"Head of firm of Moore and Schley and Member of Stock Exchange for 36 Years...In Many Big Operations...Figured in Inquiry when Senators Were Charged With Speculating During Making of Tariff Bill""In 1894, when certain Senators were accused of speculating in sugar stocks while a tariff bill was in the making, Elverton R. Chapman, who was then a member of the firm of Moore and Schley, braved a jail sentence for contempt when he refused to reveal to the investigating committee the names and accounts of customers of the firm. The firm of Moore and Schley played a part in many extensive market operations.""Mr. Schley was a Director of the American Smelting and Refining Company, the Chihuahua Mining Company, the Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing Company, the Electric Storage Battery Company, the Northern Pacific Railway, the Pittsburgh Coal Company, and the Republic Iron and Steel Company."
The excerpt and review are infused with Bill McKibben’s characteristic acknowledgement of natural reality as well as his optimism. The question is, are we collectively prepared to “manage descent”, as McKibben describes?
Jeff Huggins #2 suggests that we need a find a new paradigm of “ascent”, a positive action, rather than try to “manage descent” a negative action. That thinking is quite sophisticated, but beyond the sophistication of common man. “Managing energy descent” is a struggle only in the context of our modern lifestyles, but it does have very personal and human benefits. For example, growing one’s own food in one’s backyard will be a much more gratifying experience than an existence based on monetary exchange. However, I believe humanity has to go through the depression phase of emotional response to trauma, before we can proceed to a positive perspective on a new paradigm of “ascent”. Whatever we call it, it is going to be traumatic and difficult. To try to avoid that aspect is to continue in denial.
McKibben has a very optimistic view on human behavior. Mike Roddy #3 points out that many people will be (and are), in fact, putting fingers in their ears and oiling their guns (these are usually the same people). Roddy is more realistic in predicting that destitute families with the means to do so will take territory by force. The tragedy of this is that those who are most vigorously opposing climate progress now are (to generalize) the ones most likely to be oiling their guns and taking territory by force when that becomes necessary for their survival.
Prokaryote #4 makes the common misstatement: “To prevent decreational processses – extinction and degeneration, technology is key.” One can always argue that technology is neither good nor bad, its how we use it that counts. The reality is that humans have consistently placed false hopes on future non-existent technology to solve the problems they created with existing technology. Carbon capture and storage is an example of this technological hubris. Natural solutions, like reforestation, are far more promising and more hopeful. In order to successfully “manage descent”, we must rely less on false technological hopes and instead use more proven and reliable natural means, which means accepting some of the uncomfortable changes that come with “managing descent”.
Bill McKibben is on the bleeding edge of acknowledging climate change. We need to bring more people to his state of understanding at the same time we guard against those who would take territory by force. A daunting task, indeed.
If I may, my own review of Eaarth (which is eerily similar to the one above in some respects; great minds really do follow similar paths):
A missive from Eaarth
http://www.grinzo.com/ energy/ index.php/ 2010/ 05/ 13/ a-missive-from-eaarth/
Perhaps I’m guilty of reading too far between the lines, but I got the distinct feeling that McKibben is much more pessimistic than he normally says, at least explicitly.
Wonyho said, “The tragedy of this is that those who are most vigorously opposing climate progress now are (to generalize) the ones most likely to be oiling their guns and taking territory by force when that becomes necessary for their survival.”
Exactly. The skill set that will enable survival for individuals in the future will include things like hunting for food. Many people will be lost irregardless of their skills because they’ll be at the wrong place at the wrong time for extreme weather or seismic events. But in the best of circumstances, many will perish because the ecosystem is collapsing. Vibrant life in the sea is clearly doomed from acidification, overfishing, pollution and warming – to pretend otherwise is willfully ignorant. And that all by itself will have tremendous repercussions for terrestrial life.
Never mind the social unrest that will overtake cities when food becomes scarce, as it inevitably will. How many crops can survive floods, droughts, and hailstorms like the one in the Oklahoma video? Not to mention the rampant depletion of nutrients in soils and of course, the ravages of ozone on vegetation.
I joined up with Transition Town. I believe in making every good faith attempt to recoup and restore, to educate, to revise what is meant by prosperity. But frankly people often don’t behave well when the lights go out, and I doubt existing cultural mechanisms that help people cope with challenges with some degree of dignity will remain intact when globally, populations are overwhelmed with famine and disease.
Response to Comment 5 From Wonhyo
Focusing on Wonhyo’s second paragraph in Comment 5 (the paragraph having to do with my earlier comment), I agree with some or much of that point, but I think there’s an important way to reflect both points, as they are complementary in a way. Here’s what I mean:
When someone undergoes very difficult changes, and perhaps goes into a “depression”, it makes a great difference whether there is still a positive “purpose” that one can occasionally get a glimpse of, through the fog of depression, and that one’s friends can remind each other about, or whether one has lost one’s complete sense of positive purpose and is completely adrift.
Jeff, very good points and I think you have touched on one of the main attractions of CP, at least in my perspective. There is no way to look forward with rational eyes and not be discouraged but the speculation of the commentators and of course Joe brought to these pages of long term sustainability is invigorating. And by sustainability I do not just mean survivability but actual improvement in the overall human condition.
