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Unforced Variations: Jan 2015

Filed under: — group @ 7 January 2015

This month’s open thread. Sorry for the slow start – you know what it’s like after the holidays…

226 Responses to “Unforced Variations: Jan 2015”

  1. 1

    Yesterday (7 January 2015) Dr. Michael Mann gave an excellent interview with Kathleen Dunn, a Wisconsin Public Radio host. His answers to familiar questions were concise and sufficiently technical for most most of the audience, much better than some climate scientists who continually appear to disregard clarity in public speaking. The nearly one-hour long interview can be found at:

  2. 2

    Prof. Mann–I just listened to your interview on Wisconsin Public Radio. Very interesting and informative. One comment about the question of how to create jobs and ensure economic growth in a post-carbon energy economy. It seems to me, first, that people don’t need jobs, they need food, shelter, clothing, medical care and the like. As productivity increases we should be able to work less to secure these necessities (and maybe a few luxuries, too) with less and less work. That, in fact, is what observers thought would happen from the early years of the industrial revolution well into the 20th century. Of course, it hasn’t happened, and Ben Hunnicutt, an historian at the U. of Iowa, who specializes in the history of work devoted a recent book (“Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream” in large part to figuring out why.

    In any case, the basic problem is not jobs, but finding equitable ways to distribute the goods and services created by what, at least in many sectors, cold be a diminishing amount of work. A basic problem here is that modern societies have chosen to make work not only a means of production, but also a basis for allocating the goods and services produced. This system emerged from a frontier condition that called for an expanding work force to take advantage of new opportunities to exploit what felt like a virtually infinite range of new resources. It seems likely that it will prove–and is proving–incapable of providing a basis for a sustainable relationship in a world we are now re-discovering, at least some resources are finite.

    I’m wondering whether a vision for a climate-safe world might not include a cooling of economic growth and reduction of work to enable what used to be called “higher progress” (i.e. time for reflection, play and the arts), perhaps comparable to the broad margin of leisure Marhall Sahlins, in his book “Stone Age Economics” describes as typical of many traditional societies.

  3. 3
    Rafael Molina Navas, Madrid says:

    I do agree with you. To invent more and more “necessities” just to need more work and grow indefinetely is utterly absurd. That “creation” of necessities is actually kind of “negative” wealth production … let alone the negative side effects of ever increasing consumption, such us global warming.

  4. 4
    Chris Dudley says:

    It is worth noting that University of Hawaii is studying divesting from fossil fuel companies.

  5. 5
    SecularAnimist says:

    William R. Jordan III wrote: “how to create jobs and ensure economic growth in a post-carbon energy economy”

    In the long term, we need to replace the concept of “economic growth” with the concept of sustainable prosperity.

    In that context, the concept of “progress” might well include the view that as technological capability and efficiency improve, it will require fewer “jobs” (and less consumption of “resources”) to sustain prosperity for any given number of people, and society will have to adapt to a state of relatively effortless abundance.

    In the short term, given the urgent need to completely replace or upgrade much of our fundamental infrastructure with zero-emission technologies — including electricity generation (32% of US GHG emissions per EPA), transportation (28% of emissions), industrial production (20%), commercial and residential buildings (10%) and agriculture (10%) — there are plenty of jobs to be created by the transition to a post-carbon energy economy.

  6. 6
    Russell says:

    It will be interesting to see how NPR reports, fields, or spins, Brazil’s recent appointment of Mark Steyn’s Marxist opposite number as Minister of Science.

  7. 7
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Secular Animist,
    Have you read “Capital in the 21st Century?” It presents a very clear exposition of why zero growth or even low growth is a problem, especially if you care about wealth distribution.

  8. 8
    Chuck Hughes says:

    Is anyone else keeping up with this latest development? I tried to post some of the article but it was flagged as spam so here’s the link:

  9. 9
    Hank Roberts says:

    > zero growth or even low growth is a problem

    Growth is a problem.

    “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop”
    — Stein’s Law

    The problem is to figure out how, and what to do when it does stop

  10. 10
    Chris Korda says:

    I’m primarily focused on climate change, economic stratification, and unchecked development, and in my view these share a common cause, which I call growth-ism or growth-mania (after William R. Catton). Naomi Klein calls it extractivism, but I consider this deceptive, because it leaves unchallenged an escapist fantasy of non-extractive growth. Either humans are going to moderate their demands, and learn to live within their means, or we simply won’t be around.

