If you want to be evil about it
Thanos was an environmentalist, albeit a misguided one. Like Malthus and Paul Ehrlich, he saw the environmental problem in a very simplistic way. Too many people will eat everything, like rabbits, and we’ll all die.
His solution was to disintegrate 50% of everybody.
People, however, are not rabbits. Thanos obviously has no data scientists or economists on his team and is just spitballing here. Killing 50% of everyone is a very regressive plan. If it was truly random, this would only reduce emissions by 50%, and more is possible.
Let’s say that you’re Silver Surfer, advising Thanos. He obviously wants to kill some people, because, you know, Thanos going to Thanos. How do you minimize the murder while maximizing the environmental impact?
Here’s a few options you can present the Mad Titan.
1 | Disintegrate The Rich
When I said people weren’t rabbits, what I meant is that we live in highly structured and unequal societies. Our problem is massive overconsumption by a few. It’s rich hoarders, not hordes of poor people. Just look at the data:
If Thanos must kill 50% of humanity, he would have a much higher impact with a progressive scheme. Disintegrating the ‘top’ 50% of humanity would reduce emissions by 86% — almost completely.
Then he could implement an Infinity Stone based energy supply or whatever he planned to do. In the comics he just seemed to be trying to bang lady Death which is, well, goals I guess.
That’s still nearly 4 billion disintegrations, which would include me. Let’s see if we can talk Thanos down a bit.
2 | Disintegrate The 10%
What if we just look at personal consumption? Around 36% of emissions are shared — done by your government or for infrastructure and international transport. The rest is more directly attributable to individual lifestyles.
This is what that responsibility looks like, according to Oxfam.
By this measure, just 10% of the world’s population is responsible for 50% of the emissions. So Thanos can snap away less than a billion people and still have a pretty big impact.
This likely spares me but my sisters still live in carbon-spewing America. Let’s see what more we can negotiate.
3 | Disintegrate The Fossil Fuel Companies
It makes a bit of sense to hold individuals responsible, but not a lot. We all just make the choices in front of us, which are advanced by very powerful interests. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of emissions. Why not target them, and spare the consumers?
These are the companies in question, scaled by destruction.
The boards and shareholders of these companies couldn’t be more than a million people. They are the most directly responsible for climate change, and for covering it up, so why not disintegrate them?
The trouble is that these companies do, in addition to being evil, actually power the entire global economy. If you just pull the plug on them you’d get the collapse of basically every government on Earth, which Thanos would like, but that is still where everyone lives
The sensible compromise here would be just disintegrating the boards (maybe 2,000 people). The new leadership should be motivated towards a quick and orderly disintegration of the business, rather than of themselves.
But we can get even more targeted than this.
4 | Disintegrate The Banks
If you follow the money, you end up at a bank. Just 33 banks fund climate change — including new digging up of fossil fuels, taking us well past the Paris Agreement’s targets.
If Thanos just goes for the banks, the fossil fuel companies will naturally wind down. He would just have to disintegrate the boards of banks like JPMorgan Chase and Citi and Goldman Sachs, who would not be terribly missed.
So we’re already down from 4 billion to maybe 100. Which is good, but what if we can target Thanos down from 4 billion disintegrations to just one? And spare Spiderman?
5 | Disintegrate Jamie Dimon
The one person probably the most responsible for climate change is Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. His alter-ego is Depraved Demon.
JPMorgan Chase funds $200 billion worth of fossil fuels, including $70 billion in fossil fuel expansion. The world cannot bear the fossil fuels we have, and he is extracting more. A true super-villain here, possibly already holding an Infinity Stone.
If Jamie Dimon publicly disintegrated, ideally while doing one of his reputation-laundry CSR projects, everyone might just get the message. The urgency of the situation. And our unequal unbalancing of the environment might stop.
The Thanos Solution
Am I Team Thanos? I mean, no, he’s not real. If a trolley was heading for the fossil fuel industry and their financiers I wouldn’t stop it, but I don’t support trolley-based violence.
The fact is that we live in a world without superheroes and super-villains. It’s just us. We don’t need to disintegrate our population, we need to organize it.
We have to stop using fossil fuels and rapidly transition to clean energy. And we have to see the intersectionality of all justice, from climate to income to gender. So yeah, maybe it’s a bit superhuman, but didn’t we all dream when we read these comics, or watched the movies?
The world’s in peril. Now’s our chance.
Hat tip to Darren Mooney for a great Twitter thread on these comics. And to the IO9 article about Thanos’s motivations.
I’ve also done some further writing on Climate Change here: