Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.– Winston Churchill/Apocryphal
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. – 1 Corinthians 13:11*
One of the true pleasures of recent weeks is watching the Clinton/Obama Liberal’s heads explode as Donald Trump has given every indication that he’s going to do exactly what he said he’d do (other than actually prosecute HRC as he promised to do, evidently): destroy the neo-liberal consensus, for which the bell-cow “issue of issues” is Anthropogenic (Human Caused) Global Warming (AGW), utterly and completely wherever he finds it. Whatever the name, whatever the ultimate cause, and whatever the ultimate truth of the matter, AGW remains a controversial political hot button issue among liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between for one simple reason: no significant coalition of people can agree on what exactly it is we should do about it, or yes (sorry liberals), whether anything can – or indeed – should be done about it at all.
Likewise, since dealing effectively with climate change is primarily a political problem involving large coalitions of like-minded people who are willing to deal with some exceedingly hard political trade-offs; it’s not simply a matter of convincing a small number idealistic individuals to take up gardening, buy solar panels to supplement their electricity use, and/or adopt hybrid or fully electric vehicles to reduce their carbon emissions. No, the problem is much deeper than that, and if we ever hope to deal with it, we have to at least be willing to tell ourselves the unvarnished truth, a willingness which seems to be in increasingly short supply as we get mired deeper and deeper in dealing with the many already quite observable effects. So let’s put on our big boy clothes for just few moments and take a look, shall we?
What’s the problem(s)?
AGW is a second order effect of two intertwined underlying problems: peak humanity (human overshoot) and peak oil (peak fossil fuel based energy use and depletion). We are now deep into human overshoot based on our use of a non-renewable energy source (oil and to a much lesser extent coal) for which there simply are no adequate replacements even remotely in sight. Further, our dependency is not reversible in any reasonable time frame absent catastrophic means – a massive human die-off and the complete collapse of the industrial society which supports us, which both allowed and demanded that all of those humans be born to service its needs. In plain English: AGW is every bit as much a human overshoot problem as it is an emissions problem!
In our current global paradigm, AGW is a global problem, demanding global solutions. Relatively simple (in comparison at least) nation state based solutions not only will not solve it, but in fact can only be expected to aggravate it even further, as nations states continue to disagree over proposed solutions. Paradoxically however, the failure of globalist systems to deal with AGW will force us back to nation state based solutions, with predictable and observable results.
Like the overshoot problem which underlies it, AGW is an exponential problem with huge time delays between cause and effect. As University of Colorado Professor Emeritus Albert Bartlett was famous for reminding his students, perhaps humanity’s greatest weakness (among many) is its failure to grasp the relatively simple concept of the exponential function, especially with regard to population growth. Throw in time delays of a hundred years or more as well, and human societies are particularly ill-equipped to deal with twin problems of the enormity of AGW and human overshoot.
The science of AGW is sufficiently complex that it is vulnerable to mis- and dis-information campaigns on both sides of the issue, and misunderstanding or less than complete understanding by just about everyone else. No one can possible doubt that we’ve seen this in spades already, and it further reinforces the stalemate we’ve arrived at regarding solutions. Complex political systems such as we have in the US today operate at least as much on the strategic use of mis- and dis-information as they do reasoned debate about agreed upon facts. In a very real sense, “facts” are what we collectively say they are.
And finally, our current economic system – already under considerable pressure itself for numerous reasons – rests on the continuance of now fully mature fossil fuel based energy systems, which are integral in keeping the 7.2B+ people currently alive from dying immediately. Undoing that current system in any relevant time frame would be catastrophic and would require wealthy first world countries (the few) to immediately forsake a lifestyle that benefits them greatly in favor of immature technologies that may or may not even pan out in the long run to benefit the many. As we are seeing already, this is simply not going to happen. And therein lays our basic conundrum: To deal with AGW immediately we need to first cull the herd by at least 6/7th’s. Any volunteers?
We’re lying to ourselves if we think politicians of any stripe are going to tell us the ugly truth – they haven’t and they won’t because they’ll be repudiated at the polls if they do – but more importantly, we in the first world west are lying to ourselves if we imagine we’re able to personally make the immediate quantum leap in understanding and accept the quantum fall in our living standards that effectively dealing with AGW would entail. To paraphrase the unforgettable Col Nathan Jessup: We can’t handle the truth! Nor are we even willing to contemplate it, if reactions to famous doomsayer Guy McPherson’s ominous predictions are any indication. Whether or not Professor McPherson’s admittedly rather frightening near term human extinction predictions prove to be even remotely accurate or not, the amount of vitriol I see expended against him even on so-called “doomer” discussion boards is truly remarkable.
