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Into The Valley Of Death Rode The 600, Into The Valley Of 400 PPM Rode The 7 Billion

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"Into The Valley Of Death Rode The 600, Into The Valley Of 400 PPM Rode The 7 Billion"

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“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d ?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

– “The Charge Of The Light Brigade,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1854

How will poets memorialize us? How will we be remembered if, like the British light cavalry charging a well-prepared Russian artillery battery in the Crimean War in 1854, we don’t reason why, we just keep on our current path even though it is self-evidently suicidal.

CO2 levels for past 12,000 years and projected to 2100 assuming no change in policies (via Koomey)

“It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” So ends Field Notes from a Catastrophe, the terrific 2006 book by Elizabeth Kolbert, one of the country’s most thoughtful climate journalists.

Certainly as we hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human existence, with not even a plan to avoid 600 ppm, 800 ppm, and then 1000 — not even a national discussion or an outcry by the so-called intelligentsia – it is worth asking, why? Is there something inherent in homo “sapiens” that makes us oblivious to the obvious?

In his latest analysis, uber-hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham points us in the direction of a new book, Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail, by William Ophuls. Grantham, a self-described “die hard contrarian,” is one of the few leading financial figures who gets both global warming and growing food insecurity (see “Welcome to Dystopia”: We Are “Entering A Long-Term And Politically Dangerous Food Crisis“).

Ophuls’ treatise, a synthesis of various analyses for civilizations fail, is well worth reading, though it isn’t a sunny book. Grantham’s analysis is a short, marginally-more optimistic version of the book, augmented with his own thinking. Grantham begins:

The Fall of Civilizations

The collapse of civilizations is a gripping and resonant topic for many of us and one that has attracted many scholars over the years. They see many possible contributing factors to the collapse of previous civilizations, the evidence pieced together shard by shard from civilizations that often left few records. But some themes reoccur in the scholars’ work: geographic locations that had misfortune in the availability of useful animal and vegetable life, soil, water, and a source of energy; mismanagement in the overuse and depletion of resources, especially forests, soil, and water; the lack of a safety margin or storage against inevitable droughts and famines; overexpansion and costly unnecessary wars; sometimes a failure of moral spirit as the pioneering toughness and willingness to sacrifice gave way to softer and more cynical ways; increasing complexity of a growing empire that became by degree too expensive in human costs and in the use of limited resources to justify the effort, until the taxes and other demands on ordinary citizens became unbearable, so that an empire, pushed beyond sustainable limits, became vulnerable to even modest shocks that could in earlier days have been easily withstood. Probably the greatest agreement among scholars, though, is that the failing civilizations suffered from growing hubris and overconfidence: the belief that their capabilities after many earlier tests would always rise to the occasion and that growing signs of weakness could be ignored as pessimistic. After all, after 200 or even 500 years, many other dangers had been warned of yet always they had persevered. Until finally they did not.

The bad news is that as I read about these varied scenarios – and I have missed listing several – they all appear plausible and each seems to be relevant to several earlier collapses of empires and civilizations both large and small. Very recently, one of these scholars, William Ophuls, wrote a new book, Immoderate Greatness (a quote from Gibbons’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), with the subtitle Why Civilizations Fail. It is a straightforward summary and synthesis of all of the ways to fail in 70 small pages, yet with extensive notes and references. It is written in remarkably accessible, simple language and divides the causes of failure into six categories. Unfortunately, all six seem to apply to us today in varying degrees, and where one factor might be manageable – although often has not been – he makes the chances of our managing all six seem slight. It is persuasive and needs to be read. It takes about two hours.

William Ophuls’s conclusion is that we will not resist the impressive list of erosive factors and that, in fact, we are in the fairly late stages of our current civilization’s race for the cliff edge with nothing much to head us off. His study of history leads him to believe that civilizations are actually hard wired to self-destruct: programmed to be overconfident, to keep on pushing for growth until limits are overstepped and risks accumulated to the breaking point. His offer of good news is that after the New Dark Ages, when civilization again rears its head, presumably with a much smaller population, we will have acquired the good sense to be less overreaching, less hubristic, a lot humbler about growth and our use of resources, and more determined to live in balance with the natural energy we receive from the sun and the heat, food, and water with which we can sustainably be provided.

Humanity isn’t making a suicidal charge into an artillery brigade, of course. And what we are accelerating toward is less a cliff than a brick wall — but it is no less self-evident how self-destructive it is:

Temperature change over past 11,300 years (in blue, via Science, 2013) plus projected warming this century on humanity’s current carbon pollution emissions path (in red, via recent literature).

Wikipedia says of the infamous charge, “The semi-suicidal nature of this charge was surely evident to the troopers of the Light Brigade, but if there was any objection to the orders, it was not recorded.” How like Wikipedia to try to deglamorize the whole thing!

I fear our generations’ Wikipedia entry will read much the same. But one can hold out a hope that future generations, when they are done cursing our names, will think we are at least worth a good poem … though not, I think, one celebrating our benighted honor:

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

« »

173 Responses to Into The Valley Of Death Rode The 600, Into The Valley Of 400 PPM Rode The 7 Billion

  1. Superman1 says:

    There was a poster on one of the climate sites named Gnobuddy who had a good take on the problem. He reasoned that, on average, we had evolved to an unfortunate intermediate level; smart enough to develop advanced technologies, but not smart enough or willing enough to control them.

    • Superman1 says:

      According to Gnobuddy, if we had been ten times less smart, we would not have been able to develop these technologies, and we wouldn’t be facing extinction. If we had been ten times more smart, we would have developed these technologies in a way that we controlled them, not the converse.

      • Superman1 says:

        He recognized there were some people at the far end of the distribution who had the understanding and foresight and intelligence required to control these technologies, especially energy use, but that the decisions on the deployment of these technologies were made by those in the major region of the bell curve, not the few at the extreme tail. He saw no way out of the dilemma, and, like the McPherson followers, accepted the inevitability of extinction.

        • Superman1 says:

          Unlike the Charge of the Light Brigade, who rode into oblivion while following someone else’s orders, we are riding into oblivion because we enjoy the ride!

          • Superman1 says:

            The Light Brigade rode into oblivion based on a mission; the 911 pilots flew into the towers based on a mission; the Japanese at Okinawa flew into our ships based on a mission; we are riding into oblivion based on nothing more than self-indulgence and gratification in the here-and-now.

  2. Do we need new writers to give voice to our planet? I am intrigued by George Childs’s Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth, though have only read the announcement that it was chosen as the winner of Orion Magazine’s 2013 Book Award.

    Social movements have always given rise to new music and new literature. This week, in particular, we think of Pete Seeger on his birthday and what he meant to environmental and social justice movements. But then the environment was not considered an existential issue. And many still don’t. Perhaps there are too may aging hippies who think, as Kerouac wrote: “I’ll get my ticket and say goodbye on a flower day and leave all San Francisco behind and go back home across autumn America and it’ll all be like it was in the beginning— Simple golden eternity blessing all—Nothing ever happened— Not even this….” There are many who can find Green Day’s American Idiot by looking in a mirror.

  3. Deep Time says:

    “Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

    • rollin says:

      Excellent, what is the source of that quote?

      They look but they do not see, they think but do not understand. The human condition.

  4. prokaryotes says:

    Collapse of Complex Societies by Dr. Joseph Tainter http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0R09YzyuCI

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe quoted Elizabeth Kolbert: “… impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself …”

    That only seems impossible to imagine if you imagine that “society”, as a self-aware, unified actor, is consciously “choosing” to continue unmitigated global warming. And that is not the case.

    The vast majority of human beings have no say in the matter, either because they are unaware of the problem, or because they are not in a position to make “choices” that make any difference, or both.

