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The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells (2019) (read in 2019)

Published by marco on

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

As you begin this book, you feel it is either an unhinged leftist diatribe of sour grapes trying to convince the masters of the universe that they should switch to socialism and stop what we’re doing because it’s unfair to the losers or it’s an exceedingly well-written and researched manifesto shrieking at us that the effects of the world we’ve had designed and built for us are also that which make it certain that this world will not last.

It is, unfortunately, the latter. The world we’ve built has its destruction written into its DNA. It is built on a mountain of checks that we cannot cash.

We are boiling ourselves away from the planet, but other, less-evolved species will probably be OK. Everything we eat, though, will be extinct by our hand long before global warming can finish them off. Fish and wildlife have already experienced their catastrophic near-extinction and that had nothing to do with CO2 and everything to do with humans.

If humans disappear or are significantly diminished, then other species may have a chance again. The ones we knew—and that we’ve nearly eliminated—will die with us, as they used the same ecological niche as we did for their crucible. They are just as sensitive as we are to those changes. Many plants will die, but others won’t. Many insects will die, but others will thrive. The story of climate change is the story not of life dying out, but of intelligent life making its home so inhospitable for itself that, in the end, it check-mates itself.

Wallace-Wells is an eloquent teller of this tale of mankind’s downfall. In the citations below, you’ll find many thoughtful and evocative descriptions that enhance the dry data of our demise. Even when we actually scream from the hilltops, it’s ignored, as Wallace-Wells states so eloquently:

“Rhetoric often fails us on climate because the only factually appropriate language is of a kind we’ve been trained, by a buoyant culture of sunny-side-up optimism, to dismiss, categorically, as hyperbole.”

He employs this talent to interpret the data in a way that we can imagine: what does a world of 2ºC (warming over average temperatures before the industrial age) look like? How about 4ºC? Is any of it livable? With the population we have now? Wallace-Wells makes clear that, for the first time in history, mankind’s habitable surface area is shrinking.

Don’t be fooled, though: He isn’t a classic die-hard environmentalist. In fact, he clearly states that,

“I may be in the minority in feeling that the world could lose much of what we think of as “nature,” as far as I cared, so long as we could go on living as we have in the world left behind.”

I personally feel that this is a reprehensible thing to say, but the author is probably just a city-dweller who doesn’t even know what nature is. At any rate, it was a one-off comment that he made before acknowledging that his dream of living on Cybertron is not a reality on Earth.

His thesis statement for the book is basically as follows,

“We have all already left behind the narrow window of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place, but not just evolve—that window has enclosed everything we remember as history, and value as progress, and study as politics. What will it mean to live outside that window, probably quite far outside it? That reckoning is the subject of this book.”

In another example, he savages Bitcoin for using as much power as solar energy has given us total. So much waste, so little time.

“Market forces have delivered cheaper and more widely available green energy, but the same market forces have absorbed those innovations, which is to say profited from them, while continuing to grow emissions.”

Since Bitcoin is eating up the surplus generated by solar, Wallace-Wells explains:

“Solar isn’t eating away at fossil fuel use, in other words, even slowly; it’s just buttressing it. To the market, this is growth; to human civilization, it is almost suicide. We are now burning 80 percent more coal than we were just in the year 2000.”

Wallace-Wells moves on to explain the injustice of how the so-called developed world has built its empire on the backs of the poor: first, exploiting them and their lands to burn the planet and second, to watch as they also bear the (initial) brunt of the chaos their world has wrought.

“In the postindustrial West, we try not to think about these bargains, which have benefited us so enormously. […] given the devastation that wealth has imposed on the world of natural wonder it conquered and the suffering of those, elsewhere on the planet, left behind in the race to endless material comforts. And asked, functionally, to pay for them.”

The environmental catastrophe hits not just in temperature increase but in drastic reduction of drinking water, crop yields, and an astonishing increase in pollution.

“But of all urban entitlements, the casual expectation of never-ending drinking water is perhaps the most deeply delusional. It takes quite a lot to bring that water to your sink, your shower, and your toilet.”

He discusses the Syrian “civil war” as if there had been no goading or machination from self-interested, western powers, exacerbating a climate crisis for which they are largely responsible with fomented warfare intended to consolidate power over more oil-production.

People always talk of terrorism as if it just appears and lashes out when a state fails. The so-called terrorists do not attack indiscriminately. They generally terrorize within their own borders, against occupying powers. No mention of state terror that engenders it all. Or the massive climate costs they incur in doing so. His analysis is weak and incomplete here. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive, but he can’t just toss out these little sentences to make a vague point that comes to an utterly fallacious conclusion.

The market rules, though. People move to stupid places for stupid, short-sighted, and selfish reasons. Communities respond by attracting and accommodating the wealthy. They bring water to places where the energy investment to do so is many times more than the place from which the water was originally destined.

He goes on to discuss not just the water crisis (saying we would be bad enough off without one, but we definitely have one…and it’s going to get worse), but also the air-pollution crisis, which is basically untenable in any of the larger cities in which 70% of the world’s population lives. Not only pollution, but also malnutrition, will guarantee that most of the world’s human population will be dead weight, incapable of helping us think our way out of this crisis—because the crisis has stifled their mental and physical development.

Even if they were able to think straight, there’s nothing to eat, the bugs are dying, the crops are failing and factory-farming is going to collapse under its own weight.

