NY Times Criticizes Itself For Touting Myth That It Is Too Late To Avoid Climate Catastrophe, Part 2

Image by John Garrett

Part 1 took on a NY Times essay that pushed the myth “We already know it’s too late” to stop climate catastrophe. In fact, many recent studies have concluded that aggressive action now to curtail carbon pollution could keep us at the low end of warming, where impacts are far more manageable.

Here I’ll extend that discussion, while taking on a NYT Dot Earth post that pushes other dangerous myths, such as the notion climate change impacts are reversible on a timescale that matters to humans.

In his post, “An Earth Scientist Explores the Biggest Climate Threat: Fear,” NYT climate blogger Revkin introduces an extended comment from Peter Keleman this way:

Here’s a “Your Dot” contribution pushing back against apocalyptic depictions of the collision between humans and the climate system — written by Peter B. Kelemen, the Arthur D. Storke Professor and vice chair in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. Kelemen has done a lot of interesting work on possible ways to capture carbon dioxide from air (none being easy or cheap):

Not quite.

What Keleman wrote is a pushback against “apocalyptic depictions of the collision between humans and the climate system” that say it is too damn late to do anything (depictions which, as I’ve discussed, are relatively rare and generally debunked when they do appear).

Keleman begins:

Fear Itself

We already know it is too late to reverse the planet’s transformation, and we know what is going to happen next – superstorms, super-droughts, super-pandemics, massive population displacement, water scarcity, desertification and all the rest. Massive destruction, displacement and despair. Our worst fears are already upon us. The reality is far worse than anyone has imagined.”

These phrases are distilled from “Writing [at] the End,” an essay by Nathaniel Rich in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. They capture its doomsday ethos, and its breathtaking certainty. Rich, a novelist, is sure he knows the causes of our present ills, and the nature of the near future. He probably feels that he learned this from the 98 percent of climate scientists who – famously – agree on some things. I am part of that community; we agree that human greenhouse gas emissions are having a huge, negative effect on global climate. But I don’t agree with Nathaniel Rich.

Well first off, as anyone can easily see by checking the original, these phrases “distilled” from the Rich essay are not in order, and the second and fourth sentences are completely out of context.

“Massive destruction, displacement and despair” doesn’t refer to “what is going to happen next” — it comes from the essay’s first paragraph and applies to the  aftermath of hurricane Sandy (and the aftermath of Rich’s fictional hurricane Tammy in his novel). The sentence “The reality is far worse than anyone has imagined” applies to Ian McEwan’s novel Solar, and what Rich apparently means is that our current reality is far worse than we imagined. That is hardly an unreasonable opinion to have given the bark beetle devastation, the loss of Arctic ice and apparent its impact on extreme weather, the accelerating disintegration of both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets — to name but a few realities far worse than were imagined even a decade ago.

Second, Rich is pretty clearly writing a literary, not scientific, essay. He is a novelist writing an essay about dystopian fiction and how it is having trouble keeping up with what’s actually happening in the real world. It is strange to say the least to treat this as if it were some sort of science treatise.

Third, we know where Rich “learned this from” because he tells us! It’s not “from the 98 percent of climate scientists” but rather from “nonfiction polemics” like Overheated” and “Hot” — neither of which, I might add, are written by climate scientists.

Fourth, not to nitpick or anything, but Keleman isn’t really a climate scientist, at least in the classic sense that his comments would imply — he is a (distinguished) geochemist who mostly works on geochemisty, rather than someone who has published peer-reviewed articles on, say, projected climate impacts.

I mention this only because Keleman’s next paragraph pushes the tired myth that some large number of climate scientists (and others) are exaggerating climate impacts to get grants and publicity:

Apocalyptic warnings sell newspapers, power Web sites, and are surprisingly good for marketing. Beyond the media, in the sciences and social sciences, if your research predicts a scary outcome, your name gets in the news, your grants get funded, and you feel like Paul Revere (though you might be Chicken Little). It’s a heady experience.

No, no, and no.

If the first sentence were actually true then you’d expect climate coverage would be soaring in a desperate effort by the newspaper business to stave off its ongoing collapse. Instead, of course, media coverage of climate change has itself collapsed in the past several years (see here and here) — and what little there is generally ain’t apocalyptic.

Yes, it’s true, Climate Progress is probably the most widely read climate blog, but then we do not do the kind of unjustified “it’s hopeless” messaging Keleman disdains. Indeed, we’ve criticized the very few who do — or, rather, who did, in the case of James Lovelock.

Moreover, while it is a common trope that scary research gets your name in the news, that is also rather demonstrably not the case. To the extent that the media is paying attention at all, it would much rather run a (misleading) story on the occasional contrarian finding of a somewhat low climate sensitivity than a piece on the 95% of scientific studies published since 2007 that suggest things will be worse than we thought.

Ironically, climate scientists are as likely to be attacked as exaggerators (or as “Chicken Little,” for that matter) for reporting the increasingly dire situation we face as they are to be celebrated. Go figure.

Given Keleman’s disdain for those who supposedly get grants funded for predicting a “scary outcome,” it seems odd that he would be working on “possible ways to capture carbon dioxide from air (none being easy or cheap).” Unless inaction on CO2 emissions were to lead to a “scary outcome,” why would anyone bother with expensive, difficult measures to capture CO2???

It is, in fact, the grim reality of our predicament that justifies such work — and the recent scientific literature makes it painfully clear (see a review of over 50 recent studies here). That’s why the normally staid folks at the World Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers and the International Energy Agency are in a panic.

