The Fervent Debate Over the Best Way to Confront Global Warming

Yves here. Notice how radical conservation never makes the list of “what to do about climate change”. Look at what is happening in Europe: wildfires, serious heat waves, dried up rivers, lousy harvests. Mitigation can’t do enough fast enough. Global warming is too mild a term. Maybe “global scorching”?

By Madeline Ostrander, freelance science journalist based in Seattle. Her forthcoming book, “At Home on an Unruly Planet” (Henry Holt and Co., 2022), is about how the climate crisis is affecting Americans at home. Originally published at Undark

In the late 1959s,  Ian Burton, then a geographer at the University of Chicago, learned about a troubling conundrum with levees. These expensive and engineering-intensive strategies — which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers favored for reining in floods along big river floodplains — worked well for holding back intermediate amounts of water. But they gave people a false sense of safety. After a levee went up, sometimes more people actually built and moved onto the land behind it. Then, if an oversized flood eventually poured over or broke through the levee, the disaster could damage more property and cause more havoc than it might have before engineers began meddling.

The paradox would become a classic lesson in how not to adapt to the hazards nature might throw at the human-built environment. It was also an important cautionary tale for an even larger set of disasters and dilemmas caused by climate change. (The problem was on full display when New Orleans’ levees failed in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, submerging parts of the Lower Ninth Ward with up to 15 feet of water by some estimates. That storm was also made worse by shifting climate conditions and rising sea levels.)

WHAT I LEFT OUT is a recurring feature in which book authors are invited to share anecdotes and narratives that, for whatever reason, did not make it into their final manuscripts. In this installment, author Madeline Ostrander shares a story that didn’t make it into her latest book, At Home on an Unruly Planet: Finding Refuge on a Changed Earth (Henry Holt and Co., 352 pages).

Burton began to work on climate change in the 1990s. He jumped into an emerging but then somewhat stunted field called “climate change adaptation”: study and policy on how the world could prepare for and adapt to the new disasters and dangers brought forth on a warming planet. Among Burton’s colleagues, “I was the only one who put my hand up” to work on adaptation, he says now.

Most other climate change researchers were preoccupied with questions of how to cut back on the carbon emissions that were overloading the global atmosphere — an area of research called “climate change mitigation.” But Burton felt that people also needed to consider the dicey and unstable conditions that could arrive in the future, so that they wouldn’t start building insufficient levees or inadequate sea walls, or other poorly considered coping strategies that could make things worse later on.

In that moment, he also walked into an area of controversy and misunderstanding that may have ultimately stymied work on climate change for years or even decades thereafter. Some climate experts felt that any talk about adaptation distracted from the work of keeping pollution out of the atmosphere: it sounded less like a coping mechanism and more like giving up. “When you came along and argued for adaptation, the mitigation people said, ‘Go away we don’t need you,’” he recalls now, slightly tongue-in-cheek. “‘If you say we need to adapt, then you’re undermining our case. So we prefer not to hear from you. You’re the enemy.’”

Essentially, the experts on both sides were trying to chart a path for human survival and well-being in a mounting global crisis — but they weren’t always working together.

Since at least the late 1980s, before the impacts of climate change were as present and obvious as they are now, scientists understood that humans had already pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that we’d all likely feel the heat later on – even if they didn’t yet know the severity of those impacts. Because of a likely “lag time between emissions and subsequent climate change,” the world “may already be committed to a certain degree of change,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the lead international scientific body studying this crisis, wrote in its first major report in 1990.

Therefore, adaptation might be necessary, the report concluded. In 1993, the year Bill Clinton became president, Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment (which no longer exists) released a report on which dozens of scientists and experts consulted: “If climate change is inevitable, then so is adaptation to climate change,” it read. Carbon emissions cuts were still an essential remedy, the authors wrote, but people should get ready for change and uncertainty, especially when dealing with “long-lived structures or slow-to-adapt natural systems.”

But there were also numerous disagreements on the subject of whether and how to adapt — and what that even meant. In the early 1990s, when the international diplomatic community adopted one of the most important treaties on global warming — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which would later lead to the 2015 Paris Agreement — many leaders from less-developed countries in the Global South, especially island nations, were already clamoring for financial and technical help with adaptation. The impacts of climate change would hit these countries hard, flooding large parts of Bangladeshand threatening island states like the Maldives with catastrophic levels of inundation.

But more developed countries in the Global North tried to skirt these discussions out of worry for their own financial liability, recalls social scientist Lisa Schipper, who attended many of these negotiations early in her career. “So anything that would give the impression that they’re responsible, was like, ‘Oh, shut that door.’”

The Global South ultimately succeeded in securing a pledge in the treatyto “assist the developing country parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting costs of adaptation.” But questions about how much the North owes the South for climate damages have remained a contentious topic in international negotiations over the years.

Also in the 1980s and 1990s, some right-wing groups and industry lobbies, most notoriously the fossil fuel industry, began spreading climate disinformation, attempting to discredit the scientific research that demonstrated both the causes and the consequences of climate change. Many of these groups would not discuss adaptation, because that would require admitting that the planet was actually warming.

By contrast, most adaptation scientists felt that emissions cuts were vital. But there were also a few voices, such as Jesse Ausubel, a researcher with The Rockefeller University, who argued that humans were adaptable and already “climate-proofing” societies. Human systems were becoming “less vulnerable to climate,” Ausubel wrote in a 1991 commentary in Nature, as the economy and employment shifted indoors. Societies, he said, should focus on the “inventive genius, economic power, and administrative competence that make the many technologies useful in adapting to climate available to the most people.” (That same year, he also discussed the importance of decarbonization in another paper.)

Vice President Al Gore, in his 1992 book “Earth in the Balance,” reacted vehemently against the idea that “we can adapt to just about anything,” seemingly casting a pall over the whole field — calling it a “kind of laziness, an arrogant faith in the ability to react in time to save our own skins.”

Some adaptation researchers now say all this divisiveness may have hampered climate efforts early on, and created delays that have left the world scrambling to cope with heat, wildfire, storms, and instability.

The polarization of adaptation and mitigation might also have created blind spots that made it harder to push for planet-cooling policies. For one thing, the scientists who studied emissions and the atmosphere were usually experts in various branches of physical sciences — like physics, chemistry, and oceanography. Adaptation researchers often came from fields that dealt with human systems and their foibles — emergency management, geography, urban planning, sociology. The former group of scientists put together complex models of the global atmospheric system and tried to make predictions based on assumptions about what humans might choose to do. Policymakers and diplomats who tried to interpret these models sometimes arrived at an overblown sense of optimism — in part because the world had so successfully acted in the late 1980s to ban the gases that were damaging the Earth’s ozone layer. But climate change is a much thornier problem, requiring a shift away from the fossil fuels that have powered so much of the global economy. The problem required facing human messiness and complexity.

As the world shifted more toward adaptation work, “we realized that you needed models of decision-making—that it’s a decision problem, not a science problem,” says Thomas Downing, who began his career studying disaster response and then moved into adaptation research in the 1990s. The early global climate predictions were “modeling a very idealized world, as if climate change is just one little thing you can tinker with.” If adaptation and mitigation experts had come together, perhaps they would have better understood how to confront stubborn and tangled global politics. Perhaps they would have overcome more obstacles sooner.

As a professional field, climate-change adaptation remained neglected, misunderstood, and small through the early 2000s, when Lara Hansen, an ecotoxicologist by training, began working on the subject for the World Wildlife Fund. Hansen and her colleagues would joke that all the world’s adaptation experts and researchers “could fit in an elevator.” But soon, the field began to mushroom. For one thing, it had become clearer that emissions were not dropping — especially after the George W. Bush Administration announced in 2001 that it would not implement the Kyoto Protocol, another international agreement to prod countries to rein in atmospheric carbon.

The president’s inaction threw a wrench into international negotiations; partly as a result, when the United Nations forged another treaty called the Marrakesh Accords, they included far more about adaptation than in the past. If the U.S. was going to keep dumping carbon into the sky without limit, then the whole world would have far more things to adapt to.