“Twenty-two percent of the earth’s landmass was altered by humans just between 1992 and 2015. Ninety-six percent of the world’s mammals, by weight, are now humans and their livestock; just four percent are wild.”

No pollinators, no food, no people, so other predictions of growth are strongly countered. Unless mankind flails in a paroxysm of energy use to dwarf all efforts heretofore to try to cover the gap, which will also end things even more quickly than they otherwise would.

Sometimes he presents numbers too drily:

“Compared to the trajectory of economic growth with no climate change, their average projection is for a 23 percent loss in per capita earning globally by the end of this century.”

In this case, he could be somewhat optimistic that at least this will likely lead to less emissions. Naturally, people will suffer and die, but they will do so anyway. At least if they die in the service of a shrinking economy, mankind ends up with less energy use rather than more. It’s far from an ideal solution—it’s not even a solution, really, at all—but it’s not like a tragedy.

“And to help buffer or offset the impacts, we have no New Deal revival waiting around the corner, no Marshall Plan ready.”

What could we do? Everything we could do involves energy, extraction, and manufacturing. Every move we make to fix the problem likely makes it worse. Use solar to get free energy? Manufacturing panels is counterproductive (although, according to Bill McKibben in Falter, it’s gotten much, much better: panels last for 25 years and the energy investment is amortized in 5 years).

It’s far too late for nuclear, considering the manufacturing and concrete involved, even if the budgeting and construction fiascoes could be magically bypassed. The nuclear-waste problem is much better than it was: newer reactors are much more efficient and capable of re-burning and -processing much more its own waste. Even current reactors really produce much less waste and pollution than fossil fuels, which are actively killing us by raising temperature, rather than possibly, eventually killing us with radiation sickness. At this point, it’s really about triage.

“Hitting four degrees of warming, which lies on the low end of the range of warming implied by our current emissions trajectory, would cut into it by 30 percent or more. This is a trough twice as deep as the deprivations that scarred our grandparents in the 1930s, and which helped produce a wave of fascism, authoritarianism, and genocide.”

Yes, but losing 15% of 1000 is more devastating than 30% of 50,000. They suffered because they were closer to death to begin with. We fall farther, but still land much higher.

He (like Bill McKibben) tears into the Pinker line of reasoning that things, in fact, have been getting better and we should lean back and appreciate all that our system of ruling the world has given us.

Now I finally realize what annoys me so much about Pinker’s argument: the rate of progress was unsustainable and unevenly distributed. The blowback when the wave crashes will hit everyone but Pinker and his cohort. It’s like a student cramming for a test that won’t remember 90%; the current situation incurs unrealistic expectations. Basically, our progress was obtained on credit and the bill is coming due.

“But we close them off when we say anything about the future being inevitable. What may sound like stoic wisdom is often an alibi for indifference.”

Despite everything Wallace-Wells has written, he dares chastise those who, with clear eyes, don’t see much hope. It doesn’t mean we stop trying, but roundly “Fuck you” for calling us indifferent. He knows all that he wrote in this book: it’s fucking hopeless. We have not acted. We have instead doubled down. We will not change. Wallace-Wells bred anyway (he has a child) and is now trying to justify it by pretending—despite all the evidence to the contrary that he himself has presented—that it’s not hopeless. He knows his child will not really suffer because she is in the elite conquerors most responsible but least affected.

Don’t you dare condemn pragmatic realism as indifference, sir. If I fall off a cliff, gravity reigns whether I want it to or not. My inaction is not indifference. It’s acceptance. Parents have to spin themselves fairy tales. Don’t expect me to buy their self-consoling bullshit.

“[…] such as the promise that human life will endure, […]”

It probably will, but in a nearly unrecognizable form. We will be demoted to colonists on our home planet.

He continues digging, addressing the suicidal theory of economics that we’ve chosen to honor as the one true God.

“Behavioral economics is unusual as a contrarian intellectual movement in that it overturns beliefs—namely, in the perfectly rational human actor—that perhaps only its proponents ever truly believed, and maybe even only as economics undergraduates.”

But everyone is still trapped by this backward thinking, that “we tend to think of climate as somehow being contained within, or governed by, capitalism. In fact, the opposite: capitalism is endangered by climate.”

And our stumbling, foolish way of running things isn’t nearly efficient enough—not even close. There is no time anymore to let good things happen as a side-effect of a few people making a fuck-ton of money.

“It took New York City forty-five years to build three new stops on a single subway line; the threat of catastrophic climate change means we need to entirely rebuild the world’s infrastructure in considerably less time.”

Next up is technological rapturism: people think that they can escape our ruined world by flying to other planets or by uploading themselves into software (though where the energy comes from to keep running that simulation is a thorny problem).

This is all bullshit, though. We know what we have to do. Eat the rich.

As Wallace-Wells writes,

“If the world’s most conspicuous emitters, the top 10 percent, reduced their emissions to only the E.U. average, total global emissions would fall by 35 percent.”
“United States and Europe, where emissions have already flattened out and will likely begin their decline soon—though how dramatic a decline, and how soon, is very much up in the air.”