Keleman continues:

Meanwhile, my children are fearful of, and almost paralyzed by, the prospect of an inevitable, dystopian future. They would like to contribute to avoiding calamity, but they don’t see where to start, and they are told it is too late to begin. And my children are lucky, in a stable home, among the 3 percent, talented, athletic, well educated. In the face of an overarching climate of fear, people with less opportunity find there is nothing they can do to help avoid “destruction, displacement and despair.”

However, climate catastrophe is not inevitable, let alone irreversible…. But the future is unpredictable, our mistakes are correctable, and there is plenty of reason for optimism about what people can accomplish in the face of necessity.

In reverse order — no, no, and I’m really sorry about that.

It is odd for a climate scientist (though less so for a geochemist) to claim “our mistakes are correctable” and that what we face isn’t “irreversible.” The science has been crystal clear for a while that reversing climate change and its key impacts is essentially impossible on a scale of time that matters to humans. See, for instance, NOAA study finds climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with “inexorable sea level rise” and permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe (and that’s if we peak at 450-600 ppm).

I don’t know who is telling Keleman’s children it is “too late” — but it sure as heck isn’t climate scientists or most websites they could easily get to. My daughter is 6 and doesn’t worry about climate change because why should she? Certainly the kids shows she watches only touch upon the subject in the most innocuous fashion — explaining why trees are good thing, for instance.

Again it is a myth that there is “Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages” on climate in popular culture. But Keleman concludes:

Therefore, the climate that worries me most is the climate of fear, the belief that our current trajectory leads inevitably to total disaster. This belief discourages constructive action, and can result in irrational acts by people in despair, individually, or as nations, willing to do anything to derail the juggernaut we are told is carrying us, inevitably, to destruction. Unlike environmental problems, it is less clear to me how we change this. But at least, those of us in science, social science and the media can seek to craft solutions and enlist engagement, rather than feeding fear. With hope comes action.

No (or, rather, NO!) and, sadly, no.

The first sentence is frightfully misstated, even for a strawman. The “belief that our current trajectory leads inevitably to total disaster” is pretty much an accurate one. That’s the whole point for those of us who want to dramatically change our current trajectory.

Our current trajectory — which combines no serious climate action with expanded production and consumption of the dirtiest pools of fossil fuels — puts us on track for fatally high warming. As a PricewaterhouseCoopers study from November made clear, we’re headed to 11°F warming and even stopping at 7°F requires “nearly quadrupling the current rate of decarbonisation.”

It bears repeating that warming of 7°F or beyond is “incompatible with organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems & has a high probability of not being stable (i.e.  4°C [7°F] would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level,” as climate expert Kevin Anderson explains here. Tragically, that appears to be the likely outcome of our current trajectory.

I’d be interested to know where Keleman thinks we’ll end up if we stay on “our current trajectory” and just how it doesn’t qualify as “total disaster.” As an aside, for someone who claims not to be a doomer, his 2012 talk “Peak Earth” is one heck of a downer.

As for Keleman’s claim, “with hope comes action,” that, sadly, does not appear to be the case. The 2009 climate bill that failed was pitched almost exclusively with hope —  a focus on green jobs rather than apocalyptic warnings (see “Team Obama Launched The Inane Strategy Of Downplaying Climate Change Back In March 2009 and Ezra Klein’s “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?”).

It’s hard to think of a successful social movement built primarily around happy talk. This one certainly isn’t going so well….

86 Responses to NY Times Criticizes Itself For Touting Myth That It Is Too Late To Avoid Climate Catastrophe, Part 2

  1. Superman1 says:

    I don’t believe we have adequate data to draw the conclusion of whether or not it is too late to avoid catastrophe. We don’t have complete models, and we don’t have complete carbon reserve spatial distribution information, especially for the Arctic clathrates. The intel boys probably have far more, and it is anybody’s guess when, if ever, we’ll be privy to such info.

  2. Superman1 says:

    But, that may be an irrelevant issue. Posters here have highlighted the urgency of the situation, and many times have called for a Manhattan Project type effort. That’s the wrong analogy; the Manhattan Project was a secretive high-tech project with little active participation by the American public.

  3. This is an excellent pair of responses, Joe. I will make use of it with activists locally. However, I have a couple of questions.

    1. I have continued to question the media on their coverage. I guess I started when reading Chris Mooney’s first book during the time I wrote / blogged against my then Congressman, Richard (not missed) Pombo. What is really going to turn the media over to objective reporting on climate? That mean, putting the needs (not the biases) of their audience first. It seems to me that boycotting media… or their advertisers… would be counter productive when we need to have the widest dissemination of facts, but what leverage points do we have?

    2. The same type of question arises when we discuss climate in the political realm. Given the left / right polarization of our system in the US and a right wing Republican base that will not do anything that Obama says is a good thing to do, how are we to look to the Democratic Party to make the changes we need. When I consider that Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is said (Climate Progress News of April 29th) to be in line for the Chairmanship of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, I don’t see much hope for legislative leadership. Then, given that the Unions are backing Keystone XL Pipeline, that some of the Immigration leaders back the Keystone XL, and that is the Democratic Party base, can we really rely on that? It seems that we are left with the hope that Obama will be willing to take on that role.

    Me, I am just a poor country boy from an Illinois corn field, parking my carcass on the edge of Silicon Vally. I just don’t see a way out of the maze.

