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How to Bring About Catastrophic Success in the Face of Climate Change

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/07/30/how-bring-about-catastrophic-success-face-climate-change

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I don’t quite know how to respond to this article. Hopeful? Yes. Scary? Yes. Does it seem impossible? Yes.

But then, even in the face of all the horrible things happening in our world right now, I have always believed that everything could be different. It is a matter of “will.” The will to move in the direction of positive change.

I am 73 now. I have watched the “hope” of the 70’s burn to cinders in backlash from the white supremacist capitalist system. The pendulum swings both ways–all the time. And yes, it cuts. I want so badly to be useful in the world. I want to contribute to positive social change. I also feel powerless at this moment. I’m sure many CD followers feel the same.

That pendulum has been slicing away my dreams and hopes for years now. And as my body ages, I have to wonder: Is the human race just another virus? But I digress.

Can billions come together in one accord and move and shake this fatal downward spiral we seem to be blithely allowing ourselves to float in? Can humanity transcend …?


Thank you for your heartfelt post which I (and I’m sure many others) can relate to.

I follow Eric H. on twitter, his articles and have great admiration for him. Have not read this book . . . but have read the reviews and other’s responses to it.

I too believed that things could be different which is why I chose to bring a child into the world 22 years ago.

Not so sure about that now as life is dying around us due to human behaviors. I follow the science, the data and feel it is too late for things to get better. People get mad at me for saying that, but it is what I believe and what I see.

Yet, like others here, I still try to do what I can to protect the soil, air, flora/fauna and wherever I go, turn turf grass into prairies, grow food, provide habitat for as many creatures as I can.

And I stopped buying most everything except basic necessities (and I mean very basic).

Each time I venture out (socially distanced and masked) into the world I see people (a LOT of people) being----frankly-----cruel, ignorant and selfish. These behaviors seem to be ramping up exponentially. Life on our planet is dying (due to humans) and as ecosystems collapse around us we will collapse too---- some are choosing to do so in a most unpleasant way as evidenced by the level of anger, hostility that is everywhere apparent.

Regarding the matter of “will”. I’m so glad you did not use the term “political will”!
In my opinion, that has been non existent and a delusional hope (i.e. that egocentric, greedy, capitalist promoting politicians will somehow get “political will” to be compassionate and work on behalf of all life on earth).

Yes, I think we need “will” to protect life on earth but also reverence for all life which would include not commodifying nature and other humans.

I believe when you love . . . have reverence for a person or a place (wetland, woodland, prairie or flora/fauna) you will then want to protect those things.

Why some people seem to be born with this (E.O. Wilson’s biophilia) and others are completely devoid of this capacity will remain a mystery to me----I believe until I die.


I have my doubts that we can but hey if we are all going to die anyway we might as well try. No use in despairing over the impossible and inevitable. Might as well try to change things, even if it is pointless.


“When some people feel justified to exploit other people and their land, that’s the simplest explanation of climate change. When viewed with such clarity, climate change no longer feels like a scientific inevitability." (edited for brevity)

Yes magazine usually presents a hopeful direction, even if it is unclear. Using the word “intersectionality” is a clear sign the writer can’t explain their position in clear terms. Clearly, who can question the intersectionalitization of intersectional intersectionalism, intersectionally speaking? And WTF is “catastrophic success” supposed to mean? Those without an clear understanding of intersectionality wouldn’t understand.

“Eric Holthaus says we can and must give up cars and won’t miss them after we build a better transportation system.” I don’t know what Holthaus thinks a “better” transportation system would be, but a rooftop solar array matched to an electric car in the garage is closer to ideal for many reasons. In an emergency, a car may be needed immediately, not one that may arrive too late.

One vehicle we can and must give up is vacation and business air travel. Such long-distance travel must be replaced with passenger-rail, electrified or not. This may require Nationalizing the Railroads to take them out of the hands of robber barons like Warren Buffet whose BNSF RR transports more coal/oil/gas than the others which likewise actively prevent the possibility of passenger-rail.

