What Does The Fiscal Cliff Debacle Say About Our Chances To Avoid The Far More Worrisome Climate Cliff?

What a sorry spectacle it has been in Washington, DC these last few weeks. Our political leaders failed to meet their self-imposed deadline for dealing with the deficit in a manner that doesn’t mean austerity-driven recession.

And while it looks like they do have a bipartisan deal — assuming it can pass the House after winning easy Senate approval — the plan avoids many of the toughest choices (details here).

The deal isn’t terrible — it extends the wind tax credit, for instance. In the top story on its website, the NY Times asserts that the plan “while containing many concessions that angered Democrats, still favors the latter party’s priorities and imposes a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans.”

Perhaps, but as Nobelist Paul Krugman explains in a blog post this morning, we won’t know if the deal was sort-of-okay or dreadful until we see what happens next (in the debt ceiling fight):

If Obama stands his ground in that confrontation, this deal won’t look bad in retrospect. If he doesn’t, yesterday will be seen as the day he began throwing away his presidency and the hopes of everyone who supported him.

That final sentence is true only if you don’t count Obama’s failure on climate as the day(s) he began throwing away his presidency and the hopes of countless generations (see “Obama Wins Reelection, Now Must Become A Climate Hawk To Avoid Dust-Bin Of History, Dust Bowl For America“).

The NY Times concludes that one big lesson from the debacle is “Grand Bargains Give Way to Quick Fixes” and “bipartisan legislative dreams seem all but certain to be miniaturized” — but that has been obvious for a while. It’s not like Obama got any House GOP votes to support either the stimulus bill or health care plan.

Indeed, the fiscal cliff was a largely manufactured crisis, as Krugman explained in his Sunday NYT oped, “Brewing Up Confusion.” The truth is for all the political hand-wringing, all the media sturm und drang, neither party considers the deficit the preeminent or most urgent economic threat to the nation. Progressives understand slow economic growth and high unemployment are the top problems and that the solution is more investment plus help for the unemployed. The Tea Party crowd that have taken over the conservative movement (and GOP) thinks government spending is the problem (otherwise they would have hardly been so adamant against tax hikes being part of a grand bargain).

Cartoonists, at least, get that the fiscal cliff is a mild sore throat compared to the early-stage emphysema that is the climate cliff.

Image by Matt Bors/Daily Kos via Buzzfeed.

So perhaps the headline question should have been “Does The Fiscal Cliff Debacle Say Anything New About Our Chances To Avoid Climate Cliff?” To answer that question, it’s worth pointing out what we already knew about those chances from the last truly big economic threat to the nation — which I discussed in an October 2008 post, “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 7: The harsh lessons of the financial bailout.” I’m excerpting it below because the piece shows how little has changed in 4+ years:

No, 450 is not politically possible today. Nor is 550. Nor is action sufficient to stave off 1000 ppm and 6°C warming.

OK, that was clear before because Congressional conservatives can certainly block the necessary action and demagogue the energy price issue — and they obviously intend to (see “Part 6: What the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill debate tells us“).

But I think the financial bailout bill story has yet more sobering lessons:

  1. Multi-hundred-billion-dollar-sized government action happens only when there is a very, very big crisis. Yes, lots of people out there think happy talk about clean energy and green collar jobs is mainly what you need to get a massive government spending program. Not gonna happen. The happy talk can help sell the needed policies, but without the crisis, it leads nowhere.
  2. A necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a crisis to be “very, very big” is that it must be labeled as such by very serious people who are perceived as essentially nonpartisan opinion leaders. In this case, it was the panic from people like uber-billionaire Warren Buffet and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan and even people like CNBC’s Jim Cramer (yes, he shouts a lot, but he called this meltdown a year ago and has a lot of credibility with the media).
  3. In addition, bad things must be happening to regular people right now. It was quite interesting that the House in particular voted down the original bailout but reversed itself in large part because of the ensuing stock market meltdown and in part because they started to hear from all of the small and large businesses in their districts that the credit market was freezing up.
  4. The credible people must say that the government action is going to solve the problem.This is a crucial point also missed by lots of people. If Buffet and Bernanke and Cramer said the sky is falling but your plan ain’t going to stop it, then your plan is dead, dead, dead.

What does this say about the climate predicament?

