Global Ponzi Scheme Revisited: How Climate Inaction Betrays Our Children And Future Generations

Obama has now framed climate action and inaction in moral terms, as a betrayal of future generations. So it seemed like a good time to run this (slightly) updated repost, which explains why our inaction is indeed such a betrayal. That — and it’s my own daughter’s six birthday.

Fundamentally, homo “sapiens” sapiens has constructed the grandest of Ponzi schemes, whereby current generations have figured out how to live off the wealth of future generations. We are all in essence Bernie Madoffs (many wittingly, most not) or at least his most credulous clients.

NYT columnist Tom Friedman interviewed me for his column “The Inflection Is Near?” back in 2009:

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.

“You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate …’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”

A few years ago I thought that aggressive action by governments around the world to push clean energy could spare the public dramatic lifestyle changes in the coming decades, but I have been convinced otherwise by

The adults, in short, are not standing up. Sadly, most haven’t even taken the time to understand that they should.

And so every generation that comes after the Baby Boomers is poised to experience the dramatic changes in lifestyle that inevitably follow the collapse of any Ponzi scheme.

This global Ponzi scheme is not just a metaphor (see “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor”), but a central organizing narrative of how to think about the fix we have put ourselves in (see How Lincoln framed his picture-perfect Gettysburg Address, 4: Extended metaphor).

What exactly is a Ponzi scheme? Wikipedia (had) a good entry:

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors rather than from profit. The term “Ponzi scheme” is used primarily in the United States , while other English-speaking countries do not distinguish colloquially between this scheme and pyramid schemes.

The Ponzi scheme usually offers abnormally high short-term returns in order to entice new investors. The perpetuation of the high returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going.

In our case, investors (i.e. current generations) are paying themselves (i.e. you and me) by taking the nonrenewable resources and livable climate from future generations. To perpetuate the high returns the rich countries in particular have been achieving in recent decades, we have been taking an ever greater fraction of nonrenewable energy resources (especially hydrocarbons) and natural capital (fresh water, arable land, forests, fisheries), and, the most important nonrenewable natural capital of all — a livable climate.

See also a new study “The Monetary Cost of the Non-Use of Renewable Energies,” which finds that “every day we delay substituting renewables for fossil fuels,” every day “fossil raw materials are consumed as one-time energy creates a future usage loss of between 8.8 and 9.3 billion US Dollars.” Oil and coal are essentially too valuable to burn even ignoring the cost of their climate-destroying emissions.

The system is destined to collapse because the earnings, if any, are less than the payments.

See, for instance (“Hadley Center warns of catastrophic 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path” and “Shocking World Bank Climate Report: ‘A 4°C [7°F] World Can, And Must, Be Avoided’ To Avert ‘Devastating’ Impacts“).

Usually, the scheme is interrupted by legal authorities before it collapses because a Ponzi scheme is suspected or because the promoter is selling unregistered securities.

Yes, well, the authorities (i.e. world leaders, opinion makers, the cognoscenti) haven’t been doing much interrupting over the past two to three decades since, unlike a typical Ponzi scheme, they are heavily invested in the scheme and addicted to the returns!

As more investors become involved, the likelihood of the scheme coming to the attention of authorities increases.

Well now I do think that the scheme has come to the attention of many of “the authorities,” at least to many leaders around the world and to progressive ones here at home. Conservative authorities simply have too much invested in the status quo (see here and here).

Knowingly entering a Ponzi scheme, even at the last round of the scheme, can be rational in the economic sense if a government will likely bail out those participating in the Ponzi scheme.

But Friedman quotes Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International, explaining, “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”

We aren’t all Madoffs in the sense of people who have knowingly created a fraudulent Ponzi scheme for humanity. But given all of the warnings from scientists and international governments and independent energy organizations over the past quarter-century (see for instance IEA’s Bombshell Warning: We’re Headed Toward 11°F Global Warming and “Delaying Action Is a False Economy”) — it has gotten harder and harder for any of us to pretend that we are innocent victims, that we aren’t just hoping we can maintain our own personal wealth and well-being for a few more decades before the day of reckoning. Après nous le déluge.

In short, humanity has made Madoff look like a penny-ante criminal.

