Bill McKibben’s New Article Is Terrifying

Bill McKibben’s new article is terrifying. Excerpts below (condensed from 5  pages):

“The official position of planet Earth at the moment is that we can’t raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius – it’s become the bottomest of bottom lines. Two degrees. . .

Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. . .

We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain. . .

John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends. . .

Sometimes the irony is almost Borat-scale obvious: In early June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled on a Norwegian research trawler to see firsthand the growing damage from climate change. “Many of the predictions about warming in the Arctic are being surpassed by the actual data,” she said, describing the sight as “sobering.” But the discussions she traveled to Scandinavia to have with other foreign ministers were mostly about how to make sure Western nations get their share of the estimated $9 trillion in oil (that’s more than 90 billion barrels, or 37 gigatons of carbon) that will become accessible as the Arctic ice melts. Last month, the Obama administration indicated that it would give Shell permission to start drilling in sections of the Arctic. . .

The numbers are simply staggering – this industry, and this industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet, and they’re planning to use it.

They’re clearly cognizant of global warming – they employ some of the world’s best scientists, after all, and they’re bidding on all those oil leases made possible by the staggering melt of Arctic ice. And yet they relentlessly search for more hydrocarbons – in early March, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson told Wall Street analysts that the company plans to spend $37 billion a year through 2016 (about $100 million a day) searching for yet more oil and gas. . .

Left to our own devices, citizens might decide to regulate carbon and stop short of the brink; according to a recent poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans would back an international agreement that cut carbon emissions 90 percent by 2050. But we aren’t left to our own devices. The Koch brothers, for instance, have a combined wealth of $50 billion, meaning they trail only Bill Gates on the list of richest Americans. They’ve made most of their money in hydrocarbons, they know any system to regulate carbon would cut those profits, and they reportedly plan to lavish as much as $200 million on this year’s elections. In 2009, for the first time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce surpassed both the Republican and Democratic National Committees on political spending; the following year, more than 90 percent of the Chamber’s cash went to GOP candidates, many of whom deny the existence of global warming. Not long ago, the Chamber even filed a brief with the EPA urging the agency not to regulate carbon – should the world’s scientists turn out to be right and the planet heats up, the Chamber advised, “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological and technological adaptations.” As radical goes, demanding that we change our physiology seems right up there. . .

Much of that profit stems from a single historical accident: Alone among businesses, the fossil-fuel industry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free. Nobody else gets that break – if you own a restaurant, you have to pay someone to cart away your trash, since piling it in the street would breed rats. But the fossil-fuel industry is different, and for sound historical reasons: Until a quarter-century ago, almost no one knew that CO2 was dangerous. But now that we understand that carbon is heating the planet and acidifying the oceans, its price becomes the central issue.

If you put a price on carbon, through a direct tax or other methods, it would enlist markets in the fight against global warming. Once Exxon has to pay for the damage its carbon is doing to the atmosphere, the price of its products would rise. Consumers would get a strong signal to use less fossil fuel – every time they stopped at the pump, they’d be reminded that you don’t need a semimilitary vehicle to go to the grocery store. The economic playing field would now be a level one for nonpolluting energy sources. And you could do it all without bankrupting citizens – a so-called “fee-and-dividend” scheme would put a hefty tax on coal and gas and oil, then simply divide up the proceeds, sending everyone in the country a check each month for their share of the added costs of carbon. By switching to cleaner energy sources, most people would actually come out ahead.

There’s only one problem: Putting a price on carbon would reduce the profitability of the fossil-fuel industry. After all, the answer to the question “How high should the price of carbon be?” is “High enough to keep those carbon reserves that would take us past two degrees safely in the ground.” The higher the price on carbon, the more of those reserves would be worthless. The fight, in the end, is about whether the industry will succeed in its fight to keep its special pollution break alive past the point of climate catastrophe, or whether, in the economists’ parlance, we’ll make them internalize those externalities. . .

Once, in recent corporate history, anger forced an industry to make basic changes. That was the campaign in the 1980s demanding divestment from companies doing business in South Africa. It rose first on college campuses and then spread to municipal and state governments; 155 campuses eventually divested, and by the end of the decade, more than 80 cities, 25 states and 19 counties had taken some form of binding economic action against companies connected to the apartheid regime. “The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of the past century,” as Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it, “but we would not have succeeded without the help of international pressure,” especially from “the divestment movement of the 1980s.” . . .

[final three paragraphs]

Movements rarely have predictable outcomes. But any campaign that weakens the fossil-fuel industry’s political standing clearly increases the chances of retiring its special breaks. Consider President Obama’s signal achievement in the climate fight, the large increase he won in mileage requirements for cars. Scientists, environmentalists and engineers had advocated such policies for decades, but until Detroit came under severe financial pressure, it was politically powerful enough to fend them off. If people come to understand the cold, mathematical truth – that the fossil-fuel industry is systematically undermining the planet’s physical systems – it might weaken it enough to matter politically. Exxon and their ilk might drop their opposition to a fee-and-dividend solution; they might even decide to become true energy companies, this time for real.

