Record Drop in Coal Burning Raises Question — Is Peak Fossil Fuel Use Happening Now?

Peak oil, gas, and coal.

It’s a possibility that many who believe the fossil fuel industry’s false dependency mantra look at with fear and trembling. Because, for years, that industry, through various public relations efforts, has perpetuated a myth that a loss of access to fossil fuels would ruin the modern global economy. That fossil fuels were so high-quality no other energy source could effectively replace them.

It’s a myth that, in many ways, competes with the threat of human-caused climate change for space in the public’s collective imagination. One that is not without a few valid supports. For the shifting of energy use away from one set of sources and on toward another set is a massive, disruptive undertaking even in the case where the new energy sources are superior to the old.

November Through April 2015 2016

(This is what a real existential threat to global civilization looks like. From the 1880s to the six month cold season of 2015-2016, global temperatures warmed by 1.38 degrees Celsius. At the end of the last ice age, it took about 3,000 years for as much warming to occur as human fossil fuel burning has achieved over just the last 136 years. Dealing with what is a problem of geological scale ramping up with lightning speed will require a necessarily rapid reduction to zero fossil fuel burning over the coming decades. Recent swift curtailments of coal use provide some hope that such a reduction may be possible. But rates of fossil fuel use will have to peak soon and be cut even more swiftly to prevent a very rapidly intensifying global emergency. Image source: NASA GISS.)

But despite a few reasonable worries, the overall effect is to generate a decoy existential threat to the very real threat of a new global mass extinction event if fossil fuel burning isn’t somehow halted in very short order. One that removes innovative thinking and generates a false impression that there really is no way to effectively mitigate and respond to the impacts of an ever-worsening long climate emergency.

The World Health Organization implicates fossil fuel based carbon emissions as one of the greatest risks to human health this Century stating:

Climate change is among the greatest health risks of the 21st Century. Rising temperatures and more extreme weather events cost lives directly, increase transmission and spread of infectious diseases, and undermine the environmental determinants of health, including clean air and water, and sufficient food.

At the same time, many of the same policy and technology choices that drive climate change, such as polluting energy sources and unsustainable transport systems, also have large immediate and local health impacts – most notably the more than seven million deaths that are caused each year by air pollution (emphasis added).

Given what is a very real danger to human health and well-being arising out of the practice of burning fossil fuels coupled with potential human civilization collapses due to severe climate change, sea level rise, disruptions to the growing season, and extreme weather, it’s worth considering the notion that a functional world without them is not only possible — it is absolutely necessary. For shift away from what some have called energy sources from hell and we open up the potential to expand prosperity, to increase prospects for not just the rich, but for practically everyone. For by doing so we shift away from fuels that result in severe systemic harms in a transition to new, less damaging, more distributed and democratic fuels.

And with a massive curtailment of coal energy use, with a rapidly growing adoption of renewables, and with increasing challenges to growth in natural gas and oil consumption all showing up during 2015, it appears that just such a shift may have already started.

*****

Today’s harbinger of what may well now be an ongoing massive move away from harmful fossil fuel energy is itself a bit ironic. For the message comes in the form of a new report out from the fossil fuel giant British Petroleum. And it’s a real eye-catcher. For this fossil fuel industry based report found that global coal use fell by the largest margin ever recorded. With oil and gas struggling to make up the difference, with the fortunes of renewable energy on the rise, and with fossil fuel energy use growing at a very sluggish net annual rate of about 0.56 percent, we’ve got to ask the question — have we reached the age of peak fossil fuels? And, if so, why isn’t the world economy falling apart as some predicted?

Record Drop in Coal Use

The big shock comes in the form of a massive 1.8 percent annual drop in coal use globally. Lead by China and the US, total global coal curtailment reached 71 million tons of oil equivalent during 2015. This was the greatest single annual drop in coal use in the entirety of the 50 year BP record.

Plummeting Coal Use

(According to fossil fuel industry giant, BP, global coal use fell by its largest margin ever. Image source: Carbon Brief.)

The massive drop in coal also occurred at a time when prices for the carbon-emitting commodity were at or near historical lows. A situation that would normally stimulate demand — all other things being equal.

But with coal, all things are not equal. China suffers from some of the worst air and water pollution conditions in the world due to its reliance on the stuff. Its people are getting sick from emissions particulate related lung damage and from coal-based water contamination. Many are dying prematurely as a result. And since coal use is the greatest contributor to China’s air and water woes, China has undertaken a massive effort to curtail its burning.

Globally, coal is also the worst fossil fuel contributor to Earth System warming on a pound-burned for pound-burned comparison. With global temperatures now hitting near the 1.3 C above 1880s temperature marks on an annual basis — a level high enough to begin to inflict severe climate change related harms — world leaders are increasingly feeling the heat to cut coal.

No Global Recession, But Fossil Fuel Use Stagnates

Curtailment of coal use on such a large scale due to climate, health, welfare, and environmental concerns is unprecedented. In the past, large drops in coal use have only occurred during times of economic recession or when another major fossil fuel source such as natural gas out-competed coal on the global market. During this year of greatest coal losses, neither was the case. Coal remained competitive with natural gas on a cost vs cost comparison basis during 2015 even as the global economy grew by about 3 percent according to International Monetary Fund estimates.

Global Growth International monetary fund

(Despite stagnating fossil fuel use and plummeting rates of coal use, the global economy grew by 3.1 percent during 2015. Image source: The International Monetary Fund.)

Coal’s loss also comes in the context of a declining fossil fuel share in the global energy mix. According to BP, fossil fuels accounted for only 86 percent of global energy use — which was the lowest level ever recorded. Non fossil fuel interest sources such as the recent REN21 paper on the global state of renewable energy put that number even lower — close to 80 percent.

But the BP numbers look bad enough from the fossil fuel industry perspective. Globally, both gas and oil use increased by a combined 134 million tons of oil equivalent. A gradual rate of growth that follows historical lines for those two sources. However, when you account for the loss of coal, net fossil fuel energy use only grew by 63 million tons of oil equivalent — and that represents just a 0.56 percent annual rate of growth for the fossil fuel sector. This compares to a historical annual growth rate in fossil fuel use of 1 to 3 percent during non recession years.

Peak Fossil Fuel Use as Boon Not Bane

Rising rates of renewable energy adoption are the primary reason for coal’s fall and fossil fuel stagnation. Globally, according to BP figures, the net add in non-hydro renewables energy use was equivalent to 48 million tons of oil. A number that, if BP is correct, is nipping away at fossil fuel market dominance by achieving a rate of adoption similar to that of a mainstream energy source.

