George Monbiot is Arguing with Me…That Has to be Good

Sharon November 25th, 2008

The words “holy crap” were pretty much the first ones to my lips this morning, when several people sent me George Monbiot’s latest column www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/25/climate-change-carbon-emissions

He writes:

The costs of a total energy replacement and conservation plan would be astronomical, the speed improbable. But the governments of the rich nations have already deployed a scheme like this for another purpose. A survey by the broadcasting network CNBC suggests that the US federal government has now spent $4.2 trillion in response to the financial crisis, more than the total spending on the second world war when adjusted for inflation. Do we want to be remembered as the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse?

This approach is challenged by the American thinker Sharon Astyk. In an interesting new essay, she points out that replacing the world’s energy infrastructure involves “an enormous front-load of fossil fuels”, which are required to manufacture wind turbines, electric cars, new grid connections, insulation and all the rest. This could push us past the climate tipping point. Instead, she proposes, we must ask people “to make short term, radical sacrifices”, cutting our energy consumption by 50%, with little technological assistance, in five years.

There are two problems: the first is that all previous attempts show that relying on voluntary abstinence does not work. The second is that a 10% annual cut in energy consumption while the infrastructure remains mostly unchanged means a 10% annual cut in total consumption: a deeper depression than the modern world has ever experienced. No political system – even an absolute monarchy – could survive an economic collapse on this scale.

She is right about the risks of a technological green new deal, but these are risks we have to take. Astyk’s proposals travel far into the realm of wishful thinking. Even the technological new deal I favour inhabits the distant margins of possibility.

Can we do it? Search me. Reviewing the new evidence, I have to admit that we might have left it too late. But there is another question I can answer more easily. Can we afford not to try? No, we can’t.

After being so flattered I could die, I suffered the irresistable desire to argue back, and I’m going to.  But I don’t want to understate how pleased I am to encounter Monbiot’s critique.  After all, we named “The Riot for Austerity” for him, from a passage in his remarkable _Heat_.  I’m particularly grateful that he takes seriously the real question of what the climate impact a massive build out might actually be – this is a drum I keep beating, not because I wish to undermine efforts to expand renewable energy, but because I think living in a 5 degree warmer world with wind turbines will be small, sad consolation.

I’m also grateful that Monbiot’s analysis begins from the hard truths.  The drum I keep beating is that we cannot simply rely on IPCC analysis, which was already outdated when it was released, and which understates the truth.  The sum of the data that has come in over the last two years suggests that whatever we do, we must do it quite rapidly.  This is not a problem that can be put off for our kids, to the next administration, or even until we are done with the economic crisis.  On this, Monbiot and I have absolutely no disagreements.  He has done more than anyone in the world to raise awareness not only of climate change, but of its immediacy. 

So let us start with our agreements – and one of the places we agree is that voluntary self-sacrifice is a hard nut to crack, and that a renewable build out is a lot more palatable to people.  I agree that this is true.  But like Monbiot, I believe there is a real and serious possibility that a renewable build out on the scale needed to keep things fundamentally the same may well fail.  Monbiot uses the example of the sheer amount of funding marshalled for the bail out as proof of what societies can do in a short time.  But there are two problems with that example.  The first is that the very fact that we did marshall huge sums make it not more likely we can do it again, but much less likely.  That is, finding the money for a build out just got radically less feasible as our government gave future wind turbines and insulation to bankers who jumped up and down on it and set it aflame.

The other danger is that the example of the bail out might be a little too accurate – despite pouring massive quantities of funds into finance, the combined efforts of many nations have manifestly failed, and at a huge price – not just a lot of money wasted, but a deep destruction of our future capacity to adapt to climate change.  My deepest fear about climate change is not that we won’t begin to address it, but that we will falter in the middle of our massive industrial projects, having emitted the carbon, invested ourselves in one strategy, and have little or nothing left to begin any other shifts.

Finding money isn’t exactly easy, but it is achievable, once a crisis comes to enough of a head.  But from the access of money to the fulfillment of any given project are millions of small steps, and many years.  There is the very real danger that even if we could come up with the initial funds to begin a massive renewable build out, we might well falter somewhere in the middle, as cost overruns and delays, combined with the real manifestations of peak oil and climate change altered our trajectory and dashed our hopes of success.  The truth is that up to a point, nations can borrow and print money – but only to a point.  Ask Iceland “started any major new infrastructure projects lately?”  Dmitry Orlov, author of _Reinventing Collapse_ observes that such projects inevitable grind to a halt during severe crises – and unfortunately, the only point of crisis we’re facing is not a climate driven collapse. 

Now Monbiot speaks of “voluntary abstinence” not working – and I agree that this is mostly true, if one construes the term to mean “people acting in isolation to try and cut their emissions without measure and without support or enforcement.”  Fortunately, we both agree this would be silly.  That said, however, organized, collective, often government supported self-sacrifice *from necessity* and *to protect one’s future from a vast disaster* has worked, and Monbiot and I can both think of some obvious examples.  During World War II, the British endured far tighter rationing than the US – but in the US, rationing was overwhelmingly popular and accepted despite the fact that there was no actual shortage of many of the rationed goods.  And, while it is true that pure voluntary self-restraint often doesn’t work, what voluntary models do successfully do is engage the populace, make rationing acceptable, and provide structures for enforced rationing.  So, for example, the voluntary food rationing in the US of WWI, which had mixed success, was adopted as part of the model and structure for enforced food rationing.  The Victory Garden movement of WWI, largely popularly driven, was adopted as part of the plan for addressing possible (and in Britain real) food shortages.  In both the US and Britain, Victory Gardens eventually provided more than 40% of all produce. 

 An even better example is this – when faced with a national crisis, young men and some women from many nations, including the US and the UK, chose voluntarily to go to war.  Yes, we instituted a draft, but in both World Wars, in both the US and the UK, the military enrolled literally tens of thousands of volunteers, people volunteering not to give up hot showers, but life itself.    They still do it today.  I find Monbiot’s claim that we cannot convince people to cut energy usage unlikely – we’ll die for a patriotic ideal, but we won’t carpool?  I admit, I find the idea that we won’t sacrifice somewhat mystifying – the world is full of people who defer all sorts of gratification for a greater cause – they give money to charity even when they are short themselves, they make voluntary choices to deny themselves gratification for reasons of religion or cultural preference, they serve their nation whether in the military or at protest, trying to improve it.  They die doing this.  They go to jail doing this.  The idea that we are soft cowards who will not sacrifice maligns us, and I think it is fundamentally wrong.  I do not claim that Monbiot believes this, but I think that underlying the notion that sacrifice doesn’t work is this deep doubt about the kind of people we are at heart.  I don’t really blame anyone who has that doubt – after all, we have been called upon over the last decades, not to sacrifice, but to ever greater self-indulgence, but what I do not believe is that the self-indulgence has driven out the capacity for sacrifice -instead, they are sides of the same coin.  We indulged because our collective definition of goodness was defined by consumer culture.  But the vast void and emptiness of this has left people literally longing for something richer and deeper.  Service to community, nation and family is likely to be bread and meat to many who have been starving for something other than the empty calories consumer culture has served them. 