But environmental groups were still often hesitant to wade into the topic — a missed opportunity, Hansen thinks. “I have long said that adaptation is the gateway drug to mitigation. Because once you see how big the problem will be for your community and how much your way of life will have to change,” she says. “Suddenly, it’s like, ‘Well, that sucks. It would be a hell of a lot easier to just stop emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.’”

In 2006, in a hotel ballroom in Florida, she recalls leading a workshop for a couple hundred people to talk about coral reef conservation, including commercial fishing companies and tourism businesses that were not as familiar with the implications of climate change. That evening, at a local theater, the workshop organizers screened Al Gore’s climate documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and aired a video that simulated future floods in south Florida. “I had it zoomed into the Florida Keys,” Hansen recalls, “and you could see that with a two-meter rise in sea level and a Category One hurricane storm surge, the only thing that was still standing in the Florida Keys were a couple of highway bridges and the Key West cemetery.” The audience asked her to replay it three times. Afterward, Hansen said she heard there was much more interest in mitigation efforts from people in the region.

In the years since, the ranks of adaptation experts have continued to grow exponentially. In 2008, Hansen co-founded an organization called EcoAdapt, a clearinghouse of adaptation reports and lessons, and a convener of experts from around the country. When the Obama Administration required federal agencies to develop adaptation plans, it prompted a flurry of other institutions to do the same. “It is actually the thing that probably got more state and local governments thinking about it than anything previously had,” Hansen says.

But adaptation work likely still suffers from some of the constraints it bore in the beginning. Infrastructure, for instance, is built on a slow timeline, and the lag in understanding and acceptance means that planners haven’t necessarily caught up. Burton noted how some of the railroads in the United Kingdom were ill-suited to withstand the recent heat wave. “The railway lines were designed for what the climate has been over the last 50 years,” he lamented, not what the climate is now and is going to become.

Moreover, because mitigation and adaptation have been siloed, projects designed to reduce emissions are sometimes not suited to handle extra heat, storms, or high waters. For instance, if a dam is constructed to draw more electricity from hydropower and less from fossil fuels, it may fail if drought and declining snowpack make river flow more feeble. Moreover, in some locations, a dam can boost the population of malaria-bearing mosquitoes — and become lethal for families living nearby.

A poorly designed adaptation project can confound human misery rather than relieve it. As a result, much adaptation research now has a strong ethical and practical backbone — grounded in the study of human vulnerability. Those who are in the throes of poverty, instability, medical issues, discrimination, poor housing, and a range of other strains will usually feel the brunt of any additional heat, stress, or disaster first. And failing to consider the most vulnerable people and places can jeopardize the health and security of everyone else, too.

Internationally, politicians and experts are still neglecting big questions about how to help the vulnerable adapt — for the collective well-being of the other humans on the planet. What happens when vast regions or even entire nations have to pack up and move? How might this create political instability everywhere or disrupt the global food supply?

In the background, there remain a few voices insisting that adaptation alone can address our current runaway crisis — usually from “super-privileged white men,” quips Schipper. Danish statistician and political scientist Bjorn Lomborg has long insisted that people would adapt easily to whatever lay ahead, no matter how extreme. In frequent columns in The Wall Street Journal, Lomborg often lambasts environmentalists and climate scientists and criticizes their findings, with sentiments like “adaptation is much more effective than climate regulations at staving off flood risks” appearing in one commentary, and “human beings are pretty good at adapting to their environment, even if it’s changing. Keep that in mind when you see another worried headline about climate disasters,” in another.

Hansen, who has by now spent two decades researching adaptation strategies, calls such arguments “patently ridiculous.”

“Unchecked, climate change is unadaptable, like, we will so fundamentally change the landscape of the planet, that it would be impossible.”

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  1. Ignacio

    Lomborg is an idiotic “reactive” (reactionary) guy. He would probably be happy if, for instance, we have a wholly new pandemic, so we have a new chance to ‘adapt’ as easily as he says we do. It is a pity these menaces don’t take away selectively the idiotic trolls.

    1. John Wright

      It appears Lomborg only applies successful “adaptation to climate change” ability to humans.

      Other species also have to adapt.

      Other life forms seem not to be doing well in THEIR real-time adaptation to climate change effects (insects, large mammals, fish, tree die off) to judge by their numbers decline.

      I view the world’s ecosystem as necessarily interconnected and far less resilient (and adaptable) than Lomborg implies..

      And I view that the fate of the other animals and plants residing on this planet foretell the human future.

      But there is a good market for “humans will adapt” promoters such as economist Nordhaus and Lomborg as they have a message that works well to change little in the industrial and political spheres.

      Humans have solved many “problems” of the past, wars, food production (via energy intensive ammonia based fertilizer), economic crises, and transportation by expending vast energy in the form of hydrocarbons.

      Casting climate change as a “problem” that can be handled in the same energy intensive way does not work for me..

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        The proper responses to any Lomborgian’s effort to “engage” you is . . .
        ” I don’t discuss facts with a liar.”

        and/or . . . ” I don’t discuss reality with magical thinkers.”

        And then just fall silent and go dark as long as the Lomborgian is in the room. Or on the thread. Or in the ZoomChat. Or wherever it is that you and it both are.

    2. Kouros

      Likely one of Lomborg’s adaptation pillars for all people needing to actually leave submerged places, or totally dried out places would be Lambert’s “Go die”… Culling the herd…

  2. John Steinbach

    “But climate change is a much thornier problem, requiring a shift away from the fossil fuels that have powered so much of the global economy.” The author is right about this, but the statement vastly understates the importance of fossil fuels to the global economy. For 100+ years, the global economy has been almost entirely dependent on the availability of cheap and abundant fossil fuels. Even hydro, nukes and “renewables” are dependent on FF for construction & maintenance. There is no substitute for the easily accessed concentrated energy embedded in fossil fuels, especially oil.

    Solar and wind energy is vastly less concentrated and cannot substitute for fossil fuels at current rates of energy use, implying an impending radical reduction in human energy and resource usage. This is the radical conservation Yves refers to, and a point that must be hammered repeatedly.

    IMO, there is no tech technological “fix” that will change this reality- not renewables, not fission, not fusion, not tapping into the ionosphere… Radical conservation will happen, either equitably planned for or imposed by nature.

    1. DanB

      Anthropologist Mary Douglass, notes that institutions are understood as arbitrary conventions (rules, norms, laws, taboos) that have become legitimized and reified into immutable reflections of the way the world naturally works. Joseph Tainter -most know for his work on collapse- points out that institutions must solve social problems to last -ensure a society’s sustainability- over time. Institutions, according to Douglas, do our thinking for us, no matter how badly an institution has become at problem solving, only a major catastrophe will make most people question their institutional commitments, which are deeply rooted and for all practical purposes not subject to rational examination, let alone changing the worldview promoting established institutions. IOW, it is common for human groups to simply not see answers to social problems outside of the boundaries set by their institutions. For example, how many articles have been written by Westerners decrying the arrant nonsense and stupidity of the Chinese for the elimination policy approach to Covid? I have had conversations with people -I live in the Boston area- who are stunned- but simultaneously unmoved in terms of their belief the Chinese “Don’t value human life we do” – to learn how few have died of Covid in China. Returning to Tainter, there are three ways to deal with resource scarcity and the consequences of -like global warming- resource overconsumption. (1) Efficiency, as in a 90% efficient gas fired furnace replacing a 50% one. (2) Conservation, as in turning down the thermostat in the winter. (3) De-complexifying -sometimes called degrowth- as in doing away with the gas furnaces and all the technology associated with it. I’m not known for a sunny disposition, so my hunch is door # 3, degrowth, is nature’s way of telling us to slow down.

    2. Bsn

      I agree John. “there is no tech technological “fix” that will change this reality” could be restated as “zero” technological fix will change this reality. I mean that we (humans) need to trash our reliance on nearly everything medium and high tech. Zero fossil fuels, zero solar panel mining, zero fast and distant transportation, zero “growth”. It is so critical that we should understand that in a few years there will be nothing edible coming out of the ocean. What will people in large/mega cities do? Escape while they can and re-join the Earth. Everyone capable needs to farm and relearn simple, non high tech ways and solutions. Won’t happen, but trying to invent or correct anything via tech more complicated and extractive than wheels, plows and animal husbandry will fail. High tech is what got us here. The mechanistic view is killing us.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        It isn’t the high tech by itself which is killing us. It is the overuse and misuse of high tech driven by the mechanistic view which is killing us.