  4. Superman1 says:

    A better analogy is the movement of Soviet industry to the East in the first six months after the attack by Germany; it probably was the key factor in their winning the war. It involved the harshest sacrifices from all their citizens.

  5. Superman1 says:

    That’s the type of effort required to counter climate change. There is no indication at all that such an effort is forthcoming from the global citizenry, and even on this supposed climate activist site, proposals for action are made that would involve no sacrifice; in fact, ‘draconian sacrifice’ is usually derided. So, even if saving the biosphere were technically feasible at this point, there is zero evidence of any willingness to do whatever is required to accomplish this goal.

  6. Theodore says:

    Doomsayers of yesteryear are sometimes scoffed at by those who ask “what ever happened to all those pessimistic predictions of the future? Everything turned all right after all.”

    Utopian optimists of the past are mocked as well by those who ask “what ever happened to all that nonsense about the paradise of the future? None of that stuff actually happened.”

    What they don’t realize is that both predictions came true, but each has been neutralized by the other. The mix is easily mistaken for a non-occurance.

    If we could only suppress the causes of our failings, a new heaven would show itself.

    So long as we are still alive, it will never be too late to act on climate change. On the other hand, we should have started work on this 50 years ago and should have finished 20 years ago. Heaven and hell are relative concepts.

  7. BillD says:

    As someone who sits on grant panels and reviews grants, the idea that predicting a scary outcome gets your grant funded is total bogus. Your grant gets funded if you make a good case for the scientific merit of your project and also for the idea that you are the best person (or team) to do the project.

  8. Raul M. says:

    Strange, just earlier today I tried to conceive of ways that mankind could clear the ozone destroying chemicals from the stratosphere, never thinking of the social standing and reputations of the chemists who develop such ozone depleting chemicals. Most cleaning staff get paid, though, to clean up the messes left by their bosses and their bosses guests. Perhaps he should consider paying some for the clean-up rather than just being bothered by the complaints brought on by the ever growing mess.

  9. BobbyL says:

    Sacrifice? Now when we go to war we lower taxes. Sacrifice is old school. Please come up with a modern solution for today’s “it’s all about me” world.

  10. Raul M. says:

    Perhaps we should consider paying some…
    Instead of just buying more of the things that make the messes.

  11. BobbyL says:

    I agree that the “happy talk” approach is ineffective. But I don’t believe the “fear” approach is effective either. The problem is not hopelessness. It is: how afraid can we get if we are going to be dead from natural causes or other reasons by the time the really bad stuff hits? The challenge then is how to get it done without any really effective psychological approach. I think that has always been the dilemma.

  12. Brian R Smith says:

    What are some steps you would suggest, not for mitigation or policy but for chipping away at the “global citizenry” (or just US citizenry) problem? Elsewhere you’ve commented that everyone is addicted to & culpable for energy use. Identifying a problem is good but implies an obligation to follow with suggesting specific solutions and mapping a path to those solutions. Draft for discussion sort of depth, not stopping with pronouncements, would be more useful.

    My own take on the public is that they are far less effective as Prius buyers, home energy savers and online petition signers than as voters who would be vengefully happy to remove a large number of Republicans from the House in 2014 IF THEY KNEW what they need to know. If they knew what climate scientists and everyone here knows about the risks of letting the paralysis continue. We have a fundamental problem. The urgency clearly has not reached the public and until it does you can forget about elite political action. Or getting everyone to drive less or whatever. I’ve suggested a path to solving this, at least in major part, many times here and won’t bother this time.. My point is there is a lot of problem description in these pages that’s rarely accompanied by strategic thinking except in the abstract.
    It’s not good enough to muse about what’s wrong and what “we” ought to do about it; show me the steps, show me the plan or don’t bother.

  13. We’ve all heard the message, and even if we won’t admit it, we intuitively know it’s true. We must change the way we live. We even know that the changes needed require personal sacrifice, and that technology won’t save us from having to make sacrifices.

    We may hope for someone else to tell us what to do, but we know we wouldn’t vote for anyone who told us we must make sacrifices.

    We feel stuck – perhaps we feel that Armageddon is inevitable, so we continue to eat drink and be merry. We just can’t seem to stop. But it is more than addiction – it is compulsion, for we are locked in a death struggle with each other. To survive in this battle, we can’t let go. We must compete against each other for every dollar because only dollars keep a roof overhead and food on the table. If you don’t compete successfully against other workers, you don’t get paid.

    What other way could there be to get food on the table and keep a roof overhead? This is the question, but unfortunately we are not only addicted & compelled to playing the game, unwilling to support change from above, fatalistic about the future … we are so conditioned that we can’t even begin to imagine any alternative for change. Repentance would take faith and hope, but we have neither.

    Perhaps even if an alternative was staring us in the face we wouldn’t trust our own eyes, but for now there is no such alternative to be seen anywhere.

    In any event, the only people who might be interested in an alternative to the way things are might be those for whom the simpler life that the earth could sustain would be an improvement on their current lot – the poor.

    Unfortunately the poor are also incapacitated because the land on which they might found a new approach to meeting their needs for shelter and food is already owned … except in one small area … public housing tenants who are over 55. Those under 55 are required to spend their time looking for paid employment and therefore have no security on which to pursue any alternative, but those over 55 can fulfill their Centrelink obligation by doing 15 hours of voluntary work per week for any approved community organization.

