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Can We Have Our Climate and Eat It, Too


Can We Have Our Climate and Eat It, Too

Richard Heinberg

As much as world leaders would like to focus attention on their economies, terrorism, or winning the next election, the heat is rising. Each new release of data on melting glaciers and extreme weather seems more dire than the last, and each governmental COP meeting organized to come up with an agreement on what to do about the climate crisis is freighted with more hopes and fears.


Piketty illuminates clearly that their are two types of inequalities that vex humanity: intra- and international in character. The former, for instance drives the discussion during the US's (perpetual) election cycle, while the latter is mostly missing from it's politics. It needs to be stressed that these very real inequalities are largely the result of both financialization and carbon-based money definitions. When discussing the costs of moving forward, these two 800-pound gorillas in the room prevent the proper acknowledgement of externalities, of which climate concerns are the largest. The "costs" of reform must be taken out of hyper-financialized carbon-based "economics" and determined on a morally sound basis that values all life on earth. The world needs a new currency, neither beholden to the Big Banks nor Big Energy.


The deeply delusional "thinking" that penetrates human consciousness under colonizing, extractve, industrial, "economic growth" based society, has never been as consequential as it is today.

Heinberg's article includes much of what a real President would provide as a national address from the White House regarding this unprecedented planetary ecological and civilizational crisis. There would be a much stronger emphasis on ending war, but Heinberg was not specifically addressing those political questions here.

i encourage everyone to convene small groups in your own immediate circles of family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, and read through and discuss this assessment, considering:

  • What do we believe we want?
  • What do we actually need?
  • What interests in society and the economy are opposed to accepting a realistic assessment?
  • What can we do?

Such intentional grassroots consideration of these matters is critical, if we are to participate in any reasonable transition, and not simply await social and ecological dis-integration and collapse. It is important at the outset to break the illusions that are promoted by commercial advertising, "news" and "entertainment" via communications media. We all need to quiet the noise, and look at the reality. Delusions will not help anyone.


There is no question that the razing of forests to turn them into cattle grazing grounds added to the ravages of industrial farming are having major impacts on CO2 levels and other less studied factors (that ideally make for homeostasis in the vast webs of life). Lately, this contributor to global warming is gaining primacy. And I wonder if that's being set up primarily to offset the military's footprint. For instance, how many people know that the Pentagon's 1000+ bases and various "theaters of war" are not counted into the climate change calculus?

"Yet another rift is developing between the military and the rest of society: military emissions are not counted in official UN climate statistics due to lobbying by the United States, yet that country’s military establishment is the single largest sub-national consumer of fossil fuels on the planet; further, it is difficult to imagine how the US government could afford to subsidize the transition to carbon-free electricity, agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation without tapping into its trillion dollar-per-year military and intelligence budget."


To that discussion should be added questions such as, How do we deal with the coming changes? How will they affect us? How will we survive? In many circles, this is the dirty topic no one wants to discuss because it it is viewed as defeatist. Nevertheless, it's a discussion that is long overdue.


"While degrowth advocates do make an ethical argument, the core of their concern is pragmatic: nothing can grow forever in a limited space with limited resources, and we are seeing urgent signals (climate change, biodiversity loss, soil degradation, ecosystem failure) warning that we have already grown too much. In his article, Porter does not show how infinite economic growth is possible; he merely insists we must have more growth because . . . well, we must. If pressed, he would no doubt cling to one or another of the technofixes we have already questioned. But that’s just not a rational response to the logical and practical necessity of coming to terms with limits."

Although it hasn't been covered, one might ask why all this growth has also led to so much war, racism-based conflict, and general unhappiness? It's now known that the Fourth leading drug sold globally is anti-depressants.

Furthermore, Robert E. Lane (professor Emeritus) did a study about 9 years ago that showed that most people prefer happy relationships to a surfeit of stuff. In other words, the focus on de-growth could actually amplify satisfaction.

So much in the way of consumer "appetites" is driven, directed, and manipulated by the Advertising Industry.

People can be content with little so long as they have food, clothing, shelter and loved ones.

De-growth should be coupled with discussions about what it takes to create genuine contentment... and what the tradeoff is to all this "more, bigger, better, faster!" consumerism based largely on purposeful built-in obsolescence models.

The fashion industry, for instance, insists that each year a different wardrobe be gotten.

Laptop computers--from my very own personal experience--have diminishing lifespans... one is lucky if one lasts 3 years.

Cars come off the production line every year, too.

So there's this constant impetus to purchase the next best one.

The use, waste, and abuse model totally extends to the natural world where the manmade economies run by business elites have convinced all but the most sensitive (along with Indigenous peoples) that NOTHING is sacred, and that everything can be evaluated on the basis of the price-tag applied.

THAT is a recipe for Easter Island.

I just finished the article and see that the Happiness matter was brought up at its conclusion:

"...the Genuine Progress Indicator, or the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare with their ranking by GDP: there are some surprising differences (the United States ranks first in terms of nominal GDP but below Costa Rica in the2015 World Happiness Report, which is yet another alternative index of societal well being). It is in the exploration of those differences that our greatest opportunities may lie."



