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Fighting for the Climate: A Note from Post-Apocalyptic California

Fighting for the Climate: A Note from Post-Apocalyptic California

Cynthia Kaufman

As I write this the air is brown and dangerous to breathe for the third day in a row in California. Yesterday I needed to wear a respirator to keep my lungs from hurting. So far over eighty people have lost their lives in these fires. Last year's fires were the worst on record. This year’s fires are now worse than the last five worst years combined.

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Maybe the problem is that very oddly, people never seem to they they’ll die—it’s always someone else. I guess we all ignore the thought of death, as it is something that we all know happens to everyone—but somehow Humans have the skill to rationalize everything.
The weirdest thing is that all the old time movie stars are dying at 90 and above,
but so many die now so much younger. Maybe it’s the bad air and water and suspicions that big Pharma is just practicing on us all.Or maybe the air and water have s been so poisoned that we are dying like all of those fish when red algae attacks their water universe.
However, it does seem rather sad as Black Friday sales did so well as the air ad water seems to get worse. But then— I always like that Scarlet O’Hara line: “Tomorrow is another day,”
and as long as that line still inspires me-----I think Earth will make it through this after all : )

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Most are going to think it’s all going to be okay because this is a frog slowly heating up in the pot scenario. All of a sudden one day a lot of frogs will be trying to jump out of the pot and it will be too late.

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Good piece! One kvetch: Re. “In June of 2018 the Democratic National committee voted to stop accepting campaign money from the fossil fuel industry” (5/12/18). That’s true, but this should have also been noted:

"DNC reverses ban on fossil fuel donations" (8/10/18) 



The author wants to set forth a cohesive counter narrative. Yet her argumentation isn’t cohesive. To wit, this article posits that

“We need to help people to understand that the policies that will solve the climate crisis are also ones that will lead to better living standards for everyone.”

It also posits that

“At the same time, we need to reweave the social fabric away from a culture of consumerism…”

So which is it, a higher standard of living which means consuming more or a transition away from consumerism?
Here’s a reality check: to institute a new fossil fuel-free economy, we’ll have to tear down the current fossil fuel-centric economy, causing huge upheaval.

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I think you’ve got it wrong. In the first instance, you seem to assume that consuming more equates to a higher standard of living. This simply isn’t true. For example, some number of years ago our family (meaning my wife, my children and I) decided to no longer buy Xmas presents for one another. We reduced a fair amount of our consumption in that process and are much happier for it – that is, we raised our standard of living by consuming less.

Your second point, that ridding ourselves of fossil fuels will result in some kind of upheaval is also ill-considered. Drivers of electric vehicles today seem to have not suffered any huge upheaval – though I grant you that today these vehicles are cost-prohibitive for most people, that will certainly change going forward.

I just don’t buy into the upheaval/it costs too much/it will undermine our standard of living/will cause irreparable harm to society, etc. line of thinking. To the contrary, closing all coal-fire power plants will improve the health and, therefore, living standards, of millions of people who live in the pollution plumes of these plants. For them, being able to breathe freely, will be a major improvement in their living conditions.

Besides, upheaval in and of itself is meaningless. It is simply an observation of change. There is nothing wrong with change, though many fear it.


Cynthia’s “Policies that solve the climate crisis also lead to better living standards” should be the leading incentive to make progress happen. It’s not enough to chant “We must get off fossil fuels” and “Leave it in the ground.” What will these higher standards of living entail? I’d start with electric and hybrid cars in everyone’s garage eventually matched to rooftop solar. Follow that with entire fleets of new design electric buses and vans. Triple Amtrak’s service, not necessarily high speed rail, to reduce the pollution of air travel and spur transit-oriented development closer to home and neighborhood. Big changes in lifestyle like using mass transit may seem onerous, but they are necessary. Electric cars alone won’t get the job done, though they’ll keep the lights on in a grid failure, food kept cool, even save lives. When we drive less, more of our needs must be met closer to home. Local economies will grow to serve the need without the undue influence of outside corporate interests. Anyway, I’m getting specific about what changes need to occur most. Making the hard decisions appear attractive and desirable will be a tough sell, harder than just saying “We need to do something.”


Our definition of higher living standards is the outlier viewpoint. Also, I assert that it’s not what the author was driving at.

And upheaval is far from meaningless in all cases. In that regard, isn’t this discussion centered upon the upheaval being caused by climate change, described in the headline as ‘post-apocalyptic?’

