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Written By: - Date published: 7:03 am, April 26th, 2011 - 46 comments
Categories: climate change, Conservation, disaster, sustainability - Tags: , ,

At the start of the year I reviewed “Here on Earth: An Argument for Hope”, by Tim Flannery. While it was an interesting book, full of information and ideas, warmly and well written, in the end it left me unsatisfied. I felt that as an argument for hope it had failed to make its case.

I’ve recently finished a similar book, “Eaarth”, by Bill McKibben (of 350.org). It focuses on the same topic, the effect of climate change on the planet and how we should be preparing for the future. It doesn’t pull any punches.

Chapter 1: A New World. This chapter starts by noting the climatic stability that we have enjoyed for the last 10,000 years. Stability that has allowed the the development of human civilisation, with its grand cities, agriculture, and specialised culture. A world that was captured in the famous 1968 photo (from Apollo-8) of the Earth from space.

But we no longer live on that planet. In the four decades since, that earth has changed in profound ways, was that have taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived. We’re every day less like the oasis and more like the desert. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it has — even if we don’t quite know it yet. We imagine that we live back on that old planet, that the disturbances we see around us are the old random and freakish kind. But they’re not. It’s a different place. A different planet. It needs a new name. Eaarth.

McKibben makes the case for the changed planet in example after example, meticulously researched and referenced. A random selection:

So far humans, by burning fossil fuel, have raised the temperature of the planet nearly a degree Celsius … A NASA study in December 2008 fiund that warming on that scale was enough to trigger a 45 percet increase in the thunderheads above the ocean … In fact, total global rainfall is increasing 1.5 percent a decade. …

Or consider the white and frozen top of the planet. Arctic ice has been melting slowly for two decades…

… a U.S. government team studying the tropics recently concluded that by the standard meteorological definition, they have expanded by more than two degrees of latitude north and south since 1980 — “a further 8.5 million square miles of the earth are now experiencing a tropical climate”. …

A new Nepalese study found temperatures rising a tenth of a degree annually in the Himalayas. … across the region the great ice sheets are already shrinking fast…

It’s not just the Himalayas. In the spring of 2009, researchers arriving in Bolivia found that the eighteen-thousand-year-old Chacaltaya Glacue glacier is “gone, completely melted away …

But lay aside the hurricanes and wreckage. Just concentrate for a minute on how the sea is changing. … Even most oceanographers were shocked a few years ago when researchers began noticing that the seas were acidifying as they absorbed some some of the carbon dioxide we’ve poured in to the atmosphere. …

Summing up:

Don’t let your eyes glaze over at this parade of statistics (and many more to follow). These should come as body blows, as sickening thuds. The Holocene is staggered, and the only world that humans have known is suddenly reeling. I am not describing what will happen if we don’t take action, or warning of some future threat. This is the current inventory: more thunder, more lightening, less ice. Name a major feature of the earth’s surface an you’ll find a massive change.

On the fact that we have recognised, far too late, that 350ppm is the safe limit for CO2 in the atmosphere:

We can, if we’re very lucky and very committed, eventually get the number back down below 350. … But even so, great damage will have been done along the way, on land and in the sea. …

We’re not, in other words, going to get back the planet we used to have, the one on which our civilisation developed. We’re like the guy who ate steak for dinner every night and let his cholesterol top 300 and had the heart attack. Now he dines on Lipitor and walks on the treadmill, but half his heart is dead issue. We’re like the guy who smoked for forty years and then he had a stroke. He doesn’t smoke any more, but the left side of his body doesn’t work either.

There’s plenty more of the same in the first chapter, all of it well referenced to original sources, but I think you get the idea. It’s a depressing read.

Chapter 2: High Tide. The focus of this chapter is the end of growth. It can’t go on, we’re hitting the wall.

But now — now that we’re stuck between a played out rock and a hot place — it’s time to think with special clarity about the future. On a new planet growth may be the one big habit we finally must break.

In a solid blow to the mainstream Green position, McKibben doesn’t see “green growth” as a viable alternative.

If we had started 20 years ago, when we first knew about global warming, and when we had the first hints of peak oil, such a plan might have made sense. … But it’s not going to happen fast enough to ward off enormous change. I don’t think the growth can rise to occasion; I think the system has met its match. We no longer possess the margin we’d require for another huge leap forward, certainly not fast enough to preserve the planet we used to live on.

