The Only Terrifying Math That Gets Any Attention Is Defense Spending

Bill McKibben had a long piece on climate change this week, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” that has justifiably gotten a lot of attention. The terrifying math of the title is this:

  • Almost the entire world agreed in 2009 that we must keep global temperature increases below 2°C
  • Since then, the 0.8°C increase in temperature we’ve hit has brought far more damage than scientists expected
  • Humans can introduce no more than 565 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere if they want to keep the temperature from rising that 2°C which now seems too high
  • Fossil fuel companies already have in reserve–and plan to develop–2,795 gigatons of carbon fuels

The math means, McKibben explains, that to keep global warming within the consensus but already too high limit of 2°C, we’ve got to find some way to force the fossil fuel companies not to develop their existing reserves.

At this point, effective action would require actually keeping most of the carbon the fossil-fuel industry wants to burn safely in the soil, not just changing slightly the speed at which it’s burned.


According to the Carbon Tracker report, if Exxon burns its current reserves, it would use up more than seven percent of the available atmospheric space between us and the risk of two degrees. BP is just behind, followed by the Russian firm Gazprom, then Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell, each of which would fill between three and four percent. Taken together, just these six firms, of the 200 listed in the Carbon Tracker report, would use up more than a quarter of the remaining two-degree budget. Severstal, the Russian mining giant, leads the list of coal companies, followed by firms like BHP Billiton and Peabody. 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.

From this McKibben proposes a solution: Tax carbon to make it cost prohibitive to develop these reserves. To tax carbon you’ve got to undercut the fossil fuel industry’s power, and to do that you’ve got to villainize them, but heck that’s easy because they really are villains, since their business model will kill the planet. And so a movement like the South African divestment campaign can make it toxic to own fossil fuel stocks.

That’s a gross oversimplification–please do read the full article for a nuanced version.

Now, there’s nothing in the article that I disagree with. I’m all for making fossil fuel companies pay for the waste their industry creates. I’m all in favor of villainizing them to make that more likely.

But I’ll note that McKibben doesn’t utter the words that would both make it easier to villainize the fossil fuel industry and explains some of the underlying reasons why that’s not going to be enough.

“National security.” Or even “security.”

In that silence, McKibben is a mirror image of the same fault in Obama’s own strategy and discussions more generally about threats to this country, even fairly realistic ones.

Sure, all the details McKibben cites about evident and likely effects of climate change imply this is a security issue: 356 homes gone in Colorado Springs, spiking food prices, even entire countries disappearing.

But until we start using the language of national security, we won’t properly demonstrate the treachery of those who refuse to deal with this. It is politically toxic not to treat terrorism (a far tinier threat to our country) as a war, but no one pays a political price for ignoring the much graver threat climate change poses to our country and way of life. And yet refusing to do things to protect against climate change are similar to Bush telling a CIA briefer, “you’ve covered your ass,” while ignoring the hair-on-fire warnings about an imminent al Qaeda attack.

Furthermore, thinking of this in terms of national security gets at some of the underlying reasons behind what McKibben labels as the hypocrisy of the governing elite. Why does Hillary fight for Arctic drilling rights on the same trip when she bemoans visible climate damage in Norway; why does Obama approve Shell drilling in the Arctic even while paying greater lip service to climate change than previous Presidents? Because the US believes increasing our own reserves is necessary to minimize the risk that Middle East volatility will threaten our hegemony. Why does Hugo Chavez preach Rosa Luxumbug while developing the Orinoco? Because not only do petro-politics keep Chavez politically viable in his own country, but it’s the leverage Bolivaran regimes have used to foster a populism that challenges the Washington consensus.

Even McKibben falls into this trap. He suggests if we tax carbon China and India will follow.

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.

But he makes that suggestion at a time when the Administration’s claimed primary strategic goal (it’s not: they’re still fighting for stability and access to resources in the Middle East and Africa) is an “Asian pivot” to combat China’s challenge to US hegemony. But given that the Administration explicitly regards Chinese competition as a greater threat than losing entire towns to extreme weather and the destabilizing effects of spiking prices in our core crop, what are the chances that we’ll tax carbon to set a good example for China?

