“Gobal warming is not about overconsumption, morality, ideology or capitalism. It is largely the result of human beings generating energy by burning hydrocarbons and coal.”
Mark Lynas, in his book The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans

Provocative? Bleedingly obvious? Guaranteed to generate some comment (and sell some books). Worth pondering. Which I will do before weighing in.

Comments

  1. #1 HB
    July 21, 2011

    Yeah, problem is politicians both in the US and UN use global warming for their own purposes (higher taxes & regulations in the US, socialist policies, bashing the West and/or US, and funding poor despotic countries in the UN). The War on Terror was supposed to be about killing and arresting terrorists, not the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps, and torturing random brown people. But it quickly became that. A War on Global Warming would be abused to hell and back as well.

  2. #2 Hercules Grytpype-Thynne
    July 21, 2011

    @HB:

    I look at it another way: if we could persuade the deniers that concern about global warming is neither an attack on capitalism nor a hubristic challenge to God’s sovereignty (yes, people like Inhofe actually believe that), then maybe we could get them to acknowledge that the problem exists and stop standing in the way of doing something about it.

  3. #3 rustneversleeps
    July 21, 2011

    On it’s face, I think there is something to Lynas’ statement.

    My reticence in accepting it fully is that I strongly suspect that there is some circular feedbacks in all of this. I.e. what if overconsumption, ideology, capitalism, etc., have also been a (partial) function of the energy we derived from burning hydrocarbons and coal.

    I suspect it is more than coincidental that (1) the publication of Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”; (2) the United States Declaration of Independence; (3) the first commercial production and use* of Watt’s fossil-fuel-powered steam engine… all occurred in 1776. So you’ve got these huge social experiments that turn into huge success stories occurring simultaneously and feeding off one another. I would argue that it is difficult to understand any one part without understanding the context it occurred in.

    I think it’s almost unavoidable that the abundance of cheap, transportable, dense hydrocarbon fuels has heavily influenced what we now “understand” about consumption, morality, ideology, capitalism. And I am not so sure that Lynas can just arbitrarily separate these social issues from the use of fossil fuels, and state that global warming is (almost) *entirely* a problem of *just* hydrocarbon energy use.

    Not sure that’s clear. But in a thought experiment, maybe a parallel universe industrial revolution that had been powered with renewables would have created a different understanding and manifestation of consumption, capitalism, ideology, etc. Can’t prove that, of course, but I think it would be naive to just assume to opposite.

    And maybe I should just read the book.

    * Another circular thing that amuses me is one of the first (and major) applications of Watt’s coal-powered steam engine: pumping water out of coal mines…

  4. #4 Sharon Astyk
    July 21, 2011

    For some versions of “about.” Sure, you can make a reductionist case that it is just about burning fossil fuels. That doesn’t change the fact that all solutions to climate change that are even remotely honest begin by altering the world we live in in fundamental ways that affect morality, ideology, consumption and capitalism. So sure, but only in a very narrow sense.

    Sharon

  5. #5 Lou Grinzo
    July 21, 2011

    I don’t know what bug crawled into Lynas’ hat, but this statement of his is just silly.

    The science that says, “pump a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere for 2.5 centuries and you start to change the environment in several non-trivial ways” is sound. We don’t have every little detail nailed down, to be sure, any more than scientists could tell you exactly how you’d die if you drove your car off a high cliff. (Could be by splattering your brains all over the windshield, could be by being impaled by some car part, could be by simple crushing. The mechanics of the situation are very complex, but the bottom line outcome isn’t.)

    The discussion should be about how we get our CO2 and CH4 emissions down, as quickly and with as little economic cost as possible. And that requires a lot of tough decisions and tradeoffs, which will clearly drag morality and ideology and overconsumption and capitalism (and every other -ism one can name, more or less) into the mix. Does he think we don’t have to make a lot of big changes, and quickly? Or is he suggesting that we can make them without discussing them in the broader context of human values and our institutions? I’d be stunned if the answer to either of those questions was “yes”.

  6. #6 Massengil Plus
    July 21, 2011

    “Congress shuts down foreign climate funding”

    READ ALL ABOUT IT!! HAHA. suck it douche boy.

    remind us again why you are allowed to excrete carbon dioxide?? hmmmmmmm?

  7. #7 ben
    July 22, 2011

    Global warming is not about overconsumption, morality, ideology or capitalism. It is largely the result of human beings generating energy by burning hydrocarbons and coal.

    Well, yeeeesss… global warming is not about those things.

    But it’s a neat trick to disguise every question of power, politics, ideology or morality by assigning responsibility to the undifferentiated mass of “human beings”.

    As soon as you ask, “Which human beings are generating the energy by burning hydrocarbons, for what purposes and for whose profits, and with what consequences paid for by whom?”…

    … then it’s clear that global warming may actually be about consumption, morality, capitalism and ideology.

  8. #8 bill
    July 22, 2011

    “It is largely the result of human beings generating energy by burning hydrocarbons and coal.”