That is a dark thing to say, and un-American, so I will try to make the case carefully. In the first place: this kind of transformation is a big job. Even in normal times, even on the old planet, the transition from one source of energy to another took many decades. …

Wherever we turn, we always bump their heads against the same bottom line: it’s expensive, and it takes a long time to even try to replace our fossil fuel system.

And that’s on the old planet. What we need to talk about now is what it’s like to make massive change on the new one, where we’re suddenly running out of fossil fuel and dealing with a spooky, erratic climate.

McKibben goes on to discuss aspects of the problem that relate particularly to America (huge amounts of infrastructure, such as the national road and bridge network, which is already run down), and those that are truly global:

And the fact that so much of the world remains so poor is also one of the biggest obstacles to actually doing something about the climate. Just as we come into this crisis with an infrastructure deficit and an overhang of debt, so we also suffer from a justice deficit that will slow any attempt at action.

We have seen this all play out at Copenhagen, with a major split between “developing” and “developed” nations.

So the obvious replacement for Plan A — for the now vain hope that the rest of the world can emulate us and messily grow its way into lives of relative comfort and security — is a Plan B, a grand bargain where the global North decides to share with the global South. And in return the South agrees to develop on a different, cleaner path. … Everybody knows this will have to be the eventual bargain, and everybody has spent twenty years trying to game the talks.

And if the “talks” never get it done?

Four major studies in the past two years from centrist organisations in the United States and Europe have concluded that “a warmer planet could find itself more often at war.” Each report “predicted starkly similar problems: gunfire over land and natural resources as once bountiful soil turns to desert and coastlines slip below the sea.” The experts also expected violent storms to topple weak governments — which makes a certain amount of sense to those of us who watched George W. Bush begin his descent in the polls after he bumbled the response to Katrina.

Fortunately we’ve just about reached the bottom of the book’s deep wells of depression. Time to start digging ourselves out.

The second half of this book is based on the premise that we can build durable and even relatively graceful ways to inhabit this new planet.

Chapter 3: Backing Off. McKibben’s ambitions for the future are practical and modest. “That we might choose instead to try to manage our descent”, “that we might aim for a relatively graceful decline”. Doesn’t sound very inspiring does it.

We recoil when faced with a future different from the one we imagine. And it’s hard to brace ourselves for the jump to a new world when we still, kind of, live in the old one. So we tell ourselves that scientists may be overstating our environmental woes, or that because the stock market has climbed back from its lows we’ll soon be back to the old growth economy. As we’ve seen, though, scientists are far more guilty of understatement than exaggeration, and our economic troubles are intersecting with our ecological ones in ways that put us hard up against the limits of growth. This book has been dedicated so far to the idea that we’re in very deep trouble. Now we must try to figure out how to survive what is coming at us. And that survival begins with words. …

So here are my candidates the words that may help us think usefully about the future.

… The project we’re now undertaking — maintenance, graceful decline, hunkering down, holding on against the storm — requires a different scale. Instead of continents and vast nations, we need to think about states, about towns, about neighbourhoods, about blocks. … We need to scale back, to go to ground. We need to take what wealth we have left and figure out how we’re going to use it, not to spin the wheel one more time but to slow the wheel down. We need to choose safety instead of risk, and we need to do it quickly, even at the sacrifice of growth. … It’s not just people in poorer nations who are exposed to the elements now, but all of us. We’ve got to make our society safer, and that means making them smaller. It means, since we live on a different planet, a different kind of civilisation.

Distributed networks are more robust than centralised systems. We need to distribute knowledge, skills, resources, agriculture, production and distribution, into communities.

Community may suffer from overuse more sorely than any word in the dictionary. Politicians left and right sprinkle it through their remarks the way a bad Chinese restaurant uses MSG, to mask the lack of wholesome ingredients. But we need to rescue it: we need to make sure that community will become, on this tough new planet, one of the most prosaic terms in the lexicon, like hoe or bicycle or computer. Access to endless amounts of cheap energy made us rich, and wrecked our climate, and it also made us the first people on earth who had no practical need of our neighbours.

Much of the rest of the chapter reviews local community initiatives, such as Transition Towns, farmers’ markets, and local currencies. The last quote I’ll take from this chapter relates to politics:

It’s not at all clear whether a farmers’ market, or a local neighbourhood crime watch, or a community-owned windmill is a liberal or conservative project. It’s some of both. Mostly it’s some of neither — our politics, like our highways, were built for an era of endless growth. Karl Marx as much as Adam Smith thought we’d end up in a material paradise; Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev sparred over whose system will produce better kitchen appliances. In the age now dawning, our hopes will shift and our ideologies will shift with them.

