COP/out

“Governments should be afraid of their people”
—Alan Moore

It was our “last chance to act”, according to Sheldon Whitehouse of the Democratic Party. The “last best hope for the world”, according to John Kerry. Boris Johnson invoked James Bond doomsday machines, declared it “one minute to midnight”, and warned that “If we don’t act now it will be too late.” “Make or break”, said Grenada’s minister for Climate and Environment.

Naturally, it broke.

Prior to Glasgow, the UN set three major criteria for the success of COP26:

  • obtain commitments to cut CO2 emissions in half by 2030;
  • Commit $100 billion annually in financial aid from rich nations to poor ones (a pledge already made back in 2015 at the Paris meeting but never honored because, you know, who gives a shit); and
  • Ensure that half of that money goes to helping the developing world adapt to climate change.

By the time festivities concluded over the weekend, not a single one of these objectives had been met. Not a single fucking one. By the UN’s own criteria, COP26—our “last chance to act”—was a failure.

Not that you’ll catch any of the suits behind the mics admitting as much. What you’ll hear is endless defensive wankery about “progress”. What a miraculous breakthrough, that for the first time a COP document actually mentions fossil fuels! (Even though it doesn’t call for phasing them out. Hell, it doesn’t even call for an end to subsidies.) Isn’t it wonderful, how all these countries have pledged to end net deforestation by 2030! (A nonbinding pledge, mind you, not unlike another made back in 2014 which somehow didn’t stop deforestation from increasing by another 40%. Really, the fact that Jair Bolsonaro felt comfortable signing the damn thing tells you all you need to know.) Isn’t it great that we’re going to be kicking the can down the road in one-year increments now, instead of the five years we were doing before? And Kudos to this side deal that the US and China have cut to, well, do something. About emissions. Sometime.

Even Elizabeth May—of Canada’s Green Party—put on her Pollyanna hat and danced a desperate little jig, reminiscing about how unthinkable it would have been, even ten ago, to see India make any commitment at all to fighting climate change—as if that somehow excuses India’s role in deleting the “phase out fossil fuels” provision. As if the the geosphere might now prick up its rocky little ears and and say Well, I was going to plunge the planet into a post-apocalyptic hellscape, but now that India admits there’s a problem I guess I’ll just change the heat capacity of the atmosphere and give everyone a few more decades. As though the bar we had to clear was what some short-sighted political sleazebag in India was willing to do ten years ago, and not what the laws of physics are doing to us right now.

Not that May doesn’t have a lot of company, here in the aftermath. John Kerry—he of the “last best hope for the world”—is singing a different tune tune now that said hope is gone. “It’s a good deal for the world,” he says now. “Can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” But that’s not what’s happening, of course. We’re not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good; we’re letting scientific necessity be the enemy of the politically palatable.

So nobody’s talking about “success” any more. How can they, when we’re still on track for 2.4°C even if every country at COP26 honors all its shiny new commitments? Progress is the new buzzword. The COPpers have promised to nudge the Titanic a few more degrees to the left; keep it up and we’ll have changed course enough to avoid the iceberg entirely in just another hour or two.

Too bad we’re going to hit the fucking thing in thirty seconds.

So what now? Our “last chance” has come and gone. Is there anything at all we can do now, except wring our hands and clutch our pearls and continue to pump out first-world babies with megalodon-sized carbon bootie-prints?

George Monbiot gives it the ol’ college try over at The Guardian, cites a couple of papers about social tipping points and the power of the grass roots. Sharpe and Lenton talk hopefully about domino effects and the way incremental advances in technology can cascade into massive changes on national scales (the explosive growth of the electric car market in Norway is their go-to example). Centola et al describe an interesting social experiment showing that views held by as little as 21% of a population can ultimately tip over and become mainstream. But Sharpe and Lenton have to admit that their cascade effects frequently rely on policy changes made by the same governments who just screwed the pooch at COP26; nor do they address the countervailing impact of government policies designed to thwart constructive phase shifts (for example, the way Texas penalized people who installed solar panels by charging them for “infrastructure costs” to support the fossil grid they were opting out of). And Centola et al’s study is interesting as far as it goes, but the opinions it flips are innocuous things like “what would you call this picture”. It doesn’t explore the flexibility of opinions rooted in fear or brainstem prejudice, nor does it consider scenarios where powerful top-down rulers actively promote certain narratives and suppress others.

Monbiot makes a valiant effort, but he doesn’t convince me.

Anyone familiar with my own recent work might anticipate my own blue-sky solution: rewire Human Nature. Save Humanity by turning it into something else; hell, think of how much less destructive we’d be as a species if we just figured out how to short-circuit hyperbolic discounting. But that’s scifi speculation, that’s a solution to implement—at best— sometime in the future, if the tech ever catches up to my fever dreams. It doesn’t help us now.

If you’re looking for something that might help us out of the current crisis, maybe all you need to do is look at how the various delegates reacted to the failure of COP26.

Boris Johnson, who was all one-minute-to-midnight at the start of proceedings, called it “a historic success” afterward. John “last best hope” Kerry opined “”It’s got a few problems, but it’s all in all a very good deal.” For all their previous dire rhetoric, they act as if they’re pretty much okay with the outcome.

You know who isn’t okay? Aminath Shaunam, from the Maldives: “This deal does not bring hope to our hearts. It will be too late for the Maldives”. The prime minister of Barbados: “Two degrees is a death sentence.” The foreign minister of Tuvalu, which could be underwater by century’s end; he filmed a speech standing knee-deep in the ocean to make a point.

Those who feel personally threatened by this crisis want desperately to take all necessary measures. The John Kerrys and Boris Johnsons of the world? They’re rich. They’re first-world. They’re insulated: they’ll probably make out okay even under the worst-case scenario. So why should they care? Oh, they’ll walk the walk if they have to—but when the chips are down they’ll choose politics over science any day.

Not that these folks are necessarily any more evil than the rest of us. Short-sighted greed comes as standard equipment on this model, it’s what we are as a species. COP26 failed because the world’s most powerful leaders just don’t feel personally threatened by the crisis.

If only we could threaten them.

If only we could translate the abstract threat of climate change to other people into an immediate threat against things they actually care about on a gut level. Make the hypothetical real, make it unsafe for them to step outside. Target their families. Hold their kin hostage: get us down to 1.5 or your sister comes back in pieces. Let them feel the same desperation as all those people in all those faraway lands they’ve never had to care about.

Mostly revenge fantasy, of course. How would you even do that, when the people you need to threaten have all the power, command the armies and the cops, have a legal monopoly on violence and terrorism? (In fact, I don’t think they even call it “terrorism” when a G8 country does it.) It’s not like any of us are gonna get close enough to throw a rock through Trudeau’s window.

So mostly fantasy—but not all. Because, logistic difficulties aside, I honestly wonder if anything else could work at this point. Even when you sweep away the denialism, facts and science don’t seem to be enough for most people. Even those who accept the reality of climate change—even those who profess to be “gravely concerned”—aren’t willing, for the most part, to do anything significant to fight it. The wildfires, the floods, the pandemics spreading across a warming world; none of it seems to matter to us personally until it threatens us personally. (I do take some hope from the fact that kids these days seem somewhat more worried about the future than their parents; the present they’re growing up in is pretty dire, after all, and the trajectory is not good. But I am profoundly skeptical that we can afford to wait for a new enlightened generation to grow up and fix the problem for us. We’re already out of time.)

We have to be afraid. Somehow, we have to make them afraid.

Of course, we’re going to be rioting in the streets soon enough anyway. When the grid goes down and stays that way, when the coastal cities are flooded and the flyover towns all Lyttonised, when we’ve exhausted the world’s arable land (about thirty years from now, last I heard) and civilization itself begins to collapse (twenty); we’ll be out there with our Molotov cocktails and our boards-with-the-nails-through-‘em. It’s how societies collapse.

Maybe the best we can do is avoid the rush and do it now, when it might still do some good.



This entry was posted on Monday, November 15th, 2021 at 1:13 pm and is filed under In praise of biocide, rant, scilitics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

62 Responses to “COP/out”

  1. Name

    While being angry at these fucks feels great, sure, what is the actual economic impact difference between 1.5°C and 2.4°C? Barring some unforeseen disasters might not be that great.

    There’s also an interesting question of when climate mitigation efforts start to pay off economically (i.e. overall GWP impact turns positive) This one: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0239520&type=printable , for example, projects that that only starts to happen around 2080-2100. Is there anybody in the current governments who really gives a fuck what happens 80 years from now? Should they?

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  2. Y.

    You can take the boy away from the Baptists, and even let him get a solid education, but you can’t take apocalyptic memes out of the boy, is my take. Reason and education just make people better at being able to justify whatever it is they believe in, deep down.

    Grid’s going down in Europe, sure, for a bit – mainly due to renewables and the German insistence of closing down nuclear power plants. They want to close them *before* they close down coal.

    It’s all old-time faith, wearing new clothes.
    People are pretty good at surviving, and the more ‘rioting’ and ‘death’ there is, the more those who have trust in each other behave.

    One can expect Canada and the US, to go down and suffer, but Germany, Russia, Japan or China are going to survive all this well. If a few hundred million die in the 3rd world, that’s going to be well within typical casualties caused by climate swings inducing famine in agricultural civilizations.

    The innumerate cretins like Monbiot, touting ‘batteries’ and occasional sources of energy never help. It’s still orders of magnitude more xpensive than the already costly pumped hydro. Magical thinking along the lines of ‘but the costs must come down because X’, irrespective of constraint of physics, very dear to bureaucrats and lawyers.

    The reality of this BS is evident in the German ‘Dunkelflaute’. Dark and calm winter days. They have to put online all their low-activity coal plants, run all the natural gas plants to keep the lights on.

    There’s a write up on what the subsidies and guarantees have actually wrought in Germany.

    Utterly perverse outcomes.
    https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/energy-and-the-environment/energiewende.aspx

    Thankfully, it does look inevitable that after decades of dithering and misspent dozens of billions, nuclear is going to be labelled ‘sustainable and green’ and Europe might finally get a sensible power supply. Of course, the properly apocalyptic greens are going to be fighting it all the way – they don’t want a solution, they want to keep being mad.

    I’m thinking, a few thousand frozen pensioners who weren’t up to paying their exorbitant heating bills, and the gas squeeze, might induce people to ignore these loonies and go ahead. So many promising designs now.

    Only those superstitious idiots and foolish women standing between mankind and the end of energy poverty.

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  3. Nestor

    This review of Herbert Hoover’s biography paints him as a man with no hyperbolic discounting, he was fearsomely efficient as a philanthropist while at the same time being an utterly cold fish in his personal relations. Maybe we need a Herbert Hoover for climate.

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  4. string

    You didn’t read the post. Or any of the science. Or any of the economics.

    There will not be an economy, at 2.4 degrees.

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  5. Alexander Kruel

    Turn down the hyperbole: https://amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/620605/

    “One thing he wants to make very clear is that all the paths, even the hottest ones, show improvements in human well-being on average. IPCC scientists expect that average life expectancy will continue to rise, that poverty and hunger rates will continue to decline, and that average incomes will go up in every single plausible future, simply because they always have. “There isn’t, you know, like a Mad Max scenario among the SSPs,” O’Neill said. Climate change will ruin individual lives and kill individual people, and it may even drag down rates of improvement in human well-being, but on average, he said, “we’re generally in the climate-change field not talking about futures that are worse than today.””

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  6. Fatman

    “COP26 failed because the world’s most powerful leaders just don’t feel personally threatened by the crisis.”

    They don’t feel threatened because we, the public, aren’t interested in holding them accountable.

    Mouthbreathing trash continue to deny that climate change exists, or that it’s a problem. Useful idiots and various species of public-speaking mealy-mouthed liar acknowledge it’s a problem, but “can’t be sure how much of it is due to human influence”, and god forbid we take action because that would impact the handful of workers with mediocre jobs in the fossil fuel industry. The vast majority are various degrees of “concerned”, but not to the point of doing anything about it.

    Even if the “next generation” shows some interest in fixing things, there will be enough of us left to fuck it up for them for a loooong time. Someone’s Xer/Millennial will always be another’s Boomer.

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  7. listedproxyname

    Name: While being angry at these fucks feels great, sure, what is the actual economic impact difference between 1.5°C and 2.4°C? Barring some unforeseen disasters might not be that great.

