Wednesday, September 16, 2009

THE Explanation for Just About Everything

Glen, a commenter at, wrote that climate change does not have the impact of a terrorist attack because it:

1. doesn’t have a human face
2. doesn’t violate our moral sensibilities
3. seems to be a threat to the unseen future but NOT to the present
4. human sensitivity to relative rather than absolute changes of the environment

And this was my response to it:

I think it does have at least three, which just may not be apparent to everyone - but soon will be. The human face of climate change, which already exists, is all those people who are enduring famine, resource wars, loss of their home, drought and extreme weather, and the millions and billions more who will. The injustice of leaving an uninhabitable planet to future generations - as well as the unfairness of the poorest on the globe, those with the lowest contribution to carbon emissions, suffering first and most - violate moral sensibilities. The present is most certainly already displaying negative impacts, from rivers going dry and glaciers melting, to trees dying, to wildfires and bigger more powerful hurricanes, and buckling tundra in the far north, not to mention, all the biodiversity under the threat (certainty?) of mass extinction.

I think this is a significant debate because I believe that blaming human nature, and proposing that it has evolved to not recognize distant threats, is a diversion from the fierce fury that should be felt by all towards the professional deniers out there, and those industries who bankroll their well-coordinated campaigns to confuse the public. I question whether it is so much indelible human nature leading the average person to ignore climate change and our role in it, and how much is due to deliberate and criminal lies. If it was innately ordained that people could not recognize and react with the necessary urgency, what of those scientists and lay people who DO recognize and feel the urgency? Are they genetic aberrations? Or are they just smart enough, or pragmatic enough, or well-educated enough, to see through the propaganda - or maybe, they live on a drowning island in the Pacific.

That's probably enough to focus the mind.

I should have added that the other factor in explaining why people refuse to recognize 1, 2 and 3, even though they are quite evident, is that certain implications inexorably follow, and these implications are uncomfortable, to say the least.

One is, that free markets will not and cannot solve this problem of the commons. This makes ideologically rigid Ayn Rand acolytes apoplectic. Another is, that we average Americans with huge carbon footprints are going to HAVE TO change our self-indulgent profligate ways. We cannot continue to squander and consume everything in sight. OUCH!!

Furthermore, there is an unfortunate tendency for people to climb on the prostrate rubble of the less fortunate, to blame them and vilify them and even exterminate them. So it's easier to shriek about immigrants and fetishize fears of terrorists than confront the real problems we create for ourselves. Like greenhouse gas emissions.

Oh, dear. I'm getting to sound more and more like the phantom Admin at survivalacres. He closed the blog in disgust at human recalcitrance, but you can subscribe to the newsletter at and conveniently buy a 10 year supply of freeze dried food for the coming apocalypse!

In response to a friend who is frustrated by denialism, I share this reply:

Ah! We are in the parallel universe, you and I.

How familiar your experience is, to me.

We sound the alarm and no one listens. I have had people just stare at me and then change the topic of conversation from mass extinction and an unlivable planet to french fries and baby formula.

People do not want to confront the unfathomable challenge we have created in the last 200 years of burning fossil fuels at a reckless rate, heedless of the consequences that were warned of from the very beginning! It was too much fun! Such salaciously instant gratification!

Americans spurned Jimmy Carter - accused of "malaise" (a word he never actually used, when warning us of our profligacy and squandering, but what has truthiness to do with it?) in favor of Reagan's message (Mourning in America) which was rampant growing and polluting and consuming, with delirious abandon, until the entire biosphere is depleted, and like Easter Island, is going to be fucking DEAD!

Thanks, Reagan Rethugs, and Paultards, and everybody who ever ignored science, and reality, and the fact that rearranging the deck chairs on the ONE Titanic we have, PLANET EARTH, isn't going to save anybody!


  1. Let Glen wallow in his defeatism. All this crybaby muttering about deniers and how terrible it is that so many are against us is just so much dancing on the head of a pin. They should quit bawlin' and ask the only real question. Does that person want to stop using fossil fuel. If the answer is yes, there's no need to convince that person why we should. Don't they understand that most deniers would answer the fossil fuel question with a yes? It is an arguement for no purpose.

    Climate change is not responsible for most of the things you ascribe to it. Drought and flood and wildfires and famine are no more common than in history. In the U.S. most so called wild fires are caused by arson, carelessness and accidents. Climate change is definitely not causing the damage to plant life that is recorded at Wit's End. The cause is not changes in climate, but in atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are not the problem, toxic pollutants are. Those who would concentrate on greenhouse gases are not environmentalists.