Chapter 4: Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully. What are the essentials for our future? “In order: food, energy, and — yes — the Internet”. Modern agriculture is massively dependent on oil, both to make the fertiliser that increases yields, and to run the machinery, transportation and refrigeration systems that harvests, processes and distributes foodstuffs.

It takes the equivalent of 400 gallons of oil annually to feed an American, and that’s before packaging, refrigeration, and cooking. In 1940, our food system produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil fuel consumed. Now … “it takes ten calories of fossil energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial food system, we’re eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases.”

With peak oil and climate change, neither side of this equation is sustainable. But the work on an alternative approach is under way everywhere. After reviewing a range of case studies McKibben sums up:

So it’s unsettling (but also the first unambiguously good news this book has to offer) to learn that serious people have begun to rethink small-scale agriculture, perhaps just in time to help us deal with the strains of our new planet. In the last ten years academics and researchers have begun figuring out what some farmers have known for a long time; it’s possible to produce lots of food on relatively small farms with little or nothing in the way of synthetic fertiliser or chemicals.

So there will be dinner, if we are resourceful and clever, and if more of us are willing to do the work of farming, and if we build the kind of community institutions that make us more resilient, less vulnerable. It won’t be easy; as flood, drought, and pests spread, we’ll be pressed to keep up. And it won’t work every-place; even the best double-dug community-backed garden still needs water. I don’t know what Las Vegas will do. But many places may still produce enough calories.

What about energy?

First: … We need to cut our fossil fuel use by a factor of twenty over the next few decades. …

Second: it would be nice to replace at least some of that fossil fuel with something else, so that we’re not returned entirely to a world of manual labour …

Third: there’s no easy way out.

Nuclear, biofuels, solar, wind, there is no single viable replacement. It has to be a mixture of conservation, reduced demand (e.g. through less transportation of locally produced food), and local generation and storage methods (the smart grid). “So no silver bullet — but maybe enough silver buckshot if we gather it carefully”.

And that brings us to the last of McKibben’s three key factors for the future.

The Internet may be precisely the tool we need; it’s as if it came along just in time, a deus ex machina to make our next evolution bearable. …

You could make a purely functional argument for the environmental value of the Internet, of course. If you have a computer, you can set up, say, a ride-sharing system that lets people coordinate their commutes or pick up a stranger on the way to the market. Or you can log onto the Freecycle network and find a way not to buy something. The Internet can take waste — that empty seat next to the driver, that old Ping-Pong table — and convert it into something useful.

But I’m thinking less tangibly. It’s not so much the ride to town; it’s the ride somewhere else entirely, into one of the millions of destinations that the net provides. … Mostly, though, it’s decentralised … That decentralisation will be crucial, because all of a sudden we will need vast amounts of information, very little of which can actually come from New York or Los Angeles.

McKibben also stresses the Internet for entertainment, and as a vital tool for combating the downsides of a future where the boundaries of our world are shrinking.

Which is why, if I had my finger on the switch, I’d keep the juice flowing to the Internet even if I had to turn off everything else. We need cultures … that work for everyone, so that women aren’t made servants again in our culture, or condemned to languish forever as secondary citizens in other places. The Net is the one solvent we can still afford… It will need to be the window left ajar in our communities so new ideas can blow in and old prejudices blow out.

Most of the remainder of this final chapter is spent describing the creation of 350.org, and the way that the Net was used to mobilise a community of volunteers all around the globe. Here are the closing words of the book:

The momentum of the heating, and the momentum of the economy that powers it, can’t be turned off quickly enough to prevent hideous damage. But we will keep fighting, in the hope that we can limit the damage. And in the process, with many others fighting similar battles, we will help build the architecture for the world that comes next, the dispersed and localised societies that can survive the damage we can no longer prevent. Eaarth represents the deepest of human failures. But we still must live on the world we’ve created — lightly, carefully, gracefully.