By enriching the authorities, as noted, we encouraged those with the most power to solve the problem to do nothing. Heck, the only way in which the global economy hasn’t become a Ponzi scheme is that everything being done is perfectly legal!

By most enriching those who did the most plundering, we enabled them to fund lobbying and disinformation campaigns to convince substantial fractions of the public and media that there is no Ponzi scheme — that global warming is “too complicated for the public to understand” and nothing to worry about.

And by “paying ourselves” with the wealth from future generations — indeed, from the next 50 generations and next 100 billion people to walk the earth (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe) — we cleverly took advantage of victims not yet born, those not able to even know they were being robbed.

Madoff is reviled as a monster for targeting charities. We are targeting our own children and grandchildren and on and on. What does that make us?

One final note. As I’ve said before, technically, we are the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. Isn’t it great being the only species that gets to name all the species, so we can call ourselves “wise” twice! But given how we have been destroying the planet’s livability, I think at the very least we should drop one of the sapiens. And, perhaps provisionally, we should put the other one in quotes, so we are Homo “sapiens” sapiens at least until we see whether we are smart enough to save ourselves from ourselves.

55 Responses to Global Ponzi Scheme Revisited: How Climate Inaction Betrays Our Children And Future Generations

  1. Paul Klinkman says:

    Up to a point there’s an argument for living off of our grandchildren’s wealth while we develop the technology to be wealthier.

    Actually, what we’re doing right now is creating vast billionaire playgrounds, along with developing our homo “sapiens” mass killing technology, then disseminating it to perhaps 50 countries at a time. Every single time that we invent something, we prove that it can be invented, and so some country like North Korea has no trouble replicating the device. Right now 50 countries are putting together drones that look and act like ours. You need a computer, radio-controlled airplane servos and something that explodes or maybe some gasoline.

    Our society isn’t getting richer by this particular expenditure of money.

    This Ponzi analogy fails with mass extinctions. We’re spending something important, millions of species that we as a species will never see again. That’s not money to be replaced. That’s extinction.

  2. We’ve financialized the climate. It’s the Enron model. We’ve imported the wealth and well-being of the future into the present.

    Enron would do a 20-year energy sales deal, claim the entire net present value of it in the current quarter, and worry about how to finance it later.

    So it is with fossils. We transferred great wealth into present, unwittingly (or perhaps unthinkingly) at first; now we do it consciously.

    We’re getting dun notices from the future. It’s knocking on the door, looking for it’s balloon payment–the massive investment we were able to avoid through leveraging fossils. There is no way we could have created our current level of wealth for billions of people without the artificial stimulus of fossils.

    Now we have enjoyed–and consumed–all the benefits of our no-doc, no-down on the climate. We have to step up to the huge repayment, or nature will foreclose.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    Nice work, Joe, but you fell into the trap of blaming China, something that members of the Right that accept global warming like to do. A country like Sweden or New Zealand can jump on China, but not us, since we far exceed them in both per capita and historical emissions, and (unlike China) have made no move toward a carbon tax.

    Chinese leadership is trapped by our own inaction, as well as problems with their own fossil fuel oligarchy. We provide cover for China’s dark side.

    China is probably open to serious bilateral negotiations to act aggressively about climate, which would include halting new coal and scrapping existing plants. The main obstacle is fossil fuels’ capture of the US government, including President Obama.

  4. Nell says:

    Our entire economy relies on growth… which in itself is sort of a ponzi scheme.
    Now that population growth in the developed world is nonexistent, our only hope is to develop new ways of doing just about everything.
    We have been born in interesting times.

  5. John McCormick says:

    Mike, Chinese officials are aware of the risk the country faces if food shortages go critical.

    The CCP, formed in 1949, will soon have a new President Xi Jinping, the son of a part of that revolution. Xi is all about protecting the CCP and civil attitude is the pulse the CCP measures constantly.

    Massive disruptions from storms and floods in China are merely nuisances compared to sea level rise on the shores of Shanghai.

    I know there will be a time when President Obama visits, or visited by, Xi Jinping. After Obama congratulates the new President he can then say, ‘lets talk seriously about climate change and our children’s future’. He will get Xi’s agreement.

