The Year the Dam of Denial Breaks – Ready for the Flood?

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This is the year the “dam of denial” will break and the momentum for climate action will become an unstoppable flood. It will be messy, confusing and endlessly debated but with historical hindsight, 2015 will be the year. The year the world turned, primarily because the market woke up to the economic threat posed by climate change and the economic opportunity in the inevitable decline of fossil fuels. That shift will in turn unlock government policy and public opinion because the previous resistance to action argued on economic grounds, will reverse to favour action on economic grounds.

Before I argue for this conclusion, let me explain what I mean by the “dam of denial” and why the concept is so important to understanding what’s underway.

Anyone who “gets” the urgency of the climate issue and the scale of economic transformation it necessitates, is bewildered by those who don’t. How can so many otherwise intelligent and logical people – such as company executives, politicians and investment managers – not see the obvious urgency or the equally obvious economic risk? It is so illogical it can only be seen as denial.

This is not climate denial but an example of “implicatory denial”, the rather bizarre ability of humans to accept a risk but then stop processing the implications, just because those implications are so overwhelming. It is well covered in a study by Kari Marie Norgaard, described in her book “Living in Denial”.

Studying history, particularly WWII, while writing my book The Great Disruption led me to accept this type of denial as largely inevitable. As I wrote there, it is exactly because the implications are so great, that the denial is so strong. And because the implications get more dramatic and costly every year, the longer we delay the stronger implicatory denial becomes!

It is now so late in the process that the implications of ending denial are truly mind-boggling. For a start to have even an 80% chance (clearly too low) of limiting warming to the agreed 2 degree target (clearly too high) requires us to eliminate fossil fuels – one of the world’s largest and most powerful industries – and replace it in less than a few decades. This scale of change has enormous social and economic implications in any time scale but to do so within decades is without precedent outside war – not to mention terrifying for the owners and managers of such businesses (and so denial inducing)!

But it being mind-boggling and without precedent unfortunately doesn’t change the facts. This is what is necessary and so it must be done. That’s why I called that chapter “When The Dam of Denial Breaks” – because with the pressure constantly building, at some point it becomes so great the dam bursts.

If you think that’s wrong, you have to accept the alternative – that as the food supply collapses, extreme weather accelerates and military conflict over water scarcity, refugee flow and famine erupts, we will idly stand by and observe it getting steadily worse without response. That idea is so absurd it can be ignored, and that’s why the dam of denial breaking is inevitable. But when?

This is certainly debatable but my judgement is this is the year. Why?

Despite our obsession with it, the science is now largely irrelevant in this process. If the scientific evidence was going to shift the system, it would have done so by now – it is after all overwhelmingly clear on the urgency and the risk. What we have to look for instead is evidence of shifts in the human response, not the ecological one.

In this regard I look to politics and economics. In both cases there are confusing and contradictory signals but I think there are grounds to conclude we’re at the edge of something very significant. I think there are 6 key indicators.

  1. The US China Climate deal – how change really occurs

One of the most interesting and least appreciated is the US China climate deal. Not for its practical impact on emissions but as the emergence of what I called in my book a kind of “Coalition of the Cooling”. The historical significance of the two most powerful countries in the world agreeing that climate action is so important it is worthy of such an agreement will be appreciated in hindsight – not least for its likely multi trillion dollar impact on markets.

  1. Collapse in oil prices

The collapse in oil prices, considered by many to be bad news for clean energy, is quite the opposite. It’s probably one of the most powerful market influences for what I see coming. There are a variety of positive impacts from these low prices, well summarised in this article from Assaad Razzouk in the Independent.

But the most important one is the intriguing idea of global energy price deflation driven by renewables, especially solar, undermining investor confidence in fossil fuels. The Economist recently concluded on future investment in fossil fuels that “….the prospect of much cheaper solar power and storage capability may put investors off. The story may be not so much what falling oil prices mean for clean energy than what the prospect of clean energy will mean for the oil price.

  1. Solar price falls set to continue

The collapse of renewable energy’s costs, especially solar, will be seen historically as perhaps the single biggest driver of transformational change in energy markets, particularly when paired with the interconnected developments in batteries, storage and electric vehicles. The key is not just how far solar costs have fallen but the likelihood that they’ll keep falling. Critics point to the very low share of global total energy demand provided by solar. I point to the same thing to make my case. If solar is competitive on price at less than 1% of global supply, imagine what will happen when it truly scales. That’s why considering the earlier analysis on oil prices, The Economist referred to solar as a “dagger in the heart of the fossil fuel industry”, particularly when combined with clever financing and business models by fast growing disruptive solar companies like Solar City and Sungevity.

Part of this analysis is the idea of the virtuous circle of rapid growth and lowering prices leading to abundant cheap energy. There are those who argue intelligently that this is a techno-optimists pipe dream, such as Richard Heinberg in this well considered sceptism but we will soon find out given the pace at which it is all moving.