Reality is what you perceive it to be.
On the other hand options are becoming limited. Reality can bite as well.
Jeff, and Leif, I am in general agreement about the need to accentuate the positive aspects of transitioning to a sustainable lifestyle. I’m not convinced that frenetic consumption generates true contentment, at all.
On the other hand, describing even a debilitating depression as a reaction to the impending radical upheavals that will be wrought by climate change seems implicitly overly genteel. For many people especially those least inclined to accept limits on endless growth, I would expect to see a reaction more akin to a violent psychotic episode.
Put another way, many people are not going to give up their energy-guzzling toys gracefully.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
Jeff #2: Descending was not my word — it was McKibben’s. But your point is well taken — there can be no action without hope, no hope without the prospect of gain.
As I noted, McKibben does see some things to be gained from the transition:
“He holds out hope for a world that is richer in some ways than the one we left behind. A world where community matters, where the scale is manageable, and where connections between people and the land are stronger, if less global.”
One could infer from your comment, Jeff, that we ascend only when we increase material wealth and experience economic growth. I have been continually impressed by your thoughtful comments, so I know that isn’t what you were saying.
Interestingly, nearly every major study on the link between happiness and wealth suggests a weak -or non-existent — correlation. McKibben’s vision is for material descent, but he sees something of a spiritual ascent. He didn’t develop this as much as other parts of the book, but it is certainly there.
I do believe we have become spiritually impoverished in out pursuit of stuff, and if we’re very lucky, we can use the necessary transition we must make to enrich ourselves in the things that truly matter. And it’s clear that McKibben does too. But in this book, he was more concerned with getting us to face reality. I wouldn’t be surprised to see McKibben come out with a book in the near future that focuses more on the positive aspects of the change we must make.
Wit’s End #10: “The skill set that will enable survival for individuals in the future will include things like hunting for food…Never mind the social unrest that will overtake cities when food becomes scarce…”
To put it bluntly, those who have and use guns to hunt for food need to be prepared to defend themselves against those who have and use guns to steal the food that the hunters harvest. Hunting and stealing are two very different uses for guns and there are at least as many gun owners prepared to do that latter as there are the former. The most common justification for gun ownership is for “when the SHTF”. I don’t think that’s a thinly veiled reference to hunting.
Jeff Huggins #11: I’ve talked to a lot of people who take an attitude like, “I know climate change is coming, but I’m optimistic we’ll figure out how to get through it”, without ever having gone through a period of depression. These are generally the same people who switched their light bulbs to CFLs, then carried on with business as usual, thinking they have done their part. To be fully emotionally prepared to deal with climate change, you have to have fully acknowledged it. I don’t think one can fully acknowledge climate change without having gone through a phase of depression. Those who have never been depressed about climate change have not fully acknowledged its implications, on an emotional level. As I’ve read CP comments over the years, I’ve seen people (like Wit’s End) who have gone through the depression period, and they are the ones who discuss the climate change future in the most concrete terms, and take the most concrete actions (like joining Transition Towns). Those who have not gone through the depression period (like Prokaryote #9), continue to discuss climate change in abstract terms, and focus on technological solutions without acknowledging the need for behavioral and lifestyle changes. Depression is an important and constructive stage toward acceptance and preparation. We have to understand we are “descending” from the old way of things before we can fully embrace “ascendance” into a post climate change world.
So, what is your driving purpose in life in the climate changed world?
Not long ago I had a rather lively discussion on the phone with my step-mother, on why drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a bad idea, and why climate change is happening right now. (BTW, I encourage you all to use the refuge’s proper name and not “ANWR” because that’s industry’s name for it.) I went through all the main points with her, and thought I was making sense. You know, logic. But her reply was, “We’re not going to give up our toys.” I was shocked and asked her to clarify. She wasn’t kidding. No logic could change an opinion based on something not logical. She has no intentions of curbing consumption. I know of other families who are split over this environmental Mason-Dixon line. It’s sad.
Bill McKibben’s words may fall on too many plugged ears to minimize the decline, but for residents in low-lying Florida like my step-mother, Nature will eventually force them to listen to reality when she wrests those toys from their hands.
Wit’s End #13: “Put another way, many people are not going to give up their energy-guzzling toys gracefully.”
Exactly. Furthermore, those who are least likely to give up their energy-guzzling toys gracefully are also the least likely to ask for assistance, gracefully, when they realize how unprepared they are.
Karen S. #19: “her reply was, ‘We’re not going to give up our toys.’”
I used to be astonished at how often I got this response. What’s most frustrating is when I get this response from otherwise intelligent people who are not climate deniers.
I am sure that there were a significant number of folks in the Tennessee valley prior to May that felt that they were not going to give up their toys as well. Guess what, Nature took them. Reality Bites.
Wonhyo, at #18
I don’t think one can fully acknowledge climate change without having gone through a phase of depression. Those who have never been depressed about climate change have not fully acknowledged its implications, on an emotional level.