It is true that the impulse that led to the military recruiters may not have lasted long, or been unregretted, and I doubt the impulses that move people collectively towards self-sacrifice to preserve the planet will be unregretted, or sustained every second.  That’s why we urgently need reinforcements – people teaching others how to live with less, and national movements and structures to enable, enforce and remind.  With those reinforcements, I can think of dozens of examples of nations in crisis who have convinced their people to make sacrifices, to ensure a decent future for their posterity.  We can simultaneously encourage others to use their best impulses, and then create structures that enable them to resist the temptation to slack, to compromise.  Voluntary abstinence can never exist in a vacuum – that is, the will helps us choose a course, and enough other people making that course seem feasible makes it appealing and accessible.  Then, we create models that make it harder, more costly, or bring about social disapproval when one is tempted to take the easy road. But the volunteer element is just as important as the formal elements of constraint – that is, the sense that people are choosing to work together towards a difficult goal makes possible formal moves to enforce participation.  People will put up with being required to do what everyone is doing anyway. 

Monbiot’s other claim is that the reason a radical shift such as an emissions cut of 50% in five years ”with minimal infrastructure change” would be impossible,  in that it would plunge us into an economic crisis that would destroy our economy and lead to the overthrow of governments.  It is possible that he’s right. Now in the essay Monbiot refers to, I advocate investment in infrastructure – in health care, agricultural, educational and some renewable infrastructure (at a pace that doesn’t push the climate over the edge), which would offset some of that decline, say, half.  But Monbiot is also right that even 5% decline year over year would represent a massive crisis, and a threat to the stability of governments and economies.  Again, we agree.  In fact, there is a very real chance that whether or not we address climate change, we’re about to see what 5% decline in consumption year over year looks like – because the reality of our economic crisis is that it has come before the most acute stages of the climate crisis, and whatever we do must be done within those parameters.  If we cannot address climate change while managing a massive economic decline, there is a good chance that we cannot manage it at all.

And this, I think is where Monbiot and I finally do disagree, but where that disagreement is most fruitful and interesting.  Because Monbiot’s assumption is that his solution – a green build out, might have a chance of success – that is, we may be too late, and there’s a real chance that the chance of success is actually 0, but there’s a possibility that his model could save us.  As I pointed out, there’s also a chance that attempting it could actually speed up climate change – that doing a massive build out on top of all of our other emissions might actually push us over the edge faster, and Monbiot admits this, but says we have to chance it.

But let us imagine that we could know that it really is too late to achieve a massive build out – that the only possible solution is to tank the economy, cut emissions radically and pay the price, or to accept a world with a tanked economy (climate change will certainly take care of that) that may not be fully liveable for our kids and grandkids.  In that case, Monbiot presumably would be an advocate of my plan, which also might not work, but which has a non-zero chance of success, because it requires fewer resources and more rapidly addresses climate issues - if we could make massive cuts, close to what is needed, while gradually bootstrapping renewables with the promise that if we are willing to endure difficult times, we will have more for our kids.

Monbiot’s solution works only if it isn’t too late.  My solution actually works regardless of whether it is too late for a build-out, but is a harder sell.  And so we confront the question of odds.  Does a higher chance on a game that may already be rigged or a lower chance on a game that probably isn’t come out better?  Let us imagine that Monbiot’s scenario has a 20% chance of success if it isn’t already too late to invest in a build out,  0% chance of success if it is too late for a build out, but not too late to stabilize the climate at all with rapid cuts, and 0% chance if we’re already past the tipping points.  Let us further imagine that my scenario has a 10% chance of succes if we still have time for a build out, a 10% chance of success if we don’t have time for a build out and a 0% chance if we are past the tipping points.  Let us also assume that we will not know which category we fall into until it is too late, and we’ve taken our shot.

Monbiot concludes that we have to try.  And again, we agree – we have to try something.  And we have to choose with imperfect knowledge, and deep uncertainty.  I can see the appeal of his solution – indeed, I would almost certainly prefer it myself, were it likely to succeed. But I would argue the very likelihood that the outcome has already been decided makes my own solution a better deal, with better odds.  Not good ones – but better.  2 times out of 3, Monbiot’s analysis leads us to no hope at all.  2 times out of 3, mine gets us faint hope.  My own contention is that faint, feathery hopes always win – the possibility that we might be striving earnestly, only to fail, to have failed before we start, is not a danger we can eliminate, but it must be minimized. 

Frankly, I’d love to have a better set of choices, and in this, again, I suspect Monbiot and I deeply agree. And I’m grateful to him for making clear the dangers – much of the rhetoric of climate change has been studded with a cheery, Bob the Builder style “Can We Fix It?  Yes we can!”  narrative that doesn’t ask hard questions.  No, we can’t afford to give up the game, to throw up our hands in despair.  But we can’t make good choices without understanding just how close we are to disaster, and where the odds are highest.

 Sharon

54 Responses to “George Monbiot is Arguing with Me…That Has to be Good”

  1. katrienon 25 Nov 2008 at 11:16 am

    Sharon this is a great debate we’re having in our very own household: in it, I’m Sharon and DH is Monbiot. I’m rereading your book and will send a couple of questions of my own your way, if that’s ok…

  2. deweyon 25 Nov 2008 at 11:20 am

    This is a great thing to read on this cold morning – eloquent, inspiring, and thought-provoking.

    Seems to me that when Monbiot says 10% consumption reduction means catastrophic depression, he assumes that it must lead to 10% additional unemployment. But if it meant some other pattern of work, for example that everyone could continue to work but only for 90% of the time, at 90% of the pay, and then consuming 10% less, I don’t see why economic disaster would be inevitable. Some people are already living in poverty and cannot accept a 10% reduction in consumption; other people (e.g. executives with private jets) might reduce their consumption more to leave some surplus for them. Yes, this would require large-scale social engineering, but so does any meaningful option on the table (and so did timeclock-punching and advertising-driven consumerism when they were first instituted). Of course, our monetary system is debt-based and will collapse without perpetual growth, but that is doomed to happen sooner or later anyway, and getting it over with might be easier.

  3. jameyon 25 Nov 2008 at 11:54 am

    Three quick thoughts:

    1. I skimmed the title and thought it read: “George Monbiot agreeing with me” – I almost fell down! Reading further confused me until I re-read the title :D

    2. I am so happy to read something about the environment again – between LATOC and TAE, I am suffering “bailout fatigue” – which is probably part of every large scale problem, I suppose. Give me more 2007 methane levels, IPCC warnings, anything with sea level rise… just no more CDS explanations! The lies and half-truths (even at Obama’s presser yesterday) are so sad.

    3. My suggestion on the title of a definitive history of these next ten years will be “Slow Burn”. Our ideas were good, our PR was viral, and the traction we gained lead to a slow burn. We are behind the 8-ball of economic depression and thinking about 350ppm or 450ppm is going to sit on the backburner. Like green wood in a firebox, waiting to dry out and start a big fire.