  1. Market prices reflect economic disruption

Of course given all this, anyone who thinks markets are rational, at least over time, would ask “if this is all so clear, why doesn’t it reflect in prices?” It is, and dramatically so. Consider these examples:

  • Some pure coal companies like Peabody have lost over 75% of their value in the last three years. Their carbon bubble has well and truly burst. And while prices will vary over time, the coal industry is not coming back and we should politely bid farewell. To quote a recent Goldman Sachs analysis:  “Just as a worker celebrating their 65th birthday can settle into a more sedate lifestyle while they look back on past achievements, we argue that thermal coal has reached its retirement age.”
  • The European Utility sector lost half a trillion Euros by misreading the influence of renewables and energy efficiency. There were other factors as well, as always, but it was renewables that meant, like coal, this is not cyclical but existential. The Economist again:Renewables have not just put pressure on margins. They have transformed the established business model for utilities.”
  • Tesla, which produced just 30,000 cars in 2013 is valued at nearly half of GM which produced around 9 million cars. And the oil price slide seems to have had no material impact. With Tesla’s likely move into home storage for solar and rumours of an Apple/Tesla tie up, the future is looking very interesting. In response, the market has looked at history and concluded that old companies like GM mostly won’t get it; they’ll just be replaced.

So while many climate activists focus on the political power and influence of the fossil fuel industry, I see an industry scrambling to defend itself against overwhelming forces that will see it destroyed – not in a mighty moral crusade but something far more brutal and fast – the market turning on it. Of course these companies don’t believe that is possible, and nor do many of us. But to quote Mandela, who knew a few things about driving change: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

  1. The political power of big business starts to shift sides

A key part of the process of fossil fuels’ decline is the separation of the business community into those who feel threatened by climate action and those threatened by the lack of it. Thus we should note as a major development, the recent call by a group of major global businesses for the world to have zero net CO2 emissions by 2050, thus effectively ending companies like Shell and Exxon, at least in their current form. This separation, on self-interest grounds, within business is of huge significance. Watch that space.

  1. Physical impacts accelerating and driving economic and security impact

As I argued above, the science becoming clearer won’t trigger the end of denial. Black and white getting blacker and whiter can’t influence those who don’t want to see. Which is a shame given the evidence is emerging that blacker is getting very black indeed, as argued here by David Spratt. But physical climate changes impacting the economy and public opinion will be very influential. That’s why accelerating physical impacts matter a great deal.

The most powerful symbol of this right now is the largest city in South America, Sao Paulo, Brazil facing the risk of collapse due to a punishing drought worsened by climate change and deforestation as explained here by Tom Friedman in the NYT. This is not symbolic for the people of Brazil who are facing rolling water and power cuts, businesses shut down, widespread protests and a drought reduced coffee crop driving up global prices by nearly half. It is not hard to imagine a series of events triggering the effective collapse of the Brazilian economy and the country’s descent into chaos. With 93 cities now affected and key reservoirs in both Sao Paulo and Rio down to 1 – 5% of capacity, they’re praying for rain. I hope they’re prayers are answered, but even with Pope Francis now on board, I think this may require more earthly intervention.

There are countless examples of the economic and related geopolitical significance of climate change impacts. The way climate change helped trigger the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS. How climate is driving food prices, which is driving global conflict. How an Arctic methane burst could pose a multi-trillion dollar risk to the global economy.

So will these 6 drivers be enough? Will the economic impacts of collapsing fossil fuels and collapsing cities force the invisible hand of the market to do what governments have failed to do? Not by itself, but it could tip a system that is primed and ready. Changing systems requires many interconnected parts to shift. That’s why in my writing and speaking I try to summarise such complex inter-related drivers – to help us see the whole and recognise emerging patterns.

Of course the role of government remains key – let’s not forget that the market and technology marvel that is the accelerating solar industry only arrived because government policy initiated the process, especially in Germany, the US and China. But government is just part of a system that no one is really in charge of. So while the Paris climate talks this year will be an important step in a process they are not as fundamental as many think. Such negotiations tend to follow rather than lead the system change process. That’s why Paris this year is an indicator rather than a driver of system change and we should look at what drives action to understand emerging tipping points.

This is why I attach such importance to the direct economic shifts outlined above and also to the resulting more aggressive calls for action by sections of the business community. This last point could even be the most important development of 2015 because, for all the complaints about the influence of corporates on policy, that very influence could now tip the debate in favour of action.

Given all these indicators, I think there are enough cracks in the dam of denial to argue it is about to break. That does not mean the problem is fixed. But it would mean we stop this absurd game of implicatory denial and get to work on driving and managing the massive economic transformation that starts when denial ends.

When we try to understand and forecast change, we tend to look for big symbolic events – the global political deal, the massive economic crash or the extreme weather event that destroys a city. The reality is that change, especially system change, is just messy. It’s chaotic, confusing and often hard to see when you’re in the middle of it. But many are smelling a big shift, like the International Business Editor of the UK’s conservative broadsheet The Telegraph Ambrose Evans-Pritchard who summed it up well: “These historic turning points are hard to call when you are living through them but much of today’s fossil fuel industry has a distinct whiff of the 19th Century canals, a pre-modern relic in a world that is moving on very fast.”