Here he conveniently forgets the matter of justice and the fact that the US has “flattened out” at 2.25 times Europe, which is at 2 times China. There’s a lot of savings to be had by reducing them. The prior quote that says that reducing the worst 10% to EU levels would reduce the burden by 35% applies to mostly UAE and US citizens. This is also ignoring the fact that European and U.S. lifestyles are buttressed by industry in China. You can’t just offload your carbon emissions by killing your own manufacturing but still increasing consumption. They’re still technically your carbon emissions if your consumption is the only thing driving that production.

“[…] a large slice of China’s emissions is produced manufacturing goods to be consumed by Americans and Europeans.”

He argues that we need to “shake the casual sense that as time marches forward, life improves ineluctably”, but this is an elite opinion anyway. Most haven’t felt and don’t feel these effects anyway. It was always a myth for 95% of humanity.

“[…] warming at the level necessary to fully melt ice sheets and glaciers and elevate sea level by several hundred feet promises to initiate rolling, radically transformative changes on a timescale measured not in decades or centuries or even millennia, but in the millions of years.”

On that scale, our cradle environment, what we cherish, will be long gone. Even the memory of it will be long gone. By the time the planet is once again able to offer conditions similar to those of fifty years ago, mankind will no longer be interested or will fight it.

“As Swedish journalist Torill Kornfeldt asks […] “Why should nature as it is now be of any greater value than the natural world of 10,000 years ago, or the species that will exist 10,000 years from now?””

Good question, in absolute terms. However, its value to us, now, is much higher, as we are stuck at one point on time’s arrow. Perhaps we sacrifice now so that 10,000 years from now is nicer, but we’re not doing that either.

In the end, though, there is no more discussion needed.

“[…] the world has, at most, about three decades to completely decarbonize before truly devastating climate horrors begin. You can’t halfway your way to a solution to a crisis this large.”

We have to abandon everything we know about capitalism as we do it today. It is a crooked kleptocracy that only ever threw enough crumbs to keep its subjects from rising up. As summarized by George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier:

“The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all cooperate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.”

Citations

In the citations below, all emphases are added.

“The most notorious [extinction] was 250 million years ago; it began when carbon dioxide warmed the planet by five degrees Celsius, accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane, another greenhouse gas, and ended with all but a sliver of life on Earth dead.

We are currently adding carbon to the atmosphere at a considerably faster rate; by most estimates, at least ten times faster. The rate is one hundred times faster than at any point in human history before the beginning of industrialization. And there is already, right now, fully a third more carbon in the atmosphere than at any point in the last 800,000 years—perhaps in as long as 15 million years. There were no humans then. The oceans were more than a hundred feet higher.”