    99.9 percent of all the species that have ever existed are now extinct, and ultimately, (probably anaerobic) bacteria will re-inherit Earth. There was never going to be a happy ending for us as a species, any more than there is for us as individuals. We have no chance of escaping, because there’s nowhere to escape to. Humans have always faced a tough choice here, between surviving a while longer, and surviving less long. For my entire adult life the trend has been moving inexorably towards less and I see no sign of a reversal; on the contrary we’re accelerating rapidly in the wrong direction. The United Nations charter commits us to keeping Earth habitable for humans indefinitely, but like so many of our noble declarations this increasingly seems like a cruel joke.

    I have less skin in the game than some of you, having long ago taken a lifetime vow of non-procreation. In the not-so-distant future (paraphrasing Nobody in “Dead Man”) this world will no longer concern me. I continue to work to try and change the world for the better in small ways, but I have no illusions about the larger trajectory. I won’t live to see the worst impacts of climate change, because they will unfold over hundreds if not thousands of years. Limiting global surface temperature increase to 2° C is a pipe dream; that train already left the station. Yes it could theoretically be achieved with sustained de-growth of 10% per annum, but that won’t happen barring collapse of civilization. Some are rooting for collapse, but I’m committed to preserving civilization for better or worse.

    Albert Bartlett famously complained that “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function” and while I sympathize, I see that the hard problems are all ethical, not scientific. Why should people embrace disturbing truths instead of convenient fictions? Why shouldn’t the rich live soft lives and be waited on hand and foot if they can get away with it? Why shouldn’t the ruling class use force to take whatever it wants? Why should people make sacrifices for the benefit of future generations? Why should individual humans care what happens after they’re dead?

    Humans could turn out to be great at science but lousy at ethics. Ultimately our problems boil down to a tragic mismatch between our original evolutionary environment and the environment we’ve created for ourselves through cultural evolution. This is no fault of our own, and while I didn’t in the past, increasingly I feel empathy for people. In our best moments we create inspiring works of exquisite beauty. But psychologically we seem poorly equipped to handle the hard truths of our existence, revealed in such vivid detail by science. I don’t blame people for magical thinking–it’s built into our hardware–but the only way forward is for us to put childish things aside, and reorganize our entire way of life around the seemingly impossible challenges of long-term survival.

    Many of the attributes that made us fit on the savannah have monstrous consequences in the present. For example, we tend to focus on immediate threats to the exclusion of all else, and I’m no exception. I will continue to direct my energies towards preventing or limiting injustice in my local community, because it immediately impacts my quality of life. I will also continue to take every opportunity to shame public officials for their perversion of so many lofty stated goals, an admittedly quixotic quest.

    The harsh reality is that the super-rich are invading urban cores, in a stunning reversal that few saw coming. One the few who did see it was Paul Theroux. In his obscure dystopian novel “O-Zone” (1986) he predicted that the “owners” would concentrate their power in gated citadels patrolled by militarized private police, while simultaneously abandoning vast areas and leaving the majority of the population to fend for themselves. This neo-feudal vision has already been realized in Detroit and many other places, and it emerges from a stage beyond gentrification, described by Simon Kuper as plutocratization. It has already occurred in Paris and London and San Francisco and Brooklyn, it’s underway here in Boston, and the signs of it are everywhere. The model is a live-in outdoor mall, disguised to look like a vibrant, quaint community, with faux-Belle Epoch street lamps and continuous surveillance. This is where the super-rich will make their stand, at least until things get really rough and the more foresighted of them retreat to their luxury survival condos. If Piketty is even half right, the 1% of humanity who own half the world’s wealth will continue to maximize their profits until the bitter end.

  11. 11
    sidd says:

    Re: growth, Piketty, inequality

    1)Piketty points out that inequality is due to the rate of return on capital,r, being greater than the growth rate g; not the value of g alone. Thus, if r=g, or r less than g, inequality would not increase even for small g.

    2)Growth exacerbates atmospheric fossil carbon load only if growth is tied to increasing fossil fuel combustion. If a scheme were to be devised that breaks this relationship, growth would not in itself be a problem.


  12. 12
    Chuck Hughes says:

    The article I posted above says that the fracking boom is another financial bubble that is about to burst. Banks have invested heavily in gas well fracking and now that the bottom has dropped out of the oil market the looming financial collapse will be blamed on the “Climate Change Hoax”.

    I don’t know how much validity this article has but I would like to get some other opinions on it.