Renewables Rise Fossil Fuels Stagnate

(Renewable rise while coal plummets, dragging down fossil fuels’ overall share of the global energy supply during 2015. Image source: Carbon Brief.)

Falling rates of overall energy gain for fossil fuels may well represent the start of a period when oil, gas, and coal begin to go into net decline. This has not happened yet. But it will be necessary if the world is to have much hope of preventing extremely catastrophic rates of warming by greater than 2 C above pre-industrial levels this Century. So the big coal curtailment during 2015 as the global economy continued a 3 percent annual growth rate was a huge step in the right direction. But to prevent a future in which ever-more-harmful rates of warming occur. In which 3 C, 4 C, or even 5 C warming becomes likely during this Century, then we will need to continue seeing renewables advance. Then we will need to see what would be a benevolent peak in fossil fuel use. One that is coming on a bit late for comfort and that couldn’t happen soon enough.

Links:

BP — Coal Use Fell By Largest Recorded Margin in 2015

The International Monetary Fund

Choose Between Fuels From Hell and Renewable Jobs Economy

Renewables Global Status Report

NASA GISS

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The Monsters of Growth Shock Rise: Conflict in the Ukraine, Global Food Crisis, and Spending 500 Billion Dollars to Permanently Wreck the World’s Climate

nasa_p1089035

(Immense Russian wildfires burning through the thawing tundra’s carbon pool during summer of 2012. The bar on the lower left denotes 50 kilometers. From end to end, the burning zone seen is about 500 miles in length. Image credit: NASA. Image source: Smoke From Massive Siberian Fires Seen in Canada.)

The radio and television today blares with the news but never the causes:

US meat, coffee, almond and milk prices to sky-rocket. Ukraine invaded by the Russian petro-state. Exxon Mobile to partner with Russian Rosneft and invest 500 billion dollars in extracting oil and gas from the increasingly ice-free Arctic.

What has caused all this? In a term — Growth Shock.

What is Growth Shock?

It’s what happens when any system grows outside of the boundaries of its sustainable limits. In the current, human case, its primary elements are overpopulation, renewable and nonrenewable resource depletion, climate change, poisoning the biosphere and wasting livable habitats, and a vicious system of inequality in which an amoral elite loots and pillages the lion’s share of planetary resources while driving increasing numbers of persons into poverty, hunger, and vulnerability to environmental/ecological collapse.

In the more immediate sense, human burning of fossil fuels is now intensifying droughts and extreme weather around the world. This is negatively impacting agricultural production. In addition, military aggression on the part of Russia has destabilized one of the world’s largest food producers — Ukraine. But these causes and effects are all a part of the larger structure of an ongoing Growth Shock crisis. The most recent and more intense iteration of a series of events that began in the 1970s and continues today.

In my own writing, I have described the forces of Growth Shock as four monsters (overpopulation, resource depletion, climate change, institutionalized human greed) and, like the Diakiaju of Pacific Rim, they continue to grow stronger and to devour increasingly large chunks of our world.

In the context of our intensifying Growth Shock, conflicts can rapidly escalate as resources grow scarce and various nations, powerful individuals and corporate entities jockey for dominance in the context of increasing limitation and peril. But it is important to note that unless the underlying condition that caused the crisis — what is now likely the most terrible manifestation of Growth Shock ever witnessed by humans — is addressed, then there are no winners. No dominators that survive to flourish in the end. No remnant that sees a prosperous future. Only an ongoing string of worsening conflicts, disasters and temporary victories leading to a terrible and bitter ultimate defeat.

*    *    *    *    *

The Special Interests of a Corporate Petro-State, its Dictator and its Oligarchs

So many of you are probably wondering why Russia suddenly invaded Ukraine? Why the West is taking an increasing stake in this country that, until recently, rarely showed on the international stage?

The reasons currently given by US officials certainly appear noble. We should not allow one country to simply invade, bully and rig the electoral process for another. We should not allow a single nation to flaunt international law and behave in a manner that better fits an age of anarchy and brutality. We should not permit these things from the member of the international community with broad responsibilities and obligations that is Russia.

These are moral and, indeed, appropriate frames for the current conflict. As they are appropriate rhetorical responses to international bullying. But we would also be wise not to ignore the underlying drivers — food crisis and overwhelming political power of fossil fuel special interests.

If anything Russia is now little more than a dictatorial, nuclear-armed petro-state, run by corporate oligarchs and a brutish strong man in the form of Vladimir Putin. A man who has ruled this country for a period now going on two decades through a combination of bullying, trickery, and poll fixing. The kind of character many conservatives these days seem to appreciate…

At 2.2 trillion dollars in GDP each year, its economy is comparable to that of the UK — sizable, but not an equal to economic powerhouses US, China, Germany or Japan. But what the Russian petro-state lacks in economic girth, it more than compensates for in two very destructive and destabilizing items — nuclear weapons and fossil fuels. It also retains a rather sizable and effective military — one whose forces are capable of projecting power and toppling governments throughout both Europe and Asia. One that retains its ability to rain nuclear Armageddon on any nation of peoples around the globe.

And this set of powers is increasingly being used to advance the special interests of the corporate, dictatorial state that is today’s Russia.

But it is Russia’s vast oil and natural gas wealth, the single-minded and narrow interests of its rulers, and the dark impetus that is global climate change that have likely combined to spur Russian’s current aggression.

Food, Fossil Fuels and the Compost Bomb

Burning Rings of Fire

(The tundra compost bomb explodes into burning rings of fire that illuminate the Russian night during 2012. The fire rings seen here are each between 10 and 100 kilometers across. Image credit: NASA. Image source: Burning Rings of Fire.)

For the very natural gas, oil and coal that Russia uses as a mainstay for its economy are now in the process of wrecking its future prospects and propelling it to ever more desperate and violent action.

To understand why, one simply has to think a little bit about permafrost and frozen ground.

A majority of Russia’s land mass sits on a pile of permafrost ranging from 1 to more than 10 meters in depth. In the past, this frozen substrata underlay many of Russia’s fields, cities and towns, forming a kind of frozen bedrock. But over the past few decades, the permafrost began to rapidly thaw under the radical and violent force that is human-caused warming. At first, this event was thought to weigh in Russia’s favor. The newly thawed permafrost would become more productive farmland, many assumed, and the added warmth would extend Russia’s growing season.

But few apparently accounted for the speed and violence of human-caused climate change. What happened instead was literally a firestorm. For the thawing peat retained a combustibility roughly equivalent to brown coal. Even worse, it contained pockets of highly flammable liquified organic carbon and methane. Over top this volatile layer were the great boreal forests and the vast grasslands of the Russian land mass. During the periods of summer drought that emerged as human caused climate change amplified at the end of the 2000s, these forests and grasses were, increasingly, simply piles of kindling growing atop a meters thick layer of volatile fuel.