    No. Combustion does not generate energy. Combustion involves the rearrangement of covalent bonds. Some of the products of this chemistry are heat, CO2 and H2O. CO2 is problematic because increasing levels appear to lead to a “greenhouse effect”.

    Of course, experts like Lynas are above such details.

  9. #9 Rich
    July 23, 2011

    Does no-one see the irony of this quote?!

    His book is about “planetary boundaries”, not just climate change. The other planetary boundaries include biodiversity loss, impacts on the nitrogen cycle, land-use change, freshwater use, global pollution etc. etc.

    What happens to his quote when you add all of these issues in, plus global poverty?

  10. #10 Gar Lipow
    July 24, 2011

    The shooting was not about crime, personal responsibility. It had nothing to do with the shooter or the gun. The shooting was about a high caliber bullet penetrating a skull.

  11. #11 MikeB
    July 24, 2011

    In a perfect world, we would simply ignore Lynas’s hand waving, seeing it for the attention seeking it is. On the other hand, we wouldn’t have climate change either.

    The review in the Guardian brought an immediate sense of deja vu. A writer who describes himself as a someone who believed in Green certainties, but who has now repented? Someone who reviewers bill as taking a ‘brave look at the environment’? A sympathetic review by a non specialist writer (although, in this case, at least the reviewer had a science background, unlike the Independent, who got an economist who works for EDF)? A ‘level-headed’ view of the environment, and a call to think rationally? Its Lomborg all over again (although I notice that during Lynas’s live chat, he pointedly refused to talk about him, which is strange since he once flung a pie at Lomborgs head).

    Its the same narrative. The use of strawmen, a brave fight back by someone who has seen the light, and an appeal to reason. Which will be lapped up most of the media. The fact that his thesis is largely nothing new filled out with hand-waving is beside the point.

    I’ve gradually become more and more disappointed with Lynas over the years. Six Degrees was excellent, but his defence of nonsensical projects some years ago made me examine his arguements a little more closely, and gradually it became clear that he was more interested in being a media green than being a real one.

    Being cited as ‘one of a growing band of influential figures…along with James Lovelock and Stewart Brand’ should immediately raise eyebrows. These guys are certainly influential, but only with journalists too lazy to actually find a real story.

    Lets start with Lynas’s straw men. Are ‘Environmentalists’ really against capitalism? Some reject it entirely, but most feel that capitalism is fine as a servant, but a poor master, and it presently has a lot to answer for. But despite Lynas’s ‘dirty hippy’ nonsense, the reality is that there are large numbers of people who want the power of capitalism to move to cleaner fuels, better buildings and more efficent vehicles. Amory and Hunter Lovins alone have published ‘Factor Four’ in 1997, and ‘Natural Capitalism’ in 1999. ‘Climate Capitalism’ has just come out. Porrit wrote a book about the same subject six years ago. Saying you think capitalism is the whole answer is simplistic. Saying your the first to think its part of the solution is simply wrong.

    Its OK though, because apparently we can have continuing growth, economic success and free market capitalism, yet also conquer climate change, overcome the natural worlds limitations and feed ourselves. Does this make sense? No. have a number of his reviewers already fallen for it? Yes.

    His comments about nuclear miss the same points as Monbiot’s – the money. Its the usual ‘there is no alternative but nuclear’ arguement, which is frankly rather sad, especially when you can’t leave well alone, as this review makes clear. http://makewealthhistory.org/2011/07/11/book-review-the-god-species-by-mark-lynas/

    GM is more interesting, but he still can’t help strawmen. Is it a fact that GM will feed the world? Its not certain it will, and of course a large rise in fossil fuel costs means that most agricultural imputs will rise in price to the point where many farmers throughout the world will have to be in essence organic anyway. And of course nitrogen fixing GM plants may take some time to develop, if they actually can be. The point about corporate control over food supplies (Ben Goldacre’s objection) is seemingly unexplored.

    My suspicion is that Lynas is, as a review puts it,’he has the scent of personal success in his nostrils and could be tempted to say anything controversial for column inches or media time’. Certainly, promising continued growth in a zero carbon free market, nuclear power, genetically modified crops, and the privatisation of water management while dismissing global inequality, the ‘green movement’ and many facets of renewable power looks exactly that.

    Hopefully we will get a review which reflects the experience of experts in the various areas he touches on, and takes on his arguements, rather than just cheering on his sweeping retoric.

  12. #12 Wow
    July 25, 2011

    “I.e. what if overconsumption, ideology, capitalism, etc., have also been a (partial) function of the energy we derived from burning hydrocarbons and coal.”

    Nope.

    It’s because we’re lazy.

    However, if we try and use our innovation and thinking skills we can work out how to work smarter, not harder.

    The old drinks cans were expensive and used a lot of resources because our engineering wound one strip of metal around two circular end pieces, crimped and welded together because that was the only way we could do it.

    Then we got better engineers and reduced the cost of making a drinks can to one sheet metal piece that could be much thinner, pressed into the cup with one plug on the end with a tab that stays on rather than needing pulling off.