This will be the year it moves a whole lot faster.

82 thoughts on “The Year the Dam of Denial Breaks – Ready for the Flood?

      • Willie C

        Great article Paul. Please keep up the writing, presenting and advocating. We need voices like yours more than ever now. Will 2015 be the year where we cross the rubicon? I certainly hope you are right.. but as you say, it is going to be very messy and only it retrospect will it be clear. Best

  1. Leif Knutsen

    Thank you Paul, I needed that. I have felt the change in the wind for some time now and it is nice to see you lay it out so eloquently and researched.

    My recent pony has been: Capitalism, unrestrained by the requirements of Planetary life support systems, is guaranteed mutually assured destruction. Socially enabled capitalism is clearly a failed paradigm. Help end tax funded pollution of the commons for starters.

    I believe I would have no problem with “capitalism” if in fact it worked for the well being of the planet first and foremost. If folks got rich proportional to the amount of “good” they did and not because of the amount of carnage, it would be a different ball game. Clearly that is not the only solution however tax revolt has a long and proven history. The original “Tea Party” rebellion in the Americas was against taxation without representation. Today it we have far worse, taxation that supports Planetary Ecocide, not the well being of humanity.

    • Excellent observations Leif. My interest has been human awareness, its origins, potentials, and dysfunctions. Clearly, human awareness is a biological function and it evolved many diverse capacities. So the question is, can we utilize the planetary human awareness field to live symbiotically with the biosphere as opposed to the predatory capitalism of monsters like the Koch brothers? A profound capacity for human cooperation as well as predation are part of our natural endowment. Which quality can we learn to emphasize as a human collective in this time of unprecedented crisis? Popular press would seem to indicate that the predation of people like the Koch brothers, who have essentially bought the entire US government, is on the rise. I am hoping that things are more like Paul explains and there is a powerful undercurrent of humans who wish to regain a symbiotic relationship with the planetary biosphere.

      • Rosemary Hook

        Also, we must not forget the human capacity for imagination and creativity, once freed from the constraints of current thinking.

      • The mega capitalists are like the late co-pilot who deliberately ran a plane with its passengers on board into the ground. In pursuit of a selfish agenda of economic aggrandizement, they are committing mass murder–of us ordinary citizens..

  2. Thom Foote

    I hope you are right. One of the great strengths of the human species is its ability to adapt. This may also be its greatest weakness if not its fatal flaw.

  3. Great to hear from you Paul. My wife and I still remember the extraordinary experience of meeting you at the TEDx in Iowa City, Iowa. I agree that 2015 will represent a tremendous acceleration of the “Great Disruption” and I would do anything I can to help humanity make its way through this turbulent and unpredicatble era. From the point of view of human awareness that I monitor globally, I have seen little improvement in terms of denialists ending their denial and taking an interest in an accurate big picture, evidence based, look at the world as it really is. Take a look at the cover of the latest National Geographic magazine.

    It would seem that humans have a horrible disease of awareness that leads them to take up false beliefs and then defend them in the face of all evidence to the contrary and often this defense is violent and hateful. I wish it weren’t so but in decades of searching for the answer to this riddle, I have hardly ever seen one of the sleep walkers wake up. Since they are the majority on this planet, it is hard to be optimistic about ending denial. Right up to the collapse of global civilization, the Koch brothers will be ripping out huge junks of the planet and stuffing it in their gobbling mouths. Still, I will never give up. I am with you, my brother, and look forward to your future postings.

    • Leif Knutsen

      In some scientific paradigm shifts, (such as the 60+ year plate tectonics), it is said that the last of the old school must die out before the new is truly accepted. I hope we can speed that a taste. We have been into this for more than 40 years that I know of.

      There is a quote going around recently used by my WA Gov. Jay Inslee: (Don’t know the source.)
      .. “We’re the first generation to feel the impacts of climate disruption, and the last generation that can do something about it.” A steep learning curve for sure. It is safe to say. ” time is of the essence.” However since the majority of the change is the metamorphous of our minds from devouring caterpillars to pollinating butterflies… Well change can be exponential. We do not have to change every one, if each of us can just change one other than we have doubled in number.

      • Leif Knutsen

        Wendell Berry said it thus: “We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not – the only question we have a right to ask is: What’s the right thing to do? What does this Earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?”

        “War becomes perpetual when used as a rational for peace,” Norman Solomon. “Peace becomes perpetual when used as a rational for survival.” Yours truly.

  4. Richard Payne

    Superb piece of writing, Paul. We may be in the midst of our last chance to save things on the planet. My major concern is how the planet and its inhabitants, particularly of the two-legged variety, can work through the madness and the already done damage. I look forward to reading/hearing more from you.

  5. Re Tesla……..

    notwithstanding all the hype on Wall Street, there was nothing remotely evident in its financials that justified Telsa’s $35 billion peak market cap. Net sales for the LTM period ended in September amounted to $2.9 billion, meaning that speculators were putting a silicon valley style multiple of 12X sales on a 100-year old industrial product; and one sold by a fly-by-night company distinguished from its auto company peers, which trade at 0.5X sales, only by marketing hype and a high cost power plant that could be made by any of two dozen global car companies if there was actually a mass market demand for it.