  1. We have one very big crisis that requires unprecedented government action. The “good news,” if one can call it that, is the crisis is real and imminent — and it does lend itself to government-led solutions. Also, like the bailout, the total dollar “cost” of the solution is not the total dollar cost to the taxpayer, since, for the bailout, the underlying financial assets the government will buy have value and, for global warming, the cap-and-trade bill plus clean tech push will create massive energy savings and whole new industries.
  2. But we simply don’t have a critical mass of credible nonpartisan opinion leaders who understand the nature of our energy and climate problem (see “Most opinion leaders just don’t get global warming“). When the heck are people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates going to speak up on dire nature of the global warming situation, rather than, say, scoping out climate-destroying investments in Canada (see “Gates and Buffet to invest in tar sands and spawn more two-headed fish“)? Yes, we have virtually the entire scientific community begging for strong action, but they aren’t opinion leaders in this country anymore and indeed they aren’t credible to a large segment of U.S. society (see “The Deniers are winning, but only with the GOP“). Meeting this necessary condition for serious action is greatly complicated by the conservative crusade against climate action, which is not just a disinformation campaign but a concerted effort to label any scientist or journalist or opinion maker who speaks out on global warming as just a stooge of the left-wing eco-imperialists — “environmental activists, attended by compliant scientists and opportunistic politicians, are advocating radical economic and social regulation,” as Charles Krauthammer put it, or “more government subservience to environmentalists and more government supervision of our lives” as George Will put it (see “The real reason conservatives don’t believe in climate science“). In short, the disinformation campaign seeks to discredit all credible calls for action.
  3. Bad things are happening to real people right now thanks in part to human-caused climate change — droughts, wildfires, flooding, extreme weather, and on and on. But many environmentalists and journalists downplay the causality or think it is a mistake to talk about those things (see “The NY Times Blows the Wildfire Story” and “The NY Times Blows the Drought Story, too” and “Gustav, climate, drilling — Some enviros self-censor, but should progressives?” and “The Washington Post’s Joel Achebach doesn’t understand basic climate science“). And, of course, we have the disinformation campaign telling everybody either that the future won’t be too bad. [The late] Michael Crichton says he is “underwhelmed” by the problem after his “review” of the science. George Will says that climate change might even be “beneficial,” and NYT columnist Jon Tierney writes, “There’s a chance the warming could be mild enough to produce net benefits.” Heck, we even have the GOP Vice Presidential pick telling 70 million Americans last week that climate change impacts stem from “cyclical temperature changes on our planet.” In this classic denier myth, all we have to do is wait and the storm will pass.
  4. The government-led climate and energy actions that might be politically possible today won’t solve the crisis. That was certainly true of the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill (see “Boxer bill update: Probably no U.S. CO2 emissions cut until after 2025“).

I find only one glimmer of hope from the financial crisis. Congress and the executive branch acted before the real disaster happened, before we ended up in another Great Depression, indeed before we even technically entered a recession.

So perhaps we can act on climate before the real disaster happens. Yes, I realize that Washington acted because everyone understood we were only days or weeks away from complete financial meltdown and we obviously can’t wait to act until we get anywhere near that close to the climate precipice.

We must act on climate within the next few years — decades before the real, preventable disaster happens. Indeed, no plausible action the nation and the world will take could have significant impact on the the climate for probably the next three decades. It is the post-2040 Hell and High Water scenario, crossing the point of no return to 6°C (or higher) warming, that we are trying — or rather, should be trying — desperately to prevent.

The response to the financial bailout crisis obviously offers no comfort to people hoping we can act decades before the true climate catastrophe hits. But I choose to see the glass as one-tenth full. Why?

The unknown wild-card factor here is presidential leadership. We have never had an inspirational president who was genuinely committed to serious climate action and who actually campaigned on a broad and deep agenda that would put us on a path to solve the problem (see “Obama’s excellent energy and climate plan“).

Right now, Obama’s plan is not politically possible. And not just because conservatives oppose it and will demagogue it, but also because moderates don’t get the problem and have been politically intimidated by the demagoguing. And because scientists, environmentalists, and progressives have had poor and inconsistent messaging. And because the traditional media still does a grossly inadequate job (see “Media enable denier spin 2: What if the MSM simply can’t cover humanity’s self-destruction?“).

But true leaders have transformed what is politically possible in the past. That is where hope lies today.

Yes, that was all written before we elected a leader who promised strong climate action and a Congress where Democrats had big majorities.

The bottom line remains the same, though. We aren’t going to get serious action until we have our climate Churchill — and probably not until climate impacts get so bad that at least those in the persuadable middle start demanding action (see “What Are the Near-Term Climate Pearl Harbors? What Will Take Us from Procrastination To Action?“).

The fiscal cliff debacle primarily tells us that the recent election changed nothing for political leaders of either party. We’re stuck with the climate status quo and, unlike our various economic woes, that is a prescription for irreversible, civilization-destroying disaster:

66 Responses to What Does The Fiscal Cliff Debacle Say About Our Chances To Avoid The Far More Worrisome Climate Cliff?

  1. fj says:

    Can we hope this is one of those darkest before the dawn scenarios?

