We're caught in the squeeze right now.
Climate change is advancing at an incredible speed. We know we should do something, but we lack the political will to do what it takes to hold it to 2°C. UN committees are now being counseled to prepare for 4°C of warming. To keep it survivable, there's got to be a powerdown -- starting today.
Meanwhile green-tech enthusiasts cheer the rapid rate at which certain countries are installing renewable energy infrastructure. But reports are now surfacing of shortages in the rare earth ingredients needed to make that renewable infrastructure. We don't have enough rare earth materials to replace the whole fossil infrastructure and continue on our current level of consumption. No one dares speak the little secret: Even with renewables, there's got be a powerdown.
Shale oil is environmental desecration. But people are willing to consider it because there is potentially vast amounts of money in it because the easier-to-get-to oil is running out. Along with stopping fracking, there's going to be a powerdown. But no one is talking about that part.
We should "keep the coal in the ground" scientists are telling us, and activists have (rightfully) picked up the cry. But no one never mentions the other side of the Stop Coal equation: the powerdown. We have to start talking about what we are willing to give up.
It's a sign of a really good essay when bits of it linger with you for days after you've read it and it keeps popping up in your mind. Naomi Klein's "Why Science is Telling All of Us to Revolt and Change Our Lives Before We Destroy the Planet" is one of those. Her theme? "Global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that 'earth-human systems' are becoming dangerously unstable in response."
"Serious scientific gatherings don't usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage," Klein writes. She describes UC San Diego geophysicist Brad Werner at a major scientific conference as "observing that mass uprisings of people -- along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street -- represent the likeliest source of 'friction' to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control."
The part that keeps itching at me, days after I read Klein's article, is the presumption that "mass uprisings" are the only way out of this mess.
This spring, I had the pleasure of attending two weddings in Los Angeles.