    Needless to say, Tesla’s meager LTM sales were not accompanied by any sign of profits or positive cash flow. September’s LTM net income clocked in at negative $200 million, and operating cash flow of $150 million was dwarfed by CapEx of $700 million.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-02-21/tesla-bonfire-money-printers-vanities

  6. Jane Olsen

    I’m a great fan of ‘The Great Disruption’ and bought several copies to lend to friends. You refer to Richard Heinberg’s article ‘Our Renewable Future’ in your current article. I also found it well -reasoned, and wonder what your thoughts are on the future role of fossil fuels, given their unique net energy properties and hence necessity for the production of renewable energy infrastructure, particularly at the scale needed.

  7. lizzieconnor

    It’s taken me quite a bit of time to read through the article and follow all its links – but of course it was worth every second. Thanks Paul.

  8. John Collee

    Very good synthesis, Paul, hope you’re right. “The Australian” newspaper is still strongly backing coal… http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/unsupportive-government-threatens-coal-miners-warn/story-e6frg9df-1227234578934
    ….but the Murdoch press are smart enough and fickle enough to back away from an obvious liability (like Tony Abbott for example), so maybe this will be the year they start to change tack on fossil fuels. We live in hope!

  9. A great synopsis Paul, and am hoping you are indeed right on the issue of coal. We are the generation that must initiate the change in action, no just thinking. Thanks for srufacing again Paul!

  10. Reblogged this on Not Something Else and commented:
    One thousand years ago (well, next year it will be anyway) there lived a King. A king who not only ruled over England and Scotland but a large part of Northern Europe including Denmark and Norway.

    He was not, as popular history would have it, a madman but a devout Christian. When the English establishment gurus told him that any king of England had authority and command over the seas, he decided to show them that was not true by placing his throne at the English sea shore and while sitting on it (his seat of power) he spoke to the waves telling them of his authority and how they were not to come up over his land and wet him. Well, as expected, he got wet.

    That was of course, King Canute (or Cnut) and the experience of that day should have settled the matter. But, not twenty years later, some barmy Pom wrote the song: ‘Rule Brittania, Brittania rule the waves…’, which the English still sing at times of either stress or national pride, with all of the gusto that they can muster.

    As irrelevant and blatantly incorrect as holding on to that position and belief may be, they, or some of them, still firmly cling to it.

    This is not however, a purely English trait. A prominent and pertinent example of that would be that the whole world, or those portions of its population whose lives are so entwined in the modern world economy that they require and fully expect it to continue as they have always known it, purely because they think that they own and have control of it, whether that be in a very small or a great and powerful way. They share the same mindset that held eminence in the English establishment of Cnut’s time. And that is damnably difficult to shift.

    Such reticence to perceive and accept reality can usually only be shifted when it is finally overcome by a much more powerful force, often a force of nature. Much as the ocean dis-contemptuously dealt with the expectations of the English when Cnut was King.

    We stand today at the foreshore of reality, firmly in the belief that our civilisation, our economy, our modern way of life, our technology, our culture, our species even, is in total control of our own destiny and that we control or hold in abeyance the forces of the Natural World. After all, we have two centuries or so of ample evidence to that effect to back up our position. We have done pretty much whatever we have damn well liked over that term and Nature has not batted an eyelid in its own defense or given any indication that it cares or is in any way worried about the situation.

    Or has it? Maybe subtly at first, but growing now in intensity, Nature is letting us know that it may not always tolerate what we are doing. More overtly it is gathering its forces to potentially show us just who is in charge.

    I have said in the past that the year 2014 was to be the year everything changed. I think that was our ‘Last Chance Saloon’ event. We missed it.

    I have also said that this year 2015 is the year the upheaval begins, and I see no reason to change that projection. Others have also come to the same conclusion.
    Here is one.

    Paul Gilding, an Independent writer & advisor on sustainability and owner of The Cockatoo Chronicles blog, who, from his own bio, has spent 35 years trying to change the world, doing everything he can think off. He’s served in the Australian military, chased nuclear armed aircraft carriers in small inflatable boats, plugged up industrial waste discharge pipes, been global CEO of Greenpeace, taught at Cambridge University, owned and run two ground-breaking sustainability focused companies and been a close confidant and advisor to the CEOs of some the world’s largest companies.

    Paul last year published the book The Great Disruption https://paulgilding.com/buy-the-great-disruption/ which I have just purchased, and therefore cannot comment on until I have read it, has also just published this blog post, which is well worth the read, since it deals with what I have been talking about above. Not so much what Nature has to say to us, but how the change in global mindset is about to alter, or be altered.

    We alter, or we get altered. That is where Nature comes in.

    One quotation from this piece: “Black and white getting blacker and whiter can’t influence those who don’t want to see.”

    I think this may be the longest introduction I have ever made.

