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"Hansen's solutions describe the hopeful fantasy world he lives in."

Right - Hansen's hope is pinned on the effectiveness of his "fee-and-dividend" carbon tax. He's a moderate Republican, after all, and a guided market plus economic growth solves everything. It's the "silo effect" in higher learning these days. The most advanced are often really, really knowledgeable in one area of learning, and weak in all the other areas - so, they often just put blind faith in the weaker areas according to their own needs.

There was an article a while back that had a notable quote in it:

“The higher the income, the higher the carbon emissions per capita,” Hubacek says. “One has to think about what increase in income can we afford in a world that has a finite capacity to absorb carbon.”

Mike Roberts

Oh, there is no doubt that Hansen believes that civilisation can be saved, and doesn't realise that his "solution" destroys it, but at least he's sounding the alarm in a way the public can understand, unlike most scientists. Not that it will make a difference. I'm a little confused by your unwritten choice, though (not that we have a choice). If a road warrior future is at all likely, it will also be accompanied by rapid sea level rises and monster storms. IMO, of course.

Mike Cooper

What interests me about that Vox article talking about the feasibility of switching to renewables is that it doesn't attempt to analyse either the cost of doing so or whether there are feasibly enough raw materials to do so available within the timeframe required. But I also am pretty sure that's because there's no point trying to analyse that, the answer to those questions must be 'too much' and 'no'.

I'm sure someone somewhere has done the analysis of how much fossil fuel we'd need to use to manufacture enough renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuel (and hence how much more we'd fuck the planet doing so) but I haven't come across that info yet - anybody have any links?

Do you think a nice big war could give us 6% PA degrowth without destroying civilisation? (That's a rhetorical question btw).

Finally - it really does amuse me that even the radicla 'we're all going to die' climate scientist has to inject some hope into his message. I think 'we're fucked' was more accurate.

Sam Taylor


In the period since the financial crisis a number of countries in Europe have recently succeeded in cutting emissions by around 5% a year, or faster! These countries include Spain (unemployment rate around 22%, and that's with one of the best developed wind and solar industries in Europe), Italy (12% unemployment and still in recession) and Greece (need I say anything?). And that's with what are likely to be the easiest cuts that would tend to be made first. I do find myself wondering how people like Krugman can claim that solving climate change would be "cheap and easy" with a straight face, given the evidence.

Tony Noerpel

I gave a talk on global warming at the local community center a few years ago. I showed a Gaussian distribution of NH temperature anomaly for each decade since the 1950s. The mean is getting hotter as one would expect but the variance is increasing also. This means that the probability of an extreme cold event has not changed much since the 1950's and Inhofe will be able to bring snowballs into the Senate chamber long into the foreseeable future. However the probability of an extreme heat events has increased about 10 fold. I looked about the room at a bunch of polite blank stares and I asked if anybody knew what a normal distribution was and nobody knew.

I'm guessing less than 2 or 3% of humans are sufficiently numerate to understand the human condition. Out of that, I don't know how many are ideologically dumbstruck. Milton Friedman certainly had the math skills. It was his libertarian ideology which turned him into an idiot. But we are all prone to ideological bias.

Hansen's paper is extremely dense with information. I doubt anybody, even Kevin Trenberth, has had sufficient time to digest it and assimilate it which calls into question some of the “expert” comments we’ve been reading. What it tells us is that there is a high probability of several meters of sea level rise within 50 years. That would be true even if the paper had some technical flaws, which would be hard to believe given the competence of the authors, including Eric Rignot. In fact, the paper downplays the contribution of the Greenland ice sheet which Greenland specialists like Jason Box are going to question. So on this score I’d guess the paper’s conclusions are as likely to be overly optimistic as pessimistic.

So all we are arguing about is the probability of the timing of the disaster, not its eventuality. And of course, sea level rise is only one concern.

Is 6% enough? I doubt it because sequestering 100 GtC is unlikely and that is the point I thought Robert Callaghan was trying to make at least in the link. We have to stop destroying forests before we can begin to replant them. In an energy starved world I don’t see that happening.