  13. 13
    Pete Best says:

    Re #2 – I know that in principle what you are suggesting has merit but its not a currently favoured approach to mitigating climate change. The current political and economic situation is to create jobs and enable growth. Yes this way of progressing is on borrowed time and even if through free market capitalism we an get off of fossil fuels it will only be replaced by energy sources that can do the same as fossil fuels and at the same cost and even then political vested interests wont make it easy to do this. Lobbying and money talk in the political sphere and they talk loudly to the politicians.

    many commentators speak of this situation as being almost intractable but nowhere in any scenarios is growth to be limited or western lifestyles to be impacted – in fact a lot of the pictures painted state that you wont have to take into account your lifestyle choices at all! Business as usual means this and any alternative scenarios are not being considered presently. Environmental organisations and bodies have all had to comply with this and now they simply look to alternative technologies (within reason) and not to any other factors really and hence here we are.

    all onto Paris 2015

  14. 14
    Russell says:

    Stefan’s last piece on “hiatus” busting inspired Tamino ‘s December 9 post “‘Is Earth’s temperature about to soar? ”

    In oder to get to multidegree per century rates of warming globally, one needs to see delta T’s in excess of .1C/year.

    S ince the verb “soar” figures in the conversation, it seems salient to ask all parties :

    In which decade of the present century do each of you expect to see GISS rise by :

    1: A full tenth of a degree.

    2. The 0.18 C needed to get to the lower bound of the IPCC range of estimates for 2100

    3. More than a quarter of a degree, as needed on average to get near the center of the IPCC range by century’s end

    4. the half degree or greater per decade needed to realize the upper IPCC range in the remaining 8 decades of this century ?

    This question went unanswered on Open Mind last year

  15. 15
    Dave Walker says:

    re #10 Chris Korda

    For heavens sake cheer up! We will be fine. I guarantee you that the sun will come up tomorrow, the grass will grow, the birds will sing. You definitely need to chill out. I think you’ve been watching to many apocalypse movies

  16. 16
    S.B. Ripman says:

    Saudi Arabia’s rulers have evidently decided to sell every drop of their oil as soon as possible, before the world mandates that it should be left in the ground. The fire sale is on. World markets are awash in supply. Prices plummet. The need for a carbon tax grows extremely urgent. Otherwise we will see renewed growth in dependence on fossil fuels at just the wrong time in the global warming saga.

  17. 17

    OMG–It’s Forbes, it’s climate change-related, and it’s not denialist boilerplate!

  18. 18
    Ray Ladbury says:

    It really tells us nothing to say that “growth is the problem” unless you also make a suggestion for the economic system that will ensure a degree of well being and fairness without growth. There has never been a human society that worked well in times of low or zero or negative growth. The last time we had a significant period of negative growth, we wound up with a feudal society. Low growth has to date stratified and petrified the society–it gives rise to a society in which it is “good to be the king”.

  19. 19
    Chris Dudley says:

    It makes a great deal of sense to use Saudi oil first since it is the least costly to produce. The political instability is the region, often inflamed with oil money, could be a reason to insist on local more costly oil as we wind down. But it is worth noting that there is no more need for oil exploration outside that kind of political consideration.

  20. 20
    Jai Mitchell says:

    We have known since 1972 and Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth” that our current pathways of population and consumption were unsustainable.

    This is clearly shown in climate analyses that use a discount rate to determine future value losses from climate related damages. If one went back to 1970 and used the same damage loss function for environmental destruction, resource depletion and health impacts from pollution, the companies who are responsible for those activities would owe a debt that is currently comparable to the entire U.S. GNP, in today’s dollars.

    What part of “unsustainable” don’t you (we?) understand.

    consumption and economic growth will be a thing of the past, sooner or later. Either we will put a stop to it, or the environment will put a stop to it for us.

  21. 21
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jai Mitchell,
    We’ve known this far longer than “Limits to Growth”. Albert A. Bartlett was lecturing on this in the late ’60s, and one can argue that “Limits” was just a more quantitative update of Malthus.

    It is not the “unsustainable” part that people (at least those who are numerate) don’t understand. Rather, it is what comes instead of a system with growth as a primary feature. How do you invent a new economy?

  22. 22
    pete best says:

    Hey Real Climate – looks like you were correct all along (lol) – :)

    I hope it is good science that delivers the killer blow to the so called deniers but it wont but it is good news.

  23. 23
    Russell says:

    17 Kevin, rather than a counterblast to James Taylor’s weekly tranche of Heartland bombast, the Forbes piece is an ecofriendly natural gas informercial from Norway’s Statoil : here’s the meta :

    Forbes​ BrandVoice Connecting marketers to the Forbes audience.

