the roof. Rated for 40 years of use.
            5. A metal roof so that the roof would last as long as the solar panels.
            6. Closed cell foam insulation for the exterior. (See specialized HVAC system)
            7. Good windows and doors.
            8. High-end energy and water efficient appliances and fixtures throughout the house.
            9. A cast-iron fireplace insert with a blower system to remodel the existing fireplace. It heats 80% of the downstairs when it’s in use for 4 hours or more.
            10. Redesigned the layout of entire house for bathrooms, laundry, and kitchen. This was specifically to address hot water usage, so the most wasteful part of a plumbing system “waiting for hot water” is gone. Wait time is less than 5 seconds everywhere in the house.

            The cost of this was a lot of research, planning, money, time and effort. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Would we do it again? Absolutely. No Bank or Insurance company has ever been able to properly assess the value of our home because “there are no comps we can use for this house.”

            Our averaged electric bill is $100 a month. We pay nothing from April-May through October, so most of the cost is heating during late fall and winter. We use no no natural gas or fuel oil of any kind. Everything is electric.

            The DIY parts we did to save money on the project:
            All demo of the existing house back to the studs. recycled and donated what we could.
            Ran all the electrical wiring.
            Ran all the speaker wiring.
            Ran all the smart home wiring.
            Installed every interior door and all interior trim.
            Prepped, primed and painted the entire interior
            Installed hardwood floors throughout the house.
            Stained and sealed the new stairs.
            Installed every light, outlet and switch inside/outside the house.
            Installed all Kitchen cabinets and appliances
            Installed all bathroom vanities/faucets and toilets.
            Installed all laundry room cabinets and appliances.

            And for the sake of transparency, even with all the work we took on and the hundreds of thousands it saved us, it still took about 3 more years to finish the the house because we spent so much on the infrastructure. And it’s still worth it every day.

      2. mrsyk

        Radical reduction of consumption will be a hard sell, but is there any other way? BTW is the term “net zero” analogous to “accounting trickery”?

        1. vlade

          That depends.

          The poor consume mostly all they earn, and can’t really do otherwise (given their income).

          But even for them there is a possibility to reduce consumption, possibly especially in the US – because, if I understand it right, a non-trivial part of their consumption is on fuel/car to get to/from home.

          That is by cheap (=subsidised) reliable and available (i.e. not once-a-day) public transport – which may be just small buses (so mostly reusing existing infrastructure). Buses BTW are about the best application of electric vehicles, because they run known length routes, with lots of start/stops, at relatively low speed, and with the braking via electric motor may mean fewer microparticles from brake (microparticles from braking and tires are an important health-affecting pollutant)

          A bus fleet means that refueling by replacing the batteries (one set is being charged, another used) can be done efficiently too.

          For middle income families, again,a much better commute could reduce at least some of the carbon footprint. Moreover, under-consumption was historically a social signalling for middle classes as often as ostentatious consumption.

          For the rich, the consumption can be checked too, for example by effectively banning private jets etc. etc.

          But, to continue on Yves’s point – even given all of the above, changes in consumption _still_ aren’t an easy way out, as any meaningful changes would have a considerable impact on the economy.

          Say if you would manage to significantly reduce car usage, it would be a death-knell for the car industry and its subcontractors/suppliers (and the relevant local economies), never mind stuff like garages, car dealerships (new and used), petrol stations etc. etc. and their subcontractors/suppliers. It would be a considerable economic disruption, and not one you could solve in a couple of months.

            1. vlade

              Indeed re consumption habits. Or rather, put it differently – it’s hard to change downwards, even if the downwards can be only a perception. That’s where the “we’re all in this together” comes, but that’s sooo outmoded these days (at least as far as pols are concerned).

              There are no easy, painless solutions. The paradox is, that most people actually know this, but the leadership lacks the will to go there (because there are actually easy, and painless short-term solutions for _them_).