    • I agree with you that system change is chaotic and messy even when the same is ideologically guided. I believe that change is inevitable and now is the right time that the economy should start shifting from a greed-fueled based economy to one of consumer-based economy. The invisible hand can’t simply guide the inevitable trajectory that nature-fueled change dictates. The world economy has long been overshadowed by greed, but that impulse eventually leads the system to its graveyard. The future of the world economy should not be at the whims and caprices of the few, for this would inevitably results to human sufferings of unthinkable proportion. In my country the Philippines, the strongest typhoon ever recorded hit the same which causes thousands of people died and of untold sufferings. This is the clearest testament of human folly, which should serve as a grim reminder we can’t do business as usual should we want human species to remain in this planet. Change is painful, but we need to even at the expense of chaos if only to save humanity from destruction. T
      hanks

  11. Mike Ives

    Paul

    It is the likes of you that will finally break through this storm of apathy we have in Australia re the greatest threat we have probably faced. Please, please keep up the momentum

  12. Surely another factor coming into play is the gradual fragmentation of long established political structures. Who would have thought a few years ago that the Keystone XL pipeline might not happen? And that the FDA’s blind support of GMOs would start to be openly questioned? Or that the whole European project would be teetering on the brink? The result seems to be that smaller voices are at last being heard, including those relating to sustainability and global warming. For sure we have some uncomfortable times ahead!

  13. Doug Gibbes

    Thanks for a thorough analysis of the current state of affairs. I spent last weekend with a group blockading the destruction of the Leard State Forest for the sake of another coal mine which will more than likely never turn a profit. The Leard Forest represents the last ( 0.1% ) of an ecosystem which once spanned over 1000Km from Queensland to Victoria in Australia’s East and is home to 34 critically endangered animal species. Over 250 activists have been arrested trying to bring an end to this utter madness. I arrived home feeling disgusted that I was a member of a species that thought this vile act was somehow justifiable. I have lost a lot of sleep lately thinking about the hopelessness of the situation. You Paul, have gone some way to reverse that. Thank you.

  14. Makere

    Reblogged this on The Turning Spiral and commented:
    2015 as the great turning point in climate denial? Wilding looks at 6 key indicators for why 2015 just may be a significant tipping point. But as he notes, system change is messy, chaotic, confusing and hard to see when you’re in the middle of it

  15. Makere

    An excellent piece. I certainly see 2015 as a year of huge change, although whether as positive as this account, I don’t know. the battle to continue dredging up oil and coal is vicious and is intensifying. The discourse that accompanies it is powerfully persuasive , i.e. that by the end of this century we will need to begin the transition to different forms of energy, but for the rest of this century, we will continue to defend n fossil fuels. Its a discourse that is enormously comforting to the billions of people who simply cannot conceive of the level of change required now. Yet perhaps you are right, I hope so, for we absolutely cant sustain a continuance of current practice. 2015 stands out for me as a year of enormous upheaval – economically and politically. The clamp down on civil rights, the enormous increase in surveillance and the export of armed drones, accompanied by an increase in austerity measures and the removal of subsidies in the fundamental areas of health, welfare and education, all aggravated by cataclysmic climate events, spell enormous upheaval. It wont be pretty. It certainly will be chaotic. its in such circumstances that we struggle for the kinds of positive and urgent changes needed to ensure the survival of our species. There is nothing more critical, nothing more important that we are called to do. I’m looking forward to reading The Great Disruption and I’m ordering it today.

  16. mbdowd

    Another really excellent and important post, Paul. Just last night I had a phone fight with a brilliant techno-optimist friend and colleague which left me feeling rather drained and frustrated. I’ll be sending him a link to this post of yours a peace offering. Thanks!

  17. Simon Moffitt

    Paul it does indeed look like it is turning it would be helpful if you did focus more on Heinburg’s work and others at the Post Carbon institute, and especially the connection between cheap energy and debt.

    Also many think not only do we need this transition but we also must fundamentally change from a growth and consumption based economic model where it is much easier for business to extract large profits, than say from a steady state circular economy that is also focused on peoples needs and maintaining planetary boundaries.

    The transition is happening because business can still see profits to be made, but looking for a transition – if it is indeed possible Ozzie Zehner’s book, “Green Illusions,”- using current thinking could also end us in hot water in other ways.

  18. Bizarro world.
    This is the year the dam of denial breaks?
    Have you seen the recent growing avalanche of publications refuting the climate change hoax?
    http://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/526191/Climate-change-is-a-lie-global-warming-not-real-claims-weather-channel-founder
    Bizarro that you can not at least recognize that very smart and knowledgeable people have valid reasons to refute the un-refuteable.

    This article uses a common theme of confusing the economics of renewables (yes, a good thing me thinks) with the science of man made climate change.

    The US-China deal is NOT equitable. Basically this is cover for the Chinese to do nothing and the US to throttle itself.
    http://thediplomat.com/2014/11/the-faux-us-china-climate-deal/

    The collapse in energy prices is GOOD for consumers and the economy. However I have no idea how this makes the economics of renewables any better. Perhaps the collapse is due in some small part to the competition of renewables perhaps.