    Forbes BrandVoice™ allows marketers to connect directly with the Forbes audience by enabling them to create content – and participate in the conversation – on the Forbes digital publishing platform.
    Each BrandVoice™ is produced by the marketer. email us directly at

    Opinions expressed by Forbes BrandVoice™ Contributors are their own.

  24. 24
    Zachary says:

    So recently the 400 parts per million line has been crossed, what dose that mean and was that the climate tipping point?

  25. 25
    Mike says:

    #24 – 400 is just a number, it’s not a tipping point. I think we won’t know the tipping point until it happens. The most recognizable tipping point will probably be the methane burst or burp that Shakhova is concerned about. A steep and unrelenting upward trend in global temperature and ppb of methane in atmosphere will probably be the best indication that we have passed that tipping point. I think that is the one to be worried about. I hope others will weigh in with their thoughts about tipping points.

  26. 26
    wili says:

    @ Ray @#18: Those pointing out problems are not under some moral obligation to present a perfect and easy solution. If you think this, then you must think that this whole site is totally worthless, especially since they have put a ban on (most) discussion of solutions.

    Saying that zero growth hasn’t worked “well” suggests that you know exactly what “well” doesn’t mean in terms of human society.

    And as far as “stratified and petrified society,” US currently has about the most stratified society in history in terms of wealth distribution, and that distribution is getting ever more stratified and petrified. And this in one of the great ‘growth engines’ of the world.

    But in any case, would you rather have a stable but somewhat rigid society that lasts for millennia (Ancient Egypt, say) or a vibrant, innovative society that lasts a few decades and then utterly crashes taking down all of global civilization and most of the earths basic systems and complex life forms with it?

  27. 27
    Chuck Hughes says:

    I guarantee you that the sun will come up tomorrow, the grass will grow, the birds will sing. You definitely need to chill out. I think you’ve been watching to many apocalypse movies

    Comment by Dave Walker — 12 Jan 2015

    Thanks for stating the obvious. I don’t think anyone claimed the sun wouldn’t rise or that things wouldn’t continue on for some time. The problem is the long term outlook and the next several decades.

  28. 28
    Ray Ladbury says:

    We need to address credible threats, regardless of whether they arise from economics or from physics. What is more, one of the reasons why we have had so little progress in addressing climate change and other problems caused by our economic and energy infrastructure is that no one has made a compelling case for what will replace that infrastructure and how.

    Personally, I think it is possible to have a society that grows if the growth is fueled by innovation rather than consumption and population increase. The goal ought to be to have a dynamic society that lasts millennia.

    I recommend Piketty. It is quite enlightening. I also recommend Jared Diamond’s descriptions of the South Sea Islanders wrt a stable society in a finite environment.

  29. 29
    MARodger says:

    Zachary @24.
    Pedantically, the 400ppm has yet to be achieved, even as a seasonal global figure according to NOAA data which runs a couple of ppm below the MLO data.
    MLO, providing the longest direct measurements of CO2, is usually taken as the ‘headline’ value. MLO measurements are taken by the Scripps Institute and NOAA and show we had 3 months above 400ppm last year and if nothing odd happens this January will again give an average month above 400ppm (just). The annual cycle will see MLO CO2 drop down below 400ppm for 2 to 4 months (Aug-Nov) and that will also be roughly when the MLO rolling annual average tops 400ppm (to Dec 2014 the annual MLO average was 398.55ppm). The seasonally adjusted value is a more exact measure and that will hit 400ppm about February assuming no odd behaviour (Dec = 399.60ppm). Beyond 2015, it is not impossible that the monthly CO2 averages in the autumn of 2016 will remain above 400ppm and from there never to return in any of our lifetimes.
    As stated by Mike @25, 400ppm is just a number. (Mind I am not so convinced as Mike @25 of impending Shakhova events and methane burps.) Perhaps what 400ppm should be saying is that there has not been such concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere probably for 13.5 million years which was when the Himalayas became formed and certainly not for 3.5 million years when the Panama isthmus was formed.

  30. 30
    patrick says:

    It’s instructive how Nobel laureate Mario Molina addresses a fallacy (Skeptical Science says the #1 most-used myth) on climate and global warming, put forward by a mainline denialist and reputed intellectual. Molina addresses it simply and squarely with no trace of irony. This takes discipline I think. It would be easy to get distracted because the denialist is talking around-the-point at length with a kind of appeal-to-assent by intellectual display. (From Gavin’s tweet.)