  2. fj says:

    In any case, extreme crisis is likely inevitable at this point no matter what’s done now and those sitting leaders at fault doing virtually nothing to address the scale of our environmental emergency will be most visibly negligent; to further compound the difficult call to real action.

  3. john atcheson says:

    Not a horrible deal, but it ain’t done yet … the House still hasn’t voted (unless I missed something in the last hour or so) and I expect Bohner to try to extract more concessions.

    Less than two weeks after he was elected, Obama signaled to progressives to be prepared to be disappointed. That’s bad negotiating tactics, bad politics and even worse policy.

    So, I’m hopeful, but not optimistic that he’ll stand up to Republican blackmail when the debt ceiling debate begins.

  4. Jakob Wranne says:

    The ClimateCrises is like aids.
    When the melanoma shows it’s late to act.
    By then expensive medicine will bring hope.

    It’s best to act long before that. I believe we can do it. Even though the melanoma shows up.

  5. Omega Centauri says:

    On a more incrementalist note, where does the deal leave the nearterm prospects for wind? I’ve seen written that 1 one year PTC extension is part of the deal. But without assurances beyond 2013, I don’t think many projects can get started in time to claim the 2013 PTC. So is winds setback going to continue, or can the industry attempt to revive?

  6. I’ve happened on some particularly ignorant and vituperative denial over the past few days, on both the climate and gun control. I must say it fills me with despair. The hostility and contempt are chilling, and meant to be.

    Sometimes I really feel we’re at a parallel in history to 1860. There is just no reasoning with people who cannot see social immorality, who in fact invert morality and deny observable facts to support selfish and fearful views.

    Climate change is a structural situation tailor-made to unleash the very worst in the right wing. Some days I feel the most unjust and regrettable thing is that even when the worst begins to happen–the crash of our food supply, which I think is imminent in the next 20 years, or sooner–these belligerent, snarling obstructionists will construe it as something brought on by those of us with a social conscience and take up their precious assault weapons and act on their paranoia.

    They are at best delusional in their self-conception as agents of freedom, imagining themselves as self-appointed armed resistors of some conspiracy. At worst, they are sociopathic agents of death. In the end, the effect will be the same.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    The huge drought is expected to continue at least through the end of March 2013, with higher than average heat into the summer, so that means a) commodity supply for winter wheat, rice, and many spring-planted crops will be volatile at best, and b) barge traffic in the Mississippi basin can continue to be iffy if at all. Meanwhile New Jersey and New York need to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy.

    I can’t help but think that those climate-changed conditions could affect the pushes and pulls on Congress as it deliberates the debt ceiling, before too long.

  8. Chris says:

    The problem with the climate cliff is that it’s like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff. It takes him a few seconds before he realizes it and gravity takes over. By the time the politicians realize action needs to be taken, we’ll have already pumped so much CO2 into the atmosphere that even if we stopped all emissions the feedbacks will keep up heating up for decades to come.

  9. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The cost of disasters should make a difference but only if they are better at add-ups and take-aways than they are at science, ME

  10. Superman1 says:

    How much evidence do you need? There is no way the climate change problem can be solved voluntarily; no way! The only chance is a takeover by those who control the physical levers of power, and who want to preserve a future for their grandchildren. It won’t be pleasant, and many will be thrown under the bus, but there’s no realistic option left.

  11. Mike Roddy says:

    What it says is that the media likes drama, personalities, and stories that don’t offend any of their advertisers. Content means nothing. The old notion of educating the public is now considered irrelevant and quaint.

    When the reckoning comes, which will be soon, the media will be the greatest enablers of all of the coming tragedy.

  12. prokaryotes says:

    Sweden’s ‘warmest December in 250 years

  13. Paul Magnus says:

    We have met the enemy and it is the rest of us….

  14. Paul Magnus says:

    It’s all down hill now. 2010 was probably the inflection point.

  15. Paul Magnus says:


    Shell Oil Rig Runs Aground in Alaska
    An enormous offshore drilling rig ran aground on an island in the Gulf of Alaska on Monday night after it broke free from tow ships in rough seas, officials said.

  16. prokaryotes says:

    “The rig, the Kulluk, which was used for test drilling in the Arctic last summer, is carrying about 139,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of lubricating oil and hydraulic fluid, the officials said.”

    So how exactly do they plan to get this out of there?

  17. prokaryotes says:

    Rig Runs Aground in Alaska, Reviving Fears About Arctic Drilling

    One of Shell Oil’s two Arctic drilling rigs is beached on an island in the Gulf of Alaska, threatening environmental damage from a fuel spill and calling into question Shell’s plans to resume drilling in the treacherous waters north of Alaska in the summer.

