Paul Gilding on The Great Disruption

Part 1: “You can’t just have an adaptation strategy. There’s no chance of that working.”

You can see Paul Gilding in DC Saturday at 5:30 pm — and Portland tonight and Seattle Friday (details here).

GildingYou may remember Paul Gilding, former executive director of Greenpeace International, from Tom Friedman’s column on how the global economy is a Ponzi scheme.  I was quoted in that column, too, and as a result, I have gotten to know him.

On a visit from down-under, he came by my house a while back for a chat.  I taped some “Lip camera” video interviews of him about his new book, The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World, which I highly recommend,.  As you can see from the sub-title, Gilding is an optimist, though a certain kind of optimist.

He doesn’t think averting catastrophic global warming will be easy, but he believes we will do it through a World-War-II-scale effort, since the alternative is almost beyond imagining and certainly beyond what people euphemistically call “adaptation.”

In this first video, he talks about the unbelievable drought and then equally unbelievable flooding that hit his home country of Australia, and why he remains optimistic in spite of that:

Failure to remake the economy is just not an option.  Fortunately, the solution, though not easy, is eminently doable, and that should be “reassuring,” he says:

When I say reassuring, this is against the scale of the collapse of civilization.  Not reassuring as in “all will be okay” but reassuring as in if we get this wrong, we are talking about global economic collapse and the potential for breakdown in a very serious way of civilization.  That’s what I think we can still prevent.

More on how to do that in Part 2.

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58 Responses to Paul Gilding on The Great Disruption

  1. paulm says:

    Totally true.
    Mitigation is the first in the adaptation list looking ahead at whats in store for us all!

  2. pete best says:

    We require annual co2 emissions drops globally of 7% so its unlikely to be achieved to mitigate a lot of heartache but humankind will survive.

  3. Mark Shapiro says:

    Let us all remember that this WWII is for clean energy, and NOT against the coal miners or their families or communities, or against oil roughnecks. They will need compensation, retraining, etc.

    We support the miners, not the mining.

  4. George Ennis says:

    I bought the book.

    I have to say that Mr. Gilding’s optimism seems to be based more on faith then anything concrete. I hope he is right but I am slowly losing hope that any action will be taken in time to make any difference. When I look about all I see and hear is an increasing portion of the population engaging in magical thinking. We are moving further and further away fro any ability of our societies to engage in any kind of rational and evidentiary based approach to public policy formulation or risk management.

    What seems increasingly likely in my opinion is that our societies will become increasingly unstable from the shocks of extreme weather events which I suspect in 25 years will simply be referred to as the weather.

  5. Tom says:

    i’m with George (above). i’ve heard Mr. Gilding speak, read his book, etc. but i have no faith in mankind to do the right thing – even when it’s to save our own asses. Between hubris and sheer stupidity, we’ve never learned the lessons of compromise, sharing, caring for each other (rather than war), and our greed seems to be our complete undoing (not to mention anger, spite, ethnocentrism, nationalism, and the whole idea of “ownership” of anything – especially land and resource rights). The worst idea we’ve ever come up with – corporations – is going to kill us all if they don’t go the way of the dinosaur.

    Our lives have no meaning any more since we’re not attached to the earth as stewards (like the Amish, which is exactly how the survivors of the bottleneck we’re definitely going through will have to live in the future – should there be one). All the storms and climate chaos going on now is only going to get worse due to our inaction. Even when we do decide to pull this vaunted WWII-style reversal of our ways – it’ll be far too late (since the built-up CO2, again not to mention the methane kicking in, and all the other interrelated problems like the thermohaline current reduction or stoppage, sea-level rise, etc will still be around for thousands of years before the earth has a chance to rebalance).

    i think humanity is toast in 20 – 50 years, tops. i sincerely hope i’m totally wrong and i’ll enjoy laughing at myself for being so pessimistic if it happens, but it doesn’t look likely to date.

  6. Joy Hughes says:

    We are building the new world while the old one collapses around us.

  7. Mike Roddy says:

    I’m curious what kind of specific events he sees as driving serious action, since some of them are already occurring in Australia. It’s possible that the evidence to motivate action won’t become obvious until reversing warming has become extremely difficult.

  8. Leif says:

    I bought 3 copies. One went to the Editor of our local paper. One to the director of our Progressive Credit Union and one is down on a local First Nation Reservation.

    George @ 4: While I agree that current outcomes look bleak and at my age hopeless my lifetime, I have been in the hunt for over 50 years. While a number of skirmishes have been won, capitalistic/corporate rape & pillage remains in power. The only battle that is worth fighting is the one you lose and lose and lose and finally win. The very fact that blogs like CP exist renews my hope daily.

    “They fight but they lose” can be the only mantra.

  9. Celia Schorr says:

    Joe et al: Gilding will be in Seattle tomorrow evening (not next week) at Town Hall on Seneca Street, 7:30 pm. And he’s in Portland this evening.

    – Celia

  10. Richard Miller says:

    I have the same question as Mike Roddy in #7. If Australia is having these huge climate events now, then why are people in Australia not protesting at the government’s relative inaction on climate?

    I agree with Gilding that we have to create the conditions politically on the ground so that when big events start hitting the US more frequently, people will demand action in line with the science. I must say, though, the fact that Australians are not in the streets protesting after what they have been through, does not give me much confidence.

  11. Richard Miller says:


    It might be good to start incorporating into your excellent blog the work of social scientists with expertise in social transformations. That is the crucial piece in all of this. How is such a transformation possible with the corporate take over of the US in a post Citizens United world?

    Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research said the following, which rings true to me:

    “Speaking as a natural scientist,” he said, “I think 90% of research [on global change] will have to be done by the social scientists.” For more see this link

  12. Wonhyo says:

    At this point any optimism must be based on a belief that a livable climate is salvageable. Even if we were to zero out human emissions starting today, the atmospheric concentration will only drop to 300 ppm by 2050. That’s not going to be enough to restabilize the climate in the face of developing positive feedback mechanisms.

    Eventually people will realize this and split into two camps. One camp will decide that we should do everything possible to cut emissions anyway, to prolong what little remains of our previously stable and moderate climate. The other camp will decide if humankind is headed toward extinction anyway, they’re going to greedily enjoy the last remaining resources, even if that accelerates the demise of humankind.