Here is the most salient line: “A sea level rise of 5m in a century is about the most extreme in the paleo record (Fairbanks, 1989; Deschamps et al., 2012), but the assumed 21st century climate forcing is also more rapidly growing than any known natural forcing.”

The sea level rose about 5 meters a century 14,600 years ago during the Melt Water Pulse 1 event. So it not just can happen but has happened. And the rate of carbon emissions is indeed remarkable for the entire Phanerozoic.

So I agree with you Dave. We are screwed. But here is where we depart. As we burn in the hell of our own making, I’d prefer to cheer on the realists/optimists trying to stop it even if they are dreaming and reserve my harshest criticism for the dunderheads (laissez-faire libertarians, plutocrats and oligarchs leading the list) who are causing it. I get more pleasure out of discombobulating the Georgewilling logic of the world’s ass holes.

I also have a minor problem with your analogy. In our case, the “town” is destroying itself anyway and there is so much fat and waste in our system, we could eliminate 10% pretty painlessly. Not that we will even try.

By the way, I'm enjoying a reread of Ugo Bardi's LTG revisited which reminds us that the LTG standard model estimated civilization would start running into trouble right about now. :+)



Doug McCallum


While I am neither a scientist nor an economist, looking at the resources expended during the last two world wars, first to blow most of the cities in Europe and Japan to dust, and then to rebuild them to higher standards, as well as the ongoing cost of the insane war industry in the years since, I suspect that our civilization might make a choice to invest in productive activities that that would improve the situation and perhaps the economy. I agree that it is not likely, but I'm not ready to assume that it is impossible.

Doug McCallum


@Doug: The bigger picture is that the economy has been completely built, and is reliant upon, the environmental practices (carbon, agriculture, deforestation, mining, etc.) that are causing our problems. There's a belief that's divorced from reality that we can continue the economy, and growth, and tackle these problems in a sufficient timeframe, but it'd be like kicking out the foundations on a skyscraper. The skyscraper doesn't stand without them.

Only economic contraction has been shown to reduce CO2 emissions (one problem amongst many) to the degree that the Hansen study indicates are necessary. However, imagine a world where we have a 100 year Great Depression, and you can kind of see what we're facing. Almost no one on Earth would willingly choose that option. Instead of facing that head on and with open eyes, almost everyone believes in one of the many different fantasies that we can solve the problems and continue building the skyscraper ever higher, as Hansen does.

That's a short and very vague version. The rest requires a lot of reading and analysis on your own.

@Tony: The world isn't so much "good guys" (environmentalists) and "bad guys" (industrialists), although this dynamic does exist on one level. On a more encompassing view, we're just detritus on the tides of grander forces. The "bad guys" couldn't stop this thing, or change it to the degree we'd need at this point, even if they suddenly turned "good", and even if the rest of the world really wanted them to do so (which it wouldn't). We're all like bit actors playing the roles assigned to us by our individual fates. The "bad guys" are playing their parts, the "good guys" are playing theirs, and the forces that move us roll on.

I too root for the "good guys". What else should I do? But that doesn't change the fact that we're on the top floor of the skyscraper with two choices: destroy the foundations of the skyscraper in a bid to save it, or wait for the skyscraper to lose its integrity on its own and fall down, anyway.

Every proposal to save the skyscraper, when one examines the details and plays out their implications into the future, comes down to building it higher and higher and leaving its foundations relatively intact. These attempts might buy some time, but that's all. 10% won't cut it. 50% in a growing system won't, either.

So, what choice do we really have? We all like to think we're the heroes of own stories, and we can be that as well, but on the larger story, we're the same as any Roman in the 4th and 5th centuries. Name one off the top of your head, "good guy" or "bad guy".

Not that we shouldn't try. Why not try? The delusions that cloud our brains can be very frustrating to those that see them, though.


On the other hand people like to tell stories like "Only people are capable of caring of everything": https://youtu.be/dhlgXvO5BXk



I really have nothing much to add. I do note in this post you really are at the top of your game!

Well on second thought, I do have a small observation to add. It concerns the self-identity of the political activist faction, as opposed to the science faction, within 350.

