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As I read through this, various thoughts flashed through my mind...

Has there ever been a situation in recorded history where human beings, on a large scale, voluntarily changed their behavior, for the long term, in a way that required real self-sacrifice? The two that people always come up with, WWII and the CFC/ozone, are not really applicable. The first had a) an indentifiable, in-your-face enemy (as you point out in this essay), and b) a relatively short-term exist strategy (win the freakin' war!). The second didn't actually require much in the way of meaningful behavior change or sacrifice, at least by The People (perhaps a few manufacturers went out of business, but life went on with behavior pretty much unchanged).

I can't think of any examples.

The reason, I suspect, is the obvious one.... there are no examples. Humans. Do. Not. Do. That.

Or, paraphrasing Friedman, "Stupidity is everywhere and always a human phenomenon."

P.S. - For what it's worth, seeing the unread entry in my reader made me smile. I always enjoy the read, regardless of the nature of the subject matter. So, glad you're keeping busy. Thanks. Enjoy.


It's nice that you've opened up the Comments facility again Dave, thanks.

I thought this was another excellent piece that makes unarguable sense. As I may have already commented elsewhere, the fact that "reality is a bummer" comprehensively explains why (a) hardly anyone wants to deal with the truth, (b) business goes on as as usual despite plentiful overt evidence that business as usual is an extreme threat to the biosphere that cradles us, and (c) your writings have not won you the Pulitzer and a penthouse on 5th Avenue.

Seeing as there's no one out there to beam us up, we are condemned to watch events unfold. What a lovely war.


People do give up on civilizations and lifestyles - but only if those situations are more painful than pleasant (if taxes are too high, if the infrastructure is failing catastrophically, if people are starving, etc.). There very likely will be a point this century where we'll see a similar situation. If growth continues (as expected by most) for another 30-50 years, it'll almost certainly happen in most to all countries for the environmental reasons alone.

As the perks of this civilization currently far outweigh the costs (to most) on a personal level, we won't see any significant move to reject the current patterns and consumption. "It's a trap!" - and it is. We won't change until the burdens outweigh the benefits.

A great many who care about climate change are convinced that things like carbon taxes, electric cars, solar panels, and LED bulbs can both solve the climate crisis and continually foster economic growth. They tend to be completely blind to any other scenario, and they hold to their vision with fervor. I think it's fair to say they aren't as bad as the denier set, but their beliefs are still just another subset of free market ideology. They share similar DNA with the deniers in the notions that growth is good, that technology, efficiencies, and weighted pricing of carbon will solve the issue, and that only if we could get a good government we could see the necessary reforms. They tend to isolate climate change as the only major environmental threat - not seeing how economic growth affects the environment in other, and sometimes just as dangerous, ways. It's all hopelessly wrong on so many levels it's hard to really communicate with them. They look at things like Obama's climate speech with wide-eyed optimism that the tide has turned.

The Greens that have a voice in today's society are the ones with money. Ed Begley comes to mind. How does Ed solve the climate problem? He buys a solar array, high-end composting toilets, and skylights. But wait! That's not enough. He needs a new home to accommodate the growing needs of his teenage daughter:

He decides to build a 3,800 square foot home and broadcast the results with his own reality tv show:

There are two HUGE problems with this. One, it requires massive capital inflow, which requires a growing economy and all its energy and resource consumption, and two, it creates it's own form of "green envy". By seeing his brand new home on television, others who "care" about the environment see it and feel they need to go that route, too (or some modified form). All these people will be completely unwilling to sacrifice the economy and the current lifestyle that supports it in even slight ways - and therefore, they're just as culpable for supporting it as any stockholder of Exxon or Enbridge.

C'est la vie.

Mike Roberts


Yes, early economic collapse may be the only thing that can help us avoid dangerous climate change. Unfortunately, that is only likely to happen if planned austerity is tried, which it won't be.

I found Kevin Anderson's Cabot Institute 2012 lecture compelling. Yes, he lives in Disneyland if he thinks the only way to save the day is planned austerity and that such a path could happen. I'm not so sure he really thinks it could happen but at least he's saying the emperor has no clothes. Describing that bit of reality is a worthy task and I wish him luck.


Perhaps enviromentalists should start advocating something that would be more acceptable to the western world- war. The west will just have to obliterate the emerging markets ability to use fossil fuels. Then the western world can reduce their energy consumption without concerns about losing their standing in the world.


Well said Dave. It all comes down to this question:- Can the primacy of economic growth be questioned in order to stay under 2C? Obviously not. Once you get past that, then you can have a serious discussion about what the world will look like in the future. I'd like to hear your thoughts on what the future would look like.

All the best.

Alexander Ač

We are, indeed, hopeless species. Few realists cannot change this fate.

Thanks for the article!


John D

Great article Dave! Worth plodding through. I was thinking of another way that environmentalists maintain the primacy of economic growth- I see many articles where they laud all the economic growth and the 'green' jobs that will be created working toward developing renewable energy. Yes indeed we can be green and grow the economy too! They haven't figured out yet that if we install X amount of megawatts solar or wind powered energy, it merely frees up X equivalent of coal or other fossil fuel to be used elsewhere in the quest for perpetual growth.



I thought you might get a kick out of this: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/2013/09/24/polaris_winner_issues_statement_critical_of_musicawards_shows.html

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