  6. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Mike and John, are you aware of the US’ (unspoken) stance towards China and your military build up in Asia-Pacific? ME

  7. Leif says:

    This paradigm is called “socially enabled capitalism.” It is the fundamental flaw of western capitalism. The paradigm that enables and even encourages the chosen few to profit from the pollution of the commons. Privatized profits and socialized losses are a failed paradigm. Endorsed at the peril of humanity.

    Go Green, resistance is fatal to Earth’s Life Support Systems.

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    I would say that US military presence is ongoing, Merrelyn, and if there’s a buildup they didn’t tell us about it. Our bases surrounding Chinese shores are a waste of money and serve no purpose.

    As for our unspoken military stance toward China, I’m not sure what you mean. We are a little sick, and have a military stance toward the whole world (700+ overseas bases). Maybe you know more than I do re China, since the US press is muted on the subject.

  9. Paul Klinkman says:

    We know that China is #1 in coal pollution because we have the receipts for the coal.

  10. MarkF says:

    Thanks very much, your efforts, the straightforward and accurate summaries, that are presented here are extremely valuable and effective.

  11. John McCormick says:

    Mike Roddy, thanks.

    About time we got around to talking about China and US sitting down to figure our future for us. South Asia nations and particularly Pakistan have very vulnerable ag sectors. They should also be a part of this new think.

    Start a discussion anywhere any time on CP. We’ll join. ME and Mulga, you have much to offer.

  12. Brooks Bridges says:

    Dr. Romm,

    You frequently (justly) criticize Obama for not using his “bully pulpit” to publicize the need for action on climate change.

    But you too have a bully pulpit and I haven’t seen anything encouraging your readers to attend the President’s Day Climate Rally in DC next Sunday. If I’ve missed it, may apologies.

    Why have you been silent? I am mystified to say the least.

    I know this rally not THE answer but just as there are the wedges for reducing CO2 there are wedges for raising public awareness and this rally is such a wedge. We can’t afford NOT to try everything!

    Please push this.

    And any readers who haven’t, please go to or and sign up and go.

  13. Daniel Coffey says:

    For those who think that China is not doing anything about global warming, I invite you to read a bit more about their massive deployment of solar PV and wind power.

    Their projected solar PV by 2015 is 40,000 MW installed. By 2020 it is expected to be 100,000 MW. The current total US deployment of solar PV is 7,000 MW.

  14. Joe Romm says:

    It has been mentioned a couple of times. Was planning a bigger post. I think rallies are perfectly fine for what they are.

  15. Daniel Coffey says:

    Joe’s pieces are especially useful for the links they include. The talk cited is one which is particularly interesting, and given that it is about 4 years old, it provides a little time-capsule of what advanced thinkers were saying.

    The message then as now is to stop wasting time with thing that don’t work or are half-measures. We absolutely need to rapidly deploy large-scale wind and solar PV (most efficient possible) on a scale and in places where it will do the most to offset the most greenhouse gas emissions.

    By simply doing the least, doing the most expensive, and doing what is the slowest to deploy (e.g. solar on rooftop and not large-scale solar) we are wasting the little time and opportunities we have left to us.

    For those who will proudly wander around Washington D.C. along with the organizers of and Sierra Club, ask yourself this question: why is Sierra Club systematically delaying large-scale solar PV and wind projects?

    If your answer includes words that sound like “habitat” or “view” or “local” or “we just don’t want it” then just remember that ALL of the habitat is going to go, along with the view and the localities and you won’t be around to not want it.

    We are either going to do the big thing soon, or the rest will just be ugly. Time to stop the studies and get to the doing.

  16. John McCormick says:

    Daniel, We agree. China has that in its favor.

  17. Daniel Coffey says:

    The rallies we need desperately are those supporting large-scale solar PV and wind projects across the country. The truth needs to be told that there is only one way out of this tangle, and it will require the environmental community to get behind the builders of large-scale projects. If they don’t, the outcomes are just plain ugly, and no half-measures are going to keep that from happening.

    I am not sure how many times that message must be pounded home, but it’s up to environmental leaders to tell the facts and stop seeking to give solace to those who will slow-walk what must be done. Time is not on our side.

  18. Daniel Coffey says:

    Funny thing about military thinkers: they fight the last war.

    The current war is already being fought by China with a new energy system deployment – they are winning by deploying large-scale solar and wind, along with building the skills and knowledge to advance those technologies in other countries.