The fossil fuel companies’ imperative to find and develop ever more carbon reserves stems not just from a desire to deliver astronomical profits for its stockholders. On the contrary, even more, it stems from the partnership between our government and oil that presumes that oil is the cornerstone of our national security.

And yet that supposed cornerstone of our national security is leading to more deaths and property damage within the US than China or Islamic terrorists or cyberattacks put together (though the wars we’re fighting in the name of combating Islamic terrorism are definitely causing a greater number of deaths and destruction overseas, though climate change probably has war on terrorism beat there too).

Climate change isn’t even among the threats considered a national security threat (though some of our national security experts study how it will exacerbate all other threats, though primarily overseas). Until it is, we’re never going to even balance the danger of fossil fuel production as a trade off that must be weighed in other national security decisions, to say nothing of generating the kind of urgency that will keep that oil and coal in the ground.

Update: I originally our wars on terror have killed more people in other countries than climate change. Given climate change related famine, that’s probably not true (or soon no longer will be), even considering the larger estimates of Iraqi casualties.

35 replies
  1. ondelette says:

    Actually, we’re never going to keep coal and oil in the ground until we have a viable replacement for the way of life we have with them, and raising their price is also a cause of wars, too.

    And the scariest number to come out of a climate change meeting came out of Durban and it was ‘1930’. It’s a year. Some scientists at the Durban meeting in an unrelated meeting debated and changed the name of the ABC, the Asian Brown Cloud to the Atmospheric Brown Cloud, because they thought the former name was disparaging to Asians. But one paper claimed that the cloud began to form in its present location in the 1930s, not in the 1950s.

    If so, they should have left the name alone, because it indicates that the constituents of the cloud may not all originate from Asia at all, and that the cloud stays there no matter what. It’s truly a cloud attached to that location, like the Giant Red Spot on Jupiter, making it a dynamical phenomenon and if you do the math — not the arithmetic, which was what Bill McKibben’s stuff was — you find that the climate is both subject to perturbation between scales and exhibits nonlinear long-term atmospheric meteorological behavior.

    And that behavior changes the monsoon and cyclone cycles, and the drought cycles, and perhaps more. Which means we don’t know what the degree to consequences maps really are, and we should be much more scared.

  2. Charles D says:

    I agree we need to invoke national security to stop the destruction of our world with fossil fuels, including the insane idea of hydrofracking for “clean” natural gas. I would however forget about further manipulations of the tax code, and simply nationalize the major fossil fuel companies so we can use their profits to fund alternative energy development instead of penalizing Americans who have to use fossil fuel because there is no viable alternative at this time.

  3. jerryy says:

    If you loosen the definition of climate change related deaths to include deaths from energy production … things are even worse.

    I do not have time today to do much more than what amounts to quick commenting, but your post EW could easily be epxanded.



    These ‘energy’ companies have multiple death holds on the small communities, if they close, it wipes out the community, there reeaqlly is no other place to work, as the mine closes so does the grocery store and hardware store, etc.

    Each mountain top that gets blown up to get the coal kills the communities below it, each coal mine that reopens kills the miners (yeah the miners are being killed in cave-ins still but the national news does not converge to report the bad news lately).

    This is just for one part (Kentucky and West Virginia).

    Our energy policy sucks, it is not sustainable.

  4. please says:

    @ondelette: That’s the point, if we don’t change, our current way of life isn’t viable or sustainable. In fact simply replacing them with alternatives would equally be destructive as the overall system is overwhelmingly inefficient.

    Overall a perspective I hadn’t considered before. Although I have issues with the term ‘national security’, it is a pressing issue that is far potent than is currently treated.