Page 3
“In these ways—many of them, at least—I am like every other American who has spent their life fatally complacent, and willfully deluded, about climate change, which is not just the biggest threat human life on the planet has ever faced but a threat of an entirely different category and scale. That is, the scale of human life itself.”
Page 7
“But that those bigger numbers are only the far upper reaches of what is possible should not lull us into complacency; when we dismiss the worst-case possibilities, it distorts our sense of likelier outcomes, which we then regard as extreme scenarios we needn’t plan so conscientiously for. High-end estimates establish the boundaries of what’s possible, between which we can better conceive of what is likely. And perhaps they will prove better guides even than that, considering the optimists have never, in the half century of climate anxiety we’ve already endured, been right.”
Page 8
“In 2016, the Paris accords established two degrees as a global goal, and, to read our newspapers, that level of warming remains something like the scariest scenario it is responsible to consider; just a few years later, with no single industrial nation on track to meet its Paris commitments, two degrees looks more like a best-case outcome, at present hard to credit, with an entire bell curve of more horrific possibilities extending beyond it and yet shrouded, delicately, from public view.”
Page 9
“[…] because we liked driving our cars and eating our beef and living as we did in every other way and didn’t want to think too hard about that; or because we felt so “postindustrial” we couldn’t believe we were still drawing material breaths from fossil fuel furnaces. Perhaps it was because we were so sociopathically good at collating bad news into a sickening evolving sense of what constituted “normal,” or because we looked outside and things seemed still okay.”
Page 10
“At two degrees, the ice sheets will begin their collapse, 400 million more people will suffer from water scarcity, major cities in the equatorial band of the planet will become unlivable, and even in the northern latitudes heat waves will kill thousands each summer. There would be thirty-two times as many extreme heat waves in India, and each would last five times as long, exposing ninety-three times more people. This is our best-case scenario.
Page 12
“But time is perhaps the most mind-bending feature, the worst outcomes arriving so long from now that we reflexively discount their reality.”
Page 13
“The truth is actually much scarier. That is, the end of normal; never normal again. We have already exited the state of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place, in an unsure and unplanned bet on just what that animal can endure. The climate system that raised us, and raised everything we now know as human culture and civilization, is now, like a parent, dead.”
Page 18
“[…] however sanguine you might be about the proposition that we have already ravaged the natural world, which we surely have, it is another thing entirely to consider the possibility that we have only provoked it, engineering first in ignorance and then in denial a climate system that will now go to war with us for many centuries, perhaps until it destroys us.
Page 20
If you had to invent a threat grand enough, and global enough, to plausibly conjure into being a system of true international cooperation, climate change would be it—the threat everywhere, and overwhelming, and total. And yet now, just as the need for that kind of cooperation is paramount, indeed necessary for anything like the world we know to survive, we are only unbuilding those alliances—recoiling into nationalistic corners and retreating from collective responsibility and from each other. That collapse of trust is a cascade, too.”
Page 25
“Rhetoric often fails us on climate because the only factually appropriate language is of a kind we’ve been trained, by a buoyant culture of sunny-side-up optimism, to dismiss, categorically, as hyperbole.”
Page 29
“Global warming has improbably compressed into two generations the entire story of human civilization. First, the project of remaking the planet so that it is undeniably ours, a project whose exhaust, the poison of emissions, now casually works its way through millennia of ice so quickly you can see the melt with a naked eye, destroying the environmental conditions that have held stable and steadily governed for literally all of human history.”
Page 29
“Over the last few years, as the planet’s own environmental rhythms have seemed to grow more fatalistic, skeptics have found themselves arguing not that climate change isn’t happening, since extreme weather has made that undeniable, but that its causes are unclear—suggesting that the changes we are seeing are the result of natural cycles rather than human activities and interventions. It is a very strange argument; if the planet is warming at a terrifying pace and on a horrifying scale, it should transparently concern us more, rather than less, that the warming is beyond our control, possibly even our comprehension.
Page 30
“Some, like our oil companies and their political patrons, are more prolific authors than others. But the burden of responsibility is too great to be shouldered by a few, however comforting it is to think all that is needed is for a few villains to fall. Each of us imposes some suffering on our future selves every time we flip on a light switch, buy a plane ticket, or fail to vote. Now we all share the responsibility to write the next act. We found a way to engineer devastation, and we can find a way to engineer our way out of it—or, rather, engineer our way toward a degraded muddle, but one that nevertheless extends forward the promise of new generations finding their own way forward, perhaps toward some brighter environmental future.”
Page 30
“The project of unplugging the entire industrial world from fossil fuels is intimidating, and must be done in fairly short order—by 2040, many scientists say. But in the meantime many avenues are open—wide open, if we are not too lazy and too blinkered and too selfish to embark upon them. Fully half of British emissions, it was recently calculated, come from inefficiencies in construction, discarded and unused food, electronics, and clothing; two-thirds of American energy is wasted; globally, according to one paper, we are subsidizing the fossil fuel business to the tune of $5 trillion each year.”
Page 32
“Five years ago, hardly anyone outside the darkest corners of the internet had even heard of Bitcoin; today mining it consumes more electricity than is generated by all the world’s solar panels combined, which means that in just a few years we’ve assembled, out of distrust of one another and the nations behind “fiat currencies,” a program to wipe out the gains of several long, hard generations of green energy innovation.”
Page 33
“Annihilation is only the very thin tail of warming’s very long bell curve, and there is nothing stopping us from steering clear of it. But what lies between us and extinction is horrifying enough, and we have not yet begun to contemplate what it means to live under those conditions”
Page 34
“Especially those who have imbibed several centuries of Western triumphalism tend to see the story of human civilization as an inevitable conquest of the earth, rather than the saga of an insecure culture, like mold, growing haphazardly and unsurely upon it.”
Page 34
We have all already left behind the narrow window of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place, but not just evolve—that window has enclosed everything we remember as history, and value as progress, and study as politics. What will it mean to live outside that window, probably quite far outside it? That reckoning is the subject of this book.”
Page 35
“I may be in the minority in feeling that the world could lose much of what we think of as “nature,” as far as I cared, so long as we could go on living as we have in the world left behind.”
Page 36

Diehard city dweller. My life does not continue without nature.

“That uncertainty is among the most momentous metanarratives that climate change will bring to our culture over the next decades—an eerie lack of clarity about what the world we live in will even look like, just a decade or two down the road, when we will still be living in the same homes and paying the same mortgages, watching the same television shows and making appeals to many of the same justices of the Supreme Court. But while there are a few things science does not know about how the climate system will respond to all the carbon we’ve pumped into the air, the uncertainty of what will happen—that haunting uncertainty—emerges not from scientific ignorance but, overwhelmingly, from the open question of how we respond.”
Page 43
“Three-quarters of a century since global warming was first recognized as a problem, we have made no meaningful adjustment to our production or consumption of energy to account for it and protect ourselves. For far too long, casual climate observers have watched scientists draw pathways to a stable climate and concluded that the world would adapt accordingly; instead, the world has done more or less nothing, as though those pathways would implement themselves. Market forces have delivered cheaper and more widely available green energy, but the same market forces have absorbed those innovations, which is to say profited from them, while continuing to grow emissions.”
Page 43
“This puts Donald Trump’s commitment to withdraw from the treaty in a useful perspective; in fact, his spite may ultimately prove perversely productive, since the evacuation of American leadership on climate seems to have mobilized China—giving Xi Jinping an opportunity and an enticement to adopt a much more aggressive posture toward climate.”
Page 44
“Globally, coal power has nearly doubled since 2000.”
Page 45
“In the postindustrial West, we try not to think about these bargains, which have benefited us so enormously. When we do, it is often in the guilty spirit of what critic Kris Bartkus has memorably called “the Malthusian tragic”—namely, our inability to see any remaining innocence in the quotidian life of the well-to-do West, given the devastation that wealth has imposed on the world of natural wonder it conquered and the suffering of those, elsewhere on the planet, left behind in the race to endless material comforts. And asked, functionally, to pay for them.”
Page 54
““Of course we did it to ourselves; we had always been intellectually lazy, and the less asked of us, the less we had to say,” he writes. “We all lived for money, and that is what we died for.””
Page 55
“One hopes these population booms will bring their own Borlaugs, ideally many of them.”
Page 56

Why? From everything he’s written, we should drastically reduce the population in order to mitigate suffering. Stop breeding FFS.