    If you think the former camp is going to win, you’re an optimist. Consider that Australians are hardening in their climate denial even as they are among the first and hardest hit. In the meantime, Canada’s government has swung far right in their recent election.

  13. Aaron Lewis says:

    We can avoid more than 1 degree of warming only if we do not have significant carbon feedback. We do not know how much carbon is in the pipeline as a result of various lag effects. It is very possible there is enough carbon feedback in the pipeline to exceed the 1 degree of warming goal. And, we do not know how much warming for how long is required to trigger large changes in sea level.

    Then we have the lags in human actions. It takes a long time for a society to decide to take action. To hold warming under 1 degree, essentially all the societies in the world must decide to take action. Then, there will be planning and implementation lags. These lags must be allowed for as the action plans are developed. Thus, the actions must be more dramatic than seems necessary at the time – a concept that is very hard to sell.

    I am not saying, “It can not be done.” I am saying, “it will require more agressive action than has ever been considered by respectable people such as JR.”

    For example, if we do not reduce our population, then Mother Nature will, and her actions will have a terrible impact on technology and our civilization. This has never been a respectable topic of conversation.

    We are going to lose huge amounts of infrastructure, in and around out great coastal cities to sea level rise. This infrastructure was built using a large subsidy of cheap energy/ CO2 into the air. (i.e., cement kilns.) We need to replace this infrastructure, but this time we do not have the option of using CO2 intensive building materials and methods.

    And, the bottom line is food. I do not know how to feed more than 2 billion people without putting a good bit of greenhouse gases into the air.

    Read Homer. His heroes had a reasonable lifestyle with a zero carbon footprint. They were even able to have wars without burning a lot of oil : ) The Greeks and Romans had great civilizations, without releasing any greenhouse gases.

    And, yes, I too worked for Jay Forrester on the Club of Rome Report. That material became part of my senior thesis, (at another university) and was laughed at, and rejected by the faculty review committee. (Including the professor that introduced me to Forrester!)

  14. paulm says:

    @12 your probably right.

  15. Richard Brenne says:

    I’d like to believe Paul and I support all that he advocates, but he still suffers from the arrogance and certitude that 10,000 years of stable climate, pre-population overshoot and hundreds of years of cheap and abundant fossil fuels has given us: The myth that with enough will and action we can control the course of events.

    Ask any species that has experienced overshoot and resulting population decline and they’ll tell you that controlling the course of events rapidly becomes impossible. We’ve been standing in front of tiny waves and snow sloughs, but try standing in front of the biggest waves and avalanches and you’ll see what I mean. (PS: I don’t recommend this. PPS: Since we haven’t sufficiently learned the language of other species, maybe ask a parrot.)

  16. John Ward says:

    Concerning Richard Miller’s point in #11, getting people to act in a manner that will actually lower use of carbon-based energy also requires a plan based on sound economic theory, and I would very much like to see a discussion of a plan that appears viable to me. The core idea was suggested by James Hansen and fully developed in Steven Stoft’s book Carbonomics; How to Fix the Climate and Charge it to OPEC. I briefly explain his ideas here:
    and the book’s website is here:

  17. Tom Lynch says:

    Second George Ennis comment #4. Short of a category 5 hurricane hitting the US capitol building with Congress in session nothing will be done. Double second on the magical thinking comment. Neighbors that I try to discuss global warming go through twisted logic – to wit: I do not believe in evolution; I do not believe in global warming; but I do believe somehow science will save us. It is impossible to have a rational discussion with such people. I have lost any hope in a society wide response to global warming, it appears the future will be driven by extreme events.

  18. Richard Brenne says:

    I just wanted to again make clear after my comment at #13 that I fully support all the solutions proposed by Paul and virtually everyone here.

    While we need to do everything we can to mitigate, change our ways and get off fossil fuels, I’m afraid I just don’t see it happening no matter what we do.

    And so especially among solution-oriented people (normally a good thing) like Paul I feel the magnitude of the problem gets seriously understated. The result is like asking the people of the Allied nations to go to war against the Axis powers with everyone thinking that what their facing is only the exact equivalent of Napoleon’s army, with no planes, metal ships, rifled guns, machine guns and fossil fuels to transport and deliver all the carnage.

    Such an approach would certainly meet defeat. It takes immense courage and a uniquely mature and flexible mind to get one’s thinking around what we’re really facing, but to me it is the first and most important step, and other than here at CP and a very few other places, it is the thing that occurs most infrequently.

    And the difference in magnitude from what is usually stated – especially by those focusing first and foremost on solutions – might be more like the difference between the Axis power and warriors from one small pre-industrial tribe.

    Who finds a solution when the scope of any problem is underestimated by many magnitudes?

    Anyone, I’m riding my bike to hear Paul speak now, and maybe I’ll have a different opinion after hearing more.

  19. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I’m with Gilding. Humans are amazing creatures and can do amazing things. Social change has a slow build up which reaches a point of inflection and then Wow [that is a technical social science term!]

    There has been discussion of the cultural revolution during the 1960s and 1970s on another thread, and it was global, and for those who did not live through it, the vitality and emotional tone of that period would be unbelievable compared to now. Even though it failed in its ultimate purpose, it achieved rapid social change in many areas as many of you have commented.

    The reason it ultimately failed is that people didn’t know the fundamentals of what they were opposing or what they wanted. Love, peace and freedom won’t get you there and it didn’t. The genotypical design principles weren’t discovered until 1967 and it wasn’t until 1972 that a quick reliable way of creating cooperative, participative democratic organizations was designed (Emery & Emery, 1974).

    People need conscious, conceptual knowledge of these design principles if they are to overcome the forces towards domination and bureaucratization and create sustainable cooperative organizations. Once they can do that, and it’s pretty quick and simple, huge quantities of positive affect, motivation and creativity are released. These behaviours are extremely contagious and diffuse rapidly.

    The moment will come when people wake up to the crisis and if there are enough people scattered around the world who have this conscious conceptual knowledge, we will make it. They might sound like big ‘ifs’ but there are already people around the world who are working on this right now, ME

  20. Richard Brenne says:

    Anyone? Buehler? I meant anyway. . .