  18. Paul Magnus says:

    Price of gas just went up…

  19. Robert Nagle says:

    I realize that we can only worry about what happens in the US, but what happens in China is more important (and something that traditional thinking about political reform and messaging might be irrelevant). Sure, a lot of power centers are still in the US, but how can an undemocratic government be made responsive to environmental concerns when it treats many forms of political dissension as betrayal?

    Bill McKibben has argued that we should first concentrate on a carbon tax in the US and not necessarily worry about reciprocity from the Chinese side. But I tend to see this issue as requiring bilateral agreement between US and China. Perhaps these things will be resolved at WTO, but look at how divisive the EU airline carbon offset program already has become.

    China has already been forging ahead with renewables and fossil fuels alike. Do we really see China following our hypothetical lead on carbon taxes/cap and trade — when it finally does occur?

    It’s true that many Chinese leaders started out as engineers and technocrats, but at least in the US we can mock Rick Perry and Sen. Inhofe for his asinine statements about climate change. Chinese leaders don’t receive this level of criticism or scorn.

    I’m somber about the American political system to prepare for climate change. I’m even more somber about the ability of the Chinese system to prepare and adapt.

  20. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    The term ‘voluntary’ clearly has no place in describing the development of the requisite changes – we are already in a force majeure condition where the consequences even of stringent global emissions control are dire.

    Yet your proposal of physical military intervention against the status quo, which I’d describe as the present bipartisan policy of a brinkmanship of inaction with China, has one basic flaw – the military are perhaps the most heavily conditioned of any profession to maintaining America’s global economic dominance, regardless of the costs, and there are no feasible alternative means in view of breaking China’s bid for global dominance.

    At best I’d suggest that the Pentagon’s analysts can provide the Joint Chiefs with the clear evidence that climate impacts on America are rising far faster than those on China, and that America is increasingly less able to afford the damages and rebuilding costs. These are fundamental dynamic factors well within their normal focus of assessing nations’ relative endurance capacities, and they are cogent in terms of the Joint Chiefs’ recognition that the policy of brinkmanship is unsustainable. Whether they would then be willing to press that message in the White House is anybody’s guess.

    Joe’s remarks on the need of a climate Churchill are pertinent, but I don’t think that Obama is actually incapable in this regard. IF the bipartisan policy attracts enough critique and is reviewed during his remaining term, there are a host of ‘new and critical’ issues from feedbacks to famines that can be put to the MSM and directly to the public to arouse widespread adamant demand for effective action, as well as the potential for the political class to suddely recall its previous interest in the subject. IF the establishment sees fit, I’ve no doubt the tea party can be marginalised almost as swiftly as it was given a platform.

    In short, it’s all to play for – and I hope we can agree that by far the most dangerous creed is defeatism ?


  21. Omega Centauri says:

    I’ll second you on that. The problem with recognizing that climate change is biting us is very similar to the boiling frog problem. Peoples expectations of the weather are formed by relatively recent experience, say 5-10 years, and the amount of change in that timespan isn’t so large.

  22. Paul Magnus says:

    We have to jump this cliff before we decide its there unfortunately. Lets hope we can construct some sort of parachute quickly.

  23. We can make the parachute out of biochar.

  24. Artful Dodger says:

    Now the House leadership is using the distraction of the New Year’s Day fiscal cliff / kabuki theater to avoid taking up the $60 Billion Hurricane Sandy Relief bill.

    The Senate Bill, approved last week, dies tomorrow with the 112 Congress.

  25. Colorado Bob says:

    Billy the Mountain …… The Mother’s of Invention.

    The first use of ‘wing nut’.

    “Wing-nuts, and data dividers”.

  26. Colorado Bob says:

    Correction –
    Frank Zappa –
    First wrote , “Wing-Nuts, and data reduction clerks”.
    Nearly 40 years ago.

  27. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It was Nader who said, on election night 2008, after Obama had prevailed, ‘Prepare to be disappointed’, and Obama has never disappointed in disappointing ever since. He’ll give away much of the flimsy tatters of US social welfare in return for precious little as the months go by, because that is what he was recruited, financed and promoted in politics to do.

  28. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Right are and always have been, since the dawn of time, vicious, greedy, aggressive and violent. Their worldview is in tatters, having brought nothing but gigantic inequality and injustice (as intended) and ecological catastrophe (which their tiny minds cannot comprehend). Belligerence, intimidation and, inevitably, violence have always served the Right well, so there is no chance that they will not be mobilised without restraint yet again. We are in for a bumpy ride.