    Gotta go – scald water is ready for the turkey!

  4. risa bon 25 Nov 2008 at 12:03 pm

    I’m Sharon and Beloved is Monbiot.

    Great people to be! ;)

    What gets left out of a lot of the infrastructure talk, though, is agricultural technology. How do we keep the tractors going, and where do we get enough fertilizer, in Monsanto’s vision for our future? So we will HAVE to do what Sharon and Aaron are advocating — become a nation of small farmers.

    But Mr. Monbiot’s argument has some merit — if only because great numbers of people have no intention of picking up a hoe — if it looks like there might be a return on investing in electrification of mass transit, coupled to a smart grid with feeds from wind, concentrating solar, geothermal, tidal, wave, and any other “silver-bb” sources that come along, then, hey, let’s invest.

    But the idea of converting from selling seventeen million gasoline-powered cars per year to selling seventeen million hybrids per year — dunno, doesn’t seem like it will cut it.

    I wouldn’t worry about our volunteering to notice that. We’re going to notice it without having to volunteer at all!

  5. Karinon 25 Nov 2008 at 12:18 pm

    I think that there are already self- imposed austerity measures that many folks are beginning to make as a result of the failing economy. Is it to the level that we need it to be? Not yet. Could the long term effects of this economic downturn get us closer? It is obvious that the level of consumption was based on cheap credit that is now going to be a thing of the past.

    I think the role of leadership on many levels; from our own communities to national leadership, will need to model the benefits that we gain by living more simply. Austerity does not have to mean living like a monk. Leadership will need to communicate the responsibility we all have to get where we need to go.

  6. Hausfrauon 25 Nov 2008 at 12:33 pm

    I think we will have to be so much more selective than doing a massive buildout that tries to meet even 70% of the current world usage of fossil fuels, with alternative methods (which then have to be maintained and renewed and rebuilt periodically).

    Sometimes I’m a cynic and a doubter, but I think with enough social pressure, we could cut our consumption by 50%. But I think we have to work both sides – negative and positive social pressure.

    Now, a smaller, more decentralized and targeted buildout – designed to meet the needs of key institutions in our cities and neighborhoods – I would be for that. Solar panels on health clinics, libraries, community kitchens. Hybrid buses and Smart Jitneys (ala Pat Murphy) and public works vehicles that truly have to be driven all day long, and trains for long distance transport.

    Finding a way to provide the energy that humans have needed for millenia – not for fridges and iPods – but for heating and cooking – without burning down all our forests and generating tons of particulate pollution. THAT kind of buildout, I’m for.

  7. Larryon 25 Nov 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Thanks, Sharon. Keep talking the talk! It’s a dialog we need to have. Heinberg, Staniford, and Monbiot have responded. I wonder what Obama will say.

    Power outages around here moved people’s minds a bit. I think we’ll soon hear more “Wow, Sharon was right.” comments. Thanks again!

  8. nikaon 25 Nov 2008 at 1:12 pm

    It is fantastic that this conversation continues and that people open their eyes to new possibilities.

    I just wish I could summon such optimism. Even Monbiot’s optimism.

    I have two intuitive fears that I can not relieve myself of, no matter how much I try.

    1) that we have already passed the tipping point (both in an absolute carbon concentration way and also in terms of current carbon output which, even sustained or slightly decreased, provides even further forward inertia through the tipping point)

    This is a force of nature

    2) big money and deep silent power holders will NOT give an iota of profit nor a scintilla of power. This is profoundly certain and you can take it to the bank even if its closed because that part of human nature will just not change.

    This is a force of Human nature that is the sum total of our innate delusion.

    These two things will be there through any efforts to green mankind and it will be there, even more savage, as the energy descent proceeds.

    I am not saying that people should not hope, should throw up their hands and take their toys home nor should they consume even faster to bring on the rapture or some other popular apocalyptic theme of the day.

    I just fear that I am too far gone in my scientific mindset to think that the chaotic and disorganized world of man with it’s deeply entrenched dysfunctional power institutions will be able to summon the wherewithal to find a real solution to a problem that is based on a hard real-world problem; massive population overshoot.

    Its a real cognitive dissonance for me because on the one hand, earth will not be harmed in any real lasting way, she will capture excess carbon, over time. She doesnt mind getting a little hot under the collar, she will be fine. On the other hand, chaotic climate will lead to a world that isnt so nurturing for us and, the real shame, for the other species of earth (thats happening now).

    Further, I do not hold the cards that will save the day. In my own small mind sort of way, I do what I can in my own backyard for my own family so that we can leverage what little we have.

    We all still have the only REAL thing which is this moment and the constant challenge of releasing ourselves from the suffering arising from attachment (especially to energy).

    Its that simplicty which I try to sit with but that doesnt mean it releases me from compassion for a world that has lost it’s way and which doesnt even realize that it is lost or that there is a way..

    I know I will regret writing this, later, but not because I will feel like I was on a twisted tangent but because I hate to be the buzz kill, to be the one to throw cold water on the hunkydory.

  9. Greenpaon 25 Nov 2008 at 1:22 pm

    His statement that some of your “answers” are “wishful thinking” cracked me up. Pot calling kettle black, for sure.

    His greatest wishful fallacy is that he wants to rely, basically, on old economic models. He still believes the world runs on “consumers”, and growth. And those days really are over; trying to pretend otherwise is going to waste a huge amount of time and resources.

    Your grasp of the realities is better than his. :-) Not that you’re entirely free from the occasional wish.

  10. Lisa Zon 25 Nov 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Larry et al., the good thing is I think Obama is listening, at least.

  11. Lisa Zon 25 Nov 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Let’s make that President Obama.

    I like that better, and am starting to feel that just using his last name is a bit overdone.

  12. SurvivalTopics.comon 25 Nov 2008 at 1:37 pm

    An incredible amount of energy is wasted, simply thrown away, driving outsized vehicles, making/heating/cooling/maintaining outsized homes, literally throwing away something like 25% of the food produced, etc and etc.

    I do not believe the answer is more. I believe the only sustainable way is to simply use our resources wisely rather than squander them as we are doing now. Collectively we must come to the understanding that enough is enough.

    Of course the common herd will find it difficult to change. But those who think and want to do what is right must somehow lead the way, the sheeple will eventually follow if only because it hits them in the pocketbook or directly threatens their survival.

  13. Rosaon 25 Nov 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Sharon, this is why you’re an “American thinker” and i’m just a random fangirl – I’d still be squeeing, not arguing yet.

    Monbiot’s pretty austere in his personal life, from what I can find internet-stalking (well, austere for an upperclass journalist, not a regular person) so I think he agrees with you more than he states, even – you’re both arguing for the same sets of actions, just with different emphases.

  14. conchscooteron 25 Nov 2008 at 1:46 pm

    I wonder this time next year what everyone will be thinking about this post. Too late, too late they tell us which is the most deflating thing you can tell people when they are struggling out of a quagmire. Will it be “too late” one year from now? Almost too late perhaps. The 2009 Year in Review will be interesting.