              1. Dr. John Carpenter

                I may be mistaken about this, but the last US president to even suggest moving in this direction was Jimmy Carter…and he was pilloried for it. And that was after the “energy crisis” of a few years earlier. I wonder if the public would be more receptive to a similar message now (although it seems like the lesson learned by power was don’t suggest anything that implies doing with less?)

    2. upstater

      I think that while sane solutions are available to moderate overshooting temperatures (e.g., centralized planning diktats mandating radical conservation, localization of production, long-term integrated resouce planning to transition from fossil fuels at national or even continental levels, etc), the real issue is WHY?

      First and foremost is private property. Fossil fuel resources, production and infrastructure are private property (either owned outright of leased) in neoliberal countries or national oil companies. There is a book value for all these thing and represent current cash flows and future gains. Any transition renders tens of trillions of dollars as stranded investment. The cash cow would be slaughtered (BP’s CEO even referred to his companyas a “cash machine”). In western countries the “owners” will demand compensation for “takings”. Paying off corporations probably would equal any expenditures on green infrastructure; it could be possible to seize assets by eminent domain forcing write offs, but what is the chance of that! National oil companies have less than zero incentive to reduce or cease E&P.

      Without addressing the WHY question by abolishing centralized planning done by Wall Street for private profits or with centralized planning by government for public good, nothing happens. I am not optimistic…

  2. Steve H.

    > These considerations argue for radical energy conservation as the most important step we can take now.

    I recently gave reply to a family member who asked me about the current state of climate change. This is a part:

    We’re now in the midst of a global pandemic and supply chain shutdown. The President is at the COP_26 Conference, the international forum that meets annually to set global climate goals. COP can enact nothing without consensus. In twenty-six years, they have been unable to agree on a definition of consensus.

    In some ways, it’s easier to take human agency out and just think of it as a bacterium that converts fossil fuels to carbon dioxide. That’s pretty much what cryptocurrencies do, in the material sense, and it fits the data well. But in practice, we have to take other’s intent into account. (The key aspect of evolutionary game theory is frequency-dependent selection: the fitness of an individual depends on the frequency of other strategies in the population.)

    My friend Parker is Joe’s age, and has an astrophysics background. He said, “If humans are going to get into outer space, it’s my generation that has to do it.” The amount of energy it takes to get out of the gravitational envelope is enormous, and when the fossil fuels run out, there won’t be enough free energy to go up.

    The space race is real. The first to find a uranium asteroid would have the raw power for both energy and military dominance. But just finding an asteroid of, say, copper, would give the finder so much material wealth that their dominance would be immediate. If the Earth were valued at the price of U.S. farmland, the planet could be bought for less than eight years of U.S. GDP, cash on the table.

    Recently Jeff Bezos sent William Shatner (Captain Kirk of “Star Trek”) into orbit. I think he thought Shatner would give some ‘to infinity and beyond’ tagline. Instead, an artist looked into the blackness of space and saw only death. The fifty-seven million square miles of land on earth may seem like a lot, but when it’s the only habitable land in the entire known universe, it is ridiculously undervalued.

    I don’t know if it will be humans or robots in space. But the race to control those resources, and to control the biologically viable surface area, is very real. Which means I don’t think we’ll be slowing down consumption, even if we drop the population, or average energy use per person. These are finite resources of energy and space, and people who are rich, ruthless, and smart are committed to getting their piece. (“He is seeking it, seeking it — all his thought is bent on it.” – Gandalf)

    On the plus side, that includes creatures like Bezos who don’t quite get humans. Their plans gang aft a-gley.

    1. outside observer

      Not to dismiss the fossil fuel inputs to get to usable form, but it is my understanding that rockets use hydrogen or methane as fuel.

      1. Steve H.

        Quite all right, it’s the whole chain of objects and skills that need to happen to get up there. From refining the fuel to the nitrogen for the food the truck drivers eat, the whole thing runs on fossil fuels.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Humans will die in space. Look at what happens to humans on the space station. Loss of bone density and muscle mass. That includes the heart and digestive system.

