Why the Climate Change and Peak Oil Movement Are Failing

John Michael Greer points out why the climate change and peak oil movements have very little traction among the powerful people who make the rules.

…three factors.

The first was the astonishing political naivete of the climate change movement. All through the last decade, that movement has allowed its opponents to define the terms of public debate, execute a series of efficient end runs around even the most telling points made by climate science, and tar the movement in ever more imaginative ways, without taking any meaningful steps to counter these moves or even showing any overt interest in learning from its failures. Partly this unfolds from the fixation of the American left on the experiences of the 1960s, a fixation that has seen one movement after another blindly following a set of strategies that have not actually worked since the end of the Vietnam war; partly, I suspect, it’s rooted in the background of most of the leading figures in the climate change movement, who are used to the very different culture of scientific debate and simply have no notion how to address the very different needs of public debate in society that does not share their values.

This latter point leads to the second primary factor in the failure of the climate change movement, which is the extent that it attempted to rely on the prestige of institutional science at a time when that prestige has undergone a drastic decline. The public has become all too aware that the expert opinion of distinguished scientists has become a commodity, bought and sold for a price that these days isn’t always discreetly disguised as grant money or the like. The public has also been repeatedly shown that the public scientific consensus of one decade is fairly often the discarded theory of the next. When you grow up constantly hearing from medical authorities that cholesterol is bad for you and polyunsaturated fats are good for you, and then suddenly he medical authorities are saying that polyunsaturated fats are bad for you and some kinds of cholesterol are good, a certain degree of blind faith in the pronouncements of scientists goes out the window.

Part of the problem here is the gap between the face institutional science presents to its practitioners and the face it shows to the general public. In the 1970s, for example, the public consensus among climate scientists was that the Earth faced a new ice age sometime in the not too distant future. This was actually only one of several competing views aired privately among scientists at the time, and there were spirited debates on the subject in climatological conferences and journals, but you wouldn’t have learned that from the books and TV programs, many of the former written by qualified scientists and most of the latter featuring them, that announced an imminent ice age to the world at large. It’s become fashionable in some circles just now to insist that that never happened, but the relics of that time are still to be found on library shelves and in museums. When I visited the Museum of Natural History in Washington DC a year ago, for example, the exhibit on ice age mammals had a fine example: an illuminated display, prominently located, explaining that scientists expected a new ice age sometime in the next millennium or so. An embarrassed staff member had taped up a makeshift sign next to it announcing that current scientific opinion no longer supported that claim, and the display would be replaced sometime soon.

The mental whiplash caused by sudden changes in scientific opinion, each one announced to the public in terms much less tentative than it generally deserves, has played a larger role in hamstringing climate change activism than most of its supporters may find it comfortable to admit. Notice, though, that the uncertain nature of scientific knowledge didn’t prevent the passage of the Endangered Species Act or a baker’s dozen of other environmental initiatives in the Seventies; in fact, the scientific community was far more divided over ecological issues at that time than it is about climate change today. That was arguably a benefit, because it forced proponents of environmental protection to approach it as a political issue, to get down into the mud wrestling pit with their opponents, and to address the hopes, fears, and concerns of the general public head on, in terms the public could understand and accept. By and large, climate change activists have not done this, and this is an important reason why they have been so thoroughly thrashed by the other side.

Still, I’ve come to think that a third factor has played at least as important a role in gutting the climate change movement. This is the pervasive mismatch between the lifestyles that the leadership of that movement have been advocating for everyone else and the lifestyle that they themselves have led. When Al Gore, after having been called out on this point, was reduced to insisting that his sprawling mansion has a lower carbon footprint than other homes on the same grandiose scale, he exposed a fault line that runs straight through climate change activism, and bids fair to imitate those old legends of California’s future and dump the entire movement into the sea.

…I long ago lost track of the number of times I’ve heard people in one or another corner of the activist scene throw up their hands in despair and describe the task of organizing people to seek some form of change or other as being like trying to herd cats. In point of fact, herding cats is one of the easiest things in the world. All you have to do is go to the place you want the cats to go, carrying with you a #10 can of tuna and an electric can opener. The moment the cats hear the whirr of the can opener and smell the fragrance of the tuna, they’ll come at a run, and you’ll have your herd exactly where you want them. Now of course that strategy assumes two things. It assumes that you’re willing to go to the place you want the cats to go, and it also assumes that you have something to offer them when they get there.