Even if such a campaign is possible, however, we may have waited too long to start it. To make a real difference – to keep us under a temperature increase of two degrees – you’d need to change carbon pricing in Washington, and then use that victory to leverage similar shifts around the world. At this point, what happens in the U.S. is most important for how it will influence China and India, where emissions are growing fastest. (In early June, researchers concluded that China has probably under-reported its emissions by up to 20 percent.) The three numbers I’ve described are daunting – they may define an essentially impossible future. But at least they provide intellectual clarity about the greatest challenge humans have ever faced. We know how much we can burn, and we know who’s planning to burn more. Climate change operates on a geological scale and time frame, but it’s not an impersonal force of nature; the more carefully you do the math, the more thoroughly you realize that this is, at bottom, a moral issue; we have met the enemy and they is Shell.

Meanwhile the tide of numbers continues. The week after the Rio conference limped to its conclusion, Arctic sea ice hit the lowest level ever recorded for that date. Last month, on a single weekend, Tropical Storm Debby dumped more than 20 inches of rain on Florida – the earliest the season’s fourth-named cyclone has ever arrived. At the same time, the largest fire in New Mexico history burned on, and the most destructive fire in Colorado’s annals claimed 346 homes in Colorado Springs – breaking a record set the week before in Fort Collins. This month, scientists issued a new study concluding that global warming has dramatically increased the likelihood of severe heat and drought – days after a heat wave across the Plains and Midwest broke records that had stood since the Dust Bowl, threatening this year’s harvest. You want a big number? In the course of this month, a quadrillion kernels of corn need to pollinate across the grain belt, something they can’t do if temperatures remain off the charts. Just like us, our crops are adapted to the Holocene, the 11,000-year period of climatic stability we’re now leaving… in the dust.”


Gun Control Won’t Stop Shooting Sprees

Shooting sprees will keep happening until our culture changes, gun control or not

The availability of guns is not what drives people to use them on shooting sprees. There are more guns per capita in Canada and there is a fraction of the violence. The “why?” question is more fundamental than the “how?” question.

Stephen Bezruchka – Is America Driving You Crazy?

A Brief History of Rage, Murder and Rebellion

Think Anarchism means chaos? Think again.

originally commented here

Anarchism is not the lack of order. It’s the abolishment of official privilege. Anarchism actually requires much more order because it depends on the active participation of its population, not just the symbolic act of voting.  .  . there is a long and rich tradition of anarchist writings in political philosophy. Too many are buying the bullshit propaganda spouted against anarchism. Here’s a start:

What does it mean to be an ‘anarchist’?
The Relevance of Anarcho-syndicalism
‘Anarchists are like Tories’ and other fairy tales
Anarchists are under attack because their ideas are gaining ground

Why You (yes, YOU) Shouldn’t Get Married.

by Alec F. Crisman on Sunday, July 8, 2012 at 10:54pm ·


(Just yet.)


Okay, I know the stereotype about the two high-school sweethearts who marry as quickly as is humanly possible, have two babies two years later and thus have a reassuring plan that will carry them to the grave. I know the first love’s ache and the rushing endorphins, the wonderful conquest of your mind by your lover that first makes you feel you’re going insane, then secondly lets you realize that you don’t actually care. I know the image of the perfect lovers, those two lucky fuckers who, having married young, simply “got it right the first time”. I know all these stereotypes and more.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how many people would be falling for them.


Marriage at our age (let’s say 21) carries about a 30% success rate, up to 40% if you factor in the 25-year-olds. Those are the kind of odds that can (and do) make casino executives boatloads of cash, precisely because they are so deceptively good. You see the “score” zone on the dartboard and think “Shit, that’s nearly a third. I can totally nail this”. But in the end, the house always wins.


And that analogy only holds if it’s easier to steer a relationship than a dart (make your jokes ladies; we all know men are slightly more complicated than that). In a relationship you have to deal with miscommunications and hatreds, arguments and assholery, decisions, deceptions and demons every day of the week. People are complicated, and when two come together (usually, at this age, subconsciously searching for their parents) the problems can be so deeply-rooted and so poorly analyzed that it may take years in therapy to uncover them all. The odds of you finding someone you are truly, deeply simpatico with on your first one or two serious forays into the dating field are ludicrously low, as the statistics indicate. But (as is the problem in many cases) 100% of those getting married this year think they’re in the 30%. You see the issue.


So why do people do it (and why do I care? We’ll get to that in a bit)?  Here’s my theory; we were told that after high school, we were “beginning our lives”, or at the very least matriculating to higher learning. And so our lives began, and a few years of mindless hedonism interferes enough with the college (should we afford it) that we drop out, grinding away at the job we hate to make enough money to obliterate our sobriety. We do this for years, a fairly large percentage of our lifespan mind you… and a miasma sets in, a noxious cloud of disappointment in the “real world”. “Is this all there is? Bills and work, then stupor and the grave? Being an adult blows!” This is a common revelation, and I think people deal with it in different ways. Some go back to school, some quit the booze and start yoga, some travel the world (my choice), and some pick up a bridal catalogue.


