Grantham To Climate Scientists: ‘Be Persuasive. Be Brave. Be Arrested (If Necessary)’

I have yet to meet a climate scientist who does not believe that global warming is a worse problem than they thought a few years ago. The seriousness of this change is not appreciated by politicians and the public.

Uber-hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham has a must-read opinion piece in the journal Nature.

Grantham is cofounder and Chief Investment Strategist of GMO (with some $100 billion in assets) — a self-described “die hard contrarian.” He is also one of the few leading financial figures who gets both global warming and growing food insecurity, two cornerstones of Climate Progress analysis. See Grantham’s piece “Welcome to Dystopia,” which explains in detail that “We are five years into a severe global food crisis that is very unlikely to go away. It will threaten poor countries with increased malnutrition and starvation and even collapse.

Grantham’s key message to the readership of one of the world’s leading science journals is that humanity is headed pell-mell towards disaster, and scientists must speak out more:

President Barack Obama missed the chance of a lifetime to get a climate bill passed, and his great environmental and energy scientists John Holdren and Steven Chu went missing in action. Scientists are understandably protective of the dignity of science and are horrified by publicity and overstatement. These fears, unfortunately, are not shared by their opponents, which makes for a rather painful one-sided battle. Overstatement may generally be dangerous in science (it certainly is for careers) but for climate change, uniquely, understatement is even riskier and therefore, arguably, unethical.

It is crucial that scientists take more career risks and sound a more realistic, more desperate, note on the global-warming problem. Younger scientists are obsessed by thoughts of tenure, so it is probably up to older, senior and retired scientists to do the heavy lifting. Be arrested if necessary. This is not only the crisis of your lives — it is also the crisis of our species’ existence. I implore you to be brave.

Hear! Hear!

And some have heard — and are leading (see Lonnie Thompson on why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization”).

Here’s Grantham summarizing the dangerous path humanity is now on:

Then there is the impending shortage of two fertilizers: phosphorus (phosphate) and potassium (potash). These two elements cannot be made, cannot be substituted, are necessary to grow all life forms, and are mined and depleted. It’s a scary set of statements….

What happens when these fertilizers run out is a question I can’t get satisfactorily answered and, believe me, I have
tried. There seems to be only one conclusion: their use must be drastically reduced in the next 20–40 years or we will begin to starve.

Well, Americans probably won’t starve in that time frame, since we are the bread basket of the world, but hundreds of millions will certainly suffer needlessly.

The world’s blind spot when it comes to the fertilizer problem is seen also in the shocking lack of awareness on the part of governments and the public of the increasing damage to agriculture by climate change; for example, runs of extreme weather that have slashed grain harvests in the past few years. Recognition of the facts is delayed by the frankly brilliant propaganda and obfuscation delivered by energy interests that virtually own the US Congress. (It is not unlike the part played by the financial industry when investment bubbles start to form … but that, at least, is only money.) We need oil producers to leave 80% of proven reserves untapped to achieve a stable climate. As a former oil analyst, I can easily calculate oil companies’ enthusiasm to leave 80% of their value in the ground — absolutely nil.

What to do in such a world? Everything we can:

The damaging effects of climate change are accelerating. James Hansen of NASA has screamed warnings for 30 years. Although at first he was dismissed as a mad- man, almost all his early predictions, disturbingly, have proved conservative in relation to what has actually happened. In 2011, Hansen was arrested in Washington DC, alongside Gus Speth, the retired dean of Yale University’s environmental school; Bill McKibben, one of the earliest and most passionate environmentalists to warn about global warming; and my daughter-in-law, all for protesting over a pipeline planned to carry Cana- dian bitumen to refineries in the United States, bitumen so thick it needs masses of water even to move it. From his seat in jail, Speth said that he had held some important positions in Washington, but none more important than this one.

43 Responses to Grantham To Climate Scientists: ‘Be Persuasive. Be Brave. Be Arrested (If Necessary)’

  1. paulina says:

    Might Grantham be in a good position to persuasively and bravely lead on fossil fuel divestment?

  2. Ken Barrows says:

    And Barrows to Politicians: Be Willing to Risk Your Insignificant Career (It will be necessary).

  3. Brent Roberts says:

    What does everyone think of the rather interesting (and terrifying) calculations found in this Democratic Underground post?