  21. Peter M says:

    Mr. Gildings optimism is nice to hear. But in my day to day interaction with most adults- there seems to be no sense of urgency. I work in the educational system in a liberal state. Some of the staff members are very aware of the deep trouble we are in, bit do not know how to act. Other staff members are just not unaware of what global warming really means. The kids seem more hip to the problem then adults- so this may be cause for hope.

    I talked to a 9th grade science teacher and she wondered why we had such a cold snowy winter, if their was global warming.It seems at times so frustrating to me, knowing the public is so blind. And many of those ignorant are highly educated, how can we possibly think others with less formal education understand what human kind will face this century.

    I unfortunately have to go along with the thought, that this century will turn out to be the most brutal in human history over the last 12 millennia. Once the extremes of climate change begin to shatter society into havoc and chaos, will there really be any chance to mitigate or adapt. Fossil fuels will be used business as usual to 2050- a 100% reduction will do little to change the damage done.

    An interesting site I found called Futuretimeline- which goes into global warming over the next several centuries- and quite accurately–
    among other scientific and cultural breakthroughs- it is somewhat optimistic in the end- but the next few hundred years look difficult- enjoy

  22. Tony O'Brien says:

    Overshoot; it does not sound that bad, but the implications are terrifying. We have most definitely overshot the human carrying capacity of the planet in a huge way.

    Our modern civilisation seems so robust, but in reality it is so very fragile. We have efficient-ed away all our resilience. What should be a slight hiccup will now become a major drama.

    A global Easter Island.

  23. john atcheson says:

    I enjoyed Mr. Gilding’s thoughts. In many ways he sees the same kind of silver lining that Bill McKibben talks about in Eaarth.

    I hope they are right.

    The central question, to me, is whether we can — for the first time in human history — react to a major problem before it becomes undeniable and life-threatening. It will require a level of prescience we’ve never exhibited.

    I believe the record shows that humanity makes the right choice when it is obvious choice must be made. Will we make the right choice before it’s obvious?

    Civilization as we know it depends upon us doing it, but to me, the jury is out, but the verdict looks grim.

  24. Lewis C says:

    Richard at 18 –

    If you support all those who strive for solutions, might I suggest that you cease discouraging their efforts, and their prospects of recruiting the droves of young people that are critical to the outcome, by your harping on how intractable the problems appear to you ?

    I write as one who has never yet shied away from the evidence of the cumulative self-fuelling interactive threats that our pollution is triggering, nor from the scale of the fascistic cabal of plutocrats still obstructing progress towards the achievable solutions.

    During WWII, along with all but a tiny minority of London’s adults, my parents stayed in the city throughout the blitz, because they not only saw their work (for the BBC) as helping the war effort, but also because it would have been shamefully defeatist to head off abroad or out to the country.

    Under the blitz, when Britain stood alone in Europe against the Nazi tyranny, we lost over 100,000 civilians to their bombs, and so many buildings that 15 years later I grew up in wonder at the birds and flowers and butterflies on the various bombsites near our home. That I was born at all was a fluke – after an air raid one night my parents returned to bed from the cellar and awoke in the morning to see a massive parachute mine swinging from the old cherry tree in the garden, just a few inches off the ground . . . .

    The people of Britain fully expected to be invaded and repressed after the defeat at Dunkirk, but it made no difference to the will to fight on, despite the fact that this would have meant there was no safe haven for US forces to come belatedly to our aid. It would have been long term guerrilla warfare with no quarter given. And we’d still have won in the end.

    The single most dangerous enemy of that indomitable morale was defeatism, which meant that it was roundly criticised whenever and wherever it arose, as being utterly disloyal to those striving to defeat the axis powers. Morale is critical to the success of any uncertain campaign, and, given the present stakes, I’d suggest that those who are now tempted to indulge in disseminating views that injure other peoples’ morale should think twice, and twice again, before deciding not to do so.

    Think about it – Goebbels put huge effort into spreading defeatism among any nation Hitler that sought to subdue – it would be surprising if the enemy we face were not trying to do the same – and I doubt very much indeed that you want to assist their efforts.

    All the best,


  25. Tom Bennion says:

    Dont get me wrong, I like the book. But. I have trouble getting past p53: “Either way, we’re now, in my view, inevitably going to pass through a rough patch on the way there, and in the geopolitical, economic, and climate chaos involved I expect we’ll tragically lose a few billion people.”

    “Few billion”? – sorry, but if that is his view the rest of the book fails to grasp the implications of that statement. Read the darkest chapters of Gwynne Dyer’s “Climate Wars” to see what a few tens of millions of deaths might produce in terms of chaos.

    If Gilding seriously thinks this number of deaths will ensue – lets say 2-3 out of every 10 people we know – probably well over 50% in some parts of the world, – then he needs to take that level of chaos seriously.

    His subsequent discussion about people considering eating less meat, retrofitting their homes, and converting to electric cars and creative destruction in the marketplace, and a more equitable world emerging, dont make sense if mega death is stalking the globe. In that situation if you have merely had to stop flying, and are sitting around in a retrofitted home, eating veges, using rationed wind power, with a small electric car, you will be one of the world’s richest citizens.

    More realistically, if those are his numbers, shouldnt he be looking at the worst affected parts of Europe during the black death and considering what social and economic structures might prevail or survive such conditions? And whether their are things that could be done to prevent total societal breakdown in such situations?

    At least he needs to explain, where and how would billions die? Which countries? And then factor that directly into current world food production, trade linkages, markets, politics etc before setting out his prescription for change.

  26. Richard Brenne says:

    I just attended Paul’s talk and about a dozen of us went out to eat afterward and I’m truly impressed with him. He is very funny, charming, open, generous and gets the big picture very well. He’s been at this with Greenpeace and in other ways for 35 years, and is very caring. In charm, humor and accent he is all wonderful things Australian, for instance saying that perhaps climate change deniers “will now give gravity a go.” (This was a spontaneous addition first used tonight – again, keep it!)

    It was arrogant of me in my original comment at #15 to use the word arrogant in reference to Paul (also I told him to check in here, so add cowardly to arrogant on my part). I apologize.

    I still stand by my points though. In fact the quality of the questions after the talk and during dinner were as world-class as Paul’s answers. Many of those present have unique insights into this topic as well.

    Among them was the insight of Renee who teaches a class at Portland State titled something like “Climate Change and Psychology.” My feeling has long been that to not truly discuss the magnitude of the problem but want to discuss only solutions (which is all too common) is another mechanism of denial and she completely agreed (and I guess that is why she is so brilliant).