  5. P J Evans says:

    It isn’t like the DoD doesn’t know what kind of trouble we’re going to run into; they identified climate change as a source of instability years ago.
    I think the problem is that the people who have most of the money and most of the power think that they’ll be able to escape the consequences, so they don’t plan to do anything but pull up their drawbridges and watch as the rest of us die in the streets. (‘Masque of the Red Death’?)

  6. Department of War says:

    um, the LARGEST consumer of Fossil Fuels ON THE PLANET, BAR NONE, is the usa Department of War, OOPS, “Defense” – Bar None. all of those jet aircraft and aircraft carriers and war ships and tanks and armoured vehicles and troop transports and HumVees and armoured personnel carriers and jeeps and drones and air conditioning units and living quarters and chow halls and PXs and barracks and the use of Fossil Fuels by ALL of the manufacturers of ALL of those Instruments of Death and Destruction and the 1000’s of overseas bases and air fields and air bases and black sites and torture chambers and concentration camps and MAN i could go ON FOREVER but suffice to say that the usa Department of War is the LARGEST consumer of Fossile Fuels on the planet and the usa is NEVER EVER going to stop fighting and killing and murdering and occupying in its effort to obtain and control as much of the remaining Fossil Fuels as possible. Even if that effort means the destruction and eventual extinction of Man and Mankind and eventually The Planet. Never Ever.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @P J Evans: Right. But they almost always frame it as, “which areas outside of the US will be disproportionately affected by climate change and what kind of headaches will we see as a result?”

    That is, they don’t consider climate change’s effects on the US, nor do they consider climate change death and destruction as a primary threat they need to guard against.

  8. greengiant says:

    Conservation, decreasing demand, is the only path that works. Some “alternative” energy sources wreak havoc, electric cars for example, how much 4.00 a gallon gas are required to build those batteries? 8k for batteries, 2k gallons, 50 mpg, 100k miles? That is a loss. Same for rooftop solar cells. Pisses me off when tax incentives are used for such “green” lies that just make global warming worse.
    Yah, for off grid locations, solar cells are a big win versus shipping in fuel, but this is on grid applications. And they keep selling the tax incentives to WalMart for 50 cents on the dollar. There goes the local, state and federal deficit.

  9. prostratedragon says:

    Haunting words from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the Persian poet and mathematician:

    “Drink”. Musical setting by singer and harpist Dorothy Ashby.

    YESTERDAY This Day’s Madness did prepare;
    TO-MORROW’s Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
    Drink! for you not know whence you came, nor why:
    Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.

    And we, that now make merry in the Room
    They left, and Summer dresses in new Bloom,
    Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
    Descend, ourselves to make a Couch—for whom?

  10. mlnw says:

    You are right to use the words ‘national security’. You might add to it ‘existential threat’.

  11. Ken_Muldrew says:

    Emptywheel wrote:
    “It is politically toxic not to treat terrorism (a far tinier threat to our country) as a war, but no one pays a political price for ignoring the much graver threat climate change poses to our country and way of life. ”

    Terrorism is the external threat that was needed to create a broad-based consensus among Americans for fighting these wars of aggression to impose American control over the oil and gas reserves of central Asia; a feature, not a bug (nor a threat that had a ghost of a chance without enormous levels of assistance). Somewhere around a million Iraqis died so that the U.S. could have a prominent military presence in the fertile crescent. This isn’t a calculus that puts much value in the lives of ordinary people, whether they die from the horrific violence that results from destroying a country’s civil infrastructure or from famine due to climate change. Genocide only has a political price when someone has the power to exact that price. American leaders enjoy imperium at the moment and can kill with impunity. Nobody is going to relinquish that kind of power except at gunpoint (you want benevolence from your leaders? Send a Hallmark “thank you” card to Gorbachev and hope that it’s enough to encourage other world leaders to join the club).