Yes, more should be included in the list of important matters to talk about in our closest circles. Specific actions for survival and transition are key. And the specter of "defeatism" is a key component of the delusional thinking that predominates. So much of the actual reality is pre-defined as "unthinkable."

Just as an example: If we discuss what we want and what we need: How many millions of people in the USA would be absolutely unable to acknowledge the obvious truth that none of us need the National Football League, or the many hours of "entertainment" that it provides?

Yet if the hundreds of hours of time that millions of people invest in US football, were instead applied to discussion of these topics, and then to activities like growing food, or reducing energy needs by carrying out upgrades to the energy efficiency of our residences, how much change could be made?

But quite literally, it appears impossible or ridiculous to most participants, to even consider the question itself, let alone acknowledge the obvious answer, and then move on to doing other things with our time to address this real crisis (which of course will destroy the NFL along with everything else, as society and the economy dis-integrate along with the ecology). But hey, how about them Broncos?


The author of this article not surprisingly leaves out the main element of the technological fix supporters, which is energy efficiency. This is the cheapest, quickest, and largest element required to make the transition away from fossil fuels and the technology is already available and only needs to be implemented on a wide scale. This refers to energy efficiency in all sectors. The biggest gains would probably come from retrofitting buildings both residential and commercial for energy efficiency and making new buildings meet very high standards; energy efficient vehicles, and more energy efficient industrial processes. Combined with widespread employment of wind, solar, and geothermal energy there doesn't seem to be any reason that people, with some exceptions such as the super rich with yachts and private jets, could continue their lifestyles and there could be economic growth. The main obstacles in the US are political. particularly the Republican Party and the fossil fuel industry.


But you ignore the empirical truth that improved energy efficiency without de-growth, just fuels more growth. Your brief post embodies the sort of delusional thinking Heinberg is fighting against: "We CAN keep growing!"


What is with this guy? First he assures us that we MUST keep using fossil fuels or civilization will fall. Now he assures us that alternatives just won't do in time. They won't do but we should do?

Once again give me a break!

This person is an oil industry insider who speaks in a reasonable tone but is basically telling you that you are next in line for the executioner but he is polite about it.

He has oh so reasonably assured us that solar and wind are intermittent. C'mon folks ... we know things too.

Like for example, if we used solar (like everywhere and particularly in the blistering sunny Southwest) even just during the day how much of the total energy needs of the region would be satisfied? 75%?

Most energy use is during the daytime. Only a small portion of electricity is needed at night. If we saved 75% of our energy budget every day, it would sure as hell help get us off fossil fuel... AND civilization and growth would continue unabated too.

And then there is wind. It must come as a shock to this person that winds blow even at night. Well they do. Meanwhile countries like Denmark are aiming for 100% of their energy needs from wind (and solar) by 2030/2050.

This author is ever reasonable about assuring us that we must continue using fossil fuels. He even worries that the government would have to invest so so much in solar and wind that WE the people would object. Yeah right! Oddly enough for all his erudition, he never once mentioned subsidies to oil companies, depletion allowances, tax rebates and all the rest that WE the people pay extra for using fossil fuels.

By an odd coincidence, if we took those oil company subsidies and used those tens of billions of dollars to create solar and wind energy production we would not only be producing permanently cheap energy and far lower carbon production but we would be producing jobs and creating tax revenue which could build more solar and wind and produce more jobs and so on and so on and that is called >>> growth! Economic growth.

So to the apologist for continued fossil fuel use (reasonable in tone as he is) ... getting off fossil fuel represents growth while delaying the switch from fossil fuels retards growth.

Imagine solar highways (powering or charging the electric cars traveling on it by induction - no wires) and Los Angeles rush hour traffic jams without pollution... without smog)


You're obviously never going to give up clinging to the fantasy of endless "economic growth," even as the Earth descends into ecological collapse and mass extinction caused precisely by "economic growth."

But your habit of distorting and misrepresenting what others say, on full display in this post, does not serve your argument. It just makes you look confused.

Heinberg builds rigorous assessments and conclusions backed with reams of hard data. You pull assumptions out of your back pocket. i'll go with Heinberg, every time.


I notice that you blather but don't quote (full sentences in context please) where you think I distorted something.

You need to criticize the articles and not focus on other commenters opinions. You may not agree with my opinion but you should try having some manners and less emotional drama.

You also should stop accusing without showing what you mean.

You claim that I misrepresent what is said? Then quote the sentences where I did that if you would be taken seriously because as yet you just accuse without justification except your own subjective opinion (or envy?). Prove your accusation!

...because you cannot.


I agree with you.

People who suggest no growth are expecting no population growth I guess. I think to keep below the catastrophic climate change trigger event that a rapid switch to solar and wind will allow us to maintain our current civilization functioning well. We can stop polluting without stopping growth.