      As for Mars, it has radically different gravity and sunlight. The idea that humans could last any length of time there is sheer delusion.

      1. Steve H.

        Yves, I agree, with a caveat. I have three smart young people (19 to 25) that I have regular, deep conversations with. The only thing on the macro level which makes their eyes sparkle is outer space, for the rest of it ‘we started out watching 2000 people die on television and it just got worse from there.’

        So there’s a risk/reward for a limited time engagement. Parker is extreme, he’d go up knowing he’d be dead in a year (“oh, yeah!”). All three would take the launch risk for the chance to see Earth from space.

        I’m not saying this is a good thing. I’m saying their level of future discounting is a resource that exploiters will use.

        The deepest material issue is the enormous draw of the asteroids, that the almost inconceivable level of resource/reinforcers creates an vast need/deprivation for a dominant mentality. The deeper intangible issue is spiritual, that the opportunity to die in a way that suits that person is overriding hope in a bleak future. I have seen that enacted multiple times in the last year.

  3. EarlyGray

    > Transitioning to renewable energy sources means in many cases building new infrastructure in parallel to what we have now and then moving activity over to it.

    This brings to mind the idea, presented by Dawkins in Climbing Mount Improbable, that evolution will never take a step that temporarily lowers fitness in order to enable changes that will eventually bring greater fitness. Every single change has to provide benefit, else it is quickly removed from the gene pool. Hence, giraffes have blood vessels that travel all the way up their neck, loop around a bone and then go back down the neck, as natural selection hasn’t found a way to change that without disastrous consequences.

    Humans, being equipped with foresight and the ability to imagine different futures, don’t have quite the same constraint. Examples such as WWII and the pandemic have shown that people are willing to make short-term sacrifices if they sense the threat is urgent and they feel everyone is in it together. But those threats were immediate. The threat of climate change has a timescale of decades. We need to act now, but the benefits won’t really be felt for a long time yet. I really doubt if humans are really able to deal with challenges of that nature.

    I really wish I wasn’t so pessimistic, but I see very little reason for optimism.

    1. Eclair

      EarlyGray, you state that ‘people are willing to make short-term sacrifices if they sense the threat is urgent and if they feel everyone is in it together.

      I agree, with the caveat that people must be made to feel that the threat is urgent, i.e., a full-bore ‘propaganda’ campaign by a central government. Plus a fair amount of coercive measures by said government. Plus, as you note, we must feel that everyone, rich, poor, corporate CEO or trash collector, is ‘doing their part.’ It worked during WW2. I remember the constant exhortations on the radio (this was pre-TV!) and the posters everywhere, extolling the virtues of ‘meatless Mondays,’ saving grease and flattening your tin cans, pulling down your black-out curtains at night. Plus, the ever-present ration books.

      Pessimistic about the possibilities of any government being able to pull that off now, due to decades of carefully orchestrated instilling of ideas of government incompetence, plus plus pre-eminence of individual rights over the social good.

      Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to change the narrative. What are our possible paths? We continue on as before, barreling towards the inevitable ‘jackpot,’ with more frequent fires, floods, droughts, food shortages, mass migrations, ‘supply-line disruptions.’ Only the fittest will survive. ‘Fittest’ being code for ‘socio and psychopathic humans, worse case, or maybe, best case, code for ‘people who know how to make stuff and get sh*t done.’

      Or, groups of activists take matters into their own hands, magnify the already ‘naturally’ occurring disruptions as well as creating a few more of their own design that might neutralize the more psychopathic humans. (But these actions create their own breed of ideological psychopaths, sigh.)

      This will not end well.

    2. Bazarov

      Does “every single change” have to provide benefit? From of what I’ve read of the modern biological literature, the adaptationist position is very much contended as a collection of post-hoc, “just-so stories” of fitness. In reality, it may be the case that natural selection is not so dominant–that genetic drift, mutation, and genetic “chunking” are equally if not greater determinants.

