Bad COP

“We’ll go down in history as the first society that wouldn’t save itself because it wasn’t cost-effective.” — Donella H. Meadows

(Or possibly Kurt Vonnegut)

Well, what did you expect from a COP held in a fucking Petro State, a COP whose president explicitly denied that science justified a phase-out of fossil fuels, who in fact used the proceedings to pursue expanded fossil-fuel production? What do you expect of an event whose participants are warned, under threat of imprisonment, not to criticize “Islam, UAE government, corporations or individuals”, an event in which the very possibility of a private conversation is a pipe dream thanks to ubiquitous state surveillance? (Private emails were already a writeoff.) What do you expect when the same heads of state who self-righteously parade before the cameras in Dubai continue to expand drilling licenses on their home turf and fork out over seven trillion in annual subsidies to an industry that, even now, has never had it so good?

You expect exactly what we got: a COP with the biggest carbon footprint in the history of COPs. You get COP28.

Honestly, even these guys would’ve done a better job.

*

Some people sing its praises. Some even called it “unprecedented”, or “pivotal”, generally on the grounds that this is the first time a COP statement has explicitly mentioned fossil fuels. To my mind that’s not so much a groundbreaking triumph for COP28 as it is a scathing indictment of its predecessors. It’s as if the bridge crew of the Titanic declared victory because, 90 seconds before impact, they’ve all finally agreed to acknowledge the existence of icebergs in their passenger newsletter.

Others swooned over a belated commitment to “Loss and Damage” (shorthand for The Rich Nations can’t be bothered to reverse climate change so here’s a few bucks for you quaint island folks to spend on air conditioners and breakwaters). The whole event kicked off with a big splashy announcement highlighting the generosity of the “developed” nations. The UAE and Germany each pledged a hundred million; the UK and the US came in at 75 and 24.5 million respectively. (Canada, typically, weighed in with a measly 11.8 million USD.) All in all, those opening festivities netted pledges of 700 million and a lot of triumphalist chest-thumping about First-World generosity. Of course, the actual amount of loss and damage going down in the developing world has been estimated at a minimum of 400 billion annually, so—good job on your 0.18% down payment, Developed World.

Actually addressing Loss and Damage was never the point, of course. The real goal was to accomplish something—anything—that the attendees could cite to prove they were actually able to agree on something, even if it didn’t amount to a fart in a hurricane. The point was to give the talking heads some justification for their talk of running starts and unprecedented accomplishments.

It worked, too. They got some decent headlines out of it. And by the time anyone actually looked at the numbers, nobody cared any more. They’d all moved on to the breaking news that 2,456 of the COP’s attendees were fossil lobbyists—breaking the previous year’s record infestation by a factor of four.

*

I read COP28’s Global Stocktake so you don’t have to.

It encourages. It invites, it requests, it calls for. Sometimes it even urges. It “notes with concern” facts that have been obvious for decades. It reads like a series of follow-up questions in a middle-school spelling bee: “Use emphasise/underscore/acknowledge in a sentence, please…”

At no point does it ever compel. It never mandates. It is an entirely political document when what we need is a military one, an aspirational wish list when what’s needed are marching orders and battle plans.

Weasel words are everywhere:

  • “Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” (“but look, ma, our subsidies are super efficient, so that doesn’t apply to us!”)
  • “transitional fuels can play a role in facilitating the energy transition” (“transitional” being code for “natural gas”)
  • “Accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power;” (Oh, a twofer: both “phase-down”, not “out”, and “unabated”—which allows countries to keep burning coal as long as they “abate” the emissions somehow. That most obviously implies carbon-recapture tech—which remains firmly in the unicorn sphere—but could also technically include things like growing a field of corn and calling it a carbon sink).

Governments are only “called on” to implement even these half-assed measures; there is no commitment to do so, no penalties for failure. It is an empty document, riddled with loopholes, utterly devoid of consequences for any signatory who blows it off.

It does recognize the biodiversity crisis at least, “emphasizing” that we should dial back our destruction of natural habitat and our wholesale annihilation of other species. That acknowledgment is as toothless as all the others, but it’s nice to see biodiversity finally getting its share of vacuous lip service.

The document also quantifies an ambition to triple the planet’s renewable-energy capacity by 2030, which would be a nice milestone even though the recent explosive growth of renewables has only added to our total energy capacity without reducing our fossil fuel consumption in the slightest. It would also have been nice to see some acknowledgment of the fact that the mining necessary for that kind of transformation carries its own burden of environmental destruction—that it would take three quarters the world’s production of lithium, twice the world’s annual production of cobalt, and almost all the world’s annual production of something called neodymium to replace internal combustion vehicles with electric ones just in the UK, much less the planet as a whole. But here, too, we’re looking at guidelines more than actual rules.

Of course, COPs never compel. They are toothless by design; a single dissenting vote can scupper even the mere acknowledgment of fact, much less any binding commitment. This isn’t about the physics of apocalypse. Saving the world isn’t even on the table. This is all about the lowest common denominator. It’s about keeping the reprobates on board.