That sums up what has been one of the most critical problems with the climate change movement: it has been calling on the world to accept a lifestyle that the movement’s own leaders have shown no willingness to adopt themselves, and thus have been in no position to model for the benefit of others. That’s left the movement wide open to accusations that it means its policies to apply only to other people – accusations that have not exactly been quelled by the efforts of various countries, the US very much included, to push as much of the burden of carbon reduction as possible onto their political and economic rivals. I trust I don’t have to spell out how such suspicions will be amplified by Shearman’s cheerleading for exactly the sort of authoritarian politics in which some people’s carbon footprint would inevitably be more equal than others’.

All these points are profoundly relevant to the core project of this blog, for many of the weaknesses I’ve traced out are also found in the peak oil movement. That movement has no shortage of political naivete, and it has plenty of spokespeople who mistakenly assume that their professional expertise – significant as that very often is – can be cashed in at par for influence on public debate. It also has its share of leaders who are perfectly willing to talk in the abstract about how people need to ditch their autos and give up air travel, but insist that they themselves need their SUV for one reason or another and wouldn’t dream of going to the next ASPO conference by train. These are serious weaknesses; unchecked, they could be fatal.

Of course there are other, critical reasons why a certain degree of political sophistication, a recognition that expertise is not enough to carry public debates, and a willingness to embrace the lifestyles one proposes for others – and especially the last of these – are essential just now. The most important of those reasons is that in terms of industrial civilization’s energy future, it’s very late in the day.

Meaning in Life – John Gardner

Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.

John Gardner, Personal Renewal,  http://www.pbs.org/johngardner/sections/writings_speech_1.html

Edward Abbey Quotes

“The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.”

“There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California.”

“Love implies anger. The man who is angered by nothing cares about nothing.”

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit”

“Power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best.”

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

“Our culture runs on coffee and gasoline, the first often tasting like the second.”

“When a man's best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem”

“Climbing K2 or floating the Grand Canyon in an inner tube. There are some things one would rather have done than do.”

“That which today calls itself science gives us more and more information, and indigestible glut of information, and less and less understanding.”

“High technology has done us one great service: It has retaught us the delight of performing simple and primordial tasks – chopping wood, building a fire, drawing water from a spring”

“The only thing worse than a knee-jerk liberal is a knee-pad conservative.”

“In social institutions, the whole is always less than the sum of its parts. There will never be a state as good as its people, or a church worthy of its congregation, or a university equal to its faculty and students.”

via Seth Lanning

Adrenaline Rush Kayaking

Palouse Falls


First descent by Tyler Bradt

The Fall Guy: A record-setting, 186-foot descent

Text by Ryan Bradley at National Geographic

There isn’t a lot that scares Tyler Bradt, so before he steered his kayak off the lip of eastern Washington’s Palouse Falls and dropped 18 stories amid water rushing at 2,000 cubic feet per second, he recalls his mind running gin clear, just like the current. “There was a stillness,” says the 22-year-old extreme kayaker. “Then an acceleration, speed, and impact unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I wasn’t sure if I was hurt or not. My body was just in shock.”

So was everyone else. The previously held record for kayak descents, set only weeks earlier, had been off a 127-foot fall in the Amazon. “The risks on a 180-foot drop are exponentially greater,” says kayaker and filmmaker Trip Jennings. “Your rate of descent is multiplied, so the time you have to react plummets.”

Before the record-setting run, Bradt repeatedly visited Palouse Falls State Park to read the water and scout the descent. “The first time I saw the Palouse, I knew it was runnable,” he says. “There’s a smooth green tongue of water that carries about a third of the way down the falls. That was my route.”

This spring Bradt prepared by effortlessly knocking off a string of 70- to 80-foot waterfalls on Oregon’s Hood River. But that didn’t allay the concerns of his fellow paddlers. “Honestly, I told him I didn’t know if it was the best idea,” says Rush Sturges, who followed Bradt down a 107-foot waterfall in Canada two years ago. For the Palouse run, Sturges and eight others were at the ready should anything (concussion, broken back) befall their friend. “But,” Sturges admits, “if something really bad had happened, like getting pinned behind that curtain of water, he would have been on his own.”

On April 21 Bradt emptied his mind and paddled slowly into the river. He made tiny adjustments during the 3.7-second free fall. “The key to controlling the descent was to stay with the curtain and not get launched into the air,” he says. At impact, Bradt tucked his nose to the kayak, kept his body tense, and directed his boat into the heart of the torrent, where the aerated water cushioned his landing. After six seconds beneath the surface, the kayaker re-emerged with a broken paddle, a sprained wrist, and a record that, considering the risks, is perhaps best left unchallenged. “The motivating factor for all this,” Bradt says, “was just that I thought it was possible. I wanted to do it, I guess, because I can.” http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/kayak-waterfall-record

via Roy Stone

Justice and Power

… justice comes from power, and power is only possible from a degree of ruthlessness most of us can’t abide. The tragedy of political life is the conflict between the limit of good intentions and the necessity of power. At times this produces goodness. It did in the case of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan, but there is no assurance of this in the future. It requires greatness.