  29. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    If they and, more crucially, their business owners are not directly affected, most vitally, financially, then they couldn’t give a stuff. Indifference to the suffering of others and the total absence of human empathy for others are crucial character traits of this type.

  30. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The MSM and that other force for evil, the advertising Moloch, are all about brainwashing and indoctrination, not education. Education draws out the best in people, while brainwashing fills their psyches with moral and spiritual sullage.

  31. Colorado Bob says:

    Max: I don’t know anything about methane.
    Aunty Entity: You can shovel shit can’t you?

  32. fj says:

    It’s silly considering a takeover. At worst we’ll have to shake some sense into the powers that be.

    Channeling Brando in the Godfather, severely inhospitable environmental conditions will make them an offer they can’t refuse.

  33. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    In ‘only’ 250 years, don’t you mean, you alarmist watermelon, you!

  34. John McCormick says:

    Mulga, from a distance and up close, there is agreement with your comment but it needs some reflection.

    We Americans are slipping into a troubling future as more of us retire, live longer, pay higher prices for medications and medicating.

    Unemployment rates are coming down but not for everyone, particularly urban populations located far from manufacturing centers and lacking technical skills. Sounds trite to say all of this because it all refers to strangers struggling to get by.

    Now, President Obama, with all of his ‘disappointments’ is a Joan of Arc compared to any rethug. The American social scene would unhinge with a Rommoney in the White House and a rethug Senate. If we paid a price for assuring the rethugs didn’t take over our government, well…I don’t write that off as Obama disappointing us. We survived.

    And, I see a new expression on President elect Obama. He has an angry face and is threatening the rethugs that he is going to take them on. Fourteenth Amendment will extend the debt ceiling and shut those crazy teabag idiots up.

    Nader may be an icon for some but he also gave Bush the FL vote.

  35. John McCormick says:

    And, Mulga, following up on my earlier reply to you, you have stated, in certain terms, why Obama’s path to re-election over the right may have seemed hollow to some, it was a lifeline for others.

  36. John McCormick says:

    Wont work!

  37. Paul Klinkman says:

    It’s not a cliff, it’s a gradually steepening slope. Republicans make up bad metaphors, and Republicans eventually pay the price in loss of credibility. Personally, I’d like to avoid their fate.

    We’re a technological society as opposed to a helpless society, and the questions are, how much effort are we going to have to put into slowing/stopping/reversing climate momentum, and how much extinction and destruction costs should we, the citizens, pay for a couple of rich people’s greed.

  38. Paul Klinkman says:

    Also, when on earth, in what decade, are we sloths going to start the needed product development?

  39. Superman1 says:


    “the most dangerous creed is defeatism”

    I have been admonished by a few posters for inferring ‘defeatism’. I’m all for a positive outlook, but there has to be some basis for optimism. Otherwise, it becomes wishful thinking or delusion. I have seen no credible Strategic Plan or Roadmap that will allow us to ameliorate climate change given the restrictions we have on adding further CO2 to the atmosphere in the process.

    I find it interesting that the climate science community is willing to generate environmental variable time series from thousands or millions of years ago, and extrapolate to the present and future. However, when it comes to generating time series of actions to reverse climate change, a polar opposite approach is used. Consider the past thirty years, since Hansen elevated the climate change alarm to a new level. We have a time series of thirty annual points of ZERO action taken to address climate change, yet we extrapolate super-exponentials into the future that will reverse climate change. The voluntary, democratic, free market approach to limiting emissions and other ameliorating practices has not worked, is not working, and, as far as I can see, will not work. There is zero evidence to the contrary!

    Where are we now? According to Anderson (and others) there is sufficient man-made CO2 that has been added to the atmosphere to place us in the Extremely Dangerous regime. Not only will we be seeing a dramatic increase in what were once considered Extreme Events, both in frequency and magnitude, but there is increasing probability that some degree of runaway temperature will occur. That translates into the extinction of civilization before the end of this century.

    We need to minimize the temperature increase in the near term. Practically, this requires eliminating CO2 emissions ASAP, and removing as much CO2 from the atmosphere ASAP. It probably also means some form of geo-engineering for the short term to minimize the temperature increase and ‘quench’ the self-sustaining positive feedback mechanisms that we are observing already.

    So, what are our options today? Thirty years ago, had we had the awareness of today relative to climate change, we could have made a transition to renewables with modest discomfort. We had some CO2 concentration ‘slack’ in the atmosphere. Today, that no longer exists. So, if the voluntary approach I outlined above is not working, there are two generic choices. One is business as usual, which results in the loss of seven billion people by century’s end. The other is some form of involuntary approach. I mentioned takeover by those who control the physical levers of power because that’s the only group who has the ability to enforce the required level of changes. There is nothing the President or Congress could, or would, do to enable these draconian changes. They could not impose the type of rationing we had during WWII, or even more extreme, or double or triple the price of fuel. The electorate would not stand for it.