By 2010, climate change brought on a series of record droughts and heatwaves extending far into the Arctic that set both permafrost thaw and lower latitude regions ablaze. As a result, Russia suffered agricultural losses unlike anything seen in its past. Fields and towns burned. The productive regions burned. Russia was forced to close its agricultural market for exports. World food prices hit all time record highs and the food riots that followed were enough to topple regimes and alight civil wars throughout the world’s most vulnerable states.

Through the summers of 2013, Russia suffered amazing fires in its thawing tundra lands. These blazes were, at times, intense enough to require the calling up of its military and the mobilization of up to 200,000 people simply to fight the fires. Heat and moisture from the thawing tundra spilled out into the Jet Stream and amplified the storm track. By 2013, record drying and burning in the tundra lands turned to record floods in the Amur region of both China and Russia. A tragic song of flood and fire.

Song of Flood and Fire

(Massive wildfires burn over Yakutia as an immense rainstorm begins to form over the Amur region of Russia and China. The fires and deluge would together ruin millions of acres of crops during 2014. Image credit: Lance-Modis. Image source: A Song of Flood and Fire.)

It was a string of climate change induced disasters that produced blow after telling blow to Russian agricultural production.

Meanwhile, around the world, similar droughts, floods and severe wind storms were ripping through the world’s croplands. By early 2014, the world food price index was again on the rise. By February, the index had climbed to 208, a very high level that would put those countries and populations at the margins at risk of increasing poverty and hunger all while potentially destabilizing any number of nations.

Ukraine — The Breadbasket of Europe

Perhaps the irony is lost on Russia that the very fuels — oil, gas and coal — that it views as an economic strength are also the source of its increasingly marginal food security and the ongoing and growing devastation of its lands. But Russia, its strongman, and its corporate oligarchs likely haven’t overlooked the fact that Ukraine is one of the world’s largest food producers. In a world where food is becoming increasingly costly and scarce, this particular commodity may well be more important than even oil, gas, or coal.

Ukraine possesses 30% of the world’s remaining richest black soil. It regularly ranks within the top ten producers of both wheat and corn. It is the world’s top producer of sunflower oil. The reach of its agricultural exports extends to the UK, Europe, Japan, China and into Russia itself. If Russia has a food crisis, it will be to the Ukraine that it turns to first. Moreover, the current Russian dictator must see an imperative not to rely overmuch on the US or its other economic rivals for food.

So it is in this context — a one in which climate change is causing Russia to flood and burn, in which climate change is now beginning to take down global agricultural productivity, and in which the Ukraine could well be seen as the Iraq of world food production (one of the only countries with the ability to radically increase production) — that we must also view both the Ukrainian revolution for independence and the Russian armed invasion as a response.

Russia Already Taking Hold of Some of Ukraine’s Most Productive Farmland

Centuries ago, during the dark ages, bad winters drove waves of tribes out of the frigid northern lands and into the then fertile fields of Rome and Europe. History, it seems, is not without its rhymes. For now, a fiery human-driven thaw and climate change appears to be having a similar impact on the Russia and Ukraine of today.

For the lands already under Russian occupation and threat of invasion (Eastern Ukraine primarily) are also some of Ukraine’s most productive wheat and corn growing zones. These lands under threat of additional Russian incursion, if added to the already occupied and planned to be annexed Crimea would compose the bulk of Ukraine’s agriculture.

Russia’s invasion, thus, must be seen as a direct looting of Ukraine’s lands and productive capacity for Russian and, by extension, Putin’s self interest. A set of interests likely inflamed by Russia’s own declining state of food security.

Climate Change and Why This Fight Must Be Against Fossil Energy, Not for It

Unfortunately, this conflict, like so many others, falls under the ominous shadow of the global fossil fuel trade. A shadow that grows ever darker as the crises imposed by human-caused climate change become more and more dire.

In the context of what could cynically be termed American interests, the fossil fuel giant Exxon recently partnered with Rosneft, an oil corporation Putin and his oligarchs essentially looted from a political rival, to invest 500 billion dollars in drilling and exploration in the Russian Arctic. The zones included in the deal involve the highly unstable clathrate and natural gas stores of the Arctic Ocean. And considering the massive sum invested, one cannot overlook the likelihood that the ESAS’s store of up to 1400 gigatons of natural gas clathrate have now been targeted by global fossil fuel interests for burning. Such an exploitation would result in the near tripling of the current human atmospheric carbon loading — all by itself and without the added inputs from coal, tar sands, or other oil and gas reserves. In other words — corporate insanity in the mad pursuit of profits for a few supremely wealthy and powerful individuals. In this case, a breed of greed-driven insanity that falls under the specter of an increasingly violent and expansionist Russia. One driven to hunger for resources by the land and crops destroying influences of the fossil fuels it continues to seek to exploit.

Here is Growth Shock in its most brazen form when wealthy oligarchs, dictators and corporations collude to profit while ruining the productivity of the lands upon which even they rely. And it is this terrible state that cannot be allowed to continue.

The US, therefore, could strike a blow against both Russian aggression and climate change game over by sanctioning Russian-backed Rosneft, disallowing any American corporation from conducting business with them or any other Russian petroleum entity and going further to say that they will sanction any other global corporation with ties to Rosneft. Use of the power of the dollar and of the global monetary system, in this way, could strike a blow against both the greed that underlies the current Growth Shock crisis and against the maniacal continued and expanding exploitation of extraordinarily destructive fuels.

If the US wishes to continue to bring Russia to heel, it will also use the carrot of access to US grain and food shipments as well as providing partnership arrangements with US alternative energy and sustainability-based corporations in exchange for a peaceful withdrawal from the Ukraine. To help Russia save face, it could provide these offers in a less public fashion or in a way that is not personally insulting to Putin.

Little to No Time Left, But the Crisis Presents a Fleeting Opportunity

In broader context, the deteriorating global food situation, the deteriorating global climate situation and the maniacal quest by fossil fuel companies to access and burn an ever-growing volume of oil, coal and natural gas has reached a critical stage that simply cannot continue for much longer without entirely ruining the prospects for human civilization and, likely, much of life on Earth. The Russia and Ukraine conflict is an opportunity to begin a full attempt to change course and to bring the, now very large and growing, forces of our Growth Shock crisis to bay. If we do not, the window of opportunity may well be closed and we may well have consigned ourselves to ever-worsening conflict under a situation of ongoing resource destruction, destruction of modern civilization’s food base, a situation where the powerful are ever more enabled to take from the weak, and a situation in which a hothouse extinction eventually snuffs out most or all of those that survive the ensuing collapse.