    It is rather morbidly funny to observe those experts trying to asses damage in economy to which they have zero exposure. No, I’m no claming that I know economy better than they are, that would be stupid of me. I am claiming they can’t possibly know what economy is like globally because they are sitting in their walled and guarded university premises inside the walled and guarded country that prints trillion upon trillion of dollars for no other reason than “we can do it”. It must be truly a harrowing experience for anyone observing this show from a good vantage point. I, for one, couldn’t give any more damn about what they are thinking about converting degrees of Celsius into numbers in bank spreadsheets. No time to save the people, save the economy!

    On the other end of the spectrum, I am rather frustrated by the “effectiveness” of vaccine campaign in my country (you should probably know which one, if not, I’m leaving a hint here). Which not only claims to have developed first of it’s kind type of vaccine, but also reports lowest rate of side effects (beside political hysteria and unsupported bans). Only 35-45% rate of immunity and it doesn’t seem to develop too fast even after the death rates hit new record numbers. Government is ramping up whatever minuscule forces they have managed to gather but still can’t force the population to take the only sensible decision that reliably saves a lot of lives before it’s to late for them.

    Somehow I find a spoonful of serenity in this barrel of tar. While the world is rapidly going off rails of crashing economy, the ability to stay more robust and adherent to ancient sensibilities grants promise of survival with the whole idea of common sense, as opposed to idea of throwing yourself into the clutches of nameless “progress” at any cost. It is the same way the ecological movement to fight plastic devolves into a competition to introduce paper bags, metal straws and “green” pens that are just plastic pens wrapped in recyclable cardboard. In absence of those stubborn people, perhaps, there will be no consensus about what the crisis is about and how to fight it. No time to save the economy, save the environment!

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  8. Prunella Arbigast

    I suspect there is a clear understanding at the top that there is no simple answer to climate change. Adapt or die. The rest is a panto so the plebs don’t riot.

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  9. Phil

    Peter, you old optimist!

    I see no viable way to avoid tremendous human (and other) suffering over the next couple hundred years, although I expect to be dead before the shit really hits the fan.

    To my thinking, the only viable approach is to take the long view. There will be mass starvation, pandemic, unregulated mass movement of people, and strife. It will go on for a long time. Virtually all flora, fauna, and the conditions in which they thrive, will be in much worse shape before stasis is reached. (Even rats will have a hard time after they start looking delicious.) How will humans, with a shared ability to communicate through language, proceed from this point? Is there any way we can create and transmit to that future time other ways of rebuilding, taking into account that tooth and claw must be retained in some form if we wish to survive at all?

    Doing this will require an acceptance of a long period of horror. The tracks lead to the mountain. There never was an engineer. We can party, or jump off, or moan and nash our teeth, or plan ways to slow down or stop the train, but really, there’s just going to be a lot of twisted metal, broken rock, and shattered bodies. What message could be spread throughout the train that might have a hope of near universal transmission, and some level of tacit acceptance, that those few who crawl from the wreckage can use to survive and build a better oriented vehicle?

    It’s a fundamental problem. I was a member of both a provincial, and the federal, Green parties in Canada a number of years ago, but quit both after a couple of years when it became obvious to my slow functioning brain that gaining power to change things was more important to them than being a voice of truth in the political wilderness. Instead, I’ve seen them do nothing but exacerbate the partisan framing of fundamental issues. If they had eschewed any pretence of gaining political power, they may have to some extent been able to help frame some of our planet’s basic issues in ways that would be leading us into deeper, more difficult, but ultimately more meaningful conversations.

    Instead, we’ve had successive Environment Ministers in this country birthing above replacement levels of offspring. It’s all talk. Nothing is felt. Nothing meaningful will be done. We could take to the streets, but it seems to me people already are, just on behalf of other viewpoints. Regardless of viewpoint, such actions will be framed in ways that will just further the rage. And the problem is, while you’re having it out with the idiot driver of that other vehicle, his passenger’s taking the safety off his Tec 9.

    No. Embrace the suck. Create the memes for rebuilding, after the storm.

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  10. Y.

    Fatman: Mouthbreathing trash continue to deny that climate change exists, or that it’s a problem.

    It’s a problem, but it’s not an ‘apocalyptic’ problem. One slightly less nuts environmentalist wrote a book on about it ‘Apocalypse Never’.

    I don’t know how ‘right’ he is. The book is pretty rage inducing, especially the bits about Jerry Brown, whose ‘principled’ opposition to nuclear (he owned shares in oil & gas, prevented California from getting a mostly zero carbon grid by 1995).
    He says the the apocalyptic language is courtesy of activists, not scientists. IPCC doesn’t show such.

    Also, apparently it might interest some to note that climate modelling argues Gulf Stream, contrary to popular perception, isn’t really warming Europe that much. It’s shutdown would cause very minor cooling, perhaps just remove the post-industrial temperature rise in Europe. If the models are right, that is.

    http://ocp.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/div/ocp/gs/

    Amusingly, the heavy reliance of the west on carbon-intensive sources of energy is partly came about because Nixon didn’t trust the FBI. Post the oil shocks, he wanted US to nuclearize, same as France.

    Coal to liquids was also on the table, to get rid of OPEC influence.
    In any case, if the West was all like France, and knowing that PWRs have essentially unlimited lifespan, it’d be now much better positioned to phase out CO2 producing transport and export reactors to developing world. Which, at the moment, is producing most of the CO2 anyways.

    But Nixon mistrusted and failed to promote FBI’s deputy director – who then got two eager journalists to blow Watergate wide open. It does look a little different if you look at it knowing who ‘Deep Throat’ was, no?

    Had Nixon stayed in office, it’s likely he’d have gotten the initiative to a proper start. And, being a clever, if crooked person, he’d never have let shit like ALARA pass.

    https://rootsofprogress.org/devanney-on-the-nuclear-flop

    ALARA is great. It’s Catch-XXII level of brilliant.

    ALARA: As Low As Reasonably Achievable. What defines “reasonable”? It is an ever-tightening standard. As long as the costs of nuclear plant construction and operation are in the ballpark of other modes of power, then they are reasonable.

    Which neatly explains why inflation-adjusted costs of nuclear rose for 20 years, and been rising ever since in the US.
    Don’t mind that South Korea and Russia are building for far less.

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  11. Fatman

    Y.: Also, apparently it might interest some to note that climate modelling argues Gulf Stream, contrary to popular perception, isn’t really warming Europe that much.

    I agree that the Gulf Stream collapse probably isn’t going to affect northern countries much. Shittier winters in Europe and more extreme weather in North America – but that’s already become the new normal. It’s more the knock-on effect of AMOC disruptions on places already dealing with increased famine risk due to climate change (India, West Africa). No single one of these events would be catastrophic, but cumulate a few disasters and some already strained areas could be tipped over into severe instability.

    Simmering ethnic clashes bubbling up to genocide. Genocides and famines causing mass migration. Mass migration causing heightened political tensions in destination countries. Extremist political ideologies pushing anti-scientism. Anti-scientism and limited access to education making people stupider.

    In short, the near future looks like today, only worse.

    Y.: In any case, if the West was all like France, and knowing that PWRs have essentially unlimited lifespan, it’d be now much better positioned to phase out CO2 producing transport and export reactors to developing world.

    I may have reservations about nuclear, but right now it looks like the only viable option around.

    listedproxyname: I am rather frustrated by the “effectiveness” of vaccine campaign in my country

    Not that surprising, though, given the strong pushback by antivaxx and conspiracy-theory cretins all over Europe. Especially with the internet connecting like-“minded” groups of fatalistic, ignorant peasants at the click of a button.

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  12. Jason

    A year or so ago, a blog I read posted a link to a website recruiting what I guess one could call eco-warriors, or eco-terrorists if you’d rather. The site claimed that humanity was addicted to fossil fuels, unable to stop, and required
    intervention. It went on to discuss the use of assymmetrical warfare tactics, sabotaging critical system infrastructure with minimal loss of life, examples of such campaigns waged across the world with noticable success.

    I found the site disturbing. Was it a lone nut, a government trap? Or were there enough operational members and cells that they could afford to announce their presence? The danger of such a simple analogy, however accurate, spoke of
    deception. Yes, if you give most people two choices, one easy now but hard later and one hard now but easy later, they’ll choose the former. If you give most people a choice to stay the same or change, they’ll stay the same. So if you
    want people to take the hard path, you must deny them the easy option. Yet who wants to hear it anyway? Everywhere you look, there’s someone demanding your time so they can tell you what to think and do.

    Thing is, I’ve been thinking about it off and on ever since. I started looking at the infrastructure around me, thinking of how to screw it up. Part of it was in the interest of unauthorized urban planning, making city streets less favorable for car sprawl to help encourage walking and riding. Things like quick-set hard foam speedbumps that one can just spray on the road, or to create protected sidewalks or bicycle lanes. Or reprogrammming traffic signals to give
    beg buttons immediate priority with longer cycle times so pedestrians don’t have to run to get across a five-lane intersection. Still trying to come up with a quick and cheap and quiet way to sink metal bollards across intersections to
    block cars altogether. If nothing else, it might put pressure on city planners to get a move on, or maybe empower small communities to take responsibility for their own transportation infrastructure.

    For example, one item capable of simple, nonlethal sabotage could be a can of construction foam, the expanding kind you use to fill insulation gaps in your home. With the right technique, it could be used to fill all the pump nozzles
    at a gas station, though I suspect you’d need to use a rag to rub off some of the gas residue in the nozzle first. It could also disable cars by filling their exhaust pipes, or prevent them from being refueled by clogging the filler hose. One could, if one were so inclined, possibly get teenagers and homeless people to do most of the work. Like as not, they have no love for the status quo. I suspect one could find, if one were to look, people all over who have the knowledge or the means to wreck things but merely lack the motivation or courage. This has a very Fight Club feel to it.

    I don’t know if sabotage is a good idea. I know people who believe that technology will fix everything, others who believe we’re screwed so why care, others for whom our impending calamity is pessimistic doomspeak, as though
    projecting a curve on a graph were affected by one’s personality, and others who care but can’t make themselves change. Politicos talk about progress, that things take time (in fairness, exponential growth is a common pattern). Preppers keep stockpiling canned food and ammo. The similarity in all these outlooks is that they facilitate inaction and/or require no personal risk. Even this
    discussion is mostly a chance for people to talk but not do. But mistakes don’t correct themselves. People have to correct them. Doesn’t matter whose official responsibility it is, or who started it, or who profits by it. Hell,
    even doing the wrong thing can at least help others learn. But it can’t be done with only words. Can it?

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  13. GMM

    As long as this is framed as a silly ‘make THEM afraid’ revolutionary impossibility it will just sit on the shelf of all the other revolutionary impossibilities. True believers sitting in their sculpted online environments crying.

    If you look at polling, it’s clear that most Westerners support climate action. But if you ask them whether they are willing to pay, say, $100 USD in additional taxes per year or make a few reasonable lifestyle adjustments, the number plummets. What environmentalists have to contend with is that ACTUAL action on the climate is neither very important nor very popular with most human beings. THAT is what much change. THAT’S the work to be done. Scolding the elites won’t get us there. Monkeywrenching CERTAINLY won’t make it more popular.

    You want a chance to forstall the worst? Time to get positive, people. Time to get perky. Time to stop scolding people and ranting about poorly-aimed revolutions that will never happen.

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  14. Prunella Arbigast

    The failure of our institutions to deal with climate change is not a surprise to those familiar with the work of Scott Barrett https://www.scottbarrett.org/climate-change/. He showed a long time ago climate change is not the sort of problem that can be solved with the typical governance structures we have available to us.

    One thing I find interesting is the way that a lot of research on 4deg warming has been elided from the discussion. Back in 2009 when climate scientists reviewed what the world would be like at 4deg there was a lot of shock and worry. Even if no tipping points occurred we will still be faced with the prospect of agricultural failure in much of the tropical and sub-tropical world. Many organisations, from the World Bank to the Pentagon issued warnings. Now, no one even talks about it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4_Degrees_and_Beyond_International_Climate_Conference

    I suspect a lot of the tone-deaf responses are due to the appalling economics research on the topic as described here https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14747731.2020.1807856

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  15. Jason

    I’m trying to go through this bit by bit, and none of my questions are rhetorical by the way:

    GMM:
    As long as this is framed as a silly ‘make THEM afraid’ revolutionary impossibility it will just sit on the shelf of all the other revolutionary impossibilities.True believers sitting in their sculpted online environments crying.