    So, the only thing I see that gives us any chance is this assumption of power by those with the physical forces to impose it, and then imposition of the most draconian measures. As some posters have pointed out, this could result in the premature deaths of hundreds of millions of people. Well, in 1941, when the Germans invaded the USSR, it appeared they would reach Moscow in a month or two, and the game would be over. Stalin ordered troops to fight a series of delaying battles to forestall the advance. Even the troops knew they were being sacrificed, as later letters showed. Stalin was willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands so that millions, or tens of millions, would survive. It worked. That’s the position we are in today with respect to climate change.

    This is not something I am ‘promoting’; this is the only lifeline I see at this point in time. Do you think this concept makes me happy? I have spent the last two decades of my professional life looking for methods that will forestall premature deaths of people from various diseases. It now seems for naught, given the level of premature deaths we can expect from climate change. What’s the point of extending the lives of a few tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, if at best we can expect hundreds of millions to die in order to save billions?

    If you have a better or more humane plan, please describe it.

  40. Superman1 says:

    How do you know we have not reached that point already?

  41. Superman1 says:

    What is it our leaders can ‘do’ to make you drive your SUV less, or go on less overseas flights, or buy a smaller home, if you won’t support these measures at the ballot box? They can’t institute rationing without your support, or increase fuel taxes without your support. The generic ‘you’ is the problem, not the leaders.

  42. The product’s already developed. It’s called concentrated solar power with molten salt heat storage. It can deliver electricity 24/7/365 from the earth’s deserts — 6,000 times more electricity than we need. The problem isn’t technology, it’s deployment of existing technology.

  43. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The dawn of time? That was when somebody invented representative democracy was it? ME

  44. Merrelyn Emery says:

    China is already piloting various forms of carbon pricing in several provinces, ME

  45. wili says:

    NB: O said he would not invoke the 14th.

  46. john c. wilson says:

    That’s not the plan at all. If it can be removed from the rocks in a piece, it will be scuttled. If not it will be broken to pieces. There are enough difficulties in doing anything it may simply be left to the waves.

  47. fj says:


    I realize you are addressing John Q. Public and I am not the usual individual but . . .

    I drive a bike and don’t own a car and seldom use one and have been a longtime advocate of high-performance and highly accessible carbon zero transport and transit; recommended to Bloomberg that he have town hall meetings on transportation and global warming about 6 years ago which he did and later started PlaNYC . . .

    I have not been on a plane for over 12 years and would have to have a very good reason to be on one . . .

    I inherited my modest home for use by my family and it is far from extravagant and might get heat tomorrow for the first time since Sandy hit . . .

    Life is tenacious and survival is everything and civilizations have collapsed but . . .

  48. fj says:

    I also mentioned to James Hansen many years back that if he wanted to make an impact on global warming that all that was necessary was to get cars out of New York City.

    He said it was impossible.

    I said that Bloomberg got smoking out of bars and restaurants and it’s pretty much the same thing.

    Hansen looked at his feet.

    New York City is one of the world’s most iconic cities central to the Northeast and one of the world largest economies and it thrives despite cars not because of them . . .

    And, right here is the prime example of danger of defeatism.

  49. fj says:

    Actually, it’s also just been announced 44% efficiency for photovoltaics with a likely very short commercialization period.

    Is this too good to be true?

  50. rollin says:

    There are some who think that it’s a done deal, that there is no way out of here.

    There are some who hope for immediate collapse with the thought that at least some will survive and CO2 levels will stabilize since industry will fail.

    There are some who think that changing fuels, changing cars, and cutting back will solve the problems.

    There are some who think that the governments can save the situation.

    There are some that think a new device or discovery will prevent disaster. That computers will solve the predicaments.

    Then there are those who do what they can with what they have, every day.
    There is no waiting to get on the action line. Start acting now.

  51. Mond from Oz says:

    Australia is exporting coal to China and India like there was no tomorrow (!) Plans are in hand for substantial expansion (see Greenpeace on the Queensland Galilee deposits) Can anyone see the necessary global reduction in emissions happening in the next 20 years? And, of course, it’s what’s up there that counts, and that, plus the positive feedbacks, could be enough to screw us. Except: here’s an insight I gained in managing organisational change in a system of oldfashioned lunatic asylums. If you want to create change, first create the perception of necessity. And if the floods, droughts, heatwaves and storms havenot done that, what then?

