United We Sweat

CONFESSION: summer isn’t really my season. I like soft spring afternoons, and crisp, smoky fall evenings. And I love the snows of winter. When it gets really hot, my instinct is to stretch out on the porch and take a nap. Hibernation, I think the scientists call it, though I may have that confused. Hibernation with lemonade.

But not this summer. This summer’s going to be a little different. And not because of the temperature. It’s been one hot summer after another — every year in the last decade has been hotter than average, and last summer in the U.S. we saw the warmest one yet. The last two weeks of July, statistically, are the hottest stretch of the year. So it’s the right time to be thinking about climate change.

In fact, sweat and sunburn aside, it’s the right time to be doing something about it. Which is what’s going to make this summer different. All around the country those last two weeks of the month, local groups will be fighting against bad energy projects: coal ports and coal-fired power plants, tar sands pipelines and tar sands refineries. Meanwhile, others will be working to connect those fights with people from around each region, swelling their numbers and multiplying their effect.

It’s the nature of local fights that they focus, as they should, on local effects: on the insane rates of asthma that come from living near generating stations and refineries, on the insane danger of spills that come when you pipe corrosive, heated diluted bitumen down pipelines under high pressure, on the insane disruption that comes from running miles of coal trains through small towns and big cities. These are the hazards faced by people in frontline communities, people who’ve been at the forefront of the environmental fight ever since — well, in a way, ever since new arrivals to this continent started screwing up the fairly-well-worked-out ecological practices of the folks who’d been here a few thousand years. (In fact, aboriginal North Americans remain at the vanguard of the battle; if you want to know where the fight is fiercest, just check out where the Indigenous Environmental Network is engaged at any given moment.) These folks constitute a burgeoning movement I’ve taken to calling a Fossil Fuel Resistance, and whether it’s protesting the expansion of the Chevron refinery in gritty Richmond or blocking the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline in hardscrabble East Texas, they’re heroes.

But too often those frontlines get overwhelmed by the shock troops of money and political influence — the fossil fuel industry is the richest industry the world has ever seen. And so the frontlines need reinforcements — they need the rest of us, who normally get to breathe clean air, whose kids are less likely to be carrying an inhaler, whose backyards don’t get taken by eminent domain. We need to join them in solidarity, demand that they have the same rights as us to a safe place to live.

Not only that, but in an age of global warming the frontlines are advancing. When the Pegasus pipeline exploded in April, the videos showed it flooding a suburban street so preposterously typical it almost looked fake. I mean, perfectly manicured front lawns, basketball hoop in every driveway, and then up from the ground comes the bubblin’ crude — tar sands that is, Alberta sludge. Or consider the Jersey Shore, where all of a sudden Hurricane Sandy made people less worried about the height of their hair and more about the height of their dunes. Or the farmland of Iowa where — middle American virtue notwithstanding — you suddenly couldn’t grow anything last summer because it was too hot for corn to fertilize.

And so here comes the cavalry, riding minivans and Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains and Priuses. Maybe some bicycles. (I even heard plans for a horseback contingent to ride along the Keystone pipeline route.) Many of these local protests will become part of a broader effort this summer — one that we’re calling Summer Heat. Because, you know, climate change = long, hot summers. Climate change = turning up the heat. Also, it sounds a little like a Mountain Dew ad campaign, or some new iteration of the X Games. Cool, but hot.

This effort is important because local fights don’t get the national visibility they deserve — we need to get those leaders up on a bigger stage. But also because these fights really are united. Given the fact that the Arctic essentially melted last summer, we pretty much have to run the table from here on out: we have to beat coal plants and oil pipelines and new refineries, here at home and in a lot of other places. Fossil fuel is dirty in particular ways in all the communities fighting these local battles, but it’s dirty in exactly the same way in the atmosphere surrounding our planet. It doesn’t matter where you are on earth right now, the CO2 concentration of the air around you has already passed four hundred parts per million. Which is too much.

Given the physics, not to mention the politics, any local fight has a global component and vice versa. And in an internet age, it’s easier than ever to link them, to make them a single battle with many active fronts. To go on offense, to confuse the opposition a little. To . . . make them sweat.

And the industry is starting to feel the heat. As a fossil fuel divestment campaign has spread to more than three hundred campuses, new reports from Citigroup and HSBC show that any global effort to meet the accords signed at Copenhagen would cut the value of fossil fuel stocks in half. The Carbon Tracker Initiative pointed out in April that pension funds are currently making a $6 trillion bet that the fossil fuel industry won’t ever be effectively regulated; that is to say, the value of fossil fuel companies is mostly dependent on the world deciding not to act on climate change — a bet that they’ll prosper while the planet spirals. That’s why a passel of cities have already begun to divest their stocks; it’s why 340 colleges now have ongoing battles about divestment. In early May, students at Rhode Island School of Design took over the president’s office and dropped a banner out the window: WE MAY BE ART STUDENTS, BUT WE CAN DO THE MATH.

Enlightened fund managers can help, but it won’t be financial pressure alone — it will be the strong work of frontline communities, backed by the rest of us. “Up to this point, grassroots organizing has kept more industrial carbon out of the atmosphere than state or federal policy,” says Gopal Dayaneni of the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project. That’s why we need more of it. That’s why we need you saving bail money for the end of July.