    As I’ve said here many times, when persons A and B both suffer crippling injuries and A determines to always be cheerful, sunny and optimistic while B allows themselves to grieve, become angry and all the other natural steps of those dealing with trauma, after a period of time person B is farther along, healthier psychologically and in a better position to act.

    Renee agreed with that as well. So I stand by what I’ve said, but stand with Paul also. He does one of the best jobs of courageously stating the magnitude of the problem, even if I personally feel he is overly optimistic about the solution. I told him about how impressed I’ve been with the comments of his fellow-Aussies Merelyn Emery and Mulga Mumblebrain here, and then being Australian he head-butted me.

  27. Buzz Belleville says:

    Lot of pessimists here re: our ability to transform and survive in light of our current political and corporate-dominated landscape. And there are days, especially after particularly poignant scientific articles or commentary, that I too have little hope. But what brings me back every time is something my Dad told me when I was just starting to grasp politics and current events in the late-70s, early-80s — “the pendulum always swings back.”

    Consider that in the post-WWII industrial boom, there was near zero concern for our natural world … it was economic growth at all costs, tacitly blessed by the leaders and the masses at the time. Then the social awareness of the 60s fueled an environmental concern voiced by Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopald and Edward Abbey, resulting in Earth Day, EPA, CAA, CWA, SDWA, CERCLA, NEPA, etc. The pendulum swung in the 1980s with deregulation and trickle-down and uninstalling solar panels and flat CAFE stds, etc. Another pendulum swing came and we had Hansen’s testimony, an environmental VP, the IPCC, 1990 CAA Amendments, the Montreal Protocol, the UNFCCC, massive leaps in climate science, Kyoto, a really good run at cap-and-trade legislation supported even by a handful of GOP statesmen, an “inconvenient Truth,” etc. The expected swing back saw Bush dismantling countless environmental regs, dominance by Fox and right-wing radio talk, the growth of skeptic web sites and success of skeptics’ books, Climategate and Himalayan overstatements, the Tea Party, and anti-regulation fervor. And that’s where we are currently.

    I guess what I’m saying is that the pendulum will swing back again. The key is to be ready when it does. The science keeps developing. RGGI and the EU ETS are providing needed data for policy choices. Sites like this and books like Gilding’s keep us engaged. And, frankly, Obama’s incremental approach — CAFE stds, R&D spending, efficiency spendings, enforcing the CAA against coal-fired plants and the SDWA against mountaintop removal, engagement on the international front — may be setting us up for meaningful reductions when the pendulum does swing back. I’d like to think we’re taking two steps forward with every pendulum swing, and only one in reverse for every swing back. That’s my hope anyway. Keep up the fight folks.

  28. John McCormick says:

    RE # 24
    Tom Bennion, you captured the weakness of human minds to imagine how the future will play out, year by year, in a warming world.

    I imagine, in the next three decades, the Nile Delta becoming more saturated with salt water and more crop lands lost to food production for Egypt’s people. The country has a population growth rate of 2 percent and one-third and a third of its people are under 14 years. Using current estimate of 80 million, the country will add about one million new Egyptians each year. None of these pressure points affecting Egypt’s stability going into 2030 will abate. Egyptians will not suffer the fate of rapidly increasing food prices and hunger quietly. Our CIA can write the scenario much better than Paul.

    This is not to dismiss his efforts entirely, but I completely agree with you that wanting to see a solution to AGW can also mask the reality that global warming will remain unabated in the remainder of this century while populations increase, food supply decreases and the threatened among us will not sit in our darkened rooms waiting for our demise.

    The geo-engineering crowd are the worst offenders when it comes to avoiding a discussion of how a panicked world will find the international spirit of chipping in for deployment of many trillions of dollars of gadgets and schemes to somehow increase the oceans’sink capacity, shield the planet from the sun’s rays or suck CO2 from the atmosphere.

    The age of chaos will rapidly follow the age of destruction. And, I’m not being morbid here.

    I, like you, want a clearer picture of how Paul intends to get us to where he thinks we can.

    Looking at the goal post eighty yards away and thinking only of the touchdown is what we suffer. Goal orientation demands a complete, comprehensive (and even the painful elements,if they are out there) way to achieve the goal.

    Through the UN, multilateral development banks, WHO, PAHO and other international institutions, we have precious few years to look into our harsh future and begin to prepare. That is not adaptation. That is what people do when the flood is coming their way.

    You said it well.

    John McCormick

  29. adelady says:

    Richard Miller@10. Australia having these major climate events, not jumping up and down about it?

    Many are like my mum (she’s 86 years old so we cut her a bit of slack).
    She and her mates simply shrug it off in the “droughts and flooding rains” tradition. On the other hand, she has solar panels installed. Absolutely mortified that Germany produces more power from solar than we do.

    I think there’s scope for ‘niche marketing’ of scientfic ideas and other ideas for solutions. Link a bit of national pride to a habit of frugality with a high regard for ‘common-sense’ and you’ll have people in sunny or windy places on your side pretty quickly. Add in a touch of ‘maintain the value of your biggest asset – your home’ and PV sells itself once a few in the district have blazed the way.

    As for Australia generally. We really are the lucky country in many ways – and that can lead to complacency. I’m running out of ideas to explain to myself how people cannot see that we are the canary in the climate coalmine – at least as developed countries go.

  30. John McCormick says:

    RE # 11

    Richard Miller, your suggestion to Joe deserves much attention and follow through:


    It might be good to start incorporating into your excellent blog the work of social scientists with expertise in social transformations. That is the crucial piece in all of this. How is such a transformation possible with the corporate take over of the US in a post Citizens United world? ”

    Global warming abatement has never been, in my opinion, an environmentalist’s cause. The environment is a victim.

    Global warming is a sociological, engineering and economic challenge far beyond what those disciplines are ready to contribute. But, they will if we demand to know what is going to happen to us and our children and how we can abate some of that suffering.

    John McCormick

  31. I agree that we are dangerously close to “too little too late”. I don’t know how things will go in the future (no one does). That’s why I am campaigning!

    The post on sea level rise below and the one on cardon release from permafrost recently are very sobering and should renew the call for urgent reaction. We need to get out there and tell people and, as is sais above, talk about the magnitude of the problem.