Yes, the transition from fossil fuels will cause upheaval. Necessary but ugly upheaval. And if the author wants to create a cohesive counter narrative, she should acknowledge that instead of sugar coating it.

If you believe that, you should articulate the upheaval you envision, so that the rest of us can focus on the particulars. The broad brush of “upheaval” (or “ugly upheaval”) is neither instructive nor helpful.

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I like the conclusion that we humans can make it to a sustainable future but, as usual for so many CD articles, it’s short on specifics. We’re told: “we all need to learn to think strategically and decide where to best put our energy.” That’s a lazy copout.

I can claim to have done as much as most people to reduce my environmental impact – starting in the early 1990s, we sold our car, put in all compact fluorescents and bought a super-efficient refrigerator. Recently, I had our house converted to all electricity with enough solar panels to be approximately zero net energy. But, obviously, this isn’t enough, and even if a few people, or a few thousand, were inspired by my example, that wouldn’t be enough. I don’t think uncoordinated individual initiatives or the “thousands of organizations doing important work” are anywhere near sufficient.

There’s a real vacuum where courageous, foreward-looking, inspired leaders should be. A united effort, with people pulling together as they did in WWII, is what’s needed.

And nothing short of overturning our current economic system will do it. The current one empowers the wrong (short-sighted, stingy) people with exactly the wrong incentives, minimizing costs at the expense of everything else. When we should be solving our environmental problems, we’re wasting precious time fighting greedy, entrenched interests.

One thing is guaranteed: If we can’t unite to tackle climate change and the rest of Earth’s (human-caused) environmental problems (like species extinction from loss of habitat, deforestation, mega-plastic pollution, shortage of fresh water, …), we’re dooming our children and grandchildren.

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OK. Lets get to the base root of the problem that’s been with us since the rise of civilization itself, agricultural production, Growing crops. Humans need crop production to have concentrated cities, urban areas. Rulers arose in the past to control the surplus crops and workers that produced them. Set the wayback machine to the 21st century and see that beneath all else is still crop production ruled by Mesopotamian tenants to control others. Leaders control crops, industrialized crops. Rulers control energy production a big factor in global warming. Leaders control militaries, another huge factor in global warming never discussed. The top down approach doesn’t work any more. Humans can’t keep living as they have been living and survive, it’s that simple. the sooner this is realized by more than a few million inhabitants the better. There is no magic solution to this crisis. Just sensible actions that limit the scope of human activity and population control. Harsh sure, just look at California for a taste of the future.

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How about the upheaval associated with this from the link below?:

Home to half the world’s population, Asia accounts for three-fourths of global coal consumption today. More important, it accounts for more than three-fourths of coal plants that are either under construction or in the planning stages — a whopping 1,200 of them, according to Urgewald, a German advocacy group that tracks coal development. Heffa Schücking, who heads Urgewald, called those plants “an assault on the Paris goals.”

Indonesia is digging more coal. Vietnam is clearing ground for new coal-fired power plants. Japan, reeling from 2011 nuclear plant disaster, has resurrected coal.

The world’s juggernaut, though, is China. The country consumes half the world’s coal. More than 4.3 million Chinese are employed in the country’s coal mines. China has added 40 percent of the world’s coal capacity since 2002, a huge increase for just 16 years. “I had to do the calculation three times,” said Carlos Fernández Alvarez, a senior energy analyst at the International Energy Agency. “I thought it was wrong. It’s crazy.”

Spurred by public outcry over air pollution, China is now also the world leader in solar and wind power installation, and its central government has tried to slow down coal plant construction. But an analysis by Coal Swarm, a U.S.-based team of researchers that advocates for coal alternatives, concluded that new plants continue to be built, and other proposed projects have simply been delayed rather than stopped. Chinese coal consumption grew in 2017, though at a far slower pace than before, and is on track to grow again in 2018, after declining in previous years.

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I would proffer that those technologies already exist and probably have for decades in some cases. Some of you hippie generation “Mother Earth News” junkies remember the Jacobs Generator craze. Back-to-the-landers were trying to locate these old jems because the they were old school,hard working, long lasting generators and nothing modern could be found at that time that was affordable. We more than ever, tinkerers and home grown inventors to spur on the bigger stuff. Then we can lay back and listen to “The mothers of Invention.” HA


Interesting and I had seen those stories. But it says nothing about upheaval if an alternative future is experienced, it only tells you about something that approximates the business-as-usual case.