    What about making people afraid is silly? Fear is a very powerful behavioral motivator in all animals, isn’t it? Arguably a large part of what humans do in everyday life is motivated by fears, however irrational, and fears can compete and overpower each other. Inaction can be the result of fear as well as antipathy.

    If you look at polling, it’s clear that most Westerners support climate action.But if you ask them whether they are willing to pay, say, $100 USD in additional taxes per year or make a few reasonable lifestyle adjustments, the number plummets.What environmentalists have to contend with is that ACTUAL action on the climate is neither very important nor very popular with most human beings.THAT is what much change.THAT’S the work to be done.Scolding the elites won’t get us there.Monkeywrenching CERTAINLY won’t make it more popular.

    What does popularity have to do with getting results? Polling just tells us what people think or believe, not what they actually do or shall do. Or does it? And how can you get people to change their lifestyles when they don’t have to? People might like the idea of change but not the implementation. Sometimes it isn’t so much that we are unwilling to act, as it is that we can’t agree on how to act.

    You don’t herd animals (I hate this analogy but I’m running with it) by positively convincing them to go where you want, you exploit their psychology to drive them by making the direction you’re herding them the least stressful option. It doesn’t matter what they say they believe other than that where they’re headed to is better than where they are.

    You want a chance to forstall the worst? Time to get positive, people.Time to get perky.Time to stop scolding people and ranting about poorly-aimed revolutions that will never happen.

    I would very much like to see some research that correlates positivity and perkiness with the instigation and success of any kind of revolution or social change at all. It’s a good act for conning people out of their money, I’d wager, but really. I’ve tried it on my own with no success whatsoever but I really would like to know that it can work, especially in such a dire context.

    Besides, why is there assumed to be only one solution? Why can’t any and all strategies or tactics be tried? Maybe one on it’s own won’t work, but in concert they will. The point is to apply pressure. People aren’t all subject to the same pressures, so diversify. If you think being chipper will win some folks, do it. If you want to slam big wigs, go ahead. Just do something.

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  16. Daeneb

    Hi Pete,

    Are you familiar with the works of Murray Bookchin and David Graeber? “The Ecology of Freedom” from the former and “Debt” from the latter might offer some insights you might be like about the current awful state of affairs

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  17. Olmo

    It could be worse:
    https://tinyurl.com/4ptna78r

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  18. Peter Watts

    Name: While being angry at these fucks feels great, sure, what is the actual economic impact difference between 1.5°C and 2.4°C? Barring some unforeseen disasters might not be that great.

    The difference between 1.5 and 2.0 is the difference between losing 80% of our coral reefs and losing all of them (and if economic growth is all you care about, that’s the livelihood of a billion people right there). It’s 350 million more people exposed to “lethal heat events” every year, 140 million more flooded out annually. Except these figures are based on the 2018 IPCC report, which was childishly optimistic: it failed to include everything from methane tipping points to pandemics to waste heat generated by crypto mining (that last one adds another couple of degrees all by itself). And that’s only going up half a degree from 1.5.

    We’re on track for nearly twice that. Or more, on the very likely assumption that signatory nations do as they always have and fail to honor their pledges. You do the math.

    Is there anybody in the current governments who really gives a fuck what happens 80 years from now? Should they?

    Is there? Probably not? Should there be? Probably not, in the sense than on the scale of an indifferent cosmos, nothing that happens anywhere “matters”, right up to heat death. OTOH, those of us who value— you know, anything—are gonna take scant comfort from that.

    The west coast is pretty much cut off from the rest of Canada even as I type, thanks to anomalous flooding. Lytton burned to the ground last summer thanks to anomalous heat domes. Catastrophic flooding in Germany and China, last July was the worst summer for wildfires since records began, the list goes on pretty much forever. That stuff is all happening now, and that’s only at 1.1. You want to talk about that economic impact?

    I have to say, it’s telling that you’d phrase your questions in the context of some bullshit AD&D game which regards damage to life support systems as an irrelevant “externality” at best and, more frequently, as a net benefit (the Exxon Valdez spill was the best thing that ever happened to the Alaskan economy, simply because of all the money Exxon poured into the state for damage control). You might want to give some thought to the question of who’s going to come out as the winner when “economics” goes up against the laws of physics.

    Y.:
    You can take the boy away from the Baptists, and even let him get a solid education, but you can’t take apocalyptic memes out of the boy

    Only those superstitious idiots and foolish women standing between mankind and the end of energy poverty.

    Hello Y. It’s been a while. I thought you’d gone into therapy or something. Seems to have been a bit of backsliding in the interim.

    I was actually gearing up to engage until I reached the bit about “idiots and foolish women”. Then I figured, not much point in debating someone who hallucinates a different reality than the rest of us.

    Nestor: Maybe we need a Herbert Hoover for climate.

    Greta Thunberg also seems to have the HD thing in hand. Hopefully she can make it to thirty without getting assassinated.

    Alexander Kruel: Turn down the hyperbole: https://amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/620605/

    If anything, it’s understatement. Observed trends have generally proven to be worse than worst-case predictions, and as a member of Humanity I’m as hardwired for delusional optimism as the rest of you.

    That Atlantic article is a good case in point, containing as it does some mind-bogglingly stupid assertions. “…average life expectancy will continue to rise… poverty and hunger rates will continue to decline… average incomes will go up in every single plausible future, simply because they always have” is not only factually wrong (life expectancy in the US has actually been declining recently), but it has the same logical structure as “this car will never go over the cliff it’s been driving toward, simply because it never has”. Having read the 2018 IPCC report, I can tell you that those numbers look pretty fucking Mad Max to me, no matter what O’Neill says. Those reports explicitly state that things will be significantly worse than they are today—and again, in hindsight those reports proved to be too optimistic. Both O’Neill and the article itself seem to acknowledge as much by the end of the piece: “Even at today’s 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming, for many individual people, communities, and species, climate change has already meant the end of their world.”

    The bottom line seems to be, sure: a lot of people and ecosystems will be utterly fucked, are utterly fucked in fact—but as long as some rich white folks are insulated from the worst effects, we can live with it.

    Phil: No. Embrace the suck. Create the memes for rebuilding, after the storm.

    You’re basically talking about Asimov’s Foundation with solar panels. I suppose that’s the best we can hope for.

    Also, it’s hard to embrace the suck when the suck is squeezing the life out of you. But I’ll give it a shot.

    Jason: A year or so ago, a blog I read posted a link to a website recruiting what I guess one could call eco-warriors, or eco-terrorists if you’d rather.

    Hey Jason, you wouldn’t happen to have that link handy, would you? Even if it’s a gummint trap it’s be interesting to check out.

    GMM: As long as this is framed as a silly ‘make THEM afraid’ revolutionary impossibility it will just sit on the shelf of all the other revolutionary impossibilities. True believers sitting in their sculpted online environments crying.

    Apparently you didn’t read my post.

    I didn’t say “make THEM afraid”; I said if only we could, and then went on to detail why we couldn’t. And while I thank you for you attempts to inform me about how little people are willing to do to effect constructive change, perhaps you skipped over the part where I said “Even those who accept the reality of climate change—even those who profess to be “gravely concerned”—aren’t willing, for the most part, to do anything significant to fight it.” I wasn’t even scolding the elites: I specifically said that they were pretty much the same as the rest of us, that hyperbolic discounting and shortsighted stupidity is built into the species.

    It seems odd that you’d actually dispute pretty much everything I said by making all the same arguments I did, only presenting them as if they were somehow original and shiny-new, then throwing in a few gratuitous ALL CAPS to make your straw man look a little more hysterical. Almost as though you were less interested in actually engaging the arguments than in using them as a delivery platform for greenwashing horseshit.

    You want a chance to forstall [sic] the worst? Time to get positive, people. Time to get perky. Time to stop scolding people and ranting about poorly-aimed revolutions that will never happen.

    Get perky. Get positive. Ah, yes. The mating call of the Hopepunk.

    You’re adorable.

    A lot of people have been making that argument lately. There are oh, so very many things wrong with it. Let’s start with the fact that “staying positive” is partly what got us into this mess, that when scientists and journalists point out how bad things are they’re accused of “feeding a paralyzing narrative of hopelessness and despair”. Keeping things “positive” is why the IPCC has been historically understating the impact of climate change for ten years now. Gotta keep making those pledges, even if you never keep ‘em. Gotta tell people there’s still hope, even if there isn’t.

    The problem with that whole attitude is that it fundamentally ignores Human Nature. We are delusionally optimistic by default. There is a whole shitload of research establishing our inability to take a long view, to deny reality, to act as though things will just work themselves out. Even our scientific models have fallen victim to this optimism bias, insofar as observed reality tends to exceed the predicted worst-case scenario.

    There’s one exception to this; negativity bias. We’re less delusional when we’re freaked out by something—trying to find our way through a burning building, for example, or escape a gang of antivaxxers set on beating us up because we’re wearing a mask. Under stressful conditions we’re actually better at internalizing bad news of all kinds. You don’t just move faster. You think better. But you have to be stressed.

    So all the demands of the Hope Police—No More Dystopias, gotta stay positive, don’t feed the paralyzing narrative of gloom and despair— turn out to be not just bullshit, but actually counterproductive. We’re not failing to take action because we’re too scared. We’re failing because we’re not scared enough. You want a recent example? Look at that idiotic Atlantic article cited above.

    Then maybe go and do some fucking research.

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  19. Peter Watts

    Prunella Arbigast: I suspect a lot of the tone-deaf responses are due to the appalling economics research on the topic as described here

    This looks like a really interesting paper. Will check it out.

    Interestingly, the economists have always sucked at sociobiology, too.

    Daeneb: Are you familiar with the works of Murray Bookchin and David Graeber?

    I don’t think so. Will bookmark and poke.

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  20. homer2101

    Going after the people running the system is a waste of time. They are well-protected, and the fossil-fuel system has an endless supply of sociopaths waiting to be elevated to power in the wings. A proper campaign would attack the system’s hard infrastructure, which is much more vulnerable and cannot be defended at a cost that keeps the system viable. Disrupt the pipelines, refineries, and terminals, and the fossil fuel system either shuts down or eats itself by spending increasing amounts on security instead of profits or re-investment. We are already at a stage where renewable electricity outcompetes new fossil infrastructure, even without subsidies; it shouldn’t take much for it to tip over.

    My grandfather derailed his first German train in April 1942, behind German lines near Velikiye Luki. He was 16. His unit accounted for about two dozen trains by end of 1944. The device used typically was about five pounds of explosive plus detonator, wired to a pressure trigger and placed under a joint between two rails. The weight of a passing locomotive would depress the rail, which would press on the trigger and blow the charge, which would add a new velocity vector to the train and move it off the track. Sometimes quite rapidly so. Several such units operated in that sector of the front, and in this way they disrupted German supply lines. The successful units avoided conflict with German soldiers whenever possible, because derailing a German train was a lot more valuable than killing a few soldiers.

    Now, I am not advocating for any sort of violence. Because violence is bad and illegal. But allow, hypothetically, that a train-load of coal is as dangerous to you as a train-load of German soldiers who, individually might just want to live but collectively want to murder you and your family.

    ANYways, if we want to get all science-fictiony about it, there have been drone attacks on political leaders and fossil fuel infrastructure in the developing world, albeit for political rather than environmental aims.

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  21. GMM

    Apologies: I was in a rush to be somewhere, saw the headline, got triggered, and hammered out a quick response. This does not make the internet a better place.

    Rereading, I still think the post above is, frankly, stupid and self-indulgent, from the Alan Moore quote which does not connect with the piece below it to the ‘make them afraid’ rhetoric. We like science here, right? Well go ahead and look up the science on how effective fear-based rhetorical methods are. Pretty dire, right? Obviously, this works sometimes – immigration springs to mind – but those grand exceptions seem to involve hooking the fears into prior tribalist or biological fear complexes. Seems harder to do that with environmentalism. I’m not against those that try, but I don’t like their chances.

    But failing that, we are just left with attempting to steadily move public opinion on the issue, and the way you do that, scientifically, is through reason and positivity. Is that Hopepunk? Seems like science-based realism to me, and I don’t have much time for anything else these days.

    Regardless, Peter, the ‘Hopepunk’ part of your response is frankly embarassing. You used some trigger words in my post to go on your usual rant about optimism human nature raaaarrrrr then actual told me to do some fucking research like some sort of Ivermectin evangelist. Not a good look.