      For example, let’s say you have a beneficial gene that lets an animal wake up faster if its disturbed, and let’s say that the animal also has a bushy tail. The adaptationist would assert that both traits individually increase the animal’s fitness, but in fact genetic analysis demonstrates that the bushy tail gene is merely “chunked” with the wake-up gene. When the latter’s passed down, the former’s along for the ride, so to speak, and has nothing to do with fitness at all.

      It could also be that this animal is descended from a very small founding population that had bushy tails.

      It turns out, in the meat world of actually existing evolution, the story is much more complicated than that of winning single traits–traits are related to one another and interact with each other. Some of those traits may have no bearing on fitness; others may be harmful but subsist merely because they’re “chunked” with a trait that is beneficial enough to outweigh the harm.

      For the classic attack on adaptationism, see Lewontin and Gould’s “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme” (

  4. The Rev Kev

    Where do you even start on such a massive topic? If this is to be done, it is going to require a massive amount of trust. Unfortunately, neoliberalism has worn trust away over the past few decades and we are seeing the results of this loss of trust in our lives – such as the ineffective response to the present Pandemic. But I can see how it will be put forward. It will be or leaders saying that they are embarking on a set of ‘reforms’. That, as I am sure most people will recognize, is code for ‘We are going to flog off public property/infrastructure to private corporations for bargain base prices so that we in the government get a big whack of cash while you get higher bills with no recourse for relief.’ Think here of things like electricity, water, gas, post offices, etc. over the years.

    Political leaders around the world have been revealed by the Pandemic to be mostly incompetents. The professional class that actually runs countries have also found to be seriously wanting. For them, they will suggest that a real working solution to climate change is for people to eat bugs – while they still dine out on t-bones. The endowment effect really comes into play when people see that different people are treated differently in our society. People may be convinced to swap for something different, but not when the leadership class retains everything that they have. I really think that at this stage most real progress will have to be done on a local level. Things like looking for local produce, trying to make our homes to be more resilient, to be more prepared for breakdowns in infrastructure like electricity, water, etc., eliminating as much debt as possible.

    But I am going to say that people who do things like glue their hands down onto roads stopping traffic convinces nobody. It alienates people against climate change causes and it would be better if these groups offered actual solutions instead of feel-good mock protests. And I am afraid that Greta Thurnberg just counts as a transitory stunt. Sorry but I think that this is the way that it is. We don’t need protests. Our leaders never listen to them anyway. What we need are detailed local plans.

    1. Eclair

      Yes, Rev! The Archdruid visualized a USA fragmented into small territories, not all earth-friendly places to live, if I remember correctly.

      Break-up into smaller entities is what happened post- Roman Empire and it turns out that the so-called ‘Dark Ages,’ were not so bad. You had a ready supply of already-dressed masonry for building your hovel. Just had to trudge over to the local amphi-theater or public bath (who really needs to be clean anyway!) and haul away a few blocks in your hand-barrow.

      Another plus side of break-up: no funds available for world or planetary domination.

      You do tend to be a bit grumpy about disruptive protests :-) I think they can be part of changing the narrative. Think, in the US, lunch-counter sit-ins in the South. In England, women bringing the suffrage movement to public consciousness by smashing windows and hurling themselves in front of race horses. In India, Gandhi’s
      Salt March, raised world awareness of the precariousness of the British Empire. Yeah, they piss-off people, but that’s the point. And, the disruption they cause is minuscule compared to the chaos of full-bore Climate Disruption. And, species extinction.

      But, seriously. Definitely, localization of food supplies, combined with getting off reliance on fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and farming methods) is paramount. How do we do this? What steps are necessary? What government supports do we provide? This is a revolution, in the best sense of the word.

  5. David H.

    Bottom line… no one is going to give up their comfortable Industrial Age, fossil fueled lifestyle. Well, maybe a few will, but not enough to stop what is coming humanity’s way. So by saying this, am I a climate denier?