        I see some intriguing videos on You Tube about lost civilizations in India which were more high tech than just wheels, plows and animal husbandry. If they self-cancelled themselves by overdevelopment then they make your argument not mine. But if they were destroyed from without by Mongol and post-Mongol Islamic invasions ( the “Turushkas”) and then the British; then my argument perhaps deserves some consideration.

        Some of his videos seem silly or strange. But some are non-silly and non-strange, like this one ( if you focus on the bow technology and not on the “Lord Rama” part of it as such).

    3. Susan the Other

      I’m reasonably optimistic at this point. When we failed to gain control of Mideast/Caspian oil and did our lovely face plant in Ukraine, we resorted to plan #2. (my opinion here) – With the writing on the wall, loud and clear, we decided we’d just go ahead and pre-disaster the world by “sanctioning” Russian oil. And excessive trade with China. And thereby bring Germany and the EU to a screeching halt. Let them figure it out, right? We have allowed extreme immigration like never before – that too is climate mitigation. One tried and true method to “adapt” is to slam on the brakes – cause a severe shortage, let the chips fall, causing everyone to conserve asap. And then add back the necessary petroleum, etc in small amounts until the dose is sustainable. As Biden reportedly put it, “this catastrophic transition.” I think it might be a controlled catastrophe.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Mass immigration from low per capita fossil fuel use areas to high per capita fossil fuel use areas is not mitigation. It is global warming acceleration.

      2. pianicola

        A controlled catastrophe is still a catastrophe. Shock therapy aimed at the European population, the US observation laboratory.
        I fear it will be the poorest of us who will pay the price and that doesn’t really fly as emissions are caused by the richest citizens – unless of course there is a full-scale population decline as we saw in Russia in the 90s.

  3. digi_owl

    Global boiling.

    Because the atmosphere and the pot of water on the stove is pretty much the same mechanism in action.

    Low and high pressure areas, and the wather they bring along, are pretty much the same as the bubbles generated as water boils.

    The added CO2 etc then is the same as cranking up the heat below the pot.

    And just like the proverbial frogs, we are not doing anything about it because the change is to gradual to notice.

    1. c_heale

      The Frog in Boiling Water meme has been shown to befalse. Frogs jump out. They are smarter than us!

  4. GC54

    Running the En-ROADS simulator to quantify global effects of various mitigation tactics has been illuminating. In Monday’s Webcast (slides) they were enthusing about the new bill’s “courage” while simultaneously revealing its insignificant impact on the global bottom line. “It’s a start that will encourage others”. MIT spokesperson explained that their analysis (also Princeton’s Repeat Project) shows that the bill’s sell-out to enhance USA FF production would still reduce CO2, ok so now on the right track, back to sleep.

    1. Polar Socialist

      Yup. We just get rid of the folks in “Global West” and worlds energy consumption goes down by a fifth or so. And most of the world would not even miss them. /s

      Maybe, just maybe, start by getting rid of all the insane wastage (food, energy) in the Global West and then check again.

    2. The Historian

      Not to pick on you, but I hate it when someone says the problem is too many people. What they usually really mean is they want less of those ‘other’ people – they never see that they and their families are part of the problem too. And unfortunately, the ‘othering’ of people leads to humans doing horrible things to other humans because they just don’t see that those ‘others’ love their families too, that they also have dreams and all the desires that each of us has. The earth has to belong to all of us, even though some people think they have the right to own parts of it for themselves and deny the ‘others’ the right to it.

      Yves is right – radical conservation is the only way out of the mess we are in. Ask yourselves – how many pairs of shoes do we really need to own? Do we really need to live in a 3000 sq ft home? Do we really need a new car with all its bells and whistles? Do we really need to eat meat every day? We have to start asking ourselves these questions. The only way to stop corporations from polluting is to stop consumerism – there aren’t any other cures. We can’t technology our way out of this, so no, no new form of energy is going to do it because all energy production has its environmental costs.

      1. JohnnyGL

        I agree with the disgust at imploring people to stop reproducing.

        The planet still roasts with 1 billion americans and everyone else dead.

        Whereas we could double the population of the world if we had subsaharan african levels of emissions.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        One WesterModern Industrial person skyfloods as much carbon as 20 Indian peasants.

        Now, here’s a way to reduce carbon skyflooding within the industrial world. Since a unit of thingmaking emits twice as much carbon in China as the same unit of thingmaking emitted in America before the International Free Trade Conspiracy moved all our thingmaking over to China, America could reduce the amount of industrial thingmaking carbon emissions by . . . withdrawing from the Free Trade System, restoring in America all the thingmaking-for-American-consumption that is currently done in China, and America would cut the amount of carbon emissions from thingmaking for America in half right there, by just bringing all the thingmaking for America back into America.

        And banning imports of every single thing from every country which emits more carbon per thing-made than America does.

    3. Wyatt Powell


      We could have done this years ago. Less children, less consumption, better education, more birth control, better land and water management and on and on and on…

      But we did not, so nature shall do it for us. Sad to say the suicides, deaths of despair, deaths from exposure, and casualties from repeat infections* will help.

      *anybody have a timetable for that? So far im

      1. c_heale

        So you did the less children, less consumption, better land and water management parts yourself personally. If you didn’t, you didn’t do anything. This is the problem. Talk is cheap. Emissions are still going up. Nothing has changed for the better in this regard in my lifetime. I’m over 50 now.

        According to Jared Diamond in his book Collapse, lots of human societies did the same thing as we are doing. Nothing. And they don’t exist as civilisations any more.

        But this time given the level of stupidity in the current elite, we’ll be lucky if any humans survive. Life will still be around – even with a nuclear holocaust. Just not us humans.

    4. Bruno

      I wish whoever’s moderating to attach to every such declaration of suicidal intention a phone number for the Samaritans.

  5. Rod

    “I have long said that adaptation is the gateway drug to mitigation. Because once you see how big the problem will be for your community and how much your way of life will have to change,” she says. “Suddenly, it’s like, ‘Well, that sucks. It would be a hell of a lot easier to just stop emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.’”

    Never thought about it like that—though it is so intuitive for anyone who has had to clean up a mess of their own making.
    And we all have.

    The realization will be that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure “ is the backbone of the Precautionary Principle.

    I grew up without electricity, and all that it enables. I am miserly with it still.

    1. Rod

      “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure “
      imo—Radical Conservation starts right here.

  6. Linda Amick

    Until we understand the effects of spraying chemicals into the atmosphere like we have been doing for years, it is unknown how much is actual real global warming vs the attempts to create a haze in the skies which holds in heat along with the dessicate effects of the chemicals used. geoengineeringwatch has been around for years and has proof of these activities via photos and soil samples. Also, we NEVER talk about the pollutions caused by unending wars and by big corporate entities that continuously contaminate our environments. The war machine is by far the biggest contaminator and user of fossil fuels and it is never talked about. Additionally the people behind this push have the biggest carbon footprints of any humans on the earth.

  7. HotFlash

    Firstly, Undark’s ‘What I left Out’ series is a great idea and I look forward to exploring it further. Secondly, Ms Ostrander has, in this essay, the seed of another book. I went digging around and found another interview with her about her book, at Crosscut, I recommend.

    I checked out the MIT En-ROADS simulator GC54 cites, I maxed out all the ‘good stuff’ and minned all the ‘bad stuff’ and still got 1.4C warming. There wasn’t a slider for “Kill all the cars” or “Eat the 1%” so I guess not all possible solutions have been included in their model.

    In 1859 the Drake Well made us all trust fund babies, and we are now into the second century of blowing through millions of years of stored energy. We are down to maybe a century or less left. Gonna be hard to adapt to that cold turkey, considering that mainly what we’ve done in the past 50 years is allow rich people to keep on driving and made Elon Musk a billionaire. It was Michael Hudson who, when speaking of Long Covid, observed that a 10% drop in IQ was equivalent to inheriting a trust fund. And now we have both.