  15. ceridwenon 25 Nov 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Just one little thought about rationing of any use of resources. Yep – at the time of World War 2 here in Britain we had rationing and I gather it worked reasonably well. There has been one major seachange in western Society since then – late 20th century we achieved total control of our fertility. We achieved total control as to whether and when to have children. That total control wasnt there at the time of W.W.2 – it IS now. Those of us with 0, 1 or 2 children might prove remarkably unwilling to take any heed of rationing – due to other people having had large families and therefore requiring extra “rations” of whatever-it-was (food, fuel, whatever) for those extra children. That is where I think any idea of “rationing” of anything would rapidly come unstuck – due to public unwillingness to go along with it.

    I’ll put my crash helmet on now – as I know those with large families will promptly disagree with me. But I am not voicing an opinion – I am just stating how those of us with normal size or no families are likely to act.

  16. Winstonon 25 Nov 2008 at 3:05 pm

    The ultra-rich are still flying around in their private jets from one walled compound to another, the bombs are still raining down on villages far away, the Federal Reserve is furiously writing big bonus cheques for criminals and thieves………while all the good little people agonize over cutting down their carbon emissions and heroically solving a global climate crisis!

    What’s wrong with this picture? More fossil fuels are burned today in the pursuit of war and obscene levels of private luxury than could ever be spent on sustainable and equitable solutions.

    Burn the fat, I say.

  17. Steveon 25 Nov 2008 at 3:46 pm

    ” I believe there is a real and serious possibility that a renewable build out on the scale needed to keep things fundamentally the same may well fail. ”

    I just found your web site after seeing the Monbiot article. I am glad to see someone making some sensible arguments for the small is beautiful view. It is nonsense to think that we can just paint green a profligate lifestyle in which all the exisiting buildings and transportation technology are based on huge inputs of cheap fossil fuel. The cornucopeans are wrong and there will have to be a complete reassessment of what is necessary. We can get many of the previous energy services from much more efficient technologies. Examples – mobility from lightwieght 90% efficient electric vehicles or efficient lighting. Always question the assumptions and then other options become clear.
    One study of what energy use in an energy efficient future might be like is this.
    http://criepi.denken.or.jp/trilemma/en/tpx/tpx1.html
    Once energy use is reduced to real “needs” and new energy efficient systems then renewables are an easy solution.

  18. ceridwenon 25 Nov 2008 at 3:47 pm

    A little p.s. to my post. A link of interest:

    http://www.optimumpopulation.org/index.html

    Hope you find this interesting.

    (I’ll just “exit stage left” with the tune of “Jerusalem” echoing in my ears, ie “and did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green” – or words to that effect). Well – you gotta have a sense of humour in this game…..

    Sharon…you are making me feel like a schizophrenic….I read your posts and agree with them and then start “counting heads” and then read another post and then “count heads” again……

  19. KatJon 25 Nov 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you, Sharon, for your practical and levelheaded ( and well-informed) assessment of our planetary predicament. I was grateful to read that you think that most Americans are still willing to sacrifice for the greater good. I believe that we are, and even if some of us are not, the time is coming when we will have to, whether we like it or not, so better get used to it. But I would like to leave a world that is livable for my seven grandchildren, as I believe that most people would be. I just think that many people are uninformed, and there is so much conflicting info floating around that we tend to listen to what ever gives us the most comfort. (as in, global warming has been invented by alarmists, nothing you do on a personal scale matters, your government and the economists know exactly what to do to fix this situation, of course the drug industry has your best interests at heart, etc.) Keep fighting the good (rhetorical) fight!

  20. nlon 25 Nov 2008 at 5:39 pm

    I don’t think either of you have much idea of what resources are really available to an economy. We could build out a train/wind infrastructure with hardly anything at all. Just compare today’s military budget to the entire economy of 1910. Yet, in 1910, when oil use was maybe 1 million barrels a day for the entire world, compared to 85 million today, Americans managed to build out a very sophisticated and complete train system.

    The Chinese don’t wring their hands about these stupid non-problems. They just build the damn thing.

  21. Shaneon 25 Nov 2008 at 5:40 pm

    The framing of the argument is like driving through a stop light when it turns orange. You have to decide if you still have time to stop, or if you can speed up a bit and beat the red.

    Except I don’t think this dichotomy is entirely accurate myself. Why won’t we do both at the same time, to differing degrees around the world and in individual households? Some resources are going to go into renewable energy, but obviously nowhere near enough to make up for the declines in fossil fuel resource availability/economic demand. Energy and resource consumption will decline, but not as much as is theoretically possible if social and political will was absolutely focussed on the task.

    So a little from Column A, a little from Column B.

    People usually argue the most when they are both right.

  22. BrianMon 25 Nov 2008 at 5:42 pm

    This is a very important, and interesting, discussion. Good to see it.

    Any approach that involves the high probability of a truly collapsed economy may be a non-starter. Assume for a moment that a renewable build-out, at virtually any pace, will require government action. Certainly, we can all agree that it will require an astonishingly large price tag.

    If the economy truly collapses, it will probably take the dollar along with it. One of the more likely collapse scenarios would be that the government continues spending like a drunken sailor (sorry, this is insulting to drunken sailors, they are more responsible). As a result, debt reaches a point where even the Chinese are afraid to buy more debt. If our debt holders begin to decide that maybe we won’t be able to pay back our debts and, as a result, we can’t roll over the debt, game over. Then the government either has to default or print money. Either way, the economy and the dollar essentially disappear as meaningful entities. Any wealth not in physical goods would essentially be wiped out. The government would, eventually, have to remonetize the system, presumably based on some physical wealth (e.g., gold standard). Assuming the government survives the fallout. But this would obviously be done at a fraction of the “value” previously held in our fractional fiat currency.

    Almost certainly, there would be some period of time, probably quite lengthy, when there would be no money available, anywhere, to fund large capital projects. The government simply couldn’t pay for it. Private industry would be in financial ruins. There is no way they could find the capital to approach the private side.

    This is all without even discussing the effect of this on the overall economic model. Would such a collapse trigger a move to a stable-state economy? Would banks finance long-term projects in such an economy? Unlikely. Even if it didn’t, would there be any banks left to finance anything? If so, would they have money to lend and would they lend it?

    Basically, if the economy really collapses, it is difficult to see any way in which even a partial build-out could occur. In fact, this scenario really leads to places nobody wants to go.

    While I personally feel that the economy must, over the long-term, switch to a steady-state or similar model, I don’t think you can do that during the early years of an infrastructure build-out of this kind. I think you have to stitch the economy together with duct tape and bailing wire and try to offer at least the hope for long-term growth (even if it is flat out lie!). Without the possibility of growth, lenders will not lend and international borrowers will not borrow. Without funding, there is no infrastructure build-out.