“That 260-foot rise is, ultimately, the ceiling—but it is a pretty good bet we will get there eventually. Greenhouse gases simply work on too long a timescale to avoid it, though what kind of human civilization will be around to see that flooded planet is very much to be determined.”
Page 68

Mother of God. It’s a science-fiction scenario.

“In the affluent cities of the West, even those conscious of environmental change have spent the last few decades walking our street grids and driving our highways, navigating our superabundant supermarkets and all-everywhere internet and believing that we had built our way out of nature. We have not. A paradise dreamscape erected in a barren desert, L.A. has always been an impossible city, as Mike Davis has so brilliantly written.”
Page 72
“On local golf courses, the West Coast’s wealthy still showed up for their tee times, swinging their clubs just yards from blazing fires in photographs that could not have been more perfectly staged to skewer the country’s indifferent plutocracy. The following year, Americans watched the Kardashians evacuate via Instagram stories, then read about the private firefighting forces they employed, the rest of the state reliant on conscripted convicts earning as little as a dollar a day.”
Page 73
“By 2100, floods of that scale are expected as many as seventeen times more often in New York. Katrina-level hurricanes are expected to double in frequency.”
Page 81

Although, in the previous chapter, he wrote that NYC would not exist.

“[…] that 0.007 percent should be, believe it or not, plenty, not just for the seven billion of us here but for as many as nine billion, perhaps even a bit more. Of course, we are likely heading north of nine billion this century, to a global population of at least ten and possibly twelve billion. As with food scarcity, much of the growth is expected in parts of the world already most strained by water shortage—in this case, urban Africa. In many African countries already, you are expected to get by on as little as twenty liters of water each day—less than half of what water organizations say is necessary for public health. As soon as 2030, global water demand is expected to outstrip supply by 40 percent.”
Page 86

Untenable.

“There is no need for a water crisis, in other words, but we have one anyway, and aren’t doing much to address it.”
Page 87
“Sitting in a living room in a modern apartment in an advanced metropolis somewhere in the developed world, this threat may seem hard to credit—so many cities looking nowadays like fantasies of endless and on-demand abundance for the world’s wealthy. But of all urban entitlements, the casual expectation of never-ending drinking water is perhaps the most deeply delusional. It takes quite a lot to bring that water to your sink, your shower, and your toilet.”
Page 89
“Today, at just one degree of warming, those regions with at least a month of water shortages each year include just about all of the United States west of Texas, where lakes and aquifers are being drained to meet demand,”
Page 91

The market rules. People move to stupid places for stupid, short-sighted, and selfish reasons. Communities respond by attracting and accommodating the wealthy.

“The five-year Syrian drought that stretched from 2006 to 2011, producing crop failures that created political instability and helped usher in the civil war that produced a global refugee crisis, is one vivid example.”
Page 93

With no goading or machination from self-interested, western powers, exacerbating a climate crisis for which they are largely responsible with fomented warfare intended to consolidate power over more oil-production.

“With CO2 at 930 parts per million (more than double where we are today), cognitive ability declines by 21 percent.”
Page 100

These numbers are suspiciously precise.

“reducing Chinese pollution to the EPA standard, for instance, would improve the country’s verbal test scores by 13 percent and its math scores by 8 percent.”
Page 101

More suspiciously precise numbers.

“That year, smog was responsible for 1.37 million deaths in the country.”
Page 102

So much biomass to dispose of.

“In the developing world, 98 percent of cities are enveloped by air above the threshold of safety established by the WHO. Get out of urban areas and the problem doesn’t much improve: 95 percent of the world’s population is breathing dangerously polluted air. Since 2013, China has undertaken an unprecedented cleanup of its air, but as of 2015 pollution was still killing more than a million Chinese each year. Globally, one out of six deaths is caused by air pollution.”
Page 104
“In New England, dead moose calves have been found suckling as many as 90,000 engorged ticks, often killing the calves not through Lyme disease but simple anemia, the effect of that number of bugs each drawing a few milliliters of blood from the moose. Those that survive are far from robust, many having scratched so incessantly at their own hides to clear it of ticks that they completely eliminated their own hair, leaving behind a spooky gray skin that has earned them the name “ghost moose.””
Page 112
“Compared to the trajectory of economic growth with no climate change, their average projection is for a 23 percent loss in per capita earning globally by the end of this century.”
Page 117

Good.

“Tracing the shape of the probability curve is even scarier. There is a 51 percent chance, this research suggests, that climate change will reduce global output by more than 20 percent by 2100, compared with a world without warming, and a 12 percent chance that it lowers per capita GDP by 50 percent or more by then, unless emissions decline. By comparison, the Great Depression dropped global GDP by about 15 percent, it is estimated”
Page 117

Whats the problem? Are we supposed to grow no matter what? Isn’t that the problem?

“And to help buffer or offset the impacts, we have no New Deal revival waiting around the corner, no Marshall Plan ready.”
Page 118

What could we do? Everything we could do involves energy, extraction, and manufacturing. Every move we make to fix the problem likely makes it worse. Use solar to get free energy? Manufacturing panels is counterproductive. It’s Far too late for nuclear, considering the manufacturing and concrete involved.