  8. Tom Pfotzer

    And so we continue to talk.

    The thing about intellectuals – smart people – is that they’re quite good at conceptualizing.

    Many of us get paid a good salary because we’re good at thinking, and we tend to equate that thinking with “results”. If you’ve identified a problem, and generated a list of solutions, well, you’re job is done, right?

    We thinkers tend to delegate the doing to the people that are less good at thinking.

    Environmental damage is no longer a concept problem. We know we’re in trouble, we know why we’re in trouble, and we know what to do about that trouble. If you contest that assertion that “we know what to do”, say so and I’ll trot out the particulars. We know what to do.

    I have a checklist of the major adverse impacts my household is visiting upon the environment. The first edition of that checklist made the scene about 20 years ago.

    For the past 20 years, I have been gradually chipping away at those adverse impacts.

    Commute gone. Greenhouse built. Insulation done. Thermodynamics understood. Car use down to 3K miles per year. Across all those years, a gradually intensifying focus on “making my living fixing the planet”. That’s been the biggest challenge of all, right there.

    People ask “so what about a greenhouse. What impact does that have?”. Turns out, a whale of a big impact. I’ll detail it in a subsequent post in the appropriate thread. It may surprise you just how many big objectives and capabilities that greenhouse lab delivers on.

    Solar system install is next, followed by major redesign of HVAC system to eliminate fossil fuel usage (propane, 1000 gals a year).

    Then the pickup truck gets replaced by or better yet upgraded to something electric, which will be energized by the household solar array.

    That’s the doing. It’s not radical; it’s gradual. There were no major dislocations. I will keep the existing gear till it’s end-of-lifecycle, and be ready to replace it with “fix the planet” type gear at the point it expires.

    The main thing is that an inventory of what needed to be done to fix _me_ was taken, the tasks were prioritized by impact and my ability to do the work, and then the list got processed.

    Every year something significant got done.

    1. Bsn

      Your actions are a start. I know, I have done most of them too. It’s not going to be enough. Zero growth. Whatever you (meaning anyone) has right now, you can’t add to it. In a few years your roof will leak, your furniture will rot from the wet, not considering the storm that will demolish your house. Then what? Buy more furniture? Build a new house of lumber, plastic, stone, concrete, solar panels, PVC plumbing…..
      That’s all stuff that adds to growth. Growth must end and we must relearn how to shelter and feed ourselves without massive extraction. There’s going to be a culling of the herd so let’s relearn nature and pass that info to our youth, after we crush their (and our) cell phone.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        You’re on a roll.

        A while back, I wondered “what if every family has two or fewer kids?” What would that mean for housing? Assume (big assumption, but go with it for a sec) that the family house is never sold, but turned over to the kids.

        That means every kid and kid-spouse would inherit a house.

        Now let’s talk about house construction. It is quite possible to build houses that last forever, with occasional upgrades (roof, windows). Those components most subject to failure can be made much better, and more economically-repaired than they currently are.

        It costs more up-front to do it, of course. Quality costs more.

        But length-of-service for homes can substantially extended. If the failing components’ materials could be salvaged, then you’re approaching steady-state, and vastly reducing the load on the underlying geology and biosphere.

        All the points above could just as easily be applied toward nearly all the manufactured products we currently buy.

        1. John Wright

          Repairing currently manufactured products are a big issue.

          I am frequently tasked by friends/family to repair something mechanical/electrical.

          Some items truly last and work for a long time, for example an old style mechanical micrometer or Vernier caliper.

          But newer electronic micrometers/calipers require batteries to work and can additionally have their electronics fail .

          I recently acquired a rusty 24″ Vernier Brown and Sharp caliper that may be 90 years old.

          It cleaned up well and is still functional.

          While I have a good stock of measuring instruments and soldering/desoldering equipment, I’m reluctant to try to fix any electronics past the mid 1990s.

          Attempting to repair old electronics may require old integrated circuits that are hard to find and there is the problem of degraded rubber and plastic parts that are difficult to source.

          The Egyptians left their pyramids.

          The USA will leave its pyramids of trash in landfills for future generations to ponder and be displayed in future museums..

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      We know what to make “all those other people” do. But we don’t know how to make them do it.

  9. The Rev Kev

    I can see what is going to happen down the track and you are not going to like it. Sooner or later, every person in the ‘developed’ world will be given an energy budget. It will be just like rationing. How you spend that energy budget will be up to you but when it is gone you will have to wait until it gets reset. Maybe at the end of the month. The kicker is that if you run out, you cannot just buy more – not at any price. Probably if you can generate your own power, then that would be a bonus for you but maybe then your allowance gets cut back and no, you would not be allowed to sell excess back to the network nor will you be able to transfer your energy to other people.
    I said that you are not going to like it.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      Why would you prevent people who were generating renewable power from selling to those that aren’t? And why cut back someone’s allowance if they generate renewables?

      In short, why penalize those that are exhibiting the desired behaviors? The people doing what’s needed should be rewarded. That’s behavioral incentives 101.

      I really do like the idea of an energy budget, though.

      I propose to extend your budget idea, and add a materials budget, which would provide a big incentive to evolve into the resource-cycling economy design.

      Resources also have a major adverse impact on the environment, and they have a potentially major constructive impact on leveling the wealth disparity.

      If we can provide some major econ benefits to households as reward for evolving themselves environmentally it’ll remove a lot of the change-resistance factor.

      Change-resistance plays a huge role in the inertia we’re facing.

      1. The Rev Kev

        ‘Why prevent people who were generating renewable power from selling to those that aren’t?’

        Simple. If people can generate their own energy, then more power to them (sorry, couldn’t resist). You start down the track of having people selling energy, then you are creating energy markets which can be gamed and spot prices and corporations arising to buy and sell it and all the rest of it. The idea is to conserve energy, not the capitalist system. My way, you are actually conserving the actual amount of available power.

        1. Bsn

          But…… these are still only incremental semi-solutions. It still involves extraction, shipping, and tech. Selling the power via electricity (for example) means mining more copper for the wire and plastic for the shielding. Then one says, but we can recycle old wire. How ya gonna move it? Fossil fuel shipping? Even building ships of wood to sail it far away, how does it get upriver when the Rhine in not navigable? It’s all got to be localized and simplified. If you need wood, better plant a few trees and learn how to encourage their growth.

          1. Tom Pfotzer


            Manufacture once. Use forever. Put the recovery and refurb facilities at the local landfill. Convert the landfill from “deep pollution” to “awesome place to work!”.

            Manufacturing and transport don’t use labor; they use energy and materials.

            Repair / refurbish uses labor. Households sell labor.

            Level the wealth-concentration by manufacturing once (big scale, big capital, little labor) and repair/refurbish/recover (mostly labor, some material) many, many times.

            And plant those trees, as you said. Trees are so cool, and wood is the wonder-material.

        2. Tom Pfotzer

          I see your point.

          Would you propose a phase-in, or cold-turkey allocation plan?

          Your proposed model seems to constrain participation / take-up rate to just those ready-willing-and-able. Can you think of a way to induce rapid take-up?

          If you’re going cold-turkey, you’re going to hit a wall of resistance, quite a lot of which is justified. For ex. “I don’t have the capital to install gen capacity” and/or “reduction of energy to cold-turkey level majorly constrains earning power, can’t do it even if I was totally on-board”

          Do you have any ideas about how to crack that wall?

          I’m seeing the resistance-wall at the consumer level as the major obstacle. That’s why I like the notion of positioning the transition in economic-betterment garb.

          As you’ve long since observed, people are generally weak. They will look for and find any “way out”, as you pointed out (e.g. “gaming”). It isn’t just the big guys that do the gaming. The underlying reason for all the resistance is that it’s _work_ to change. Takes effort, costs money.

          If that wasn’t the case, there would have already been a consumer revolt and energy-waster products would have been selected-out, etc. The consumer wields enormous power over what gets purchased and therefore what gets produced.

          The weak link is Mr. and Mrs. Householder.

          So give them a game to play which delivers on the objective while addressing their actual weaknesses – and we know what those weaknesses are. Long and well-known.