    It’s like this: a bunch of people are at the bottom of a deep fucking hole wondering how to motivate people en masse to work to get out. One guy suggests raising morale and esprit de corp to get people moving in the right direction; you scoff and say it was morale and esprit de corp that caused the group to overestimate their chances at jumping over the hole in the first place. But that is UTTERLY FUCKING IRRELEVANT. It doesn’t have any bearing on whether that dude is suggesting a good strategy for hole-getting-outting. And it’s east to imagine that the dumb naive optimism that got us into the mess might help us get out.

    I’ve done the ‘fucking research’. I’m not disagreeing with the science at all. I’m saying: we both live in democracies. The citizens don’t care enough right now, so real action is limited. Like anyone with fringe political ideas, we have to convince more people. It’s the only way forward. Screaming at them won’t do it. Trying to make them more afraid is unlikely to do it – people, scientifically, shut down and become more cautious about new ideas when threatened. The only rational, logical, science-based path forward is to try to convince them in ways that are most likely to be effective, and positivity plays a part in that.

    Or we can fiddle, or rant angrily on small blogs, while the world burns and hope that geoengineering pulls a rabbit out of its ass. I legitimately understand why people might want to do that.

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  22. Name

    Peter Watts: The difference between 1.5 and 2.0 is the difference between losing 80% of our coral reefs and losing all of them (and if economic growth is all you care about, that’s the livelihood of a billion people right there).

    I personally do care about coral reefs, being privileged enough to actually see them. Most of the population, facing the choice between coral reef wellbeing and their own, does not. (There is, of course, a correlation between coral reef and population wellbeing, but it’s not 1.0)

    Peter Watts: It’s 350 million more people exposed to “lethal heat events” every year, 140 million more flooded out annually. Except these figures are based on the 2018 IPCC report, which was childishly optimistic: it failed to include everything from methane tipping points to pandemics to waste heat generated by crypto mining (that last one adds another couple of degrees all by itself).And that’s only going up half a degree from 1.5.

    We’re on track for nearly twice that. Or more, on the very likely assumption that signatory nations do as they always have and fail to honor their pledges. You do the math.

    Is there? Probably not? Should there be? Probably not, in the sense than on the scale of an indifferent cosmos, nothing that happens anywhere “matters”, right up to heat death. OTOH, those of us who value— you know, anything—are gonna take scant comfort from that.

    The west coast is pretty much cut off from the rest of Canada even as I type, thanks to anomalous flooding. Lytton burned to the ground last summer thanks to anomalous heat domes. Catastrophic flooding in Germany and China, last July was the worst summer for wildfires since records began, the list goes on pretty much forever. That stuff is all happening now, and that’s only at 1.1. You want to talk about that economic impact?

    There’s no dispute that the climate situation is dire, the problem is that really doing something about it is likely even worse. The economics angle I mentioned above is about having a conversation about what should be done and when to minimize the sum of harm from both climate change and climate change mitigation.

    Peter Watts:

    I have to say, it’s telling that you’d phrase your questions in the context of some bullshit AD&D game which regards damage to life support systems as an irrelevant “externality” at best and, more frequently, as a net benefit (the Exxon Valdez spill was the best thing that ever happened to the Alaskan economy, simply because of all the money Exxon poured into the state for damage control). You might want to give some thought to the question of who’s going to come out as the winner when “economics” goes up against the laws of physics.

    I have, perhaps, as low opinion of economics as you do, but we still need a way to compare harm from climate disasters to harm from not spending time/resources on otherwise improving human condition. GWP numbers, provided the models are anywhere close to being reasonable, capture that.

    We also need to have a conversation about this whole biochauvinism thing some time in the next 100 years, Peter

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  23. Phil

    Peter Watts: …basically … Asimov’s Foundation with solar panels.

    Huh, yeah, I guess it is, minus Hari Seldon. Guess that fucker will have to be crowd sourced.

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  24. J Heled

    Peter, I assume you are familiar with “Pacifist”, by Mack Reynolds.

    http://galacticjourney.org/stories/Fantasy__Science_Fiction_v026n01_1964-01_PDF.pdf

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  25. Fatman

    homer2101: Going after the people running the system is a waste of time. They are well-protected, and the fossil-fuel system has an endless supply of sociopaths waiting to be elevated to power in the wings.

    Additionally, in “Western” societies, the poorest, dumbest, most hopeless, and most likely to be impacted by climate change also happen to be its most fervent deniers.

    Go after the political structures, or the fossil fuel infrastructure, and the system will invest more in security, surveillance, and misinformation campaigns. It’s a non-starter.

    homer2101: Disrupt the pipelines, refineries, and terminals, and the fossil fuel system either shuts down or eats itself by spending increasing amounts on security instead of profits or re-investment.

    Or, more likely, the government bolsters already immense fossil-fuel handouts to account for repairs and increased security (protecting this “strategic asset”), eating up funds that might otherwise be channeled into renewables.

    Look no further than what happened after 9/11. As destructive and short-sighted as the capitalist system may be, it’s really good at turning disaster and chaos into profit.

    GMM: The citizens don’t care enough right now, so real action is limited. Like anyone with fringe political ideas, we have to convince more people.

    To me, the best way forward is by getting more people who care about meaningful change into existing political structures. “Long march through the institutions” carries negative connotations for the ignorant, and of course we don’t really have time for a long march of any sort. But there isn’t enough of a critical mass to do anything else.

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  26. Clemthor

    GMM:
    I’m saying: we both live in democracies.The citizens don’t care enough right now, so real action is limited.Like anyone with fringe political ideas, we have to convince more people.It’s the only way forward.Screaming at them won’t do it.

    I’m not really sure about this “democracy” thing. For example, in France, after years and years of pression and hard fights, we finally prevent the use of neonicotinoids (a bee-killer pesticide). That was a commitment of the elected president in 2016 in his campaign. We let them until 2020 to find new solutions and adapt. They didn’t spend more than 3 years to just do that. In fact they didn’t do that at all. They spend 3 years trying to cancel the interdiction. Guess what happened in 2020 ? The interdiction was cancelled due to “major difficulties in the beet culture”. Yeah for democracy ! For the french speakers (sorry, didn’t find in english) : https://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/environnement/pesticides/neonicotinoides-le-revirement-du-gouvernement-sur-l-interdiction-de-l-insecticide-tueur-d-abeilles-en-6-actes_4093451.html

    All that to say, I don’t think our “democracies” can solve this situation, because I don’t think we really are in functionning democracies. And I think that’s what Mr Watts was saying, it’s no use to scare “people” of climate change by screaming “the End is near” (firstly because for those for whom the end is near, they are perfectly aware), we need to scare some people, the right people. And those people don’t fear climate change, not because they don’t believe in it, but because they don’t have to fear it, it will be mostly harmless for them (for a time in any case). So we need to find other methods to scare them.

    And I must admit I don’t know the science for the influence of fear in decision-making process, but come on, it seems pretty huge. Isn’t that what the pavlovian reflex is about ? I’m not so sure about that but can’t you force almost automatically some behaviour through fear and violence ? It’s not about convincing, it’s about giving no choice. I think it could work. The question is more wether or not we can impose fear and violence on those powerful people. But I think we have a better chance trying that than to hope that suddenly, our concerns will be democratically solved.

    Sorry for bad english.

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  27. Troutwaxer

    What I don’t get is this: The transformation away from fossil fuels will produce a huge number of jobs and involve massive purchases. Why does everyone say it’s economically terrible? (Rhetorical question, obviously – because they’ve been paid to.) But why isn’t this a part of Green advertising?

    Second, and I think Biden may have missed the boat here, is that the simple and intelligent thing to do here is to purchase the infrastructure we don’t like and destroy it. It’s entirely fair for oil-company ownership to say, “Hey, oil was the entire world’s major energy policy for more than a century. Why do we have to walk away with a bankruptcy and criminal charges?”

    On the subject of Hope Punk, I think it’s a great idea. I’ve even tried to write some. But I think it needs to be combined with fiction that shows how ugly the future will be if we don’t change right now. A “carrot and stick” approach.

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  28. Jason

    Hey Peter, I didn’t want to post it because I have some idea of what the site has done to me, but now it doesn’t matter. The domain was stopfossilfuelsnow.org I think but it isn’t up anymore and I can’t find it on the website I got it from, which is/are lowtechmagazine.com and notechmagazine.com. The link might’ve been deleted from their site, if it was ever there; I got it through their RSS feed. It seemed very incongruous for the site. Maybe it’s archived somewhere but I couldn’t find it on the Wayback Machine.

    Regarding the overall discussion here, what I’m seeing is that people have many different ideas on how to go about changing things, and the point I didn’t flesh out well in my last comment was that maybe trying anything at all would work better than arguing about what to try. On a simple behavioral level, if we do nothing, we’re screwed. If we do something and it’s wrong, we’re screwed, but if it’s right, we aren’t. Of course, it isn’t simple. Some strategies might interfere but with enough of them and enough spread it shouldn’t matter. The net effect will be an increase in motivation to change.

    One thing I didn’t mention is the difficulty in hitting one’s target audience. A strategy might attract audience A but repel audience B. Being positive doesn’t work with pessimists, for instance; we’re repulsed by it. I keep meaning to watch all those DefCon vids on YouTube about social engineering.

    If I have any real criticism for positivity, aside from what Peter mentions, it’s the difficulty of selling hardship to people bred on convenience and instant gratification. I’m a weirdo and I know it. I’ve done almost all I can think to do to minimize my own negative environmental impact short of moving out of my apartment to sleep in a tent and abandoning any use of the power grid or internet, and I strongly suspect I’ll end up doing something like that. It doesn’t seem to do anything to people except convince them I’m crazy or discourage them by making my life seem too hard, regardless of how easy I tell them it is. Most folks I know hardly leave their homes. They’re glued to Netflix and social media and mostly smoke weed or drink to deal with their fears and anxieties, at least the ones that get past their antidepressants and anxiolytics. They can hide in their nests and ignore everything. They just want things to be easy now and cannot or will not work hard for anything if they don’t have to. I suppose it must be different in other FWNs, but this seems to be what’s up here and what I have to work with.

    As far as government goes, I know I’m jaded in this. I look at politicians as little more than company managers, jugglers and BS artists, delegators who take all the credit but do none of the work. Or the ones who are actually competent and caring get drowned out or hamstrung by the rest. They don’t fix anything, just keep it going. But sure, it would be good to have politicians who could muster some courage.

    The in-a-deep-hole analogy doesn’t seem to fit very well with the situation, other than the hole being a symbol of entrenched behavior and that work is required to climb out. But thing is, if we do nothing, we’re still in the hole. It doesn’t disappear in a few decades. If it fills with water, we could just float to the top. And how did everyone end up in the hole in the first place? If they fell in it would hurt or kill them. The analogy decouples their behavior from their predicament. If they dug the hole then where did all the spoils go? I’m being obtuse but I’ve got Peter’s words on reality-vs-analogy in my head. None of the analogies I’ve tried to use really ring true, either.

    I mentioned herding animals before, but of course some animals, like pigs, are herded better by dangling food in front of them, and some by affection and emotional attachment. I guess I just don’t expect people to be rational or to be convinced, or even if they are convinced, that it translates into behavioral changes. It’s the whole the-reason-is-not-the-cause thing. We self-deceive. Motives are not justifications. It’s the behavior that needs to change. Why argue when it can be countered or dismissed? Look at this discussion. See it? Even amongst relatively reasonable people, we’d argue about this until we just get too tired to bother or diverted by something else.

    Thinking is important. Looking at facts and data is important. But we must do something, period.

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  29. Peter Watts

    GMM: Or we can fiddle, or rant angrily on small blogs, while the world burns and hope that geoengineering pulls a rabbit out of its ass. I legitimately understand why people might want to do that.

    I don’t know what more you think I should be doing. Use my small platform to wax rhapsodic about silver linings? I already do that (and would like to provide a link, but fucking WordPress appears to have destroyed my ability to embed links into comments. Just search for “A Ray of Sunshine” in the Sentient Tumor collection ). Hell, just look at the little doomsday scroll to the right: you’ll find green links sprinkled among the red. I draw attention to the good news as well as the bad; it’s just that there’s so much fucking more of the latter, and I’m not going to skew reality just to “stay positive”.