    Mostly they take up pretty conventional and unimaginative options for voluntary work, but there is no reason why some couldn’t voluntarily undertake the changes in the way they live that all of us could learn from – the change to a sustainable lifestyle. That would give the rest of us something to look at, something to believe in, something to hope for.

    Could a simpler way of life working 15 hours per week be more attractive for some than our current 40+ hour week? Might working cooperatively have more attractions for some than competing. Would being paid a much lower income for blazing a new trail be enough to afford the basics for a modern life if we had government guaranteed secure land access instead of having to buy ownership? Perhaps not for many, but how many would it take to start to show the potential in changing the way we live?

  14. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Hope is essential and so are the requisite conceptual tools and knowledge, widely known, to analyze the problem, devise a strategy to overcome the inevitable vested interests and the motivation to apply it. Nature is doing her best to educate broadly about the consequences of excess GHGs. What seems lacking in the USA at least, is the motivation to collectively devise and implement a strategy, ME

  15. BobbyL says:

    Brian wrote “We have a fundamental problem. The urgency clearly has not reached the public and until it does you can forget about elite political action.” I think that statement is on target. In my view the public will not “feel” the urgency any time soon because most people will figure they will not live enough to be concerned about the horrific predictions for 4C etc so the trick is to get urgent type of action without urgency actually being felt. If we can figure out how to that then we will finally get somewhere. Clearly the odds are stacked against us to say the least.

  16. Jamie Ross says:

    Fear can be a good motivator. So can hope.

    And both are warranted.

    For some reason, when some people say “fear” they mean fear that is so overwhelming it saps people of all ability. A better word for that may be “dread.”

    Regular fear is something we face every day, in small doses. Often it’s in response to real stimuli which we need to face with respect. It’s not necessarily debilitating.

  17. Brian R Smith says:

    Right on Merrelyn. The collective action I believe necessary has to come from the already in place progressive, influential climate leaders and organizations. But at least one among them has to have an epiphany, decide to act and be the convening entity. Imagining the political and social policy impact such an alliance could have should be motivation enough, but apparently is not. What I know is that social movements, like any other enterprise, are successful to the extent they are organized and that takes credible, committed leadership. That leadership doesn’t have to be charismatic ala MLK, but it has to be at least as well organized around objectives as the civil rights movement was. As the climate disinformation machine is.

  18. Aaron Reaven says:

    I believe this part 2 article is one of the strongest and most moving Joe has ever written on this blog (at least in the 2-3 years I have now been following it). I appreciate that Joe slowed down from his usual breakneck speed enough to thoroughly analyze and rebut, with deep and justified outrage, the mixture of fallacies in question. I would only add one point about Keleman’s last sentence: “With hope comes action.” I believe he (Keleman) has it exactly backwards. With action comes hope. And no, I don’t expect the writers of this blog to be responsible for writing the blueprint of actions for the necessary movement we are building. They contribute often to writing that blueprint, and often cover and champion those others who also contribute to the map of our response to climate change. My deepest appreciation to Joe Romm and the other writers of this blog.

  19. Spike says:

    Thanks for that cogent, logical and well argued demolition of Revkin’s piece, which encapsulated all the thoughts that went through my mind but phrased them in a coherent narrative.

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Club of Rome, for example, were derided as ‘pessimists’ by the Right, particularly the cornutopian, libertarian, market fundamentalists, like William Simon. The Club, as we know, was actually pretty spot on, its gloomy prognostications being in a future at which we have now arrived. The cornutopian libertarians suffer, alas, from that malady of the Right, idiocy, and the tendency to project their massive egotism onto the natural world, whose indifference to the libertarians’ gargantuan self-regard sends them into a lather, and is a root of their self-destructive contempt for all that is other to their magnificent selves.

  21. Superman1 says:

    Brian R Smith, You raise very good points. I have laid out the REQUIREMENTS for what needs to be achieved in order to have any chance to avoid the catastrophe. However, I am not willing to propose a plan of action that I believe would take us over the cliff, no matter how good it sounds.

  22. Superman1 says:

    Any plan I can envision that would be acceptable to the public would drive us over the cliff, and any plan that would meet my requirements would not be acceptable to the larger public. At this point, I don’t see a way out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves. But, if any reader on this site has a plan of action that will not drive us over the cliff during its implementation, let’s hear it. So far, I haven’t seen one.

  23. Superman1 says:

    There’s a third important evaluation criterion, especially if the sponsoring organization is mission-oriented. What is the relevance of the proposal to the mission of the organization? Good science alone might be fine for NSF, but I suspect DHS would require far more on the relevance side.

  24. fj says:

    Like immediatedly before 9/11 when experts were running around with their “hair on fire” as recounted by security expert Rick Clark during the aftermath commission hearings; we are in the same situation greatly amplified worldwide with a potentially horrific timeline.

  25. fj says:

    By 2020 it is estimated to cost over 5.7 trillion dollars a year for civilzation to survive climate change with a good percentage going to the developing world.

    Currently only 360 billion dollars are on this most important effort of all times.

  26. fj says:

    The must be the stuff of conversation everywhere worldwide but especially in this country.

  27. fj says:

    Dealing with this dire emergency does The President and this country have a plan B?

    And, what is this country doing to prepare to act at scale?

  28. fj says:

    Stopping Keystone XL is prime as is the call to action even more so clearly defined without hesitation.

  29. fj says:

    Human capital is most important and in this regard rapid change must happen in the world’s great cities.