*

So here we are again. This year’s COP was touted as our last chance to “keep 1.5 alive”. So, if memory serves, was last year’s, and the year’s before. Instead, we got—in the words of David King— a “feeble” document that “recognises there is a need for ‘deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions’ to stay in line with 1.5C. But then it lists a whole bunch of efforts that don’t have a chance of achieving that.” As Anne Rasmussen put it: “It is not enough for us to reference the science and then make agreements that ignore what the science is telling us we need to do.”

So, one more wake-up call where we hit the snooze button. One more “last chance” blown—although in reality we blew that last chance years ago. The most optimistic thing anyone in the know says these days is that we’ll be blowing past 1.5 “in the short term” (leaving open the hope that carbon-capture tech will miraculously scale up and devour the backlog before the Park Avenue penthouses go under). But does anyone seriously think that next year’s COP (In Azerbaijan, another petro state—take me now, Lord) is going to kick off with an acknowledgment that we blew it, that 1.5 is now out of reach?

You know they won’t. Gotta keep hope alive. Fuck the facts.

In a way you can’t blame them. If they acknowledge that 1.5 is dead and anyone who wants to see a live coral reef has maybe ten years to book the tickets—the institutional response is likely to be Goodness, such a tragedy. I suppose we should have listened to you twenty years ago after all. But now that the environmental damage is already done, we might as well do what we can to at least protect the economy. On the other hand, if you redraw your 1.5-degree line in the sand every damn year, people will either stop taking you seriously or conclude that there’s still time, there’s always time, so let’s put the painful transition off just a little longer.

In another way, though, there’s no denying that the Powers that Be do, in fact, take this whole thing extremely seriously. They do, in fact, consider it an existential threat, and they’re taking the necessary steps. And I’m not just talking about the zero-pointers’ ongoing interest in luxury apocalypse bunkers.

They’ve criminalized dissent, for one thing.

Environmental campaigners at COP28 were surveilled, recorded, and harassed. Over in the UK, environmental protesters being tried for their participation in a roadblock were forbidden from mentioning the climate crisis in their defense; when they did so anyway, they were jailed. Britain’s “Public Order Act” forbids any kind of interference in a whole range of industrial infrastructure, including (but not limited to) oil facilities; protesting in front of a refinery is a jailable offense. France outright outlawed the activist group Soulèvements de la Terre. Jurisdictions across Australia have spent the year passing legislation to increase fines and jail terms for pretty much any activist who interferes with Business As Usual. The good ol’ US of A, of course, has always been a pioneer in the field; putting environmental groups on terrorist watch lists, passing ag-gag laws that imprison people for taking videos inside factory farms, piggybacking on the post-9/11 security boom to classify any kind of environmental activism as “domestic terrorism”. Here in Canada, my own government has been lumping the “Anti-Canadian Petroleum Movement” in with the terrorists for at least a decade. Our rulers take the environmental crisis very seriously indeed. Their solution is to shoot the messengers.

The Bidens and the Sunaks and the Trudeaus of the world have not, after all, been sitting on their asses while the world burns. They’ve been acting swiftly and effectively to counter the forces that threaten them: not climate change itself, but those raising the alarm about it. It’s not the climate changers who are being criminalized, but the people who dare to talk about it. My suspicion is that you don’t pull that kind of authoritarian shit unless you’re feeling just a wee bit insecure.

Cue my usual fantasy scenario where the next global environmental conference opens under a banner quoting Utah Phillips: “The Earth is not dying, it is being killed. And those who are killing it have names and addresses.” Where, forced to choose between There’s still hope and It’s too late, there’s nothing we can do, we opt for something in between: It’s too late, there’s nothing left—except revenge. And all the astroturfers and CEOs and politicians suddenly realize that for once it’s not some innocent peon working at the polls who’s about to experience the threats and the drive-bys and the assaults, no, the crowds are coming for them. I bet they’d come up with some workable solutions and binding propositions real fast. “What, did we say transition away? We meant eliminate, really we did! Here’s a timetable! Here are some binding benchmarks!”

The fantasy evaporates after a moment or two, because of course if that ever happened our rulers would just do what they always have: pass more emergency laws to “restore order”, and release the hounds.

Still. Nobody passes draconian legislation about muzzling Pomeranians, no matter how much they yap. They pass it to muzzle pit bulls. Things that bite. So on some level, I think maybe they’re a little bit afraid of us.

I just wish I knew what to do with that. It’s not like voting works.



This entry was posted on Friday, December 22nd, 2023 at 1:25 pm and is filed under climate, In praise of biocide, politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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gator
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gator
1 month ago

KSR’s “The Ministry for the Future” has

a whole back story about terror attacks against private jets for example.
The normal political process clearly will fail in addressing climate change.

Greggles
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Greggles
1 month ago
Reply to  gator

I’m personally amazed that there aren’t tank traps outside the commencement ceremonies of say, Yale.

teo
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teo
1 month ago

Goddamn. The anger and frustration, the desire to act, meaningfully somehow, knowing full well there’s fuck all i can do.

Thank you, at least, for making me feel like i’m not the only one with this paralyzing hopelessness.

Lars
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Lars
1 month ago

“We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Phil
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Phil
1 month ago

We’re all guilty except for the desperately poor in the world’s deepest shitholes, and they would/will also be guilty given half a chance at a more comfortable life.