    I think we have to figure out a way to balance cutting and build-out so that they offset each other enough to avoid either a catastrophic economic collapse or a catastrophic increase in emissions. Somebody much smarter than I will have to figure out how to do that though. :-)

    Brian

  23. Rosaon 25 Nov 2008 at 6:15 pm

    Ceridwen, my one child is going to suffer just as much from climate change (and sea ecology change – woke up this morning to more bad news on the acidification of seawater front) – as Sharon’s four.

    So I’m all for rationing. Indeed, if rationing would mean that a homeless two-child family gets the same necessary resources for their kids as a one-child affluent family like my own, I’d be very happy. I don’t think inequality is any better for our kids than climate change.

  24. Ciaranon 25 Nov 2008 at 7:19 pm

    I am going to be wildly optimistic as there is little point in anything else and I’ve been getting very depresed about it all lately! Sharon’s probability games are a little pointless but she is surely right about what it is possible to ask of people in these rapidly changing times. George has the problem of being dead right but ignored for so long that to stay sane he lives in a bubble, so even when a crowd gathers around in agreement he cant see or hear them!

    Can we not combine George’s and Sharon’s respective approaches to generate the greatest odds of success. In a huge depression we will see many out of work and factories closing. . . . no more Airbus A380s, Pharma companies faltering. Conscripting the best and most able engineers, scientists etc. into a semi voluntary (they get free cabbage, turnips and potatoes in the UK) green army focused on the least carbon intensive build out of things such as a distributed energy network could be a goal? Reskilling every parks authority to train people in domestic food production etc. and carbon sequestration techniques such as pyrolytic biochar production . . . These possibilities only seem remote from our recent historic perspective of affluent consumer culture. But if most of us have F*** all else to do then lets make a plan. I will start tonight by organising a Transition group right here in my neighbourhood, in my home town of Bristol.

    Better get busy . . . .

  25. [...] building program for renewable energy and electrified transport etc. vs. Sharon Astyk’s plea for everyone to just stop living high consumption lives and start subsistance agriculture in your [...]

  26. Robyn M.on 25 Nov 2008 at 8:16 pm

    I tend to agree with Greenpa’s analysis (gee, there’s a shocker). At its most stripped down, our economy is driven over 70% by consuming, and our population is vastly overstretched and overspent. We cannot maintain this level of consumption even if we wanted to. Our govn’t and attendant agencies are spending into the trillions trying to squeeze a few more drops of blood out of this stone, but it’s over. Yes, a 10% fall in the economy would spell disaster for any economy or political body–but that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. I keep thinking of the analogy that Kunstler made a few months ago regarding our economy, that it’s just like Wile E. Coyote who’s gone screeching over the edge of the cliff and just keeps running. Everyone can see that he’s got to fall. The fact that it will spell his ultimate demise (at least, until the next segment starts) doesn’t change the circumstance. And only now are most people stopping, looking down (just like Mr. Coyote), and saying “Oh, crap….”

  27. Tickmeisteron 25 Nov 2008 at 8:36 pm

    OK, we are almost certainly entering a depression, no argument. Cheap energy is passing away, no argument. Market forces will do 90% of the work of coping if we just let them. After all, the market has driven gas down to $1.55 in my town because people use less high priced gas than they do cheap gas. No rationing was required. People will find ways to use solar, wind, water, bio-mass, etc. in small and medium scale ways when it is to their economic advantage to do so. It will work. I heat my earth sheltered house with wood, raise my garden mostly by hand, and entertain myself without going anywhere or using any energy other than a couple of fingers to pick a banjo. No government edict made me live this way. Others will follow when they see it to be to their advantage.

    On the other hand, I often reflect when I see a 300 foot tall wind turbine that the machine will likely wear out before it recovers as much energy as was used to build it.

    Also, we can better deal with actual problems if we can set aside all the “manmade global warming” dogma. I have followed this argument for years and have yet to hear a rational argument that gives me any reason to think that it is happening.

  28. Dave Kon 25 Nov 2008 at 8:38 pm

    “… replacing the world’s energy infrastructure involves “an enormous front-load of fossil fuels”, which are required to manufacture wind turbines, electric cars, new grid connections, insulation and all the rest. This could push us past the climate tipping point. ”

    This is a point I have been trying to explain to people for a while now. Because I am a mathematician, I come at it through modelling the energy used in building energy-producing infrastructure.

    You can read all about it in my article “The energy dynamics of energy production” at http://www.peakoil.org.au/news/index.php?energy_profit.htm

    In a world with an emissions trading scheme, where the pollution permits are capped and the cap reduces each year, there will be frantic bidding for those pollution credits, especially from new companies setting up to manufacture renewable energy infrastructure. There will come a point where the cost of those permits will make the PV factory unviable. This wouldn’t have happened in earlier times, when we were still in an expanding-energy phase. We have left it too late.

    There will literally not be enough spare fossil energy to build the renewable energy infrastructure. But it is a progressive thing -
    when no more renewables can be built, that will be the maximum amount of renewables we will ever have.

    When you start looking at which technologies have the lowest energy barrier, wind in windy places is MUCH better than PV.
    We really shouldn’t be wasting our precious fossil fuels on making PV. But our governments, Green Parties, environmental groups, universities and media all want a Business As Usual scenario, so everybody wants PV and lots of it, and the fundamental energy budget is ignored.

    Dave

  29. Danon 25 Nov 2008 at 11:31 pm

    I fundamentally disagree with his premise that a 10% drop in growth (resulting in a deep depression) would be a bad thing. In fact, it’d be better if the drop was 20-50%. My biggest hope for the future is that we will be forced to stop living a life out of balance b/c of these economic times, not b/c of nature playing her hand. That is our only hope; that we crash on our terms and have a chance to rebuild. So thank god for CDS/CDOs. They just might save the planet for our children…and theirs.

    The economy might also crash if military spending was cut by 10, 20, 50%…but again, this needs to happen if we are to survive.

    Hard choices and hard times ahead. But for those of us who realize the inevitability of this all, the silver lining of hope is shining bright. Better times are ahead. If not for us, than at least for humanity. Maybe there will come a day again where the skies are blue, the oceans teeming, and the rivers flowing freely.

    http://therestisvanity.blogspot.com

  30. young snowbirdon 25 Nov 2008 at 11:35 pm

    I am with Shane, both solutions at the same time.

    An austerity movement embraced by the masses to enable the larger massive push for changing to a green energy economy. Perhaps by using severe restrictions on our carbon output individually it will balance the massive carbon output of the change-over. Both/And not either/Or.

  31. Sharonon 26 Nov 2008 at 5:53 am

    I think the problem with the “we need both” analysis is that you can’t have both simultaneously – dramatic austerity without a massive compensatory government spending means economic crisis – Monbiot is almost certainly right about that. I don’t think you can choose one from column A and one from column B – obviously, we’d prefer that. Monbiot is obviously a real and serious advocate of making major shifts in practice – _Heat_ outlines quite carefully how that would happen. But he does not believe that what we might call collective individual action can achieve the goal. And he may be right – I don’t have a problem calling it unlikely. Unfortunately, so is the build-out strategy.