“Over the last several decades, policy consensus has cautioned that the world would only tolerate responses to climate change if they were free—or, even better, if they could be presented as avenues of economic opportunity.
Page 122
“Hitting four degrees of warming, which lies on the low end of the range of warming implied by our current emissions trajectory, would cut into it by 30 percent or more. This is a trough twice as deep as the deprivations that scarred our grandparents in the 1930s, and which helped produce a wave of fascism, authoritarianism, and genocide.”
Page 123

Yes, but losing 15% of 1000 is more devastating than 30% of 50,000. They suffered because they were closer to death to begin with. We fall farther, but still land much higher.

“Even for those in the American military who expect the country’s hegemony to endure indefinitely, climate change presents a problem, because being the world’s policeman is quite a bit harder when the crime rate doubles.”
Page 126

What the fuck? The US is the primary cause of aggression and escalation, through active agitation and arms sales.

“Over the last decade or so, the linguist Steven Pinker has made a second career out of suggesting that, in the West especially, we are unable to appreciate human progress—are in fact blind to all of the massive and rapid improvements the world has witnessed in less violence and war and poverty, reduced infant mortality, and enhanced life expectancy.”
Page 128

Now I finally realize what annoys me so much about his argument: the rate of progress was unsustainable and unevenly distributed. The blowback when the wave crashes will it everyone but Pinker and his cohort. It’s Like a student cramming for a test that won’t remember 90%; the current situation incurs unrealistic expectations. Basically, our progress was obtained on credit and the bill is coming due.

“The perspective is not naive. We live in that world with them—helping make it for them, and with them, and for ourselves. The next decades are not yet determined. A new timer begins with every birth, measuring how much more damage will be done to the planet and the life this child will live on it. The horizons are just as open to us, however foreclosed and foreordained they may seem. But we close them off when we say anything about the future being inevitable. What may sound like stoic wisdom is often an alibi for indifference.”
Page 135

Fuck you. You know all that you wrote in this book: it’s fucking hopeless. We have not acted. We have instead doubled down. We will not change. You bred anyway and are now trying to justify it. You know your child will not really suffer because she is in the elite conquerors most responsible but least affected.

Don’t you dare condemn pragmatic realism as indifference. If I fall off a cliff, gravity reigns whether I want it to or not. My inaction is not indifference. It’s Acceptance. Parents have to spin themselves fairy tales.

“The corporate influence of fossil fuel is present, of course, but so are inertia and the allure of near-term gains and the preferences of the world’s workers and consumers, who fall somewhere on a long spectrum of culpability stretching from knowing selfishness through true ignorance and reflexive, if naive, complacency.”
Page 149
“Flying insects might be disappearing because of warming, in other words—that recent study suggested that, already, 75 percent of them may have died, drawing us closer to a world without pollinators, which the researchers called an “ecological Armageddon””
Page 152

No pollinators, no food, no people, so other predictions of growth are strongly countered. Unless mankind flails in a paroxysm of energy use to dwarf all efforts heretofore to try to cover the gap, which will also end things quickly.

“In the nineteenth century, the built environment of the most advanced countries reflected the prerogatives of industry—think of railroad tracks laid across whole continents to move coal. In the twentieth century, those same environments were made to reflect the needs of capital—think of global urbanization agglomerating labor supply for a new service economy. In the twenty-first century, they will reflect the demands of the climate crisis: seawalls, carbon-capture plantations, state-sized solar arrays.”
Page 154
“That we reengineered the natural world so sufficiently to close the book on an entire geological era—that is the major lesson of the Anthropocene. The scale of that transformation remains astonishing, even to those of us who were raised amidst it and took all of its imperious values for granted. Twenty-two percent of the earth’s landmass was altered by humans just between 1992 and 2015. Ninety-six percent of the world’s mammals, by weight, are now humans and their livestock; just four percent are wild.
Page 154
“There is automation bias, which describes a preference for algorithmic and other kinds of nonhuman decision making, and also applies to our generations-long deference to market forces as something like an infallible, or at least an unbeatable, overseer. In the case of climate, this has meant trusting that economic systems unencumbered by regulation or restriction would solve the problem of global warming as naturally, as surely as they had solved the problems of pollution, inequality, justice, and conflict.”
Page 159
“[…] such as the promise that human life will endure, […]”
Page 159

It probably will, but in a nearly unrecognizable form. We will be demoted to colonists on our home planet.