    Some of us will get angry – but if our civilisation is to survive, we have to cling to the values at its centre. The importance of love, caring, the family. The importance of our history, culture, libraries. And the importance of reason, learning, education.

    If we can slavage these by working to mitigate as rapidly as possible, perhaps the world will see that the values of todays culture are worth keeping. Worth fighting for.

    We have to hold onto hope.

    A great thread Joe.


  32. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    As adelady says, the vast bulk of Australians have forgotten the drought already. The mega-fires of 2009 and the 173 deaths have entered the ‘national consciousness’ as all the ‘Greenies fault’ for stopping ‘hazard reduction’ burning(a Big Lie, courtesy of the Right). The floods will soon be forgotten, and now bananas are returning to lower prices, Cyclone Yasi will soon be a distant memory.
    Australians were once ‘rugged individualists’, laconic, lean, insubordinate, sardonically cheerful. Some of these remain, in pockets, but the vast bulk have been indoctrinated, by the MSM and by Rightwing politics and ideology, to see material wealth and consumption as the be-all and end-all of existence. It’s why we’ve become so fat. The death of religious faith, the dearth of real belief in any life beyond this in some ‘transcendental hotel in the sky’, has led to the crassest materialism and the most banal and vulgar pseudo-religious superstition taking its place. This superstitious and obscurantist mindset encompasses both Christian fundamentalist mambo-jambo, and economic, ‘market fundamentalist’, buffoonery. The general level of culture is abysmal, so the avenues for transcendence through authentic spiritual experience have been closed off. You can only get so much ecstasy from passively watching cooking shows, ‘reality’ TV and endless packaged sport. So, when faced with existential horror, we are increasingly turning to the soma of conspicuous consumption, the arms race of bigger houses, grander plasma TVs (3D is now de rigeur)and more and more energy chewing ‘toys’, to stupefy ourselves and deny reality. Climate disruption is simply disbelieved because it is the living embodiment of Nemesis come to shake us rudely awake. And a ‘carbon price’ is anathema, simply because it will cost us money.
    I don’t count Australians, or other humans, out entirely. Perhaps something will happen to break the spell of ideologically manufactured magical reality, and open our eyes, but it will have to be big, and it will have to be soon. As for Gilding, I admire his optimism. As Casals said, ‘The situation is hopeless-we must take the next step’. Pessimism of the mind and optimism of the heart may yet get us through.

  33. PeterM says:

    Arthur Miller once said

    “An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted”

    The current anti government anti regulatory ideology is at or nearing its peak, why? Too many problems in a post industrial society that will crumble without meaningful reforms.

    Climate change is going to be the major catalyst that ends this era-
    Crumbling infrastructure, extreme weather, diminished resources, lack of safety nets will probably cause a violent shift as was seen after 1929.

    The New Deal lasted and its aftermath lasted over 35 years, before being questioned in the late 60s and early 70s by a then small conservative movement.

    The Gilded Ages from 1880- to a reform movement in the late 19th century and early 20th century – The Progressives, was followed by the roaring 20s- this period except the Progressive era extended 40 years.

  34. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Colorado Bob, where are you? I can’t find your great list of floods. Does anyone know?

  35. Ed Hummel says:

    I always become both amused and depressed when I read comments that praise human intelligence and resourcefulness which will somehow get us through a crisis in the face of seemingly impossible predicaments when it is applied to the current multi-tiered crisis facing us. I agree that humans have done amazing things in the past in the face of unbelievable hardship and catastrophe. The resolve of the British in 1940 against the German bombing onslaught, the survival of the beleagured citizens of Leningrad after 1000 days of starvation and bombing by 1944, the bravery of the American pilots at Midway who single-handedly stopped the far superior Japanese forces and that turned the tide against all odds in 1942, and the near miraculous resurgence of both Germany and Japan in the 20 years following 1945 are only four of the most famous examples of human resolve, intelligent determination and resourefulness that arose from the greatest catastrophe in human history up to the present time.

    But as great as those examples are, none was inevitable and all were aided by certain conditions that allowed them to happen. The bravery of the British was enhanced by the English channel, the world’s greatest navy, and a lack of maritime capability of the German army. The survival of a large fraction of the citizens of Leningrad was aided by the Russian winter, the thinning out of German forces by their use on other fronts, and the ability of Russian forces to trickle in some supplies over frozen lake Ladoga (a benfit of the Russian winter). The success of the American dive bombers was due mainly to some incredible luck coupled with unquestioned bravery, but it was also allowed by the fact that the Japanese carriers were floating bombs waiting to go off if the right match were lit. Finally, the remarkable recovery of the Germans and Japanese after their total destruction by the Allies was due in large part to the convergence of their cultural efficiency coupled with the material wealth projected by the US at the peak of its power after World War II when Americans still were able to do just about anything we wanted in a material sense because of cheap oil and our booming, undamaged post war economy. In every one of these cases, the seemingly impossible happened because there were pathways still open that could be taken by resourceful and determined people with a collective vision to overcome adversity. I could fill volumes with such cases throughout human history and probably throughout human pre-history if such accounts were available.

    Nobody can question the human capacity for overcoming adversity if the will and the way are there. But therein lies the conundrum; besides the will, there must be the way available to take. Hitler certaintly had the will to attain his warped view of civilization, but through blunder and sheer logistical impossibility, his dreams were consumed in his Berlin bunker. When there are no real pathways left to us, nothing we can do will get us from point A to point B; that’s just basic physics. The citizens of Hiroshima could have included people with the greatest motivation and resolve to ultimately prevail against all odds, but the bomb blast emphatically ended any chance those individuals had of accomplishing anything. There comes a point in any situation that confronts humans when all exits are blocked and all pathways become unavailable.