    1. Eclair

      With all due respect, David H., you are repeating one of the fossil fuel conglomerate’s current obfuscations; they have given up on promoting outright ‘denial’ to promoting ‘despair.’ “Woe is us, there is nothing we can do, it’s too late, we are all doomed! Might as well enjoy the time that is left to us. And, screw the grandkids!”

      Note that ‘despair’ was (is?) one of the 7 Deadly Sins, lumped in as part of ‘sloth.’ For those interested in Sin.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        One should indeed keep trying, but if there is room for reality I think there must also be room for some despair. It too can motivate given a little time.

  6. Rod

    This must be supplied by ordinary people, from all walks of life, through creative, dramatic action and mass mobilization, to demand the political and economic transformation we so desperately need.

    imo, this is the bottom line.
    Creative/Dramatic/and Mass–undefined for flexible application as necessary.
    Anger can be a useful emotional stimulus here.
    It will cause oneself to cross your own barrier to direct involvement.

    A Real Movement of Climate Crises Rebellion exists–as do many immediate Solutions not demanded or forced into fruition(ie:RadConservation as the lowest fruit).

    If one does not participate in this movement, it does not mean that movement is absent or impotent–it means you are absent from the movement and contributing to the impotence.

  7. Brooklin Bridge

    I don’t know if it was intent or serendipity that put both the “The Many Stories of Diwali,” on the daily miracle of so many remarkable posts from so few people with so little time, side by side with this post on solving the seemingly intractable problem of climate change. Given an absurdly complex global situation with societies that more than ever before in human history are inextricably tied together and yet nevertheless can not agree among themselves never mind their neighbors, describing climate change and the many related issues as a whopper of a problem seems a fair description.

    I bring the two posts up because I wonder, given past examples, if prayer may well be about as far as we get. From those traditions mentioned in the Many Stories of Diwali due to human greed or other frailties to religious human sacrifices on this continent due to decades of dry spells in locations that had been built up with incredible sacrifice sometimes over hundreds of years. Success can be argued, but alternatives, such as reasoned arguments explaining the problem with concrete and reasonable solutions (“no rain, lets go”), do not seem to be working. Even trying to correct some of the most blatant issues of unnecessary poverty and unnecessary suffering in the US seems a leap too far.

  8. Sub-Boreal

    Thanks Yves for the refreshingly clear introduction.

    Two new articles by Andrew Nikiforuk are also free of blah-blah:

    It’s a useful exercise for those of us who are old enough to remember living in the ’60s and ’70s to think about what was different in the details of living arrangements then. Those decades comprised most of my childhood, and transition to young adulthood. My family didn’t have a car until my brother was born, and I didn’t get one until my mid-20s. Although we had a single-family house, it was a fraction of the size of what I see being built in my current community. I was on a plane once before I was in university, and my family took all of our holidays within ~ 300 km of home. The norm was for kids to walk to school. Etc.

  9. HH

    Most big global problems are caused by lack of cooperation, not by technical, financial, or organizational considerations. Since uncooperative traits are deeply encoded in our species, it is an easy prediction that the only way out of the worst case scenarios for global warming will be risky geoengineering methods. These can be undertaken at a lower level of collaboration than the preventive measures, and as time runs out, disaster looms, and desperation increases, these schemes will be the only remaining options. Our descendants will find out if the geoengineering cure is worse than the disease.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I do not agree with the organizational considerations at all.

      Humans have multilayered and often conflicting obligations, starting with your family versus others.

      And even in an organization, serving your boss routinely does not equal serving the organization or its customers.

      Problems like these scale, big time.

  10. peon

    Much of what we need to do we did not long ago. Sixty years ago most families I knew had one car, a 1200 sq ft home(700 sq ft was not uncommon), food mostly produced within 100 miles of where they lived, and had appliances that lasted 40 years and were made locally or at least regionally. Many people used clothes lines to dry clothes, as is still true in Europe. Christmas and birthdays were not lavish consumer events showering everyone with needless possessions. People owned fewer clothes, shoe repair shops were ubiquitous, and people walked to shop, go to school, etc. Which of course was possible because they had a neighborhood store and a neighborhood school.
    My furnace is 40 years old and made regionally. When I replace it I am sure it will be made mostly, or wholly in Asia. And it I will be lucky if it lasts 15 years. The same is true of my washer and freezers. The pans I use were my mothers, cast iron and stainless steel, all made regionally 50 to 80 years ago.
    We know how to consume less without going back to the stone age.