    Targeting producers in the current political climate is beyond futile. It’s like demanding a cease to hostilities from Hitler in the late 30s. The demand is right and proper and the only decent thing to do, but you still have to fight World War II to get the demand satisfied. With fossil fuels we have a case where production and consumption go hand in hand. We cannot affect production (without fighting the equivalent of
    World War II) but maybe we can affect consumption. Sadly we will have to do this outside of government action (sad because it means abandoning the mythology of America; freedom, democracy, by the people, for the people, and all that stuff that would be so great if only it wasn’t a pipe dream). But clearly the leadership of America has other goals which preclude a fundamental change in our way of life that puts conservation of energy as a primary desiderata within our society.

    So how does one begin a campaign to change our society from one where conspicuous consumption is the reward for success to one where conservation is valued above all else? It is certainly not just a matter of changing attitudes. Marketing is the least of our concerns. The change is so fundamental that we will need a new economic foundation. There is no model for a steady-state economics; there is only growth and decay, and abandoning consumption puts us squarely into the realm of decay. Economic decay means pain and suffering and even death–at least it always has before. So we are going to need to figure out a way for people to live and find happiness and fulfillment under this new paradigm. Is anybody even working on this (if they are, they sure as hell aren’t getting tenure in our viciously politicized economic departments)? We are also going to have to abandon the transportation revolution that has given Northerners fresh fruits and vegetables in January and all the lesser miracles of cheap transportation (e.g. megatonnes of steel pipe imported to Canada from Argentina–shipping steel to Canada? Jesus, our notions of supply and demand and efficiencies are so unexamined!). And somehow we have to figure out a way to keep people productive without buying their productivity with the promise of lording it over the poor schleps who haven’t matched their skill or timing or just dumb luck (incentives in a land of Red Plenty).

    Conservation is the only way out (or even if we are already too far gone, it is still the only way for decent people to behave going forward). But, man, it is not going to be easy. Anyone who thinks we get on the right track without a revolution is dreaming. The trouble is, one has to imagine what the post-revolutionary world will look like, else one is just making a mess. It’s easy enough to claim that we are heading for collapse; much harder is to figure out how to transition to some new paradigm while imposing little enough pain on individuals that they actually buy into the new plan.

  12. ondelette says:


    I was referring to McKibben’s article. His overall suggestion, which no matter how nuanced comes down to only one, is to raise the price of fossil fuel until it’s prohibitive.

    My comment (in the first two lines) is intended to say two things: 1) that won’t do it because it isn’t a sufficient solution, and, 2) it is a solution imposed by the rich on the poor. Fuel costs are a major contributor already to the number of deaths from climate change in the food insecurities of the last two years and this one, since they globally drive up the cost of food. Unless there is a solution to the perennial problem of lack of humanitarian aid and developmental resiliency, using prices to stop fuel consumption will kill a lot of the very poor as one part of the solution. They weren’t those who caused the problem, so perhaps Mr. McKibben wants to re-think that one a little bit and read a bit of Amartya Sen first.

    As for my other point, I think I already made it but perhaps I didn’t. There is a belief by many in climate science that the changes as the average temperature rises will be straightforward. Along with that belief comes the notion that some of these solutions will be sufficient, and that small increments are reversible or that the changes will stop if the additions to the atmosphere stop. The above paragraph illustrates the difficulty of believing that even the changes asked for have simple implementations, however draconian.

    I’m afraid that none of that looks to be the case from my vantage point. In addition to draconian cuts in the short term, it may, as well, require a large, not small amount of ingenuity, major not yet thought of changes to lifestyle, and huge collaborations we currently don’t know how to do as a species, and the world will still be a very different place at the end, even if the ambient temperature and the levels of gasses in the atmosphere return to levels of previous years.

    Nonlinear dynamics doesn’t usually allow one to retrace one’s steps.

  13. der says:

    Without having a serious conversation about over-population whatever steps are taken will matter little to the eventual outcome. To get to that you need to get past that half of the population who believe their god is returning to earth soon to take the true believers to paradise and banish the rest to a living hell-on-earth. Any change in belief is unlikely even with the evidence that the very, very smart people present. I read somewhere that the real number of our species needed to keep in balance with what we take and what nature provides is less than a billion spread over the earth’s surface. I don’t think we’ll be talking about that number or any number less than the one following the command – “be fruitful and multiply”. A challenge to that view is attacked as a Planned Parenthood world view of forced abortions and elitism.