I am not surprised that "Wild-Bill" is based at a small New England liberal-arts collage. That rocky soiled cradle of Yankeedom was the birthplace of the first mass activist movement in American history -- the movement to bring about the sudden and total abolition of slavery though-out the Union. Without question The 350 activists see themselves as the righteous heirs to those antebellum Abolitionists.

When not bring up the undoubtedly true threat the burning of fossil fuels present to future generations, 350 activists like to play the moral blame game. They blame a rogue fossil fuel industry for this deplorable existential threat to humanity's continued existence. In their somewhat simpler times the Abolitionists had the "Slavocracy" as the source of all known evil. Both are examples of affixing blame for what are "wicked problems". As "wicked problems" both, chattel-slavery and the burning of fossil fuels, defy the simple solutions that "blame thinking" implies.

Without question the burning of fossil fuels is a far, far more wicked a problem then the one presented by chattel-slavery. Hell the burning of fossil-fuels was part of the "wicked solution" to chattel-slavery. I would say there is only one plausible reason that can be given, for why the American peoples had to endure a hellish war in order to "abolish slavery" -- Americans are a particularly morally obtuse people.

Let's have a little fun by making-up a semi-humorous analogy between the historic "abolition of slavery" as a result of the Civil War/War between the States and a future American "abolition of fossil fuel dependency" through a similar war.

Of course, 350 activist along with their doppelgangers, the climate deniers, will never alone plunge us into such a war. In order for that to happen they will need help from "crackpot realist" politicians. In particular there will be a need for a state-in for "honest Abe". As the title "the Great Emancipator" has been taken, she/he will be know down through whatever remains of history after the war as "the great Renewer". In what ever sort of school may exist in the post fossil fuel civil war America, all the little nit-wit kiddies, will be taught, "the Great Renewer" is called that because they "freed us from fossil fuel dependency". Just as "White Supremacy" somehow survived, the war and reconstruction that supposedly done it in, plenty of fossil fuels will be burned in this new postbellum America. All demon Americans will reside in places like West Virgina or Texas.

In the end, the greatest result of this future fossil fuel civil war will be the tremendous and exciting new chapter thus added to our national story. Tales will be told about how the war tore brother from brother. Some will say they were just simply "taking a stand" to defend their way of life. Homicidal fanatics will be honored as "the righteous instrument of the people and the science".

But once all the debates and discussions are ended everyone will agree that we -- as a people -- are all far better for having enured such a terrible ordeal. Yes, much was lost, so to speak, "gone with the wind". But we will be strengthened, the union more perfect. We will continue to move forward. Our collective progress towards a better future will not be crippled by such tragedy.

The Americans of this, the future postbellum fossil fuel free America, will derive conform from all this that they will know. The alternative to being so uplifted will be too horrible to contemplate. Thus, such alternative views will be entertained by very few.

A hui hou ...


Dave - Just wondering if we can assume that if this were 1939, you would be saying that we shouldn't worry about those pushy Germans or the Japanese, because they had really big armies with lots of weapons and opposing them would be, well, really inconvenient, very expensive, too darned hard and we'd probably lose anyway (although beating them might be a "hopeful fantasy" expressed by a tiny minority)?


Either way we lose. As for reaching the desired cuts, I suspect the 350.org crowd is LESS crazy than the BAU crowd in the final reckoning. While following their advice may lead to Mad Max, I very strongly suspect that NOT following their advice will lead to a much nastier end. And those cuts to fossil fuel consumption will be made with blood in the latter case.

Even more so than thinking it will not affect us for 50 years, I think most people are just hoping that THIS year is okay, that things don't go downhill this year, and next, and their kids will just have to deal. I know that my hopes are down to "I hope that I get a decent job before the next economic collapse, and that I can keep it through any collapse, at least for a while". I probably won't be alive in 50 years but I will very likely be alive in 20, and I suspect by that time a lot of crap will already be hitting the fan.

Global warming doesn't stop me from driving an hour a day to a job, because I have to put food on my own damn table tonight. The economy we have now demands that. That form of economy will be dead before 2100. I think you are right that there is no way our society could unravel that economy and put up a different one willingly. So blood it will be.

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