I am struggling with my frustration in not being able to envision a future of 3-4 and 5 degree C temperature increase in my children’s lifetime and begin to prepare them for that future. Our specie lacks the neurological pathway to grasp a vision of something we have never experienced. The massive heatwave that struck Europe several years ago was real evidence that a warmer world will bring pain. But, that heat wave passed as we knew it would. Our experience gave us that certainty. How about constant unbearable heat over an entire continent with its consequent drought, water shortage and food shortage impacts?
Tell me western countries are attacking Iran and I can write headlines months ahead of events. Tell me sea level rise will take out all the waterfront property on Tampa Bay, shoreline property in North and South Carolina in the next thirty years and I will find that interesting but not terrifying. I see the descent coming but cannot grasp the enormity of it. And I am old enough that I will escape the worst of it.
My children will not and that is deepening my depression and the growing helpless feeling one gets when the car is sliding on an icy road towards the tail lights ahead.
The comments here, and the review of ‘Eaarth’ are encouraging in an odd way. I’ve believed since the late 90’s, as many others posting on CP, that we are not headed for a positive outcome for most of humanity or for human civilization. Despite that we’ve got to maintain some positive vision and hold to some “next steps”. My encouragement seems to come from knowing there are other people who feel the same in spite of the clarity and terrible power of their knowledge.
Whether the world will end with fire or ice is turned on its head. The icy regions seem set to catch fire – whether it’s burning tundra, forests, or direct combustion of methane releases from clathrates, yedomas, or muskeg is the only question.
John McCormick, I appreciate the raw emotion in your comment. Sometimes I am depressed, sometimes I am terrified, and always I am grieving. Not for me, but for the complex web of life on the former Earth, and for the myriad creations of human ingenuity, and most of all for my children who I expected would have endless prospects for joy and productivity in their lives. For the last 150 years we have partied like there is no tomorrow, and now, there is no tomorrow.
It remains to be seen what (if anything) can be salvaged from this so unnecessary, self-induced debacle.
So many books (and journals, documentaries, popular publications) and so little time! I appreciate these book reviews, and encourage you to post more. This helps me develop a roadmap for deciding the best way to spend my time keeping up on environmental/ climate change issues. I am also very impressed by the dialogue that ensued. Thanks to all!
Recorded human history covers a span of 7000 or 8000 years. People have been killing each other for space, resources, control, power, pride, racism, fear, and mistrust for most of that span to time. We are but 70 years removed from the last world war, with million man armies marching against each other, a period in which one of the worlds most technically advanced nations set up death camps for the systematic extermination of millions of people. For the last 50 years or so, we’ve had arsenals of nuclear weapons sitting around that would inflict 1000 times more pain and suffering and damage than anything which happened in WWII.
McKibben’s notion that we will somehow find a way to ‘manage our decline’ into some new utopia of local governance seems pretty naive.
"In this paper, the pH-dependent inactivation of a single specific enzyme, urease, has 15 been proposed as a unifying kill-mechanism for global mass extinction events.
(vii) following an initial enhancement in biomass, nitrogen-limitation progressively suppresses the pos- itive response of terrestrial plants to elevated pCO2 (560 ppmv) (Reich et al., 2006). This well known “progressive nitrogen limitation” effect (Finzi et al., 2006) causes over-
20 all plant nitrogen concentrations to drop by almost double what would be expected if a given amount of nitrogen were simply diluted by the addition biomass (Makino and Mae, 1999) – a result that is consistent with an expected impact of urease inhibition...
Over the next century, if anthropogenic CO2 emissions proceed at the rates predicted by the IPCC scenarios (IPCC, 2001), then the identified pCO2 threshold concentration of 560 ppmv may be exceeded as early as 2050 (Fig. 3). Whilst the direct climatic im- pacts of this overshoot remain difficult to quantify with certainty, simple extrapolation of
15 the central tenets of the urease hypothesis suggests that there is little doubt regarding the disruption and mass mortality that it will initiate within organisms that are heavily reliant upon the urease enzyme. Previous mass extinction events appear to have guided the evolutionary process away from urease-dependence in higher vertebrate animals, but the threat remains for the lower invertebrates and plant communities.
The immediacy with which this scientific testing must proceed however cannot be overstated, for if true, the con-
sequences of failure or inaction in this matter are unimaginably shocking.
20 portantly, these at-risk ecosystem elements are fundamental to: (i) the productive food chains, (ii) the essential habitat, and (iii) the stable climate cycles, upon which the higher vertebrate animals (including humans) rely for their survival."
Bill McKibben is a beacon to us all, on many levels. The fragmentation model- where countries devolve into semiautonomous regions- is being intuitively absorbed even by the tea partiers.
I fear that this future may include keeping guns oiled, though maybe not in my lifetime. Not everybody is going to be living in a biologically robust part of the country- think Las Vegas or Houston. Internal emigration will become commonplace, but instead of driving somewhere else and looking for a job and place to live, things are likely to get a little stickier. When families become destitute, they are likely to form groups and take territory by force.
McKibben is a brilliant and gentle man, and not this dark. But where he sees a new and resilient man, I see a skeleton.