    On the other hand, it’s not at all impossible to imagine that a handful of ultra-rich fossil fuel oligarchs are willing to risk destroying civilization — and in particular, willing to risk catastrophic consequences that they believe will mostly impact others — in order to rake in trillions of dollars in wealth from continuing business-as-usual.

    And those are the members of our “society” who, at present, have a death-grip on energy policy.

    • catman306 says:

      Business-as-usual is a really tough enemy to fight because everyone has some stake in maintaining business-as-usual. That’s why BAU is self-regenerating. We all work at it.

      If that handful of oligarchs were magically disappeared from the face of the earth, they would quickly be replaced by new ones, now waiting in the wings. Nothing would change.

      An honest and responsible main stream media could be the first big change that snowballs into expedient climate action. If not, catastrophic climate caused natural disaster will finally remake business-as-usual.

      Are there any plans to divest in MSM as is being done with fossil fuels?

      • Merrelyn Emery says:

        Yes, it is necessary to change the system, not the bosses. When people work as equals in small groups, they act responsibly and for the common good, ME

      • Mike Roddy says:

        Catman,

        The green groups and even the edgy blogs and magazines won’t go after MSM. They fear its power, and some of their staffers secretly want to work as a conventional reporter some day. I learned this the hard way.

        I developed a program to go after MSM that could succeed, but drew a blank. If you want to hear more, email me at mike.greenframe@gmail.com.

        • Carol says:

          Mike,

          Speaking of MSM . . . .

          What is the thread that links Fox Broadcasting, NY times, time.com, USAtoday and Newsmax (right wing/tea party publication) with Climate progress?

          They all use Taboola.

          Each time one wants to read or comment on CP we are immediately lambasted with “From the Web” links which are in reality, paid advertisements courtesy of Taboola.

          Today we are graced with the “best new loch ness monster photo”, Kim Kardashian in her “best pregnancy looks” and more!

          The use of Taboola is in direct opposition to the values and solid scientific inquiry of Climate Progress.

          In addition to Taboola, we have the offensive horrid T-shirt ads– “Bad idea t-shirts”— with buxom woman (girl?) and ads for 17 mpg GMC Acadia on that are ever present on this site.

          Thoughts?

          • Brooks Bridges says:

            Do a little googling and you can find an add-on for your browser to remove Taboola – incredibly annoying and offensive.

          • Mike Roddy says:

            The media are now run by beancounters, who pride themselves on tricks like taboola. Thanks for letting me know, Carol.

            They are just screwing themselves. If an actual muckraking and properly staffed paper ever appears, it will take the NYT audience away and we will finally have a real national newspaper. It’s pretty pitiful that we have to go to rags like HuffPo.

    • BobbyL says:

      Those “fossil fuel oligarchs” around the world employ many millions of people and there are many millions of other people employed in related industries. How many of these millions of people are voluntarily willing to give up their jobs because civilization might collapse in 2085?

      • Superman1 says:

        “How many of these millions of people are voluntarily willing to give up their jobs because civilization might collapse in 2085?” Zero! And, I would substitute billions for millions. But, over and above giving up their jobs, how many are willing to voluntarily reduce drastically their excess and unnecessary use of fossil fuel?

        • BobbyL says:

          Except for treehugger types probably nobody. The large majority need a price signal and the knowledge that everybody is in the same boat. Certainly almost everybody gives up many things because their budget can’t handle it or at least they are trying to save money for something else. If a carbon cap or tax drives up prices they will cut back. This can only happen through the political process.

          • prokaryotes says:

            But prices will not go up necessarily. Studies/observation show that the household burden at start is rather minor and people could actually make a buck out of saving carbon credits. Ofc if you do not update your business – energy / energy generation portfolio) you will create a loss sooner or later. The entire point of the Carbon Tax is to establish incentives which encourage a low carbon life style.

            And households & companies will love it, because this is an entire new business model, which will spur the next industrial revolution. There are already dozens of studies which show a lot of success when it comes to a clean economy. New jobs, new things to learn and educate, maintenance, healthier environment, advancements in technology (entire transistion to personal/mass electric vehicle infrastructure), hence construction and transport will gain immense.

            Going “clean” is really a win win situation for everybody!

          • prokaryotes says:

            Getting rich off global warming http://galaxymachine.de/2013/05/05/getting-rich-off-global-warming/

            Ofc it requires regulation, asap.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        For these millions, their jobs are a form of wage slavery, increasingly poorly paid, contingent, casualised, at risk of being outsourced, without any power vis-a-vis your Master. All the hard drudgery entered into to pay for consumption of useless junk, or to buy massively over-priced accommodation, and with the cliff over which one plunges into poverty and homelessness drawing closer and closer. And not only do we thus waste our lives being ruthlessly exploited to ever further enrich the most evil amongst us, but we also get to sentence our children to Hell as well. Bloody brilliant!

    • Mike Roddy says:

      You’re right, Secular. Kolbert’s notion that a “civilization” is making these horrible choices is incorrect. The fossil fuel companies, banks, and media have teamed up to destroy life as we know it. It’s up to us to stop them, since our “democracy” won’t, and the media has no intention of waking people up. They might end up buying fewer Ford 350 pickups that year.

      • BobbyL says:

        Can the problem really be that simple, a wealthy greedy ruling class that for some reason wants to destroy life as we know it? Here are some additional complexities that I came up with: 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.

        • Superman1 says:

          “Can the problem really be that simple, a wealthy greedy ruling class that for some reason wants to destroy life as we know it?”. Yes, if your starting point is your ideology.

          • Superman1 says:

            But, if your starting point is facts and evidence, then you find that the wealthy ruling class is a contributor, the media are contributors, the feckless politicians are contributors, but the central problem is the self-indulgence and gratification of ‘we the people’ in the here-and-now.

          • BobbyL says:

            I think you are right. They appear to be using a tautological argument. The assumption appears to be that everything evil in the world is attributable to capitalists and the masses, who are basically good, are always suppressed by the evil capitalists. It is good versus evil where somehow with enough organization and effort good can eventually triumph. The typical plot of a novel. But is it really real life?

          • Superman1 says:

            BobbyL, This is typical political ideologue operation: take a partial truth and convert it into the whole truth, or take a partial cause and convert it into the whole cause.

          • Superman1 says:

            Over the past century, did the non-capitalist countries show more restraint in using fossil fuels? They exploited fossil fuels every bit as much as we did in trying to achieve national objectives. The common factor among all the countries has been the self-indulgence and the need for gratification in the here-and-now of its electorate.

          • Superman1 says:

            Therein lies the dilemma for the political ideologues. If they tell the truth about the main cause of the climate change problem (us), they in essence have to tell potential recruits ‘they’ are the main parts of the problem; not a very effective recruiting approach. What remains is what they do now; focus blame on everyone but the true culprits.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Apologias for the ruling elites, denying their overwhelming power in human affairs, are, in my opinion, quite bizarre. The rich control all the MSM, they control 90% or so of stock-markets and their huge ‘contributions’ have rendered capitalist democratic politics into a contest between Rightwingers based of photogenicity and the ability to lie with a straight face. All decisions must be approved by the money power, particularly, these days, the financial grifters who can destroy currencies at the drop of a hat with ‘Ratings Agency’ downgrades, despite their record during the various bubbles of the last thirty years. We live in a world dominated by the rich and their interests to an extent never before seen, save perhaps in the days of feudalism. Who do you think Obama, Cameron or Harper listen to and obey-the billionaires or the peasants?

          • Superman1 says:

            And tell us, oh Oracle of Oz, what the non-capitalist countries did over the past century to protect the climate. Their use of fossil fuels was every bit comparable to ours, adjusting for limitations imposed by their weak economies. You are taking a partial truth, and converting it to the whole truth.