    Here’s one answer: Get the message out: see it as a message to the unalarmed, the unconvinced, and the uninformed. Think Fox, think the Daily Mail and the Australian Daily Telegraph. Couch it in short, plain language and unambiguous messages…CONNECT THE DOTS. After all, it’s what we did.

  52. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Mond, I agree with everything you have written here. Robert N was expressing his doubt that China would follow a USA lead on carbon pricing without realizing it was already moving, ME

  53. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Stalin said that one human death was a tragedy, but a million were merely a statistic. I wonder what the old monster say of several billion?

  54. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    This is quite different from any previous collapse, in depth and extent. History is no guide.

  55. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I hope you are correct, but I’m more pessimistic. Humanity needs someone other than Obama, I’m convinced. We’ve moved beyond a situation where the ‘lesser evil’ will suffice, no matter how hideous (and they are ghastly beyond belief) is the ‘greater evil’.

  56. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    A one-year extension alone is merely a PR gesture.

  57. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Since the first primate entrepreneur practised a little ‘leveraging’ of a stick to the back of the head of his neighbour and ‘privatised’ his goodies.

  58. fj says:

    We must turn off our cars and stop the fires before nature does this for us.

    There is no other way.

  59. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    SM1 – I wasn’t seeking to admonish you for defeatism but to confirm, as I thought, that you recogize the danger of promoting that outlook. It’s good to see your response on this.

    With regard to our prospects for mitigation, it is worth putting the US track record in context with that of European and other states. By 2000 the US had signed up to cuts of over 5% by 2012 under Kyoto, which although less than half of say Germany’s commitment was at least a start as the agreed lead by Western nations before all nations accepted commensurate commitments.

    Bush then reneged on Kyoto by refusing to send it for ratification, and he and Cheyney launched the policy of a Brinkmanship of Inaction with China, the rival for US global dominance. With Obama having adopted that policy in 2009, and rigorously pursuing it since then, China is now reportedly within a decade or so of the onset of food shortages due to crop failures, and of the political destabilization that would engender. The US has no feasible alternative means in view of meeting its paramount priority of maintaining its global economic dominance.

    This aspect of the global response to AGW is critical to a rational assessment of the prospects for mitigation. In needing to prevent any appearance of a willingness to take effective global action, US govt.s have avoided encouragement of popular concern over the issue, but despite this around 80% are concerned. By contrast, EU govt.s have both encouraged concern and taken some action – such as the UK parliament voting 649 to 3 in favour of a legally binding 3% per year cut in CO2 output. Given US obstructionist policy and the consequent risk of industrial disadvantage, it is hardly surprising that the EU has not done more.

    Yet the position is far from static. The report in 2010 that cryosphere decline and its albedo loss feedback was already imposing a forcing equal to about 30% of anthro CO2 output was the warning of imminent climate destabilization. This is now under way with arctic warming causing the wild disruption of the Jetstream that dictates N hemisphere weather.

    Cheyney’s policy of Inaction was launched under the conventional assumptions that China would be far harder hit by climate impacts than America, and that America would be far better able to afford the damages and rebuilding costs, and food price rises, than China. Both of those basic assumptions of relative US advantage have been proven wrong, showing the policy of Inaction to be both counter-productive and unsustainable. Quite how soon it is reviewed depends on just how soon it attracts cogent critique within the establishment, and, in particular, within the various media open to the US public.

    At the point where the policy of Inaction is overturned, actual negotiation of a commensurate climate treaty can begin. Given that it evidently needs to mandate both Carbon Recovery and Albedo Restoration, its Emissions Control component is under different pressures than are proposed by Anderson and others.

    The best we can do globally without crashing the global economy – say a sigmoid (S-bend) curve of CO2e cuts averaging 3.5%/yr to 2050 – is then a viable rate of change due to the deployment of Albedo Restoration establishing the pre-industrial global temperature to maintain agricultural output, to offset the loss of the sulphate parasol, and to halt the acceleration of the feedbacks.

    Thus the humane plan that I’d suggest is of putting every ounce of pressure we can apply into exposing Obama’s pursuit of the policy of a Brinkmanship of Inaction, into criticizing its immoral and counter-productive incompetence, and into demanding its replacement. With the accelerating decline of arctic summer sea ice and the cryosphere in general, we can expect the Jetstream to helpfully impose increasingly extreme impacts on the US public, raising their already strong interest in finding a new approach to resolving AGW.

    If we can avoid that rising concern being diverted into the swamp of defeatism or the dead end of the wrong-headed fossil divestment campaign, then, as I remarked above, it’s all to play for.