Bill McKibben is founder of 350.org and author of the forthcoming Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.


  1. Good luck to Bill and his efforts. I hate to be the skunk at the garden party but does anyone see any hope without turning population growth around? Every increment of environmental improvement seems like a green light for more growth and more denial. “Look we recently had a down turn in US CO2 production so we are leading the way to solving this climate problem.” Yeah, I actually hear comments like that. And of course we are continually informed that a switch over to natural gas is some kind of global warming solution. It isn’t unless you are having a love affair with methane.

    There are some good ideas out there like making bikes available in a growing number of cities and some tree planting programs etc. but does anybody really see a light at the end of the tunnel without dealing with the elephant in the room?

    I appreciate Bill and the 350 folks. At least they are trying so I guess I’ll shut up and hope things get better with all those good people putting their shoulders to the wheel.



  2. David,

    You’re not wrong – but to stand around and do nothing while the natural living world is killed is cowardly and stupid. 200 species went extinct today. We need everything, anything, all at once and from this point on. Everyone’s tiny efforts count.

  3. Eric,

    Everyone’s tiny good effort helps. There are many who think we should go full steam ahead with fossil fuel driven growth on the assumption that it will fund the technology that will solve all our problems – CCS(Carbon capture and sequestration) being a notable example. Bjorn Lomborg seems to be their ideological leader, but of course there are a lot of industry folks and countries that are making their big bet there and therefore not taking seriously presently the need to unload fossil fuel as an energy source.

    There is a lot at stake in getting our efforts right.


  4. Just read John McPhee’s ICE POND. (Most of you probably know of this essay.) I continue to ask, why aren’t the simple measures put into practice?

  5. David M asks, “does anyone see any hope without turning population growth around?”

    I’ll ask, “does anyone see any hope without eradicating industrial capitalism?”

    Eric replied to David M, “You’re not wrong – but to stand around and do nothing while the natural living world is killed is cowardly and stupid.”

    What we do – or don’t do – at this point is certainly critical. But we need to beware of unintended consequences.

    Does a “Fossil Fuel Resistance” cut the mustard? Is it sufficient just to target fossil fuels, or is climate change and environmental destruction a symptom of something more deeply systemic?

    Could it be an inevitable consequence of our capitalist political economy, dependent as it is on exploitation and perpetual growth in consumption, profits, resource depletion and environmental degradation?

    I’m not advocating communism or socialism if these systems are also anthropocentric, dominating and Earth destroying, as they are. I’m advocating for a system that starts from sound ecological principles and genuine ‘sustainability’ so we stop shitting in our own nest and instead prioritise the needs of Mother Earth, our home. A system that’s built on partnership between all beings and at every level instead of on domination by the few – as postulated by the Cochabamba Declaration on the Rights of Nature: http://therightsofnature.org/universal-declaration/

    The final statement by the Working Group on Structural Causes is particularly important: http://bit.ly/StructuralCauses

    Until we tackle our problems from a deep, complex systems thinking perspective I believe that well intentioned efforts such as Bill McKibben’s Summer Heat are little more than distractions from what really needs to be done. Far from solving our problems, I suggest that an unintended consequence of such half-arsed campaigns is to perpetuate and deepen the problem.

    I’ll be delighted if someone can convince me otherwise.

  6. Dark Earth,

    Frankly I think being simply anti-capitalist is sort of an academic exercise. Not that I don’t agree that exploiting one group by another group isn’t a problem. It’s that there is inevitably a host of Marxist style analysis that necessarily accompanies it that just turns people off if they don’t specialize in that world. Worker’s unions which are the closest natural home for hard core socialist thinking quickly devolve into an argument over how to cut the economic pie by the principals. There is little left over to address environmental considerations. At least that has been my experience.

    As for defending Mother Earth, where is Mother as a principal in the conversation? Mother Earth as a legal player is an artifice. This is an argument between people and their view of Space Ship Earth management.

    One thing I’ve come to is if these matters can’t be expressed simply, accompanying a clear action model they won’t be addressed. Population growth and problems that come with can be modeled very easily. Just put some mice in a generous mouse cage so they have plenty of space and feed them adequately and then from a place of relative peace watch what happens as new generations of mice come along, even if you up the food level. Kids get the implications of this simple Malthusian demonstration. MORE TREES, LESS PEOPLE! becomes real.

    I can have serious conversations about corporations enjoying the advantages of Constitutionally mandated personhood and the need to restore exclusive personhood to real persons through the Amendment process(Actually a bill has been offered in the Senate to that effect). Start talking socialism and you hear references to Stalin and mantras extolling the ‘Free Market’ in characteristically ideo-religious terms. It seldom goes anywhere.

    Talking about reducing population with the goal being self-sustaining communities puts you richly into the lap of history. It’s not a matter of simply going paleo. It’s a matter of taking the best of the modern and the ancient and unifying them into a condition of sustainability, where the benefits and responsibilities are beautifully joined.



  7. David M…”being simply anti-capitalist”. Interesting that you read this into my post.

    Marx’s analysis is not far off the mark, as some mainstream economists are starting to recognise. Equally, Marxist solutions are recognised as falling well short of the mark.

    Personally I draw inspiration from the work of Dr Riane Eisler, who in her excellent book “The Real Wealth of Nations: creating a caring economics”, advocates for a political economy that goes beyond left/right, capitalist/socialist etc. The “domination-partnership continuum” she describes provides a very clear lens through which to observe political & economic fallacies.