Links:

Growth Shock

Smoke From Massive Siberian Fires Seen in Canada

Burning Rings of Fire

Climate and Frozen Ground

Lance-Modis

A Song of Flood and Fire.

World Food Security in the Cross-hairs of Human-caused Climate Change

Climate Change Pushes FAO Food Price Index to 208 in February

The Economy of the Ukraine

Rosneft Warns West over Crimean Sanctions Woos Japan

Rosneft

Putin — the New Global Shah of Oil

Growth Shock and How the Gods of Our Greed Continue to Fail Us

Number_of_Planet_Scenarios_2008

(Number of Planet Scenarios as Calculated by the World Foot Print Network. Note that according to current data, our pace of consumption currently overshoots Earth’s sustainable resource base by about 50% requiring about 1.5 Earths to meet our needs. By 2050, consumption will nearly demand the yearly productivity of three Earths. Overshoot causes irreparable harm to resources and ecosystems resulting in a collapse of the resource base. See image below.)

We are living in the age of limits, the age of consequences, the age when our quest for an endless expansion of the production of goods and services and the resulting endless concentration of wealth under pure capitalism has resulted in ever more intense degrees of Growth Shock even as it risks a devastating collapse of current day industrial civilizations.

It is a world where Western governments run by ultra-conservative political servants of the oil and gas industry engage in scientific book burning, as recently happened in Canada. A world where 85 people own more wealth than 3.5 billion of their fellow human beings. A world where it is possible for one individual to consume the same amount of resources as hundreds of thousands of his fellows.

In this world, hydrogen sulfide gas is building up in the deep ocean, a bleeding Earth is contributing its own increasing volumes of methane and CO2 to a human-caused global warming nightmare, a world where CO2 levels have passed 400 parts per million, a level not seen in 4.5 million years.

We live in a place where rock stars like Neil Young join with indigenous peoples and environmentalists in a rebellion against the fossil fuel giants who rule so much of our planet and who seek to enforce continued and increasing consumption of dirty, dangerous and depleting fossil fuels. A place where climate scientists are forced to become political activists, to risk prison sentences, to have any hope of keeping a shred of the bounty of Earth safe for their grandchildren. A world where bloggers and activists are increasingly threatened and imprisoned for expressing their previously inalienable right of free political speech.

We live in a world that is an ongoing and intensifying wreckage. A calamity caused by our worship of the failed gods of our greed, a disaster born of our turning away from our fellow man, of our loss of faith in our ability to work together through rational and representative governments, and of our dramatic failure to impose limits — both upon ourselves and upon the most criminally greedy among us.

We are living in the age of Growth Shock and on this unsustainable path the days of human civilization upon this Earth are numbered. There are no second or third Earths to which we can extend our madness that is an economic system designed to endlessly increase consumption of finite resources. There are no green fields of Mars or Venus for us to plunder. The worlds within our reach are barren and as far as even our great telescopic eyes can see across the vast expanse of space there is nothing, nothing even within an insurmountable gulf of light years, of which we could even have cause to dream of to slake our boundless want.

No. We are here. And of all the worlds within our reach fair Earth is Alone. And so we must set our task to live within our means here. To find ways to be happy that do not involve an attempt at endless, mad, and harmful expansion. That do not involve an attempt at burning all the fossil fuels and rapidly ruining our atmosphere and climate for ages and ages to come. Ours is the terrible and hopeful task of the Easter Islanders, of the residents of Tikopia — one group who succeeded in living happily and sustainably upon an island world of limited resources, and the other who desperately and miserably failed.

Our choices are as essential as they are dire and we are making them now, mostly for ill.

Environmentalists get it. Ecologists get it. Anthropologists get it. Druids get it. Scientists get it. Everyday people slaving away under minimum wage or worse get it. Those who live in the shanty towns get it. Those who live down wind of a coal plant get it. Those in West Virginia who had their water ruined get it. Those who live in fracking towns where their water is at risk or must be pumped in get it. Those in British Columbia protesting tar sands pipeline expansion get it. Some in the drying, burning west get it. Some in the storm-wracked east get it. The middle class of America who has been scape-goated and sacrificed on the alter of billionaire greed for the past 30 years should have gotten it by now. Muslims in the middle east who would have rather found water than oil get it. Christian monks who construct solar panel farms get it. South Pacific Islanders witnessing their nations being devoured by the waves get it. So many more who have been forgotten, abused, or who remain unnamed get it.

And now, an economic historian, who clearly gets it, has broken ranks from the mainstream to pen the extraordinarily brave and insightful work: Green Capitalism, the God that Failed. Consider:

We can’t shop our way to sustainability because the problems we face cannot be solved by individual choices in the marketplace. In the final analysis, the only way to align production with society’s interests and the needs of the environment is to do so directly. The huge global problems we face require the visible hand of direct economic planning to reorganize the world economy to meet the needs of humans and the environment, to enforce limits on consumption and pollution, to fairly ration and distribute the goods and services we produce for the benefit of each and every person on the planet and to conserve resources so that future generations of humans and other life forms also can live their lives to the full. All this is inconceivable without the abolition of capitalist private property in the means of production and the institution of collective bottom-up democratic control over the economy and society. And it will be impossible to build functioning democracies unless we also abolish global economic inequality. This is the greatest moral imperative of our time, and it is essential to winning worldwide popular support for the profound changes we must make to prevent the collapse of civilization. A tall order to be sure. But we will need even taller waterproof boots if we don’t make this happen. If Paul Hawken, Lester Brown, Francis Cairncross and Paul Krugman have a better plan, where is it?

In the niddling little details, Richard Smith may be wrong. You can make steel without coal, for example (biomass can provide the coking carbon and electric furnaces can smelt the metal) and total renewable energy production worldwide is now 20% of overall demand (not .6 percent as stated in Smith’s report), plug in electric vehicles, especially when run by renewable power sources, do result in an overall lowering of fossil fuel emissions, and, yes, you can eventually weed out all the carbon-producing fossil fuel inputs from a manufacturing chain (just not all waste and pollution).

But all that over-pessimism aside, Smith is correct in the broad brush. Steel production is limited by its coal or biomass coking base and overall mineral and energy inputs. If you use coal, it is also limited by long-term damage to the climate and to water supplies. Manufacturing, no matter how efficient, will always produce some waste and consume some resources that are not recyclable.

Overshoot_2

(Classic ecological overshoot and degraded carrying capacity. Image source: The Elephant in the Room)

And, most importantly, any economic model requiring endless exponential growth in the consumption of labor and resources is eventually doomed to fail especially when it is primarily based, as it is today, on a set of finite materials (fossil fuels) that through their ever increasing use cause untold damage to the world in which we live. When such a model is also based on an endless funneling of wealth to the top of the economic spectrum it is socially horrific as well. A Godzilla Zombie of a thing.