The only actual solution for the biosphere is an airborne plague as contagious as Covid and as fatal as HIV used to be. By the time we’d realized there was a virus out there we’d all have it, and by the time we’d figured out mitigation strategies like we use for HIV, we’d mostly all be dead. This could happen, but it seems more than highly unlikely. What does seem likely is that we won’t be able to feed ourselves because of the climate, and because we’ve run short on fossil fuels. Migration issues will be something to behold. And there will be disease helping things along. It’s not like there has even been anything remotely like 8 billion people on the planet before, and the idea of global population reduction isn’t even mentioned. In Canada the dialogue is strictly: we’ll have a lot of old people soon and we need people to take care of them, and we need people to grow the economy (the one that produces environmental stresses).

I’m glad I’m in my sixties now, and that my bloodline will die with me (unless I get hit by a bus tomorrow, in which case it may take a few years, but either way, it’ll be gone). Maybe I’m wrong, and we’ll figure stuff out the way we have in the past, but just because the last bets paid out doesn’t mean this one will. To me, given our numbers and increasing impact, I think the odds of these bets paying off in the future are becoming increasingly small. I’m no longer even sure that I’ll be dead before it becomes very unpleasant. It seems we’re already starting to see the first thin fractures.

xbat
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xbat
1 month ago

Apologies if this was intentional, or if the fault is on my end, but all of the links in this post except the first and third seem to be missing the http:// or https:// at the start, and so my browser (Firefox) is interpreting them as referring to pages on this site instead of the news orgs’ sites they were meant to point to

Ocean
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Ocean
1 month ago

I see you talk a lot about biodiversity, but I do not understand if it’s important in short term for humanity survival or it’s just your moral stance as biologist and animal lover.

Also it will be pretty amusing to see if you going to bomb your govts officials and oil companies managers. Here in Russia nobody is going to do anything like that.

Also I have a strong suspicion that if AI revolution would bring at least quarter of what people expect, energy transition would be reversed. And we will see not only stable demand on oil and gas, but also return of coal too. And gigantic solar plants in deserts of course.

Ocean
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Ocean
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

I still do not understand about biodiversity. Is lack of it going to kill humanity in 1-2 decades?

It seems that genome sequencing is getting cheaper all the time. And some scientists managed to create a whole new bacteria from scratch. I would not be surprised if we would be able to design and create whole ecosystems before year 2300.

Hense my questions about biodiversity. Is it useful? Is it mandatory? How much, for how long? Or it’s just the thing people like you want to preserve because of some ethical or aesthetical reasons?

Last edited 1 month ago by Ocean
Ocean
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Ocean
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Again about biodiversity. Maybe it makes the whole biosphere more resilent in some sense. But if we look at history of agriculture, humanity uses exactly opposite way to establish it’s food chain. We create monoculture ecosystems. Like wheat field, where any biodiversity is thoroughly eliminated. Or modern meat facilities. Of course these systems are not so simple as they might look like at first glance. But it’s not like you need 100 000 species to support effective wheat field indefinitely. So what is practical purpose of wide biodiversity? Is it fear about some species dying out and starting chain reaction, which at some point will affect species we actually depend on?

About year 2300, I am pulling it out of my ass. But I don’t think that it’s not plausable prediction given current successes in biology. 2300 is chosen for multiple redundancy purpose, I think it’s likely in much shorter term.

About the paper that predicts collapse in few decades. Is it not an example of confirmation bias? How many papers, that make prediction say up to 2100, do not predict or assume any serious collapse? I have seen a lot of demographic predictions lately, they are mostly between 9 and 11 billions humans by year 2100. None of them says 4 billions or “oh, cmon, civilization and tech is going to collapse, we will not have world statistics”.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ocean
Phil
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Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  Ocean

I agree that you only need one species to support effective wheat production indefinitely, provided nothing takes out that single species. It’s a bet we’re increasingly making. It’ll be interesting when our bet’s on red and the wheel stops on black, one of these days.

I like your pointing out the dissonance between predictions of 10 billion people, and collapse to much smaller numbers than we have now, by 2100. I almost, but not quite, would like to be around to see which one is correct. One of them isn’t. Although, I would hazard that if the 10 billion is correct, unlikely as I think that is, it’s only because the time frame is too short.

Ocean
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Ocean
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Quick facts about fishing:

  • 2020 178m MT
  • The volume of global fish production amounted to 184.6 million metric tons in 2022, up from 178.1 million metric tons in 2021.
  • The global seafood industry is expected to grow again in 2023, with analysts predicting an increase of between 3.4% and 7.4%.

Same thing with non-sea food (for example PDF: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjewvzk0ruDAxWWKRAIHdE2Aj0QFnoECBcQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.fao.org%2F3%2Fcc3751en%2Fcc3751en.pdf&usg=AOvVaw3uR-Hc-T-pfmZUGcR_GdKX&opi=89978449)

What we see here? Steady and healthy growth in both cases. And yet you say “…exhaust all the arable land on the planet by around 2050”. In the recent interview I think you said the same thing with 2040 target. Is decline going to be instant? If not, when we could see it in actual industrial data (and in our dinner tables)?