    You’re on dangerous ground with your simplistic population reduction argument, though ultimately the current reduction in fertility rates allied to the consequences of the Earth having a lower carrying capacity is likely to serve the same purpose.

    Give me “Mother Earth” over “Space Ship Earth” any day!

  8. DE, “You’re on dangerous ground with your simplistic population reduction argument”

    Actually I think I have reduced it mainly to 2 ideas.

    1. Reduce population.

    2. The goal is sustainable communities.

    They are on target, minus the details, and I think just about anybody with their brains intact can get it.

    Can you match me in simplicity and direction without any reference to books which nobody are going to read? If people want a book try Thoreau’s Walden. That’s got easy accessibility and insight in spades.



  9. Chicken? Egg? Chicken? Egg? …

    Can we at least agree that if we continue to delay real, measurable reductions in CO2 and CH4 (and other GHGs) — reductions of which are URGENTLY required (see http://bit.ly/LetsGetGoing) — there is no need to discuss whether population should or should not be the focus of our attention … Maa Eaarth will take care of that for us with disease, droughts, famines, floods, fires, superstorms of all sorts and the social/economic chaos that is inevitable.

    Choose your target audience and your “ask” thoughtfully, do what makes your heart sing (what you do best and what is most effective for you) and do it daily.

    This is it … time’s a wastin’ …

  10. UD, our ghg output is directly linked to population. Any per person reduction in ghg will be soon eaten up by greater population. Population is the sin qua non one cannot avoid.

    The point is to avoid the necessity of Mother Nature’s mass die off future. That requires a social policy of reducing the population gradually at a minimum.

    If what makes your heart sing is to play baseball that won’t do anything at all about AGW.


  11. UncaDoug: From another Ian Angus article:

    “The environmental crisis demands rapid and decisive action, but we can’t act effectively unless we clearly understand its causes. If we misdiagnose the illness, at best we will waste precious time on ineffective cures; at worst, we will do even more damage.”


  12. The catholic church. I’m not catholic, or even religious. But the catholic church did one thing very well – it converted a lot of people. Excluding violent methods, what other methods contributed to this success? Primarily offering social support services (food, medicine, basic education) combined with a message of salvation. I propose that we should find a way to employ similar methods. There are a few billion people in the world who could use some social support and a message of salvation. It probably doesn’t have to be an offer of salvation. Any optimistic message would probably suffice. I know it’s a tall order. What other successful ideological movements can we borrow methods from?

  13. DM & DE: Take a look at the three scenarios on the chart at http://bit.ly/LetsGetGoing … in summary:

    1) the green curve is a missed opportunity (too bad)
    2) the blue curve could be achieved if we act quickly and take aggressive action to abandon burning fossil fuels by mid-century
    3) the red curve is probably a pipe dream given our history of dilly dallying (procrastination)

    I think we all agree that solving the CO2 concentration challenge cannot be accomplished solely by reducing population if the science requires emissions decline to zero in the next 40 years (the implication is to take the population to zero in the next 40 years — not a wise choice).

    With even a slow gradual reduction in population, the per capital emissions has to decline to zero and be replaced by carbon-free energy … in the next 40 years. There is no “misdiagnosis of the illness” here. The ‘sin qua non’ is to abandon the combustion of carbon-based fuels in the next 40 years, irrespective of population policy.

    Playing baseball obviously does not address the conundrum posed by the green, blue and red curves. Perhaps I should have been a bit more precise: Do what you do best and most effectively to bring about the GHG reductions called for in http://bit.ly/LetsGetGoing


  14. Caral, the Catholic Church is an abusive, dysfunctional, corrupt, fear-based, delusional, archetypically dominating organisation.

    “Move along, there’s nothing to see here!”

    I suggest you consider looking for inspiration from organisations at the partnership end of the spectrum: http://bit.ly/partnerorgs

  15. UncaDoug: >>>The ‘sin qua non’ is to abandon the combustion of carbon-based fuels in the next 40 years, irrespective of population policy.<<<

    Amen to that!

    So who's brave enough to seriously consider the implications of this for a fossil fuel-dependent industrial capitalist civilisation reliant upon exploitation of finite natural resources, massive consumption, perpetual economic growth and short-term profit for the <1%?

  16. The odds are against us, but what are the alternatives? Let’s get cracking …

  17. That’s the spirit 🙂

    The starting point for me was to deal with ‘hope’ and its absence.

    Reluctant though I am to recommend yet more reading, Margaret Wheatley nails it in her latest book “So Far From Home: lost and found in our brave new world”.

  18. DE, getting back to your initial comment “I’ll be delighted if someone can convince me otherwise” … sorry to say, I cannot. I have a commitment in 20 minutes … until I return … see what suits your fancy between the lines at http://bit.ly/2013BeginAnew … what can minimize the “unintended consequences”?

  19. “I suggest you consider looking for inspiration from organisations at the partnership end of the spectrum: http://bit.ly/partnerorgs

    Suggested reading: Sun Tzu. If your enemy (whether oil companies, banks, logging, agriculture, government, armies, churches, etc.) is stronger and more successful, learn from their success, adopt it to your abilities to achieve good. Beat them with their own methods. I posed the question to see if any others have ideas of proven non-violent ideological methods used by the organizations that are the most powerful in the world. The ease in which the suggestion was dismissed proved my point.