  2. Hi Gail,
    Just to make sure, I'm not making any argument about the greenhouse effect. Everything I know about climate change, I learned at climate progress.

  3. "Drought and flood and wildfires and famine are no more common than in history."

    Seriously, Paul Kelly? Unless by history you mean the paleontological record, and not the span of human existence, you're seriously misinformed. It is well documented and indisputable that wildfires are more frequent, more intense, and last longer than in the past. This is true in the US West, in Australia, and Europe, and soon will be on the East US.
    Droughts are far more extreme globally, and deserts are growing all over the world. Droughts followed by heavier than usual rains are causing floods and mudslides to a far greater degree than in the past, as are rapidly melting glaciers and extreme monsoons and hurricanes and thunderstorms.
    Check out or for a wholesome roundup of such events.
    And already, melting ice from climate change is causing earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis, see
    Also, greenhouse gases ARE pollutants, and they happen to be THE pollutants that are killing trees. Climate change even without polluting greenhouse gasses will be quite sufficient to kill trees from the increase in temperature alone - it would just take longer.

    Separating greenhouse gasses that cause both climate change and pollution leading to impacts on vegetation - and human and animal health - serves no useful purpose that I can see.

  4. Climate change is causing or impacting glacial retreat, sea ice and the changing of the seasons within the year. There's better sources of climate information than catastrophist and despair filled blogs. I like William Connelly, who edits the climate pages on Wikipedia.

    Ozone is only a minor and PAN is not a greenhouse gas. If PAN is the main culprit, it can be eliminated entirely separate from any action on greenhouse gases. Ending the deadly subsidies for ethanol would solve a lot of problems. Too bad anti- ethanol voters do not have a friend in President Obama.

  5. Hi Gail,
    I Google'd sahara greening and found out the Sahara is actually shrinking! New Scientist Magazine has an eye opening article.

  6. "Desertification is a growing threat worldwide."


    Local, individual changes in precipitation and farming methods do not change this central fact. To do so is equivalent with muddling up weather and climate change, and we all know what a no-no that is. Furthermore, a google of the greening of the Sahel reveals a huge number of competing theories as to how much it is being influenced by climate and how much by improved methods of cultivation.

    Joe Romm's site is of course my first go-to climate blog, but his focus is on politics and the science of climate change. Des and Apocadocs should not be dismissed as sensational - both just post links, without analysis or opinion, to news stories and research about the environment, much of it obscure and under-reported by the American press. Both sites are excellent resources, because the MSM only reports bad news when it involves the sordid disappearance of a young attractive female.

  7. Paul you are trying to draw distinctions that have no rational difference. None. Zippo. Nada.

    Changing atmospheric chemistry has a variety of interrelated implications - for climate and otherwise.

    Your arguments are the equivalent of trying to blame a victim of arsenic poisoning on kidney failure - and trying to distinguish it from liver failure or kidney failure or brain death.

    The fact is that when we put crap into the atmosphere a variety of chemical and physical interactions occur. One, for example, is an increase in lightning strikes (this has been documented) which can lead to, among other things, wildfires.

    Your arguments are logically inconsistent and, therefore, false.

  8. Hi Un,
    My arguments are based on several things.

    1) While there are many similarities, there are important distictions between climate issues and environmental issues. Gail has identified an environmental problem affecting plant life. I'm encouraging her to focus on that and not be distracted by things that are related but not crucial.

    2) How we define a problem determines how we solve it. Since we all agree that the problem is burning fossil fuels, let's concentrate on how we go about eliminating their use. To use your medical analogy, emissions are the symptom. Fossil fuel use is the disease.

  9. Paul, you're getting hung up on a languaging issue and engaging in solipsistic argumentation.

    The cause of the problems (the effects) that Gail has identified is aerosol emissions from the combustion of fossil and other fuels.

    Arsenic, to get back to my medical analogy, is not the cause of death. It's the ingestion of arsenic that is the cause.

    Same with fossil fuels. Coal and oil and gas are not the cause of the problems. It's what we do with them - burn them and produce harmful emissions - that is the active agency of causality.

    The solution is not to generate emissions that, in turn, change atmospheric chemistry in harmful ways.

    Please construe that as broadly as the circumstances warrant.

  10. Do you believe in coincidence? The first comment I saw this morning is from Paul K who wrote "I'm encouraging her to focus on that and not be distracted by things that are related but not crucial."

    The first email is from, with a link to an article in the Nation about pollution and climate change, entitled, "People, Let's Get Our Carbon Down" which includes this line:

    "And some will be in grittier places, where the battle is even more crucial."

    Crucial? Did somebody say crucial? Read the whole thing at:


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