    All of us pessimists on Climate Progress have come to such a realization. Of course we don’t know if in fact all exits are already blocked to escape from a complete collapse of civilization or worse. But the evidence that continues to come in from the latest research seems to hold less and less hope with each passing day that we can salvage anything that can be called civilized. For those who mention the recurring cycles of social movements and look with optimism to the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement, etc., one must stand back and realize that we are at a point in human history without any comparison. Never before have we had 7 billion of us living on this small planet; never before have such a huge fraction of us striven to obtain the western lifestyle of mass consumption of ever-dwindling resouces; never before has the world’s economy been so tightly interconnected and fragile with hardly any resilience built in; never before have we faced the depletion of our main energy resource on so massive a scale; and of course, never before in the history of civilization have we changed the atmosphere to such an extent so quickly. In fact, except for when extra-terrestial objects have hit Earth, never before have such climate forcings operated so quickly to make Earth’s atmosphere and general climate system change so rapidly. All these things are quickly closing all the exits for even a few of us to escape our quandry.

    And that is why, barring a World War II like effort that everyone seems to refer to but which might not even be enough, even if implemented today, some of us continue to be quite pessimistic that civilization has any chance of surviving more than a few more decades, and that might be optimistic based on the history of barbarities that desperate humans are capable of to go along with all the natural disasters that await us.

  36. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Explaining Australia – could it be that denial rises to match what must be denied? Or is it the force of organized industrial/political denial?

  37. Frank says:

    I firmly believe that the key to solving such issues as climate change, global poverty, and weapons proliferation is to decouple America’s political system from the inordinate influence of global corporate campaign funding. These issues require long-term thinking, not the short-term thinking that guides private corporate decisions. Possible Solution?: Please encourage the leaders of our nation’s most prominent enivironmental groups to form a single coalition with Bob Edgar’s organization, Common Cause, to work aggressively for a broad, publicly visible, bi-partisan effort to pass meaningful campaign finance reform leading up to the 2012 elections. This may be one of the few times in American history, when we have a President currently in office who is independent enough to actually get behind such an effort as a key part of his re-election platform. If not now, when?

  38. Richard Miller says:

    Merrelyn Emery can you tell us more?

    I am a professor trying to build a movement on my college campus for students and faculty to get politically active to pressure our Congressional leaders and local companies that lobby against climate legislation.

    It is much harder than I anticipated. My expertise is in philosophical theology so I do not have the academic background in social transformation.

    Can you supply me a reading list?

  39. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Richard Miller #37. Yes, I have been going over these comments and intended to pick up your question.

    It is a long, long list as this line of work has been going on since about 1965 so I suggest you start with ‘Searching: the theory and practice of making cultural change’, by myself, 1999, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam/Philadelphia. It is a pretty up to date summary of why and how to do it, has many pages of references and is indexed. Try and get it from a library or 2nd hand as it is too expensive.

    May I also suggest that rather than decide the purpose of your action in advance, that you get your people together and find out what they would be motivated to do. There may be more mileage in, e.g. getting your local community organized around the future of their community. Once they are active, they may well want to start lobbying their pollies etc as part of their plans and you have, thereby, automatically multiplied your forces.

    Depending on where you are, I might also be able to give you the names of some people who are trained up and experienced in this line of work who could discuss it with you or help you get started, ME

  40. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Richard Miller, the list is very, very long which is why I start with the reference above as it is an up to date summary of how and why to do it with many pages of references, ME

  41. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Richard Miller, may I also suggest that rather than determine the purpose in advance, you get your people together and find out what they are most motivated to do.

    You may find you get more mileage out of organizing your local communities around the future of their community. Once they are active, they may well want to lobby their pollies etc as part of their plans, and therefore, you have already multiplied your forces, ME

  42. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Richard Miller, depending on where you are, I may be able to give you the names of trained up, experienced people who can discuss this with you or help you get started, ME

  43. Richard Brenne says:

    (Replacing my previous comment in moderation at #38): Lewis C (#24) – I always look forward to and admire your comments but am confused about this one. I’m single-handedly depressing young people so that they aren’t becoming the activists they otherwise would?

    I’m regularly asked to speak to high school and college students about climate change and the reactions have included standing ovations, long discussions with up to two dozen of us going out to eat afterwards, and activism.

    I made my first documentary featuring climate scientists Susan Solomon and Warren Washington in 1992 and have thought about how to communicate what they and all other climate scientists know from every angle ever since, including long discussions and collaborations with members of the American Psychological Association’s Climate Change Task Force about how best to communicate the science of climate change that inspires appropriate action.

    Certain audiences at certain times want and need to hear a solutions-oriented approach, but consistently stating solutions without ever addressing the magnitude of the problem is among the biggest and most common mistakes. That leaves audiences puzzled and wondering why we need to do anything at all.

    Look at Ed Hummel’s typically excellent comment at #35, especially his last two paragraphs that echo many of my sentiments, and those often expressed by Jim Hansen, Bill McKibben and many others here. The Allied response in World War II and especially the immediate and dramatic change from a peacetime to a wartime economy is the best metaphor we have for the need to change from a fossil fuel to a renewable energy economy, but for all the reasons Ed states it is an imperfect one, as all metaphors are.

    I feel it is critically important to be realistic about the magnitude of what we face. Anything less would be dishonest. I and others like me are trying to be as honest as possible about this. Goebbels was not on the side of honesty, but dishonesty. There is no meaningful morale without honesty, because without honesty one is on the ultimately losing side. Your arguments and others asking for “optimism” are like those of Neville Chamberlain. Ed’s comments, and those like them, are like those of Winston Churchill.

    Jim Hansen has famously said that if we burn all available fossil fuels (as we show every sign of doing), he is “Dead certain” that we’ll create a runaway greenhouse effect and a dead planet like Venus. Would you censor him as well?

  44. Lewis C says:

    Ed at 34 –

    your overview of the necessary and sufficient conditions for overcoming huge adversity makes a very interesting read, and I share your concern at the diminishing window of opportunity for resolving the present ‘problematique’.

    As I see it, two other windows we might have used were ignored – the first being President Carter’s effort to turn society away from fossil fuel usage in the seventies, and the second being Gribben’s proposal in ’91 of global afforestation for carbon recovery – that could have been removing several ppmv of CO2 per year by now.

    As we stand, with both albedo loss and carbon feedbacks accelerating under just ~0.8C of warming, it is patently obvious that rapid GHG-output contraction and carbon recovery together will not control the feedbacks’ advance – the pipeline warming, plus that from the sulphate parasol’s closure, plus the lead-time for scaling up carbon recovery and the timelag on its effect being realized, together make that certain.