    For those who look at how hot wars are fought and for what, recall the pre-WW II saying: we send our scrap iron to Japan and our prayers to China.

    The Chinese are building a framework for the future of their energy systems, the thing upon which modern civilization rests. We are trying to recapitulate the last century and slow-walk the transformation into a truly modern society which taps solar and wind power directly.

    Solar PV is the most remarkable and modern energy technology imaginable. For those who consider the process trains involved in exploiting fossil fuels, solar is a direct threat since it is a one-step extraction process, not the absurdly long process train required for finding, capturing, storing, piping, pumping, digging, shipping, and burning that is just a small part of the totality of fossil fuel use. Every conversion step wastes energy.

  19. John McCormick says:

    Daniel, that is a keeper. Thanks.

  20. John McCormick says:

    Welcome to a serious discussion about how we and China might survive this and how to help the rest as best we can.

  21. Carol says:

    You say—
    “rallies are perfectly fine for what they are” ——
    not exactly a ringing endorsement for real, tangible citizen action!
    While you use this bully pulpit to enthusiastically (and repeatedly) promote your book about language intelligence, you seem to be–at best—- a tepid supporter of direct action.
    Am I wrong to believe that actions can speak louder than words?
    There are so many people that want to DO something but are at a loss as to what to do.

    I do not believe just talking is going to cut it. Please share with us —-those of us who do not want to lapse into immobilizing despair—what YOU think we can do (besides talking, writing, blogging . . ) You are highly respected and many would welcome your thoughts on this.

  22. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Industrial civilization will not cope with what is ahead. Large parts of the biosphere will not cope with what is ahead. Mankind might just cope with what is ahead, the few that survive that is.

    We need two and a bit earths to sustain our present lifestyle. That is overshoot. We are fishing the oceans way beyond what is sustainable. That is overshoot. We are polluting our ever vanishing water sources. That too is overshoot. We are dumping more nitrogen into our bays and estuaries than they cam cope with, overshoot.

    The sad thing about overshoot is that it gets very nasty as it gets corrected. The more the overshoot, the quicker and nastier the correction.

    In many ways what we need to do to mitigate what is ahead; is what we need to do to cope with what is ahead. What we need to do to reduce our carbon footprint, is often what we need to do to make our communities resilient.

    Economics is not linear, shocks happen very quickly. The climate is not linear either, and those graphs are starting to curve. The change will be sudden, but I do not know when.

    Being the Doomsayer that I am, I suspect change will be soon. But so far the climate is changing faster than I expected, quite a bit faster.

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Nature will liquidate, not merely foreclose.

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Chinese, in my opinion, are humanity’s last hope. Whatever you think of their system (which is deeply rooted in thousands of years old Chinese civilizational forms)their leaders are rational and utilitarian. They are aiming to ‘perfect’ their society, and live in peaceful coexistence with others. Hence they have no overseas military bases, unlike the USA’s over one thousand. They lend money to African regimes without insulting and humiliating ‘conditionalities’. Their leaders are technocrats, who understand science.
    In the rapidly decaying West, alas, our Potemkin ‘democracy’ has produced a rash of brain-dead ideologues who refute science and reject the Enlightenment. Can you imagine how long a Chinese leader would last if, like Romney, he was secretly recorded decrying 47% of the population as ‘moochers’ ie parasites, in front of an audience of real, rich, parasites?
    The real rulers in the West, the capitalist elite, the hyper-wealthy 0.01%, do not operate under rational, utilitarian or humane principles. Their every move is dictated by the psychological and spiritual disease of insatiability, endless greed for more and more, and that affliction deadens them to every other human impulse.

  25. John McCormick says:

    Mulga, several of us are urging President Obama to meet newly appointed China President Xi Jinping and say,after congratualtions,: lets talk seriously about climate change.

    Australia and China can talk bilaterally as well.

  26. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    And I don’t know how many times I must ask the same question. Why is it absolutely essential that large-scale renewable energy projects (which I support whole-heartedly) must be built on the tiny pieces of ecological significant land, the biodiversity refuges and homes to critically endangered species, when there is so very, very, much more land that is not so ecologically precious, available, much of it degraded, derelict and not being used for any other purpose?