    • Glenn Tamblyn

      Neal

      I won’t reply to all of Coleman’s nonsense but just consider these two items:

      ‘In an open letter attacking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he wrote: “The ocean is not rising significantly.”‘

      But it is rising. At around 3.5 mm/year

      “There has been no warming over 18 years.”

      Can you spot how nonsensical those two statements are when put together? How can the sea be rising if the world isn’t warming? Only two things can cause global sea level rise:
      1. Thermal expansion of sea water as it heats.
      2. Extra water added to the ocean, from melting of ice and snow on land – also requiring extra heat.

      The oceans are like a thermometer. They rise as the earth warms, fall as the earth cools. So what Coleman says is nonsense. Yet he trades on his old credentials from the Weather Channel. While seemingly knowing nothing about basic thermodynamics which is the foundation of meteorology.

      Your right, it is a bizarro world. The likes of Coleman and all the other Cognitive Dissonance suffering pseudo-skeptics really are like something out of Central Casting for a piece of high farce.

      • Joan Halgren

        Neal, the collapse in energy prices may, indeed, be temporary due to some underhanded plans by super rich bankers and oil chiefs to get consumers to buy products worldwide to reboot lagging economies but it won’t work due to ‘real’ slow growth so oil prices will rise again. Fossil fuel CFOs don’t have the patience to keep prices down for long so anticipate a rise by July for some apparent reason, like war or the threat of terrorism due to a fire at an oil rig site in the Middle East. Some ‘planned’ event, like one of these, will re-ignite oil prices.

        Once the masses truly understand the games people play; then, and only then can we reverse our pending environmental crisis. Hope we’re not too late but we may never know.

  19. I too appreciated both the article and the comments, but note that little mention was made of the need for us to dislodge the political deniers who control the governmental resources that hamper the necessary progress.
    class war is upon us, not s simple factory workers vs bosses, but the end game of who is in charge! It is imperative that the war-mongers and their enablers in any corporate-based party be removed from office, preferably by arrest and prosecution for this disasters they have caused. One way to get started with them and the academic charlatans who parrot the denier line is scathing ridicule and satire–the more the merrier and the more hilarious! Satirists of the World Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Cheneys!

    • Joan Halgren

      Fab comments, Jon. Yup, the rascals must be brought to justice and the people need to unite in a huge fashion.

  20. Leif Knutsen

    The Fossil Barons are quick to point out the dilemma of their “stranded assets” following environmental constraints on polluting the commons. (link. “likely multi trillion dollar impact on markets.” ) The flip side is the “stranded assets” currently suffered by “We the People” in the mitigation costs of increasing forest firers, floods, storms, sea level rise, agriculture loses, acidified oceans, even lives should steps not be made stranding those fossil “assets” while there is still a chance for the survival of the kidders. You think?

  21. simonhasleton

    Paul
    OK, the dam is starting to give a little, and some time in the next five years (imo) the voters may switch in sufficient numbers to force major change: that combined with a continuing collapse in fossil fuel prices, and major development on the RE front. But even if emissions drop to zero (which, of course, they won’t) there’ll still be the melting tundra, the methane spouts and the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather, Plus the slow, inexorable rise of the seas. The planet will continue to warm for a very (very!) long time, and the results of the present level are bordering on the catastrophic already. Think California, think Brazil, the Maldives, the other low islands of the Pacific. Then there’s population: 7.3 now, 9 by 2050… Then there’s Bangladesh…..;

    I remember in your book, that you forecast a long period of major disruption – and a death rate on a par with the black death. Now you seem to be saying that industry can adapt, go low carbon, and survive. Can the basic economic model survive the high level of supra national and national controls that will be necessary?
    Regards

    Simon
    (Mond from Oz)

    • Paul Gilding

      Simon. Thanks for this important question. People often misinterpret my optimism about the way change is unfolding as being a shift from my views in The Great Disruption about how ugly things will get in the transition. My views haven’t changed at all on this and I think many, if not most of today’s market participants (corporations) will not survive the shift. However that doesn’t necessarily mean the basic model will change, except that it will have to much more regulated and controlled than today’s free market fundamentalism. So the answer is in the detail but that to me is not an important question to answer as all that really matters is we get to work on the things we know – getting rid of fossil fuels without CCS (which I think means getting rid of fossil fuels) and building a new energy system. That won’t solve the problem but it will give us options to solve it.

  22. Brad Keyes

    With the dam so near to bursting, it’s high time we started our theoretical prepwork for the trickle of deniers who are going to want to “cross over” once the evidence finally turns against them. Not to mention when that trickle becomes a burst fire hydrant, then a mighty river.

    Should we, on the side of science, welcome all its/our former detractors wholeheartedly and without prejudice (a ‘General Amnesty’ paradigm) or should it give “early adopters/converts” more credit, to encourage others to flip (a ‘Prisoners Dilemma’ paradigm)?