    Natural capital is everything and the most important restoration efforts must happen in the world’s oceans.

  30. fj says:

    Action must be at wartime speed.

  31. Joe Romm says:


  32. Superman1 says:

    There’s a fundamental problem that you’re overlooking. In the Civil Rights movement, the anti-smoking movement, the anti-child labor exploitation movement, etc, there was a majority that was eventually, after many decades, able to exert its collective will on the minority. We don’t have that advantage today in the climate change movement; the majority is the problem!

  33. fj says:

    Ages ago, as one of our greatest commanders in chief proclaimed,

    “Let no one say this cannot be done.”

  34. BobbyL says:

    I agree fear can be a good motivator. I think the task in this case can be seen as overwhelming not the fear. My point is that fear will probably not work as a motivator for this issue because most people believe, probably correctly, they will have died before the things we are supposed to be most afraid of come to pass. The lag time is too long, the feedbacks are too slow, and the predictions for utter catastrophe are for too far in the future. The evidence for this is failure so far to instill a sense of urgency despite numerous doomsday predictions.

  35. Raul M. says:

    If I remember right, in the early 70’s the song started out as “Where oh where is the clean-up crew. I don’t know what, but a mop won’t do. My oh my where shall we go when under the sky is all we know.”
    I remember the quibbling over it being that we have roofs over our heads and that protects us when the big bad wolf could blow our houses down and the arrogance that showed with the stronger houses. Yep, quite the quandary.

  36. fj says:

    Clear and present danger is a great motivator.

  37. Jamie Ross says:

    People do care about their kids, imo.

    Plus we have consequences right now.

  38. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe quoted Keleman: “… the climate that worries me most is the climate of fear, the belief that our current trajectory leads inevitably to total disaster. This belief discourages constructive action …”

    Which is exactly why the fossil fuel industry’s propaganda campaign is shifting from denial — which is simply no longer tenable — to defeatism: from “there is no problem, so there is no need to do anything” to “there is no solution, so there is no point in doing anything”.

    If fear-mongering and defeatism can persuade enough people that the problem is not solvable and that “it’s already too late”, AND that any and all proposed solutions are both inadequate and require unacceptable “draconian sacrifice”, then business-as-usual consumption of fossil fuels can be perpetuated one more day, one more month, one more year, one more decade.

    It’s not climate scientists who are preaching the “myth that it is too late to avoid climate catastrophe” and using despair, defeatism, hopelessness and fear to “discourage constructive action” — it’s Koch and ExxonMobil.

  39. M Tucker says:

    “we [at Climate Progress] do not do the kind of unjustified “it’s hopeless” messaging Keleman disdains. Indeed, we’ve criticized the very few who do — or, rather, who did, in the case of James Lovelock.”

    That is true. CP never uses the phrase “it’s hopeless.”
    CP prefers to say things like, “The science has been crystal clear for a while that reversing climate change and its key impacts is essentially impossible on a scale of time that matters to humans.”

    [JR: It would seem you are intentionally taking this statement out of context. You can’t reverse the climate change that has already occurred. But you can stop catastrophe from happening.]

    Or like, “Our current trajectory — which combines no serious climate action with expanded production and consumption of the dirtiest pools of fossil fuels — puts us on track for fatally high warming.”

    [JR: Have you even read this pieced? The point is staying on this path is suicidal, not inevitable.]

    All of these dire predictions are always justified in science. See, CP never does unjustified “it’s hopeless” messaging.

    And CP very much likes to express especially optimistic ideas like, “Every climate scientist I’ve ever spoken to thinks we can still avert the worst impacts of climate change.”

    So, if I understand correctly, “Our current trajectory — which combines no serious climate action with expanded production and consumption of the dirtiest pools of fossil fuels — puts us on track for fatally high warming.” As a PricewaterhouseCoopers study from November made clear, we’re headed to 11°F warming and even stopping at 7°F requires “nearly quadrupling the current rate of decarbonisation.”

    So, again if I understand correctly, we will need to decarbonizes at a rate far exceeding our current rate to remain below 7 deg. We will need to apply superhuman efforts by all the polluting nations to get below 4 deg. We will need to stop business as usual NOW including immediate switching to electric by every car owner in the world to stay below 2 degrees.

    [JR: No. Not superhuman. Indeed, nothing we haven’t done before during wartime.]

    But I am hopeful because “Every climate scientist I’ve ever spoken to thinks we can still avert the worst impacts of climate change.”

    [JR: I’m hopeful because I know the technologies exist to make deep cuts and when those are done, next generation technologies can make more cuts.]

    Just to be clear, I do not preach hopelessness, I advocate for every effort to change BAU like stopping Keystone, I do not believe it is hopeless yet. I also believe it is getting closer to hopeless every day we delay serious action by the nations of the world. Not just the US. Not just the US and China. EVERY nation.

    [JR: Not quite. It will ALWAYS be the best path to reduce emissions sharply, even when it is too late to stabilize at 2C.]

  40. Tamsen Miller says:

    As long as official policy remains “I (B.O.) will not put climate before the economy” (paraphrased) and “drill, baby, drill” I don’t see how anything will be done, on the national scale, to avoid climate change.

    It will be business as usual, with profits as usual, until it is mitigation of damages, with profits as usual…..