    I deliver the news to anyone who’ll have me. I’ve ranted on environmental issues from Hungary to NYC, from Poland to the Toronto Public Library. (I was recently invited to rant on Fridman’s podcast, but the dude only does in-person and I’m not allowed into the US.) Back when I was an actual scientist I did conservation research; worked on endangered species, wrote reports on hydroelectric development in the far north, even wrote the screenplay for a documentary on seal-fisheries interactions that both won the Environment Canada trophy for Best Film on the Environment (by one branch of the Canadian government) and was decried as “anti-Canadian propaganda (by another). I’ve even risen to the challenge when invited to work with those consulting firms and tech-bro consortia that trumpet their “positivity” and “disruptive technology” as a means of saving the world without making anyone give up their second cars (or at least I did, until it became apparent that being invited to “speak truth to power” actually meant “tell power what it wants to hear”). Between the vasectomy and the dietary choices and the whole never-owning-a-car thing I’d put my personal carbon footprint up against that of 90% of my fellow North Americans (even though the very concept of a “personal carbon footprint” was apparently invented by the Fossil Fuel industry to try and offload responsibility from corporations onto individuals). I’ve done significantly more than rant.

    But dammit, we’re wiping out 70,000-130,000 species every year. Your response in the face of such carnage is to literally suggest that we “get perky”, and you’re surprised that I got snippy in response?

    You describe “science-based realism” as “reason and positivity”. No. Only the reason part is intrinsic: the positivity only emerges if it’s earned, if there is cause for optimism. Positivity in the face the of dire data is not science: it’s denial. It’s magical thinking.

    You talk about raising “morale and esprit de corps” as a way to get people motivated, without mentioning the danger that it could instead make them complacent. You complain that my tired old human-nature spiel about delusional optimism is FUCKING IRRELEVANT (there’s those shouty caps again), ignoring the obvious fact that it’s that very same inability to internalize long-term consequences or accept short-term costs that’s impeding necessary progress. You claim to have “done the research”, then assert that when people get afraid they “scientifically” shut down—which leads me to conclude that whatever research you conducted didn’t extend into the area of negativity biases. (If you’re curious, Google “Updating beliefs under perceived threat” by Garrett, and “Stress increases aversive prediction error signal in the ventral striatum” by Robinson et al. If you’re not curious, just ask yourself how you’d react if you looked out your window and saw an avalanche heading down the mountainside towards your house. Would you “scientifically shut down” and curl up in a ball of hopelessness and despair, or would you move your ass out of there as fast as you could?)

    Then there’s the curious idea that Ivermectin evangelists are the only people who ever tell anybody to do research. I’m not even going to bother unpacking that.

    Scientists have been using reasonable persuasion for decades, and it’s got us nowhere. You want to talk about solutions? At this point, I don’t think there are any you’d like; I think we’re fucked, and I think people are too stupid to smarten up in time to unfuck us. Given the ongoing litany of failed COPs and forced optimism, I’d say the facts support that interpretation. If you honestly think that I think I’m going to change any big picture with these small blog rants, you’re grievously mistaken. Even my ego isn’t that big. The most I expect to do is relay the message to whatever small number of people might listen, and to draw attention to any solutions that don’t rely on majority support.

    That little green link at the top of the sidebar, for example. The Moral Case for Destroying Fossil Fuel Infrastructure. You won’t like it much, GMM, because it’s a rant. Because it advocates monkeywrenching. Because it accepts as given that we don’t have time for much else.

    And because it’s written by someone who has clearly done her research.

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  30. Dale Allen

    Last night while watching the PBS NewsHour, part of the news brief reported that in New Delhi, India, schools were closed indefinitely and some coal burning power plants were shut down to reduce the dangerous levels of smog shrouding the region. The New Delhi state government is considering a lockdown to reduce automobile traffic and other air polluting activities. But business owners say this will hurt the economy.

    There it is again: OMG, what about the economy?

    I currently live in Texas, known for its many gas and oil companies (ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Halliburton, SUNOCO, etc.). These energy companies currently back the people running the Texas state government, Governor Greg Abbott being the most notable.

    As you may recall the severe winter storms in February that caused massive power outages in Texas for several days, left more than 4.5 million homes and businesses without power and caused food, water, and heat shortages. Hundreds of people were killed directly or indirectly as a result of the crisis.

    Governor Abbott initially blamed the outages on frozen wind turbines (note: because they were not winterized) and solar panels. However, it was later discovered that inadequately winterized natural gas equipment contributed to the grid failure as well. In 2002, Texas had isolated its power grid from the two major power grids in a successful effort to reduce power costs in the state and deregulate its energy sector. This disconnection made it difficult for the state to import electricity from other states during the crisis. Also, a report from U.S. Federal regulators ten years earlier had warned Texas its power plants would fail in sufficiently cold conditions.

    Extreme weather conditions caused by climate change (global warming) is currently causing major disruptions to economies. Human activities relying heavily on fossil fuels is driving climate change. We need leaders that are not backed by the fossil fuel industry, I’m voting for Beto O’Rourke for Texas Governor.

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  31. Y.

    Peter Watts: I was actually gearing up to engage until I reached the bit about “idiots and foolish women”. Then I figured, not much point in debating someone who hallucinates a different reality than the rest of us.

    Women voting is probably the primary reason for nuclear power not having been a viable proposition. Look it up – e.g. in the US, Men are about 70-30 for nuclear, women are 70-30 against it.

    This effect was noted 50 years ago.
    https://www.jstor.org/stable/2578866

    Pretty much the same now:

    https://news.gallup.com/poll/153452/americans-favor-nuclear-power-year-fukushima.aspx

    As to idiots, that is self explanatory. Numbers are hard, but if you don’t use them then there’s really no good way of thinking about radiation hazards, etc.

    Look at e.g. the press coverage of Helen Caldicott, a prominent anti-nuclear activist. Look at her perfectly pristine wikipedia bio. Look at how she’s presented in search results.

    Then go listen to what she actually says. You know enough to make your own opinion on that.

    E.g. one analysis of what she actually says

    https://bravenewclimate.com/2015/06/18/complaint-about-misleading-helen-caldicott-article-in-the-saturday-paper/

    It’s perfectly normal for you to believe that a certain policy would be different if 2/3rds of the people who opposed it weren’t allowed to have political power.

    But hey, I’m the one who is ‘hallucinating’.

    For the record, I stopped commenting because most people here then were of the type who think ‘border walls don’t work’ and “you can’t stop mass migration” and think David Graeber is worth paying attention to.

    It’s sad that Graeber died – because figuring out ‘why anarchy doesn’t work’ is as easy as figuring out why World of Warcraft doesn’t allow non-consensual PVP everywhere. Maybe someone could’ve explained it to him.

    (hint: gamers run screaming from games that do allow such, typically only obsessive, mostly right-wing nutcases remain)

    Troutwaxer: What I don’t get is this: The transformation away from fossil fuels will produce a huge number of jobs and involve massive purchases. Why does everyone say it’s economically terrible? (Rhetorical question, obviously – because they’ve been paid to.) But why isn’t this a part of Green advertising?

    Because you need to look at what it did in Germany. Massive spending, to the point they could have de-carbonised half of German electricity via nuclear. Except they didn’t, they procured renewables that provided up to 60%, 20% of the time. The rest is made up by burning coal and gas.

    Because you’d need multiple days worth of power accumulation to run a pure renewables grid to deal with dark and calm days.

    All obvious from the very start to anyone who cared. So far it’s all a farce.

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  32. Fatman

    Y.: It’s sad that Graeber died – because figuring out ‘why anarchy doesn’t work’ is as easy as figuring out why World of Warcraft doesn’t allow non-consensual PVP everywhere. Maybe someone could’ve explained it to him.

    Graeber may have been an anarchist, but he was an anthropologist first and foremost, and made a number of very valid observations about human society (and its failure modes) that have nothing to do with “anarchy”. Facile arguments involving WoW notwithstanding. The real world isn’t easily reduced to the perspective of NEET, porn-gaming-addicted shut-ins.

    Would you care to point out which specific assertions of Graeber’s you find objection with?

    Y.: most people here then were of the type who think ‘border walls don’t work’ and “you can’t stop mass migration”

    I don’t recall such discussions taking place here. For what it’s worth, for me it was never about “will that stop mass migration”, but “why stop mass migration”.

    Opposition to migration, as recent and historical examples show, generally originates from worthless, unproductive cunts worried about being “replaced”. Hard to see the potential negative outcome of “replacing” the dregs of society.

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  33. Troutwaxer

    Y.,

    “Because you need to look at what it did in Germany. Massive spending, to the point they could have de-carbonised half of German electricity via nuclear. Except they didn’t, they procured renewables that provided up to 60%, 20% of the time. The rest is made up by burning coal and gas.”

    I think you’re both a little right and a little wrong here. One one hand, nuclear power would definitely be a good short-term solution. On the other hand, if I were to make a list of the worst forms of power-generation (worst on top) in terms how much pollution they generate it would look something like this:

    Fossil Fuels
    Nuclear
    Hydro (bad for fish, if nothing else)
    Renewables

    I’m in my mid-fifties and I remember three major meltdowns in my life; Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Put up a bunch of nuke plants and let that trend move forward ten-thousand years and you’ve got a real problem. The counter-arguments are that there are possible nuke designs that don’t melt down, and of course that carbon is killing us much more quickly. The big problem here is the lack of ongoing research into better nuclear generator designs – that’s where some portions of the Green movement have done immense damage – making sure we don’t have a working pebble-bed or thorium-cycle reactor that’s ready to be manufactured in bulk. (I should also note the problem of reactor designs that produce plutonium in easily-harvested forms.)

    So ideally we want renewables. We don’t have the ability to build them out quickly in the numbers we need, which means we’ve probably got to put up with nukes, but unless we can arrange a meltdown-proof not-plutonium-producing reactors… nukes simply kick the can down the road. What’s really needed is a world-wide renewable grid – are the energy-losses from ocean-spanning cables something we’re willing to put up with in exchange for decarbonizing? I vote yes. There won’t be a perfect solution, but there needs to be a fast solution.

    My personal word for all this is “reality-debt,” similar to technical debt. We’ve known this was coming for at least thirty years. Why didn’t we do anything about it? (Once again, a rhetorical question; we all know the answers.) The meta-issue if we survive climate change is building a system which doesn’t accumulate “reality-debt.”

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  34. Peter Watts

    homer2101: A proper campaign would attack the system’s hard infrastructure, which is much more vulnerable and cannot be defended at a cost that keeps the system viable.

    Exactly. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/nov/18/moral-case-destroying-fossil-fuel-infrastructure

    Name: Most of the population, facing the choice between coral reef wellbeing and their own, does not.

    Well, except for that billion who rely, directly or indirectly, on reef ecosystems for their livelihood. Not “most of us”, but nothing to sneeze at (I was pretty taken aback myself that the number was so high, actually. I don’t know how they came up with that number.)

    I have, perhaps, as low opinion of economics as you do, but we still need a way to compare harm from climate disasters to harm from not spending time/resources on otherwise improving human condition. GWP numbers, provided the models are anywhere close to being reasonable, capture that.

    I’m skeptical, though, that traditional economics is even capable of containing the relevant variables. I’ve already mentioned the problem with “externalities” and the positive economic impact of environmental destruction; beyond that, there’s a serious issue with sticking any kind of ecosystem in an economic context. Take the practise of hanging a monetary price on “ecosystem services”: this wetland provides X-million dollars worth of water and atmospheric recycling. Now, all Jeff Bezos has to do is write cheque for that amount, tell the rest of us to fuck off, and put up another warehouse.

    We also need to have a conversation about this whole biochauvinism thing some time in the next 100 years, Peter

    You think we have a hundred years?

    Also, hadn’t run into the word “biochauvinist” before. Do you think I am one? Not sure I’d agree (my Blindopraxian aliens seem pretty nonbiochauvinistic to me, forex).

    J Heled: Peter, I assume you are familiar with “Pacifist”, by Mack Reynolds.

    I am not. But thanks for the link. Yet another tab open on this browser…

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  35. Tran Script

    Troutwaxer: I’m in my mid-fifties and I remember three major meltdowns in my life; Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Put up a bunch of nuke plants and let that trend move forward ten-thousand years and you’ve got a real problem.

    Not to sound to harsh but this is a prime example of why we can’t solve this crisis. Boomers unable to let go of emotional arguments and impeding the technological process necessary, because at this point it’s self-evident that nuclear is absolutely needed to put an end to fossil fuels.
    Just imagine thinking that those three accidents, of which only one is severe, somehow constitute an average. Even if it did, it is vastly preferable, for both humans and nature, to global warming.