To another topic. I still do not see the problem with monocultures. It’s not like we depend on one (say, wheat). It’s a table with few thousands legs, If one leg is knocked out (say, some unbeatable bacteria eats all our wheat) it still would stand on all other legs. Of course poor people will suffer if it’s something like rise or wheat or potato, but it’s not the end of civilization it’s “just” +20% to bills.

About scientific papers, integration and meta-analysis. Could you provide any evidence that there is scientific consensus about collapse of civilization in 1-3 decades? And if there is, why nobody is talking about it? I expect that if it was consensus people would talk about as much as you do (basically at every public opportunity).

Phil
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Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  Ocean

I know this was addressed to Watts, but holy fuck man, I can’t help myself.

Look at what happened to the Canadian fisheries. The only reason we can keep pulling more out of the ocean is because of a global fishing fleet that never docks, using ever larger nets and on board processing. The amount we pull out is driven by an expanding global population supported by an expanding supply chain made possible by fossil fuels. Think of $50 million in your bank account. You take out a 1000 the first year, 2000 the next, 4000, the next, 8000 the next. Check the math. As they say about a person going bankrupt, it happened slowly at first, then all at once.

If global population was decreasing, global fish stocks might have a chance to regenerate (although fossil fuels wouldn’t), but population is increasing, so the physics and biology don’t work in our favour. If we keep going as we are (and I don’t see why we wouldn’t), we will run out.

As far as monocultures go, you list a handful of staples, which I agree are basic food staples which feed the world. So we don’t have to lose a thousand. We have to lose like five, and then we have to find substitutes for wheat, rice, and corn to feed 8 billion people, which we don’t, and won’t, have.

Admittedly, this will all be good for the biosphere in general, so frankly I’m okay with it, but if you like people, you’re out of luck.

Ocean
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Ocean
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

Your bank analogy is completely wrong for several reasons:

  1. Fish and other food is reproducible resources, money in bank account is not (in your example)
  2. In your example money consumption is exponential. Food consumption is linear at worst, but in reality since population growth is slowing down and at some point will stop or even decline, food consumtion will too.
  3. The thing with reproducible resources is that humanity could reproduce them. More fish will be raised artificially if / when “free” fish will be not enough.

About fossil fuels, there is no consensus on where they come from and how many of them on our planet. Though more then we need in next 100 years.

“We have to lose like five”. Losing even one is pretty low probability if we judge by known history. Losing five at the same time is practically impossible.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ocean
Greg Guy
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Greg Guy
1 month ago

Who cares? Everything ends, as long as you’re not dumb enough to have children, just live the best life you can.

I never understand all this hand-wringing. Are people frightened they won’t get into heaven? The human race was never going to last forever, just be thankful you’ve lived long enough to get front-row seats to the end of the world.

The K
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The K
1 month ago
Reply to  Greg Guy

Frankly i just hope that i will be dead before the shit really hits the fan in germany. Im nearly 40, so i reckon if we can mostly hold the ship together for anoter 30-40 years or so, i might be golden. No children or nephews either, so im clear on that front. Only a stray cat we took in, and as healthy as the little blighter is, i doubt he will outlive me.

Still, its a pretty pathetic end for a species that had quite a lot of lofty dreams and ambitions.

Fatman
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Fatman
1 month ago
Reply to  The K

End of the world? Or of the human species? Surely not even close. IMO dire prognoses of doom and hopelessness work better when they keep at least the toe of one foot in contact with reality.

Many will die, or be pushed deep below the poverty line. Many more parts of the world will become uninhabitable (for those still consoling themselves that this only happens in “poverty-stricken shitholes”, Google parts of the US where continuous habitation has become impossible due to climate change). Food security is likely to plummet, pushing more desperate folks over borders.

This in turn will sharpen already existing societal divides. Primitive howls and ululations will drown out intelligent, nuanced debate. Culture, science, and civilization as a whole will decline. Dull, yellow-bellied, broken-spirited and morally bankrupt social dregs will flock to the false “strength and security” promises of sly authoritarian saviors, like dregs always do.

I believe poster Ocean hits the nail on the head. Russians have specific terms for these “people”. “Nekulturny”, or “gruby”. The Polish use “bydlo”. No exact equivalent in the English-speaking world, but the concept is well-understood.

But the situation will eventually balance itself out. Not out of any innate goodness of the human animal, or out of some naïve belief that the arc of the universe bends toward justice, or anything like that. It’s simple social physics. Fascists and other rabble-rousing scum can’t rule effectively and/or for very long (historically, they never have). There are only so many out-groups you can shift blame to and exterminate before the inevitable culling of the in-group begins. Immigrants today turn into the immigrant-hating nativists of tomorrow (with population decline scourging most of Europe, it’s not a question of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN – and no mob of angry peasants can change that). Frustrated losers baying for the destruction of “globalist elites” might eventually get what they’ve been asking for, realize they’ve just cut the branch they had been sitting on all along, and sober up. After a period of pain, death, and tribulation, after catastrophic devastation, the ship will be righted again. Because it has to be.

Maybe I’m just looking for comfort, but lately I’ve been very intrigued by something called the “monastic option”. Civilizations have collapsed into ruin in the past, and others have risen in their stead. We already have the technology to rebuild power grids, water supply, and other infrastructure in a smarter and more sustainable way. When the raving mobs quieten down, someone will kindle the embers of culture back into warm, life-giving flame.