          • kermit says:

            superman1, are you claiming that the benevolent leaders in the socialist countries listened to the desires of the peasants and burnt all the fossil fuel they could to enrich the salt of the Earth, who so famously wallowed in luxuries in the various socialist paradises?

            Or was it the same sort of brutal, competitive sociopaths, who were the most successful at grabbing power, who decided what were the best courses of action to take to benefit them? Sociopaths, snakes in suits and military uniforms, who controlled the flow of money (such as there was), the education, the news media, and the very life of the peasants’ families. No, the common working bloke or blokette were even more helpless there than they are in the Western ersatz democracies.

          • Superman1 says:

            Kermit, Read their literature. They continually bragged about how they were raising the material standard of living (read fossil-energy based) of their people. They did not do this out of their benevolence; they did it to quell potential rebellion. The point is, they were every bit as profligate as we were, and for some of the same foundational reasons.

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            Super, going on about the socialist states is a straw-man argument, in my opinion. The USSR went twenty-five years ago. We do not know if an ecological consciousness might have emerged there if the state had persisted. We do know that in the really existing capitalist world of 2013, bugger all is being done, and wealthy groups are expending billions in order to delay and derail action, in order to protect trillions in fossil fuel assets. That’s the current problem, and only a new economic order, based on egalitarianism, reductions in grotesque inequalities of wealth, power and opportunity, and a radical downsizing of consumption to levels of decent sufficiency (say at the level of material consumption of the 1920s, with technological advance retained, of course)is going to save us. And it is the current global ruling elite who stand in the way.

          • Joe Romm says:

            Uhh, we do that it would not have, Mulga.

          • Superman1 says:

            Mulga, I agree with your statement about the radical downsizing of consumption. How does this wealthy elite provide a roadblock if you are truly motivated to downsize? If my neighbor decides, like Kevin Anderson, to give up airline flights, will he be forced by the agents of the wealthy not to do so?

          • Superman1 says:

            That is an example of Oz-zified thinking. If the wealthy elite desire continued extravagant consumption of fossil energy (and I agree they do), and if Joe average continues to pursue high consumption of fossil fuel, ergo, you conflate the two and ascribe Joe average’s consumption to the wealthy elite, rather than assign the responsibility to him, where it really belongs.

          • Superman1 says:

            Your post reflects why the climate change problem has little chance of solution. You and the other so-called climate hawks refuse to assign responsibility where it belongs, to the self-indulgent electorate that requires gratification in the here-and-now at the expense of its progeny’s future. You have defined the problem based on your ideology, rather than by the facts on the ground.

          • BobbyL says:

            You seem to be using a very broad definition of self-indulgence. Actually you should compile a list of what is self-indulgent and another list of what is necessary. My feeling is that even if you eliminated all self-indulgent activity we would still be left with a serious emissions problem. Everyone needs food and agriculture is responsible for a lot emissions. In cold climates everyone needs heating and that is a major reason for emissions. I would say in many areas air conditioning is essentially a necessity for a modern society and that means more emissions. People need transportation to work and see relatives and friends etc so that means more emissions. I really don’t think this problem is centered on self-indulgence although it surely plays some role.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      You have it exactly. We are being driven to destruction by the actions of a tiny, parasitic, elite, whose greed and contempt for others are both boundless. This is what happens to a civilization when the most evil and destructive individuals rule absolutely. We have been warned by philosophers and teachers throughout history about these dead souls, but they have steadily tightened their grip over humanity, and when the technological means became sufficiently prodigious, our destruction became certain….and here it is, at long last.

      • Superman1 says:

        Mulga, If you don’t define a problem appropriately, you will never solve it. Not only what is the problem, but especially who is the problem.

        • Superman1 says:

          The wealthy ruling elite contribute to the problem, the media contribute to the problem, the politicians contribute to the problem, but most of all, it is ‘we the people’, with our self-indulgence and our insistence on immediate gratification in the here-and-now that constitutes the major share of the problem. Focusing solely on the former and ignoring the latter insures the problem will never be solved.

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            I have to disagree. Most people on the planet act as they do out of necessity. Billions live on the brink of poverty or deep within it. In the West 90% plus are wage slaves, often mired in debt, who have no alternative but to work in increasingly casualised, lowly paid employment. The GFC has made the situation worse, destroying houshold wealth and ushering in brutally regressive ‘austerity’ policies that destroy the social fabric to the advantage of the ruthless elites whose greed caused the debacle. The public are brainwashed relentlessly by the system, the advertising, entertainment and MSM apparatuses in particular, all owned entirely by the ruling elite, in the habits of mindless consumption, which is what keeps the system ticking over. They have no real choice, unless they wish to impoverish themselves in systems whose social regression and brutality grow more marked every day.

    • Frunobulax718 says:

      There are parts of Africa that see rain but a few times a year. When that happens, life immediately springs into action taking advantage of the limited resource. Eventually, the weather begins to dry everything out, and all varieties of fauna slowly begin to gather at the few remaining water holes to take in the precious life-sustaining fluid.

      Then the elephants show up.

      The stomp into the pond/puddle and make a mud mess of everything. They plop the slop onto their backs and play with it as if it were their toy. As a result, the water becomes undrinkable for every other animal. Eventually, this process hastens the end of the water, as it dries out quicker and returns to dirt.

      The pond/puddle is our planet. These oil oligarchs are our elephants.

  6. BobbyL says:

    We are not oblivious at all. Ever since the Rio Conference more than 20 years ago the world has been working hard to avoid this fate. The IPCC has published several reports making it clear where we are heading. International climate meetings are held annually to deal with the problem. Thousands of peer-reviewed articles have been published to advance the science. However, the many obstacles to success have been too hard to overcome. That is the lesson which should have been learned during the past two decades.

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      The major obstacle is the ubiquitous hierarchy of dominance in which all power, wealth and responsibility is held at the top, regardless of whether it is politics, business or the third sector. Not difficult to redesign but a big job now, ME

      • Merrelyn Emery says:

        Well coordinated, large scale passive resistance and civil disobedience also work well, ME

  7. Jay Dee Are says:

    Road the 7 billion? Did eye reed that write?

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Or the global elite know exactly what they are doing, and the coming genocide is quite deliberate, a long discussed ambition to be rid of 90% or so of the planet’s ‘useless eaters’.

      • Jim says:

        Come On Mulga, are you into conspiracy theories now as well ?

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Well Jim, from what little we know of the secret discussions at Bilderberg meetings and the like (sounds awfully like a conspiratorial conclave to me)the elites have discussed global population reduction for years. Conspiracies do happen-it is not a null category. And the omnicidal behaviour of those in power has long gone past the point of merely being bewildering. They must know what is happening-the science is well nigh irrefutable, so what is your take on the reasons why the ruling global elites are not doing anywhere near enough to save humanity, and are actively obstructing action? An active conspiracy to eliminate billions of ‘useless eaters’ is not impossible. I believe it is also not improbable, given the character of the global elite.

          • Solar Jim says:

            Helen Caldicott has indicated that the decision was made some decades back by world elites to maintain a fuels-of-war economy, come hell or high water as it were. That may be why polluters (yes, most of society) do not pay for social damages, and the whole globalized “economy of energy” is rigged. After all, where would mechanized war be without uranium and fossils? Not to mention bank accounts of the 1%.

  8. SusanJ says:

    Without major action on the part of governments around the globe, I don’t see how we are going to avoid going way above 400ppm. Individuals can’t do enough. I talk climate change to everyone I know, I read and write letters and donate dollars, drive a hybrid, compost, recycle, and grow as much food as I can. I might as well be talking to the dog for all the difference it makes. At least the neighbors appreciate the tomatoes. But all my efforts, and all of us doing the same, won’t change diddly in the face of what fossil fuel interests are capable of.