In closing. Everyone should read this book. (Climate change deniers should be forced to copy it out longhand in red crayon, complete with the 25 pages of references, twice.) I’m hugely impressed with the depth and the breadth of the research that has gone in to it, and also with the clarity with which McKibben has thought about the future that he describes. My only major criticism is that the treatment of energy in the future (Chapter 4) is scanty, and doesn’t really address the serious problems raised earlier on this very issue (Chapter 3). Yes it’s a profoundly depressing book, but the smack in the emotional solar plexus is one that we all (in the “developed” world) deserve.

Time to face up and take our medicine. Change is coming, and the future will not resemble the present. If you can accept that fundamental premise, then Eaarth is a hopeful book too. It is hopeful because it is brutally honest. There’s no sugar coating the pill, no false optimism. It sets out the problems that we face, and it sets out what are probably our best strategies for preparing for the future. Having read Eaarth I feel the way I imagine one feels after hearing a comprehensive diagnosis of cancer. The news isn’t good, but at least I know the odds. It’s something to work with.

46 comments on “Eaarth”

  1. peteremcc 1


  2. Jono 2

    Yawn indeed, everybody knows that climate change isn’t real; just ask the intellectual heavyweights from the act party who brought us ‘Edison hour’..

    (cheers for the review, I share your criticism though, I don’t think he’s ever been the strongest when it gets down to the real details & complicated stuff, will have a read of it tho)

  3. Thanks for the review! I’ll buy a copy. 

    (Yet another book that neither Kobo nor Kindle have.)

  4. M 4

    R0B, good write up – I’m going to see if the local library has this book. I’m glad it’s brutally honest because all the solar and wind farms in the world will not allow us to run things at their present rate – people will need to get off the Disney ride fast.

    Don’t know if you’ve seen this National Geographic film called ‘World Without Oil’ but I think it would be good for Obama (as he presides over the world’s most wasteful and don’t care nation) to see it because the visuals would be easy for him to digest as he appears tone deaf/blind to any other means re America’s predicament – first of three:

    The NG film shows how quickly people would have to get used to their new energy diet and laid out the fuel versus food arguments where crop sowing was concerned. Scenes were enacted where people were clamouring for food from distribution trucks and armed guards were posted outside grocery stores for the purchase of half dead produce that in times past would be on a rubbish truck. The change to air quality from vastly reduced FF emissions belching into the atmosphere is also laid out.

    Farmers can only hazard a guess as to what weather they may have to endure in the future and therefore crop failure. It constantly amazes me that they’re not storming government bodies about how their livelihoods will be largely destroyed if no action is taken. For the general populace they would prefer to sleep on or gaze at the TV of an evening.

    Change is all very well in individuals but the real heft will only come from the top – can’t see that happening with Key, the high priest of jest in charge.

  5. Great Post Rob.
    Humans have so much trouble seeing past the end of there nose’s. The shear waste that goes on as we speck is breathtaking, how about this.
    “800 million gallons of gas are burned yearly by Americans mowing their lawns.”

    No I don’t have a lawn!

  6. M: People aren’t storming anything because they don’t know. They don’t know for a variety of reasons: don’t WANT to know; aren’t curious about anything much really (and it’s corollary: “It’s boring.”). 

    Curious people already know. But they are relatively few in number and these few aren’t going to be one of 30-40 people storming anything and then be described as “radicals” or leftists” by the media….and dismissed.   

    The rest generally are happy to not know anything. This allows them to avoid any responsibility.  It means they can throw a tantrum when they don’t get what they want. After all, it can’t be THEIR fault. 

    Our society operates on a very infantile model.

  7. joe90 7
    Relevant, why sustainable growth is an oxymoron.

  8. ianmac 8

    About a year ago I heard an interview with the 90+ year old English chappie whose name escapes me, but he was regarded as responsible for the birth of the conservation movement. He said that he had previously been totally opposed to atomic energy production but now has done an about face.
    In spite of the negative publicity from Chernobyl in which about 50 people died (and now the Japanese disaster) he argues that the insatiable appetite for energy and the advent of global warming, means that atomic power is the only viable alternative. The rising sea levels alone would lead to catastrophic loss of arable land and most cities are within reach of rising sea levels. Millions and millions of people would be at risk.
    Maybe this is in the mind of Bill McKibben but is a very unpopular suggestion to make.

      • ianmac 8.1.1

        You’re bluddy marvellous Joe! Will bookmark James for future ref. especially in light of the anti-nuclear climate at the moment.