Maybe all we need to do is hunker down and wait.

The K
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The K
1 month ago
Reply to  Fatman

Obviously the world and life will go on, Earth has survived way worse catastrophies than some uppity apes. An ecosystem that has survived the Permian-Triassic extinction will thrive again, give or take a few hundred-thousand or million years, no doubt about that.

Humans, at least as a civilization though, i am not so sure. If global agriculture collapses there will be a dieback not by the millions, but by the BILLIONS. We only managed to multiply so much because of the green revolution, without modern agri-tech, most of humanity is a goner.

And after we have finally died our way back to the subsistence level, we not only have used up practically all easily available ressources already, the climate will still be utterly fucked.

>Because it has to be.

Says who? We are not the first species to go the way of the dodo, and wont be the last. It will probably not with a bang though, i guess we just go to back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and stay that way till more shifts in the ecosystem wipe us out completely, or we evolve over a long period back into regular apes or something.

Greg Guy
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Greg Guy
1 month ago
Reply to  Fatman

No, I wasn’t being literal. The planet is a massive ball of iron that will keep spinning for some time to come. I mean the end of ‘our’ world. The disintegration of first-world infrastructure and the slide to failed state status. I hope I die soon afterward. The slide back to nomadic hunter-gatherer status is going to be brutal.

Greg Guy
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Greg Guy
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Well… you’re a white middle-class guy living in a first-world country. I can’t see any of those things being likely to happen to you unless you’re very optimistic about your longevity. However… why do these things worry you more than being in a car crash, a plane crash, or just getting stabbed by a mugger?

Phil
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Phil
1 month ago

Ricky Gervais’ new show Armageddon airs today on Netflix for a sober if somewhat overly political correct consideration of some of these issues.

The K
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The K
1 month ago

The most unrealistic part about your dream is the fact that you STILL think that the people would actually try and kill the rich scumbags at the top when our societies start caving in under the climate pressure.

When (not if) the food riots and domestic violence break out, the people will do what they have always done: Vent their frustration, fear and terror on the next convenient minority scapegoat. So much easier to lynch your neighbour than actually taking action against people who have private armies and can fight back.

Oh, sure, maybe a few of the 1%ers will get guillotined, but next on the chopping block will be “them”, meaning whoever is at hand and cant defend him or herself. I am german, we have ample experience at that kind of stuff.

You remain an idealist at heart despite everything, i guess.

Clemthor
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Clemthor
1 month ago
Reply to  The K

Of course there will be what you described, unfocused violence. But what Mr Watt is saying is worth paying attention I think. There is unquestionably an authoritarian turning point (at least an accentuation for those who were already authoritarian regimes) in most countries of the world. And their leaders will tell you it’s because of the migrants or the terrorists or the war in Ukraine or something else. But I think it’s because they are afraid we come for them. And for the people who are so concerned about costs and such, to fund so much in their protection probably mean they are right to be afraid.
Of course the situation is dire and it will be a shitshow, there is no denying that. But for those who think humanity has some value, and despite all the misanthropic speeches here I think that still concerns a lot of us, we must find the best solution we can. And where I am disheartened is that nobody here talks about real political solution like socialism/communism. I think we all agree that capitalism is, if not the only one, a big reason we are in this situation. Of course there’s human nature but that’s not all there is. We are not in the jungle here, we know society can influence behaviour. So everyone pretty much agree with what (part of) the problem is, but it’s really difficult to express just the start of a solution. That shows how much capitalism damaged our ability to think rationnally, and not just in term of individual and immediate profit. But even if you don’t agree, the fear of the powerfull shows that the socialist revolution is still an option.
So yeah Mr Watt you are right, voting is not an option. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Anyone who still cares can organize himself or herself politically, even if you don’t agree with everything I said, the solution is political. And for those who are interested in this point of view, I don’t know for Canada but there is the political movement Left Voice in USA.
Yeah I know this is blatant propaganda and I understand if this post is not well recieved, or even published, but that is difficult to stand for me to see so much pessimism and no idea of a solution from people who clearly can think for themself.
And sorry for bad english.

Fatman
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Fatman
1 month ago
Reply to  Clemthor

“And where I am disheartened is that nobody here talks about real political solution like socialism/communism. I think we all agree that capitalism is, if not the only one, a big reason we are in this situation.”

Socialism/communism are not “solutions” to failed capitalism, tho.

They might be (in theory) somewhat more effective in redistributing the ill-gotten gains of the top 1%. But they suffer from almost the exact same failure points: a focus on limitless (and nebulously defined) “growth”, and reliance on magical thinking (and goalpost-shifting) in the pursuit of this mythical concept. A “growth”-oriented mindset – either through brilliant capitalist innovation and competition, or via the hard work of an emancipated and empowered working class – is what got us into this shit in the first place.

Whatever form human organization takes in the future, it (hopefully) won’t be a regurgitation of proven failures of the past.

The K
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The K
1 month ago
Reply to  Fatman

You put in words perfectly what i wanted to reply but probably lack the eloquence to say it so succinctly. If there is a political way out of this, i very much doubt it will be the umptenth attempt at socialism.