    From Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” writing about Norse Greenland’s collapse and the self-image that contributed to it:

    “But the insistence on ‘We are Europeans’ becomes more serious when it leads to stubbornly maintaining cows in Greenland’s climate, diverting manpower from the summer hay harvest to the Nordrseta hunt, refusing to adopt useful features of Inuit technology and starving to death as a result. To us in our secular modern society, the predicament in which the Greenlanders found themselves is difficult to fathom. To them, however, concerned with their social survival as much as with their biological survival, it was out of the question to invest less in churches, to imitate or intermarry with the Inuit, and thereby to face an eternity in Hell just in order to survive another winter on Earth. The Greenlanders’ clinging to their European Christian image may have been a factor in their conservatism that I mentioned above: more European than Europeans themselves, and thereby culturally hampered in making the drastic lifestyle changes that could have helped them survive.” (p.247)

    The planet at 4 1/2 billion years old and with billions of years left will survive, as for those who walk, crawl, swim, and fly on, in, and over it well maybe the Indigo Children will save it, and crystals. Then again maybe not:

  14. Brad Klafehn says:

    Last week one of the generals was talking about our interest in Africa, and he said it was all about protecting ‘America, Americans, and our national interests.’ At least since the sainted President Jimmy Carter formulated the ‘Carter Doctrine’, it has been clearly stated that ‘national interests’ means ‘cheaper oil for Americans and American industry and protection for oil producers and shippers worldwide’. As per the Carter Doctrine, the US Military is pretty obviously the guarantor of oil production and delivery worldwide. Those are ‘our’ interests.

    In light of the planetary-scale climate crisis, however, we urgently need a paradigm shift to redefine ‘national interests’ for the 21st century, to say that it is really our national interest to minimize the use of fossil fuels, not to ensure that they are plentiful and affordable. Of course, even if we were able to minimize their use ourselves, it wouldn’t be enough if others globally aren’t doing the same. In this new global context, does the concept of ‘national interests’ even make sense? Our real interest should be in transitioning ASAP to a low carbon economy worldwide.

    Whenever the phrase ‘national interest’ is used, we should be challenging the assumptions which underlie it. Failing to do so makes it inevitable that not only will the war-for-oil machine continue to receive unlimited US state support, but we’ll continue pumping and burning until we’ve burned ourselves up.

  15. Starbuck says:


    Thank you for that. The consideration of long and short term non-linear dynamical behavior is seemingly lost in the rhetoric of climate change. And without that consideration we are unable to truly grasp the meaning and consequences of our behavior.

  16. Starbuck says:


    Second Law thermodynamic efficiency needs application in a controlled way. Yet, even that is but a minor fix so ling as we insist on energy use beyond sustainability.

  17. Starbuck says:


    “Nonlinear dynamics doesn’t usually allow one to retrace one’s steps. ”

    A point I have been hammering locally for years, ever since taking up the study of Chaos Theory well back before 2000. I get blank stares, but I understand that as grasping non-linearity is no easy task. But it must be said. Even if you are called (as I have) a climate change denier.

  18. ondelette says:

    @Starbuck: I’m usually not called a climate change denier, I’m usually called either a gloom and doom type, an apocalyptic, or some other more nasty words, like a technocrat, a eugenicist, or such.

    That’s because I don’t see how just a bunch of austerity measures or switching to current technologies like wind and solar will be enough, and because I almost always end up saying that population will have to be dealt with — and probably be gradually decreased. So I end up infuriating people who don’t want any more scientific or technological solutions, infuriating those who think any attempts to rein in population are disguised eugenics programs and infuriating people who think we can deal with everything by penalizing fossil fuels and going to current alternative energy.

    But what’s on the table right now, and the current level of local, national, and international cooperation within the human species available for both innovation and collaboration, are insufficient for either surviving or sustaining on this crisis.