  27. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    You seem quite obsessed by this. Tell me-have the environmental groups expressed any opposition to large-scale renewable energy development on the vast tracts of suitable land that are not ecologically precious, because those lands have already been degraded by former uses, and lie derelict and unused? What is the ratio of ecologically precious land held in reservation to the available land that has vastly less ecological significance, and, if I expect, that ratio is several times the lesser, why must the biodiversity rich refuges be utilised before the waste-lands?

  28. Aussie John says:

    Clever how we’ve ‘financialised’ the climate, without ever providing it a mention on business balance sheets.
    Human ingenuity at its worst!

  29. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Originally termed a ‘pivot’, now officially a ‘rebalancing’, a mass of US troops, equipment, ships, new planes etc are being distributed throughout Asia-Pacific. On the economic front, the US has launched its Transpacific Partnership trade scheme (TPP) and is hoping to sign up about 11 members, excluding China. All negotiations are held in total secrecy. Both moves are seen by China and most of the rest of the world as attempted ‘containment’ of China or worse, belying the official policy of ‘cooperation’, ME

  30. Joe Romm says:

    Rallies in and of themselves have some value, but they have more value, I think, for organizing and cross- fertilization, and motivation. And It’s always good for people to realize they aren’t alone, that they are part of something greater. But we need a lot of single issue voters willing to back their beliefs with their wallets. If a rally can foster that, I’m all for it.

  31. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Rabid, it is as simple and plain as 1+1+1=3. Ecological collapse, ie climate destabilisation, ocean acidification etc all rapidly progressing, all actively denied by the Right, all unaddressed by ‘democratic’ politicians for reasons that are plain to see. Resource depletion of top-soil, fossil water, fresh water generally, cheap hydro-carbons, phosphate and political intelligence and morality. And economic implosion as capitalism reverts to neo-feudalism and, with the serfs mired in debt peonage, their wages stagnant, their jobs insecure, their Bosses rampant, disempowered everywhere, they can no longer consume enough to keep the debt mountains from imploding into a black hole. The rich can only consume so many luxury yachts, trophy homes, wives and children, and with mass consumption hobbled by austerity, the writing is on the wall. All these act synergistically so that 1+1+1= 4 or more, and, seeing as they are all simply ignored or denied by the hard Right ideologues who crafted this dystopia, I really cannot see a way out, it being so very late in the day.

  32. Paul Magnus says:

    Indeed… love Saul’s take in the video.

  33. DRT says:

    If only…..

    “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

    These statements could form the basis of a pretty good doctrine. It could be the yardstick against which all policies, actions and laws are measured.

    -Will this policy make life better for my children and grandchildren and all posterity or will it betray our children and future generations?
    -Will this policy restore and enhance the land and water or will it continue their degradation?
    -Will this policy slow and stop and reverse the flow of GHG pollutants into the air?
    -Will this policy slow and stop the acidification of the oceans?
    -Will this policy lead us to a resilient and robust society or does it continue to build the curent fragile house of cards on which we currently rely?

    …If only.

  34. fj says:

    Rallies are just one social change strategy where the direct results are often minimal but can be important none-the-less.

    More effective might be when lots of small communities start going carbon free perhaps optimally in major metropolitan regions such as New York central to the world’s largest economies; say, first carbon free transportation, then housing, then food . . .

  35. Sailesh Rao says:

    There is a problem with Saul Griffith’s analysis in the talk referenced in this article.

    Why is food such a small component of his energy use when the International Livestock Research Institute admits that 45% of the land area of the planet is used for Livestock production alone? Shouldn’t the solar energy falling on 45% of the land area of the planet be accounted in the consumption of animal foods alone?

    It is with such creative accounting that we fail to comprehend the core problem: our food habits and the arrogance that those food habits display towards Life, in general.

  36. Mike Roddy says:

    Yes, Mulga. Several solar companies got buried in the Mojave desert, due to astroturf citizens’ groups and tribes suddenly discovering Native Indian artifacts where the solar plants were scheduled to break ground.

    Coffey is right, I was there to watch it happen. Fake green groups intimidated BLM into stalling projects, backed on little more than hysteria. New technology companies can’t take those kinds of hits. Financing dried up.

  37. Mike Roddy says:

    Can Obama pivot? That’s the question.