    There’s another issue with the “both” scenario – if we’re going to build out only at a rate that keeps us below tipping points, that’s a different project than an all out build out.

    Sharon

  32. galacticsurferon 26 Nov 2008 at 8:49 am

    It’s out of our hands now. I was discussing this with my wife. A few years ago, she said, they wanted hydrogen economy, this year it was ethanol and now everybody is hot on electric cars through windmills and solar and conventional. In other words BAU is being held onto but they have to work through each defective model to get to the cold hard truth that none of that works. We need to walk, use public transport or bike and stop going so far to do things we don’t need to do.

    Recently the car economy has started collapsing so adoption of hybrids and electrics in a massive retooling has become the craze. Feed in tariffs and big cables from the windiest/sunniest places to allow for supply are germinating in think tanks.

    How much will get done in this direction depends on financing and political choices. However even in best case such a build-out would only allow for very basic needs and cars would probably not be included in those needs. We need to live somewhere but not to be constantly underway to nowhere. A house or apartment / office building has to be made more energy efficient so that our very scarce electrical energy stretches further. Transport for humans and goods has to reduced to a bare minimum. Packaging must be eliminated as that takes enormous energy just for purposes of selling/advertising.

    We will try all the wrong solutions until we find the right answer. The most uncomfortable solution will be left till last as good medicine is painful. Global warming is almost in fact a non-issue in this situation as PO will come like a freight train along with finance collapse simultanously in the next several years. If Chinese collapse is fast then the 3 billion tonnes yearly burnt will stop. This has kept the exports churning out and the CO2 growth has come from there. If USA collapses then oil prices will be in single digits. Conservation in both countries and elsewhere will be due to abject poverty and not due to some sort of desire to save the environment or convert to a better lifestyle.

    Conscious business investment decisions are made on the basis of profitability. Government investment incentives such as feed in tariffs and subsidies can influence this greatly however, birthing an industry. If people see that cars and coal have no future due to PO and CC then the new green tech will have political backing and will be seen as a jobs machine.

    Instead of losing our religion (falling into despair), we will be switching our religion. However as in such a philosophical muddle there are many stages of indecision and mental bridges needed to get from here to there(like alternative energy for a BAU continuation on the way to a traditional lifestyle). As one poster at PO.COM quoted:

    Watch your thoughts; they become words.
    Watch your words; they become actions.
    Watch your actions; they become habits.
    Watch your habits; they become character.
    Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

    I think we have to develop new habits. This takes time. Crash programs for, say, stopping smoking, are hard, cold turkey won’t be easy. Feed the people partial but maybe not so correct answers like a guru with a koan lets a disciple dsicover the truth for himself out of his own depths.

    However most are not into plumbing their depths. Most are followers. Like you said when some people start doing it willingly then others will be willing to follow the crowd. That is a good idea, sort of catching the public mood and exploiting it in the right direction to give people direction and hope. Some people are trendsetters and have thought the whole thing through and are acting on it. Sharon and George Monbiot are among those. So when everything starts to collapse and certain trendsetters say “I knew it all along” then people will listen and follow their example.

    This whole process of phase/religon/paradigm change will happen on the government level so that trillions may be wasted and years of effort but there seems to be no choice to this as “accepted wisdom” has a reason it becomes accepted, due to having made very painful mistakes beforehand.

  33. Rebeccaon 26 Nov 2008 at 8:52 am

    My problme with Monbiot is his assumption that things will be fine and dandy if we just convert everything to renewables. The sad truth of the matter is that we can’t just keep running everything the way we have been regardless of what it’s powered by -resource shortages and pollution will get us even if climate change doesn’t. Consumption is going to have to be curtailed regardless.

    Good article, Sharon, and congrats on getting to argue with Monbiot!

  34. Devin Quinceon 26 Nov 2008 at 9:29 am

    I wrote the same ideas of conservation, etc. to a local list here that was debating how and what the new “green” infrastructure was going to be. Not a surprise, but no one responded to my post. More “greenies” with their heads buried in the sand thanks to Mr Gore and is techno answers.

    http://quinceurbanhomestead.blogspot.com/2008/11/on-local-listserv-that-deals-with.html

  35. Chileon 26 Nov 2008 at 10:45 am

    I agree with Nika’s comments above.

    I do not think serious reduction is going to happen unless forced, by a totally collapsed economy, military might, or some such mechanism. It is very easy in a online community of like-minded people concerned about what’s happening, and even in local real life community groups, to think everyone will be willing to make the necessary changes to save the planet and ourselves. Truth is, as Nika mentioned, the planet will be fine with or without us. Sure, it may take millenia to recover from human damage, but I have faith that it will. Humans, I have little faith in. Step outside the peak oil and climate change community and get a feel for what the average person is doing, thinking, and willing to give up. Or, don’t, because it will depress the heck out of you.

    Yes, Sharon, I have deep doubts about humanity. This is fueled by real life observations on small and large scales. Maybe Arnie said it best in the T2 movie, “It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.” That doesn’t mean I think we should give up, by any means.

    Continuing to do all the things you recommend on an individual and local community level will make a difference in our own lives, the lives of our family and loved ones, and those in the community that were willing to change, and it may soften the harsh landing for the rest who are unwilling to change. But will we be able to save the world? For a while maybe. Read a little extinction theory and you’ll realize we may only be a blip here. We can try to make it a good blip, though.

  36. Robin Greenon 26 Nov 2008 at 11:05 am

    Great reply to Monbiot’s points, but I think the fundamental difference between sacrifices made during times of armed conflict and the sacrifice we need to make for the climate crisis, is that in times of armed conflict there is a daily barrage of terrible, often very visually frightening, news about the advances and transgressions of the enemy, and many people have friends or family either as civilians or in the armed forces with lives at risk in the war zone. In the climate crisis, the daily barrage of bad news is swept aside by the mainstream media so only those who go digging for it can find it, there are no body bags coming home, no friends or family who might be lying dismembered in foreign capitals…

    Those of us who are already motivated to make the required sacrifices should both do so, and tell as many others about the threat we face. It’s sacrifice now on our terms, or later on nature’s far less favorable ones!

  37. Sfooo98on 26 Nov 2008 at 1:38 pm

    you people are hilarious.

    reforming civilization is the laughable answer.. or your “only choice” but what will people do in areas who dont even depend on the grid? people in marginal areas? theyll go on living while all the white people try to make new cars and other forms of energy to exploit to keep the hellhole of civilization running. Catton summed this up decades ago. youre living on borrowed time regardless of climate change because civilization was never sustainable without trumping carrying capacity. not to mention all the wretched systemic institutions and social degradation brought on by sedentism… sorry, but you lose. people like the Hadza will return to the gridless veld of Tanzania without tourist morons and the 1st world will be crapping their pants in failed gardens with soaring raids/”crime” from resource scarcity.

    youre not worth saving.
    the first world are hobbyist “activists” without the guts to really throw a wrench in the machine.. keep typing.