  4. peter whitehead says:

    for about 10,000 years the climate has been (roughly) stable, and has allowed agriculture to develop – the key is to be able to know that you can go from planting to harvest with some confidence that things will do what you expect.

    That is coming to an end. This climate ‘window’ the Holocene could be gone soon, and quicker than expected. Palaeoecologists have shown from a number of lines of evidence that climate-switching can be swift.

    Russell Coope’s work on iceage beetles suggests that a switch from interglacial to glacial (or vv) can happen within decades. More recent work on varves from lakes suggest switches within a handful of years is possible.

  5. Pakistan had almost no domestic agriculture for two years due to flooding and suffered extensive shortages this year due to drought. The significance? Pakistan has nukes and a large militant Islamist presence. Rising oceans are a threat 200 years from now. Drought and political unrest are our threats right now.

  6. Sounds a little like he is saying, “You there, get to work and fix this.”

    So fund managers and finance industries all of a sudden WANT the science message to get through and perhaps even big government?

    It has always been too late. At any time, every person, and every action needed to be careful and thoughtful. Even with wise actions from now on, we may only get to choose between extinction and stragglers.

  7. John Caraher says:

    The IPCC calculations are worth taking seriously. The polynomial fit to the past few years is a highly speculative”what if” exercise in fitting the tail of a curve to an essentially arbitrary function, and has no particular theoretical basis (that I can see) to back it up. It looks someone just massaging numbers in a spreadsheet.

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    Nice to see Grantham speak out here, but if he means it he should spend money on public outreach. It’s tough competing with the Kochs, who have bullied PBS and National Geographic by showering cash on them. American media has abdicated, and this situation can only be countered by aggressive public education efforts, delivered through the media.

    Grantham knows how few people read Nature. He can afford to do something about the woeful state of public awareness here. Until that happens, the fossil fuel companies will continue to bribe Congress and intimidate our media companies through advertisers.

    It’s useless for Grantham to try to persuade scientists to speak out. Their language is not understood by the public, and communicates obfuscation and hedging even when what they say is correct. Scientists’ critical truths have to be delivered to Americans with the language and determination required. There are many ways to do this, but a certain amount of money is needed. A hero from the investment banking industry suits me just fine.

  9. Joe Romm says:

    Grantham spends a lot of his own money on climate outreach through his foundation. You can probably find some of those by googling his name.

  10. Joe Romm says:

    Remember, he is writing this in the journal Nature. So that is whom he is addressing

  11. Luboš Motl says:

    I agree that one must be a hardcore contrarian to support climate alarmists. And I agree that the climate alarmists should be arrested – or, perhaps even better, executed, too. So I just endorse this guy’s recommendations.

  12. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The dead hand of ‘corporatism’ has also damaged our universities which are no longer the sources of cultual and intellectual vitality and creativity that used to fuel change. What would you expect apart from self interest and short termism?

    Like the sustainable forms of agriculture which preserve phorporous and potassium, the participative forms of democratic organization which produced such vitality have been laughed at. The chances of rebuilding either now to the scale required are dwindling fast, ME

  13. Joan Savage says:

    “..for climate change, uniquely, understatement is even riskier and therefore, arguably, unethical.”

    Great quote.

    Grantham’s fertilizer example also warms the cockles of my ecologist heart. I am so glad to see the issue of strategic deficiencies introduced to a wide audience.

    A metaphor for the problem of strategic deficiency is a leaky barrel. The barrel can only be filled as high as its LOWEST leak, and an environment operates at the level at which all the essential components are present.

    Years ago in an introductory ecology class I learned the example of cobalt deficiency in Australian sheep pastures. The grass itself was healthy, but the sheep pastured on it died slow miserable deaths until a trace of cobalt was added to the soil.

    Without enough fertilizer, humans will be competing for what’s left in the bottom of the barrel.

  14. Jan says:

    Maybe the only solution is to out-bribe the fossil-industrial complex and buy an environmentalist congress (and president)?

    Too bad polar bears, plankton and pine trees don’t have money to hire their own lobbying firm.

    Half kidding.