  38. Sasparilla says:

    We (the U.S.) had a couple of instances recently (last year or two) where large scale solar installations were taken to the courts on the grounds that it would disrupt the desert habitat (prime solar areas) they were to be sited on (I believe on ended up being scaled back by a 1/4 or a 1/3 if memory serves) – at this point when we’re barely getting anything done and time is running out – I can see where Daniel is coming from.

  39. Sasparilla says:

    It is indeed.

    Here is TransCanada’s stock (believe it is around an all time high) – change the graph to 5 Years to see it.

    The Kiplinger Letter (another business forecasting source that mostly gets things right said the following Friday):

    “First up, he’ll OK the Keystone XL pipeline…, green groups will see the decision as nothing short of a betrayal…No big push to curb hydraulic fracturing…In time, Obama will deliver on his green allies’ top goal: Reducing coal use…A crackdown on carbon emissions is coming. And it will be widespread…New rules will hit existing coal plants.” (which had been grandfathered out of most of the recent regulations).

    Money says the XL is a done deal…we’ll only need the President to put Federal support behind high capacity west coast Coal terminals then he can declare victory on energy (XL), the climate (tighten EPA on coal plants some) and jobs (send the coal to China)…if you are reading this Mr. Axelrod, that was a cynical joke, please do not make it policy.

  40. Paul Klinkman says:

    A retired Marathon Oil company president and hardly anybody else has successfully delayed a wind farm off of Cape Cod for maybe 10 years, using every possible legal angle. He has also astroturfed his own group of seaside homeowners objecting to looking at the turbines a few miles out to sea.

    However, Mulga is asking for cases where environmental organizations, real environmental organizations and not imaginary ones, fought wind farms and large-scale PV installations.

  41. Merrelyn Emery says:

    John, I have just learned that Australia and China are discussing linking our carbon trading schemes, ME

  42. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Chinese political system, whatever you call it, whatever your opinion of it, is very much like other Chinese dynastic regimes in their hey-days. It is meritocratic with bureaucrats planning policy, (not having it foisted on them by ideologues), according to utilitarian principles. To strive for the greatest good for the greatest number is simply ‘right conduct’ and that, not ideological correctness or material gain, drives the elite.
    Businessmen are not allowed to grab the reins of power, although they can join the Party of power and government and rise or fall according to their merits. Similarly the old dynasties kept merchants away from power, and let them concentrate on trade and production. Policy is carefully planned and rigorously tested before full implementation. ‘Leaving it to the Market’ ie to the rich and the financial grifters and their lust for maximised profits, is not going to happen. The proof of the pudding is unmistakeable, and the results in economic growth, production, trade, innovation, infrastructure building and improved standards of living are unambiguous. The West has a lot to learn from China, if it wishes to survive.

  43. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Judging from history, they will probably surpass those targets.

  44. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    That’s good news, because the link with the corrupt European scheme is a death-pact. We’d have to get California on board sometime, too.

  45. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I have absolutely no problem with resolutely opposing astro-turf troublemakers and fossil fuel stooges. Fake Indian relics is a type of con we have seen here, where the Murdoch sewer found a few compliant blackfellas to oppose the Wild Rivers wilderness laws in Queensland, when the majority of indigenous (who were, of course, ignored)approved the laws. It must have really had them laughing at setting two groups they despise, Greens and Aborigines, at one anothers’ throats. In Daniel’s case I am opposed to renewables on really important areas absolutely requiring conservation, but most definitely not on the vastly greater areas of degraded land.

  46. Brian R Smith says:

    Joe, this a broken and bloody mirror you hold up to the powerful and the rest of us alike, entangled and culpable as we are. This is hard stuff and you have laid it bare at a moment when honesty about the greed of the Ponzi masters and the greed behind the politics needs to be accepted as basic to understanding where we are and where we need to go. I hope it gets widely read & quoted.

    Thank you for the metaphor that exactly explains our ecologic/economic quandary – incredibly well developed. Because of Madoff, the punditry and the public are prepped to follow the parallels you make of our behavior to a loosing Ponzi scheme. If hope lies in unraveling the true ugliness of the scheme before squaring up to the harsh changes that are coming, then you have made a useful mark with this piece and ,again, I hope it will be widely passed around.