  41. BobbyL says:

    We care so much about our children that we have saddled them with a 16 trillion dollar federal debt plus if they can’t pay off their student loans we do not allow them to have the recourse of declaring bankruptcy. It is unclear to what extent recent extreme whether events are linked to climate change although there is probably some link but we certainly haven’t reached the point where many ecosystems are collapsing; sea level rise is only about 3 mm per year, and farming is still doing well. I assume what we have experienced so far is nothing compared to what is ahead decades from now. The second half of this century should be when the real bad stuff kicks in based on the climate models. Most decisions makers will be long gone by then as will a majority of people who are now over 30.

  42. Nell says:

    I’ve spent the last decade in a state of OMG.
    Recently that has relaxed to a state of near acceptance that really really bad things are going to happen as our climate destabilizes, and that the human species will eventually attempt to mitigate (perhaps in the 2030s?) before the collapse of civilization.

    It will require a change in values from each and every one of us. We must transform ourselves from consumers to caretakers.

    Possession by the acquisition demon is curable, and once exorcised you see with different eyes.

    If we get through this our civilization will be vastly improved and the world a better place.

  43. john atcheson says:

    I was troubled by this article for two reasons. First, that it is too late to avoid some very dire consequences is a fact. These include more superstorms, more fires, more droughts, more climate refugees, increasing desertification, as many as 5 million deaths per year right now … on and on it goes.

    So it is too late to” reverse the planet’s transformation…” that train has left the station. We’re on Eaarth, now, not Earth.

    But this does not mean we shouldn’t act and act decisively to prevent even more horrific outcomes.

    So I guess my second concern is that we shouldn’t underplay just how much damage we’ve done out of fear of causing fear.

    I think we need a little fear. No, a lot of fear. In the end, that seems to be the only thing that makes humans act on the scale we need.

    While it is true that from a scientific perspective, we can avoid catastrophic changes that rival any seen in all of human history — changes that stack up against some of the more radical in the geologic record for that matter — it is becoming increasingly unlikely that we will take the action needed to avert them.

    In the end, this is not a scientific argument, it is a socio-political and neurological one. And if I were taking odds on whether we will take a World War II plus kind of effort to prevent the worst, I’d say they strongly favor those who are prediction an apocalypse of one kind or another.

    It doesn’t make me happy to say that, but I think facing that increasingly likely reality is the one thing that might avert it.

  44. Superman1 says:

    Let’s stay with the facts, and away from the adjectives. If we want to stay within 1 C during the transition away from fossil, which MAY, and I repeat, MAY keep us from going over the cliff, we basically have no more carbon budget to spare. In fact, we have a carbon budget deficit! The 1 C limit is Kevin Anderson’s view of the consensus of thinking in the climate community, and can be validated by seeing what is happening, and might happen, in the Arctic.

  45. Superman1 says:

    Any plan for the transition to save the biosphere has to satisfy the requirements of the three legged stool: technical/ economic/ socio-political. To satisfy the technical requirements where we have run out of carbon budget, we would need to eliminate every non-essential use of fossil fuel. Anyone who states otherwise is not telling the truth!

  46. Superman1 says:

    Much of our present GDP is based on fossil fuel expenditures; I have seen estimates that GDP reductions would be a substantive fraction of CO2 emission reductions. Thus, the economic leg would REQUIRE global Depression at best, and according to Prof Tim Garrett, probably global economic collapse. Anyone who says otherwise is not telling the truth.

  47. Superman1 says:

    Fossil fuel reductions of the magnitudes required to save the biosphere would require major sacrifices in every area of life from the citizens of this planet. Anyone who says otherwise is not telling the truth!

  48. Superman1 says:

    Given what we need to do to save the biosphere, what motivation and commitment have we shown? Well, 0.01% of the American people showed up at the February climate rally, as opposed to the ~33% who watched the Super Bowl. Millions of Americans couldn’t be bothered to vote in 2010 for Congresspeople who would potentially support even the most minimal efforts to save the biosphere, and consequently Congress has no power or requisite majorities to pass the serious legislation required. These are the hard facts; judge whether they are optimistic, pessimistic, realistic, fearful, or fearless!

  49. Superman1 says:

    “While it is true that from a scientific perspective, we can avoid catastrophic changes that rival any seen in all of human history”. I don’t believe we have the data or models that will allow that conclusion to be drawn. We have a nonlinear dynamical system with coupled positive feedback mechanisms acting synergistically, and we need far better modeling and reserves distributions information to conclude whether or not catastrophe can be avoided.

  50. Superman1 says:

    It seems to me the only rational approach that can be taken under such conditions of uncertainty is we (the global community) do whatever is humanly possible, no matter what the sacrifice, to both avoid doing further damage and to start cleaning up the damage we have done, while recognizing that all these noble efforts still may not be enough to avoid catastrophe.

  51. john atcheson says:

    To me, looking at empirical data from the Geologic record makes that statement pretty close to conclusive. We are now introducing more carbon faster than what occurred in the PETM and the Permian Die-off, as well as lesser climate perturbations.

    )f course nothing is ever a slam dunk certainty in science, but this comes as close as I want to come. What’s the alternative? Hope this time it’s somehow going to be different?

  52. john atcheson says:

    Actually, Superman, I think I misinterpreted your comment — It looks like we’re in violent agreement.

  53. Superman1 says:

    Sounds like it!

  54. Merrelyn Emery says:

    We have had a reliable method for changing organizational structures from those that produce competition to those that produce cooperation since 1971. Out of the thousands of people who have done it, I have met only about 4 people who preferred competition or couldn’t adjust, ME

  55. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Not all people care about kids, including their own, who they see as a sort of property. These individuals certainly do not care about other people and their children.