  31. 31
    Chris Dudley says:

    The EPA will be issuing proposed regulation for methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

  32. 32
    wili says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “no one has made a compelling case for what will replace that infrastructure and how”

    And they have made it quite clear that this is exactly what they don’t want people to discuss here.

    So if you feel that this is the only thing worth discussing, and if you think that discussing any other facts or analyses without including specific discussions about replacing infrastructure is totally and utterly worthless, then why are you hanging around at a site dedicated to primarily, and really _exclusively_ discussing the science?

  33. 33

    #23–Yes, I can see that! But, FWIW, the link got glitches somehow. The piece I wanted to link had some substantive discussion about carbon taxation and such. So far, I haven’t re-found it.

  34. 34

    “…got glitches…”

    “Glitched,” of course. @#$% spell-check autocorrect. Changed it on me *twice!*

  35. 35
    Hank Roberts says:

    Aerosols such as dust, sea salt particles, bits of organic material, and even pollutants are what allows water vapor to congeal into clouds and the mix of aerosols in the sky helps determine what kinds of clouds form.

    Clouds produce precipitation and regulate how much solar energy reaches Earth’s surface and since this process is so fundamental to understanding climate, aerosol research has become a key component of climate studies. Recently Lynn Russell, an atmospheric sciences researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, and colleagues decided some basic questions needed to be considered: What are pristine aerosols (ones not produced by human activity) and, in a heavily industrialized world, where can one still find them?

    The answers are complicated, said Russell, but a new study and upcoming ones are an important first step.

    “We have identified the baseline that can inform future studies of one of the most important variables in climate,” she said.

    Yeah it’s a press release, but more informative than most of them. Worth a look.

  36. 36
    Jermey says:

    How do you feel about the wording from these strings of articles:

  37. 37
  38. 38
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Happy to discuss the science. I’m a physicist after all. You start.

  39. 39
    zebra says:

    Ray Ladbury, Wili et al:

    What is “growth”?

    Ray, saying “dynamic” society implies that there is something you are measuring that is changing. What is it?

    Modifying how society operates almost certainly requires changing how human psychology works. There is some part of the population for which status is the primary motivator, and relative wealth and power is the most universally accessible metric. And growth in population and resource extraction is the easiest way to achieve that for that group. There’s only one Carnegie Hall.

  40. 40

    #39–That seems a pretty daunting pr*scription: not only do we now have to conceive and build a sustainable energy economy, we have to re-engineer humans in order, basically, to eliminate the urge toward leadership.

    Really? Do we *have* to have Eden just in order to avoid catastrophe?

    Seems to me that leaders exist in sustainable societies, too–see Jared Diamond on that. Sure, those examples were not much like our culture. But they do demonstrate that the urge toward higher social status (which, by the way, is pretty common across mammalian social species and hence not purely “human”) need not be synonymous with environmental rapacity.

  41. 41
    Edward Greisch says:

    Planetary boundaries research

    Would RC like to discuss this?

  42. 42
    zebra says:

    #40 Kevin,

    Been a while since I read Diamond, but I think those societies had natural constraints that drove the culture. Likewise critters; if a male goes off to start his own little troop, he either lives or dies, depending on resource availability. (I’m not making some anti-human moral judgement at all; I’m pointing out that what works for chimps is a problem because of our technological success. Like diseases of abundance.)

    For us it’s really a chicken/egg problem.

    If you have a declining population, then more status and power accrues to labor. There’s less capacity to ‘control’ populations, and to achieve monopolies of resources. (Post Black Death, maybe? Japan??)

    If you have overabundant resources through exploration/discovery/genocide or technological advancement, likewise labor is highly valued and you have the luxury of the ‘independent’ homesteader and frontiersman.

    So, get there and ‘human nature’ works fine. You grow up in a less authoritarian environment and you become less authoritarian.

    But we are in exactly the wrong place; the dystopia described at #10 is not that far-fetched. It’s feudal castles, all the way down.

  43. 43
  44. 44
    Chris Dudley says:

    Rolling Stone has an interesting article of fossil fuel divestment. It discusses 6 mistaken ideas about divestment:

    1) Divestment Costs Too Much
    2) Fossil Fuels are a Safe Investment
    3) Divestment is Too Political (Drew Faust’s strangest error)
    4) Fossil-Fuel Divestment is Harder than South Africa Divestment
    5) The Alternatives are Too Risky
    6) Divestment Doesn’t Do Anything

    Here is the link:

  45. 45
  46. 46
    Chris Dudley says:

    Earth protection seems to be coming back to NASA: From the press release on 2014 temperature:

    “NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites, as well as airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.”