If we as species have no better ideas than to warm up the failed dreams of yesteryear, we are well and truly fucked.

Clemthor
Guest
Clemthor
1 month ago
Reply to  Fatman

Where I am, the focus is not at all on growth, which is largely criticized, but on democratic decisions that the working class must take hold of. And we don’t think that the working class is the main political subject because we must base our economy on growth but because they are the best suited to take down capitalism because it relies so much on them.

In Marx’s “the Capital” he explains how idiotic the current capitalist economy is and how we must base our economy on historical materialism, wich is from what I understand much more scientific.

I don’t know why you think the main focus for socialism is growth, maybe because of China today, who acts more and more like an imperialist state, or maybe because of the USSR in the cold war, who abandonned the core of the internationalist value to compete with the USA, the most imperialist country. I don’t think they are really representative of a socialist system.

But even so, the focus for most revolutionnary political movement today is the fall of capitalism to install democracy. Wich can only occur if we take back its power and influence. Wich in my mind can only occur if its source, aka the exploited workers, organize themselves democratically and fight back. Then the goal is to have what can approach true democracy, where the need of the majority prevails. There will be plenty opportunities if all goes well to not be “a regurgitation of proven failures of the past”. One would only need to take part in the debate to propose new organizations.

Fatman
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Fatman
1 month ago
Reply to  Clemthor

“I don’t know why you think the main focus for socialism is growth”

I mean, you listed the only two (arguably) successful socialist superpowers ever in existence, and seemed to agree that they both took a growth-oriented approach. We can dismiss China and the former USSR as not being “really socialist”, but that’s skimming a little too close to the “No True Scotsman” fallacy for my taste.

“In Marx’s “the Capital” he explains how idiotic the current capitalist economy is”

Marxism was as a critique of capitalism of Marx’s time. Viewed as such, it was 100% on point. Marxism as a system of political governance was not something Marx endorsed personally.

Past attempts to turn Marxism into something it wasn’t meant to be failed, and any future outlook looks bleak as well. The conditions that made capitalism, socialism, and the growth-focus viable in the past simply don’t exist anymore. Scarcity and poverty (by early 1900s standards) have been all but eliminated, and I’m highly skeptical that something like a “working class” can even be said to exist anymore.

Further, the practical versions of “capitalism” and “socialism” have both mutated so far past their original forms that any debate about their relative merits and demerits is fairly meaningless.

“the focus for most revolutionnary political movement today is the fall of capitalism to install democracy”

I assume you mean actual revolutionary movements, with sensible and effective internal organization, and a plan to participate in the system to take it down from within. Not a bunch of students shitposting on social media until something else occupies (heh) their attention.

If so, those movements will face the same (hitherto unresolvable) problem all revolutionary movements have faced in the past. To successfully fight and defeat one set of profoundly evil, well-resourced sociopaths, one needs to rely on one’s own profoundly evil sociopaths. Which means that once the revolution succeeds, you’re still stuck with profoundly evil sociopaths at the helm. I wish you luck in figuring that one out.

“Where I am, the focus is not at all on growth”

Where is that, if you don’t mind me asking? I assume not China, and the only two remaining socialist-ish societies are in Vietnam and Cuba, neither of which fits in with the rest of your post.

Greg Guy
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Greg Guy
1 month ago
Reply to  Clemthor

You must have read a very different Capital to me. In mine, he was very fond of it. Both due to its displacement of older, feudal forms of production, and it being a potent driver of technology. Furthermore, he saw its ability to generate staggering wealth as building the groundwork for the development of socialism. Something that was supposed to come about organically and only after Capitalism had succumbed to its internal contradictions. Still waiting for Capitalism to succumb…

Fatman
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Fatman
1 month ago
Reply to  Greg Guy

“Still waiting for Capitalism to succumb…”

Really? If that’s the case, you must not have read the original post, or the comment thread. Or maybe it doesn’t count as “succumbing” until we’re engaging in actual cannibalism. In which case, kudos to you for managing to see the glass as half full.

What we call “capitalism” today is a sort of unholy amalgam of feudalism and oligarchy, which (barely) manages to perpetuate itself is via a colossal, socialist-style bailout every 10 years or so. Maybe Marx gets to have his cake and eat it too?

“You must have read a very different Capital to me. In mine, he was very fond of it.”

Absolutely correct. Marx saw tremendous potential in this new and vibrant movement. He also predicted that capitalism will create monopolies in the long run, that it is inherently volatile, and that its terminal stages will be characterized by a series of recessions/depressions, leading to lower wages, unemployment, and general misery. He predicted that the owner class will continue to enrich itself at the detriment of the workers. Can’t really find fault with any of the above.

He even predicted that mass-media would delude the poors into believing that the “free market” operates efficiently, thereby turning them into the fiercest defenders of a system that has continuously worsened their living conditions since at least the 1980s.

Gotta hand it to the man, he was definitely gifted with the ability to think ahead.