  20. DE, I read most but not all of your 2 population links and it brought to mind 4 standard responses I get when I bring up the subject of over-population.

    1. Demographically its coming to an end anyway so don’t worry about it.

    2. There is a techno-fix for everything so don’t worry about it. Expanding on to asteroids is sometimes offered up.

    3. Overpopulation is a capitalist slander against the poor by rich people who are hypocritically gobbling up most of the wealth and resources.

    4. Folks like Ehrlich and Malthus predicted consequences that didn’t pan out so what do they know?

    Whatever the merits of the above, we are all children of the industrial fossil fuel world. It has given us enormous benefits but those benefits are playing out all over the place. I don’t think I need to elaborate.

    The crucial element in our looming hitting the wall is too many people and waiting around until 2100 when it might level out at say 10 billion just doesn’t cut it. That doesn’t obviate other matters, but absent dealing with population you can kiss off all the other solutions. Leave population out of the picture and the conversation isn’t serious.

    If somebody asks me “what would be an indication that things are getting better?”, I would say the population was dropping. What possible negative is there to the population dropping? According to you the answer would be something like “there is progressively less capitalism.” So what is your metric for that? That’s why I stick to the KISS(Keep it Simple Stupid) approach. Other than in rare academic circles I can’t even keep a conversation going with your anti-capitalist analysis.

    UD, in your LetsGetGoing graph link I make the assumption that the middle curve is the preferred scale down for fossil fuel. That involves a 5.3% ff drop off per year starting in 2015 and ending somewhere between 2045 and 2050. Can you even imagine that happening without a major population drop off? I can’t.



  21. David M: I disagree with your standard responses 1 & 2 and broadly agree with points 3 & 4. with the exception of your point 4.

    >>>absent dealing with population you can kiss off all the other solutions<<<

    I disagree. Consumption, for instance, does not correlate with population (industrialised nations consume vastly more than 'developing' nations). Is it conceivable that reducing consumption to ecologically sustainable levels might be part of a solution?

    If not, how (by what specific policies and methods) do you propose that we reduce the world's population?

  22. ignore “with the exception of your point 4” above.

  23. Caral, I don’t quite follow your logic. How did “the ease in which the suggestion was dismissed” prove your point?

    I’m willing to learn as it seems that some sort of revolution is unavoidable and getting the tactics right will be critical.

  24. UncaDoug, thanks for the link, I’ll check out the blog (your blog?) over the weekend.

  25. DE, “>>>absent dealing with population you can kiss off all the other solutions<<<

    I disagree. Consumption, for instance, does not correlate with population (industrialised nations consume vastly more than ‘developing’ nations). Is it conceivable that reducing consumption to ecologically sustainable levels might be part of a solution?"

    With 200,000 new people being added each day you will never get it down to a sustainability level. Consumption reduction benefits will get eaten up by the meat grinder of a growing population, not to mention the human tendency to improve their lot.

    You can run but you can't hide. Without population reduction it is pretty much game over.


  26. David M: capitalism requires a growing population to enable consumption (and profits) to increase, as this delusional capitalist reveals: http://bit.ly/CapitalPop

    You can’t reduce population without eradicating capitalism, although it seems highly likely that population will reduce rapidly when capitalism eventually (and hopefully imminently) implodes.

    Be that as it may, I’d still like to hear how (by what specific policies and methods) you propose to reduce the world’s population within a global political economy that’s dependent upon growing consumption?

  27. Okay Capitalism must be irradicated first. That is so vague it is like saying evil should be irradicated first. Maybe I should go on a hunting expedition to bring down the evil witch of the west. Keep it vague and you never have to leave your beloved status quo. However if you have some metric that would show in specific terms what getting rid of capitalism looks like by all means lay it out. My suspicion is you are simply uttering an ideo-religious mantra, much like those folks who say the “free market” is the way to go or simply folks who say God is the answer. Lots of sentiment, no detail.

    As for dealing with reversing population growth.
    1. First get that that is what is needed.

    2. Put your best minds on the case toward establishing a methodology.

    If one can’t get to the WHETHER then what is even the point of raising the question of HOW.


  28. As to the “deep green resistance” if folks want to go back to pre-industrial civilization that will mean a lot less people.

    Funny how every environmentally based solution requires a lower population and yet for some reason hardly anyone wants to acknowledge this huge elephant in the room.

    Maybe we need to explore the roots of this denial. How do you ignore what is right in front of your face?

  29. David M: At this stage you’re starting to make a fool of yourself.

    Eradicating capitalism is only vague to you because you (along with most of the population) don’t understand what capitalism is and are not prepared to put in the intellectual hard work that’s necessary to educate yourself.

    This laziness prevents you from looking into the numerous possibilities for revolutionising the way that we live on the Earth, and restricts you to the fallacious belief that reducing population is the answer.

    You’ve rejected the possibility of researching Dr Riane Eisler’s relatively gentle and benign proposals for transforming the economy which she lays out in ‘The Real Wealth of Nations’.