          I am all-for the budget notion. Carrot and stick. We’re missing some carrots.

          We zealots are already psychologically conditioned for action. We’re sorta ready to do something. Almost everyone else (97%) isn’t.

          Back over to you.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Everyone around you who is surviving will pay zero attention to the fact that you are surviving because you are only doing something that they are also doing anyway. So for now they are not interested in what you are doing.

            If everyone around you, or even just some of the everyones around you, starts surviving less well, and sees you surviving just as well as before, they may ask what you are doing that is helping you survive quite nicely when they are not quite surviving as well anymore.
            If they ask you what are you doing, that would be your opportunity to be ready to show them what you know and what you are doing. Maybe some of them can or will adopt some of what you show them that you are doing.

            But they won’t be interested till they are suffering enough under future harsh conditions that they are ready to find out why you are not suffering the same way under the same conditions first.

            ” I felt the heat. Then I saw the light.”

            1. Tom Pfotzer

              I nominate DW’s strategy, articulated above, as a foundational concept for getting us out of this mess.

              I suggest that we call it “DW’s Better Party” strategy.

              Suppose we get really good at devising Economy 2.0., which is a political economy* that:

              * fixes the planet as we make our living. It _fits_ with the natural world
              * routes wealth to the people that created the wealth
              * eliminates meters (wealth extraction taps)
              * has a culture of creativity and self-actualization
              * systematically builds and vigorously protects the commons
              * concentrates on equipping young people

              That’s a Better Party. That’s a scene I would be very happy to be part of.

              Economy 2.0’s thesis is “a commons we built, we own, that benefits us.”

              DW, if you don’t like that name, or the traits I suggested, change it. It’s your idea, and it’s an exceptionally good one that I think will go the distance.

              * political economy: “how we provide for ourselves, and who gets what”

              Economy 2.0: _You_ get what you create. And you’re _very_ good at creating.

    2. HotFlash

      OK, sounds cool. But. Who will set the budget? Who will enforce it? I cannot think of any entity now or at any time in history that I would entrust with those tasks, can you? Who would determine the energy ‘cost’ or, since that might be difficult to determine, the energy ‘price’ of all the various goods and services? How would energy in manufactured goods be allocated? If that is not done correctly and fairly, I can foresee distortions. In the 70’s there were stories of Russian enamelware factories which made lots of basins (large, simple, stack-able) but small, complicated, non-stackable items, eg. enamelware cups, were hard to find. The problem was that the factory’s quota was in tons produced. Moscow taxi drivers had quotas based on mileage, so empty taxis would drive up and down Tverskaya Street all night.

      Yes, it needs to be done, and yes it needs to happen at scale, and quickly. To be effective, it will have to be done by almost everyone. We have maybe 50 years of petroleum left, and judging by our ‘progress’ in the last 50, I do not think that is likely.

      And finally, how would you get enough people to do it? Based on mask-wearing and vaxx uptake,

      Some lessons might be drawn from a similar crisis in Cuba when the USSR dissolved and Cuba no longer got oil and fertilizer from Russia, and, due to US sanctions, had very little other recourse. Check out Cuban Special Period, also Cuban Boat People, to see how thtat worked. Yeah, they got through it, but can you see Joe Biden running an operation like that? McKinsey? Donald Trump? I rest my case.

      1. The Rev Kev

        @ Tom Pfotzer & HotFlash

        By the time what I say will happen we will have no choice. Our options will have run out for other solutions and kicking the can down the road would find us at the end of a cul de sac. The present political games that we amuse ourselves with will no longer possible. Another prediction. We may find that because of energy costs, that we will have an internet budget as well and it will not be much. But by then the internet will have reverted back to its original text format so no videos or images. Bye bye, YouTube. We will not have the energy to run enormous server farms anymore so all “extras” will go away. And our grandchildren will curse us for squandering the planet’s resources for our own convenience and sense of entitlement. When will this all happen? I would say before the end of the century. But not much longer past that.

        1. Tom Pfotzer

          The Rev:

          Everything you posit seems possible to me, maybe inevitable.

          We are headed for a hard crash. Humans are not currently capable of saving themselves, and we have stupid people at the helm actively making things way worse.

          But there are some humans I love, and a whole lot of the natural world I love.

          That means a struggle and a facing-down of fear is required.

          This has been a good discussion, everyone.

          Please decide to fight.

        2. c_heale

          I would say we are gonna have no options left in a very short time. Maybe a few years. Look at Western Europe now. If this continues, things will change by the time this year ends.

  10. JAC

    It seems the consensus here is that it might be too late and nature will perform its own version of radical conservation. And I agree. But we should keep insisting on radical conservation, living by example, showing people what is possible. And by doing so you and your children will be ready for the inevitable regardless.

    I think that internet use should be reduced to a minimum, since it not only uses a lot of energy, but it also feeds the consuming impulse.

    Keep doing the little things, like if you have a smartphone, put it in low power mode and in airplane more when you are not using it. If you have an iphone, disable Messages and turn of your data connection. And keep doing the big things like turning off your AC and heat and keep pushing yourself to experience a greater variation in temperature and taking way less showers.

    And please please please, stop buying stuff.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      Internet could just as easily be used to learn how to select and/or produce things which do the adapting.

      Consider: what if facebook was a place where people exchanged ideas about local econ devel?

      Of course, facebook is totally wrong for the job; it’s all about manipulating consumers to consume more. That’s their revenue model.

      So come up with a social platform that’s all about doing the adapting. Make _that_ be the cool thing to do, and the subject of endless show-off pix and stories with lots of likes and twitterings.

      Just because some boneheads don’t know how to use these fabulous tools we currently have doesn’t mean we should toss the tools.

      We should instead actually learn how to use these incredible tools we have.

      1. JAC

        Tom, you were trained as an engineer and entrepreneur. Unless you do some serious unlearning you will not see the solution. The solution is not “doing something”. The solution is “doing nothing”.

        There is too much yang in the world, acting acting acting. We need more yin.

        1. Tom Pfotzer


          There’s quite often a little voice in my head – barely audible – that says exactly what you just said.

          I will take time to consider your advice.


          And while I’m considering, would you please explain more fully what you mean about “doing nothing”. Doing nothing as in stay on current trajectory with massive crash, or eschew all tech beyond some (please define it) baseline (e.g. return to subsistence farming) …which “nothing” are you advocating?

          That’s not a dodge. Your point that I think like an engineer / entrepreneur is spot-on, and probably limits my ability to see other solutions.

          I’m asking directly: please be more specific, and list out alternative perspectives so I can absorb them.

          And as a wise person I respect a great deal once said, “Tom, it’s much easier to learn something than it is to unlearn it”.

          1. Anthony G Stegman

            I think I know what JAC is getting at. Many if not most of the big problems facing the world today are due to man’s ambitions. If we were all less ambitious the magnitude of these problems would be much lower and not so urgent. Sitting around watching the grass grow or the change in cloud formations is not a bad thing. “Working hard and playing hard” is often bad when taken to the extremes we see in our industrialized society.

            1. Tom Pfotzer

              Yes. We know what he’s getting at.

              The problem is that his aspiration, his ethos, is _not_ backed up with concrete actions that deliver on the ethos while providing for household needs.

              And then he goes on to disparage “technology” with broad-brush condemnation. That is really unhelpful.

              Technology is what humans know how to do. That’s it! What we know how to do.

              What we need is a perfect super-nova of _appropriate_ technology. Not neo-con, or neo-liberal, but practical, helpful, implementable, here-and-now mechanisms to turn the awful fire-hose of stupid into an eruption of human brilliance that actually saves our sorry ass.

              Time is short, guys. Pick targets and behaviors that are actually going to make a difference.

              1. DJ's Locker

                This I can agree with. Our civilization is not able to just stop, let alone go backwards. Unless you are prepared to accept billions of fatalities, including you and yours, which I am not. If there is a solution to climate change with continuing prosperity for most, it lies in technology. The human experience gives me faith in the eventual outcome, but I do not assume it is a foregone conclusion.

                1. drumlin woodchuckles

                  Can civilization slow to a stop and then go sideways at right angles to its current course?