    • MrSmith 8.2

      I think you will find a lot more than 50 people died or are still dying from Chernobyl try between 4000 and 500,000

      • ianmac 8.2.1

        I can’t argue about the detail but the fact that it is somewhere between 4000 and 500,000 suggests that the number is uncertain and therefore unreliable.
        50 was the number of clearly identified deaths directly attributed to the explosion.
        The principle that James Lovelock argues is that the balance has shifted. Weighing the destruction from a Chernobyl against the potential catastrophic destruction from global warming is the debate. He says also that the marine, wind solar energy cannot meet the growing appetite for energy. And that oil, and coal is a problem which must be dealt to.
        The question of nuclear power should be debated but I hope not from closed minds. The Japanese problem was not from the earthquake but the tsunami and colours the debate. A bad time.

        • MrSmith

          Ianmac you seem to be saying, just because we don’t know the exact numbers killed (and never will) we should take your word that it was “about 50 people”, “50”,”less than 50″, sorry mate can’t swallow that when reliable sources like the WHO http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/index.html are saying up to 4000

          The other major problem you seem to forget is in an increasingly unstable world nuclear power plants are prime targets for terrorists.

          • rosy

            Yes, health effects are still a battleground, apart from the people who died from severe radiation numbers are not really known. People are still calling for proper research into the issue of long term effects

            The long-term health effects of Chernobyl remain unclear 25 years after the most serious nuclear accident in history, according to a former World Health Organisation (WHO) official.

            A full assessment of the public health impact has been thwarted by poorly co-ordinated research on residents in areas close to the plant, and should be carried out with funding from the European commission, said Keith Baverstock, a former health and radiation adviser to the WHO.

            He said research had been frustrated by pro- and anti-nuclear lobby groups who had turned the debate over health risks into a battleground. Crucial lessons on how to respond to nuclear emergencies and quell public anxiety had been missed by governments and authorities such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

            There are some really good pics of the area here If nuclear is the answer then the question is wrong, I think.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.3

      … means that atomic power is the only viable alternative.

      Except for the minor technicality that nuclear power isn’t actually viable.

      • ianmac 8.3.1

        viable – capable of being done with means at hand and circumstances as they are.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Sure, we can make them, it’s just not worth it.

        • Colonial Viper

          viable – capable of being done with means at hand and circumstances as they are, requiring the attitude necessary to pass essentially permanent and costly ongoing problems to future generations along the way

          Fixed up your definition of the viability of nuclear power there…

          If mankind were to suffer a severe disruption in the next week or two, there are an awful lot of nuclear reactors around the world which need to be shut down safely, without which they will fatally contaminate thousands of square km each.

          And shutting them down has been demonstrated to be a hell lot harder than one might have thought.

          Gen III+ and Gen IV (not yet designed) nuclear reactors promise much safer operation, but the problem of what to do with the resulting nuclear waste for the next 10,000+ years is still intractable.


        • RedLogix

          Somewhere at the height of the Fukushima crisis a senior nuclear industry spokesperson admitted that not one of the 450 odd commercial reactors currently operating in the world can sustain a 3 day loss of power to the cooling pumps.

          Not one. Regardless of how modern or recent the design.

          What the hell were we thinking when we made these things?

  9. ianmac: Dr Helen Caldicott has recently released a book that apparently reports on over 5000 Russian documents previously not translated into English. They (it is claimed) show that Chernobyl has actually killed about 1 million people.

    • ianmac 9.1

      Thanks Steve. The outright death toll was fewer than 50 I believe but the evidence of such numbers as Dr Caldicott quote are less sure.
      Anyway the possible effect of global warming, might have a far greater harm on people than damage from a 50+ year old ill-designed plant at Chernobyl. A bit like saying air-travel is too dangerous because look what happened to the Hindenburg airship. Sort of.

      • Draco T Bastard 9.1.1

        There’s a difference between the Hindenburg and Chernobyl – several thousand years of difference in fact. The Hindenburg went up in 30 seconds but that was it, over. Chernobyl will be poisoning the area for another few thousand years.
        Ukraine seeks Funds

        A makeshift shelter or ‘sarcophagus’ erected over the damaged reactor within eight months of the accident has developed cracks and holes, and is no longer considered reliable.

        How long before the sarcophagus needs to be rebuilt again? and again?

        • ianmac

          DTB: I believe that the millions needed for the final solution for Chenobyl is slow in coming from other nations. Recently I think that the money is coming.
          But this should not stop the debate.