    I don’t suppose for a moment that you’ll pick up David Harvey’s ‘The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis of Capitalism’, which provides a clear and authoritative analysis of the problem. Or that you’ll bother to watch a lecture he gave earlier this year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UD-QqYFJqY

    Nor, sadly, will you consider reading John Bellamy Foster et al’s ‘The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth’.

    In the unlikely event that we’re able to prevent our collective self-destruction, I suggest that our best bet would be to explore radical eco-cooperativism as an alternative to capitalism…”radical” because – unlike the apolitical mainstream cooperative movement – we need to address politics well as economics and ecology.

    Alongside radical eco-cooperativism then, we need participative democracy instead of representative ‘democracy’ (which is, of course, nothing of the sort).

    And, as proposed by Riane Eisler, we need a caring economics instead of the current exploitative and destructive form of economics which maintains control for the 1%.

    If you want less still less vague, it’ll need a book. Or perhaps some research on your part.

    Talking of vague, congratulations on astutely avoiding the bear-trap I’ve tried to set in asking you to spell out your policies and methods for reducing population.

    The truth is, you can’t can you? Unless that pathetic 2 point plan is the best you can do?

  30. Another suggestion for you David M:

    ‘What every environmentalist needs to know about capitalism: a citizen’s guide to capitalism and the environment’ by Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster.

    But you won’t like the authors saying “Even issues such as population growth and technology are best viewed in terms of their relation to the socioeconomic organization of society…What is not always realised (by demographers) is that population growth cannot be examined apart from the economic system in which it is embedded. Negative or zero population growth can pose serious problems for a capitalist society always in search of new markets for its goods.”

    Getting back to the subject that initiated this discussion, the same holds for anthropogenic climate change which is also a symptom of our failed political economy and has to be considered within that context.

    I maintain that campaigns such as a “Fossil Fuel Resistance” and “Summer Heat” are ill-considered, counter-productive and doomed to failure.

  31. Plenty of us will make the wisest choice that is feasible for us. Many will have replacement or above families, many will earn high incomes ( $$ = environmental impact). And we all support intelligent government.

    But every individual in the Wold is also making choices. There is no educating, or even anticipating those choices. Our stance is ethical and aesthetic, not effective.

  32. DE, I’m not even arguing with your analysis. I’m just saying few people care unless it is some particular out take from a long Marxist screed that they figure has particular relevance.

    I’m happy to play the fool. What else can you be when you are surrounded by ideo-religiious-conspiracy nutcases who think if someone worships at their special alter then the keys to the universe will be opened. I even had a Marxist economist friend, a good fellow, insist he had just such keys like you. And I suspect he had studied these matters a lot more deeply than you have.

    Most people understand that there is a relationship between greed and environmental destruction. They don’t need some esoteric dissertation on the matter. People screw up so lets have less of them and reduce their impact until they stabilize into self-sufficient communities that won’t require them to invade their neighbors. Kind of the solution to original sin.

    You want it complicated be my guest. My pathetic two part plan provides meaningful direction and a goal. Once people sign on then folks can fill in the details. If you don’t come from simplicity you’ve got nothing. The Golden Rule will outlive any scrambled eggs million book class analysis. Those books are molding away, not mainly because they are wrong but because they are inaccessible to real people.

    I’ll take my simple laziness over your Talmudic energy. At least I have a basis for conversation. You just have more books that nobody is going to read. My simply stated community self-sufficiency kicks butt on your “radical eco-cooperativism”. Are you capable of saying anything that sounds like one human being talking to another?

    Things like AGW are resisted due to denial based on self interest. It’s as easy as pie to understand, just one wikipedia away. Most things of importance are easy to understand. We are not one book away from the truth. The Bangledeshes understand global warming a lot better than most Americans, yet they lack our education. For them it’s real in their daily lives.



  33. Craig, “every individual in the Wold is also making choices. There is no educating, or even anticipating those choices. Our stance is ethical and aesthetic, not effective.”

    If it is not effective then what’s the point? I can’t think of an idea that would be simpler to sell than less people. The rationale is right in front of us and birth control programs have worked. And yet environmental groups that claim to be for sustainability have a terror of the topic.

    Why do these folks insist on making their efforts nonserious?


  34. Basically only one action can give our kids’ futures. We have to MAKE THE SUN OUR SOLE ENERGY SOURCE. Mr McKibben’s 350 staff has gotten many e-mails from me stating that is the only way that we can get earth’s energy rebalanced and that will get the future secured. Mr. McKibben rantings and various 350 action will do nothing. We can get all the energy we need by taking advatage of H-power from the sun. I have many comments posted on various blogs, NRDC’s Switchboard & UCS’s The Equation, detailing how to GET ALL OUR ENERGY FROM THE SUN.
    Dr.J. Singmaster, Environmental Chemist, Ret.

  35. Solar as a total answer to our energy problems has at least two problems coming out of the gate.

    1. Even with accelerated applications it ramps up too slowly to seriously replace fossil in any reasonable time frame.

    2. It suffers from an intermittency problem requiring major base load backup. Maybe localized storage will be developed in the form of perhaps hydrogen cell technology but nothing up to the challenge is seriously ready for prime time that I can see.

    I do hear that large buildings are being developed that using solar can provide energy beyond their needs. That definitely would be a positive.