                  How much less prosperity would still be enough prosperity? Technology is half the battle. The other half is being satisfied with whatever modest prosperity the technology is able to sustainably deliver.

          2. JAC

            Open minded! Thank you!

            By doing nothing I mean doing nothing. Eating less, no restaurants, staying home, not working so much, no shopping. Like when people ask you “what are you doing for the weekend?” your response should be “Nothing.”

            This is all very Daoist:


            I have heard of letting the world be, and exercising forbearance; I have not heard of governing the world. Letting be is from the fear that men, (when interfered with), will carry their nature beyond its normal condition; exercising forbearance is from the fear that men, (when not so dealt with), will alter the characteristics of their nature. When all men do not carry their nature beyond its normal condition, nor alter its characteristics, the good government of the world is secured.

            Dao De Jing:

            In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
            In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.

            Less and less is done
            Until non-action is achieved.
            When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

            The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
            It cannot be ruled by interfering.

            1. Tom Pfotzer


              You said:

              By doing nothing I mean doing nothing. Eating less, no restaurants, staying home, not working so much, no shopping. Like when people ask you “what are you doing for the weekend?” your response should be “Nothing.”

              OK, I’m good with no restaurants, not working so much, and no shopping. I re-state that as “transit from consumerism to producerism”.

              Why did I convert your words as I did? Because you – that’s _you_ are going to need to produce / create more stuff if you bail on what the global supply chain offers.

              We are going to have to replace the enormous productivity of the global supply chain with stuff that’s made locally. With less scale. And scale _counts_!

              Making our own food means we have to supplant global/national supply chains with local production. Local production is currently quite inefficient, translate: work way, way harder to produce far less of the basics you need to run your household. Food. Energy. Materials. Health care. Education. Communications (incl internet!).

              And that means we a whole bunch of us – millions of us – need to get really good at local ag, local mfg / refurb, etc. – and in very short order – or we’re going to starve and freeze with your “do nothing” philosophy.

              Let’s ID where we agree: we need to jettison the consumptive lifestyle. We’re in lock-step agreement there.

              But saying “we should eschew technology” is where we very much disagree.

              My definition of “technology” is “what humans know how to do”. Not computers, or blinkin’ lights. Just “how to convert what the natural world offers (geology and biosphere) into the stuff we need to run our households. That’s my working def of “technology”.

              Really “advanced” technology would provide for our households while fixing the planet. That’s where my technology is pointed.

              That’s why the transition from Economy 1.0 (providing for humans while trashing the planet) is so fundamentally different from Economy 2.0 (providing for humans while fixing the planet). Major, major different.

              Now, let’s consider “deployment” of your great ethos.

              Right now, very very few of us have absorbed and can deploy the technology to do subsistence farming, just to zero in on that one piece.

              The “technology” – e.g. organic farming, no-till, cover crops, seed-saving…it’s all out there, but very few of us know how to do it. We’d starve and freeze if we had to support our families next year using that tech. And we’d still freeze and starve, even if we knew how to do it.

              Why? Most of us don’t have the land required to do the down-size tech you espouse.

              Doing this stuff takes preparation, planning, and a hell of a lot of work to set up.

              So, some means of disseminating and demonstrating what’s already known, but not widely implemented is crucial. Internet, just for example, is probably the most efficient way to do the dissemination task.

              Your poets deliver the right ethos.

              Now help us convert that ethos to sufficient food on the table, and shelter, and health care…e.g. the stuff we actually _must_ have to run our households.

    2. HotFlash

      JAC, I must agree with Tom about the internet. Power consumption is not all that high, if you leave out activities like bitcoin mining and total collection and retention of all data everywhere. And the stuff you can learn! These folks designed and built a wind generator out of junk that powered their off-grid home. Their Chispito generates 100 watts of 12volt DC, which ran their laptop, satellite receiver, TV, VCR, DVD player, stereo, power tools and lights. They have instructions, if you are inclined to build one yourself. I could build one, but could not have designed it, so thanks, Abe and Josie. These folks, Living Energy Farm, motto “The renewable revolution will not be centralized” are also off-grid energy self-sufficient. They are an intentional community, so all members have ‘volunteered in’. They have some cool videos, too.

      But I agree with you about setting an example. I’m too old and tired to homestead, so my plan is to collapse in place, as John Greer said, and tailor my survival-y stuff to the place where I am. I don’t know how much of an example I can be to my neighbours, but if push comes to shove I can fix bikes and make sourdough starter, I ride a bike everywhere, in winter the house heat is set to 14C (that’s 57 degrees) and know how to urban forage. I like the idea of an intentional community, but will settle for the community I have, a charming two-block long street in an old streetcar suburb, and work and live with them on whatever terms they may have.

  11. Reaville

    Day 1 of radical conservation occurs on Day 1 after the power grid fails. Humanity can and will endlessly endure a slow decline because there will be no option. Does anyone think that the neoliberal economic system dominating globally will suddenly advocate for national/global collective effort? Today’s response to the boiling climate is like meeting Pearl Harbor with a stimulus bill. When faced with existential threats, the correct response is organize every single aspect of power and direct it on the best solution. Yet our present elites are limited to actions framed by “markets” and “freedom.”

    Good luck with that.

    I’d like to see comments on collective action directed by national governments and coordinated by super-national bodies. If those ideas make people choke, then please offer the better solution. But comments that “there is no substitute for fossil fuels” are really saying “go die” because continuing on the same track is doing the same insanity over again hoping for a different result. We have the result of that experiment. Radical conservation is not unknown in the USA and the West. In WW2, it was instituted by national governments and accepted by populaces that bought in to the threat and the proposed solution.

    More of that, please.

    1. Reaville

      Just a quick addendum: There’s several comments questioning who is served by the polarization of America, which appears to be an engineered outcome by media and politics.

      Polarization is one firewall against collective action. If the population is divided into tribes, then there is little chance of the tribes coming together.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I know of no substitute for fossil fuels. If you know of one, please share that information.

      Fossil fuels are finite and once they are used up, they might never be replaced. Even radical conservation does not solve this conundrum. It merely extends its impact over time. This is not an assertion equivalent to “go die”. In the not too distant future radical conservation will be a fact of life resulting from circumstance — possibly instituted by national governments or not, possibly made more or less equitable through the actions of government or through other avenues. There is no collective action or individual action I know of that will somehow make more fossil fuels, or develop some fabulous substitute for fossil fuels. I am not opposed to collective action … but pessimistic for its chances.

      There is no reason not to try to find a substitute for fossil fuels, no reason not to invent different ways to organize Human Society to reduce or eliminate its present reliance on fossil fuels, and no reason to just “go die”. I too am skeptical of the ability of our present elites to find a remedy by “Markets” or ‘freedom’ or any other action I can think of. But I am also skeptical of our ability to gracefully slip from under the thumb of our present elites, or cast off the terrible Neoliberal parasite sucking dry, the remaining anemic life blood of our present Civilization. Although the Collapse might slowly progress over many decades, I believe it will begin in earnest with Cataclysm. Radical conservation might help mitigate the impact and harshness of that Cataclysm.

  12. Kris Alman

    Negative emissions are the goals of “climate restoration” endorsed by Peter Fiekowsky and esteemed international scientists whose expertise includes atmospheric chemistry, climate change, and related fields. While the focus has been on carbon capture, methane is getting more attention because of its much higher global warming potential in the near future.

    See nonprofit Methane Action.

    It’s hard for me to discriminate between geoengineering and some solutions proposed for methane removal, such as introducing iron-salt aerosols into the atmosphere.

    Then again, the human species may collectively be forced into the same last ditch efforts dying patients encounter, trying anything and everything to survive. When risks of business as usual are catastrophic, negative externalities are simply excluded from equations.

  13. David in Santa Cruz

    Human beings are quite adept at adaptation. That’s why our population has quadrupled from 2 billion to 8 billion since my birth in the mid-1950’s.

    I’m currently having an energy-efficient house built in a rural area that appears resilient to current climate events. I will have a greenhouse, be able to consume mostly local foodstuffs, and be on reliant heat-pumps driven by power from an electrical cooperative that is investing heavily in solar.