George Friedman, author of The Next Decade: Where We've Been… And Where We're Going

My Four Food Groups


In my world, there are four food groups:

  1. Food that tastes bad and is bad for you.
  2. Food that tastes good and is bad for you.
  3. Food that tastes bad and is good for you.
  4. Food that tastes good and is good for you.

Food that tastes bad and is bad for you must be avoided. Often, it's the spoiled stuff that gives you the "stomach flu." It's fairly easy to avoid if you pay attention to the smell and taste. No one eats it knowingly.


Food that tastes good and is bad for you is the most dangerous food. It's addictive and fun to eat. Most food ads on TV feature this kind of fare. It keeps the hospitals filled and the pharmacies busy. Fast food is the perfect example; it you want to see the effects, watch the movie Super Size Me. It's very hard to stop eating this food once you start because it is engineered to use salt, sugar, and/or fat to stroke your pleasure centers in the brain.

Food that tastes bad and is good for you is what is available at many "hippie" health food stores. Fresh tofu, bean sprouts, and wheatgrass juice are examples. Most Americans are so accustomed to commercial food that tastes "good" that they can't eat it. Many of the people who eat from this food group are skinny. They are rarely seen and may become extinct.


Food that tastes good and is good for youis the holy grail for healthy eaters. Whole Foods and Trader Joes are making big profits selling this kind of fare. We have a garden, which is the best place to get food that is good for you because you know how it was grown (one of the great advantages of locally grown food). Some of it doesn't taste good to the people who eat only processed and packaged food. Fortunately for me, my wife Ann can take food that doesn't taste good and is good for you and convert it into food that tastes good in her kitchen.

Photos from Ann's garden at www.InspiredGardening.com 

Quotes from the book “The Bed Of Procrustes” by Nassim Taleb

Link: The Crosshairs Trader Blog

The stock market, in brief: participants are calmly waiting in line to be slaughtered while thinking it is for a Broadway show.

You are rich if and only if money you refuse tastes better than money you accept.

The best test of whether someone is extremely stupid (or extremely wise) is whether financial and political news makes sense to him.

You can be certain that the head of a corporation has a lot to worry about when he announces publicly that “there is nothing to worry about.”

The main difference between government bailouts and smoking is that in some rare cases the statement “this is my last cigarette” holds true.

The difference between banks and the Mafia: banks have better legal-regulatory expertise, but the Mafia understands public opinion.

They would take forecasting more seriously if it were pointed out to them that in Semitic languages the words for forecast and “prophecy” are the same.

The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.

I wonder is anyone ever measured the time it takes, at a party, before a mildly successful stranger who went to Harvard makes others aware of it.

It takes a lot of intellect and confidence to accept that what makes sense doesn’t really make sense.

Education makes the wise slightly wiser, but makes the fool vastly more dangerous.

The best revenge on a liar is to convince him that you believe what he said.

How often have you arrived one, three, or six hours late on a transatlantic flight as opposed to one, three, or six hours early?  This explains why deficits tend to be larger, rarely smaller, than planned.

The most painful moments are not those we spend with uninteresting people; rather, they are those spent with uninteresting people trying hard to be interesting.

The characteristic feature of the loser is to bemoan, in general terms, mankind’s flaws, biases, contradictions, and irrationality-without exploiting them for fun and profit.

You don’t become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master.

The fastest way to become rich is to socialize with the poor; the fastest way to become poor is to socialize with the rich.

Some, like most bankers, are so unfit for success that they look like dwarves in giants’ clothes.

Over the long term, you are more likely to fool yourself than others.

It is those who use others who are the most upset when someone uses them.

A genius is someone with flaws harder to imitate than his qualities.

It is much less dangerous to think like a man of action than to act like a man of thought.

What I learned on my own I still remember.

Regular minds find similarities in stories (and situations); finer minds detect differences.

The tragedy is that much of what you think is random is in your control and, what’s worse, the opposite.

You can only convince people who think they can benefit from being convinced.

Trust people who make a living lying down or standing up more than those who do so sitting down.

Even the cheapest misers can be generous with advice.

The difference between magnificence and arrogance is in what one does when nobody is looking.

When conflicted between two choices, take neither.

A prophet is not someone with special visions, just someone blind to most of what others see.

You know you have influence when people start noticing your absence more than the presence of others.