  36. The human predicament may well be one for which humankind collectively bears responsibility, but each one of us has to engage in an intellectually honest and morally courageous way in the global conversation offered here. The work at hand for “the collective” has got to be done by individuals speaking out, but also by people working within organizations and institutions so that instrumentalities of governance adopt sustainable practices. Because there is so much to be done, we have no time to waste. Ideas are good but actions are what matter now. We need action not only at the individual level, but also at the local, state, national and international level. This necessary work is impeded because many too many responsible people have chosen willful blindness and elective mutism regarding “the human predicament” confronting all of us rather than electing to speak out about what could somehow be true, according to the lights and scientific knowledge they possess. What is happening now here is not being sensibly acknowledged and reasonably addressed by virtually all organizations, including the predominant environmental organizations. The limits of the natural world and the necessity for human behavioral changes toward sustainable lifestyles and right-sized corporate enterprises are everywhere passively ignored and actively denied. Business-as-usual activities that are marked by seemingly endless economic and population growth…at all levels… are extolled as virtuous. Consequently, human institutions cannot be changed and the global challenges before “the collective” cannot be overcome.

    People in large numbers must begin to speak out regarding what they see. Most are not doing so. I have become scared of people who cannot see what is obvious as well as frightened of people who do see what is happening and yet consciously and deliberately refuse to speak out about what is occurring on our watch. Truly, this is the great tragedy of our time. ‘The brightest and best’, the silent ones and the vociferous deniers, the ones with unshared knowledge of the human-driven aspects of the global predicament looming ominously before us, are failing science, the children, humanity and all that exists.

  37. Perhaps our Dept of war has determined the best way to compete against China is to ship them millions of tons of our dirty,toxic coal from Wyoming and Montana. Maybe they have something. Unfortunately it will also bring great sickness upon the poor Chinese civilians. What is wrong with our representatives that they think that the inured profits from dirty fossil fuels is worth more than the health of their constituents and that of the global community?

  38. Somehow we have got to do many things differently, do them much more ably, and do all of them simultaneously, collaboratively, better and fast. Ready or not, like it or not, we are presented with a planetary emergency.This is the time for making necessary behavioral changes by thinking globally and acting locally. Science and common sense will give us direction. What we cannot do is sit on the sidelines. No, we cannot afford to sit this one out. All hand are needed on the deck at this critical moment in the history of our planetary home. Our generation is simply not stepping up to the challenges before us. The consequences of our failures appear colossal and profound with regard to the prospects for future human well being and environmental health. The very last thing a responsible person is to do in such circumstances is consciously and deliberately choose to remain silent, I believe. Are we not participants in and witnesses to yet another preposterous failure of nerve? When are the leaders going to speak out in an intellectually honest way and act with a sense of moral courage? How terrible are things going to have to become on Earth before the-powers-that-be begin to talk about and do the right things, according to the lights and best available knowledge they possess? Whatsoever is real and true must be acknowledged if we are to respond ably to climate destabilization, pollution, biodiversity loss, resource dissipation, environmental degradation and overpopulation,but the manufactured ‘nothing is wrong’ reality is well-established and those who speak truth to power are consistently marginalized and ignored. It is difficult even to imagine how much can be done in such unfavorable circumstances. Still our efforts are vital because the-powers-that-be are living in a fool’s paradise, and the stakes are such that the things that are not being acknowledged will likely destroy life as we know it on Earth. We know how to stop overpopulation humanely.The gravity of this and other looming human-driven global threats are understood and could be confronted with a long overdue determination to do what is necessary. All of the world’s human resources, including overrated intelligence and technology, need to be deployed in order to overcome the emerging and converging wicked problems looming ominously on the horizon.The-powers-that-be could save the world if they acted with the intellectual honesty, moral courage and power they possess to sound alarm bells, forcefully warn the world, and call out loudly and clearly for changes toward sustainable lifestyles and right-sized corporate enterprises. But most of the necessary changes are unlikely to happen, The-powers-that-be want to maintain the status quo, come what may. They lack the moral courage and the imagination to save the world we are blessed to inhabit as a fit place for habitation by children everywhere and coming generations.

  39. Steve
    “We know how to stop overpopulation humanely.”

    We do? Explain how we do it please.

  40. Dear David M,

    Free, immediate, easily accessible, safe and universally available contraception.

    Thanks for the question.



  41. It’s a start Steve, and I would throw in free family planning clinics but there is still getting the nations to sign on and then there is the old “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”

    There are some seriously complex problems in bringing about a population drop so I guess my question still stands.

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  43. Many too many scientists with appropriate expertise as well as demographers and economists everywhere in our time apparently have been rendered apoplectic by presentations of new and evidently unforeseen scientific research of human population dynamics and the demographic transition. These experts have relied upon preternatural thought and phony science to make a seemingly incontrovertible case for the viability of the human species and its current business-as-usual overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities — global overgrowth activities of a distinctly human kind that can be seen overspreading the surface of Earth and that will soon be more generally acknowledged as patently unsustainable on the finite and frangible planet we inhabit.