  15. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    Your leaky barrel sounds similar to the “leaky bucket” from the area of Digital Signal Processing (DSP), or more simply, a software algorithm. Since it’s software, and the fill rate and leak rate are just arbitrary parameters, the fill rate can exceed the leak rate, allowing the bucket to fill to the top. A good application for the leaky bucket is a system alarm declaration algorithm. Two levels, less than full are used, with the higher of the two being the level above which operation is declared normal. At regular time intervals, one unit of content is leaked from the bucket (never going past empty), and if all is well, one unit of fill is added to the bucket (never going past full), unless an abnormality is detected, whence nothing is added to the bucket. Below the lower of the two levels the system is declared to be in an alarm state. At levels between the high and low detection levels, the system state depends upon which type of declaration was made last. [Note: Hysteresis, once again.] With well chosen parameters (fill and leak rate, bucket size, time interval, detection levels), this algorithm can eliminate “hair-trigger” alarm declarations, and yet provide ample alarm detection capability.

  16. Joan Savage says:

    I like the idea of a soft alarm, a sort of code yellow, but the decline in global fertilizer supply doesn’t have a complementary fill rate to offset loss rate. It’s a finite terrestrial supply that can be reduced, but not recreated.

    Following your analogy, once we are between high and low detection levels the likelihood of an ‘up’ signal in fertilizer is remote and a downward decline much more likely.

  17. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I didn’t have a chance to contribute to the debate you raised a few days ago on systems change but the planet has proved it is not a mechanical system, nor are buckets, e.g. depending on what they are made of they will degrade over time the hole enlarges or the bucket blows over. Applying mechanical models is misleading, ME

  18. prokaryotes says:

    Why is the media not putting the deniers on hot seats and challenging their statements based on science?

    If we do not start acting i fear we will lose the habitability of our planet!

    Climate Change, Narcissism, Denial, Apocalypse
    We must not turn away!

    We must renounce destructive narcissism and oblivious denial, embrace generativity, and face up to our apocalyptic anxiety before it is too late for the safety of future generations. President Obama brought tears to my eyes when, in his acceptance speech at the DNC, he contended that climate change and the threat it poses to human life on planet earth are not illusions. He was right, and we must not turn away!

  19. prokaryotes says:

    From above link, comment section: Global Destruction
    Submitted by louis berger on October 6, 2012 – 1:34pm.
    I devoted an entire book to the pathology underlying our devastating the globe: Averting Global Extinction: Our Irrational Society as Therapist Patient (Jason Aronson, 2009). Except for the purchases by a hundred or so university libraries world-wide, this exploration and analysis seems to have gone entirely unnoticed. My expectation: we will be able to see reality only when it is inescapable, and then it will be too late.

  20. Mark Haag says:

    so….when are we marching on Washington?

  21. John McCormick says:

    Give us a date and time.

  22. idunno says:

    Climate hawks to Granthman et al: Do the Math. (Check McKibben’s Math.)

    Big Oil stock value is based on extractable reserves. Exploiting all extractable reserves cooks us all.

    So disinvest, before the bubble bursts. Or get burned.

  23. Aleph Null says:

    Grantham’s essay, read in full, is eloquently passionate – even emotional, which seems surprising coming from a hedge fund manager:

    “This is not only the crisis of your lives — it is also the crisis of our species’ existence. I implore you to be brave.”

  24. Brian R Smith says:

    How about Earth Day ’13, April, but on a much bigger scale. That gives 4 mo. for planning & message ironing. As many as possible in Washington but also in every state capital and community that can be organized… coincident with a live mainstream address to the nation by an assembly of climate scientists supported by business, govt., environment and civil society leaders. The President should be informed and invited, but if the messages are as powerful as they need to be and the urgency laid bare, it’s a sure bet he will not line up that far left. It’s time to lead Obama where he fears to go: honesty about climate chaos and drastic policy changes that truth demands.

    It’s simply time to lead without him. No more months & years should be wasted waiting for his political equations to factor in saving us & the planet. If we can’t partner with him, he’s going to have to partner with us. Elites are important but we’re going to have to drag them to the table by the hair. It’s time for this fractured, sleeping giant of a climate movement to MOVE. The public conversation is starting to break open after Sandy. This is the moment for climate leaders to up their game, collaborate on messaging & media delivery, establish credibility & consensus, insist on emergency measures and lead on public engagement. All the King’s horses & all the King’s men will not arrive in time.

  25. Paul Magnus says:

    That was today. Its started today….