To survive the age of Growth Shock will require not just a transition away from dirty, dangerous and depleting fuels. It will also require economic systems that do not demand more materials and resources than our single Earth can provide. And, in this, Mr Smith is absolutely correct. We need to reverse the trend that has so undermined both our faith in and the direct effectiveness of our systems of government. Corporatism, commercialism, and laissez faire neoliberal globalized capitalism all must vastly recede. The zero sum game must be put back into its box. Governments must be enabled to impose effective rules and constraints even as it is also enabled to redistribute wealth to its people. It must be enabled to gap fill for the industries it will most certainly have to shut down by providing alternate jobs programs and livelihoods for those who will inevitably be put out of work. It can no longer be the ineffective baby-sitter for anarchic corporations who do what they want, when they want, however they want. Either through active responsibility or passive turning away and collapse, those days are coming to an end. Lastly, the world’s civilizations must learn to work together effectively, acquiescing to rules and constraints that benefit all people.

These are tall orders. But if we wish to retain some shade of our current wealth and Earth’s current richness and beauty, if we wish to establish a powerful, capable, and effective world civilization, if we wish to pursue justice for all peoples and not just the wealthy, then we must pursue these goals with passion and ardor. For the path we are currently on has no viable future.

Growth Shock Launch: “I Have a Confession to Make … We are in Trouble”

Some of you may have noted my absence. I’ve been nose-deep in completing the launch of a book that has been about 10 years in the making: Growth Shock. It developed both from my experience as an emerging threats expert for Jane’s Information Group and related consulting efforts, later from my connection to thousands of wonderful young people, many of them disadvantaged, through a 6 six year schools campaign, and finally through participation in the direct actions that were Occupy Wall Street and the 2012 Stop the Pipeline demonstration sponsored by 350.org in Washington, DC.

At some point, in the support of these direct actions for positive change, I developed the notion of channeling my energies and talents into works as actions. Growth Shock is the first of these. (Learn more in Growth Shock, Going on Offense and Setting an Example for Kindness Economics.)

Growth Shock Cover Art

(Growth Shock now available)

In support of these efforts, at least 60% of the book’s proceeds will go to 350.org (40%) and to direct funding for freedom from fossil fuels (FEFF) for individuals, localities and communities (20%). But I’m not stopping with these actions. An upcoming third speculative fiction novel in the Luthiel’s Song series will be re-named The Death of Winter and I will be organizing a campaign to raise energy transition funds for public schools around the sales campaign for this book (more on this later). Another publication effort examining the loss of glacial and sea ice and its consequences will direct funds to scientific research through the Dark Snow Project and to help support  James Hansen’s continued work at Columbia University. A fourth and still unnamed publication will also be directed toward reinvigorating policy efforts to rationally and benevolently restrain human population with an ultimate goal to bringing it, along with consumption, back into balance with Earth Systems and to back out of our current and dangerous overshoot. These efforts will likely take years to complete. But they are now on the table.

The Death of Winter

Luthiel’s Song Book III to be re-named: The Death of Winter

This is not at all to denigrate the need for direct action, campaigning, and demonstration. When possible, I will continue to participate in these efforts. But my goal will be to organize my life and my means of life support to also support systems that re-invigorate, restore, renew, and enlighten. This is the basis for the kindness economics proposed in Growth Shock — that our life works re-weave humankind back into the web of life, that we stop breaking it, and that we develop human technologies and thought systems that support life, rather than harm it.

But we’re a long, long way from any of that. And, at this very late hour, some of us are only just beginning to respond as others still languish or remain trapped, captives to systems of harmful consumption and harmful action. Meanwhile, climate change, overpopulation, resource depletion and the institutionalized and greed re-inforced systems that lock the technologies, policies, cultures and thought-systems that cause such harm in place are now in a critical phase of crisis, a phase where harm from these four forces is ramping ever higher, causing great fractures through the structures of modern civilization. Like the metaphorical lemmings, we still run headlong toward the precipice. Sooner or later, we will go over.

Unless we stop. Unless we back away.

We haven’t done this yet. We haven’t even slowed down. And, for this reason, we are in deep, deep trouble.

What follows is an opener to the book Growth Shock. But for you, I’ll provide a bit of qualification. The situation is a shade or two worse than even what I describe in the intro. Though I still believe it is possible for us to stop, to turn around and to make the needed changes, the effort required will be so great that the difference between the death-fed and destruction-creating human world of now and the vital, healthy, sustainable, and reinvigorating the heartbeat of nature human world of our best future is a vast chasm. A great rift that may well be impossible to cross for individuals, communities, and nations. This does not diminish our need to try, to at least make a grand attempt before being overwhelmed by the darkness. To level all our intellect, creativity and tool making abilities toward effecting a positive change, toward reversing the terrible disaster we’ve now set in motion that has already been, for many of the innocent creatures of our world, a horrible apocalypse…

***

Excerpted from Growth Shock:

I have a confession to make. One that is not easy to vocalize. One that is equally difficult to listen to. My confession is not one of a personal nature. I am not revealing my own, petty, individual sins. Instead, I’m making a confession for us all. A revelation of the ongoing and maturing tragedy of our race. One we will each need to be made aware of soon if we are to effectively act. For the age of excess is rapidly coming to a close and we are now entering a difficult and hard to manage age of consequences.

My confession is simply this: we are in trouble. A kind of trouble that is both typical to all living creatures and beyond the scope of anything we humans have yet witnessed. A kind of trouble that is both born of the natural world and directly caused by us.

Our trouble is that over the course of the next century we will run head-long into a number of very difficult to manage shocks that are the result of our unsustainable growth. How we confront these shocks will determine whether or not human civilization survives to reach the 22nd, 23rd, or 24th centuries or whether we, at the very least, encounter a coming age of darkness and decline.

That we will encounter some trouble is now unavoidable. At this point, all we can do is seek to reduce the scale of that trouble and lessen the harm that is its inevitable result. A decade or two ago, if we had acted sooner and with due urgency, we might have prevented harm. But harm is already upon us, growing worse with each passing year. And though our trouble has already become apparent to many, we still languish, squandering the time and effort needed to manage the emerging shocks even as they grow more deadly and dangerous.

If we decide to confront these troubles, what lies before us are many decades or more of sustained effort to reduce the damage we have inflicted upon ourselves efforts from which may arise a new golden age should we overcome these troubles. For pushing beyond our current limits through renewable energy systems, providing direct supports to heal the living world we depend on, establishing more kind and inclusive economic systems, and undergoing the general transition to sustainability necessary to deal with our current crisis results in an ever-expanding justice and prosperity. The potential for a true world without end.