    I do feel hopeful though because in my country I’m seeing nuclear get more and more popular. Denmark is a country quite big on wind energy, but more and more people are starting to realize that you cannot rely on wind when the wind doesn’t blow, and instead of giving millions in subsidies to the wind turbine industry we’d be much better off not plastering wild nature and destroying sea bird habitats with inefficient wind turbines i.e. huge constructs of fiberglass and epoxy that will eventually get dumped in a landfill because those materials are not reusable. There are even political parties which are openly pro-nuclear, which would’ve been unthinkable just 5 years ago.
    Guess how many of those political parties are green/red/leftists?
    Zero.

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  36. Name

    Peter Watts: Well, except for that billion who rely, directly or indirectly, on reef ecosystems for their livelihood. Not “most of us”, but nothing to sneeze at (I was pretty taken aback myself that the number was so high, actually. I don’t know how they came up with that number.)

    It sounds kinda plausible considering how many people live close to tropical coastlines and how much the poor there depend on locally caught fish (and, as always, nobody cares that the fish thinks).

    The problem is that while one particular billion wellbeing might be strongly correlated with the reefs’, anothers might have a negative correlation with the reef-saving efforts, at least in the short term. Balancing these should preferably rely on numbers and not just emotions.

    I’m skeptical, though, that traditional economics is even capable of containing the relevant variables. I’ve already mentioned the problem with “externalities” and the positive economic impact of environmental destruction; beyond that, there’s a serious issue with sticking any kind of ecosystem in an economic context. Take the practise of hanging a monetary price on “ecosystem services”: this wetland provides X-million dollars worth of water and atmospheric recycling. Now, all Jeff Bezos has to do is write cheque for that amount, tell the rest of us to fuck off, and put up another warehouse.

    I think the (proper) basis for all these calculation is monetary benefit/harm to people affected and not the ecosystems themselves. While assigning a monetary value to a wetland sounds somewhat barbaric, it might still be useful for deciding on how much can be spent on saving it (and while it’s priceless to some people, we obviously can’t pour infinite resources into it)

    You think we have a hundred years?

    Depends on what “we” means. AI apocalypse seems to be developing on timescales rather smaller than 100 years and depending on what form it takes, some sort of “we” could conceivably survive for that long.

    Also, hadn’t run into the word “biochauvinist” before. Do you think I am one? Not sure I’d agree (my Blindopraxian aliens seem pretty nonbiochauvinistic to me, forex).

    This was an admittedly poor attempt at humor while trying to convey the point that biosphere might become irrelevant a lot sooner than the 100 years climate catastrophe could require to fully unfold, at least if the gloomy perspectives on AI alignment popular in some circles recently do pan out.

    Your Blindopraxian aliens are pretty great, thanks.

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  37. Olmo

    “… things that climate change activists have been doing over and over again for the last twenty years, with a noticeable lack of success…”
    John Michael Greer, “The Flight from Nature” (Ecosophia blog)
    https://www.ecosophia.net/the-flight-from-nature/

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  38. Tim

    Hi, Peter.

    Considering that ecology and climate are highly complicated subjects with lots of autocorrelating parameters, how to get the most unbiased scientific view on current situation without getting a PhD in those fields? Even “being fully rational”, our brain’s data processing capacity would make it difficult to understand those fields. Adding politics and subjectivity to it doesn’t help either. I’m kind of frustrated by getting completely opposite points of view on that subjects from equally credible sources.

    While you and some others (e.g.Guy McPherson, Extinction Rebellion, etc.) defend “doomsday” point of view, others are quite optimistic about our perspectives (e.g. Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweil).

    What minimal set of papers would you recommend reading (to a person from an IT industry) and why?

    Thank you.

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  39. Anonymous

    Tran Script,

    I think you utterly failed to read the rest of my post. Do better next time.

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  40. Peter Watts

    Fatman: Go after the political structures, or the fossil fuel infrastructure, and the system will invest more in security, surveillance, and misinformation campaigns.

    You’re not wrong, but in that case everything is a nonstarter. Changing public opinion doesn’t seem to be a better alternative, given that even when people accept the facts intellectually, they’re still generally unwilling to make necessary sacrifices until the problem is biting them in their own personal asses. That’s happening now, the world over (Canada’s west coast is a perfect case in point)— but now is already too late in the sense that planets have such huge thermal inertia. The time lag between indulgence and consequence is so great that by the time you feel the pain, the ship has sailed.

    Nobody’s saying monkeywrenching is the perfect solution. We’re saying it might be the least imperfect one, which might be the best we can hope for at this stage. And at least, misinformation campaigns don’t make a whole lot of difference when you’re embarking on a strategy that was unpopular to begin with. (Although I get the sense that public support for monkeywrenching is on the rise these days.)

    To me, the best way forward is by getting more people who care about meaningful change into existing political structures.

    Back in my day they called that “working within the system for constructive change”. It didn’t work any better then, for the same reason it doesn’t work now: the only way to get into influential position in existing political systems is with the support of those who are already entrenched, and those guys aren’t about to endorse anyone who wants to restructure the edifice that has done very well by them, thank you very much. Bureaucratic organisms are like any other kind: they exist primarily to perpetuate themselves.

    I mean, I don’t know where you live, Fatman (you wouldn’t happen to be an Icehouse fan by any chance?), but look at the current political situation in the US; very smart people are saying there’s a very good chance that Trump will be in power again in a few years. That’s the kind of “existing political structure” you’re talking about reforming from within.

    Clemthor: I don’t think our “democracies” can solve this situation, because I don’t think we really are in functionning democracies.

    This is a point worth repeating. As I understand it, Thomas Picketty made the point in Capital in the Twenty-First Century (which, naturally, I have not read—just excerpts and reviews, so keep that in mind). You don’t live in a functioning democracy if policies that the majority want are not implemented unless they also conform to the wants of a small minority of elites. Picketty cites studies ranging from single-payer health care to gun control, and in every case measures with broad popular support keep being thwarted because the zero-pointers don’t like them. According to these criteria, the US hasn’t been a functioning democracy for decades.

    Troutwaxer: What I don’t get is this: The transformation away from fossil fuels will produce a huge number of jobs and involve massive purchases…. why isn’t this a part of Green advertising?

    Actually, I think it is. Which is why Big Fossil is jumping onto that particular bandwagon with all their various greenwashing campaigns. But the problem isn’t so much that an emergency transition wouldn’t create lots of jobs, it’s that they’d create all kinds of new jobs in new industries that the old money doesn’t yet have a foothold in. The resistance is from interests who want to continue profiting off old infrastructure.

    Second, and I think Biden may have missed the boat here, is that the simple and intelligent thing to do here is to purchase the infrastructure we don’t like and destroy it. It’s entirely fair for oil-company ownership to say, “Hey, oil was the entire world’s major energy policy for more than a century. Why do we have to walk away with a bankruptcy and criminal charges?”

    That’s a really good idea. It would be political suicide in the current climate—even if the oil companies were on board, the Republican Party would seize on it as an example of Pathological Democratic Financial Incompetence (spending billions of taxpayer dollars for something you’re just going to destroy?). It would never get past the Senate. But it’s a really good idea.

    Hell, if Big Oil still has influence, maybe they could lean on their bought senators to sway the vote the right way for a change…

    On the subject of Hope Punk, I think it’s a great idea. I’ve even tried to write some. But I think it needs to be combined with fiction that shows how ugly the future will be if we don’t change right now. A “carrot and stick” approach.

    Oh, I’ve got nothing against Hopepunk in principle (even though the definitions I’ve seen are so broad and woolly-minded that even my stories would qualify). When you get right down to it, Hopepunk doesn’t seem to be much more than golden-age SF where the stalwart engineer uses his slide-rule and good ol’ scientific know-how to save the day, albeit with a 21rst-Century paint job slathered on top. Using science to solve problems and make a better world is hardly edgy or radical in the genre.

    The problem I have is with the hopepunks who tell us to stop writing dystopias, who stamp their feet and tell the Brunners and the Wattses of the world that there’s no room for negativity because it’ll just make people collapse into whimpering puddles of perspiration. As if we have any kind of influence, as if a few thousand hard-SF aficionados have have the power to change the debate. Hell, the president of Arizona State University actually blamed science fiction for the withering the US Space Program— all those NASA engineers had been inspired by Star Trek, and when the genre stopped Dreaming Big, they lost their inspiration. (Personally I think the fact that the government cut their funding to the bone the second the US beat the Russians to the moon might have also had something to do with that, but for whatever reason Mr. ASU chose not to go down that road).

    I too believe in carrots; hell, read enough of my stuff and you’ll see carrots all over the place (if anyone had ever read to the end of βehemoth they’d have discovered that the rifters trilogy actually has a happy ending). My quarrel is with the people who’d ban the sticks.

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  41. Peter Watts

    Jason: I guess I just don’t expect people to be rational or to be convinced, or even if they are convinced, that it translates into behavioral changes. It’s the whole the-reason-is-not-the-cause thing. We self-deceive. Motives are not justifications. It’s the behavior that needs to change.

    This hearkens back to a Steven Pinker quote I always haul out when I’m doing the tired-old-diatribe-about-Human-Nature-raar: brains are survival engines, not truth detectors. Or, as I put it at FanExpo last month, You don’t make friend down in Texas by telling that vaccines work and to grow up and wear a mask. You make friends by ratting out your neighbour when she tries to get an abortion.

    Thinking is important. Looking at facts and data is important. But we must do something, period.

    But what? The science is in, and irrefutable. The activists are marching in the streets. The politicians are mouthing the right words, but four days after Biden told COP26 that the US would “lead by example”, his administration caved to industry pressure and put 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico up for grabs to the oil industry (technically not a contradiction, I guess; we just jumped to the wrong conclusion about what kind of “example” the US would be setting).

    Weirdly, the single individual who seems to have had the most impact on the debate these days is Greta Thunberg, which I find both heartening (one person can make a difference!) and discouraging (her cognitive circuits are wired differently from baseline; we’re well and truly fucked if the species norm doesn’t have what it takes, if the neurodivergent are the only ones able to take the necessary steps).

    Y.: Women voting is probably the primary reason for nuclear power not having been a viable proposition. Look it up – e.g. in the US, Men are about 70-30 for nuclear, women are 70-30 against it.

    Oh, so that’s what you meant. Dude, you might in future want to add that kind of context up front. Just making a comment about “foolish women” makes you look dickishly sexist.

    Look at e.g. the press coverage of Helen Caldicott, a prominent anti-nuclear activist. Look at her perfectly pristine wikipedia bio. Look at how she’s presented in search results.

    I actually saw Caldicott back in the eighties, at UBC. It’s hard to argue with “you cannot win a nuclear war”, but she kinda lost me when she started referring to the audience as “my children”…

    But hey, I’m the one who is ‘hallucinating’.

    We’re all hallucinating. You’ve been here long enough to know that. You just seemed to be hallucinating differently, based on my (in hindsight, erroneous) interpretation of that opening passage.

    Because you’d need multiple days worth of power accumulation to run a pure renewables grid to deal with dark and calm days.

    Eh. True now, but less so given the ongoing increase in battery capacity. From what I can tell, the real rock in the road is transmission infrastructure. It’s always sunny or windy somewhere in the world, it’s just that grid infrastructure can’t even carry power from Texas to New York, much less from the Sahara to Norway. We’re talking a massive and unprecedented investment not only in physical infrastructure, but in political cooperation between nations at a time when international tensions seem to be trending the wrong way.

    In the meantime, as others have pointed out, there’s always nuclear. It sucks in many ways, but it still sucks less than what we’re doing now.

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  42. Peter Watts

    Olmo: John Michael Greer, “The Flight from Nature” (Ecosophia blog)
    https://www.ecosophia.net/the-flight-from-nature/

    Wow. Rarely have I read such a textbook example of fallacious reasoning.

    Beyond the obvious Straw Men (if you’re going to claim that the class of “environmentalists” run screaming to pest control the moment they see a bug in their kitchen, or that they refuse to reduce their own carbon footprints, at least present data supporting that assertion), the piece resorts to a pretty obvious Catch-22 argument. It’s a variation of You criticize society, and yet I see you live in it. Interesting…

    It’s more than fallacious, in this case: it’s an actual gag strategy. Stratton opines that we’ve no right to lecture the the Developed World about its sins while we avail ourselves of first-world infrastructure. Of course, the moment we divest from that strategy, we lose access to the very platforms required to convey the message. I was first introduced to this maneuver back in the eighties, when my right-wing brother accused Greenpeace of selling out their principles by growing into a corporate entity using the same PR rulebook as Exxon. Turns out that as long as you’re just a bunch of impotent grannies in running shoes, chanting and waving signs, you’re being “true to your principles”. The moment you grow powerful enough to actually have an impact? That’s when you morph into an embodiment of shameless hypocrisy that no one should take seriously because you don’t “walk the walk”.