    The third window, that is the complement to the first two and not in any way an alternative, is of course that of albedo restoration. This can reliably function in cooling the planet to halt the feedbacks while GHG contraction and carbon recovery are being developed. But, as yet, the only proven technique is that of sulphate aerosols, whose serious downsides have been much discussed here on CP. Other, potentially benign techniques are being researched, but their deployment is at best still some years off.

    This brief survey of the strategic options is intended to show that our position with regard to climate, that most fundamental of inputs to food production and to some extent to all other enterprises, is still technically redeemable.

    With regard to energy, at least in terms of liquid fuels, major disruption and whole nations’ destabilization now seems likely, given the Hersche Report to the DOD – that a crash program of changes to liquid fuel supply and usage would need to start 20 years before the peak of oil production to avoid the worst outcomes. According to the DOE (March 2009) we now have less than 20 months, and scarcely any politician has yet dared even to voice the words Peak Oil, and just as few have given any real account to the public of the scale of the climate threat.

    Will is thus the primary issue, and its obstruction by those who seek to maintain their status as the wealthiest within the most dominant nation – being the US. The fact that much of America’s hegemony rests not upon its technical prowess nor its military capacity but on the worldwide leverage of its petro-dollar – makes the move away from fossil fuel dependence an issue of critical relevance to that elite.

    Over the last 16 years governments around the world have been steadily endorsing a policy framework as the basis of the climate treaty by which, under an annually declining global emissions budget, nations’ tradable emissions entitlements will be allocated. That framework is known as “Contraction & Convergence” (see for background) and those governments now include the EU, the Africa Group, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, India, reportedly China, and many smaller nations. Together they represent the majority of the world’s population.

    As yet remarkably few Americans are even aware of this development, which is due not only to successive administrations’ total silence on it, but also to the utterly bizarre incompetence (or worse) of the major enviro non-profits in pushing an unworkable and un-negotiable alternative, which acts merely as a sink for dissent.

    Turning America to face its responsibilities, particularly the highly contentious issue of its carbon debt in terms of cumulative emissions, seems likely to take some seriously painful shock, either by the sudden loss of major infrastructure – such as the loss of New York or the Mississippi changing course – or by the loss of its self-image as world leader by the nations agreeing a climate treaty without its participation in treaty rights and duties. A third possibility, albeit a vanishingly remote one, is that Obama will realize that his inherited policy of a ‘brinkmanship of inaction’ with China is undoubtedly diminishing America’s prospects, and must be abandoned in favour of constructive negotiation abroad, and climate education and corrupt denialism’s indictment at home.

    This very brief sketch of the geo-political background of the climate issue, (which necessarily subsumes the issue of subsistence oil supplies) is intended to show that while intransigence rules today, one way or another its days are numbered. The US is becoming increasingly isolated, having now pulled the ‘pledge & review’ stunt three times, latterly with Obama playing a shameful leading role, for all governments to see.

    Overall then it seems plain that the problematique can still be resolved by global co-operation – as embodied in an equitable Treaty of the Atmospheric Commons – but that there is no certainty that the will to do so will blossom before so much heat has entered the oceans that geo-engineering cannot reliably offset it. We are still some way off that position (according to senior UK scientists) but it forms the limit of the third window’s duration.

    While I recognize that from within the confines of American culture the prospects for success look rather more grim than they do from outside its bubble of ideological delusions and corruption, it is sobering to see how little recognition there is – even among US activists – of the need to remain steadfast and positive in working for the common good, regardless of the odds of success.

    Indeed, in a position as extreme as ours, facing compound existential threats, the odds of success are simply not relevant – brooding over them publicly is an indulgence and a distraction from the morale we need urgently to engender, most particularly in terms of recruiting the rising generation to take stronger action than any has done since the sixties. Clearly they will tend not to join a movement that doesn’t offer a confidence of ultimate success.

    In this context it’s maybe worth describing a famous WWI cartoon, that showed a bunch of British squaddies crouched in a shell hole on the battlefield, waiting for the shellfire and machine guns to quieten down so they could move on. For three pictures one of the soldiers voices a series of plaints as to their chances, the awful mud, the stench, the rain, etc. In the fourth picture, another squaddy turns to him saying simply –
    “If yer knows a better hole, go to it !”



  45. Ed Hummel says:

    Lewis at #44, thank you for your comments in response to my earlier post. I agree completely with everything you said, including your admonition at the end against defeatism despite the long odds of success. Because I can daily see what is happening to our atmospheric circulation patterns while in the course of preparing my daily local weather forecasts (I’m actually “retired”!), I know first hand that the changes are accelerating and becoming more dramatic. I also have a good grasp of human history and know what we are capable of as well as what we sometimes seem to be incapable of. So all in all, it becomes very easy to get discouraged and pessimistic. But as Richard pointed out in #33, I hope my pessimism doesn’t overwhelm by plea for being realistic in the same sense that Churchill tried to be in the 1930s. But I also periodically need a kick in the pants to keep me focused and not despairing so that I don’t jump off the proverbial bridge. I actually have a close friend who works with me in getting the word out about climate change and peak oil as part of our Transition Towns effort here in central Maine, and he also keeps me from getting depressed and defeatist. So I’ll keep the immortal words of that WWI squaddy in mind whenever I drift too close to the bridge’s edge.

  46. John McCormick says:

    RE # 44

    Lewis, i re-read Ed Hummel’s comment at # 35 and came away with a different perspective.

    Regardless of how much time one devotes to researching or reading of climate change, it is impossible to envision this planet’s ecological changes 30 or 50 years out. Thus, an astute person can neither be a pessimist nor an optimist. Several large questions with incomplete answers (increasing cloud cover albedo, warmer ocean water reaching down to clathrates) remain.

    We will experience those ecological changes because we know the earth’s radiative balance is off by a few watts per square meter. Anyone grasping that measured fact becomes a realist regarding a warming planet. How that realization is transferred to decisions invites pessimism or optimism. But the realism is the overriding dynamic. It invites a will to prepare.

    Today, large cities and small communities on the Mississippi River are threatened by historic floods. The US Army Corps of Engineers is taking drastic action to alleviate greater damage by opening levees and spillways at the cost of flooding farmlands and homes. No one in charge of this flood response is optimistic or pessimistic. They simply do not know how or when the next weather front will add more precipitation and run off to the River. So, they act on the realistic premises that conditions will worsen and there is no stopping the rising flood.