    • Colorado Bob says:

      SJ -
      As an outside observer , you may be moving more people than you know.

    • Andy Hultgren says:

      Superman1, please read the above comment!!!

      • Superman1 says:

        Like many comments here, it’s an attempt to shift responsibility from the central cause of the problem (our self-indulgence and need for gratification in the here-and-now) to some external source, like fossil fuel interests or media or politicians. The politicians will not act unilaterally counter to the wishes of either their donors or the electorate, and neither of these constituencies has any interest in making the sacrifices required to avoid the climate cliff.

        • Superman1 says:

          This in no way absolves the fossil fuel interests or media or politicians for their contribution to the climate change problem, but they are not the central cause. By and large, they exploit our weaknesses and addictions to further their own narrow interests. We the people are the only ones who have the collective power to turn this situation around, and it should be rather evident to you by now that we have no interest in exercising this power to alter the status quo.

        • kermit says:

          The people I work with are not “addicted” to fossil fuel; they would happily drive to work in an electric vehicle. As for luxuries, they are all working class, and have faced hardships before. They would gladly choose half of what they have if it were the alternative to losing it all.

          But the people they trust have been telling them that they don’t have to worry about climate change. They instead have to worry about terrorists, gay marriage, and liberals coming to take their guns away.

          These folks would do the right thing, But they are being lied to, and have no way to evaluate the various sources of apparent information. These are people who go to chiropractors and homeopaths instead of MDs when they’re sick because they don’t know any better, and because MDs cost too much. That’s not self-indulgence; that’s drowning in an ocean of noise and static, without a moment to pause and take a breath in.

          • Superman1 says:

            Well, I’m retired, and the people in my neighborhood who voted for Obama (forget about the others) don’t seem willing to give up anything to help save the climate. They might say the good words to a pollster, and the next morning get on a plane to Asia for an extended high fossil expenditure vacation. If these polls had any link to reality, it should be reflected in peoples’ deeds and actions, at least for the Obama voters. I don’t see it at all, and it is perfectly consistent with why nothing substantive is getting done at the national and international levels.

          • Superman1 says:

            “They would gladly choose half of what they have”. Pure speculation! I don’t see anyone ‘gladly’ choosing to consume less (except for those who were hurt by the recession, and ‘gladly’ would not describe their feelings), but I do see many people ‘gladly’ choosing to consume more. Which, by the way, is quite consistent with those CO2 emissions and concentrations going up steadily every year.

    • Jim says:

      Keep it up Susan, same here. Lonely at the top I guess. But sooner or later the momentum will shift. And in any case you don’t want to die one day thinking that you gave up. You want to die in the knowledge that you fought as best you could, and thousands with you. Believe me, the movement will grow.

    • atcook27 says:

      Hey Susan, Thanks.

  9. Mark E says:

    The scalpel against our jugular is not global warming, but our own choice to hold GROWTH as the highest ideal in our economy. Fossil fuels are just a means to that end. We have to solve global warming, sure….. but if we keep trying to grow in a clean energy economy we’ll still pull the house down on our own heads.

    EVERYTHING that tries to grow – nonstop, forever – kills its host!

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Absolutely. Anthropogenic climate destabilisation is just one of a plethora of disasters, all coming together right now. Oceanic acidification, pollution toxifying the planet, resource depletion, and economic implosion under debt and burgeoning inequality are but four of the worst. All due to our imposed economic orthodoxy of insatiable elite greed fed by endless economic growth accompanied by impoverishment of the many. What will see us off is the reaction of the masses in the West to the now naked and contemptuous destruction of their lives by the elites. Everywhere people are moving Right, like demented lemmings, into the clutches of fascists, racists, xenophobes and demagogues. And that means a re-run of the 1930s, only this time with nuclear weapons and a general atmosphere of inchoate antipathy to the rest of humanity, ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ as it prescient promoters called it.

      • atcook27 says:

        Hey Mulga, do you get on well with your neighbours? Or do they run inside whenever they see you out in the back yard? When I started telling mine about the Gulf of Tonkin incident recently, she basically ran in side screaming and I haven’t spoken to her since. I suppose enlightenment has its price!

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          We talk about the weather, which they all agree is weird. I leave politics out of it because my opinions are not shared by many. No need to antagonise people.

        • Superman1 says:

          I talk to my neighbors about climate change. The 50% who voted for Obama nod their heads in agreement that the problem is serious, and the next day step into an airplane for an extended vacation in Asia or Europe. But, I’m sure if they were polled, they would strongly agree that we need to take action to avoid major climate change.

  10. David Goldstein says:

    I am a frequent commenter here at CP. I am also a writer for HuffPost on climate issues. I am hoping to have an essay titled ‘Burn, baby, burn: A climate activist’s wish for superstorms, wildfires and drought’ posted this week. Here is a sneak peek at the final paragraph- “So what is your wish assuming that only wider and deeper suffering will wake us to change our unhealthy behaviors? What is your wish, knowing that any further damage we incur is cumulative, increasing and not reversible for many decades? Though it hurts my heart more than I can say, I can no longer escape this conclusion: If we’re going to do it, if we are going to push the climate out of balance to the point where it becomes unbearable, then the quicker the better. “Burn, baby, burn”, so that maybe, possibly, hopefully…the healing can begin.”

    • Joe Romm says:

      Well, I wouldn’t put it that way. I don’t wish for those things. I know they are coming. I wish we had the wisdom to act.

      • David Goldstein says:

        Yes, Joe, I flesh that aspect out in the article with an analogy to a person diagnosed with advancing heart disease who refuses to stop smoking and refuses to adopt a healthier diet, IF we make the evaluation that we will not change before experiencing deeper suffering, THEN what do we wish?

        • Artful Dodger says:

          David, this is a dangerous game of brinksmanship. Many conservatives and climate deniers will take you literally, say they are only doing what you ask, claim victory, and call for higher carbon emissions.

          I advise you not to walk this path, since it leads to greater suffering. This is a true fossil fool’s paradise.

    • BobbyL says:

      It’s going to take a heck of a lot of superstorms, wildfires, and droughts. All of these things are common without climate change. Large number of people have been suffering for years from such events. People emotionally cannot make a link. The link can only be made by climate scientists trying to explain how global warming might be involved. And of course being academics there will always be disagreement among them. Any climate activists wishing for more of these events are going to be frustrated by the ambiguity of the situation and wondering why no truly meaningful action is being taken.

      • David Goldstein says:

        Yes, Bobby, I fear the same. Quite a pickle.

        • Merrelyn Emery says:

          Even those who don’t know the mechanism of infrared retention through CO2 have a strong sense that things are going wrong. They see it all around them. They respond very positively to a simple conversation about the situation, ME

    • Superman1 says:

      David, You’re an excellent writer, and I appreciate the efforts you have made on this problem. But, I wouldn’t make the assumption that “only wider and deeper suffering will wake us to change our unhealthy behaviors”.

      • Superman1 says:

        The model I would use is that of chain-smokers, or other types of addicts. Today, chain-smokers know the consequences of their actions, but they do it anyway. In one organization I worked, where most of the technical staff were Ph.Ds, the outside smoking section looked like an opium den.

        • Superman1 says:

          I have known two smokers who had a lobe resected, and both started back smoking within a month of leaving the hospital. That’s the strength of the link to the fossil energy-enabled lifestyle that many people in the advanced countries have, and that many people in the developing nations aspire to. I don’t think that the increasing suffering imposed by climate change will modify this behavior.