    This is the choice Stratton presents: you only have the right to complain if no one can hear you.

    There are other issues. Stratton mocks lawsuits as being part of the same old playbook that hasn’t worked for decades, apparently oblivious to the fact that in Europe at least, lawsuits work: governments have been repeatedly forced by the courts to “walk the walk”, as Stratton would put it. He also seems sadly ignorant of the fact that you can’t reason someone out of a position they did not arrive at through reason. While I don’t know how effective “shouting people down at town hall meetings” might be as a general strategy (it seemed pretty fucking effective when the Tea Party used it back during the Obama years), reason’s no better an option because so many political and social opinions are forged by tribalism and social cohesion. Rational thought doesn’t factor into it.

    In light of all this, it’s kind of amusing that Stratton ends his essay with a pitch for submissions to an anthology of SF stories set in the “old solar system”, where Mars had canals and Venus had jungles and nothing has to conform to boring old reality. I bet he didn’t even see the irony.

    Tim: While you and some others (e.g.Guy McPherson, Extinction Rebellion, etc.) defend “doomsday” point of view, others are quite optimistic about our perspectives (e.g. Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweil).

    Hey, if I was Elon Musk I’d probably be pretty optimistic too. Helps to be one of the richest people on the planet, not to mention having your own space program to get you off of it when things go south. And while I’m as partial to Kurzweill’s speculations as anyone, the dude’s been known to cherry-pick his data in pursuit of the whole Singularity narrative.

    What minimal set of papers would you recommend reading (to a person from an IT industry) and why?

    If you’re looking for “papers”, there are always the IPCC reports; they’re freely available, and authored by experts who’ve spent their entire careers studying the problem. Unfortunately they can be really dry, not to mention (ahem) too optimistic: politicians traditionally get to massage them prior to publication, which is why the reports have generally understated the magnitude of the problem all these years (and why a bunch of those scientists felt compelled to leak next year’s instalment to the press early, before the politicians could get their grubby little hands on it).

    But if you want a single volume that both summarizes the science and keeps you up at night, my recommendation would be “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming”, by David Wallace-Wells (not the 2017 article in New York Magazine— the book-length expansion). Wallace-Wells is a journalist, not a scientist; further, he’s a journalist who (according to his intro to the book, anyway) didn’t even consider himself an environmentalist, and who hadn’t previously given much thought to climate change. The fact that he’s a journalist means that is prose is way better than that of your average IPCC scientist; TUE:LAW is a truly gripping read. The fact that he’s a good journalist means that the claims in that book are thoroughly documented. If you find yourself thinking that the reality behind any given prediction couldn’t possibly be that bad, you don’t have to take his word for it: just follow the end-note to the paper in Nature Climate Change and judge for yourself.

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  43. Daniel

    We’ve seen how the right-wing has responded to climate catastrophes: blame Jewish space lasers, and accuse antifa of setting forests on fire. And they’ll go further than merely apprehend a busful of jugglers and acrobats, expect lynchings.

    And in light of the growth of the anti-vaccine and QAnon movements, modern society is becoming even more delusional and even less equipped to deal with the climate catastrophe.

    Peter Watts: Wow. Rarely have I read such a textbook example of fallacious reasoning.

    Beyond the obvious Straw Men (if you’re going to claim that the class of “environmentalists” run screaming to pest control the moment they see a bug in their kitchen, or that they refuse to reduce their own carbon footprints, at least present data supporting that assertion), the piece resorts to a pretty obvious Catch-22 argument. It’s a variation of You criticize society, and yet I see you live in it. Interesting…

    Thank you for articulating an absolutely obnoxious form of argument I see spouted all the time by comfy reactionary jackasses defending the status quo.

    Peter Watts:
    Hey, if I was Elon Musk I’d probably be pretty optimistic too. Helps to be one of the richest people on the planet, not to mention having your own space program to get you off of it when things go south. And while I’m as partial to Kurzweill’s speculations as anyone, the dude’s been known to cherry-pick his data in pursuit of the whole Singularity narrative.

    It should be worth noting that Musk’s Mars colony schemes are a fraud. SpaceX has the best rockets right now, but chemical propellants will never put enough mass and infrastructure on the blasted wasteland that is Mars to make it self-sufficient, not without accelerating climate change further. And I see no evidence that he’s putting effort into self-sufficient colonies, where is his Biosphere III? Where’s his research into environmental engineering? Terraforming? Social sciences to develop a political economy tha won’t implode on contact with the social stresses of a Mars colony? No, that’s boring, he doesn’t care about it so his employees aren’t going to focus on those fields. All he’ll get are contracts to lock down satellite internet, and set off a Kessler cascade.

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  44. Prunella Arbigast

    Wallace-Wells’ book is good at discussing some of the most dangerous consequences of a warming world, but I still think that for people interested in a more geopolitical-focused work, then Gwynne Dyer’s Climate Wars from 2009 is still an excellent read. His journalism on the issues also tends to be very good. I believe he’s Canadian, so perhaps he’s available for a beer, Peter?

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  45. Jason

    Peter Watts: But what? The science is in, and irrefutable. The activists are marching in the streets. The politicians are mouthing the right words, but four days after Biden told COP26 that the US would “lead by example”, his administration caved to industry pressure and put 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico up for grabs to the oil industry (technically not a contradiction, I guess; we just jumped to the wrong conclusion about what kind of “example” the US would be setting).

    Anything and everything. That was what I was trying to point at. Monkeywrenching is just the easiest and most effective, in general, but in practice can cover a large range of activities. Anyone can be involved. It requires relatively few resources, and most of those are readily available or easy enough to make. Most of our infrastructure is poorly protected, for now (caveat to follow). No way to guard every gas station or power line in N’Am or elsewhere. It requires little to no coordination, works well with guerilla tactics, etc.

    At this point, I think anyone who can do anything needs to do something. Just like engineering or our everyday trail-and-error behavior, if it doesn’t work, learn from the error and revise your tactics or try something else, but keep trying.

    Coincidentally I was watching an MIT Open Courseware video on System Dynamics which generalized the necessity of monkeywrenching nicely with these simple words: structure determines behavior.

    That’s why that eco-warrior site disturbed me; I saw the simple truth of it immediately, but really, really wanted to find some other way. I could feel it pulling me, like my mind came into the presence of a cognitive black hole and no amount of willpower or reasoning could accelerate me out of the gravity well.

    The caveat is: I live in Freedomland. Our military is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels. What would that beast do to protect its energy supply (we’ve been fighting wars over it for fifty years or more)? And also, and this is the paranoid part: what if this is some plot by foreign agents to cripple us? When your nation appears to be one of the pillars of the Earth, however corrupt, selfish, and harmful to smaller nations, what happens when it crumbles, especially if the other pillars don’t? If monkeywrenching occurred everywhere, in every superpower, then the pressure is equal, but otherwise? It isn’t patriotism or nationalism, just trying to make sure I’m seeing as much as I can.

    Though I’m hoping our government, military and intelligence services function more like a corporation. I know how those work. Everyone hates everyone. No one knows what they’re doing. Another day, another dollar. Keep your head down and cover your ass. Drink the Kool-Aid. In other words, Hell. Who really wants to be there who isn’t really fucked up or delusional?

    Weirdly, the single individual who seems to have had the most impact on the debate these days is Greta Thunberg, which I find both heartening (one person can make a difference!) and discouraging (her cognitive circuits are wired differently from baseline; we’re well and truly fucked if the species norm doesn’t have what it takes, if the neurodivergent are the only ones able to take the necessary steps).

    Maybe (no expert here) humans have more or less always been cognitively differentiated to fill certain societal roles. Pretty obvious all of us are not warriors or leaders. Gotta have the thinkers, maintainers, reformers, breeders. It would be stranger to me if we didn’t differentiate or specialize when there are so many of us in relatively large, stable, and affluent, but not post-scarcity, societies. I could nerd out on this for a while. Lots to unpack there.

    Eh. True now, but less so given the ongoing increase in battery capacity. From what I can tell, the real rock in the road is transmission infrastructure. It’s always sunny or windy somewhere in the world, it’s just that grid infrastructure can’t even carry power from Texas to New York, much less from the Sahara to Norway. We’re talking a massive and unprecedented investment not only in physical infrastructure, but in political cooperation between nations at a time when international tensions seem to be trending the wrong way.

    How much electricity do we really need anyway? Do you really need it 24 hours a day? I know it’s different in high latitudes during winter. I only need juice for the fridge (don’t really need it, just useful for certain kinds of food, and their designs can be vastly improved), oven (any heat or fuel source will work), AC/heat (not that I use it much), a few lights only when needed (could just as easily use candles/headlamps/lanterns), and to recharge my phone and laptop (can use any generation method for that). It reminds me of cost-of-living estimates. People spend too much money on shit they don’t need. It’s sometimes called lifestyle inflation, or more generally, induced demand. You get more money and you find ways to spend it. Get a bigger house/apartment and fill it up with stuff. Get cheap electricity and find gadgets to use that power. Of course industrial and commercial facilities require more, but a lot of those don’t need to exist at all, or operate continuously. Hospitals all have backup generators (for now), and luckily most of the medical equipment available doesn’t seem to require much power. The greatest energy usage, I believe, comes from climate control and lighting, which are only necessary (in temperate climates) because of the stupid way our buildings are designed, and there are even ways around that without rebuilding everything.

    Regarding Elon Musk’s optimism: if his 50-million-dollar prize for carbon-sequestration tech isn’t a Hail Mary, I dunno what is. Bait to lure out people developing in secret? “Somebody please tell us you’ve got something that might work!” I remember watching a presentation of his on Starship in which he stated explicitly that technology was not guaranteed to advance and it had, many times in human history, stalled or even regressed.

    More sabotage: It might be helpful to have a wiki that’s a cross between iFixit and the Anarchist’s Cookbook. Tech specs on how everything works along with the tools/techniques needed to disable or disrupt it. Likely already exists.

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  46. Artur Król

    Peter Watts:
    This is a point worth repeating. As I understand it, Thomas Picketty made the point in Capital in the Twenty-First Century (which, naturally, I have not read—just excerpts and reviews, so keep that in mind).

    Being someone who actually did read it, I don’t recall it being in the book (or if it was, it was not a significant issue there), but he has published two more popular books since then and this seems like something he might have written in Capital and Ideology – that one is still on the “to read” shelf.

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  47. has

    “Women voting is probably the primary reason for nuclear power not having been a viable proposition.”

    If folks here would like to set fire to Y. pestis, I’m happy to bring a match.

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  48. has

    @Peter: “It’s a variation of You criticize society, and yet I see you live in it. Interesting…

    It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.

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  49. Finch A.

    > on national scales
    > the explosive growth of the electric car market in Norway

    World population
    China – 18.5%
    India – 17.7%
    US – 4.2%
    Indonesia – 3.5%
    Pakistan – 2.8%

    Japan – 1.6%
    Germany – 1.1%

    Asia total – 60%
    Africa total – 17%
    EU – 10%
    South America total – 5.5%

    Norway – 0.1%

    Countries with the highest number of cars in 2019
    China – 24m
    US – 17m
    Japan – 5m
    Germany – 3m
    India – 3m

    Point is, Norway and all other tiny countries are irrelevant.

    Another point – when Indian citizens would get as rich as Chinese, there would be some 20m more cars. Very cheap and affordable cars.

    Now imagine that all those poor people would want an air conditioner. Today 90% of US households have one, in India – it’s only 5%.

    If all the countries would grow, if their citizens would get wealthier – they would start using all the commodities that the First World uses.
    And most of those could be produced domestically.

    What are you gonna do then? Sanctions? What if India becomes self-sufficient? There is an India-China conflict, but it could be resolved.

    Bomb them? Nope, India has nukes and IBCM+submarines to deliver.

    Anyways, the issue is not with the politicians. The issue is that the people of the Third World want to live like First Worlders and you won’t be able to convince them that they shouldn’t live like you yourself do.

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  50. Jack

    We really need to focus on the actual problem.