Behavioral economics is unusual as a contrarian intellectual movement in that it overturns beliefs—namely, in the perfectly rational human actor—that perhaps only its proponents ever truly believed, and maybe even only as economics undergraduates. But altogether the field is not merely a revision to existing economics. It is a thoroughgoing contradiction of the central proposition of its parent discipline, indeed to the whole rationalist self-image of the modern West as it emerged out of the universities of—in what can only be coincidence—the early industrial period. That is, a map of human reason as an awkward kluge, blindly self-regarding and self-defeating, curiously effective at some things and maddeningly incompetent when it comes to others; compromised and misguided and tattered. How did we ever put a man on the moon?
Page 160
“To some, even ending trillions in fossil fuel subsidies sounds harder to pull off than deploying technologies to suck carbon out of the air everywhere on Earth.”
Page 161
“[…] perhaps in part because we see the way that perspectives on climate change map neatly onto existing and familiar perspectives on capitalism—from burn-it-all-down leftists to naively optimistic and blinkered technocrats to rent-seeking, kleptocratic, growth-is-the-only-value conservatives—we tend to think of climate as somehow being contained within, or governed by, capitalism. In fact, the opposite: capitalism is endangered by climate.
Page 162
“But the downward revision of expectations for the future may be still more important than diminished prosperity in the present. And if what you mean by “capitalism” is not just the operation of market forces but the religion of free trade as a just and even perfect social system, you have to expect, at the very least, that a major reformation is coming.”
Page 166
“The cost is large: a decarbonized economy, a perfectly renewable energy system, a reimagined system of agriculture, and perhaps even a meatless planet. In 2018, the IPCC compared the necessary transformation to the mobilization of World War II, but global. It took New York City forty-five years to build three new stops on a single subway line; the threat of catastrophic climate change means we need to entirely rebuild the world’s infrastructure in considerably less time.
Page 169
“To reduce the level of carbon in the atmosphere just by a few parts per million—which would buy us a little more time, matching not just our present emissions but our likely level a few years down the road—would take 500 million of these devices. To reduce the level of carbon by 20 parts per million per year, he calculates, would require 1 billion of them. This would immediately pull us back from the threshold, even buy us some more time of carbon growth—which is an argument you hear against it from some corners of the environmental Left. But it would cost, you may already have calculated, $300 trillion—or nearly four times total global GDP.”
Page 170

That’s a stupid number because he doesn’t even consider whether it’s even feasible to build that many nor what the carbon cost of doing so would be.

“[…] the belief that the grandest task before technologists is not to engineer prosperity and well-being for humanity but to build a kind of portal through which we might pass into another, possibly eternal kind of existence, a technological rapture in which conceivably many—the billions lacking access to broadband, to begin with—would be left behind. It would be very hard, after all, to upload your brain to the cloud when you’re buying pay-as-you-go data by the SIM card.”
Page 175
“Over the last twenty-five years, the cost per unit of renewable energy has fallen so far that you can hardly measure the price, today, using the same scales (since just 2009, for instance, solar energy costs have fallen more than 80 percent). Over the same twenty-five years, the proportion of global energy use derived from renewables has not grown an inch. Solar isn’t eating away at fossil fuel use, in other words, even slowly; it’s just buttressing it. To the market, this is growth; to human civilization, it is almost suicide. We are now burning 80 percent more coal than we were just in the year 2000.
Page 177
“In fact, it is not like that; it is that. All of that and much, much more: intensive infrastructure projects at every level and in every corner of human activity, from new plane fleets to new land use and right down to a new way of making concrete, production of which ranks today as the second most carbon-intensive industry in the world—an industry that is booming, by the way, thanks to China, which recently poured more concrete in three years than the United States used in the entire twentieth century.
Page 180
“[…] unlike the internet or smartphones, the requisite technologies are not additive but substitutive, or should be, if we have the good sense to actually retire the dirty old varieties. Which means that all of the new alternatives have to face off with the resistance of entrenched corporate interests and the status-quo bias of consumers who are relatively happy with the lives they have today.”
Page 180
“Today, despite a variety of projects aimed at producing cheap nuclear energy, the price of new plants remains high enough that it is hard to make a persuasive argument that more “green” investment be directed toward them rather than installations of wind and solar. But the case for decommissioning and dismantling existing plants is considerably weaker, and yet that is exactly what is happening—from the United States, where both Three Mile Island and Indian Point are being closed down, to Germany, where so much nuclear power has recently been retired that the country is growing its carbon emissions despite a state-of-the-world green energy program.”
Page 183
“But liberal NIMBYism will still strut, too, as it did in 2018, when American voters in deep-blue Washington state rejected a carbon tax at the ballot box, and the worst French protests since the quasi-revolution of 1968 raged against a proposed gasoline tax. On perhaps no issue more than climate is that liberal posture of well-off enlightenment a defensive gesture: almost regardless of your politics or your consumption choices, the wealthier you are, the larger your carbon footprint.”
Page 187

A bit muddled. Not sure of Washington, but Gilets Jaunes is working class, not liberal elite.

“But when critics of Al Gore compare his electricity use to that of the average Ugandan, they are not ultimately highlighting conspicuous and hypocritical personal consumption, however they mean to disparage him. Instead, they are calling attention to the structure of a political and economic order that not only permits the disparity but feeds and profits from it—this is what Thomas Piketty calls the “apparatus of justification.” And it justifies quite a lot. If the world’s most conspicuous emitters, the top 10 percent, reduced their emissions to only the E.U. average, total global emissions would fall by 35 percent. We won’t get there through the dietary choices of individuals, but through policy changes.”
Page 187
“In the form of tribalism at home and nationalism abroad and terrorism flaming out from the tinder of failed states, that future is here, at least in preview, already.”
Page 191

People always talk of terrorism as if it just appears and lashes out when a state fails. The so-called terrorists do not attack indiscriminately. They generally terrorize within their own borders, against occupying powers. No mention of state terror that engenders it all. Or the massive climate costs they incur in doing so. His analysis is weak and incomplete here. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive, but he can’t just toss out these little sentences to make a vague point that comes to an utterly fallacious conclusion.