I’ll look further into the Holthaus GND, but this rose-colored glasses appraisal makes it look as ridiculous as most other GND proposals.

Thank you for your response to my comment Caroline. It helps me feel less alone in these times. Stay safe and healthy.


WoW!! So good to see my understanding of the situation so well put in writing.

“Climate change is a product of a system of White supremacy and colonization over the past 500 years,” Holthaus says. “A certain group of people felt it was justified to exploit people and land. That’s the simplest explanation of climate change.”

This is the crux of the matter. Most who study the issues and comment end up condemning all of human population as “just bad” and therefore nothing can be done. This is just a BS excuse so they do not have to do anything and can simply continue to pleasure themselves. BS!!!

It is only a relatively small group that have up until now convinced everyone that that is the only way to live (cannibalistic capitalism) and all alternatives are hell on earth. BS!! We, the US have killed tens of millions and killed the hopes of hundreds of millions, billions, all so a handful of people can get morbidly rich.

Seeing the “WALL OF MOMS”, their fierce eyes over their masks challenging TPTB to just try and break thru their interlocked arms, followed closely by the WALL OF DADS with leaf blowers ready to blow the tear gas away from the MOMS, followed by the WALL OF VETERANS who instinctively understand that to back up this group is to adhere to their sworn duty to protect. I am in tears typing this I am so proud of these Americans, strike that, these humans.


So are we all going to go back to subsistence farming and a hunter gatherer lifestyle for all 8 billion of us? and by decolonization should we remove all the technology that white people brought to BIPOC like electricity and the internal combustion engine and go back to living in harmony with nature? If we can just get rid of white people would climate change go away because all BIPOCs always live in a kum-b-ya kind of peaceful existence with each other and nature with zero conflict and use no fuel? I call BS on the whole premise. Here’s a primer on what non-white countries are doing to themselves. put the following into your search engine " The 100 million city: is 21st century urbanization out of control" The problem isn’t white people it’s everyone having aspirations to live like Beyonce.

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Nice dream, but there are so many obstacles in the way of having a “happy ending”, although that is remotely possible if practically everyone would work in concert for a better future for all. Problem is that the entities that have put the world in such dire circumstances have only consolidated their power to the point that they’re so entrenched & unwilling to budge that it most likely will require a violent revolution to dislodge them. Other obstacles are attitudes held by too many people against such ideas as collectivism, wealth redistribution, world order & cooperation, a shared future where all benefit. In fact, part of their motivation is having what others do not have, & doing what others cannot do. There is this propagation of anti-science notions refusing to even recognize that we have disastrous climate disruption, catastrophic environmental breakdown, ecosystem collapse & mass extinction, which far too many people have fallen for.

Good luck in overcoming all these obstacles! Many have already tried & failed so far.

Very well said, expressing sentiments I share.

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“There needs to be a picture of what we’re fighting for,” he tells me, “not just what we’re fighting against.”

Yes, and without the jet packs, please. “This is not a drill” (Extinction Rebellion), nor is it a game. There is no time for science fiction or human fantasies. I was appalled at the short video a couple of years ago of what to expect from a “Green New Deal” from two smart people who surely knew better but got carried away.

On the eve of World War II Churchill promised his people “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” and he was sugar-coating it. But it saved democracy, with lots of help and sacrifice from other nations including this one. When it was over we promptly forgot how it began, so now we have to do it all over again.

If we make it, things will be much different, but better in ways that count.