    Regarding AGW, Hummel and others commenting here have come to that realization as well. As have I. Realists do not hold back others from responding but they might influence the timing and magnitude of the response.

    Churchill, at the early stage of World War II, was neither an optimist nor a pessimist. He expressed realism, recognising the enormity of the task ahead. He saw no other choice but to fight for victory, even against the tendency of some of his war cabinet members who were inclined to making a deal with the enemy (optimists) – a deal of which Churchill believed the enemy would not honor.

    You and Ed (and Richard Brenne)are on the same page. Actually, as I read all your comments, each of you combine the realism of believing what you read; optimism for an awakening of people and their governments (in your case “Contraction & Convergence”); and, pessimism that this time related global warming is moving too fast to abate.

    John McCormick

  47. Mond from Oz says:

    This series of posts comprises the most terrifying document I have ever encountered. It is almost inconceivable that our political leaders will find the will (i.e. the support) to confront the issues raised here, within a timeframe that would make such confrontation effective. In large part, this is due to the enormity of the necessary changes, together with the power and reach of those who oppose them.

    Perhaps we are being too polite. Perhaps this is going to take the sort of social and political mobilisation that we see now in the Middle East. What might light that fuse?

  48. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Lewis C, thank you for your sanity and global perspective with a touch of the every day humour and reality that keeps all of us going.

    Indeed, we are all Earthlings, citizens of planet Earth, or merely yet another species of this, still, living planet, but your point about ‘will’ is critical.

    We are the species that caused this problem and we are the only species that can solve it – if we choose!

    All animals are intelligent and aware but no other species has the awareness of awareness [definition: Chein, 1972] that we have and that confers upon us special responsibilities because we do have the choice.

    Imagine a sitting of the UN where they all sat around as equals, as Earthlings, and asked themselves, ‘do we want to save our planet, our home?

    Can you imagine anybody saying ‘no’?

    So then the next step is to determine what the world could most desirably look like, say in the year 2020, given what we know. When the groups came back from their deliberations, they would be suprised to find how much they had in common with the other groups.

    That is because all humans share the same ideals regardless of where they call home.

    So, then they would start working out how to make that most desirable future happen. The solutions would differ slightly by region etc but again the commonalities would shine through. This is what happens when humans come together to sort out their future together, as equals, sharing a common future.

    You know it, I know it; its been the normal human way of doing things for time immemorial until we started reifying this top down, ‘leadership’ thing that is now destroying our purposefulness and our future, reducing us all to ‘followers’.

    All humans are born purposeful but the asault upon our purposefulness has been relentless since Ronnie Raygun amd Maggie Thatcher etc won through with the myth that money that makes us ‘happy’, compounding the woes of working in bureaucratic structures amd the deliberate manipulation of the nature of TV + all the other barriers that are discussed on this blog.

    I applaud every body who writes here, and while I know you are all different, you are all human so just remember that you are purposeful, not follower.

    Please get together in your local communities and neighbourhoods about what they see happenimg in their neck of the woods and around the world and see them working out what is going on and then what their community needs to do. People are not stupid, They can work toward their most desirable future, then and see what happens when they start on that. They are energized.

    Its all about creating a critical mass that can ignite and create a huge human tsumani of change.

    Its all up to us now, ME

  49. Richard Brenne says:

    Travelling to the gravesite of Robert Frost, the great American 20th Century New England poet, I noticed his tombstone had his chosen epitaph, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

    On the same trip I travelled to the grave of the other great American 20th Century poet, Carl Sandburg in his beloved (in part for not being New England) Midwest and read his epitaph: “I had a lover’s quarrel with Robert Frost.”

    The first paragraph is true, the second my own lame joke, but both are how I feel, the second when there are small disagreements relative to the consistently excellent comments and summary (one of the best ever here, and that’s saying a lot) made by our cherished English friend Lewis C at #45, who continues his brave parents’ tradition of critically-important communication.

  50. John McCormick says:

    RE # 48

    Merrelyn, you ask:

    “do we want to save our planet, our home? Can you imagine anybody saying ‘no’?”

    I not only imagine, I heard US House and Senate repugs shout NO!

    John McCormick

  51. windsong says:

    John, I took a couple of environmental classes awhile back and the college counselor sarcastically asked, “I guess you want to save the planet?!” Ignorance abounds!

  52. windsong says:

    Peter M., It has been my experience that the more educated and wealthy an individual is, the less inclined they are to believe in climate change. Of course, that is not always the case; most on this blogg are highly educated. However, within my sphere of friends and acquaintenances, that’s the case: the wealthy/educated smirk at the idea of climate change and the poor easily grasp the facts.

  53. windsong says:

    To Pete Dunkleberg, #34– If you type in the tool bar: Colorado Bob– floods and then when the page comes up, go down to “Deadly flash floods hit Australia after 6 inches of rain.. (on site), about 5 or 6 down, and click on that one, you’ll see all his lists of floods. Interesting!!

  54. windsong says:

    Pete Dunkleberg, you can also click on Colorado Bob’s name when it comes up on site– it’s in green– and it will take you to his website!

  55. Merrelyn Emery says:

    John McCormick #52. The Republicans, the Democrats, all our various mobs, and the UN, are Not sitting around as equals. They are all organized into ranks, dominant hierarchies in an adversarial political system where when one side wins, the other loses. While the fight is with the immediate adversary, the final outcome is irrelevant.

    At the moment, at the UN, you can see this dynamic in action – it is nation against nation, totally ignoring the outcome. It doesn’t have to be this way.

    When people are organized as equals, they concentrate on the outcome because they either all win together or lose together, and they always decide to win together.

    I am not just talking theory here. This has been demonstrated in real life for over 70 years now and we also have the experience of the ancient cultures who I might remind you managed to keep our planet in good shape for at least 60,000 years.

    We have built our entire social infrastructure on the wrong design principle and we are reaping the whirlwind, in more ways than one. Bad mistake! and one I hope any survivors can rectify, ME

  56. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I apologize for the repetition above in my answer to Richard Miller but I could not get this technology to work for me yesterday, ME

  57. Richard Brenne says:

    John McCormick (#47) – Brilliant synthesis! So brilliant I finally responded to your excellent e-mail!

  58. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Merrelyn,

    I will look up the reference you gave me. I appreciate it.