    I ultimately favor the latter using a ‘wages’ metaphor, as in the black market for casual day-labor: after all, at the end of the day, you’re obliged to pay a man more if he started picking grapes for you at 9am than his cousin of the same name who only hopped aboard the work-wagon at 4pm. No doubt the great ethical pioneers like Jesus would agree: it would be outrageously, unjustly Denmark-like to pay them both the same. After all, there’s “fair” and then there’s “so fair it’s unfair.”

    The most obstinate deniers of science clearly have the least claim on the perks of whatever world science manages to salvage from the present, parlous pass.

  23. great article Paul.
    i will send this out to the folks in Nebraska who are fighting the proposed route of the kxl pipeline through our state.

    many groups and individuals here have joined together and the learning curve was difficult but it created a knowledgeable base of folks who stand against the pipeline and have studied the climate change issue. they stand with the science proven facts presented that the pipeline will pose a threat to our state’s land and water and will hasten the effects of climate change.

    please check out
    boldnebraska.org
    and
    deaddrift.com

    you wrote…”Changing systems requires many interconnected parts to shift.”

    the folks opposed to kxl pipeline in Nebraska have come together and created “many interconnected parts” and have helped the momentum to shift the pipeline debate to the front of the national agenda.

    thanks again. keep on trucking.
    kenneth d. bay

    • Joan Halgren

      Kenneth, this is great news! People on a local level are the only ones who can change the situation–depending on big government or corporations would quickly end life as we know it. Keep up the great work in Nebraska without Buffet’s help:)

  24. Emily Helminen

    “Black and white getting blacker and whiter can’t influence those who don’t want to see.” Unfortunately this is completely correct. It seems that people will continue to hold on to their denial at a very costly price to the environment.
    Do you think we can influence the way people consider the environment by attempting to change the way we speak about our relationship to it? I just posted on this topic here: https://emilyhelminen.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/how-language-shapes-our-relationship-to-the-environment/

  25. Joan Halgren

    Paul, great piece! Your on track with the notion of regaining sustainability when financiers finally make huge investments in renewable energy. Money talks. My only concern is that it maybe too late as it relates to the human species ability to live on Earth when temperatures escalate. Additionally, the price of oil maybe politicized to a point where oil prices will rise, based on ‘shadow banking’ speculation, another planned war, etc. This would, once again, discourage investments in renewable options. Yet, overall, greed maybe our only card left to play reversing the global climate crisis that impacts all of life on Earth despite denials by some. Keep it moving forward, Paul!

  26. Graeme McLeay

    Thanks Paul. You mention history and I am reminded how Europe drifted blindly into the First World War because of the apathy, ignorance and poor leadership of the ruling classes. I am not sure if market mechanisms will fix climate change while our leaders are beholden to corporate power. Paris 2015 will be the true test of leadership.

    • Joan Halgren

      Grame McLeay, you are spot on. Indeed, history tells us the ruling class always come late to the party! This time, however, late is too late for everyone:)

  27. Glenn Tamblyn

    Wonderful single paragraph from the article to by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

    “Part of the debt [Brazil’s Petrobras] is a gamble on ultra-deepwater projects so far out into the Atlantic that helicopters supplying the rigs must be REFUELED IN FLIGHT. The wells drill seven thousand feet through layers of salt, blind to seismic imaging. ”

    We really are stupid little ape-persons sometimes.

  28. Leif Knutsen

    “Slavery” is alive and well right here in the USA. Please give me another word for a capitalistic system that pays a minimum wage lower than average living costs to millions of it’s citizens. About 80% women. ? Is not poor access to food, health care and housing torture in every sense of the word? How about a government that taxes me to provide profits to others directly working to destroy the Planet’s Life Support Systems? The GOP do not fund abortion. Fine. A precedent. Why must progressives fund the ecocide of the planet via subsidies to the Fossil Barons? Corporations, “Corpro/People”, are people now. How come the special treatment? “We the People” will be fined for throwing a paper cup out the car window. ($1,000 in AK.) Yet Corpro/People dump 19 pounds of toxins out the exhaust of commerce and get rich! Privatized profits and socialized loses is a failed paradigm.

    This is “Slavery” in every sense of the word IMO. When one segment of society is in a life and death bondage to another which prevents escape of the first? What would you call it?

    • I would call it neo-feudalism, which I think describes the circumstance more accurately than slavery. I would abolish the euphemistic term “Neoliberalism,” invented by the corporate scribes to sugar-coat this system. To get where we need to be, we need a REVEL-ution, defined (by me) as “a joyous, exuberant dismantling of the many structures of oppression.”

      • Leif Knutsen

        Jon: I like your term “Revel-ution.” I have been using R-LOVE-ution, which looks fine in print but does not roll off the tongue. “Revolution” has too much violent baggage. Perhaps “Revival-ultion” to please the Bible Thumpers. :)

  29. Leif Knutsen

    “Slavery” did not end because of any moral awakening IMO, but because one gallon of fossil fuel burned for one hour is equivalent to the work of 100 slaves for one hour. The Blacks were just tossed assayed as “someone else’s problem.” The rich then built factories and exploited children, Irish, Chinese, and Blacks once again to build the machines that again put those folks out on the streets. As soon as robots can do all the work the rest will follow. Systems change, not climate change. You have no other survivable option.