    Rather than say we can only do more with more energy, we decided to do more effective and found that we got a better product too.

  13. #13 Class MORON
    July 28, 2011

    UNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A federal wildlife biologist whose observation in 2004 of presumably drowned polar bears in the Arctic helped to galvanize the global warming movement has been placed on administrative leave and is being investigated for scientific misconduct over the veracity of that article.

    New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hold In Global Warming Alarmism
    By James Taylor | Forbes – 17 hrs ago
    NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth’s atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Poor lil douche boy’s world comes further apart every day. Yer gonna have to save us all from something else I guess, douche boy.

  14. #14 Wow
    July 28, 2011

    What about Wegman and Pat Michaels for lying to congress?

    “By James Taylor | Forbes – 17 hrs ago”

    Ah, the chief PR of the Heartland Institute.

    Oddly enough, the paper doesn’t seem to have been read because the actual paper itself doesn’t say what the editorial comment there says.

    I guess neither he nor you had to read Roy’s paper because you knew it should be telling everyone what you want to believe.

  15. #15 Anito
    July 28, 2011

    > “Gobal warming is not about overconsumption, morality, ideology or capitalism. It is largely the result of human beings generating energy by burning hydrocarbons and coal.”

    That’s like blaming a bullet for shooting someone. Global warming is entirely about overconsumption, morality, ideology and capitalism. Burning fossil fuels is just the mechanism. Even without global warming we’d still be unsustainably consuming the planet.

    Mark Lynas is just the latest in a short list of self-proclaimed environmentalists who advocate actions and policies that will continue the destruction of the environment that they claim to care about. Lynas’s rhetoric and recommendations makes him look little different to Bjorn Lomborg – all the world’s problems will be solved by allowing corporations to sell us more of their (claimed) technology. And like Lomborg, Lynas is in love with his ‘celebrity’ – and the coinage it brings in.

    Mark Lynas is just another techno-utopian who has been fooled by the lies of the GMO + nuclear lobbies and is in denial of reality when it conflicts with his dream of ever-increasing wealth and consumption.

    If you want sensational soundbites and a sales pitch for Monsanto and Areva, read Mark Lynas. If you want scientifically accurate, inciteful analysis and opinion, read someone else.

  16. #16 Douchey Douche
    July 31, 2011

    Hey douchey douche. sleep tite tonite.

    try not exhale any global warmi……doh…..ummmm plant food i mean.

    nitey nite douchey douche. thanks for saving us from ourselves. don’t know what we would do wiffout you.

    dumbass.

  17. #17 Wow
    August 1, 2011

    “That’s like blaming a bullet for shooting someone.”

    No, that’s like blaming someone shooting a gun at someone for shooting someone.

    To kill someone, you can use many different things. To shoot someone, you need a gun.

  18. #18 Actively Social
    August 4, 2011

    Hi James! I agree! Thanks for sharing this post!

  19. #19 Collin
    August 31, 2011

    Lynas is right. Morality, ideology, etc. are defined by allegories. Global warming is not an allegory; it is a fact. Facts have causes and consequences. We know that the cause of global warming is the burning of CO2. But most people do not have ready access to the list of possible consequences. And I don’t think that’s an accident. It’s in the interest of the CO2 industries to leave people floundering for words for what CO2 is causing, hoping that it’ll come out something like damnation. And it’s working.

    Reducing, and ultimately ending, industrial CO2 emission is the only way to stop global warming. And that means changing the physical devices of industry. Redesigning, or even tearing down and rebuilding, industrial machines to become less dependent on CO2. In other words, don’t try to change the people. Change the machines, and let the people sort out the mess.

    Send in the carpenters, plumbers, etc. from the agencies to invade the companies and get the factories changed. Don’t try to use economics and philosophy to coerce the companies to do it themselves.

  20. #20 Gar Lipow
    September 3, 2011

    Yeah, at one level it is a physical problem. But at another level the physical changes we need to make have been known for a long time. Most of them are good ideas not only to solve the climate crisis (though that is a damn good reason) but for other reasons like controlling no GHG air and water pollution and making our food supply secure and sustainable. Yet we are not doing a bunch of obvious stuff.

    Hence my gun analogy above. Someone is trying to shoot you. At one level it is just a physical problem. If the bullet never leaves the gun you are fine. But at another level the problem is the shooter. He needs to be stopped or have his gun taken away, or at least persuaded not to use it. (Maybe you can get away without doing any of those things, but the odds of literally dodging or outrunning a bullet are poor.) Not pulling a trigger is not hard. Stopping a motivated shooter from pulling a trigger is very hard.

    The physical changes we need to make to solve the climate crisis not hard, given the capital resources still available compared to the resources need for any solution. The U.S. share of those changes could probably be funded out of the U.S. military budget with 100s of billions left over. The natural resources and labor needed for the transition are probably not that far from those required by the military budget as well. But the social and political obstacles are tremendous.

Current ye@r *