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Electric cars are driving us down another unsustainable road paved by Elon Musk the John D. of this era. As H. Ford said so long ago the fuel of the future is ethanol. All the cars put on the road since the 80s can run on 50% ethanol and with a software tweak cn 100% ethanol. Ethanol can be made from any fermentable plant. 30% of US liquid fuel consumption can be produced from our lawn clippings. Before prohibition half the cars in the US ran on ethanol.
Most of the carbon in the air came from industrial agriculture. The soil can hold 2-3 times the carbon as the air and above ground plant matter combined. Before the invasion of the plow the Great Plains held more carbon than the Amazon with its thin and easily depleted soil. It supported 100 million large grazing animals, billions of small to medium herbivores, countless water fowl and other birds, their predators and scavengers including humans. The rivers ran clean and mostly clear and were teeming with fish.
The carbon rich and moisture laden top soil was 6 ft and more deep. The aquifers were full to overflowing. Now the top soil is inches deep and the aquifers are nearly depleted.
Te solutions are political and personal. Personally we can all eat organic produce, grass fed and pastured meat, dairy, poultry and eggs and drink biodynamics grown wines. The biodynamic vineyards best survived the California wild fires. Have a delicious meal with grass fed beef and cheese with an organic salad accompanied with a biodynamic wine and toast to the reversal of global warming.
Politically removing subsidies from any crop, human or animal food grown on tilled soil and transferring those subsidies to crops grown on untilled soil will reverse global warming post haste. Simple but difficult. Rodale Institute did a 30 year live study on regenerative agriculture that supports that seemingly absurd statement.
There is historical evidence that will work. After Columbus the population in the West plummeted by 90-98% (1491 by Charles Mann in the Atlantic Magazine). The abandoned gardens and fields went to weeds. The grazing animals proliferated with the apex predator largly gone. The grasslands and forests that regrew drew down so much carbon that world wide temperatures dropped by 1 degree C causing the Little Ice Age.


I am thinking that something like comprehensive electrified (or some other form of renewable energy source) passenger-rail should be the main replacement transportation system, with supplementary/complementary expanded bicycle & other manual/pedal forms of transportation. I am very much for disposing of the majority of our roads, streets, parking lots & other paved areas along with the elimination of motor vehicles (but I do see use for a limited number of electric cars & trucks) & many other polluting machines (like leaf blowers, power mowers & many other power tools), & I would like more people to envision what kind of healthier, much more aesthetically pleasant world that would be.

I agree with you that much of this article is quite confusing. Is “catastrophic success” intended to mean success that can be derived from a catastrophe? Otherwise it would appear to indicate a highly negative result, contrary to what this Holthaus seems to be trying to convey.

The only way we could “go back to subsistence farming and a hunter gatherer lifestyle” would be if we blow it completely, although a gradual return to many aspects of harmony with nature will be a prominant aspect of life beyond the bottleneck if we are so fortunate as to get there.

Your branding of all utopian visions as BS for the foreseeable future is dead on, no pun intended. See my comment just a few numbers below.

More accurately, “going back” is never possible, but if we do make it through the bottleneck we’ll be doing a lot less of things that nobody did until the last 50 years that entail enormous resource throughput and that we have come to feel entitled to (e.g., air travel).

But beyond that, most speculation about how things will look at the end of this century is a worthless distraction. IF we make it through the bottleneck, we will be living in a very different world that we hope will be more hospitable for sane human behavior in some major ways

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I have felt sorry about how most of the rest of the world has copied the same terrible wasteful industrial practices the US & rest of the West have been doing that has clearly messed up our environment.

I remember about 30 years or so seeing a scene of Beijing showing a very crowded Beijing with so many bicyclists, thinking how great it was that they still relied on bicycles to get around, wishing that we would take their lead & convert to bicycles, too, but fearing how it would look if China converted to cars. Unfortunately (as more or less expected) it was my fear instead of my wish that was realized. And most of the rest of developing countries have gone in the same direction, with some notable exceptions, at least in degree & in willingness to find more environmentally sustainable alternatives, such as Bhutan, Costa Rica, New Guinea?, & a few places in Africa like Botswana, maybe Gabon. But there are still some places, especially in Africa, that could skip over most of the damaging industrialization & go directly to green energy

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I believe there is still a very slim chance we & our children can recover Earth’s systemic integrity, if we do one very specific thing. It is a polar shift in values that reflects appropriate respect for Nature, currently lacking from our economics, governance & social evolution. Cannabis hemp must be grown, immediately, globally. Atmospheric terpenes are needed to block increasing solar UV-B radiation “broiling” the planet. Hemp is the only crop capable of replenishing Earth’s atmosphere with terpenes lost with the deaths of the boreal forests & marine phytoplankton that used to produce twice the volume of terpenes as they do now. Terpenes in the atmosphere refract UV-B & “seed” clouds.

