Like all fights against nouns (drugs, terror), the fight against climate change is a category error. Climate change is a natural reaction to artificial growth. Centuries ago, colonizers incarnated human greed as corporations, and these now ruling AI have done what they’re programmed to do, grow at any cost. ‘We’ are not even the relevant species to climate change, and now is not the time to do anything about it. As all of you should know from your own lives, sometimes it’s too little, too late, and there are bigger forces going on. Climate change is one of those things and this is just one of those times. Anyone who’s lost love, lost loved ones, or just failed a class or missed a train should know this intimately enough.
‘Fighting’ climate change is saying that actions shouldn’t have reactions and that causes shouldn’t have effects. It is fighting a causal process which is impossible, undesirable, and also completely misunderstanding the problem (which is actually a predicament). As the Merovingian AI said in The Matrix:
You see there is only one constant. One universal. It is the only real truth. Causality. Action, reaction. Cause and effect.
Fighting climate change — in the common understanding of it — is to cheat causality. To have our climate and eat it too. To ‘switch’ to renewables. Switch what? The same artificial growth machine that’s trashing the place in so many ways besides CO₂. The grand plan is to continue bulldozing the world, just with an electric bulldozer now. Can you see the problem here? As Dr. Tom Murphy said in his physics textbook, “if energy became essentially unlimited by some technology, I shudder to think what it would mean for the rest of the planet.”
If we’re going to fight something we should consider A) what do we win B) can we win and C) should we win? I’m afraid the answers are no, no, no! That’s why when it comes to fighting climate change, we should seriously consider losing. If we’re at war with the gods of climate, the best option is definitely surrender.
A) What Do We Win
The goal state of climate change is not clearly defined, so I’m channelling general assumptions here. This poor definition of ‘winning’ is a problem with all fights with nouns, it’s like playing football without a goal. Note that I’m talking about common understanding of the fight against climate change. There are people proposing degrowth and people welcoming total collapse, but these are generally considered fringe beliefs (right now).
The common understanding of winning the climate fight is that we stop using fossil fuels, stop emitting (and even capture) CO₂, and carry on a visually indistinguishable type of civilization. Broadly to change the engine, but not the type of vehicle, or where it’s going. The general vibe is that one type of product (fossil fuels) is bad, and that we should switch to consuming other products (renewables!). If you look at the marketing of climate change, the promise is that you can have the same lifestyle — indeed, better — in an electric vehicle and with a different type of milk. The promise is that the future will be even better, faster, more comfortable, and without all that pesky guilt weighing you down. As the Miller Lite slogan goes, “same great taste, less filling.” This type of marketing is just another emission, called bullshit.
The myopic focus on CO₂ coming out the back of this world destroying machine ignores what’s on the front, which is a fucking bulldozer. How do you ‘sustainably’ satisfy every appetite or ‘renewably’ dig shit out of the ground and make disposable products out of it? How is corporations growing forever consistent with finite resources? How does exporting infinite growth to the moon, Mars, or Virtual worlds help. These places all cost vast amounts of energy to get to/create. We’re again solving a problem with more problems, hence the predicament we’re in.
All of the ‘solutions’ to climate change are just marketing slogans to ‘keep capitalist and carry on’. It’s like cigarettes telling you that they have ‘less tar.’ OK, what about all the other shit? Infinite growth on a finite planet still gives you fucking cancer in the long run, which is where we are.
As you can see, our goal state of ‘fighting climate change’ is precisely the problem, which is human domination of the natural world. It’s the very idea that we should control nature that caused the problem. You can’t mitigate the effects of this hubris with more cause. What are we proposing, really, with all the green growth and ‘innovation’? We’re proposing to bind nature in lithium chains instead of hydrocarbons. That’s all. We’ve gotten away with it for so long that we think we can pull a fast one on nature again (follow the science!), but nature will not be fooled. This is just the same old hubris in new packaging. This attitude of ‘fighting’ and ‘winning’ over nature is precisely why we lose. Nature is a balance. One species ‘winning’ is an oxymoron.