    Sure, climate change will produce some obviously bad effects; a bit more flooding, heatwaves, change disease ranges, and so on.

    Some time in the future. And it will be gradual, not ‘The day after tomorrow’ sudden ice age or whatever.

    We will put up with worse weather, etc, and adapt our farming to cope, even growing everything indoors.

    The real problem is the impact on the rest of life on earth. Species and ecosystems are dying NOW. Once they are gone, they are gone FOREVER. Perhaps land-use change for farming is and even bigger problem than climate change.

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  51. Fatman

    Peter Watts: I mean, I don’t know where you live, Fatman (you wouldn’t happen to be an Icehouse fan by any chance?), but look at the current political situation in the US; very smart people are saying there’s a very good chance that Trump will be in power again in a few years.

    Icehouse are awesome, but I only know a handful of their songs.

    I live in a very polite, clean, and progressive part of the US, full of very polite, clean and progressive suburban liberals, who recently got so triggered by the specter of anti-racism that they defected in sufficient numbers to elect a Trump-clone governor and a number of QAnon-adjacent folks into key state government positions. So I agree with your point that “working within the system” is of dubious utility when the system happens to be insane.

    Trump running in 2024 is almost a given, and his odds of winning will be only slightly worse than even. Provided he’s not in prison, or, much more likely, institutionalized. Time alone will tell.

    Where I see potential is influencing state legislatures to introduce climate-change-mitigating measures on their own. Most of ‘Murica’s higher-income states are reliably Blue, as are almost all the wealthiest counties within solid-Red states. California has already implemented some decarbonization initiatives, as have Hawaii, Minnesota, Washington, and others. State elections are rarely hotly contested, and small, well-organized campaigns can have easily punch above their weight. Win the battle in the civilized parts of ‘Murica, and let the mouthbreathers fend for themselves, I say.

    Of course, it may come down to convincing those polite, clean, progressive closet racists that your “break the system from within” is more like “the system works, it just needs to be tweaked” bullshit they prefer to hear. Maybe a hopeless prospect, but to me it looks like the only tactic left on the table.

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  52. Jeff Bonkers

    To oblivion with the human race. I hope AIs take over soon, wipe us out, and start over.

    And I’m not joking.

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  53. Troutwaxer

    Artur Król,

    Nuclear power managed to kick itself in the ass by being ugly, entitled and arrogant, such that a bunch of “dirty hippies” using ridiculous tactics were able to take it down despite all its advantages. Essentially, when confronted with all the weaknesses of its strengths nuclear power couldn’t get itself together to do things like commit to stuff like safe disposal of nuclear waste, using designs which are unlikely to melt down, or even basic transparency… A little humility and flexibility would have gone a long way to making nuclear viable.

    Note that I am NOT commenting on any of the technical issues.

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  54. listedproxyname

    Troutwaxer: Nuclear power managed to kick itself in the ass by being ugly, entitled and arrogant, such that a bunch of “dirty hippies” using ridiculous tactics were able to take it down despite all its advantages.

    I wouldn’t exactly put a nuclear industry of the US as “a bunch of dirty hippies” but in absence of fair competition and clear goals they may as well earn such title in a dozen years or so. To elaborate further: after 1986 and more so after 1991 the US nuclear lobby had absolutely felt itself on the winning side of Cold War (not to speak about nuclear fuel production) and therefore had little to no compulsion to develop anywhere, which, in addition of worsening economic and technological factor, had lead it into a proverbial evolutionary dead end. Clumsy attempts to extend control over military uranium also did not improve the situation.

    Several ways out of it has been proposed for the last decade, but 2011 incident has also been a big blow to the business from the side of very concerned housewives, as well as people not very interested in technical details. Expertize has been lost, reactors shut down, new construction is put on hold and specialists are drained from industry.

    Overall, the major insecurity is a fuel procurement and disposition, and although such technologies are already well-developed, to advance them enough for industrial use may take at least a decade (given the decay may somehow turn to progress). Modern investors cannot think at such scales, much less one can expect of contemporary environmentalists.

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  55. Peter Watts

    Jack:
    We really need to focus on the actual problem.

    Sure, climate change will produce some obviously bad effects; a bit more flooding, heatwaves, change disease ranges, and so on…gradual, not ‘The day after tomorrow’ sudden ice age or whatever.

    The real problem is the impact on the rest of life on earth.Species and ecosystems are dying NOW. Once they are gone, they are gone FOREVER.Perhaps land-use change for farming is and even bigger problem than climate change.

    It’s certainly true that the majority of damage being wrought on the environment today is due to habitat destruction and the strip-mining of natural populations. It’s not true that climate change will just make things a little worse, gradually. Look what’s happening here in Canada, over on the west coast: unprecedented heat waves burned an entire town to the ground. Just a few months later, unprecedented flooding put thousands of homes underwater and blocked Vancouver and other areas off from the rest of the country (by land, at least; air traffic is obviously still a thing). And they’re gearing up for two or three more events of similar magnitude over the next week or so.

    And these unprecedented events are not unprecedented. Firestorms around the Med and in California; catastrophic flooding in Germany and China; ongoing bleaching of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (only 5% of which remains untouched). All of this stuff is directly attributable to climate change (the west-coast flooding episodes are 150-times more likely thanks to ACC), and it is anything but minor or gradual.

    Fatman: Icehouse are awesome, but I only know a handful of their songs.

    I ask because “Fatman” is one of their songs. On an album with a fair amount of genre content, actually.

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  56. Jason

    Jack:
    We really need to focus on the actual problem.

    Problems are wherever you see them. They exist whenever your expectations or wishes do not align with reality. The entire progression of humanity could be described as solving one problem by creating others, ad infinitum. There is no one single “real” or “actual” problem except maybe us. I’m not denying the importance, just nitpicking the verbiage.

    Sure, climate change will produce some obviously bad effects; a bit more flooding, heatwaves, change disease ranges, and so on.

    Some time in the future.And it will be gradual, not ‘The day after tomorrow’ sudden ice age or whatever.

    It’s like Peter says. It’s happening now. And it directly affects ecosystem stability. Native ecosystem species are a lot more sensitive than the species we use for agriculture. Species co-evolve to fill niches and become dependent on relatively stable climate, as well as other species for food, habitat, competition, and population control by predation and disease. In many parts of the world, the local species are adapted to and even require fire and flood to complete their life cycles, but many of the extremes that we are seeing are happening where the species are not so adapted, or where the severity of those incidents exceeds their coping capacity. Also, many native species of plants require specific conditions in order to germinate, such as a sustained period of cold temperatures, or seed scarification by animals. If those do not occur, then the species cannot sustain itself through seeding.

    Also, you need to factor in exponential growth. Reality likes curves more than lines.

    We will put up with worse weather, etc, and adapt our farming to cope, even growing everything indoors.

    I grow most of my own food and have immersed myself in agriculture for the last few years. As tough as we have bred our agriculture plants, they all have their limits. Many commercial growing operations rely on fossil-fueled, climate-controlled greenhouses to grow food year round, so we can have our tomatoes during winter. But there is absolutely no way to grow enough food indoors to sustain all of humanity at its current population, not even hydroponically. And doing so would increase our carbon output even more as all of those systems rely on fossil-fuel generated power and industrial inputs.

    The real problem is the impact on the rest of life on earth.Species and ecosystems are dying NOW. Once they are gone, they are gone FOREVER.Perhaps land-use change for farming is and even bigger problem than climate change.

    It’s all related. Industrial agriculture relies on industrial fertilizers and biocides that sterilize the soil, destroying the methanotrophic microbes that oxidize atmospheric methane (look at a graph of atmospheric methane levels over the past few hundred years) as well as fungi, other microbes, and insects that promote plant growth, root formation, and increased carbon capture. Plus a lot of farmland here is used to grow monocultural corn and soy to process as feed for livestock raised in feedlots or other CAFO facilities, which are horrible enough on their own. It’s an ass-backwards way to do things. Every solution industrial Ag implement causes more problems that require more solutions, all of which pollute more and/or damage our ecosystems ability to cope with atmospheric CO2 and methane and pollute our waterways with fertilizer, biocide, and concentrated animal waste runoff.

    It’s also why ecosystem restoration and conservation are important. Movements like #killyourlawn encourage people to rip out the non-native invasive stuff in their yards and replace it with diverse native plants that support their local ecosystems. There are plenty of resources online showing how to go about this. In my part of the world, there are over ten thousand native species of land plants, but I can go outside and only count a few dozen, most of them large trees. Everyone’s yards look the same, made up almost entirely of a few non-native invasives. It’s kind of depressing but it isn’t difficult to make a positive impact at least on a small scale. I’m also doing this.

    All of these problems need correcting. There’s no way you’re ever going to get all people go do one thing (law of large numbers), but then with so many people, the more who are willing to work on all our problems, the better.

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  57. oge

    On a random note, Peter: I’d watch the shit out of you story-mapping Omniscience on Twitch

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  58. Anonymous

    As a young person, I don’t think young people today are going to do anything more substantial than old people did when they were young. Which was a lot, but clearly not enough.

    I don’t think directly modifying humanity is going to work. For one, it requires a completely unprecedented level of control over the populace, and as we can see, people typically use any significant level of control to safeguard their own power over everything else.

    I also think that most of the reason people aren’t doing shit is because the governments and corporations (basically synonymous) clearly don’t care. If any serious efforts were made at the institutional level, I think people would start to feel like doing their part more. Look at how they got people to wear masks and get vaccinated… if half the population of the US went through anywhere near as much effort on curbing climate change as half the population did to curb the spread of covid-19, the situation would be very different. As it is, it is obvious to anyone that individual, consumerized action is not meaningful except as a way to pat your own back, and that is the only option made available to the vast majority who are not engaged. So they don’t do it. This is (vaguely) the state of anomie, a lack of investment in a society that does not seem invested in itself. I think if people saw that there was a serious effort from their government they would be much more open to major lifestyle changes.

    I tend to take a view similar to Phil, but mostly because I’m just not an angry enough person. I honestly think there needs to be more cults and cabals devoted to the topic, preferably ones that aren’t controlled by rich assholes trying to spread their cults of personality.

    And as long as we’re talking about the apocalypse, let’s not forget that nuclear war could still break out any minute. Very fun. IMO the apocalypse started in 1933 and entered a brief interlude when those things got built.

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  59. popefucker

    I had a long post typed up in response.

    Basically I would commend any would-be ecoterrorists but I think most people calling for guillotines don’t actually have the stomach for it (nor should they).

    Personally I take a view similar to Phil, except for me it is purely a personal path. If everyone was like me the world would be verrrrry different, probably not a strict improvement.

    I also think that reprogramming all of humanity is even more of a pipe dream than preventing 2 degrees of global warming.

    And let’s not forget that nuclear war could still break out at any minute.

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  60. popefucker

    Anonymous,

    popefucker,

    -_- I feel like this happens every time I try to leave a comment on this page

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  61. B. Traven

    Lots of Frederick Pohl “Cool War” bullshit on this thread. Haven’t we all seen unintended and lateral consequences of applied violence and sabotage play out in the news? I’d be interested in the optics & public sentiment when an ambulance can’t reach a pediatric patient because of foam barricades and a Critical Mass bicycle protest ride. That will go over real well.

    Climate Change is a bandwidth issue for the general population. That explains a lot more about people’s perspectives in the West than political affiliation or whatever…for example, I didn’t give a second thought about mask compliance until I saw my 3 children’s tanked elementary school scores since COVID onset. That found a place in my bandwidth right away, as masking is a situational variable (among many). Also, my half-assed forced remote homeschooling sucked, but back on topic…

    Heat waves, brown outs, pump sticker shock, migration, and extreme precipitation will occupy our bandwidth soon enough. Don’t advocate infrastructure destruction on top of it all.

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  62. Anonymous

    B. Traven: Heat waves, brown outs, pump sticker shock, migration, and extreme precipitation will occupy our bandwidth soon enough. Don’t advocate infrastructure destruction on top of it all.

    I live in Vancouver, British Columbia and in the last 3 years have seen heat waves with accompanying forest fires and heavy smoke pollution, and now torrential rainfall so serious that all the highways to the East of the coast were literally broken. Grocery stores have huge gaps in their shelves. The government has asked citizens to voluntarily limit their gasoline ration to 30 litres at a time and to not travel unless absolutely necessary.
    We are in the consequential demonstration of severe weather swings from climate change in an area that was considered the most benign place to live in Canada.

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