But whether his extinction predictions prove to be true or not, the even more ominous truth is that if humanity is to survive long term, population reductions on the order of 90% or more in fairly short order (a generation or two at most) will be required; and further, the longer those reductions take, the more ominous the ill effects all along the way will be. Just as technological development all along the way up the population curve fostered the delusion of phantom carrying capacity and allowed us to push ourselves further and further into overshoot, technological and resource reductions and the environmental degradation they allowed will expose that phantom carrying capacity and push us further and further into contraction/collapse on the way down, in what will essentially be exponential growth running in reverse.
Where does that leave us now?
Paradoxically, the election of Donald Trump is actually a welcome step backwards toward sanity, or at least honesty. Donald Trump, by simply refusing to acknowledge AGW whatsoever, is effectively doing what we all were doing anyway, albeit without all the self-serving hypocritical bullshit attached. And absent an effective and truly committed left, who have had at least 16 of the last 24 years to martial a successful campaign to convince Americans, and thus presumably the world, to actually do something about the problem, it’s time to finally admit that no effective voice or sentiment for addressing AGW currently exists, nor does any appear on even the remotest horizon. In short: we have not, do not now, nor do we EVER intend to actually deal with AGW on anything other than an academic, theoretical, and/or as a next generation money making (Ponzi scheme) opportunity basis for opportunistic first world capitalists of either political persuasion. Furthermore, it’s probably time to admit that the train has almost certainly long since left the station with regard to mounting an effective response to the effects of AGW that are already in the pipeline anyway, even if we were to miraculously reduce our numbers and completely forsake carbon based energy today.
Political hysteria being what is these days, I’d expect the same old kubuki show to continue among political followers and prospective leaders alike until some sort of radical transformation gets adopted or imposed upon us. Will the left regroup, rebrand, and resurge again to counter Trump and his ilk in 2020? Or does Donald Trump represent an ascending nationalist wave that could perhaps lead to a twentieth century style WWIII or equivalent, which will drastically reduce population levels for us in fairly short order, albeit with untold knock-on effects? Further, at what point in the descent does nuclear warfare begin to actually appear as an – dare I say it – attractive scenario to some future leader or leaders? Indeed, have current leaders already considered such an outcome in that light? [I’m looking right at you HRC!] Thought experiment: imagine the effects on current population levels if the ~17M killed in WWI and the ~60M killed in WWII alone had lived to procreate. And that doesn’t even consider the Stalinist purges in Russia and all the other “little” wars fought throughout the 20th century.
In the end, especially when it comes to human overshoot and AGW, talk is cheap; although the sheer amount of bullshit expended in the coming years will no doubt be epic, the simple biological facts on the ground are the only thing that will matter, and they could not be clearer. Our little human culture experiment has missed its many opportunities to forsake our exponential growth madness and outgrown and fouled its only petri dish (no, we’re not going to colonize Mars!), the ultimate outcome of which has always been preordained: collapse to drastically smaller numbers or possibly even extinction. We’re not immortal interstellar time travelers meant to colonize the universe with our superior genetic seed, or any similar such sci-fi non-sense. Nor are we God’s specially chosen children meant to live forever and ever (Amen!) in his heavenly kingdom after our righteous terrestrial sojourns. We’re no more (or less) simply biological creatures of somewhat limited intelligence and even less wisdom who bit off more than we could chew when we discovered a once in an epoch non-renewable energy source of unimaginably concentrated power and utility, and who are only now being confronted with the very natural and predictable outcomes of our folly. And contrary to the quote that opened this piece, neither overshoot nor AGW are problems amenable to solutions arrived at only after trying and failing repeatedly at all others. And sorry Christians; but no, neither Santa Claus on the wings of eight magic reindeer or Little Baby Jesus on divine clouds of Thor are going to save us this time. Spare yourself some grief. Embrace the idea now, and beat the Christmas rush.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. – John 8:32*
And while we’re contemplating the end, let’s just pray it doesn’t turn out to be something like this, a fate we westerners have already condemned millions of our fellow human beings to just to satisfy our own perverse craving for luxury at their expense.
And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. – Revelation 9:6