  47. 47

    Probably not the first to point this out, but NASA and NCDC are both weighing in on the long-expected story of the new ‘warmest year’ record for 2014. Here’s a ‘money’ graphic from NCDC:

    That’s from their analysis, which is up now:

    “The year 2014 was the warmest year across global land and ocean surfaces since records began in 1880. The annually-averaged temperature was 0.69°C (1.24°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F), easily breaking the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.04°C (0.07°F).”

    Looks to me as if the routine GISS update isn’t up yet, but NASA does have a press release on the story, so the update should be coming soon.

    The CBC story on this is interesting, not least for some of the scientific commenters, including Mike Mann and Jennifer Francis:

    The ‘lede’ is nice, too: “For the third time in a decade, the globe sizzled to the hottest year on record, U.S. federal scientists announced Friday.”

  48. 48
    SecularAnimist says:

    It is a mistake to conflate the urgent, short-term problem of anthropogenic global warming with long-term problems such as attaining perpetual “sustainability” (however defined), stabilizing or reducing the human population, or replacing the world’s socio-economic-political systems with new, more equitable ones, etc.

    Anthropogenic global warming is a very specific problem with very specific technological causes, which must be addressed IMMEDIATELY if we are to have any hope of avoiding the worst possible outcomes — and any hope of buying time to address deeper and broader problems.

    What we need are solutions that can be implemented in YEARS, not decades or generations. What we need are some quick technical fixes. Fortunately, we have those fixes in hand, and they CAN be implemented at the necessary scale much more easily, much faster, and at much lower cost than most people believe. Whether they WILL be is another matter.

    But it is not really helpful to equate phasing out fossil fuel use with “ending capitalism”, or to suggest that solutions to the global warming problem must also solve all of our other environmental problems at once and guarantee endless “sustainability” or they are not worth implementing.

  49. 49
    Chris Korda says:

    The Stockholm Resilience Center study Edward Greisch mentioned in #41 is making news, and likely gaining traction from the NOAA/NASA confirmation of 2014 as the warmest year on record. From the Washington Post article Scientists: Human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’:

    “At the rate things are going, the Earth in the coming decades could cease to be a ‘safe operating space’ for human beings. … we have already crossed four ‘planetary boundaries.’ They include the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean. … What the science has shown is that human activities — economic growth, technology, consumption – are destabilizing the global environment.” [emphasis added]

    As usual it’s overlooked that the impacts of these transgressions will be disproportionately borne by the poor, who have the least ability to adapt to the impacts, and have contributed the least to causing them.

  50. 50
    Chris Korda says:

    Regarding “How do you invent a new economy?” (#21), degrowth is hardly a new idea. Steady-state economics has attracted considerable scholarly attention since at least the 1970s, when overshoot was anticipated by William R. Catton and many others. A Google search on “climate change and economic degrowth” reveals many interesting examples, e.g. this one from “Degrowth and the Carbon Budget: Powerdown Strategies for Climate Stability” (Samuel Alexander, 2014):

    “By emphasising the need for contraction of the economy in the most developed nations, degrowth can be understood as a transitional phase that would ultimately stabilise in a steady-state economy that operates within the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet (see e.g. Daly and Farley, 2004). Within those ecological limits of significantly reduced energy and material throughput requirements, the art of living, of course, could forever improve and evolve.”

    The barrier to be overcome is not lack of academic studies, but the understandable hostility of the owning class. Given the correlation between wealth and sociopathy, it’s unreasonable to expect the ultra-rich to voluntarily cede their advantages for the benefit of their fellow citizens, never mind for future humans or non-humans. Nor are fossil fuel corporations–some of our wealthiest “citizens”–likely to willingly accept the stranding of their assets, even if corporate law permitted them to do so.

    According to Thomas Piketty, the significant redistribution of wealth that occurred in the 20th century seemed like a trend at the time, but was actually an anomaly, caused by massive destruction of capital in two world wars, accompanied by government intervention in the economy on a scale that’s unthinkable today. So if neo-feudalism is to be reversed, and some approximation of a livable climate preserved, it will be resolute direct actions by millions of ordinary individuals that will make the difference, not the cynical posturing of Richard Branson and his ilk. As Piketty observes, “The experience of France in the Belle Époque proves, if proof were needed, that no hypocrisy is too great when economic and financial elites are obliged to defend their interest.”