  56. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The alternative is magical thinking. We muddled through the Black Death, the World Wars, the nuclear war menace (well not really-that daemon lives yet)the Club of Rome prognostications (not precisely-they were quite accurate, despite the Right’s denialism)the Zombie Apocalypse, the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, killer bees, the Kardashians, America’s Got Adipose etc, so we’ll muddle through this. After all, God loves us…don’t we? It’s the same thing that most of us do with death. We pretend it isn’t there, we ignore it until Papa Death’s at the door, a-banging, then we meekly go into the dark. No doubt it will be the same with climate catastrophe.

  57. Philip Pease says:

    What we all should realize is that if we continue to pump greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere our planet will continue to get hotter and hotter. We also know that if our planet gets hotter all the snow and ice will eventually melt. Scientist calculates that when the snow and ice melts the seas will rise by hundreds of feet (submerging all coastal regions). This future means there will be millions of refugees all over the world (there will be no region on earth unaffected by such enormous displacement). In short the consequences of global warming will be horrendous.

    The question is can such truly horrendous future be avoided? Most scientist say yes IF we act with all haste to cut greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. cut our use of fossil fuels). Our current reality is we are NOT taking such action; indeed fossil fuel use continues to rise, greenhouse gas concentration continues to rise, and our planet gets hotter and hotter.

    Any sane person would think that faced with such catastrophic consequences we would take action to save humanity. Yet governments of nations who produce the most greenhouse gas emissions are failing to act. When one looks at the reasons for such irresponsible behavior of government representatives one stark reality is revealed – the fossil fuel corporations are so addicted to money that all that fossil fuel resources represent that they are actively blocking any attempt to cut their production; indeed they are pushing for more production.

    It is this reality – corporate desire for making money drives production of ever greater fossil fuel exploitation and they will insist that the global economy needs more and more.

    How does one cut greenhouse gasses under threat of global economic pressure and world wide global capitalism?

    When I face reality I have little hope civilization will survive ecological collapse.

  58. BobbyL says:

    Unless you are hoping live for thousands of years you have nothing to fear from the sea level rising by more than 200 feet. In fact most of us probably won’t be around to see sea level rise another 12 inches. The bird flu. Now that’s something that really could scare us if person-to-person transmission gets going. That would be real fear. You would see real action to do something like come up with vaccine pronto.

  59. fj says:

    garbage. you know nothing. typical of those most sure.

  60. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Bad change is a given, however we can always make it worse. We can make it worse even sooner if we carry on as we are.

    Saving the nice climate our civilization grew up will not happen. I would like to save a climate humans can survive in, well some of us at least.

  61. Raul M. says:

    Are you ok?
    Your comment reads rather strangely dysfunctional.

  62. Superman1 says:

    I have yet to see a proposal that will accomplish what you (and all of us) want, which will satisfy the three-legged stool of technical/ economic/ socio-political. Given that many intelligent people have thought about this issue, and have come up empty-handed, that is indeed an ominous sign.

  63. BobbyL says:

    Just trying to point out that people fear things that could occur during their lifetime, such as a bird flue pandemic, but are not afraid of things that are predicted to occur after their expected lifespan. In other words, these catastrophic climate change scenarios for many decades from now and far beyond do not instill fear and therefore are not a motivator for action. As things are playing out we are discovering that there is no motivator for sufficient action when it comes to climate change.

  64. BobbyL says:

    Ominous indeed. Definitely we should prepare for adaptation for 4C and beyond. Even though many people claim that is probably impossible they might be wrong. We have nothing to lose by assuming it can be done. Looking at predictions for future climate in the US it appears the northeast will get off the easiest. That might be a basis for a strategy.

  65. Daniel Coffey says:

    Very insightful reminder that people have been working on difficult problems for the entire course of civilization. The real question now is whether we use what tools we have to move in the right direction. Other ways to reduce emissions involve martial means and less civil outcomes.

  66. Superman1 says:

    “for many decades from now”. Many decades? All credible governmental, inter-governmental, and industry projections have fossil fuel use increasing (not decreasing) by various amounts in the next two-three decades. The actions of governments with recent fossil fuel finds further support the credibility of these projections. We are in carbon budget deficit now; we have maxed out our carbon budget credit cards!

  67. Superman1 says:

    With these projections as input, global climate models (without feedbacks) predict temperatures of 5-6 C by end of century. According to Lynas et al, that is extinction of many species, including us. With feedbacks, the time at which these high temperatures appear will move forward; how much is anyone’s guess.

  68. Superman1 says:

    This means that small children today may have low probability of reaching a ripe old age under the best of conditions (with BAU), and may have low probability of reaching a ripe middle age under worst of conditions. So, for some people, the bills will come due while they are still in their prime. If that isn’t a motivator for today, what is?

  69. Superman1 says:

    “We have nothing to lose by assuming it can be done.” Right, we should do what we can, whatever the sacrifice. Do you see that happening; do you see anything of consequence happening?

  70. Ken Barrows says:

    Julian Simon, not William Simon, who I believe was a Treasury Secretary who believes in infinite growth on a finite planet.

  71. Raul M. says:

    Is it called dissemination to put something onto another that would not rest there on it’s own.