B) Can We Win?
Luckily (?) we can’t actually do it. We cannot win as much as we try. Fossil fuels were a spectacular one-time inheritance and just we blew it, there’s no ready replacement, nor is it physically possible. You simply cannot get the same energy density and functionality from renewables. Long-haul flights, shipping across the open ocean, sprawled out cities, disposable everything (including construction), that’s all got to go. This is not the victory state anybody is marketing at all.
We can certainly have different (and vastly reduced) civilizations (note the plural) with different energy sources, but not this one. Ours is a massively coked up civilization and we can’t just switch to Coca-Cola and expect the party to go on as before.
Murphy (above) goes into the physics of ‘human ambitions on a finite planet’ in his textbook, which I have gone through in blog posts covering, how, precisely, we’re fucked, including mathematically, economically, and financially. You can really pick any way of looking at it, we’re completely fucked. Anyone saying we’re not is presuming some unknown, effectively magical technology to save us, but this ain’t a movie and we ain’t the stars. As Murphy says, pulling a few rabbits out of a hat does not imply infinite rabbits. Sometimes the rabbit just goes in the pot and doesn’t come out.
For a less academic perspective, just go to the Maldives, or more precisely, don’t. The Maldives is a close neighbor to Sri Lanka and I recently went there myself. The place is both being destroyed by flights and shipping and also can’t live without them. This is just the modern condition in microcosm. On the other edge of this civilization, in Yellow Knife in Canada, people are desperately filling up on gasoline (a cause of climate change) to escape wildfires (an effect). The ironies at the edges of this industrial civilization are unavoidable, but the point will get to the core soon enough. We are all living like this, just with different levels of deniability. Yet causality is the ‘one real truth’ as the Merovingian said and we can’t get away from it.
Our goal state of ‘doing everything we’re doing but better’, is not just stupid, it’s physically impossible. There are necessarily going to be trade-offs in switching energy sources from millions of years of stored solar energy to collecting it yourself. But we’re not even talking about trade-offs, people want to trade in their Toyota for an even better Tesla, that goes faster and lets you play video games while mowing down homeless people. We’re deeply delusional, we misunderstand both the problem and even our solution to the made-up problem doesn’t work out.
C) Should We Win?
Now the most important question, which scientists especially don’t ask, is should we win at all? Should we pull a technological rabbit out of the hat, and find some way to continue this high consumption, high-growth civilization? As Dr. Murphy (above) or anyone who’s seriously thought about this will say, this is a terrible outcome.
You simply cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet, whatever the energy source. If we switch this bulldozer we call a civilization to electric, guess what? It’s still bulldozing. We’ll still be devastating land, extincting relatives, producing massive amounts of waste, and consuming other resources to exhaustion. If we change the emissions coming out of the back of this civilization, it’s still spewing the massive bullshit that this type of civilization is a good idea at all.
Remember that climate change is a natural reaction. Action. Reaction. Causality. Our victory state is continuing the same causes without the effects. In addition to being impossible and impractical, this is just wrong. This is a novel concept for scientists motivated by pure curiosity (re: cats) and capitalists motivated by pure greed, but it’s important.
Now what exactly is wrong? And what would we actually need to do to make things ‘right’ again? Well, the first thing is that we need to give up fighting, and generally ‘give up’ to the higher power which we’re calling climate right now. If we still want to use warlike metaphors (what else do we know), the logical response would be surrendering to the climate, which is a force of nature and a noun, something both so real and simultaneously abstract that it cannot be possibly ‘defeated’ in open battle. We are tilting at clouds with windmills and this does not work out. That’s why we need to stop ‘fighting’ climate change. What are we even fighting? The climate? The gods? We need to take an L for once. That’s what it means to live in balance. You win some, you lose some.
Now what exactly does ‘losing’ look like? We’ll get to that anon.