  47. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    If the desert land was not ecologically important, and just derelict or degraded, I’m all in favour of it, and detest the fossil fuel stooges’ hypocrisy at using environmentalist arguments as if they care for anything but money. But let’s not propose schemes on environmentally precious land-that just does the Right’s dirty work by starting a fight amongst the planet’s defenders.

  48. Paper Mac says:

    Mulga- have you ever been to China? It’s very difficult for me to believe that you’ve seriously studied the way the CCP operates (or, for that matter, the way imperial Chinese bureaucracies worked). The notion that the CCP is some kind of disinterested rational bureaucracy is one that most ordinary Chinese would find completely ridiculous. State owned enterprises make up the vast majority of the extractive industries in China, and those SOEs are owned and operated by CCP members. There are identifiable cliques within the CCP that form solely around business interests (eg coastal manufacturing elites, central extractive industry execs, etc- see Ho Fung Hung’s article here for an example: The CCP itself acknowledges that corruption is endemic and a major problem for the basic functioning of the government. The problem has got so bad in the military (open sale of rank) that Chinese generals have made the claim in semi-public forums that the PLA is no longer capable of carrying out operations ( Other branches of the government are a little better, but not by much.

    China, for all their commitment to renewables, is rapaciously devouring their natural resources in a bid to keep economic growth high enough to keep a lid on unrest. They are very much integrated into the global economy and very much part of the “Ponzi scheme” Joe is describing in this post.

  49. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    In every major extinction event the dominant species disappeared. We are already in the beginnings of a major extinction event and we are the dominant species.

    But we think we are smart, so I have some hope there will be survivors.

  50. wili says:

    “I have some hope there will be survivors”

    Given the rest of your excellent post (and your handle), I have to assume that this last clause was intended to be ironic.

  51. wili says:

    Yes, cities as well as every other local needs to get as close to zero carbon as they can.

    Unfortunately, cities are inherently unsustainable, essentially, by definition–their population density cannot be sustained within their borders.

    And the bigger the city, the more are outside of their borders is needed to sustain them.

    They are essentially foci of empire.

    This was more obvious in the past, when, before about 1800, nearly all cities over one million people were centers of empire.

    The difference today is that we have, through the ‘miracle’ of fossil “extinction” fuels, extended empire beyond current geographic areas.

    The ’empires’ that modern cities exploit are not just those of current land, sea and air.

    They are empires of time.

    _Geographic Empires_ deprive their provinces of full use of their native productivity in exchange for the (often dubious) “advantages” of living within the order of imperial laws and protection from raids from others outside the empire.

    The _Temporal/Geographc Empires_ that modern cities represent, rape not only current ‘provinces’ of their resources, but also steal from future generations:

    Both because burning ff’s up deprives future generations of their use, but even more so because consequences of their combustion deprive future generations of a livable planet to exist on.

    Like all empires, we tend to either ignore the negative consequences of our imperial prerogatives, or assume the benefits we bestow on the ‘provinces’ will outweigh the harms done to them–that our wonderful iphones and other gadgets will make life in the future so wonderful, they won’t notice that it is impossible to exist out of temperature controlled spaces for more than a few minutes…

    So, I’m all for every area reducing their carbon and ecological footprint as rapidly and massively as possible, but let’s not fool ourselves about the essential nature and function of large cities (much as I love many things about them).

  52. fj says:


    Seems like you are referring to high concentrations of wealthy people that tend to live in the best cities which is another matter and perhaps somehow requires reinventing affluence based on an advanced quality of life without waste where poverty has been eradicated.

  53. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Paper Mac, I think that you’d best not believe all the negative propaganda produced about China. What is irrefutable is that China has achieved the greatest leap in economic terms, in production and trade, not ‘financial services’ as in the West, over recent decades, of any society in human history. The UN reported that China was responsible for 110% of global poverty reduction over the first decade of the century, countries like India having gone backwards. China is not perfect-what society is? But it has consistently out-performed the West for decades, and has not turned its economy over to parasites and rent-seekers, its workers’ wages are growing rapidly, not declining as in the ‘austerity’ afflicted West, and it is not engaged in a global war costing trillions against an ‘enemy’ that it itself created. And the new leadership has announced plans to expand domestic consumption and social welfare, which will benefit China’s trading partners. May I suggest a brief perusal of ‘Maonomics’ by Loretta Napoleoni, to balance your opinions?