  60. perceptiventity says:

    ‘I find it interesting that the climate science community is willing to generate environmental variable time series from thousands or millions of years ago, and extrapolate to the present and future. However, when it comes to generating time series of actions to reverse climate change, a polar opposite approach is used.’

    Could have been an amusing but still is a spot on observation. The Limbo of realization and enevitability versus hope eternal and zest for life itself is most excrutiating an experience

  61. wial says:

    Good except it drastically underestimates the urgency of the emergency. Blocking highs due to jet stream collapse are happening *now* (vis Sandy’s hard left turn) and the summer ice could be gone in the arctic *this year* (although the trend line hits zero in 2015). When the arctic warms enough, the world’s air circulation patterns could collapse completely. We need to stop worrying about the deniers and work instead to wake each other up to the full magnitude of the emergency. We may be facing a die-back of the world’s population on the scale of hundreds of millions of people *this year*. We may be dealing with runaway positive feedback from methane release *this year*.

  62. Merrelyn Emery says:

    A little anthropology might come in handy here or a study of the difference between chimps and bonobos, ME

  63. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    but, together with our biomass, it would make our imact crater wonderfully fertile . . .

  64. ArkRiot says:

    Nice bit of Obama bashing there, but I simply cannot agree, if for no other reason than it is dangerously short sighted.

    Obama isn’t defeated, nor are any of the organizations pushing for overdue action, the stalemate comes from fractured and confusing opinion (in some cases with agenda), which have just had their latest efforts rebuffed in the US by Sandy; and the re-election of Obama. But Changes in The US (even those surpassing the climate movements wildest dreams) will make little difference to the global direction of fossil fuel extraction and burning. China and India will counteract any changes made in US policy on energy or climate welfare. The climate Churchill will need to speak mandarin, most likely.

    To procrastinate on the politics of government outside of our control is inefficient. The US government is well aware of energy/ecological/climate projections (and has been made so by the department of defence on numerous occasions), but the realism of re-election and public support lies in employment and economy. Accept that effective action does not prioritize over finance in political terms, but rather depends upon it. Economy Vs environment is a fixed fight, the fiscal cliff must be avoided to begin the climb toward climate stabilization. Brinkmanship is, after all, no more than a pretty subjective appraisal of what could quite easily be seen as necessity.

    Like a marionette, Obama’s time in office has been controlled more by the policies of his predecessors, than by his own intentions. Even with some of the strings of janitorial obligation now cut, we will see little improvement on issues of climate; they will fall well short of your expectations because the US no longer champions the hopes of men. That mid 20th century persona has been replaced with a fiscally broken and traumatized society. Obama isn’t fighting climate change, because there are louder and more immediately dangerous opponents in line. Only once he has dealt with those, can any opinion of his climate policy be formed, and even with another four years, he simply doesn’t have time.

    Any effort to discredit Obama as some Cheney lacky, is incredibly foolish and uncharacteristically short sighted for anyone pro-climate. Given the increasing likelihood of climates central role in near future politics, applying subjective negative opinions regarding Democratic agenda is essentially a vote of support for future republican policies or government; which will no doubt be void of climate action. Obama’s most important legacy will be succession by another Democratic president, who might just have the room to actually achieve something.

  65. Ben Niblett says:

    Bill Gates has spoken about climate change – his 2011 report to the G20 recommended a Financial Transaction Tax, a climate levy on international shipping, an international aviation tax, and higher tobacco taxes as ways to raise finance to help poor communities in the global south adapt to the changing climate and find clean ways to develop. Here’s a nice article about it from HuffPo

  66. Superman1 says:


    You are usually one of the best posters on this blog. On this issue, however, I have to disagree. The existence of such a policyof Brinksmanship of Inaction may or may not be true, but it’s not the central roadblock to mitigation. Cheney could have been a climate hawk, and it still would have made little difference. If you believe Kevin Anderson’s projections, and add in a ‘boost’ from the positive feedback mechanisms his models ignore, we have placed enough CO2 in the atmosphere to enter his regime of Extremely Dangerous. If we are to have any chance of avoiding an unimaginable catastrophe, we must institute the most draconian measures. First and foremost is immediate cessation of fossil fuel use. This will crash the global economy far worse than even Anderson suggests, at least for the next three or four decades. How could any politician run on such a platform, or get such actions approved by the Legislature and, more importantly, the electorate? In the recent election, Obama didn’t even discuss climate change, and did all he could do to defend two percent growth. True, Cheney could have made some fiery speeches, and perhaps swayed a few minds. Obama could do the same. My view: the American people are in no way ready to make the kinds of serious sacrifices required to get us over the hump. I’ll address your Albedo Restoration concept in another post.