It used to be de rigueur that one hires a wedding photographer, a reasonable tradition that continues to this day, much to the delight and subsequent profit of my shutterbug friends. But now we’ve moved into the phenomenon of the engagement photo session, and sometimes even a few romantic snapshots to celebrate the giving of a promise ring. Through Facebook, every detail of the wedding can be bragged about, complained about, discussed and debated and the whole while the encouraging throng will be serving up, telling you how “cute” you look and how “happy” you’ll be and how “brave” you are to “take the next step”. If marriage was never primarily about social validation, it is now, and the more explicit the display the deeper rooted the insecurities. At least, that’s my read of the scenario.


Often you’ve heard people refer to marriage as the “next step”, and I think this concept is injurious in and of itself. Real life, and real love (the existence of which you’ll notice I will never dispute), are far too complicated to boil down into a series of steps, and the more we try to make our lives fit a mold the more uncomfortable we’ll be. There are many loves we’ll have throughout our life, and I’d never trade those real relationships for a beautiful illusion (and look at the numbers; for most reading this it IS an illusion). I know a gal who’s married to a man who she only said yes to so she wouldn’t lose him. I know a gal who married a man and saw him change into a tyrant practically overnight. I know a couple who were “firmly” engaged, broke up for three months, and then were “firmly engaged” again like nothing had happened. I know a guy who married to “do right” by his pregnant girlfriend, only to work two jobs and slowly watch the fire going out of his eyes. He loves his children; he wouldn’t give them up for the world. But he wishes he’d known the world a bit better before bringing them into it.


This hints at the question I posed myself (for you) earlier, which is; why do I give a shit? People do stupid things every day. Why should marriage get my goat so particularly? Well, to be honest, part of it is personal bias. I am the child of a recent divorce, a very “trouble in paradise” sort of scenario where I realized that even the firmest-seeming commitments can disintegrate in the acid of resentment. And even though it happened during a time when I was, ostensibly, more capable of coping emotionally with a greater amount of maturity and perspective, it still shattered my world. Two people had combined to make me, yet those two people now hated (sometimes) each other. So what does this say about my ability to reconcile my oft-contradictory nature? What does this say about my chance to be happy? These thoughts tormented me long after the fact, and still nag at me in the wee hours of the morning.


Have I answered my question yet? Children.


My existentialism professor was talking about the pointlessness of existence (so I was hooked). To illustrate how life can (and, often involuntarily, is) viewed, he pointed out the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to and then contrasted this with the whine of the petulant teenager “Jesus Mom, I didn’t ASK to be born!” Then he changed the narrative on me and pointed out that this statement was logically and, perhaps, morally correct. No child picks its parents, and seeing as nobody can do more damage to a child than a parent doesn’t that make it reasonable that parents owe their child maturity? That they be pretty good at life before they try and teach someone else the ropes?


More science; the human brain (most importantly the prefrontal cortex, which contains reasoning, empathy and impulse control… basically everything you’d need for a model, or perhaps moderate, citizen) isn’t finished developing until age 30. That means that we can essentially prove that, no matter how well you’d parent at age 20, or even 25, you’ll be doing an inherently  better job when that fourth decade rolls around. My parents waited until they were 30 to have me, and despite their inherent conflicts and eventual failure to hold together the family unit, I still credit this choice as the smartest they’ve ever made. Being raised by adults, as opposed to overgrown teenagers (which most of us are) gave a palpable level of security and calm to my childhood I’m not sure could have existed even 3 years prior. To me, this chain of logic leads me to the conclusion that, in the age of free birth control and abundant information, those who choose to have children before they’re done developing themselves are practicing a form of neglect at best, and abuse at worst (and you all know the cases). And this isn’t even to get into those “single parents” who bring a child into the world so they can have “something that loves them”. “Honey,” my Mom said to one such deluded soul, “children take far more than they give. Are you ready for that?” And I think, if you look at the numbers in this country for teen pregnancy, teen arrests, and in general the signs and symptoms of absent authority figures, you can see that the answer for most of those breeding is “no”.


So wait. Do yourself (and your future kids) a favor and see the world a bit, meet many prospective parents and try them out before you opt to reproduce. You have a right to get yourself a heartbreak and an alimony payment; you do NOT have a right to bring a child into a world you have not even attempted to understand, with a person you haven’t had time to understand and who, at our age, could turn on a dime. We must revisit our attitudes about monogamy and commitment, and break the spell that the marriage industry and our mass media seem only too glad to cast.


Some people will have read this as excessively negative, so let me end on a positive note; the divorce rate, minus some blips, has been steadily declining since the 1980’s.  Ask any statistician why, and you know what she’ll tell you?


”People are waiting longer before they get married.”