    But who am I kidding? I’m consuming a massive amount of carbon to get it done. In the end, lowering my consumption simply allows me to live a comfortable lifestyle while everything else goes haywire.

    Adaptation is the problem, not the solution.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      David, please pause for a sec and congratulate yourself on what you’ve done. It’s excellent.

      After a few weeks of basking in your brilliance, turn that great mind of yours toward building some carbon sinks to sop up the carbon you created.

      We need to celebrate our positive steps. This is a huge job, it takes enormous efforts over a long period of time. It’s a marathon.

      Remember to stay emotionally hydrated.

      1. Anthony G Stegman

        There isn’t time for a marathon. We need to sprint if we are to avoid catastrophe. For too long we have been dilly dallying, thinking we have all the time in the world. Time is running out. In fact, it may already be too late.

        1. Tom Pfotzer

          Sorry, Anthony, it is a marathon. I agree that urgency is required. Spot on. But ya need to get the right equipment for the job, and we don’t have it. Yet.

          This is going to take all of humanity several decades to turn this monstrous, enormous-momentum, galaxy-scale inertia.

          Now take your rowboat, tie it to a battleship under sway, and paddle furiously. See what difference that makes.

          Frenetic is _not_ going to work. Well-planned, effective action is required.

          We need to marshal hundreds of millions of people to do smart things. To put aside their short-term, personal interests. To do things that require self-sacrifice, long-term view, planning, preparation.

          We need to identify the proper-scale machinery we need, do a design of said machinery, and start building it.

          What is that machinery? What thing is equivalent in scale and mass to the problem we face?

        2. Hazelbrew

          I once trained for a parachute jump.
          I rather naïvely asked the question
          “How late is too late to pull the reserve chute if the main one has failed?”

          The instructor came back quick as a flash with

          “Well I don’t know about anyone else but I would keep trying to deploy the reserve chute until I hit the ground ”

          We are not facing a catastrophic impact like a jumper without a chute. But I think it still holds. It is never too late
          Like the old adage about planting a tree.
          When is the best time to have planted a tree?… 20 years ago.
          When is the second best time?

    2. JAC

      Brilliant! What a great way to combat the technocrats to see some form of a more complicated technology to fix the climate problem.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        JAC: I asked nicely above for you to explain your “doing nothing” solution. I’m still waiting.

        Your sarcasm, directed toward someone that – so far as I can tell – has run circles around you in terms of problem ID, generate solutions, implement solution (basic adaptation) is very misplaced.

        So if you’re going to get in people’s face about the efforts they’re making, you should be able to field some viable alternatives. Otherwise, you’re just ranting.

        So far you’ve said “do subsistence farming with nothing more than a plow and mule, and don’t use the internet”. You are currently not doing subsistence farming, and you are using the internet.

        How do I know you’re not doing subsistence farming? Because you’ve got the time to be here, commenting.

        I’d be willing to bet I’ve done a lot more farming than you have, and I know of what I speak.

        Let’s hear your solutions, please. Tell us in clear and simple terms how to get out of this awful situation we’re in by “doing nothing”.

          1. Tom Pfotzer

            Bojang: I’d heard of this before, maybe even visited the site many years ago. I really like the idea and spirit of it.

            I’ll look to see if there’s a U.S.-based adaptation or sub-site of Journey to Forever.

            What I’m after is a set of stepping-stone paths people can follow to gradually transition from:

            Economy 1.0 (trash the planet as we make our living)
            Economy 2.0 (fix the planet as we make our living).

            I want to find, adapt, consolidate ways to make a living that fix the planet, and organize them into some sort of living catalog.

            Each “way to make a living” has a product (used by household and/or sold into marketplace), each product has a process that makes it. The process has inputs (materials, skills, etc.)

            So, if you’re looking to find a list of 10 products you could make at your home, you’d ask “given that I have these skills and materials available to me, what products could I make at my house / village?”

      2. Jeremy Grimm

        I believe there is an element of the fallacy of composition — the genetic fallacy — in your more tech cannot solve tech argument.

    3. Jeremy Grimm

      I fail to grasp how adaptation is the problem, not the solution. But I do not believe adaptation is a solution — it is a response to the root problems.

      The exponential growth of population since the 1950s is not adaptation. I believe it resulted from flaws in human Society, Culture, and Political Economy. I believe the introduction of a retirement system worldwide combined with some retooling of religious doctrine, with some rethought of the wisdom of war and maintaining a large population of fighting age males, later expanded to give females their equal right/obligation to die fighting in war, and creation of a Political Economy that will control and eliminate the kinds of ‘elite’ thinking, intentions, and actions that Michael Kalecki details in his paper of 1943. Of course the flaws I have listed are representative but not exhaustive.

      The adaptations you described as having done, do indeed exude a considerable amount of CO2, and many are beyond the means of some of us. Do you expect adaptation to come for free? Adaptation does require CO2 emissions, and effort. I submit that not adapting might cost much more than missing a comfortable lifestyle unless you regard drinking clean water, eating, and not freezing or dying of heat as comforts. Your adaptations may exceed the minimal baseline for maintaining human life, but I can easily ignore your extravagances which pale in comparison with the excesses of Neoliberal Capitalism driving Humankind over a cliff in a race-car. In any case, adaptation is no root cause problem — that is almost tautological.

      1. David in Santa Cruz

        Thank you all, especially for the well-founded concern about my emotional well-being.

        However, I do believe that “the excesses of neoliberal capitalism driving humankind over a cliff in a race-car” are an adaptation. I consider myself privileged to be able to create my resource-efficient fantasy lifestyle. Most people, even those who can comment here, would consider my intended lifestyle a to be a luxury.

        Who among the 8 billion of us deserve this luxury of a low-impact, locavore, solar micro-grid lifestyle? My hyper-efficient refrigerator was manufactured in New Zealand. My radiant wood-stove/oven was manufactured in Italy. My heat-pumps for warmth and hot water come from (I haven’t yet determined their origin) who knows where? I consider myself fortunate to have been able to out-bid others whose homes were consumed by wildfire for the wood products necessary to support my roof.

        Who among the 8 billion of us should have to squat on a dirt floor in order to bake our GMO chapati over a dung fire while I bake my heirloom tomato and local cow’s milk cheese pizza on a wood-fired Neapolitan XX flour crust?

        Our adaptation away from millennia of mass murder, infant mortality, rampant untreatable disease, and an early grave has placed us on a collision course with extinction. It might be a tautology, but I do have mixed feelings about this entire situation. I can only do what I can do.

    1. HotFlash

      Lean Hog Price Price; 1 Pound ≈ 0,453 Kilograms Lean Hog Price Per 1 Kilogram 2.69 USD 1 Pound = 16 Ounces Lean Hog Price Per 1 Ounce 0.08 USD.

      1. HotFlash

        I read that Peter Theil, for example, weighs 180lbs. That works out to approx $220 bucks. It gives one pause for thought.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      Regardless of the actions of others, your efforts to conserve and alter your lifestyle will serve you well in the too soon future. You are adapting yourself to the too soon future we all face — a future of resource exhaustion, and Climate Chaos. The Davos types will have their bunkers to retire to, but the rest of us must find other means to carry on. Conservative habits and conservative expectations will prove of immediate value to continued existence — much as eating habits can ease and adapt to an inherited tendency toward heart disease, long before it becomes a problem of present moment.

      1. podcastkid

        Thanks for that reminder about eating habits. I saw some geese yesterday eating Russian Olive berries, which at this particular place I hadn’t noticed in 19 years. They were just prancing down the road, cause Russian Olives bushes happened to be alongside the road. And so I think of some rare almost-neighbors who have their “lawns” either crowded with flowers or crowded with vegetables. That would be the model for the horses…that pulled the carts, that held the welfare grain, which got unloaded from trains (grains hopefully derived from Navdanya’s seed bank?).