          • Superman1 says:

            I believe we have maxed out our carbon budget credit card, and there are no easy solutions left. I don’t see the willingness on any large scale to take even the easy measures, much less those required at this point in time. We can blame the energy companies and media and politicians all we want, and they certainly earned their share of the blame, but the central problem is us, and our self-indulgent gratification in the here-and-now. We are headed where my two friends who resumed smoking after their lobe resection went: into oblivion.

          • BobbyL says:

            There shouldn’t be any need for anyone to suffer before action is taken. The science makes it obvious that action is needed. It also seems to indicate that if you wait for great suffering it will be too late to act because of lag time, feedbacks, etc. All of the information is available. Countries did actually take the first step a number of years ago, the Kyoto Protocol. It wasn’t that long ago that it looked like the world would act, although perhaps too slowly. What went wrong is probably evident from what took place at the climate meeting in Copenhagen in 2009. Some people blame the US and other developed countries and some blame China. Whatever momentum there was before Copenhagen has been lost. How to regain the momentum is a problem that needs to be solved very soon.

          • Superman1 says:

            BobbyL, Many posters raise the momentum issue; it’s a myth, it never existed where it counts, among the electorate. The only ‘momentum’ that existed was the mass of hot air times the velocity of what came out of the diplomats’ mouths.

      • David Goldstein says:

        I agree that it is entirely possible that even several degrees (so to speak) greater suffering will not change our behavior. But we DO, after all, possess a survival mechanism. At some point it will kick in on a sufficiently wide level. Will it be too late by then? THAT is the deepest drama and the question that will be answered, likely after I am gone (I am 49).

        • Camburn says:

          David:
          Before your article is actually published, make sure you have your facts correct. IF you don’t, you will only make it easier for folks to dispute them.

          When you are talking of warming, remember that the sensitivity is declining right now. That is what observation shows. Also remember that the Global Circulation Models do not do well, even now, with the hydrological cycle.

          We all know that hurricanes have become less frequent and overall intensity is less based on the ACE output.

          We all know that the sun has a profound effect on the jet stream, via UV radiation.

          We know that OHC has been stagnant since 2003, as demonstrated by ARGO data. ARGO is the most reliable source of information on that at present. Pre ARGO, the error bars were so large that a trend was about impossible to confirm.

          A lot of items are not “clear cut” in regards to climate, and to make claims that will only fail, makes your interpretation of the science look dismal in the long run.

          • David Goldstein says:

            Hey, Camburn, thanks for the comment. I remembered your name from Skeptical Science threads and took the liberty of copying a comment of yours there (and the reply by the scientist at SS) about OHC. Here it is:
            First- your comment: “OHC has leveled off since 2003, temps have dropped as confirmed by BEST. A period of cooling overall is very evident.”

            Now the reply: “Umm, no. Incorrect, nonfactual and unsupported (take your pick).”

            I think I’ll take your input with a grain of salt, but again, thanks for the comment.

          • sailrick says:

            No, “We” don’t “know” all those things you said.

            The last decade had La Nina as the dominant aspect of ENSO cycle, and the last part of the decade had a 100 year solar minimum.
            The 1990s were dominated more by the warming El Nino. Especially 1998 with the strongest El Nino in a century.


            MARodger says: at Real Climate
            Unforced Variations March 2013

            “You link to a very strange piece of analysis. Watts (giving a hat-tip to old man Pielke, so it may be Watts is just repeating what he has been told) seems first to accept that OHC is a valid part of AGW and presumably if OHC is on the rise then there is no pause in AGW. But then Watts asserts he has a 0-700m OHC graph that contains “more up-to-date data from the ARGO bouy system,” – that is more up-to-date than the ScepticalScience graph.
            Watts seems pleased by his ‘discovery’ yet he is wrong in what he says. The “new data” in the graph (that comes from the NOAA) results from a reanalysis of old XBT data. The 2003-12 data that takes Watts interest in the NOAA graph is not new at all. It is the same old ARGO data as seen in that SkepticalScience graph which Watts is trying to belittle, the SkepticalScience graph that includes both 0-700m OHC and 700-2000m OHC, the latter being where OHC has been doing its stuff over recent years. (We’ll ignore the OHC rise below 2000m.)”

            ————–

            Recent research show warming of the deepest layers of the oceans also.

            ————-

          • sailrick says:

            There was also a 100 year solar minimum from 2007-2009.

            Ironically, La Nina is when the earth is gaining the most heat. In the oceans, where most of the excess heat from the over amped greenhouse effect goes- 90% of it.

            So, while atmospheric temperature rise seemed to level off some in the 2000s, what was really going on is the oceans gaining heat, the heat going down to deeper waters.

            During El Ninos, which warm the atmosphere, the oceans release some of the excess stored heat into the atmosphere, warming it, while some of the heat goes out into space.

            The earth loses some of it’s accumulated heat.

            ———————-

            La Nina and El Nino

            “Note what happens during La Nina – a lot of heat gets buried below the surface in the western Tropical Pacific (tilting of the thermocline) and cool water wells up from the deep along the coast of North & South America. These processes cause cooling of global surface temperatures through the ocean-atmosphere heat exchange.

            With El Nino heats wells up to the surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific, and the upwelling of cold water along the Americas shuts off. The end result is that a lot of heat from the ocean is given up to the atmosphere, which warms up abruptly and raises global surface temperatures. But much of this atmospheric heat is radiated out to space.

            So, although it seems counter-intuitive, La Nina is when the Earth gains a lot of energy, and El Nino is when the oceans loses heat to the atmosphere – and the Earth loses energy.”

            {Rob Painting at Skeptical Science}

          • PeterM says:

            Are all the ‘facts’ you presented here actually been substantiated? Or are they something concocted in the land of denial?

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            Yawwwn. The Narcoleptor is back!

          • Superman1 says:

            Man-made climate change is leading inexorably to our extinction. Anyone who is aiding and abetting that process is, like the driver of a getaway car, an accessory to …. ‘extinction’. We need to start exacting penalties for such behavior, not excuse it.

        • sailrick says:

          There are several peer reviewed studies showing that the net effect of all the natural forcings and natural variability like ENSO and solar cycles etc., was negligible at most and probably would have cooled the earth, if no for the enhanced greenhouse effect from our emissions.
          —————
          Lean and Rind Estimate Human and Natural Global Warming
          “None of the natural processes can account for the overall warming trend in global surface temperatures. In the 100 years from 1905 to 2005, the temperature trends produce by all three natural influences are at least an order of magnitude smaller than the observed surface temperature trend reported by IPCC [2007].

          According to this analysis, solar forcing contributed negligible long-term warming in the past 25 years and 10% of the warming in the past 100 years”

          {Skeptical Science}
          ————————-
          Foster and Rahmstorf Measure the Global Warming

          {Read it at Skeptical Science}

          ———————————–

          Huber and Knutti Quantify Man-Made Global Warming

          observed global warming since 1850 and 1950. Over both timeframes, the authors find that human greenhouse gas emissions are the dominant cause of global warming
          The authors also note that the relatively small contribution of natural variability to the observed long-term temperature change is consistent with past climate data……..

          Since 1950, the authors find that greenhouse gases contributed 166% (120-215%) of the observed surface warming (0.85°C of 0.51°C estimated surface warming). The percentage is greater than 100% because aerosols offset approximately 44% (0.45°C) of that warming.”

          {read at Skeptical Science}
          ————–

        • Steve in Miami says:

          David, for the record I agree with you and I’m surprised that more posters on this site are not on the same boat. What we need is something bad enough to wake people up with as little death and suffering as possible. There is already much suffering in the pipeline, I think we all agree on that much. But thet quicker we take action, the less suffering there will be (hopefully) and there is no question that we will continue to do nothing until SOMETHING wakes us up from our blissfully ignorant slumber.