  38. Annon 26 Nov 2008 at 1:54 pm

    In a situation this complex, the only effective thing to do is everything. We don’t know what will work, but something has to. If you think of something that might help, gather your forces where you find them [exactly as you and Monbiot are doing] and go to work. Encourage others to do the same. Let everything that can be thought of be done by those who think it has a chance. When everything is done, something works. We have no chance if we try to logic this one out and select one solution.

  39. Today I… « Andrew T. McNeelyon 26 Nov 2008 at 3:26 pm

    [...] a comment » Today I read some of Sharon Astyk’s blog.  This post covered things that I think about [...]

  40. Oleon 27 Nov 2008 at 9:14 pm

    I doubt that many people will read down this far, but I too felt compelled to add a couple of thoughts to this interesting exchange. Let’s consider “what if it’s already too late” – George Monbiot refers to biosphere collapse, and Sharon Astyk to passing the tipping points.

    I’m an ecologist, and I work in the biodiversity science area, so I think about these things a fair bit. We know that our planet has in the past been much hotter and more humid than it is today, and with far more carbon dioxide (the greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere than exists today (e.g, 1500 ppm during the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs roamed the world).

    When I read the various comments, I’m struck with how much the conversation is focused on we humans – what our lifestyle could/should/will be like in the future. Vitually no one has talked about the other few million species on this planet, even though we are utterly dependent on them for our survival.

    This worries me. We are committed to significant global warming and other forms of climate disruption already. Back in 1992 in Rio, when countries signed on to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, they agreed to an “ultimate objective of… stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system… within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally…” We’ve already failed. Change is happening much too fast for natural adaptation – at least, if the intent is to maintain ecosystems in anything like their current form. And we are already in a period of very rapid species extinction, with species disappearing at well over a hundred times the normal “background” rate.

    Which is not to say that we won’t have ecosystems around for quite some time – they will just be very different. Many species will go extinct, but some will persist – especially the weedier, more adaptable, genetically diverse ones. But there is a possibility that our great-great-great-great grandchildren will end up living on a moist, warm – and possibly – lush and green planet.

    But, frankly, this is not the direction we’re headed in. If future generations are to live on a green planet we need to make extraordinary efforts to save as much of the current diversity of genes, species and ecosystems as possible – what’s known as “conservation of biodiversity.” At the same 1992 Rio “Earth Summit” when countries signed on to the climate change treaty, they also signed a biodiversity treaty – the Convention on Biological Diversity. It too meets regularly, with minimum fanfare and attention. It’s become a very poor cousin of the climate change treaty. This is sad, because so many of us are trying to stop climate change precisely because we don’t want the biosphere to collapse. And yet, there is so much we can do that addresses biosphere collapse directly. Action to conserve genes, species and ecosystems can be as simple as converting your lawn into a mixture of garden and wild nature. And on a global level, ecosystems are still soaking up roughly half of the carbon dioxide we are pouring into the atmosphere. The world is, in fact, getting greener, but not always in a particularly nice way (think of green algal scum on your local water body).

    It would be silly to debate whether it is more important to try to meet the objectives of the climate change treaty or the biodiversity treaty. Both need to be done in tandem. But there is far too little awareness of this, as is illustrated by the other comments in this discussion.

    Check out the web site of The Biodiversity Project, and consider its tag line: “Life. Nature. You. Make the connection.”

    Ole Hendrickson

  41. Tickmeisteron 28 Nov 2008 at 12:04 am

    Ole, what do you think caused the 1500 PPM CO2 level during the Jurassic? It certainly wasn’t SUV’s. Also, why do you think that the current rise in CO2 isn’t caused by whatever caused it then as opposed to human activity? How can it be determined that plants are absorbing half the CO2 emitted by humans? Wouldn’t that require a complete inventory of all plant life on earth? Is that possible?

    Also, since we know that the globe has been vastly cooler and warmer than at present, why should we ever hope to be able to keep it at exactly the current temperature? What if we enact massive changes to prevent heating and trigger an ice age? Is that possible, and wouldn’t it be far worse than warming?

    Not being a smartass, I really would like your opinions.

  42. Dan Bloomon 28 Nov 2008 at 3:42 am

    do you know how i can get in touch with Sharon Astuk by email about this lawsuit of mine? I saw her name mentioned in the Monbiot piece, but she never answers my emails, I don;t know why….

    http://northwardho.blogspot.com

    DANNY Bloom
    Tufts 1971

  43. Dan Bloomon 28 Nov 2008 at 3:43 am

    of course, I meant Astyk……that was a hunt and peck keyboard typo, of which I am prone to….

    db

    do read my lawsuit news and get back to me, re PRO or CON, your reax

    http://northwardho.blogspot.com

    DANNY

  44. deweyon 28 Nov 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Tickmeister – if you want answers to those questions, I suggest you start in the FAQ files available at http://www.realclimate.org. Pretty much any question can be answered there.

    For example, the reason we know that the great increase in CO2 in recent decades is largely manmade is not solely because it coincides with man’s burning of huge amounts of fossil fuels, although that in itself would be evidence enough. (If you see me pour salt into a pot of soup, then you note that the soup tastes saltier, you need not look further for other culprits; or at least, if I wish to deny responsibility, I had better suggest another plausible source of extra salt.) It turns out that the ratios of different carbon isotopes found in carbon currently floating around the ecosystem are altered in fossil carbon such as coal and oil, and they can see that the isotope ratios of carbon in CO2 now in the atmosphere have changed in a way consistent with the inclusion of more carbon from a fossil source. No, I don’t understand why that happens, but the folks at RealClimate do – see what they have to say about it.

  45. Sharonon 29 Nov 2008 at 7:23 am

    Remember, we’re talking here about moving audiences. So while I think that biodiversity is obviously the central point here, I don’t know that I think that you can move the populace based on its concerns for ecosystems – personally, I think the fear of death is the best moving force.

    Dan, I think the lawsuit is a good idea, although I don’t know if it will work.

    Tickmeister, I think that realclimate is a really good place to start. The science is really fascinating. In response to your question about an ice age, I can’t think of any useful way we could trigger an ice age by not warming the planet – it is technically possible we could fail to raise carbon emissions enough to be unable to compensate for an ice age, or trigger one by an environmental response to sudden climate change, but those are unlikely scenarios.

    It is true we’ve had higher levels of carbon – but people didn’t live in the Jurassic – there were no humans, no agriculture, no society. Human beings are a product of the Holocene era, a stable period of climate. It seems pretty clear that life of some sort can be supported by a much warmer climate – but it isn’t at all clear that billions of humans can be, so it seems wise not to perturb things we depend on.

    Sharon

  46. Phil Henshawon 29 Nov 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Sharon,
    I’ve been seeing the faulty reasoning in the lag time calculations for some time. It’s important to consider the things that solutions MUST accomplish and unfortunately the proposals mostly don’t take that approach. It’s not sufficient to do something just because we much try. What we must try is something feasible and lots of things are clearly not.