“a global alliance operating in the name of a common humanity”
Page 193
“United States and Europe, where emissions have already flattened out and will likely begin their decline soon—though how dramatic a decline, and how soon, is very much up in the air.”
Page 194

Here he conveniently forgets the matter of justice and the fact that the US has “flattened out” at 2.25 times Europe, which is at 2 times China. There’s A lot of savings to be had by reducing them. The prior quote that says that reducing the worst 10% to EU levels would reduce the burden by 35% applies to mostly UAE and US citizens.

“And although what’s called “carbon outsourcing” means that a large slice of China’s emissions is produced manufacturing goods to be consumed by Americans and Europeans. Whose responsibility are those gigatons of carbon?”
Page 194
“There is no good thing in the world that will be made more abundant, or spread more widely, by global warming. The list of the bad things that will proliferate is innumerable.”
Page 197
“We are still, now, in much of the world, shorter, sicker, and dying younger than our hunter-gatherer forebears, who were also, by the way, much better custodians of the planet on which we all live.”
Page 199
“[…] makes the history of mark-making—the entire history of civilization, the entire history we know as history—look less like an inevitable crescendo than like an anomaly, or blip. And makes industrialization and economic growth, the two forces that really gave the modern world the hurtling sensation of material progress, a blip inside a blip. A blip inside a blip that has brought us to the brink of a never-ending climate catastrophe.”
Page 199
“But it will not take a worst-case warming to deliver ravages dramatic enough to shake the casual sense that as time marches forward, life improves ineluctably.”
Page 200

This is an elite opinion anyway. Most haven’t felt and don’t feel these effects anyway. It was always a myth for 95% of humanity.

“Just how long the ecosystems of Earth will be thrown into flux and disarray from anthropogenic climate change also depends on how much more of that change we choose to engineer—and perhaps how much we can manage to undo. But warming at the level necessary to fully melt ice sheets and glaciers and elevate sea level by several hundred feet promises to initiate rolling, radically transformative changes on a timescale measured not in decades or centuries or even millennia, but in the millions of years.
Page 203

On that scale, our cradle environment, what we cherish, will be long gone. Even the memory of it will be long gone. By the time the planet is once again able to offer conditions similar to those of fifty years ago, mankind will no longer be interested or will fight it.

“As Swedish journalist Torill Kornfeldt asks in The Re-Origin of Species, her book about the race to “de-extinct” creatures like dinosaurs and woolly mammoths: “Why should nature as it is now be of any greater value than the natural world of 10,000 years ago, or the species that will exist 10,000 years from now?””
Page 207

Good question, in absolute terms. However, its value to us, now, is much higher, as we are stuck at one point on time’s arrow. Perhaps we sacrifice now so that 10,000 years from now is nicer, but we’re not doing that either.

“But he is known today primarily as a prophet of civilizational disavowal, and for the philosophy he bluntly called “inhumanism”: the belief, in short, that people were far too concerned with people-ness, and the place of people in the world, rather than the natural majesty of the nonhuman cosmos in which they happened to find themselves. The modern world, he believed, made the problem considerably worse.”
Page 209
“And how widespread alarm will shape our ethical impulses toward one another, and the politics that emerge from those impulses, is among the more profound questions being posed by the climate to the planet of people it envelops.”
Page 213
“To the average citizen of each of these countries, the criticism may seem extreme, but it arises from a very clearheaded calculus: the world has, at most, about three decades to completely decarbonize before truly devastating climate horrors begin. You can’t halfway your way to a solution to a crisis this large.
Page 214
“The emergent portrait of suffering is, I hope, horrifying. It is also, entirely, elective. If we allow global warming to proceed, and to punish us with all the ferocity we have fed it, it will be because we have chosen that punishment—collectively walking down a path of suicide. If we avert it, it will be because we have chosen to walk a different path, and endure.”
Page 220
“[…] and to everything we know of as civilization, is so fragile that it has been brought to the brink of total instability by just one generation of human activity. But that instability is also a measure of the human power that engineered it, almost by accident, and which now must stop the damage, in only as much time. If humans are responsible for the problem, they must be capable of undoing it.”
Page 220

Gut laugh.

“In To Be a Machine, Mark O’Connell traced the same impulse through Silicon Valley’s whole Brahman caste. The book opens with an epigraph from Don DeLillo:”
““This is the whole point of technology. It creates an appetite for immortality on the one hand. It threatens universal extinction on the other.””
“The quote comes from White Noise, in particular from its narrator’s colleague and sidekick Murray Jay Siskind, who is both the novel’s comic foil and its “explainer.” It was never clear to me just how seriously we are meant to take Murray’s pronouncements, but this one does quite sharply describe the contemporary tech two-step: freaking out about “existential risks” while simultaneously cultivating private exits from mortality.”
“Paul Kingsnorth, “Dark Ecology,” Orion, November–December 2012. This manifesto includes this passage:”
“What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of ongoing collapse, which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green “solutions” being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, barring some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilizational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around”
“Dr. Frankenstein’s crime was not that he invented a creature through some combination of hubris and high technology, but rather that he abandoned the creature to itself. When Dr. Frankenstein meets his creation on a glacier in the Alps, the monster claims that it was not born a monster, but that it became a criminal only after being left alone by his horrified creator, who fled the laboratory once the horrible thing twitched to life.”
Page 295
“Buckminster Fuller popularized the term, but it appeared originally almost a century before him, in Henry George’s 1879 work Progress and Poverty—in a passage later summarized by George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier:”
“The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all cooperate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.”