          • Superman1 says:

            Your assumption is that people are asleep, and need to be woken up. I think they are wide awake, know what they’re doing in the sense that educated chain smokers know what they’re doing, and they are willing to suffer the consequences in the sense that chain smokers are willing to suffer the consequences, as long as they have their gratification in the here-and-now.

          • Joe Romm says:

            We disagree 100% here, kal-el.

          • BobbyL says:

            Millions of people get it without suffering. All you need is to believe that science reveals truths based on experiments and observation and that sometimes you need to act on that best available knowledge and not wait for every last i to be dotted and t to be crossed. The reason we are not getting action is probably not that people don’t get it but that the task is too difficult and expensive and it is easier and cheaper to simply procrastinate.

          • Steve in Miami says:

            Superman, perhaps a better analogy would be to compare what we are doing to smokers in the 1800′s who really didn’t know how bad it was. The best thing that could happen to them was to cough up a chunk of tar before they got emphysema so they would be scared into quitting before it was too late.

            You are absolutely wrong about people. People simply do not realize what is happening and why should they? Garbage is picked up and hauled off to Lord knows where. Electricity comes on and the only repercussion is an electric bill. It’s not talked about on the news or by politicians.

            How could people possibly know? And if they don’t know, how can they be blamed?

            You can hate and blame Limbaugh, Anthony Watt’s, sociopathic oil execs, most republican law makers, etc.

            But does that mean you also blame and hate Al Gore, Joe Romm, Ghandi, Jimmy Carter, etc.?

            Some people know how bad things are and choose deceipt and willful ignorance so they can continue living lavish lifestyles guilt-free, but most people do not know.

            And the fact that many people are too scared to rationally talk about what is going on with the climate is not a reason to hate and blame them. It is a reason to understand where they are coming from.

            I certainly understand. You don’t?

          • Superman1 says:

            Steve, “I certainly understand. You don’t?”. What we observe is consumerism-driven behavior; we obviously can ascribe different causes for this behavior. If we want to have any chance of solving the climate change problem, we better identify the correct cause(s) fairly soon, and then take steps to eliminate them. I believe the need for gratification in the here-and-now dominates any of the other causes, and actions against the fossil industry, media, politicians, etc, may feel good in the short-term, but they won’t solve the core problem, and will insure we transition into oblivion.

    • Colorado Bob says:

      DG -
      You wish for a greater level of pain and suffering ? Really ?

      As a way forward , it’s a rather stupid idea. All this increase in future damage , is clearly here and now. It’s just that no one has pulled all the threads together , In say a movie called :
      ” The Inconvenient Facts”

    • rollin says:

      I have noticed a growing element of doomsters among the people cognizant of climate change and peak oil. They seem to want destruction to get over the pain they are feeling or to justify the preparations they are making.
      Sadly, they do not understand how collapse works. It will not be homogeneous nor will have similar levels in different areas. What can and would most likely happen in a fast collapse is a ripping through the ecosystem by desperate people that will simulate a nuclear Armageddon. The power of people to do harm will not immediately disappear nor will population fall in a short time, fear and desperation will remove any and all restrictions on protecting the ecosystem.
      Be careful what you wish for.

      • nnoxks says:

        The growing element of doomers among those who have thought seriously about climate change and peak oil is understandable. Even as the signals of warming and resource depletion begin to stand out from the noise, they are drowned out by the shrieks and cries of entrenched interests of every conceivable stripe. “Chicken little!” “Marxist!” “Communist!” “AGW religion!” “Infinite oil, because human ingenuity!” “$30 a barrel oil, returning soon, really, any day now!” “Climate is always changing!” “Snowstorms in May – so much for your global ‘warming’!” As the arctic melts and the jetstream changes, the Economist wonders whether maybe this climate change thing won’t be so bad after all. And on and on and on. How long have we been hearing from scientists and popularizers some variation on the phrase “we must act now” or “catastrophe looms if we don’t act now!” Well, look around. How’s that action coming? Because it looks to me like we are blowing past 400ppm with nary a pause. Maybe the increasing element of doomerism among the reality based community has something to do with doomerism being an increasingly rational response to our current reality.

        • Superman1 says:

          What we’re playing now is a semantic game. Those who state the most probable outcome based on today’s data and most credible projections are called ‘doomers’. Why aren’t they referred to as ‘realists’, and why aren’t those who make optimistic projections based on no credible evidence given a name consistent with their fantasizing?

    • Superman1 says:

      David, Your proposal illustrates why it is important to identify the problem and its causes as precisely as possible. You, like many other posters here, have identified the solution to A problem, but, unfortunately, not to THE problem that we face. Problems of hard addiction, which characterizes the causes of climate change, are not overly receptive to the increased hardship that follows, which is why your proposal would have little impact in solving the underlying problem.

    • Mark Haag says:

      We keep talking like disinterested sociologists, e.g. “What will it take for X movement to happen?” The important questions for a movement to happen are

      “do I have a good pair of walking shoes?”
      “where do I go to join the protest?”

      • Andy Hultgren says:

        AMEN.

      • David Goldstein says:

        Mark- I agree that these are very relevant questions. Out of curiosity- at this point – what is your answer to these questions? What protests have you taken part of and what overall effect would you say they are having to this point?

        • Mark Haag says:

          David,

          to the first question, none related to the climate!! But after having a grandchild, I can’t listen to myself talk any more as I have for years about those “stupid deniers” or the callow politicians or the doubt industry-without making a commitment to act even in the absence of likely success.

          To the second question: The first Earth day and the civil rights movement show that social action can change things. I have no problem talking about the conditions under which people might or might not be likely to get out there, but I worry that I and my fellow teachers do the social science talk as a way of not actually obligating ourselves to do what we can.

          I think if every one of us did get out there, it might work.

        • Superman1 says:

          David, If you and I are the central problem, and we ‘protest’ against the fossil energy companies and the media and the politicians, how in the world can we ever expect to solve the problem? Or, should we join some ‘movement’ and protest against ourselves? If you aim at the wrong target, how can you hit the right one?

  11. Paul Magnus says:

    Yep, were toast.

    Its just how burnt were going to be….

    • catman306 says:

      “First we’re toast, then we’re compost.”

      Put that on your bumper and drive around.

  12. Icarus says:

    I recently read a very apt analogy:

    “Modern global society has become like a shark. It either keeps barreling forward or it dies.”

    http://resourceinsights.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-only-true-metric-of-energy_28.html

    We seem to be in a predicament for which there is no solution, as others have indicated above. Even if we had a miraculous global change of heart and all suddenly wanted to live a low energy, low impact, sustainable lifestyle, it’s impossible to get there from where we are now without chaos. Half the world’s people live in cities, which are the very definition of unsustainability. Our problem is so big, it’s hard to imagine that a painless solution is possible.

  13. MarkF says:

    This is an outstanding essay.

    Thankyou.

  14. fj says:

    China has existed for millennia.

    Comforting in a way; though they’ve made huge mistakes.

    And, it’s bizarre to think that The President has no plan to act at wartime speed.

  15. Jeff Poole says:

    If memory serves it was classic sci-fi writer John Wyndham who wrote, ‘what 20 year old stops smoking to save a fifty year old stranger from cancer?’

  16. Helen Camakaris says:

    We may be the paragon of animals but with intelligence, instincts and culture came hubris, greed and an inability to see the future. That’s the problem with evolution: the wheels of selection that turned in the distant past were unable to foresee a future where population, sustainability and pollution would become a problem.
    Given the global nature of the problems we need solutions at the national and global levels, and that means a new breed of politicians, educators, media and a new kind of democracy that is more deliberative, and less adversarial. If you are interested read more at https://theconversation.edu.au/dont-trust-your-stone-age-brain-its-unsustainable-9075 and at http://meanjin.com.au/articles/post/the-poisoned-chalice-genetic-heritage-future-demise/

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      We need a system that does not reward and empower the worst, the greediest, the most arrogant, the most misanthropic amongst us. In other words we need a substitute for capitalism, which is our death sentence. Every philosophy and religion worth the name has warned of the moral danger of greed, yet capitalism has made it the supreme motivation of life, with repercussions that were obvious decades or even centuries ago.