  10. So what’s the solution?
    The only solution has to be the overthrow of the social system that has created the problem – production for profit and not need. Our big need is to survive, but that is not profitable. So we eliminate profits and survive. Look to the Arab revolution and the educated youth coming up against the moribund profit system that starves and represses them. They revolt demand democracy and form democratic organs to fight. Dictators kill the unarmed masses, yet the revolution strengthens. No Fear. The barbarism cause armies to defect, and dictators billions to buy mercenaries runs out. The 1% cannot buy the 10% needed to kill the 90%. Total system dysfunction and breakdown. Masses win, unite across borders to form regional, continental and ultimately global socialist society in which allocation of resources to meet basic needs are met. By-product?  Eaarth.

    • wtl 10.1

      I don’t share your confidence in the ability of the masses to overthrow anyone in Western countries. Look at the Libyan situation, at first the rebels where doing okay but eventually started losing badly in the face of the superior weaponry of the government’s forces. The only reason the rebels are still around is because of the support of even more powerful weapons courtesy of NATO. Imagine what chance the general population of a modern Western country (except maybe NZ) would stand if their military was turned against them. Basicallly, as modern weapons provide a huge advantage to anyone possessing them, even 0.1% of the population could successful beat back at revolution of 99.9% of the population. The only chance would be if the whole military refused the carry out their orders and defected, and that is a big if.

      • dave brown 10.1.1

        wtl your logic leads to a few drones run from the Pentagon ruling the world. Or maybe the Death Star ruling the empire. I think there is a lot to be said for the ragtag army especially a geek ratbag army. Advanced weapons systems still rely on communications and power sources. The Libyan revolutionaries are caught in a contradiction only because the rest of the Arab revolution hasnt caught up yet. If the Egyptian army had already split (is hasnt because its playing cool along with US) then it would have more than dealt to Gaddafi. As it is NATO has its own reasons to get rid of Gaddafi, and its not trying very hard, but that is not equal to installing a new US friendly regime, yet. Once the rats are out of the bag… The main point is that imperialism cannot be cool it has to destroy. Democracy is too costly. For that reason the mass fight for survival and democracy will win.

  11. ropata 11

    “God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact.” –Tyler Durden

    • ianmac 11.1

      Maybe that’s why ordinary people accept the laws passed to help the rich Ropata. I am going to be one of the rich soon so good on the Government.

  12. Afewknowthetruth 12

    Thanks for raising this issue. It gets almost no mention, other than on Common Dreams, Climate Code Red, Nature Bats Last etc.

    392 ppm and rising by around 2 ppm per annum. Not that anyone in government or local government is the least bit interested in that. Their attitude can be summed up by: “We must have growth, whatever the cost! Oh, and rugby. We must have rugby. Lots of people flying and driving, so we can the oil used up quickly and get the CO2 level over 400 ppm soon.”

    It is not the current crop of moronic politicans (and civil servants) who ignore all the evidence or the fools who vote for the morons who are going to suffer the worst effects of the environmental meltdown that is underway: it is their children.

    The present generation of adults is the first in history to demand continuation of an economic system which destroys their own children’s futures. It’s quite surreal when you think about it.

    And yes, ‘green growth’ -the slight tweaking of business as usual- certainly won’t save us. In all probability we are now so far down the wrong track that even if the global industrial economy collapsed next week it wouldn’t help. Positive feedbacks are already kicking in and we are likely to see a rise in temperature that will cause the release of humungous amounts of carbon dioxide and methane from the permafrost, and methane from clathrates. A worst case scenario sees the Earth will be largely uninhabitable by mid-century.

    The big question is: Will the collapse of the globalised industrial economic system -flagged for around 2015- will come fast enough to prevent complete meltdown of the environment? Which will we run out of first, oil to burn or air to burn it?

    However, we can be quite certain this issue will not be mentioned during the forthcoming election campagns, nor anything else that is happening in the real world.

    A lesson most consumers caught in the web of deceit that characterises western societies: Nature doesn’t negotiate.

    • Draco T Bastard 12.1

      Will the collapse of the globalised industrial economic system come fast enough to prevent complete meltdown of the environment?

      Nope, we’ve already gone too far.

  13. weka 14

    Nice one Rob.

    ‘Eaarth’… What’s the extra ‘a’ for??