  72. BobbyL says:

    The climate models show the really bad stuff largely occurring in the second half of this century, particularly toward the latter part. The people who can get things done are mostly over 40. Few will still be around to experience “hell and high water” as Joe Romm puts it. It has little sense of reality if you won’t live enough to see if and when the dire predictions come true. It’s about somebody else’s life. Younger people may live long enough but they tend to be in the present, often disregarding obvious risks to their health and well being. You simply can’t create a real feeling of fear if you are talking about 2080. There is no gut reaction. Fear was when the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons pointing at us and a nuclear war could have broken out at any second. That was truly scary.

  73. BobbyL says:

    Our situation is the tragedy of commons. Basically everyone is pursuing their own self interest and neglecting the whole. The only way out is an enforceable global cap on greenhouse gas emissions. So far it has not been possible to get one. Unless we can get it the situation will continually grow worse. Right now the odds look bad and it certainly behooves us to focus on climate adaptation as well as mitigation and hope for the best.

  74. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Thanks, Ken. Were these two ‘Simple Simons’ related, I wonder, in more ways than just mental insufficiency? I’ve just read the Wikipedia entry on Julian, and, boy, did he get everything wrong! And he ‘inspired’ Bjorn Lomborg. What an epitaph!

  75. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It is actually staggering simple. The technology exists, the scientific capacity exists to refine that technology and come up with even better ones. And the wealth required, tens of trillions built up over centuries by ravaging the planet and exploiting generations of workers, exists. All that is needed is the will do put the money, indeed only a portion of it, to this work. The obstacle standing in the way is the ruling global capitalist elite, who control the planet’s riches, and who are obstructing human salvation. I think that their time to step aside, or be brushed aside, has come. It is already insanely late, what with dire warnings having come with increasing force since 1965, at least. Those who brought humanity to the brink must face justice, as well.

  76. BobbyL says:

    The big money elite are what they are. They won’t change. The problem is there is no adequate counter force from people. People got rid of the Soviet empire, the potential is there. But there is nothing to really motivate people to do it. This has been the concern for years, a danger that occurs at a slow pace and doesn’t pose an imminent threat until it is way too late. Unless you live in the Maldives or some other very vulnerable tiny low-lying island country things remain more or less manageable and should for quite awhile. People have not evolved to react to this type of gradually increasing threat. It’s not in our DNA as it were.

  77. fj says:

    Why mulga you surprise me with nearly a sense of optimism and activism in your tenor.

    Do continue your battle for our future with no time for the dark art of vengeance and reverence (and antipathy) for mere economic systems instead of humanity and the truly exquisite natural systems that support us.

  78. Merrelyn Emery says:

    This comment cannot be repeated often enough. Why not put it on today’s weekend thread, ME

  79. BobbyL says:

    Staggering, yes. Simple, no.

  80. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Really? Spell out the complexities please, ME

  81. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Ceasing the use of non-recyclable plastic and plastic bags would be a good start, ME

  82. fj says:

    Yes, but most importantly with regard to carbon sequestration — and maybe heat — which the world’s oceans do on huge scales.

    Since the oceans have terrific amounts of kinetic and solar energies — and of course, water — they may be the best places to further advance sequestering processes to much better final states.

  83. Aaron Lewis says:

    The referenced studies do no include carbon feedback such as clathrates from the sea floor and CO2 from Arctic tundra. Current atmospheric gas sampling and analysis is sparse for the early detection of carbon feedback flows, and much of the satellite data on methane in the atmosphere is only retained (officially) for 3 days.

    It is hard to study patterns and trends when they only keep the data for 3 days. Some funder(s) are pointedly “Not Interested”.

    We do not have validated models for carbon feedback and we do not know the over all behavior of stocks of potential carbon feedback materials under current conditions. (E.g., all we have is anecdotal reports of CH4 plumes here and there. Nobody went out and measured total releases from those plumes.)

    The powers that be have made a decision not to fund the science of carbon feedback and to not study the issue. (E.g., why has not a nuclear submarine with a ROV done a full inventory of methane plumes from the polar sea floors?) We cannot say if it is a myth or not, because we are not certain of the truth.

  84. BobbyL says:

    Complexities: 1) nations are divided into developed nations and developing and the latter divided into rich (e.g., BRICS) and poor (e.g., Bangladesh), 2) deforestation from many causes is a major contributor, 3) agricultural sources such as belching ruminants and nitrogen fertilizer are important contributors, 4) black carbon many be the second biggest contributor and is responsible for a lot of the melting ice; a large source of black carbon are the stoves of the rural poor; 5) cement making is a big contributor, particularly in China which is building cities like crazy; 6) the chemicals that replaced freon are very powerful greenhouse gases and they need to be replaced, 7) there is a popular ideology, particularly in the US, which is opposed to government regulation and large government in general, 8) the alternatives of solar and wind are intermittent energy sources and cannot simply replace fossil fuels thereby creating serious technological hurdles, 9) many large fossil fuel companies in the world are nationalized, 10) population is projected to grow by about 2 billion over the next 40 years, 11) climate science has many uncertainties; 12) car ownership in China and India is taking off; 13) energy inefficient sprawl type development is spreading around the world, 14) it is unclear how a global cap on greenhouse gas emissions could be enforced even if an agreement to do so was reached, 15) significant limitations of battery technology remain affecting electric cars as well as wind and solar energy storage.

  85. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Thank you Bobby. Many of these complexities have existed for a long time and the elites have managed to make global agreements before. They will again too as soon as they see that they have more to gain than lose from this one, ME