    Absolute global human population numbers have been skyrocketing since World War II. When I was born, 2.3 billion people were alive. In a single lifetime of threescore and ten years (1945-2015) human numbers are fully expected to grow to 7.2+/- billion human beings, an increase of 5+/- billion people.This population growth has been widely believed to be sustainable, at least in large part, because of two critical misperceptions that have been widely shared, consensually validated and allowed to stand unquestioned. Ruinously, predominant ideology has been deliberately confused with and presented as science. Recent unacknowledged scientific research indicates with remarkable simplicity and clarity that human population dynamics is essentially similar to the population dynamics of other species and that the traditional demographic transition model indicating population stabilization and an end to population growth soon is pseudoscientific, fatally flawed and utterly misleading. Fundamental mistakes have been made but experts have consciously refused to perform their duties to science and humanity by making necessary corrections.
    Self-proclaimed population experts certainly are not stupid, and yet they appear to act as if they are ‘playing stupid’. Perhaps they been unfortunately influenced by “The Powers That Be” (TPTB) just the way politicians have. In their foolhardiness, arrogance and avarice and by their lust for privilege, power and the concentrated wealth from which power and privilege are derived, TPTB have claimed ownership of the mass media. Global communications have become governed by what is economically beneficial, politically convenient, socially suitable, religiously tolerable and culturally contrived. The family of humanity has been duplicitously misguided and deceitfully duped by overly-educated, absurdly enriched sycophants of rich and powerful greedmongers who have been undermining and perverting science. The shared ideology of TPTB and their many minions leads to their imperious denial of scientific research that not only presents inconvenient truth but also exposes the ruse underpinning a non-negotiable but unsustainable way of organizing human civilization on our watch. One of many pernicious effects of this situation is the willful denial of the best available scientific research of subjects like human population dynamics and the demographic transition. Resulting misunderstandings have been decisive in paving the way for a civilization nearing its collapse. Civilizations have crashed before, but never has the demise of a civilization put at risk future human well being and the Earth as a fit place for human habitation. Should this perspective be somehow on the right track, then we could be witnesses to a colossal failure of nerve as well as to a determinative loss of capacity to do the right things, according to ‘the lights’ and scientific knowledge each of us possesses.

    If human population dynamics is essentially common to the population dynamics of other species and, consequently, if food supply is the independent not the dependent variable in the relationship between food and population, then a lot of what has been reported could be distractions that serve to dismiss rather than disclose vital but unwelcome science of what could somehow be real regarding the human population and, more importantly, why our behavior is so utterly destructive of everything we claim to be protecting and preserving. It seems to me that if we keep engaging in and hotly pursuing worldwide overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities, distinctly human activities that cannot be sustained much longer on a planet with size, composition and ecology of Earth, then the human species is a clear and present danger on our watch to future human well being, life as we know it, and environmental health. If we can see ourselves to be ‘the problem’, then it is incumbent upon us to bring forward the best available evidence from science, especially when that evidence happens to relate directly to why we are pursuing a soon to become, patently unsustainable (superhigh)way of life. A tip of the hat is due Rachel Carson for her original awareness of the ‘superhighway’. Should humankind emerge from ‘the bottleneck’ E.O. Wilson imagines for us in the future and somehow escape the precipitation of our near-term extinction, how are those survivors to organize life sustainably and not repeat the mistakes we are making now… and have been making for a long time? Without knowledge of why we are doing what we are doing, every one of us is forever trapped in an eternal recurrence of unsustainable life cycles, I suppose.

    PS: Rachel Carson’s quote,

    We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one “less traveled by”—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.

  44. That Rachel Carson quote is splendid. It’s a saver. The road best taken is somewhere in the vicinity of:


  45. Awsome Article, Just by reading it i feel like the world isn’t doomed. That there are people trying to fix it, there are people who fight to preserve life everywhere. That really makes me feel stronger about going to my school Aldo Leopold HS. we are more of and environmental or earth friendly school. Hence the name Aldo Leopold. Anyway i learned that because of industry and pollution from the fossil fuel industry asthma and cancer rates have increased, and 40% of the U.S. waterways are now undrinkable. I love backpacking in the gila wilderness here in new mexico, and i cant imagine what would happen if the government decided to take away the protection it has. Again i am happy that there is a lot of people working to protect the enviorment

  46. Dark Earth has taken me to task for not appreciating his destroy capitalism first thesis and then the driver behind overpopulation can be dealt with. He’s even generously acquainted me with a whole bunch of books I should read. My response has been essentially we need to get on the fast track in getting population down, headed toward a modern version of self-sufficient communities. All the wonderful analysis that greases the wheels of this great depopulating endeavor, including the problem of capitalism, should be added as part of the ongoing population stand down, but not introduced as first we all become anti-capitalists and then we will be ready to handle the population matter. We will have gone way over over-shoot before we reach that stage. Along with his “first this” approach are a host of others who insist their precursors should take center stage. Everyone learning the mathematics of exponential growth is one “first this” thesis that has been offered recently.

    Just to let DE know I’m taking his thoughts seriously, here is a nice little piece I found that takes a look at how Marx and Marxists are inclined to look at Malthus and his thesis. The url of the site is stated to be black listed for some reason so I instead will give the title with a couple of added key words and suggest you insert them in google. I got it originally off a list by putting in ‘Marx and Malthus’.


    To put it in a nutshell what I get is the capitalists want to exploit the workers and one of their methodologies for doing that is to always have more people than jobs so fear of losing their jobs takes away the workers leverage to demand higher pay. Thus overpopulation is encouraged.