  30. balanceact1

    Paul, I was planning on responding earlier but I feel so bipolar on our chances that I have a hard time making up my mind what to say. The dam has to break doesn’t it? It’s time for deep de-carbonization not half measures. Messy is a rye understatement. George Schultz recently said we were going to get mugged by reality, if we didn’t wake up. I like his old fashion metaphor but that implies a recovery, and if climate change gets away from us civilization will more likely get shoved through a shredder, or dropped off a cliff, or get ground down by two giant millstones for a 100,000 years. Urgency is paramount. All the talk about adaptation and so little about mitigation drives me crazy. Steven Chu said simply, “4°C – 5°C – 6°C is non-adaptable bad.”

    Recently I heard Tom Steyer talk at Stanford. Along with Paulson, Rubin, Bloomberg, Shultz, and others he is part of The Risky Business Project which is combining cutting edge climate science with best practice business risk models. Risky Business is taking their climate risk assessments directly to the business community. (riskybusiness.org) Steyer was impressive, a sharp analytical mind that sees the broad context and then digs down to consider the most important questions that need to be confronted. He ended his talk on the urgency of moving quickly.

    I am most encouraged by McKibben’s 350.org push for fossil fuel divestment. From Yale students holding sit-ins to push their school to divest, to the Guardian’s new raw advocacy for divestment, this movement is waking up everyone that the continued use of fossil fuels and rampant Climate Change threaten to collapse the world economy, civilization itself. Business As Usual has to end. It will be messy, but better to do the chemo-therapy now and have a chance rather than see civilization battered and beaten flat for tens of thousands of years.

    Recently at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club’s “Climate One” I was able to talk with Anne Simpson, director of governance at CalPERS, California’s biggest pension plan. I pressed her about the advantages of divesting from fossil fuels rather than trying to influence big energy companies by having a voice on the inside.

    We all have to keep swinging our pick axes widening that crack in the dam and hope it gives way soon. Every effort helps. I hope you’re right; that 2015 is the year the dam of denial bursts open. Wayne

    • I have to take issue with your:

      It will be messy, but better to do the chemo-therapy now and have a chance rather than see civilization battered and beaten flat for tens of thousands of years.
      If you are referring to geo-engineering, this is an awful alternative unless it involves extracting methane and carbon dioxide. The current method of spraying coal ash containing high levels of nano-particles of aluminum, barium, and strontium via military planes with specialized nozzles that give us the chem trails, this method is poisoning the air, water, and soil, and of course us and the entire web of life.

    • Leif Knutsen

      The way I see it is that the denier-sphere is heavily invested in yesterday’s economy and tomorrow’s economy shows no promise for their expected ROI. Worse, the needed economy is directly contradictory to yesterday’s needs. The deniers exploited tax sheltered billions will be liable for the trillions of $$$ that they have managed to shuffle onto the backs of the children of the future and the masses of the present. Lost stranded assets big time. In addition the deniers have painted themselves into the unenviable corner of being seriously disliked as reality bites becomes inevitable. There is no where for the exploiters to turn but double down on delay, disrupt, deny to protect all that they hold dear. If the future economy cannot protect their unrealistic expectations of grander, well? The times they are a-changing. There will be winners and losers or all losers. Which side are you on? It is a lot easier for the poor to get on the bus as almost anything looks like up to them, not the “down” to the Pollutocrats.

    • Jon, No I wasn’t specifically thinking of geo-engineering when I used the chemo-therapy metaphor. Maybe bad choice of words,. What I was trying to say is ending fossil fuel use will be very painful, like heavy medicine. We have to go cold turkey. We really don’t have time to wait until higher efficiency standards and wind solar geo-thermal and new energy storage/battery technologies are up to scale. But lets be clear. We suck up and use 550 exajoules of fossil fuel energy each year to power civilization. The whole planet is blindly addicted to fossil fuel energy. Everything in the room I’m sitting in has the imprint of carbon energy. If we stop using carbon energy, much of civilization could collapse. If we don’t stop, not only will civilization collapse but much of the entire bio-sphere will be threatened with extinction. Damned if we do. Damned even more if we don’t.

      Our species is very close to plunging the planet into a.6th mass extinction event. Anthony Barnosky’s new book “Dodging Extinction” is very troubling.

      Question: Who posted the “pingbacks” above my entry? I will look at these soon

      • Balanceact, From many sources, we are already deep into an era of mass extinction, now accelerated by the poisoning of the the Pacific by Fukushima, whose devastation is being covered up by MSM. Have you seen the heart-wrenching pictures of whales and dolphins committing suicide (the reality of the euphemism “beaching”)
        There is sufficient technology in alternative energy right now to make a huge dent in oil and coal as fuels. Then there is the harnessing of the steady-as-heartbeat tidal shifts. What is lacking is the collective will power to drive out the mega-gluttons who run the fossil fuel industry and their poodles in government.

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