    1. JEHR

      peon: What you write makes a lot of sense and the thing is, if we don’t voluntarily downsize, then we will be forced by climate circumstances to really downsize. Our houses are way too big, cost too much to build and maintain and use too much energy, heat and light. We don’t need even one car if there is public transportation. This description of downsizing applies to the many, many activities that we undertake every day. Voluntary downsizing makes more sense than all the money spent and all the promises made by politicians.

    2. Zamfir

      Keep in mind, US CO2 emissions 60 years ago were pretty much the same as today, per capita. And rising fast, instead of going down like in the last decades.

  11. solarjay

    Why is solar being installed in the US at all? The main reason is due to ROI. Right now the ITC stands at 26% and was at 30%. Industry and utility scale are able to use all that, and then other accounting procedures to completely right off the whole project in 7 years. Of that 7 year ROI, a small fraction is the actual cost of the energy produced and sold. This is born out by the fact that most solar farms are sold after, 7 years. Wind has a different credit than the ITC and its credit is based in production over time. Because there is not a lot of money in the sale of the electricity, sad but true. You can see many farms/commercial projects that have not been sold and they are often in poor condition, with overgrown plants, dirt on the panels etc.

    In the solar industry most people agree that if the ITC goes away, the amount of solar will fall like a stone, for the reasons stated above, not really any money in the actual electricity.

    So I guess I’m saying that since money works to drive investors to do things, that might be the only way here in the US that we can get things to go towards non carbon production, carbon removal, agricultural changes etc. If we expand the ITC for generation 4 nuclear plants, CCS,DCA, geothermal, tidal, agricultural, anything that is carbon zero production and for active carbon removal, then maybe investors will jump in. But it will have to be a locked in 10+ year law, no renewals every year or 3. If you did that, and probably Yves would have other thoughts as to how to encourage the $ part, and then also give more incentives for faster implementation we could be moving in the right direction at a speed that works.

    And to add to the confusion of all this, Obama implemented a tariff on chinese solar panels, then Trump, Biden continues it. Its varied over the years but between 15-20%+. And now Biden has already implemented the WRO.
    I encourage people to read it. They are actively taking full containers of solar panels at US ports. I’ve read of between 2-5GW ( billion watts) of solar have already been confiscated. Making solar more expensive and creating a shortage, driving up pricing even more. Head meet wall.

    Its pretty clear to me that leadership is none right now. I’m out of ideas other than to shower big biz with money to get them to do this.
    Let me know why I’m wrong or right.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      I think what’s happening is that given things as they are (global mess), a complete workable solution is simply not going to come fast enough to avoid some very brutal consequences. Whether, in the process and because of it, we collectively get religion and avoid the big jackpot is what remains in question.

      Also, conservation of energy is probably the fastest and lowest hanging fruit that we can use to make significant change fast enough even to partially succeed. And it will be required along side of a drastic effort in infrastructure changes which will take more time to get right (especially given all the razzle dazzle stuff such as reflective flakes we are going to waste time with and then have to correct regardless of everything else).

      How we are going to change the ethic from profit at any cost to our very existence by helping each other is the big one. And so far, the pandemic is not proving to be the most successful exercise in learning to help each other rather than “sauve qui peut”.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        And a significant part of that is that as Vlade points out above, changing downward (conservation at the individual level) is not an easy sell in today’s world, especially when it comes from on high by people for whom changing downward means things like reducing a fleet of automobiles by one.

  12. saywhat?

    From a Biblical perspective, mass consumption is a “mess of pottage” for legally stolen birthrights such as family farms, businesses and the commons.