    The other message coming out of chaos and complex systems, and proven by the ABC’s origins and the fact that it shows massive interaction between climate and meteorology, and therefore implies that the physics assumptions of separations of scales haven’t been good ones in estimating what’s coming down the pike, is that we have no idea how severe what’s about to hit us is, and we’re totally unprepared to deal with it.

    It’s a simple argument to show that no matter what’s going to hit us, it will be bad. How many years does it take a changed weather pattern to make arable land barren? Now how many years does it take a changed weather pattern to make a desert into arable land? How many days does it take to starve to death? Answer those three questions and you have your answer: Changes to the weather patterns, not even a chance of retracing steps, are almost surely bad for the food supply to an overpopulated world. The partial failure of the U.S. corn crop this Summer, one of the world’s baseline food supply crops, demonstrates.

  19. x174 says:

    thanks for connecting us back to planet Earth, emptywheel.

    an interesting thing to keep an eye on in the next couple of years is the solar maximum in 2013 and the reappearance of El Nino.

    these additional factors–along with the steady march of CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans–might make the next couple of years especially hot and chaotic.

    one thing that could temporarily offset these compounding factors is a massive volcanic eruption, which would cause short-term global cooling.

    mahalos for all of your well researched and thought provoking posts

  20. P J Evans says:

    How many years does it take a changed weather pattern to make arable land barren?

    Well, you can look at the Southwest about eight hundred years ago, when it dried out, to see how long it takes to go from dryish to arid. (Not all that long, actually. Forty years, maybe.)

    The Oil Drum, in considering how best to use fossil fuels, a year or so back, thought that combines (for harvesting) would be critical. Everything else can be worked around, one way or another.

  21. emptywheel says:

    @P J Evans: And even the short term swings can be stunning. That’s one of the things that’s so tough abt the Midwest drought. Last year, many of these areas were fighting 100 year floods. This year, everything’s brown and even the Mississippi is getting too low for barge traffic. Granted, that coudl turn around quickly, but the contrast bet last year and this is stunning.

  22. BSbafflesbrains says:

    We have all the information both scientific and sensory to make practical, logical steps to attempt to solve this global problem; so to identify why we are doing the opposite of that can be crystallized into the fact that the uber wealthy; as a class, are certifiably crazy (paranoid narcissists, psychopathic fill in the blanks etc)and operate with inverse conscience and perverse logic.
    Laying the blame on the MIC or the Energy monopolies isn’t going to the root of the matter is it.

  23. P J Evans says:

    That’s one of the things the climate sciences said would happen: extremes and fast swings between them. It’s a system that’s getting more energy pumped into than it can release or handle. (Electronics term: feed-forward. Or: The pole in is the right half plane….)

  24. gmoke says:

    “Climate change isn’t even among the threats considered a national security threat (though some of our national security experts study how it will exacerbate all other threats, though primarily overseas).”

    Not sure that’s accurate. Witness this November 2011 “Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security” report from the DoD Defense Science Board:

    The military is acutely aware of energy as a security and logistics threat in its planning. The Navy is certainly concerned with the effects of sea level rise in places like Norfolk, VA. The whole DoD has been worried about climate change as a destabilizing force in the world for at least a decade if not more.

    Personally, I say Solar IS Civil Defense:

    Solar IS Civil Defense – what we are all supposed to have on hand in case of emergency – flashlight, cell phone, radio, extra set of batteries – can be powered by a few square inches of solar electric panel.
    Add a hand crank or bicycle generator and you have a reliable source of survival level electricity, day or night, by sunlight or muscle power.

    This is also entry level electrical power for the 1.5 billion people around the world who do not yet have access to electricity.

    Civil defense at home and economic development abroad can be combined in a “buy one, give one”program like the Bogolight ( which is a solar LED light and AA battery charger.

    Solar IS Civil Defense and could be much more.