    Let’s accept the thesis. So what’s the best response? Should we first educate the world on capitalism’s perfidious nature and adopt socialism? I mean how long is that going to take while population increases on its merry way? Or should we address overpopulation head on by any humane as possible means necessary and by doing that break the back of the capitalist conspiracy to maintain a surplus population to keep the workers down? I say take on overpopulation directly and reap all the great benefits that come with that, including increasing worker’s leverage in sharing the wealth.


  47. David M,

    Please stop. You’re hurting the power of language. What did these symbolic little characters–also known as alphabetical ‘letters’–do to you?

    The world has already felt the painful, abhorrent repercussions of Malthusian thought. In no way has his ‘model’ stood up to newer, more successive concepts of human growth. Population dynamics are complicated and deeply embedded in social structures; they are largely saturated in out own artifice.

    In many ways the Malthusian model is an identifiable reason for much of the ongoing repression in the world. To sit back and accuse the nations and peoples who have not had an industrial ‘revolution’ as being overpopulated and irresponsible is hypocritical. It’s an armchair accusation on par with 18th century ethnographers who led the way for modern Western thought through racism and cultural elitism. You, David M, are not at the apex of human evolution. No one is, genetically or culturally.

    Thomas Malthus is partly responsible for Social Darwinism, and the atrocities that it spawns.

    You single-handedly consume far, far more of the Earths resources than entire towns in east African nations.

    The largest reason why people continue to grow so rapidly is their lack of access to a quality life. People do not have more children than they can feed because they’re ignorant or stupid; they have more children because mortality rates have been historically high within the cultures they live in, sometimes becoming so engrained within those cultures that not having many children is inconceivable. This is largely due to the suppression of colonialism and now the fallacies of industrialism.

    For instance, if you’re trying to farm food that you can’t keep up with through globalization–that is, sending it to countries who pay next to nothing for it–you’d have more children, too.

    The imbalance of wealth and our own accumulation of it is why the planets population is exploding. If there should be any dictum–and there shouldn’t be–for reducing population it should be from the mouth of Murray Bookchin: eliminating social hierarchy, “The very real domination of Earth is the domination of one man over the next.”

    Although “K” (carrying capacity) has some merit within ecological models, it is still influenced by too many other factors to generalize a carrying capacity for Earth.

    I’m glad you’re capable of making a bumper sticker out of your over-simplified thoughts:

    Try getting rid of your 60’s, 90’s eco-fascist ignorance.

  48. So I’ve been beat up by the alphabet eh. That’s a new one. I’ll try to remember it as a nice rhetorical flourish for the future. LOL

    The Malthusian model for your information is exponential growth in population hitting a natural limit in resources – a critical component of the selective process and an integral part of evolutionary theory. So unless you want to abandon science and join the creationists you’re pretty much stuck with it.

    Social Darwinists are their own thing and I imagine they used numbers and the English language to get to their point of view, so lets abandon them too. Misuse of selective theory, even by Malthus, does not argue against selective dynamics as applied to biology of which man is a full participant.

    I can see you are one more pusher of the 20-80 thesis ie 20% of the world are using 80% of the resources which is the real problem; so where do you want to go with that? How about this? Let’s eject that 20% from the planet and what do we get? Members of the 80% low users now moving to fill the gap, that’s what. In short order you are back to ground zero. Without dropping the population you ultimately get nothing. You think folks lose interest in improving their condition once their most successful role models are removed?

    Like Dark Earth your answer is socialist equity FIRST. Well I’m for equity and low pollution foot prints and efficient and restricted resource use for all, but to make it a reason not to get on the population lowering train is simply kissing off the human race. We’ll go over some pretty catastrophic tipping points before we get that equity thing fully down. How about making it PART of arguing for a serious population drop? Less population, more equity. By the way, do you know how many 3rd world women in deep poverty are crying for birth control services? Every poor person isn’t following your nicely scripted scenario that you learned in Class Struggle 1A, including thoughtful Marxists I’ve known.

    As far as I’m concerned your lack of concern for eco-limits in favor of your ‘socialism first’ solution makes you about as useful as the forced birth fascists who like to call themselves inappropriately “right to life.” Just weep for the poor while you wipe them out. Way to go dude!

    It’s fascinating to watch how folks who are dedicated to sabotaging real solutions LOVE to pretend they have grabbed the moral high ground.

    As for my bumper sticker simplicity, when you pseudo-Marxist academics can come up with something better that offers a real communicable solution, I’ll be listening.



  49. DE

    “Still flogging that dead horse DM?!”

    Didn’t know your political philosophy was a dead horse.

    I’ll get to your link later.


  50. OK I read the link. I can both agree and disagree with what I read. But with regard to the subject of population reduction it is the same old same old. Overthrowing capitalism with socialism must come FIRST before directly dealing with population, global warming etc. If you have any notion of a practical timeline that is a flat out loser.

    The fact that dealing directly with population imposes a political counter to whatever the prevailing system is seems obvious. And by the way that system is mixed public-private. So whatever you see is wrong with the system, systematic population reduction directly confronts it.

    So why not kill two birds with one stone? Put your efforts into population reduction and thereby confront along the way whatever it is that you see impeding that, capitalism, religious ideology, sexism, racism etc. As I said in an earlier post, simply saying socialism is the answer gives you know specific simple metric for judging progressive success. Democratically achieved population reduction does, because it is linked to virtually every other social and environmental challenge that we face.


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