Climate Leviathan

Road to Resilience


When I started writing this column seven and a half years ago, my purpose was to spread the word of about the Transition Movement, that man-made, catastrophic climate change was on the way and the degree to which we could avoid its worst effects would be determined by how quickly we could transition away from a wasteful, petroleum-based economy and to a localized, diversified, carbon-free economy.  We were very late in reacting to this, and only a dramatic and comprehensive effort, on the scale of the mobilization for World War II, would be sufficient to maintain a reasonable semblance of the world we now live in.  In 1942, the US completely stopped production of cars and many other domestic products and began producing tanks, bombers, and such.  The total retooling of manufacturing plants was done in a matter of months!  No situation since then has been compelling enough to allow change on that scale to occur in such a short time.  Yet, that is the scale of change that is called for now.

In 2011, we were talking about a 3 percent annual reduction in green house gases to be on schedule.  During the Great Recession of 2008-9, our carbon footprint fell by that much as a result of a debilitating loss of jobs and wealth.  We lacked, and still lack, the political will to intentionally orchestrate a change of that magnitude in a controlled fashion.

In my report on the UN climate change conference in Durban, South Africa in 2011, I mentioned that they were putting off a binding agreement until 2015.  I also mentioned that, with no action, by that time the required annual reduction of carbon would be 5%, an unprecedented reduction that would be difficult to maintain without negatively affecting the world’s economy.  That deadline, and the Paris Agreement which was supposed to activate a binding agreement, is now 3 years in the past and, still no binding agreement.

On the good side, the renewable energy industry has become competitive with fossil fuels far faster than anyone expected.  Although we can now see the eventual demise of the fossil fuel industry, the question is, will it happen soon enough?  Given our inability to take climate change seriously so far, there is a general unspoken resignation that we will be extremely fortunate if our climate does not warm more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).  Much of the focus now is on climate change mitigation, that is to say, climate change is already happening and will eventually completely alter life as we know it, so how do we adapt to it?

This requires a fundamental change in our thinking.  Up until now we have been discussing what dramatic and unprecedented changes we need to make to lower our carbon production and avoid climate change.  Now, given the most likely scenario that we will be unable to avoid life-changing climate change, the question is, what political and economic institutions will we need to make and enforce decisions on a global scale that will minimize the damage and suffering?

In a book called Climate Leviathan, authors Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright explore several scenarios to deal with a game changing future.  Ironically, it is the very freedom and liberty we revere and the capricious guiding hand of the Market that have gotten us into this mess.  Whatever the political and economic flavor we choose, laws will need to be strictly enforced because we will mostly not like what they will require of us.  You can think of this like Martial Law.

The most likely scenario that they see they call Climate Leviathan.   It is an extrapolation of the current global market into a global governing body.  Another option is Climate Behemoth, which is a fascist, nationalist movement that will secure life for some at the expense of others.  You know that one.  The third scenario is called Climate Mao.  This would be a regional or global leftist authoritarian regime.  Understand that in all these scenarios, the primary feature has to be a governing body that can impose and enforce laws that will arrest carbon production and fairly distribute limited resources.  Some may be more fair and just than others, but the main selling point will be keeping a lid on things.

There is a fourth option that they call Climate X, which is an as yet undeveloped scenario that elicits compliance with necessary laws less by threat of punishment than by a general knowledge, awareness, and respect for living systems, such as indigenous cultures maintain.  Let’s call this the “wishful thinking” option that is well worth pursuing, but not likely a first option because there will be no time for changing minds.

Mann and Wainwright see all of these scenarios likely to be in play at one point or another, but let’s hope that the Climate X scenario is the one we eventually end up with.

Bring your blanket, chairs, and some food to the “Picnic in the Park with the Candidates” (competing for Sharon Nelson’s State Senate seat), on Wednesday, July 25, 6-8 pm, at Ober  Park.  Think of it as one of the things we need to do to show that we are still interested in governing ourselves.