If we do not act, a massive and rapid decline of human civilizations, a mass extinction in the oceans and on land, and a radical re-shaping of the Earth’s environment to a state far more hostile to humankind are all in the offing.

This is my confession. For it is the truth or our age. It is our dire tragedy, and our great hope. For we are living in the age of Growth Shock.

Growth Shock, Going on Offense, and Setting an Example for Kindness Economics

Growth Shock Cover Art

If anything, the upcoming book, Growth Shock, is a call for action.

Confronting the combined threat posed by a rapid depletion of renewable and nonrenewable resources, a human population that is still growing beyond the 7 billion number it passed such a short while ago, a rapidly escalating and terrifying climate crisis, and a vast failure to act due to the power of wealthy, greedy, and entrenched special interests who, at every turn, fight to profit from harm, will be impossible without powerful, creative, and coordinated effort. What this means is action on the part of individuals, communities, organizations and governments. What it also requires is leadership from all individuals both great and small.

And if leadership means being among the first to act while compelling others to do the same, then I choose to dedicate the publication of Growth Shock and a majority of the proceeds to undertaking such an effort.

My actions through Growth Shock will involve:

Providing direct charitable contributions to 350.org

350_Banner_Vertical

(Go to 350.org)

In recognizing this imperative in the face of crisis, I’ve decided that the publication of Growth Shock will, in itself, be an action that pushes for effective change. I have identified one charitable organization — 350.org — which has been very effective in both its pursuit of the blocking of access to dangerous unconventional fuel sources (its stop the Keystone XL campaign) and in its direct targeting of the source of so much harm through its ongoing campaign of divestment in fossil fuels programs. 350.org’s other campaigns include an effort to stop all fossil fuel subsidies (globally) and to shift all power sources from fossil energy sources to first order renewables. 350.org is also aligned with a campaign supported by James Hansen to tax all fossil fuel use at the source and/or port of entry and then transfer the funds to the public who would then be incentivized to purchase non fossil energy sources and make more efficient use of energy. 350.org also identifies a probable ‘safe range’ of atmospheric CO2 levels at 350 parts per million and below. This range is based on the advice of climate scientist James Hansen who notes that it may be necessary to push CO2 levels below the 350 ppm limit that is the namesake of the organization.

 

My support of this noble and ongoing effort will involve the donation of fully 40% of the proceeds of Growth Shock to this charitable cause. If sales are small, and donations are low, then I can at least take a small part in this ongoing and effective campaign to remove fossil fuel exploitation and economic dependence. If sales are moderate to large, I hope to be able to provide seed money for new campaigns or expanding efforts under existing campaigns.

As part of this effort I also encourage other authors and bloggers to make funding pledges to 350.org or to similar charitable projects that help to confront the climate crisis through direct and coordinated political action and, when necessary, targeted acts of non violent civil disobedience.

Breaking the Bonds of Captive Consumerism and Providing Money for a Direct Transition Away From Fossil Fuels

Since political action may be stymied, blocked, and delayed by entrenched fossil fuel special interests, funding direct campaigns such as those conducted by 350.org may not be enough to address the larger problem inherent to an urgently needed energy transition. As individuals, we must increasingly take responsibility for our own energy use as well as the energy use of others. Such energy use and, what I perceive to be a market-enforced addiction to fossil fuels (by denial of economic alternatives), is a primary contributor to our current climate and economic problems.

My wife and I, like many who live in the western world, are among these captive consumers. Our electricity comes from a power company that generates only 20% of its energy from renewable sources. And though we live in a state — Maryland — that is progressive and actively pursues an increasing proportion of renewable energy, its current pace of transfer is not rapid enough for comfort. We also own a vehicle that, though having a fuel efficiency in excess of 35 mpg, is still entirely reliant on fossil energy. On the positive note, we are both vegan and, when possible, choose local food sources and so our food preferences have a very low climate impact while improving food availability for our fellows.

That said, there is much that could be done to further reduce our individual impacts — primarily investing in a solar energy system and a related solar garage for an electric vehicle. Having access to these resources would allow both myself and my wife to be freed from a majority of our captive fossil fuel consumerism and so this is also a goal inherent to the publication of Growth Shock.

Fully 20% of all proceeds from the book will go to a fossil energy freedom fund (FEFF) for our household. Once enough money is allayed for the provision of these alternative resources, we will undertake their installation as a completion of our own energy transition. But we won’t stop there.

Since we must also be held accountable for the energy use of our fellow human beings, once my wife and I achieve a high degree of fossil energy independence, these funds will shift to providing a similar gift, first to friends and family members and then to complete strangers. Should we achieve these aspirations, a role-out of FEFF contributions to others will be provided in more detail.

As with the 350.org donations, I will keep track of progress in a monthly report on this blog.

Unlikely Outrageous Success

Should Growth Shock be an unlikely outrageous success, the amount of funds going to charitable causes and active energy transitions will, necessarily, rise. In Growth Shock, I advocate highly progressive rates of taxation for individuals making more than 250,000 dollars per year and 1 million dollars per year respectively. In the highly unlikely event that Growth Shock should, even briefly, generate such a high level of revenue, then I will provide additional charitable contributions and charitable energy transition efforts equal to the difference between my base tax rate on the 40% of funds going to myself and my wife and the suggested rates given in Growth Shock for levels beyond 250,000 dollars. It is worth noting that, since 60% is already dedicated to transition or charity, additional amounts will push the giving level of ‘kindness economics’ far beyond that even suggested.

Since it is highly unlikely for Growth Shock to enjoy such a high level of public success, this additional pledge is probably a symbolic, but still important gesture.

An Open Call For Similar Action

I am also calling for others to act in a manner similar to that which I have described here. There are many important charity organizations like the Sierra club who are also involved in very effective campaigns to reduce reliance on and use of fossil fuels. In addition, individual pledges for private transitions away from fossil energy sources would be a very helpful addition to the broader, public campaigns. Greatly diminishing the power of the fossil fuel industry by reducing fossil fuel reliance will at least begin to point the nose of the ship of human civilization toward fairer weather, even though extraordinarily powerful storms may still await us on that, far less harmful, path of travel.