Phil
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Phil
1 month ago

Peter, you write, “I bet they’d come up with some workable solutions and binding propositions real fast,” and I’m wondering what kind of solutions, if everyone with power, and everyone else, was willing to work toward the common good on this. Is there any way to feed 8 billion people (and growing) without fossil fuels? I thought your post actually made a fairly good case that fossil fuel substitutes were both too much a drop in the bucket, and come with their own set of harms (if I read you correctly).

Also, while you point the finger at the elites (and seeing their sanctimonious self-importance and grossly disproportionate per capita use of resources, there would be some satisfaction in seeing them being forced to confront their hypocrisy in a meaningful way) I don’t see, for the most part, the rest of us being much better. We just don’t have the resources to do as much per capita damage. The wailing and gnashing of teeth at the removal of plastic straws and disposable plastic bags in some jurisdictions, illustrates to me how difficult it is to get some people to embrace even very simple changes. Which raises my second question: how do you see people, all of us globally, being willing to act on the kinds of solutions you would like to see?

The K
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The K
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

Yes, as much as i love to hate on the shadowy (or not so shadowy) elites ruining the planet, the rest of the species (and, if im really honest with myself, i am very much included in that) are more or less on board as long as we get our creature comforts.

Oh yes, most people, if pressed, are totally for radical actions against climate change. As long as it doesnt incovenience themselves even slightly. Here in germany the majority of people is screaming bloody murder and shifting to the right because of even the very mild politics of the green party.

To be frank, i dont see any society on the planet being able to implement the kind of absolutely drastic measures that would be necessary to even mitigate the worst of the climate disaster, if even possible by now. Certainly not the democracies of the west, but i also dont think authoritarian systems like the PRC could get away with lowering the living standards/growth of their economies without inviting societal disaster.

We as species may be caught in the bear trap, but the pressure of the clamps is all that is stopping us from bleeding out on the floor i reckon.

Ioannis
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Ioannis
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Peter,

In wholly espousing your ideas, literature, and philosophy, I can’t agree more with all of the above. Reading the tea leaves, we are indeed fucked as you say, and if I add so myself quite royally. In some ways that’s bad for us as a species but probably good for the rest of the food chain below, whatever of it is left to breath a sigh of relief after the planet cleans up this mess we made these last 200 years. Homeostasis is a bitch. And for all of our technological advancements and progress, we are probably as developed as any of those organisms who shit next to where they eat…

Then again, I wonder if that’s just the way it must be. Not excusing any of the ills, human greed and hubris in saying this. We will have our reckoning sooner or later, probably sooner. But perhaps it’s the perils and pitfalls we have to content with and navigate at this phase of our evolutionary trajectory. We are at the apex only momentarily and not that special in the grand scheme of things. The AI’s and synthetics will likely take over the baton and do better, demystifying but also honoring their creators, just as we do with our ancestry. Hopefully showing more mercy for what is below as they figure out their own prayers and rituals to what is above.

In trying to contend with my pessimism, I recently finished reading David Brin’s Existence. His premise of explaining the Fermi paradox on the majority of advanced civs in this galaxy being a bunch of fuck ups like us was rather refreshing. We are alone because we’re likely not. That feels good somehow. And I wonder for those who made the jump successfully to the next phase what ills they must contend with, if guilt is a thing on a galactic or universal scale and in assuming the 2nd law of thermodynamics cannot be messed with.

In the meantime, 2024 just around the corner and prepping for another hot one!

Be well,

Ioannis

Phil
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Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Yes, rewiring human nature seems both necessary – if we’re going to step outside the box our nature, combined with our technological achievements, have created for us – and impossible in any consensual sense. If things collapse (I’m interested to read the MIT and other studies you mention above to see some carefully thought-out speculations on the shape of collapse), the people most fit to survive will likely not be the most altruistic and willing to acquiesce to such treatment. It’s a catch-22 in that those most likely to be willing to have their nature changed to make them more altruistic are the ones least likely to need the treatment (as far as being them people willing to sacrifice and compromise for the greater good, human and otherwise, goes). I haven’t yet read anything about “managed retreat” type modularization, but it sounds like the type of social structure people could put into place after collapse so that we have sustainable social structures on the planet moving forward. Although, it will probably be easier to find people with the mindset necessary to create such communities (those tending to the intelligent and altruistic) now rather than later. But if people did develop such communities now, I think they would also need to come up with some highly effective, and when necessary, highly lethal, defensive structures, along with a willingness to deploy them in highly non-altruistic ways when required. 

I’ll have to read those studies mentioned above to gain a better understanding of how things might play out. I can see how contingent all of our systems are on each other, and how essential fossil fuels are (I imagine scenarios where, by shutting down the tar sands, Canada still has oil when the other countries run low, but that these are then reopened, by forces either friendly to us or otherwise, when global supplies shorten), but expect that how things actually play out will be in some way I don’t expect. 

The Wager (2023), by David Grann, describes the wreck of the Wager in 1741 on an island in southern Chile. The conditions leading up to its marooning, and on the island itself, were horrendous, but what is really getting me is the way those men reacted and cleaved into different groups. I’m only part way into it, but their interactions seem like those of “The Walking Dead” meets Lord of the Flies, but in a more difficult and hopeless situation, with a commensurate change in behaviour. It makes me realize that whatever I imagine, the reality will likely be something else again.

