The Challenge of Our Time

We’re continuing our “money machine” series on the cost of carbon capitalism. Gas gets cheaper, the weather gets warmer, and for our guests the environmental activists Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben, the choice is clear: change our ways, or reap the whirlwind.

In her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate, Klein is counting on change in the atmosphere as the contradictions intensify between the earth and the economy. After all, she says, no one insures the globe, though it’s too big to fail. No one bails out the vanishing woods and wildlife.

We’re wondering whether and how American capitalism will take to remaking, especially since it’s the geopolitical meek who inherit the earth’s problems. (Check out this Guardian infographic, which shows where historical carbon emissions and rapid development collide to endanger… underdeveloped non-emitters.)

Read our social-media recap of the show on Storify. (One of our goals in 2015 is to add collect thoughts and reactions to our broadcasts, and this is one medium we’ll be experimenting with.)



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What has to happen: the Global Calculator

By Max Larkin.

American people on the left and right answered in common that they’d like the state to make changes to heal the climate. It’s unclear, though, whether and how us Westerners can reset their appetites and expectations to the problem, if push came to shove. (This was Elizabeth Kolbert’s big problem with This Changes Everything). Even in the age of Inhofe’s denialism, the citizenry knows that big change is called for. Still we patc together penny-ante fixes, scaled to what’s called ‘political will’.

What needs to happen? Where do we start? Enter the Global Calculator, a new online tool engineered by the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change and an international team of organizations. It looks like something that you might see on the deck of the Enterprise.

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Get over the learning curve, and you can see the variables, all of them notionally up for debate, that could keep us shy of the famous 2º threshold until 2050 — or push us past it.

You can hack your way to your own personal program using the tool — maybe you believe we all really need air travel, but can handle nuclear energy and favor ‘cozy’ apartments.

But maybe the most interesting feature of the Calculator is the list of “example pathways” to safe emissions. These 2º pathways share a few premises: that world population will grow toward 10 billion by 2050, and that the global economy serving those 10 billion will triple in size.

But a few scenarios stand out:

In the ‘consumer reluctance’ scenario our worst fears are confirmed, and consumers turn out to be unwilling to shift away from carbon-intensive transit, cooking and power. The calculator proves that even if this were the case, we could stay shy of 2º — but it would take much more nuclear power and renewables on the grid, and a makeover of land use and food production.
On the other hand, if Klein is right to be optimistic and we’re waking up to a new kind of citizen activism, we can get to climate health with less nuclear power and little tweaks: eating more chicken and lamb and less lamb and beef, for example. (This news will be taken hard in certain corners of our office.)
Speaking of which, The Vegan Society has the problem sussed — cut the average citizen’s caloric intake to 2,100 per diem (and ditch almost all the meat) and you’re well on your way.
Finally, there’s the World Energy Council’s consumption-driven pathway. The WEC named this revolution in buying the as “Jazz” scenario, compared to a “Symphony” of government-led remaking of industry. They say one isn’t necessarily better than the other, but it does dramatize that what we do in our homes doesn’t “get us to 2º” nearly as easily as structural reforms and laws can.

What can we learn about our own carbon footprints from the Calculator? A few lessons:

1.) Protect the forests and you’ve done a lot.
2.) World governments can save us, but they can kill us, too, by deregulating, digging, and fueling militaries all across the globe.
3.) Tolerate the vegetarians in your life, no matter how preachy they may get, because:
4.) America’s chickens may come home to roost, but it’s beef that will kill us all.

Vonnegut’s “Requiem”

Finally, take a listen to what amounts to Kurt Vonnegut’s literary last words, a kind of sigh over the ravaged planet. Our friend, the actor John Davin (veteran of our Chekhov readings), came by and did a wonderful job bringing the poem — never read by Vonnegut that we could find — to life.

Guest List
Mindy Lubber
a cofounding president of Ceres, a "non-profit organization advocating for sustainability leadership", and director of its Investor Network on Climate Risk.

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  • Thank you for this program. I am listening to it in full, after catching that latter part on the air last night.

    I am reading Naomi Klein’s book now, and I have read several of Bill McKibben’s; including Eaarth in one 12 hour sitting.