Cannabis is also the only crop that produces complete nutrition and sustainable biofuels from the same harvest, eliminating the trade-off between energy production & food security. Building materials, paper, cloth, hemp graphene for improved supercapacitors, biogenic pesticides, safe & effective herbal therapeutics, powerful anti-virals, antibiotics, and much more.

The only impediment seems to be people’s disbelief that one plant — particularly this plant — can do so much so well.

My book is entitled Cannabis vs. Climate Change if you’re ready to consider all solutions. My film, by the same title, is on Vimeo.

It’s good news. If you want your children & grand-children to live, farm hemp. It’s that simple. Google hemp, ‘edestin protein’ to learn about the unique immune-building nutrition available in hemp seed, that’s not being talked about.

Yunohu thank you. Anti-sandman’s regenerative agriculture and fermentable plant ethanol (summarized) sorta relates to how I must answer your points. You see, I’m a hybrid EV advocate. The ICEngine in a hybrid drivetrain can utilize any combustible fuel including pure water emission hydrogen, cleaner ethanol and the undeniable benefit of the “broadest” distribution of battery resources. Exclamation point! Plug-in Hybrid PHEV should garner more than 60% of our future EV need. BEVs would be limited to mini-cars the lighter the better. IOW, BMW/Daimler is about to lose stock value.

Really fantastic reply dude. Thanks very much. My advocacy for hybrids made the Christian Science monitor, Portland and Seattle letters to the editor. Chevy Volt PHEV is rated an effective 150mpg.
This week a Volt owner I talked to was getting 200+mpg.

The Prius PHEV battery is 5kwh. The Volt pack is 18kwh. Prius/Fusion are similarly rated 110mpg but might get 150mpg. The smaller pack replaces more readily to many more households and match to smaller solar arrays, etc. Every GND proposal out there says “BATTERY ONLY” and they’re wrong and otherwise misled by knowitalls what don’t know better. This complaint about Elon hurts, especially followed with self-driving car jokes. So the guy gets into his robolimo road lizard, says blah blah something something…blah blah. Robolimo responds "Yew have 10 seconds to depart…meep…before your day may become unpleasant…meep…

I had the opposite reaction. Climate Catastrophe is a result of two things - humans overall not being willing to consider limiting their numbers (except China after it was quite late), and humans figuring out how to get vast amounts of stored carbon fuel from out of the ground. I consider any talk of racism to be quite a distraction (except in the topic of non-CO2 pollution and how it is worse in poor minority areas). 500 years ago was well before we figured out how to get the carbon out of the ground and though white supremacy and slavery were terrible, I don’t see what it had to do with the climate on the scale of CO2 caused climate change. Likewise, today we have countries like China that have been quite separated from white European domination for a while now and it’s not like they have some huge environmental ethic over there (I’m not saying the US is any better).

I’m not going to say we can solve the problem with technology alone either, or even that if we could do the best we can on technology, human use patterns, and sure throw in environmental justice, that we can solve the problem anytime soon. I want to move forward on ideas for making things better and ideas for living in a much hotter world. It would be nice to actually feel like we are moving forward but I have no idea when that will be and I’m skeptical I’m going to feel any better about it 4 years into a Biden admin if that happens (and obviously I won’t feel better 4 years into the next Trump admin).

We must keep the chastrophe in perspective with humor. I had a 2001 Honda Insight that got 64 mpg. I would put half a tank of E85. The fuel mileage went down to 60 mpg but got more power. Higher octane. I started doing that after the EGR valve was diagnosed sick. The E85 fixed it and saved me $500. I calculated using half E85 more than compensated for lower gas mileage. I think I calculated close to 70 mpg. Remember there is a limited supply of lithium and other materials necessary to make batteries but there is more than enough sunlight to power photosynthesis to make plant material from which to make alcoho and it doesn’t leave a mess.l.