    Pitiful and destructive as it is, mass consumption is SOME compensation for the stolen birthrights and the population will bitterly resent (eg. the 55mph speed limit) attempts to rein it in.

    The solution then is to restore the stolen birthrights in addition to abolishing the means* by which they were stolen. Then the population shall have useful ways to spend their time and money rather than waste them on desperate consumption.

    *eg. government privileges for private credit creation.

  13. Wukchumni

    I think the only thing that would stop us from this course would be something akin to the Carrington Event which would stop the world in it’s tracks for years.

    All the easy to get oil has long since been plundered and the hard stuff is energy intensive to pry out of the ground.

    The downside of course would be a massive die-off probably leading to a few hundred million of us still living, mostly in 3rd world countries, so yes the meek will inherit the earth.

  14. Gulag

    Issues like the transition to clean energy sources and the attempted Greek exit from the EU also seem to bring to the forefront the necessity of greater theoretical discussion and strategic thinking about political power and the future role of the state.

    Can it be argued that today capital has mutated into the state, having evolved from being the market-state to more and more a state-market?

    Is the Chinese hybrid of tight state control becoming normative not just for emerging economies but also for the West itself, especially for managing industrial activity and the supposed consequent need for more repressive surveillance as economic growth declines?

  15. Susan the other

    Just curious: In 2021 big oil and gas produced more product than ever… greenhouse gasses are rising and so are global temperatures… we’ve already got extreme weather… we need to limit temperature rise to 1.5C and it’s already at 1.2. All this is boilerplate. I’ve got doubts about accurate CO2 reporting. So the first I’d do if I were King would be to secure and conserve all possible sources of energy, most importantly petroleum. The world still runs on oil and big projects require it. That looks to be happening. In order not to cause panic I’d also block unnecessary manufacturing, and probably follow that up using a big lie about inefficient ports and disrupted trucking so as not to trigger an international court on trade disputes or panic. Sorry, can’t be avoided. When it became too obvious to deny, I’d start spending money, to promote conservation, by a crash program of subsidies for new affordable housing and old retrofits. Not just conservation of petroleum, but all resources. Especially those than can be mined from recycling. At some point early on all these efforts will be obvious and the stock market will crash – the old economy will be gone. Whatever is left after the Fed buys up all the corporate debt and the corporations have bought back all their own stock, will tube. So I’d need to have in place and ready to go a new system for supplying money to everyone to keep the new economy going. Money for the basic necessities, food, clothing, shelter, medical, education, transportation. It will all have to be rationed but that won’t come until the situation is obvious. Energy will be rationed for all the basic necessities – food, medicine, limited transportation. But, imo, money will not be a problem. Every country will be able to use it’s own sovereign resources and help from a neighbor. If COP26 does nothing but find a way to agree on helping your nearest neighbor and being reimbursed for your generosity – that would be a giant step in the right direction. We don’t need to “do everything slowly” – we need to stop doing everything that isn’t part of the solution fast.

  16. Brooklin Bridge

    I must have missed a lot in the 70’s. I remember automobiles as long as railroad cars that got 6 or 7 miles to the gallon, small farms in upper New England being sold left and right to skiers or people with a few horses and the occasional soul who soon found out farming was incredibly difficult work and was already unfeasible economically except as niche farming against a growing industrial scale business model out West. And while it may be true that people made do with far less, it wasn’t because they wanted to, but rather because we hadn’t gotten to the point of mass cheap crapification and highly mechanized (computerized) production. Most people dreamed of having a secondary place up in the mountains that the bow of their ride would touch as the stern just rolled out of the garage at home, and a good rental on the beach for a week or two in the summer; not of putting solar on their roof and changing their outlets and implements to DC or using an outhouse rather than adding a second and third bathroom. Watering one’s lawn automatically every day with unthinkable gallons of water became as American as apple pie, and ride along mowers (with ash trays no less) were the rage if you could afford them and the dream for next year if not. I can go on. It’s true that I was elsewhere for the last half of the 70s but when I returned, the process had only gotten faster and cheaper and then we got hit with Regan and selfish was king.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      It may seem I’m mixing up the 60s with the 70s but regardless of gas shortages, my recollection was that attitudes of consumption didn’t significantly change until later in the 80’s when people’s salary started to really lose purchasing power, and necessities such as health care started going through the roof unless you had not just a job, but the right kind of job. Perhaps ironically, that’s when materialism with ever more cheap junk including junk houses started to take off both by necessity and for appearances. Perhaps this was more a New England phenomenon than throughout the country.