What we are talking about is a different future. For example, it’s hard to know the working conditions of the 4.3 million coal industry workers, but I doubt they are very good. So, for them, doing something else, like building wind turbines or sola ir panels would be a major upgrade in living standards and relief from undoubted deleterious health impacts.

You have to think about these issues not just in terms of what you perceive as subtractions from the status quo, but what all of the additions to the status quo will be that will occur to replace them. Only a holistic, all things added and subtracted, analysis will come close to approximating the net change. All of the analyses I have seen, seem to support the case that we are better off with a cleaner energy system. Even those who might be seen as victims of change (think coal miners) would be better off and for those who would not, we would be better off making them whole.

I continue to resist the urge to wring my hands, because I think the worry is unfounded and the benefits far exceed the costs. Hopefully you won’t get any blisters.

Apparently, a sense of urgency falls outside your holistic approach.

So what time frame do you envision for your transition to clean energy, considering 1,200 coal-fired plants are under construction or in the planning stages?

Not at all. Our hair is on fire. We need to everything we can as ASAP.

As I said, ASAP. Back in the early part of the Dark Ages, Vice President Cheney once prophesied about our power plant future:

In his April 30 speech, Cheney said the United States needs to build 1,300 electric power plants (averaging 300 megawatts) between now and 2020, which would amount to “more than one new plant per week.” At the same time, he downplayed the potential for energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, suggesting that conservation is just “a sign of personal virtue” and that relying on renewable energy sources would threaten “our way of life.” at an average of 300 MW per plant.

That was the equivalent of a one new power plant every week. As it turned out that, that didn’t happen. Instead fossil fuel plants have decreased overall, although gas turbines have increased while coal plants have fallen off the table. My point is, that “under construction or in the planning stages” doesn’t carry the weight it used to. Much of the expected capacity was offset by energy efficiency, something Cheney characterized as “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.” and about which he was both ignorant and colossally wrong.

Many, if not most, of those planned or under construction coal plants will never see the light of day.

Okay, cool.

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Skeptic, she likely does not regard higher standard of living with consuming more. And if she does, she shouldn’t, though of course most people do.

She might associate a higher standard of living with having clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean and nutritious food to eat. Preserving these in some ways contradicts what we usually see as profit.

Moving past or away from profit need not mean deprivation, though leaving behind so entrenched a mythology is sure to be disruptive for some of us at various points, and the odds that deprivation ensue at some places at some times must be somewhere around zero.

The fossil-fuel centered practices do need to be stopped. But the way to do that with the least violence in the upheaval is to supplant the existing economy insofar as that is possible, using what we do take from that economy as much as possible for the transition. I do think the road is going to be rocky and worse. But if we do not institute a fossil fuel free economy, we will certainly have huge upheaval.

The most optimistic and encouraging body of information that I have encountered in nearly fifty years was how easy it was and is to supplant much of the services of a global economy on a small strip of land with little investment and little labor. There remains a task of learning and of showing and teaching people how this can be done, but it is wonderful to see that the principles of operation are not only known but pretty clear and straightforward.

A big part of the surprise is that it is very good living. It’s fun. It brings welcome social contact. And fresh eggs and fresh herbs are not so bad either.

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HI GANDOLF: : ) Yes, I do agree with you, but something has to keep me going and that line in that old movie helps. The Earth will make it through—but not the condition that it is now…it’s the same kind of Emily Dickinson hope…“Hope is a feathered thing that perches in the soul…”
It’s like the Greek story of Pandora’s Box-----hope was left at the bottom of the box- when all the evils of the world were unleashed—so there could be a redemption.
I did write one day in a previous post that perhaps we will be living underground like moles ----- as the latest environmental report has stated -----allergies will be nastier ( and they are awful enough now:) more diseases from other climates are already here and will get worse. The water and food situation will be horrific------
but it’s like that sad story of the whale pushing and buoying up her dead baby-----sometimes HOPE is all there is----but like the whale, I’ll take it.—because to not to-----that would be a too horrible to contemplate : )

In response to what the author considers a higher standard of living. From the draft resolution to form a committee to put together a New Green Deal:

“…to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.”

So what is wealth supposed to mean?