It is also worth noting that these actions only begin to address the problems outlined in Growth Shock. However, it is my view that removing fossil fuel reliance will begin to address some of the most immediate problems inherent in both resource depletion and in our current failure to provide effective mitigation to a rapidly worsening climate crisis. And even if mitigation is pursued it will continue to be imperative to provide aid for victims and the likely refugees that will inevitably result from a number of hard changes that are now unavoidable. So once the most important hurdle of mitigation is crossed, it is likely that we will then need to shift funds to helping victims, adaptation, and the invigoration of a kindness/living systems economy that works to revitalize the Earth life support structure through direct aid to and cooperation with our companion species here on Earth. An explanation of methods for weaving human systems back into living Earth systems will be provided in much greater depth and detail later. But such goals are outsets and worth mentioning.

Lastly, but not least importantly, It will probably also be necessary to support efforts and organizations that promote both kind and effective population restraint. Likely, another charity publication will be aimed at that effort.

Growth Shock and Our Climate Change Choices: Mitigation and Adaptation, or Harm

Climate change, a topic that once was the purview of scientists and academics, has now become a central issue in today’s political and social discussion. The primary reason for this shift is the emergence of increasingly abnormal, damaging, and severe weather events that have come with greater and greater frequency to plague the world’s cities, states and nations. Tornadoes have devoured entire towns, hurricanes have become more numerous and powerful, freak hybrid superstorms are now a serious risk, 100 year flood events have become commonplace, wildfires are now endemic, causing damage in the billions of dollars annually, and immense country-spanning droughts now range the globe.

A secondary reason for our growing awareness is that it is becoming obvious that the world’s ice sheets are in rapid retreat even as sea levels are on the rise. Nine out of ten glaciers are in decline. The great ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland lose hundreds of cubic miles of ice annually. The resultant sea level rise driven by this melt and by thermal expansion of the oceans puts entire cities, states and nations into existential crisis. By the end of this century, practically all of south Florida may be little more than a shrinking archipelago. Some Pacific island nations are planning their inevitable evacuation to places like Australia, New Zealand, or the continents. Almost all coastal cities will be forced to expend significant monies and resources over the next century if they are to have any hope of warding off the rising seas and more powerful storms. An effort that, in the end, may well prove in vain.

It is a slow motion disaster movie script that plays before our eyes now, almost weekly, on the evening news. And there are many, many events that the mainstream media does not cover, likely due to the fact that it has become saturated with stories of this kind.

Growth Shock and Climate Change

Unfortunately this rising climate change emergency is just one aspect of a larger crisis of civilization-wide Growth Shock. Growth Shock is a dangerous condition brought on by a combination of our inexorably expanding global population, our over consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources, and the damage to our environment via carbon pollution that results in climate change. These three forces are all enabled by a great human limiter — Greed — which has been institutionalized in so many of the world’s corporations and is deeply imbedded both explicitly and implicitly in the world’s political systems and ideologies. So to solve climate change, we will also have to do much better at solving the problems of overpopulation, dangerous and violent methods of resource consumption, and the underlying disease of human greed.

To this point it is worth considering a statement from the ground-breaking sustainability work The Limits to Growth:

“If a society’s implicit goals are to exploit nature, enrich the elites, and ignore the long term, then that society will develop technologies and markets that destroy the environment, widen the gap between the rich and the poor, and optimize for short term gains. In short, that society develops technologies and markets that hasten a collapse instead of preventing it.”

I have also just completed my own work on the issue entitled Growth Shock: Tragedy and Hope at the Limits of a Finite World which will see electronic publication within the next two weeks.

Here is the cover image, brilliantly rendered by Matthew Friedman, in which the Vitruvian Man (representing the unsustainable and exploitative structures of humankind) seems to have grown too big for his own good and struggles unhappily against the globe’s confines:

Growth Shock Cover Art

The roll-out for this work will proceed over the next two weeks and it will be managed in such a way as to responsibly redistribute proceeds to charitable causes that, in my view, have been most effective in working to reduce the harm caused by Growth Shock and the related climate emergency (more on this later).

In any case, as climate change is one of the four forces enabling Growth Shock, we have come to a time where we are compelled to make choices and act in ways that prevent further harm through mitigation, to attempt to adapt to the growing nightmare that is now upon us, or to make the choice to fail to act and therefore increase the degree and velocity of harm coming down the pipe.

Mitigation

The obvious and worsening climate emergency that we are now just starting to experience has galvanized a growing cadre of grass roots organizations and individuals dedicated to the cause of preventing as much of the coming damage as possible. These advocates of mitigation believe that strong action now has the greatest chance of reducing future harm. And their efforts and advocacy are based in the sciences. With extreme weather and damaging events ramping up at 400 ppm CO2, the situation is bound to be far worse at 450, 550, 700, or the 900 ppm CO2 predicted under business as usual by the end of this century. Mitigation advocates are clear in the understanding that the less CO2 and other greenhouse gasses we emit, the less dangerous the ultimate crisis will become.

Mitigation and preventing future harm, therefore, must rely on a combination of efforts. Rapidly increasing renewable energy development will be needed to replace a large enough portion of fossil fuel use to sustain life support systems for the planet’s 7 billion human beings. This will involve a politically difficult replacement of fossil energy sources with clean sources like wind and solar as well as the regulation and eventual elimination of carbon emissions altogether. A more efficient use of space and, over all, more efficient life styles will also do much to prevent damage through both reducing energy and materials consumption. Such a transition will be difficult under current economies that are designed to endlessly increase the consumption of materials, labor, and resources all while funneling wealth to the top of social systems. These social and economic structures dangerously enhance the level of damage we cause and so must be challenged and called into question if we are to make much head-way.

To this point, a large shift away from the massive agribusiness of meat farming may well be needed. Today, more than 65 billion livestock are estimated to be held in states of captivity far more brutal and intolerable than even the worst-treated of human criminals. The lifespans of most of these creatures is doomed to a tortuously short 1-4 years and the unspeakable suffering many experience during their times as livestock animals is a black scar of atrocity born by our race.

An estimated 40% of the world’s grain crop goes to supporting this terrible and inhumane manifestation of food industry. Further, the lion’s share of the 30% of human greenhouse gas emissions attributed to human agriculture is based in the meat industry. As such, our industry enhanced dependence on harming animals for food and materials is likely to have to be greatly abated as part of a comprehensive climate change mitigation action. In any case, the amoral practices required by industry to produce such high volumes of meat render it ethically as well as physically unsustainable.

A true comprehensive mitigation will also have to redefine current paradigms of growth and wealth generation. Economic systems will have to become less focused on short term gains and concentrating wealth at the top and more focused on long-term prosperity and survivability through a more equal sharing of and access to more limited resources. The exploitative paradigm of pure capitalism has failed and failed again. This is largely due to the fact that pure capitalism tends to demand all responsibility be placed on the less fortunate and successful masses as the more fortunate are enabled to behave as little more than privileged anarchists. To mitigate the social shocks that are inevitable during a climate crisis and to reign in the massive, excessive and abusive over-use of resources by the wealthy, more responsibility must be demanded from the most privileged members of societies. Wealth compression, therefore, is an effective tool in reducing the harm caused by an over-consumption of resources at the upper rungs of civilization where some members consume more than 100,000 times the resources of a subsistence farmer and about 3,000 times the resources of a person living in today’s middle class.