  17. VietnamVet

    It is a certainty that the USA-UK led Western Empire will collapse. The response to the coronavirus pandemic, the fall of Kabul, and Brexit are catastrophically bad unplanned events. The essential workers needed to run and maintain the Empire are being forced to 1) take a non-sterilizing mRNA vaccine with proven side effects, 2) pay hundreds of dollars for testing, 3) drop out, or 4) die broke.

    The current western corporate/state is demonstratively incapable of handling climate change. Perhaps western governments could if they gave a damn about their citizens but they don’t. Trust is gone. The fall of the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian Empires after WWI is an apt parallel if the West continues on its current path. But those who already amassed astonishing wealth in the last 40 years will not spend a penny in taxes to save themselves. Restoring functional republics that change the minds of the western corporations/families and do the necessary planning and implementation is the only way to avoid a human extinction event this century.

  18. thoughtful person

    Late here, my 2 cents is you can pretty much see the response to climate change from the plutocracy. It’s the same one we see for something like health care. Their goal is the same as the tobacco companies.

    Unless we see a massive rebellion, enough to raise a new consciousness among the general population and bring down governments, create new political parties and most importantly end fossil fuel use, “nothing will fundamentally change.”

    Looking at the modeling this means a die off is coming in the next couple decades. Could be billions of us see an early demise.

  19. GiantTurdballs

    I graduated in 1982 (Ontario, ohCanada) as a solar technologist. No jobs in solar, got hired by a city to be an Energy Auditor for 2 yrs. (a provincial grant). Then a contractor selling, designing, installing: lighting retrofits, building management systems, fuel substitions, hydronic heating retrofits, etc.
    Stayed in energy conservation till 2000. During that time I discovered a few “truths”: 1. people would not move from one side of the room to the other to save energy. 2. A 2 yr payback was not attractive enough to buy into a “questionable” (read, any) conservation project.
    After 2000, I was involved with a wind development project until 2011. We developed 465 MG over 60,000 acres. During that time I discovered another truth: people dont give a hoot where the power comes from as long as it doesn’t change their home situation. Case in point, anti winders stridently protesting wind turbines, while their local municipalities were throwing their hat in the ring to be selected for Canadas nuclear waste depository.
    Now I’m generalizing here. I came to understood that my customers (the 10%) were either grandparents, tree huggers or the truly informed. The rest..nah.
    My footprint today is very small; small homestead, veg gardens, 700 ft2 home, heavy on insulation, heavy on conservation, no flying, honda Fit, driven minimally. All paid by myself no incentives.
    And I will say enthusiastically a great life!
    I look around and don’t see anyone in my family, circle of friends, peers, John Q Public, doing the same.
    We humanoids are very reluctant to change, value our shiny stuff too much, and have a reluctance to changing to something (even when better) .
    Watching our fumbling leadership with Covid, I can’t begin to imagine how any concensis on energy will be established. In fact as the surveliance state unfolds in front of us, I see onrushing dystopia.
    We are watching the demise of our civilization, real time.
    Until corporate (oligarch) control of our political system is stopped, we will do NOTHING.

  20. Glen

    I saw a COP26 interview of Bill Gates where he responded to a question that corporations would essentially destroy the world unless properly “incentivized” by governments not to. It was rather astonishing to watch.

    But I guess when Wall St shows up in Congress in 2008 and says “bail us out or we blow up the world economy”, and Wall St gets bailed out, and nobody goes to jail, an important lesson is learned.

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