    Join Us In Washington On November 18!
    We’re coming back to Washington to fight the Keystone XL pipeline. Join us:

  26. Paul Magnus says:

    This is good to see at last.

    Now I think he could have an even bigger impact by impressing his peers in to how serious this is by himself getting arrested on the steps of the Capitol.

    Grantham please get yourself arrested.

  27. Danny Heim says:

    This is good to hear for sure. It’s quite heartbreaking as well. I’ve been an activist for 20 years, never seen anything like this, we are going to get hungry.

    It’s no joke, we are going to be forced into a new paradigm, like it or not. Our toys are going to be broken and we’ll be grateful for our beans and corn bread grown nearby. A clean drink of water will be a blessing. And these are only if we get our butts in gear on heavy duty adaptation and massive societal transformation. Like right now!

    Food and Water. End of story

  28. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    ME, the bucket or barrel is nothing but a visual aid to understanding an admittedly simple algorithm.

    I think the climate system is rather more like a horribly complex pneumatic and hydraulic system with an energy inflow slightly greater than outflow. Add half a gazillion elements to the system whose interactions with one another are terribly complex, and presto… we have a plebe’s climate system.

    Any mathematical babbling from me can be treated as my simple-minded attempt to gain an understanding of one iota of the system’s behavior… and is likely incorrect.

  29. Icarus62 says:

    My understanding is that we are in massive population overshoot, temporarily sustained by the exploitation of fossil fuels. The global population was around 1 billion at the start of the industrial revolution, but we now live on a somewhat degraded planet with a rapidly changing climate (which will continue for some decades whatever we do, barring some very clever geo-engineering). That implies a sustainable global population sans fossil fuels of less than 1 billion… and of course with a rather more rudimentary standard of living than most of us in the ‘first world’ are accustomed to (or will voluntarily accept). I haven’t seen any evidence that ‘renewables’ can replace fossil fuels for scale, energy density or convenience, or that they have sufficient EROEI to both sustain global civilisation in anything like its current form *and* maintain and renew themselves indefinitely.

    So, without wishing to be defeatist, I genuinely don’t know what we should be campaigning for. Cutting out fossil fuel use on a planet where fully half of our 7 billion population live in cities with little significant access to cultivable land or natural water sources would be a death sentence for billions… but we know that fossil fuels are going to decline anyway, so we have to get used to living without them sooner or later. The most humane solutions must surely involve massive population reduction by curtailing the birth rate and letting natural death reduce us to a sustainable population… but I can’t see that happening either. People don’t take well to being told that they can’t have children.

    Of course there are many things we could and should be doing, such as reducing waste, promoting sustainable methods of food production, reducing pollution where possible… but if the really big problem of population overshoot isn’t voluntarily addressed, then it seems to me that we’re only postponing the inevitable, which is having nature and human violence do it for us, which will not be pleasant.

    The bottom line is that unless we miraculously find an enormous, cheap, intense and inexhaustible source of energy, we’re inevitably going to end up with no more than whatever is the sustainable population on an Earth in the condition we manage to leave it in. So the question becomes: How do we get from here to there in the least painful way possible?

  30. Mark E says:

    I have a number of protest arrests in my background. Eventually I realized they were recreational protest arrests. It is excellent for PR, and I have lots of funny or poignant protest stories, but v-e-r-y few activists I have known went to the line with the intent of being prosecuted and severely sentenced. And that is what it is going to take… the weekend rec arrests make for stories and PR to fuel conversation and thats OK.

    But it falls far short of transforming a society. A somewhat apologist but interesting film about Gandhi is on youtube:

    Meanwhile, I went to a Anti-Oil Day of Rage bike rally years back. Hundreds of bikers. At open mic someone got the crowd to show hands – who brought their bikes to the rally driving gasoline powered cars? About half fessed up.

    Protests are great. But we gotta do them like we mean them. Meanwhile, it would indeed be interesting to see Mr. Grantham on the saturday afternoon blockade line somewhere….. gotta start somewhere.