      • Superman1 says:

        In a recent issue of Solidarity, a Socialist magazine, an article on climate change made the point that the socialist countries contributed their share to the climate change problem. This problem goes beyond political systems, and gets into the increasingly self-indulgent and instant gratification behavior that has become our hallmark as a species.

      • Merrelyn Emery says:

        Before it rewards and empowers them, it actually creates them. Put them into the opposite system and they behave ‘oppositely’, ME

  17. Jack Burton says:

    400PPM, seems serious now, but know this much, the 400PM is just a signpost flashing by your car window and you are racing by at 75 mph.
    In a couple years we will not even remember the day we shot past 400 PPM. It’s gone before we notice we even saw it. See you soon at the 500 PPM mile post. Happy driving!

    • Colorado Bob says:

      JB -
      400 ppm is 15 million years ago . North and South American , had a long way to go before the Pacific and Atlantic were sealed off , and made our modern world.
      The thing about our climate, it has always been run by the oceans . They transport the heat.
      The idea of the of our modern world was born 3.5 million years ago. When Panama became a place.
      What happened ?
      Man a rose, and the ice ages began.
      Dr. Alley says that the CO2 was very stable in this period. No lower than 180 PPM. No higher than 280 PPM.
      So in just 163 years we jump to 400PPM.

      I am in the camp of :
      Lone Wati -
      ” Get ready little lady, Hell is coming to breakfast.”

      • Colorado Bob says:

        The man is a the carbon volcano. A completely new feature in geology, in all of our 4.6 Billion Years.

        • Colorado Bob says:

          In the summer of 1970, I met a fellow who asked me how much “fresh air” a car engine needed to run. His point being , “Can we burn all the O2 ” ?

          The day he asked it , everyone in China was on a bike going to work, like we were in 1900. Now they make more cement than the rest of the world.

          I still ask this the oxygen question .
          Just a small move down, and all life dies , just a small move up, and everything will burn to flames.

          Every O2 maker is in deep decline. And we plan on 6 zillion more gas powered engines. .

          IE …. Oxygen may be the problem , we’re killing the sources, and swallowing it all up.

          • Joan Savage says:

            Ralph Keeling is the global oxygen expert. He’s at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. A Keeling video presentation in 2009 is an excellent primer on both oxygen and CO2.

            That 2009 presentation preceded information on decline in ocean O2 production, and at that point the ecologists had yet to convince him that some forests and their soils provide net CO2 storage. There may be some other pieces that have come to light since that presentation.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsnaXlhctLY

        • Colorado Bob says:

          In the summer of 1970, I met a fellow who asked me how much “fresh air” a car engine needed to run. His point being , “Can we burn all the O2 ” ?

          The day he asked it , everyone in China was on a bike going to work, like we were in 1900. Now they make more cement than the rest of the world.

          I still ask this the oxygen question .
          Just a small move down, and all life dies , just a small move up, and everything will burn to flames.

          Every O2 maker is in deep decline. And we plan on 6 zillion more gas powered engines. .

          IE …. Oxygen may be the problem , we’re killing the sources, and swallowing it all up, just to jet ski.

  18. I thought about this a little more today and decided that America will change when Kenny Chesney sings about global warming at a NASCAR event.

  19. Mike Roddy says:

    Grantham’s experts left out the most brilliant historians of the last 100 years- Spengler and Toynbee, and Gibbon even earlier. All believed that spiritual decay is the common thread in the decline of empires. You don’t have to look very hard to find examples of it here these days.

    We saw it with the Athenians, the Bourbons, the Czar, and now, us. The common threads of greed and degeneracy are easily observed, along with compliant legal systems.

    • Spike says:

      Agreed – and it is visible all around us today. Hubris, faux patriotism, greed, lack of empathy, and a severe humility deficit.

      It always bring’s Shelley’s words to mind in Ozymandias.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        The moral death of the West is the result of the totally dominant Right projecting its pathological psychology onto society. When the terror of socialism (for the Right) disappeared in 1989, there was nothing left to stop the Right from ruling as their generalised hatred of others impelled them to do. The older Rightists, in power for the first twenty or so years thereafter, were fearful that, if they went too far, they might provoke the serfs to revolt again, so they went easy. By about the middle of the last decade the new generation of Rightists, who had grown up under Thatcher, Reagan and Pinochet et al, were taking the reins of power, and they feel inviolate. They can do whatever they like. Crush workers, destroy wages and conditions, reduce welfare recipients to penury, attack and destroy any country they desire,devastate every biosphere in search of loot and steal more and more from the rest of humanity to satisfy their insatiable greed. And their great allies are the ‘social democrats’ like Blair, Clinton, Rudd etc, who have sold out all thought of ‘social justice’ in return for preferment and riches on retirement. With nothing to stop them but their miniscule consciences, they are driving on and on, being literally unable ever to be satisfied so long as there is one worker who has forgotten his place, one ‘water-melon’ Green standing in the way or one welfare recipient who has not yet been broken by humiliation and cruelty.

    • Mark E says:

      These things do not manifest as brand new qualities; they are there at the beginning when society sets itself on a path of nonstop growth. At first, when a new society is plucking the low hanging fruit, no one notices. But as growth addiction pushes a society closer to its demise, that’s when we start seeing these qualities come to the fore.

  20. Bill D. says:

    We need lots more of what Joe delivers in his fine post: a strong dose of reality. We don’t have time to treat climate change as a run-of-the-mill political issue when it’s nothing less than a matter of our survival as a species. We need to give people the unvarnished story and bring them face to face with the stark picture of their impending demise. Yes, we need to scare the crap out of them.

    The main problem today is that none of our leaders has the courage to give citizens the straight story. They keep depicting environmental action as only one item on the menu of public policy options. Instead of issuing an urgent call to action comparable to America’s mobilization for World War II, we get nothing but stump speeches from President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

    It’s obvious that the task of stopping or reversing global climate change can only be accomplished through massive changes in the ways that Americans live, work and play. But as long as our leaders keep letting us believe the fantasy that this issue can be addressed by nothing more than a series of painless, incremental steps, we’ll keep speeding towards the cliff (or brick wall as you may prefer). As Jim Hansen says, climate change is a true planetary emergency and it ought to be treated as such.

    • fj says:

      True action on climate change will come with giant leaps of extraordinary accomplishments, exhilarating and far from the pain characterizing the current trajectory of stasis, denial, no will, business as usual; mass death, destruction and absolutely horrific weather.

  21. Jeff Poole says:

    I’ve just downloaded and read ‘Immoderate Greatness’ – to use an old fashioned term it’s a tract more than a ‘book’ – short, pithy and extremely readable.

    I can’t recommend it enough.

    Like nature, it’s also implacable. Really it seems the only ‘solution’ is reset. Maybe the next species to arise will have wisdom instead of our ape cleverness…

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      We are pretty much the same people we have always been. Our big mistake was made at the beginning of the industrial revolution when we started organizing everybody into top down systems. People organized horizontally as equals do not behave like we do, ME

      • Jeff Poole says:

        We’ve always done it ME. This Idee Fixe that you have about entirely reorganising society along these Primitive Anarchist lines… Any place, pre- or post-Industrial Revolution actually achieve it..?

        Thought not, that’s because we’re hardwired to run around in family groups that have hierarchies. That’s how we’ve evolved! Just like chickens, guinea pigs and gorillas it’s our very nature. Any truly Green politics, has to acknowledge that.