        There are great rundowns here, but elsewhere lately I’m realizing it was engineers of sorts who whipped up this net medium…on which there is total chaos. Who changed the program so as to maximize info gathering as opposed to info sharing. Even as this morphing continues onward people do want to be like others recognized as caring (mimesis) when/if they have the time to want such. But of course as they want this, they still do not know how much the world is in need of real caring. To know that I sometimes think you have to have done caregiving in a plastic gown. The discipline those folks know I only wish could be transmuted into MLK type/style formulations that pols and others would have to take cognizance of [as far as the people go, the people would have to re-learn that “work” is like this, and not the boring pointless paranoid/precarity thing guided by no vision…that Gonzalo Lira more or less identified…Rtable #7 wasn’t it?]. As it is the majority seem unwilling to make the effort real concern requires because they’re not yet on the receiving end of thread-bare care! At any rate, if such workers could speak up in this way…..yeah, it would mean their advice would enter the
        “life-world” (lebenswelt (like in Brazil right now?)). But up until this point the best things in lebenswelts of whole civilizations have been morphed by industrial consumerism, or neoliberalism, or a number of other terms meaning the same thing.

        Descriptions of “lebenswelt” I run across seem to cite too many types of things in the environment, and not enough types of people.

  14. Anthony G Stegman

    Perhaps it is all futile, including adaptation. Homo sapien seems to be a defective specie that is too clever by half for its own good. The specie can’t help but destroy its own nest, slowly but surely, and rapidly too (think nuclear war). How many decades have these climate gatherings been going on with next to nothing to show for it? When the economy is booming we feel that we can afford to address the problems of our own creation. As soon as the economy falters attention quickly shifts to how can we increase GDP. How can we avoid recession. How can we lower gasoline prices. It’s a theater of the absurd.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      There are those who benefit from decades of these climate gatherings with next to nothing to show for it and who are not concerned about what happens after they are gone — “Après moi, le déluge”.

  15. Anthony G Stegman

    Engineers. You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them. Show me an engineering derived solution to a big problem and I will show you an engineering derived problem that is a consequence of the “solution”. A few come to mind. Big dams such as the Hoover Dam in the American west. The dam enabled tens of millions of people to live in a desert. Nobody apparently gave it much thought as to what to do when if and when the water backed up behind the dam runs out. High yield grains such as wheat and rice. These high yielding grains enabled the feeding of countless millions more people. What happens when yields no longer increase. There will be additional millions (perhaps billions) to feed and no additional harvests available. Drilling and fracking oil wells. Huge amounts of additional oil and natural gas available now to encourage more consumption. When the oil and gas run out (or must be left in the ground in order to avoid climate catastrophe) what will drive the additional consumption. Applying more and more technology will not solve our problems. Instead, additional problems will be created. The world needs fewer STEM graduates, not more.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Having grown up when the US had a manufacturing base and MBA programs had at least 40% engineers in student body (and not software “engineers”), I’d take more engineering grads who didn’t go into finance or law any day over rule by MBAs and lawyers. They can at least get things done competently.

      The side effects you talk about are not due to engineers per se but the higher level types who defined the boundary conditions. It’s the same way with architects. Architects regularly say the best buildings happen when the client thinks long and hard about what they want and present very detailed criteria.

      1. MarkT

        Yes. Unfortunately we now have entire generations of bright young people in charge who were sucked up into the world of “financial” or “legal” engineering. Which is why we have such a complete mess on our hands. These are the only kinds of “engineering” they know to fix any problem. And the earth is laughing at them.

  16. Jeremy Grimm

    The content of this post exposes a disturbing, and disheartening conflict in views of the wise and learned working to address the combined impacts of Climate Chaos and resource exhaustion. Turf wars — between proponents of mitigation versus proponents of adaptation versus proponents of just stopping the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere — impress me as a very pointless and destructive exercise. I believe Humankind has reached the point where all three efforts must be pursued. Such internecine conflict when faced with Neoliberal Capitalism and the dire threats of Climate Chaos and resource exhaustion is self-destructive. Such hope as I cling to grows ghostly transparent, a phantom.

    1. HotFlash

      Totally agreed, Mr. Grimm. I do not think we have the time to establish a consensus on this subject, what with 50-100 years left of our fossil fuel seed corn. Witness the varied approaches even here (‘fervent’, as the headline says), and at least (most) of us here at least agree that climate change is a thing. I believe that the best we we will be able to manage is that we all must all do as much as we can, wherever we are, by our lights, and hope that an All of the Above response produces A Good Result somewhere, and there is a fertile Adam and a fertile Eve in that somewhere. Or not. Perhaps our extinction would be the Good Result. In any case, as an old, I can only pray that the Gods/esses have mercy on the lives and souls of our children and grandchildren.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Were the adaptationists and the mitigationists each equally jealous of the attention the other group was getting? Or was one group more jealous and domineering than the other group? I haven’t studied the history of the controversy enough to know but I will offer this provisional ” if this, then that” hypothesis.

      Since it is the Left which has been most viciously sectarian over the last some decades ( think of Sparts versus Trots), if one of the two sides mentioned above was more sectarianly jealous and ambitious to hegemonize the debate than the other side was, that more hegemonic side is the side which has more leftists in it.

  17. Alan Kirk

    Adaptation is the default solution when everything else you have tried fails to work. What we will be adapting to is all the consequences of overshoot, of which climate change is but one, albeit a big one. We will continue to rely on fracking, oil and coal, experiment with small nuclear and rush head-long into “renewables” only to discover that all of those have a high environmental price, will never scale fast enough and will never support our growing population and economy. What we owe every citizen of earth is a chance to degrow and pursue a simple, subsistence lifestyle. There are people ready to make the leap now but cannot afford the market rate price of land. Lets adjust our priorities to make this a possibility for those ready to face up to our predicament.

    1. HotFlash

      Mr. Kirk, we will not know what ‘works’ until the worst-case happens. Who will be OK? Preppers? City communes? Billionaires in bunkers? COG in undisclosed locations? Inuit? Guys with yachts or guys with sailboats? We cannot properly prepare for the unknown because it is (duh) unknown. We just have to guess, prepare as best we can, and hope.

  18. drumlin woodchuckles

    Someone derided Mr. Pfotzer upthread a little for being limited-like-an-engineer in his thinking. But sometimes seemingly social or behavioral problems really do have an engineering solution, which the intellectuals try to hide or dismiss in order to hegemonize the discussion.

    Here is an example of where an engineering solution would have solved a seemingly behavioral problem.
    When I was a child, we lived in a suburban house. There were lots of houseflies outside wanting to get in.
    The back door had a screen door, to let in air and keep out flies. We kids were too short to reach the handle strong enough to push on it to open the screen door. So we kept pushing the screen to push the door open. After enough of that, we would break the screen out of the door frame.

    Dad kept lecturing us and sometimes yelling at us about that. And then re-fixed the screen. What if he had set up a hand-shaped piece of wood held in place at the exact height where we kids were pushing the screen most often to push open the door? We would have pushed on the hand instead. ” Hey kids, push on the hand.” And that piece of engineering would have solved the problem by giving us kids a screen safe surface to push on to open the door.

    Once at a social function, the coffee in the urns was way too hot. I overheard someone complaining about that. Since I didn’t have the social standing to interrupt and show them my improvised solution, I said nothing. But here was my solution: crumble and then de-crumble a napkin and wrap the re-opened crumbled napkin around the outside of a cup. Then shove all that inside another cup for some on-the-spot paper napkin insulation between the two cups. And put the too-hot coffee inside the inner cup.
    Engineering an on-the-spot solution with the materials at hand.

  19. ChrisRUEcon

    Global Suicide

    I have had one pet peeve with the ecology movement, and that, sadly, has been this whole business of saving the planet. It’s a harsh interpretation, but hear me out. I think we conflate the life of our planet as being one and the same as the life of “living things” on earth. I see it differently. The earth was very much alive before the primordial soup when there were volcanoes everywhere and it was raining sulphuric acid. Jupiter is very much alive with its characteristic red spot swirling storm potentially raining diamonds (via! We are not trying to save the earth – we are trying to save our ability to live on earth, as well as the ability for all other living things we cherish (including some we consume) to continue living as well. Mother Earth with be just fine – it’s us and all the other living things (‘cept maybe them roaches! – via University of Melbourne) who are family-blogged.

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