I find this rather rambling but in any case... we don't have to get off football. We do have to get off fossil fuels.

You offer a dreary future which reminds me of the back to the pure peasantry of the past movements of uber socialists ranging from Hitler to Pol Pot and Mao but without the genocide.

Doing other things with our time? People like football. It is part of life like TV and movies, music and culture. Life is not just work but play as well.



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Actively running and promoting Green public transit is the quickest way to improve energy efficiency, land use and our health as well. We already HAVE electrified transit without expensive private electric cars in electrified Subway lines, Rail, LightRail and trolleys.
We are just wasting the potential of transit systems all over the US which do not run on the weekends, only run on peak hours, stop at 7 PM and are run inefficiently without leveraging local/express service. During WW II from 1942-45 transit ridership increased 4 times in just 3 years because the US elites promoted it to conserve resources for the War.
This saved not only huge amounts of oil (currently Auto Addiction accounts for 70% of US oil use) but rubber, glass, iron and all the materials of 2000 pound cars. We could promote Green Transit by restoring the operating subsidies which existed for decades before Reagan and funding those from an increased gasoline tax. Instead of waiting decades for electric car infrastructure and replacement of gas cars with electric cars we could get people out of cars altogether by actually running public transit. Adding local/express service, shuttle connections, bicycle lanes, sidewalks and walkable communities. The Dutch already power 50% of their electrified Rail system with renewable energy with concrete plans to power it with 100% renewables by 2018.
Green Transit saves oil, greenhouse emissions, 10x the land wasted for endless highway lanes and parking lots, the 30,000 lives lost in car accidents and the huge indirect costs of traffic cops, courts, ambulances and Emergency room visits.
It can provide mobility to the 30% of the population which cannot drive like stranded
suburban kids who have to beg for car rides to everything, or poor people who cannot afford the $9300 per year it costs for a car.
In New Jersey, more densely populated than China with 15 major Rail or LightRail systems already running Gov Christie has so cut operations that Auto Addiction now generates 47% of our greenhouse emissions!


Every time I offer my opinion about this author's pieces you come along to attack me for disagreeing with him.

Then you stoop low by accusing and then not quoting what you object to. Moreover you say it is not worth arguing but then you accuse and slur without offering anything except blanket accusation. Why am I a troll for offering my opinion? Show what you mean and quote a sentence so people can judge. You and others like to call names and insinuate but it is a debate and you don't seem very good at it.

This author consistently frames the debate by explaining why we can't switch off fossil fuels to alternatives in time.

Moreover this time he espouses limited growth but actually in his last piece he defended the same growth that he seems to be against this time.

So aside from calling people names (trolls) for expressing their opinion and criticizing an article why don't you show what you object to by quoting a sentence or two?

What I find amazing is the apparent anger you and others have at someone (me?) voicing a different opinion.

Hello? That is supposed to happen in a comment section. You show a right-winger's mentality attacking someone who didn't agree with what YOU think shouldn't be criticized.

Gee too bad but stop calling people who disagree with you names... this isn't a kiddie schoolyard.


Excellent post. Shhh! Don't tell anybody but this is growth... some think growth is a problem.

This is the perfect type of growth and much needed. We need the jobs and construction, the savings and the rest. People are being born and we need to change our civilization to incorporate them. Certain types of Green growth are desperately needed. Maglev trains instead of passenger airlines for example. Convenient mass transit rather than gasoline using cars.

We need to make a solar/wind based growth possible. It isn't growth that is the problem but the old exploitive type of growth that is.


I'm reminded of a talk by Ta-Nehisi Coates, in which the interviewer asked what's to be done about the continuing subjugation of black people in this country. His answer: "I don't know." The intractable problem Coates described is a problem with democracy. We'd like to think that in a democracy most people will agree to do the right thing, but that's not how it's working out. Black folks haven't been oppressed solely by some misguided elite - the general population has concurred, time and time again, on policies which treat blacks as subhuman. Lynching was a very popular form of entertainment.

Similarly, it seems (from my limited viewpoint) that most people exclude moral considerations from thinking about how to respond to climate change. Even people who identify as left or liberal (some of them in these comment threads) desperately seek to evade the moral dilemma posed by prosperity's dependence on cancerous growth, on ecocide.


"You need to criticize the articles and not focus on other commenters opinions."

Really? Why is there a little "reply" button on every post that you and everyone else publishes in this public discussion forum?

There, i quoted your full sentence in context, and specified where you are in error. Will stop telling everyone that they should not reply to your posts (when you are not happy with the reply), since replying to posts is a basic function and intended purpose of this forum?

As to the rest of it:

Others have pointed out that YOU provide ZERO supporting evidence for your grand assertions. That's one reason it is nonsense for you to ask others to provide citations for pointing out that what you wrote is unsupportable confusion.

Your confused post is not worth dissecting, besides my original point: You will do whatever confused mental gymnastics are necessary, including distortion and invention, to cling to the fantasy of endless growth, inserting unsubstantiated magical solutions to ecological problems where necessary.