    There are communities of people who’ve been talking about and finding working solutions to this for some time. As well as the Transition Towns networks, permaculture has also been working on ‘energy decent’ or powerdown. David Holmgren’s work is good because it places the ideas and solutions in an Antipodean context. See this write up from a CSIRO newsletter in 2005 on how to transition our suburbs. Here we can address the crucial issues of food and energy.

    I really like what McKibben is saying about the internet, and hope the geek communities are readying too to step up and set up localised networks that will survive increasing outages from the big providers.

    Having said that, James Lovelock, mentioned earlier in the comments as being a new proponent of nuclear power in the medium term, also says we should be putting all our knowledge into hardcopy locally (because digital is so dependent on oil).

  14. weka 15

    There’s also people in NZ already developping farming and local food production that are better prepared for peak everything and climate change. I agree the situation is really fucking serious, but I also think that it helps to look at what already works and know that we’re not completely unprepared. People get scared when they realise that all our food is dependent on oil and unstable economies. But we still have time to support the people who are already doing the critical work to help us through this mess. Find out who they are in your communities (they’re already there) and how you can support them.

    asw: eaten

    • Colonial Viper 15.1

      Government should be putting $4B-$5B a year into projects and regulations focussed on creating and strengthening enduring sustainability infrastructure and robust, localised community networks.

      Individual community initiatives are great, and there are several of them around, but we can’t ignore the fact that 95% of people have no contact with anything like that and there is a complete absence of central co-ordination/vision.

      Many local bodies do not get it either (although some really do).

  15. weka 16

    Govt should be putting money in, but they’re not and we don’t have time to make that political change happen.

    I think alot more than 5% of the population is aware of the issues and starting to make changes. Most of that is due to economics (fuel and food prices) but also the quakes and things like recent years where storms have taken out power supplies for days at a time. The shift in the mainstream in recent years around local food production for instance is heartening.

    Networks like TT and permaculture are doing the crucial work without waiting for govts to act or endorse or lead. We can sit on The Standard and wring our hands about what the govt is not doing, but please also support the people in our communities that are already sorting these issue out. Many Maori also are doing important work, and there are other groups as well – if TT and Pc are too fringe try the local Farmers Market or Ooooby. It’s not accurate to categorise these networks as merely ‘several’. It’s also inaccurate to call them individual community initiatives because it renders invisible the importance of the network and how those networks function in the wider community and with each other.

    But then I live in the SI where community self reliance is still a core value in most places.

    I think that localised leadership (and I’m not talking Councils) is just as important as localised food and energy. We’ll be in much deeper shit if we wait for the politicians to lead us on this one (I know that is anathema for a political blog, but it’s pretty simple – you can’t expect people to vote for you on a three year term if you scare the shit out of them).

  16. Great article, I’ll definitely be looking out for a copy of this book.

    I tend to concur with the sentiments being expressed by those who understand the ruling elite are antagonistic to any kind of social or economic change that would diminish their personal status and standard of living. I don’t accept that most people are willfully indifferent to the dangers facing humanity, I believe the information on which they exercise their decision making processes has become so heavily loaded with corporate misinformation campaigns that they have been effectively alienated from reality.

    I have faith that corporate propaganda will end up being one of the main ropes from which the class enemy will hang. Telling the big lie often enough does not work when reality is at an observably contrary extreme. It is in all our interests, for those of us who have the time and inclination, to absorb the information provided by the likes of McKibben and relay it as clearly and articulately as we possibly can. We may be shouted down, laughed at or ignored, that does not matter when reality is so relentlessly demonstrating what we say is occurring with greater immediacy.

    The current uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa are harbingers of the social upheaval the West will experience at home.

  17. John D 18

    Great review. I am going to kill myself now.
    Hopefully, taking a few others with me

    It will be good for our “Clean Green Image”

    • lprent 18.1

      I was just reading about your performance at hot topic. If you’ve determined that this course of action will allow you to haunt the blogs more effectively, then I couldn’t possibly stand in your way. But I would urge you to not take anyone else with you. This is your own private matter rather than being an opportunity to be further exercise your exhibitionistic tendencies.

      However I would counsel you that it is unlikely to change anyone’s mind apart from making me more willing to report such random threats to the police.

      Personally I would suggest that actually learning some science to the point that you understand what people are talking about is a preferable course of action. Yes I know that it is a harder row to hoe. Bu then you might be able to understand some of what you have been reading for many years.

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