Since the levels of exploitation and consumption that have enabled climate change to run rampant are encouraged and required by today’s neo-liberal and globalized brand of capitalism, this manifestation of capitalism must be reigned in, caged and defanged if we are to have much hope of mitigating the larger crisis of climate change.

Adaptation

Since we missed our chance to mitigate much of the damage from climate change by about 30 years (we’d have been much better off if we began rapid CO2 reductions, sustainability and wealth compression efforts in the 70s and 80s), a massive effort to adapt to the changes now set in motion will probably be necessary. It is likely that we’ve already locked in many decades of increasingly severe weather, and, likely, centuries of rising seas. Ultimate sea level rise based on the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere will probably terminate at between 15 and 75 feet higher than the current day (rising at between 5 and 15 feet per century). These changes are probably locked in now even if we halt all CO2 emissions today. But, more likely, our best realistic hope is probably to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels at around 450 parts per million, which would result in higher-end damages being locked in for centuries.

As a result, if we are to continue to have powerful, resilient civilizations at the global and continental levels, then we must do serious work to make those civilizations more resilient. Entire cities may have to be moved or surrounded by increasingly tall flood barriers. New port systems will have to be devised to cope with changing sea levels. Architects and engineers will have to alter building and structure design to deal with more vicious storms and weather conditions. Farming will have to become more adaptive. The world’s agricultural systems will have to do more with less. Most likely, humans will have to rely more on grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts (which are more efficient ways to transfer energy and nutrients to the human body) and far less on meat (also a mitigation as described above). We may need to expend resources to ensure that our fellow living creatures, which provide essential life support services, do not become extinct. In short, what damage we cannot prevent via mitigation, we will have to learn to adapt to. As such, human civilization will probably need to take more responsibility in both defending itself and the natural world from the harm that is now coming.

Harm

With carbon pollution already reaching dangerous and excessive levels, any choices that do not mitigate (prevent) or help adapt to future climate change result in an increasing degree and velocity of harm. These choices include climate change denial — which not only insanely disputes the basic physical science behind the effect of greenhouse gasses on Earth’s climate but also ignorantly attributes current increasingly severe weather, temperature and sea level rise to a scientific ‘natural variability’ that denial proponents, purposefully or through blatant stupidity, misrepresent and misunderstand. This is not to confuse those who are understandably scared by the force that is climate change and have succumbed to the natural, though in this case irrational, human response to withdraw from and avoid danger. Political climate change denial seeks to exploit this natural human response for short term political and economic gain and, as such, must be viewed as anathema. Human denial and avoidance of harm, however, is a basic instinct-driven response that must be rationally addressed. In the case of harm caused by climate change, the only rational way to avoid it is through mitigation and adaptation. Denial of the physical forces of the universe unleashed by human over-consumption and institutionalized greed, on the other hand, is little more than a withdrawal into the realm of wishful thinking. Denial, in both cases, causes inaction and paralysis, enables the continuation of business as usual, and, therefore, increases harm.

To this point, any efforts to slow down or reduce mitigation efforts also increases the velocity and force of the harm now rushing toward us. Pressures to slowly mitigate and gradually adapt may seem rational at first, but result in a less tenable future long term. Responses need to be measured, organized and swift — like the emergency procession to lifeboats aboard a sinking ship. Irrationally clinging to damaging systems for as long as possible amounts to playing fiddle on the deck as the critical time to find a place aboard a lifeboat trickles away.

Depression is another natural human response to challenges that far exceed the scope of an individual to overcome. In this case, social depression over climate change has manifest in a form of doomerism that clings to the notion that any action in the face of a growing crisis is futile. To the doomers, I would like to say this:

If there is even a small chance that mitigation and adaptation will bring us through the crisis, then shouldn’t we pursue all efforts and make that likelihood as great as possible? What if the British and the French had simply given up in the face of what, to them, must have seemed an invincible German military juggernaut during the early days of World War II (in fact, their early denial that a problem existed at all set up the conditions for this terrible war in the first place)? To the doomers I would say that the more we fail to respond, the worse the crisis becomes. And a crisis always seems most insurmountable at its start and just before creative response is initiated. Though it is true that many civilizations have failed in the past when confronted with problems that are similar to ours and that climate change, especially, tends to crush civilizations by creating problems that are outside of its ability to evolve and adapt, failure to respond almost always ensures collapse. We may argue now that response is too little too late, but we really won’t know unless we’ve expended all efforts. And so all efforts are, therefore, entirely moral and appropriate.

Lastly, a number of entrenched special interests are heavily invested in harm. These include the world’s fossil fuel companies, the industrial meat industries, a number of investment banking firms that support and profit from such activities via financing, and a large supply chain of industries that produce products based on these activities. Since the resources and profits of these industries are, in part, shared with broader society via the stock market and through the production of cheap, easy to access, goods and services, many states, cities and individuals are also, wittingly or unwittingly invested in harm. As such, a turning away from harm will require conscious choices on the part of individuals, cities, states and industries to not only divest in stock portfolios that profit from harm but also to actively change behavior, methods of consumption and materials use. As we begin this process, entrenched industries and individuals that profit from harmful and exploitative activities are likely to dig in and fight every step of the way. They will attempt to deny us product choices via legislation and market dominance even as they attempt to pretend that harm coming from their practices is both natural and inevitable (directly or indirectly enhancing denialism and doomerism). This institutionalized, irrational and entrenched manifestation of human greed represents the center of gravity of harm coming from human systems and, if we can address it, it is likely that both denial and doomerism will fade.

Considering Moral Responses

In the end, any action that delays or prevents a swift, encompassing, and organized response to climate change increases the level of harm that we are in for. Such a choice, whether conscious or not, is essentially amoral in that it reduces civilization’s chance to survive an emerging existential crisis. A choice that eventually results in an escalating level of damage and loss of lives and livelihoods.

So we’ve come to a tough pass and these, whether we realize it or not, are our choices:

1. To prevent and mitigate harm.

2. To do our best to adapt to the harm that is coming.

3. Or to increase the degree and velocity of harm by failing to act.

My best hopes are for your courage to make the just choices for the sake of you, your family, and for all of us. This is our responsibility to ourselves and each other. And the time to act is now, now, NOW.

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