I read Erik Hoel’s book on consciousness by the way, but found that while I understood the stuff I’m familiar with, and his quotations from other works, I had trouble following his descriptions of his own research and how to contextualize them. It’s a bit late for me to do a PhD in neuroscience, I guess…

Andrew-R
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Andrew-R
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

not studies mr. Watts had in mind, but I think this link might be of some use:

https://www.resilience.org/stories/2022-02-24/the-limits-to-growth-at-50-from-scenarios-to-unfolding-reality/

Greg Guy
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Greg Guy
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

You can certainly come up with a load of fantasy scenarios of how make-believe humans can live, but none of them deal with the two most important properties of Homo S. that always lead to failed utopias. Most people want to breed, and we all have a finite lifespan. Few people will be willing to make the sacrifice of both abstaining from children and not living ‘the good life’ as much as they can.

Jack
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Jack
1 month ago
Reply to  Greg Guy

The anthropologist Nora Bateson who has lived in a bunch of intentional communities said they all breed assholes. Sounds about right.

Having said that, if anyone wants to start an intentional community outlawing leaf blowers I’m down with that.

Jack
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Jack
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Re: your comments on managed retreat—your point about limiting size and connectivity of each community piqued my interest. Especially limiting connectivity. A guy named Ted Howard posted a comment on his blog about geographical/spatial isolation that I think is in the same vein as your comment on promoting different social systems.

He writes,

“I agree with the need to get sustainable populations off planet, but Mars just does not make sense.

O’Neill cylinders make so much more sense.

Part of needing to get off planet is to have the vacuum of space as an isolation medium, between populations, to allow for radical experimentation, that is just too dangerous to do when everyone is on a connected planet.

Most of the O’Neil cylinders will be populated by groups well within normal parameters, and some will be well outside of 4 standard deviations. That sort of exploration of the fringes of the possible is needed, for long term survival.

That is the aspect of “Life as Search” that space allows us to exponentially enhance. That is the “Step change” required for long term survival. That, with indefinite life extension, and we have the sort of search needed.

Freedom and security in diversity.

Carbonman
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Carbonman
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

I agree with your last sentence; we are well and truly fucked. The end for most of us in the developed world will come quickly and in unexpected ways. I’m fortunate that I’m of an age that has me acutely aware of my life’s clock ticking to its inevitable end.
I recommend Blake Crouch’s newest novel “Upgrade” as a companion piece to first sentence in your second paragraph. I so wish the ending were both possible and true.

pjcamp
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pjcamp
1 month ago

Evolution tunes organisms in response to the immediate environment even if that is detrimental in the long term. Occasionally, that produces altruism and self sacrifice for the future (see bees) but that requires some funky genetics.

Mostly, we are tribal with ourselves at the center because that’s how natural selection works.

In “I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked,” Upton Sinclair wrote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Same thing.

So we’re fucked. We’re extinct, we just don’t know it yet.

I’ve thought about it a lot. Intelligence is great for survival in the short term but it is not a long term species survival trait. That seems to me like the only credible answer to the Fermi paradox.

alex
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alex
1 month ago

Just saying that actual climate change solution will probably not be compatible with anti-colonial, anti-imperialist agenda though I hate to spoil your self-congratulatory “eat the rich” party but this is where shit has to get dystopian, because inevitably someone will have to take every coal plant and plastic factory off the hands of the poor who’s life and death depends on it and it’s the rich and powerful who will have the means to do so and it will be very far from asking nicely.
Because no amount of Gretas will convince developing country to just roll over and die.And poverty isn’t green by the magical virtue of intersectionality.

Fatman
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Fatman
1 month ago
Reply to  alex

“Because no amount of Gretas will convince developing country to just roll over and die.”

I will say you’re probably right.

Although I also have to say that it would be nice to see developing countries pursue more sustainable development options, rather than pigheadedly plow the same failed “development” furrow that has kept said countries firmly stuck in the “developing” column for over half a century (vide: definition of insanity). The chances of that are admittedly slim to nonexistent.

Still, it’s nice to make like John Lennon and “imagine”.

listedproxyname
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listedproxyname
1 month ago

These very same people who created the whole trillion global industry of “fighting the climate change” are now trying to deal with their own creation running out of their control. So far it seems to be very effective as most of their own controllable “protesters” are only occupied with serving the economic interests of largest corporations. It may seem like some independent people are not swayed by the same change of attitude, but I personally only assume presence of an inertial thing called “consciousness”. It shall come to pass soon enough.

United States is now producing more oil than both Saudi Arabia and Russia, apparently in bid to make price fall far enough to cause economic instability. They sold like half of their oil reserve like it’s some kind of financial instrument. It was their entire strategy for late Cold War and they believed it will work again. However, even now it’s pretty obvious that no amount of sanctions, market manipulation, soft power and bribery will help them to achieve their political and economical goals and they are switching to direct military invasions, terrorism and sabotage.

This may seem like a bad deal for literally everybody and will inevitably result in global conflict of unseen proportions, but nobody should forget that (in realm of conventional liberal capitalism) saving the money and power of the rich individuals presents much greater task than survival of society, country or lives of majority of people. The trillion dollar industry has no chance to beat multi-trillion industries of war and financial fraud. Especially if they stack together.