  • Potter

    Whereas I had no hope at all that we are going to pull out of a coming catastrophe for our grandkids to somehow deal with (don’t the Koch’s have grandkids?), after this show I feel maybe I should not have no hope at all. To mis-use that Emerson phrase again: perhaps some of the right things are in the saddle but will mankind be ridden by them?… as was questioned throughout, we do not have so much time. I admire all your guests. I admire their hope and equanimity about this alarming issue.

    Two articles that I have read recently don’t give any positive feelings much of a boost. But I recommend them as they are riveting tales. One is “The Wreck of the Kullek”, in the NYTimes magazine section last December about a Shell oil rig being pulled out to sea north of Alaska to set up to pump oil. The other The Great Republican Land Heist in Harper’s this month ( behind a pay wall). The land heist story fits exactly “the settler mentality”, the “open lands, frontier mentality” described in the show. It points to the differences we have about what this country is about: community, the collective, the need of regulation ( of Federal government, international law) OR the lawlessness of unregulated individual and state regulation that is so easily manipulated ( say by business interests). If regulations are made but are not enforced when challenged or undermined, it’s like not having them.

    Good for Greece! I just cannot imagine the Aegean with oil rigs.

  • Cambridge Forecast


    Go back to
    1965. Daniel Patrick Moynihan puts out the “Moynihan Report”, described as

    Negro Family: The Case For National Action (the 1965 Moynihan Report) was written by
    Assistant Secretary of Labor[1]
    Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sociologist
    and later U.S. Senator. It focused on the deep roots of black
    poverty in America and concluded controversially that the relative absence
    of nuclear
    families (those having both a father and mother present) would greatly
    hinder further progress toward economic and political equality.”


    Chapter IV
    is entitled “The Tangle of Pathology.”

    Chapter IV. The
    Tangle of Pathology

    “In a word,
    most Negro youth are in danger of being caught up in the tangle of
    pathology that affects their world, and probably a majority are so entrapped.
    Many of those who escape do so for one generation only: as things now are,
    their children may have to run the gauntlet all over again. That is not the
    least vicious aspect of the world that white America has made for the Negro.”


    Adopt for a
    moment Moynihan’s phrase to both the ROS “Capitalism/Climate Change” discussion
    as well as the “Ferguson” one.

    How are all
    of these levels and “domains” connected by a “tangle of pathology”?

    The answer
    is that the Great Recession from 2008 had as a co-factor the “pathology” of “global
    finance” (money on the move deranging national economies including the
    American). These derangements can be studied by the excellent study, “Global
    Imbalances” put out by the Boston Fed.

    whole layer of “pathology” involves poor countries financing American
    consumption and the whole world-system dependent on American consumption and

    How does
    Climate Change fit in to this context?

    The answer
    is that it is very difficult to discuss climate change without a parallel
    discussion of correcting these global imbalances at the sam e time. All of
    these pathologies are “tangled” or entangled.

    Obama had an inchoate understanding of this when he tried to begin the making
    of a new global order combining the Cairo Speech, Pittsburg G-20 meeting(which
    concluded that the world had to coordinate to climb out of the mess which was
    global and structural, not “random.”) In December 2009 he hoped for climate
    change carbon agreements based on a new Cairo Speech/G-20 framework.

    The story of
    the Obama presidency is how this 2009 globalism was destroyed.

    Come back to
    Moynihan’s phrase from 1965, “tangle of pathology.”

    There are
    endless feedbacks in this tangle between a global system that cannot reform its
    financial and commercial architecture (and hence forces the Fed to flood the
    system with money hoping that it will find its way into higher share prices and
    house prices which will then bring new American consumption and bring us back
    to the pre-existing defective structure.)

    This feed
    back into inner city tensions and Ferguson pathologies.

    In other
    words, the climate change complex is tangled up with a defective capitalist
    structure and which exacerbates “bad
    sociology” of the inner city.

    None of this
    exonerates criminals and looters in the least but it does gives a basic
    geometry of “tangle of pathology” to borrow Moynihan’s phrase from those Selma

    The recent
    ROS shows on Selma and Ferguson, with Naomi Klein, et al, sense

    These linkages
    without stating them and this is the shortcoming of the Naomi Klein analysis.
    People act in a global-and-local “system of systems.”

    Richard Melson