        Sadly the various political creeds – Libertarianism, Socialism, Anarchism – that grew up before we truly understood our evolved nature have all failed. Failed because they were based on a false assumption – that we’re outside nature.

        I guess I’m just tired of hearing people condemn ‘politics’ ‘ideologies’ or some other external bogeyman for something which is simply human…

  22. Camburn says:

    “With a carbon price of nil, coal is by far the most attractive option,” said Chris Davies, a U.K. member of the assembly’s environment committee.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-05/eu-pollution-push-in-disarray-as-crisis-focus-sharpens.html?cmpid=yhoo

    Economic reality.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Yawn!!! I like the nauseating note of triumphalism, too. You reveal yourself quite plainly.

    • kermit says:

      Sure; you’re happy to subsidize the coal profits with your own bank account, and health, and lives of your children. Not to mention tax subsidies.

      And you likely didn’t want to fish or swim in that stream, or hike that mountain, but someone did.

      Try comparing the real cost of coal to the real cost of solar panels. It’s true, however, that already-rich people will profit more from the coal.

  23. Unfortunately, we’re still getting nonsense like the following from people who are supposed to be relying on science and telling the rest of us what’s going on. Revkin’s latest New York Times Dot Earth post is about “unburnable carbon.” My comment starts with a quote of Revkin’s opening line…

    “A new buzz phrase in the push to limit greenhouse gas emissions is “unburnable carbon” — an effort to define and then wall off the portion of the world’s still-vast reserves of coal, oil or natural gas that might, if combusted, cause unacceptably costly or dangerous climate change.”

    To which I responded…

    This can only be written by someone in denial. There is no “might” about the fact that burning more carbon will “cause unacceptably costly or dangerous climate change.” My own belief (and Jim Hansen’s) is that the “unburnable carbon budget” is too high — as is the 2ºC target. We’ve already destabilized the climate and already put enough CO2e in the atmospheric pipeline, and CO2 and heat in to the oceans, to exacerbate that destabilization for decades or centuries to come.

    Is the Arctic ice disappearing because the planet’s getting colder? Will the disappearing Arctic ice have a major effect on global climate?

    Revkin has joined the ranks of the “confusionists,” and he’s hiding behind outdated analytical (non-holistic) science that refuses to take current observations and feedbacks into account. All we can ask at this point is…why?

    • nnoxks says:

      Revkin joined that camp long ago. An obfuscator who cherry picks his science and scientists. He won’t actually deny the science if you try to pin him down, but his stuff is absolutely filled with weasel words and hemming and hawing. Bah, I say, bah.

  24. fj says:

    The heroism will only prevail if we do; if we save ourselves and humanity and the extraordinary beauty of the rich diversity of life on this planet and further advance the future of life.

    We will only be heroic if we advance to the next stage; we understand who we are and the extraordinary things we are capable of; we irradicate poverty, war, and our inner demons holding us back; as we prepare for advances beyond our wildest imaginations perhaps even beyond the stars.

  25. Paul Klinkman says:

    I for one had no problem laying out a plan, although when I post it here it disappears pretty quickly.

    What we need are environmental intelligentsia willing to listen to constructive dissenters of good conscience on the issue (but not corporate flacks with bad hearts). Then we’ll come to some type of consensus. Until then, complaining about no plan has limited benefits.

  26. SecularAnimist says:

    BobbyL wrote: “… fossil fuel oligarchs around the world employ many millions of people … How many of these millions of people are voluntarily willing to give up their jobs because civilization might collapse in 2085?”

    How many of them would give up their jobs in fossil fuels for better jobs in the renewable energy industries?

    As reported elsewhere on this site, “the solar industry data added nearly 14,000 new jobs in 2012, a 13% growth rate over 2011 — 5 times the job growth rate of the overall economy”.

    And the US solar industry already employs more people (119,000) than the US coal industry (87,500), and wind power is close (85,000).

    A renewable energy economy is a high-employment economy that can offer sustainable and equitable prosperity to everyone.

    • BobbyL says:

      So far there has been no concerns about people in the oil, gas, and coal industries losing their jobs but expect a lot of resistance from labor should that situation arise, particularly with no retraining programs in place that I am aware of. Heck, labor is busy supporting Keystone XL with hardly any permanent jobs at stake. If the situation doesn’t arise we are all cooked. Believe it, there is more opposition to overcome than a bunch of corporate executives and bankers.

      • kermit says:

        Personally I’m all in favor of retraining those people and putting them to work building a smart grid, running small businesses putting up solar panels, maintaining our infrastructures, and so on. But I’m in the US, and expect that our Republican congress would block any funding for that, and then blame the unemployment on Obama.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        The remaining trade unions in the USA and Australia, after decades of repression, are overwhelmingly Rightwing in ideology and often very corrupt. They have been in bed with the Bosses for years, actively keeping a lid on the workers and repressing any tendency to question the social order. They have helped contribute to massive outsourcing of good jobs overseas, a steady progress of ‘give-backs’ of hard-won conditions and the stagnation of median wages in the USA for forty years (and an increase in the share of GNP going to capital of 10%, with the reduction coming from labor’s share). They’ll do as they are told by the capitalists, or else.

  27. M Tucker says:

    We will be remembered for our near superhuman effort to avert 3 to 4 deg of average warming by our valiant “wartime effort” that will begin something around 2030. We will be praised for our brave fight. Kind of like GB: after the debacle of the defense of France and the near destruction of her expeditionary force GB rallies her forces and, with the help of the US, defeats the enemy. Or like Russia: ignoring all evidence to the contrary, refusing to believe their ally Nazi Germany would attack, Russia is overwhelmed by the enemy and, after moving all her important war industries to the Ural Mts, rallies her forces and, with the help of the US, defeats the enemy.

    With a lot of death and destruction, victory will be rewarded with heroic tales.

    • BobbyL says:

      That is if the unemployment rate is under 6% around 2030. Otherwise the focus will be on jobs, jobs, jobs and addressing global warming will be kicked down the road once again until the economy improves. Also, we still be talking about staying under 2C even though all but a handful of climate scientists will say it is no longer possible.

      • Merrelyn Emery says:

        Social change happens and there is likely to be a great deal of it, long before 2030, ME

        • Superman1 says:

          In which direction?

        • BobbyL says:

          I predict that around 2030 President Michelle Obama will declare that her highest priority is reforming health care so all 400 million Americans will be covered.

          • Merrelyn Emery says:

            The period 2005-09 showed the fastest rate of change I have recorded since 1973, most of it toward greater maladaptions, ME

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            If nothing is done to avert ecological collapse there will be closer to 4,000,000 US citizens in 2030 than 400 million.

          • BobbyL says:

            If the population drops from over 300 million to 4 million within the next 17 years I doubt if there will be a US to be a citizen of. More likely 4 million survivalists hunkered down churning out plastic guns on 3D printers.

    • Superman1 says:

      Well, let’s see. In twenty years, we will have added at least 60ppm CO2 to the atmosphere, which translates to an increase of about 0.7 C additional, for a grand total temperature of ~1.5 C. That puts us in Kevin Anderson’s Very Dangerous range. Add to that another three or four decades of ‘climate warming commitment’ due to thermal lags, and there’s little chance that the positive feedback mechanisms won’t accelerate to runaway mode.

  28. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Forgot to say ‘great headline’ Joe, ME

  29. Susan Anderson says:

    Beautifully done post, and great meme! thanks.

  30. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Into the valley of death rode the 7 billlion
    Global warming to the left of us
    Ocean Acidification to the right
    Dying oceans behind us
    Dying forrests in front
    No bees to feed us
    The waters we poisoned
    The air we fouled

    Will any survive