  31. Mark E says:

    Also, just because IPCC used a certain emissions scenario (a1fi) as their highest example in 2007, we could end up emitting even more. Plus, IPCCs a1fi did not include a lot of sink/source feedbacks that could emit even more. And so people are thinking about, and for all I know have done, modelling of scenarios much higher than A1fi. Certainly they are thinking about it. For one example,

  32. Mark E says:

    Instant Runoff Voting

    (A) cheaper than out bribing the FFCos
    (B) telling the truth is easy
    (C) better behaved campaigns all around

  33. Mark E says:

    ….fully half of our 7 billion population live in cities with little significant access to cultivable land or natural water sources would be a death sentence for billions….

    Scratch would be and insert is. This demographic distribution is in many ways the result of our addiction to economic growth, and since the idea of nonstop perpetual never-ever ending growth is fatally defective out of the starting gate, by definition many people and things that have been created as a response to that growth addiction must – by definition – perish when ecological rules push back.

    Its not that I dont care for them, its just that ecological laws are sort of immutable.

  34. SecularAnimist says:

    Icarus62 wrote: “unless we miraculously find an enormous, cheap, intense and inexhaustible source of energy”

    We already have that. It’s called sunlight. The solar energy that reaches the Earth’s surface in one hour is more than all the energy used by human civilization in a year.

    We already have the mature, powerful technologies to harvest that energy, and those technologies are getting better, and cheaper, every day.

    Photovoltaic panels installed on all the flat commercial rooftops in the USA would generate more electricity than all the nuclear power plants in the country. Concentrating solar thermal power plants on just five percent of the USA’s deserts would generate more electricity than the entire country uses. And those represent just a fraction of the USA’s vast solar energy resources.

    Humanity faces some very difficult problems, that’s for sure. But finding a supply of abundant, cheap, inexhaustible energy to run a technologically advanced civilization in perpetuity is not one of them.

  35. Brooks Bridges says:

    And a place online to coordinate.

    We need an organization that transcends and coordinates all others.

    Was discouraged in run up to last XL protest to be getting emails from Sierra Club urging people to go and not once mentioning -which had got it going. This has to stop. How?

    But we have to unite and support each other.

    Is this being done and I”m ignorant?

  36. Brooks Bridges says:

    Or at least pledge to finance the losses incurred by such scientists.

  37. Economic Democracy says:

    And it would sound ungrateful to say he should spend a larger amount of his money, no doubt. Yet if things are as urgent as he says (and those of us who regularly come to this blog know that they are) more does need to be done.

    If Buffett and Gates can combine their resources for world health – maybe Grantham has been exploring possibilities of who to partner with – I’m sure he has – but if it’s not impolite of him to try to add urgency to the scientists (and it isn’t) then it’s ok for us to try to add urgency to his – go Grantham, go – network, expand, make this your life’s work.

    And you like few others have an insiders view (as you hint with “absolutely nil” comment) about the problems inherent in our Amoral Short Term Profit Maximization based (and Perpetual Growth Forever and Ever based) Economic Model – speak out more directly about this and you give room for others to do so (and to experiment with alternatives) without being subjected to childish (but sadly effective) red-baitning.

  38. Merrelyn Emery says:

    We already have an “enormous, cheap, intense, inexhaustible source of energy” which your namesake became aware of, ME

  39. Louise Drummond says:

    So Brian, nominate yourself to lead the way.

  40. Icarus says:

    Solar energy is of course inexhaustible but as far as I can see it’s not going to replace fossil fuels for convenience and energy density.

  41. Sacha says:

    Great question – the funds he manages for Wells Fargo and John Hancock have large (huge positions actually) in all the largest fossil fuel corporations. But it’s up to scientists to be brave and take more career risks?

  42. Hank says:

    > Big Oil stock value is based on
    > extractable reserves….
    > So disinvest

    They fossil fuel reserves will be redefined so they are creditable as sequestered carbon. That will get the reserve owners payments based on storing that amount …

    No, I”m not cynical enough yet.
    Working at it.

  43. Kent Doering says:

    Hello Dr. Romm: We can define the Global Warming Problems all we want, but the question remains as to how we can cost effectively displace and replace fossil and nuclear energy – by energy efficiency measures – renewable energy measures such as shallow geothermic, deep geothermal, solar heat, solar voltaic, urban waste incineration, wind, cow manure methane recapture- and using it on fuel cells for heat and power etc.

    . I think T.P. Green could devote more space to different solutions being applied around the world cutting consumption while increasing performance.
    It does not always have to be “renewable” but “negawatt” and “negajoule” technologies as well.