    54 second solar PSA version:

    John Robb of globalguerrillas has transitioned into resilience planning in response to climate change and the fact that we’ve entered into JH Kunstler’s long emergency. Wonder what food prices will be like this winter if the US droughts continue, if the rains in the UK continue, if the fires in Russia continue…

    Too bad Bill McKibben is more interested in nominating an enemy to energize a movement than building a movement on positive protest actions that improve our individual chances of survival and responses to a climate emergency. Gandhi called swadeshi, local production, the heart of satyagraha, the daily discipline that trained people in the strength and patience that allowed them to confront violence peacefully in political protest. What’s our solar swadeshi? Where’s our daily practice that gets us out from under the fossil fuel energy thumb at least for an hour or so a day?

  25. ondelette says:


    I would dispute that. We don’t have all the information to solve this, but we perhaps have the talent and means to do so, if we were to make the concerted, global effort, and maybe work hard on what we mean by ‘solve’.

    At Rio, the African delegates were chanting, “One degree, one Africa.” The truth is that one degree is further away from the equilibrium maintained for the entire duration of the human species than has ever existed, most probably because it represents a change in the equilibrium itself. And the other truth is that “one Africa” will be the largest contributor to the fact that in the next few decades, the population of the world will go to 9 billion if nothing is done, and it still isn’t clear that one degree can be the end of the change even at 7 billion.

    If you think that problem is solvable with current technology and technique, lay out your solutions. I am willing to bet none of them will keep the average temperature from rising above the one degree mark, and none of them can accurately predict what will come down the pike even for a one degree total change.

  26. Brad Klafehn says:

    @ondelette: Papers have been published for several years now on ‘stabilization wedges’ to address climate change. They say that by using technology we have now, we could solve the climate crisis. Here is the original 2004 paper, for one example: This might not keep the change to 1 degree C when we’re already at .8, but we don’t need to sit on our hands until more research is done, which is the implication of your statement. What’s lacking is a will to do what we can.

  27. emptywheel says:

    @gmoke: That DOD report is a case in point. It focuses on the DOD challenges presented by political instability caused by climate change events, even while acknowledging that CC may manifest as the equivalent of Mother Nature’s WMD. I thought DOD was supposed to protect against WMDs?

    And it focuses primarily on Africa, and secondarily on developing nations. Yes, climate change is most apparent in Africa (and parts of Asia, which it doesn’t mention). But it seems to think of climate change as a primary effect with no awareness of the massive secondary effects that could be just as devastating.

  28. DFH says:

    It should be obvious that Big Oil and Big Coal have a stake in having the public believe that there is no alternative to ever more drilling, digging, and burning.

    It doesn’t have to be raw corruption, although there’s that too. It can instead be a matter of creating a mindset.

    And a lot of that mindset involves the sense that serious, hard-headed men think in terms of big extractive projects, that solar, wind, and conservation are hippie stuff — a sense that persists even in the teeth of contrary evidence.

  29. ondelette says:

    @Brad Klafehn:

    No it is not the implication of my statement. You are now person number 3 who has decided that I have said something I haven’t said. Why don’t you read it again. I’m saying that what you have isn’t sufficient to solve the problem or even close, and it will take substantial work to find out what will. I never said don’t do it.

  30. ondelette says:

    @Brad Klafehn: Besides, nobody knows what a “solution” looks like that admits a 2 degree increase. Because we’re currently at 0.8, and they are being surprised by quite a few phenomena.

  31. Starbuck says:


    The “Butterfy Effect” as proposed by Edward Lorenz (ca 1960), or “Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions” comes into play. There should be no surprise at seeing phenomena unexpected. Surprise over what actually shows up, yes, but that the unexpected has to be expected.

    On another note we are likely to be hugely disappointed that the outcome resembles nothing that any deterministic model predicts, because scientific determinism is on shaky ground (see “Open Universe” by Karl Popper).

    If the system at least has some sort of hysteresis, or simply a lag in response, maybe we might have a control mechanism.

    I don’t believe we do. However, we must try. By trying, we perturb the system, and the Butterfly Effect commences. To our benefit or not, we cannot say.

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