    One thing that MUST occur is to alter the goals of the economic system that result in the escalating pressures on diminishing resources. It’s the endless churning of money and the fact that wealth is a physical thing. If we do that it will still be dangerous and difficult to reduce life styles to 1950’s or 60’s levels, even if there seemed to be realistic ways to solve it financially. Still, both of those things are clearly within the realm of the physically possible though.

    It would not be within the remotest possibility to continue multiplying wealth without multiplying carbon and other impacts on non-renewable resources. The economic assumptions that the OECD provided are completely kookie… to have wealth generation soon become immaterial as if running on perpetual motion machines and have no impacts. It’s in ALL their curves for the future and ALL the IPCC models too. The real curves tell an entirely differernt story. The economies have been quite creatively adopting efficiencies to maximize profits all along, in fact, and steadily falling ever further behind. Wealth is still and will remain a physical commodity, and their dodge of inventing a fictional “decoupling” of the economies from having any future physical effect was just a ‘device’ to avoid asking the real questions.

    We need to ask the real questions about money. There are marvelously fascinating answers, but we have to ask the questions.
    —–
    If you’re curious my site has lots of things on my physics technique for observing how natural systems do it better… and my site blog has a lot of my better issue letters for a sampling of other things.

  47. Phil Henshawon 29 Nov 2008 at 10:19 pm

    Sharon, -posted here for readers here too-

    I’ve been seeing the faulty reasoning in the lag time calculations for some time. It’s important to consider the things that solutions MUST accomplish and unfortunately the proposals mostly don’t take that approach. It’s not sufficient to do something just because we must try. What we must try is something feasible and lots of things are clearly not.

    One thing that MUST occur is to alter the goals of the economic system that result in the escalating pressures on diminishing resources. It’s the endless churning of money and the fact that wealth is a physical commodity. If we do that it will still be dangerous and difficult to reduce life styles to 1950’s or 60’s levels, even if there seemed to be realistic ways to solve it financially. Still, both of those things are clearly within the realm of the physically possible though.

    It would not be within the remotest possibility to continue multiplying wealth without multiplying carbon and other impacts on non-renewable resources. The economic assumptions that the OECD provided are completely kookie… to have wealth generation soon become immaterial as if running on perpetual motion machines and have no impacts. It’s in ALL their curves for the future and ALL the IPCC models too. The real curves tell an entirely different story. The economies have been quite creatively adopting efficiencies to maximize profits all along, in fact, and steadily falling ever further behind. Wealth is still and will remain a physical commodity, and their dodge of inventing a fictional “decoupling” of the economies from having any future physical effect was just a ‘device’ to avoid asking the real questions.

    We need to ask the real questions about money. There are marvelously fascinating answers, but we have to ask the questions.
    —–
    If you’re curious my site has lots of things on my physics technique for observing how natural systems do it better… and my site blog has a lot of my better issue letters for a sampling of other things.

  48. danny bloomon 30 Nov 2008 at 5:16 am

    Dan, I think the lawsuit is a good idea, although I don’t know if it will work.

    Thanks for note, Sharon. Understand you don’t want to use email. This way is fine. — DANNY

    here is the Reuters news story about the lawsuit. Bear in mind it is not a real lawsuit, it is a wake up call lawsuit. See here

    http://northwardho.blogspot.com

    getting lots of hate mail already for this. oi. (from rightwing nutters of course and denialists)

  49. Shaun Chamberlinon 02 Dec 2008 at 7:52 am

    Hi Sharon,

    Thought you might like to know that I’m just back from a meeting of the energy rationing (AKA ‘personal carbon trading’) research community here in the UK. The Government are showing interest without fully biting yet, but we’re working hard to wake them up. Needless to say on the Monbiot-Astyk scale they’re currently way out past Monbiot..

    Our All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas have just agreed to do a joint report with us on David Fleming’s Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs), but I think it might only be in the wake of something widely perceived as a ‘crunch event’ that we actually see implementation. As you have written before, cultural stories can shift mighty fast at such times. Given what’s become ‘regular news’ though, I dread to think what would qualify.

    Shaun

  50. Roy Eon 03 Dec 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Sharon,
    We have been spending more than we earn…contributing to a consumer economy. In light of the economic fear run rampant, people are spending less thus causing a reduction in GDP. If we are to save some of our income and LBOM, GDP has to go down. Infinite growth is not possible. Our economic models are based on flawed assumptions.

    On the other hand, spending some of today’s dollars on infrastructure to avoid some of the future’s crisis spending due to peak oil and/or global warming makes good sense. I am super insulating my house and planning for a vegetable garden and chicken coop…spending today’s dollars to avoid a economic future of higher costs and unavailable food and energy.

  51. Charleson 08 Dec 2008 at 9:15 am

    Hi Sharon. Would not a consumption tax help direct energy use to truly productive and necessary activities? If gasoline use were taxed to the point that demand kept oil prices low enough that the majority of the $ spent on gas is tax, keeping the $ in the US and reducing frivolous consumption.

    Karl Denninger has a very good summation of our economic plight, and solutions involving the fair tax, energy transition and health-care reform:

    To Obama’s Transition Team
    http://market-ticker.denninger.net/archives/676-To-Obamas-Transition-Team.html

    Very good points here. He discusses the economic system, the fair tax, energy, healthcare, poverty, and he understands that we cannot have real economic growth without our own energy coming from this country, and without a tax system that encourages productive use of that energy (conservation in energy use for recreation and excess comforts, directing energy use to productive activities, ie saving and investment in making the things we really need). It is interesting to think of how a consumption tax would accomplish this. The part on health care is very interesting.

  52. [...] Al Gore calls for tougher global limit on CO2 levels – D. Adam, The Guardian  Al Gore rouses U.N. climate talks to more action – G. Wynn, G. Baczynska, Reuters ‘Embarrassing’ to be a Canadian at climate talks: Green party leader – CBC ‘We’re still way, way off the mark’ – Greenpeace UK E.D., J. Sauven – The Guardian Global climate change decisions on hold for Obama admin – D. Adam, The Guardian Germany: the new dirty man of Europe – George Monbiot – The Guardian George Monbiot is arguing with me… – S. Astyk, Casaubon’s Book [...]

  53. [...] the IPCC is 90cm “by the century’s end” . But everything else I have been reading recently suggest things are going to start happening much faster than the IPCC predicted because they did [...]

  54. Anna Gon 23 Dec 2008 at 7:57 am

    Let me paraphrase – you think the solution is to give rather than to receive. For example, we the current generation gives up some comfort so the future generations will receive a healthier planet. This way of thinking is slowly catching on thanks to people like you. Thanks for posting :)

    I would like to add something, to support to your argument. Here’s a 5-minute video I’ve put together with others that promotes this active movement of individuals trying to bring about positive world change. If this video inspires you toward bringing about positive change, then please forward it to your friends. The state of the world is intensifying, and all we want is for people to spread the message that we need to wake up. Good luck in your efforts! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g94iWT2SIwI

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