The Walking Dead in Washington


We’re all focused on the drama and entertainment of Trump’s takeover of the world’s centre of military, security and economic power. For some it’s exciting and entertaining, for others terrifying and apocalyptic. I too have been glued to the news – at various times having each of those responses! But now I’ve come back to earth, recognising it all for what it is. Important, but a sideshow to a much bigger and more important game. And on reflection, I’m glad he got elected.

How can a Trump Presidency be positive? Surely this is a major setback – to action on climate change, to addressing inequality, to human rights and global security. Doesn’t it make the world a scarier and less stable place?  In isolation, all true, but in context, not so much. The context is the key.

Trump’s election is not a trend. It should not be seen as evidence of a swing to the right, to nationalism and xenophobia etc. It is simply a symptom of the volatility inherent in the accelerating breakdown of our current economic approach and model.

What we are seeing is the last hurrah of a dying approach. A desperate attempt by the incumbents to rescue the now failing economic model that did deliver great progress for humanity but has come to the end of its road – and that road finishes at a cliff.

A cliff is the right analogy for a range of reasons. Perhaps most starkly it’s climate change and resource scarcity but also inequality and the failure of the old model to deliver further progress for most people in Western countries. There are many other issues we face, but these two – climate change (and with it food supply and geopolitical security risks) and inequality within countries – are the systemic risks. They define the cliff because neither can continue to worsen without the system responding – either transforming or breaking down. So the old approach is finished, along with the fossil fuel industry, and the walking dead taking over Washington won’t bring it back to life.

This leads to why, on reflection, I’m surprisingly pleased Trump was elected, rather than Hillary Clinton. I know it is hard to imagine how someone as appalling as Trump is better than the alternative, so let me expand.

We are now accelerating towards the cliff and we don’t have much time left to change course. If Clinton had been elected, we would have continued to suffer the delusion that we were addressing the systemic risks we face in an inadequate but still worthwhile way. There would have been the same debates about fossil fuel companies having too much influence on politics, the conservative wealthy elites (yes there are liberal wealthy elites!) manipulating the system to their benefit etc. But we would have seen some progress.

Meanwhile business people would have argued the need for less regulation and “freeing up” the economy. They would have argued we needed to run the country like business people run companies, that if only we had strong (i.e. autocratic) leadership, we could get things done. And the Tea Party style extremists would have had their favourite enemy – another Clinton – to rail against and blame for it all, as they mobilized their base.

Now there’s no debate – it’s all there to see. The fossil fuel industry dominates the administration, gaining unfettered access to more coal, oil and gas. The iconic symbol and long term funder of climate change denial, Exxon has seen their CEO put in charge of US foreign policy and climate negotiations. Trump is “the businessman in charge” and can slash regulation, free up the financial markets to unleash more mayhem and wind back those pesky environmental protections.

He will attack the media, mobilise extremists and unleash all the autocratic and nationalistic tendencies that the system has – but normally suppresses. His solution to inequality will be to give tax breaks to the rich (you can’t make this stuff up!) when we know only government intervention – or catastrophe–  prevents inequality being the inevitable result of unfettered markets.

The critical result of all this? No change to the fundamental direction we are on. The rich will get richer, the middle class will stagnate, racism and conflict will worsen and we will be less secure – all while climate change destabilises civilisation.  How is this good?

Because three big things will change.

First, there will no-one left to blame. Extreme capitalism will be unleashed and it will not deliver. The fraud of trickle-down economics will be exposed.

Secondly – US climate policy will no longer matter – fossil fuels will die on the same schedule they were dying on. As I argued in my 2015 article “Fossil fuels are finished, the rest is detail, these are fundamental trends driven by technology and markets – and no government can stop them.

Thirdly – and most importantly – is “the resistance”. We are seeing a huge mobilisation of activism and social engagement among people who have long been passive – as this humorous post describes. This is like the 60’s – without the drugs but with a political strategy! Climate change will be our Vietnam, the fossil fuel industry our military industrial complex. It could trigger, as this Atlantic article explored, a Tea Party of the left – maybe even a Green Tea Party. Chaotic, aggressive and not always rational, but very impactful. And the liberal wealthy elites will get right behind it – because they too have a lot to lose from extreme capitalism and climate chaos.

Isn’t this all a bit scary? Don’t we now face a period of extreme upheaval and risk? Yes, but in case you hadn’t noticed, we already are. Ask a Syrian climate refugee trying to get into Europe. Observe the terrifying trends at our melting ice caps.  Talk to a disaffected, scared, unemployed factory worker in middle America who sees no prospects for themselves and their kids.  The system is breaking down.

We’re racing towards the cliff. Despite our desperate denial, we are going to face a global crisis, regardless of what we do. This will not be gentle.

So we need to face reality on how really dramatic change could actually occur.  System change doesn’t happen incrementally and is not triggered by traditional political processes – it takes a crisis. With Clinton, we would have blundered our way closer to the cliff, deluded by small progress. With Trump, we may just wake up in time.

The Great Disruption is now in full swing. We face the most important choice in human history – economic decline and the descent into chaos – possibly collapse – or transformation into a very different economy and society. Having the walking dead in Washington may be just what we need.


101 thoughts on “The Walking Dead in Washington

  1. Melissa Benyon

    So good to see your blog back in action, Paul. Hope you don’t leave it so long till the next post! My thinking has gone along the same lines as yours, but you have been thinking about this stuff a lot longer and in a lot more depth than I have – it’s grimly reassuring to know that better minds than mine have reached the same conclusions.

    • Paul Gilding

      Thanks Melissa. Yes, it took me a while to get this one sorted in my head – but I think I’ll be posting more often this year.

      • Mrs Sobey

        Hi Paul, just reading this again. You and yours must be so exhausted after all your deep thinking and writing, and the knowledge of what’s coming. Feel so much for you. Have a good rest before you “go into battle” with your words again. Take it easy for a while, son – your family becomes increasingly important.
        Sincerely, Christina Sobey, Albury

  2. Great stuff and glad to hear from you.
    Indeed Donald’s disordered extremes will focus us all.
    Like virus demands coordinated response he and his values provide a target.
    I have just been looking at World3 models with collapse imminent.
    Like so much the bell curve is emerging with early adopters recognizing the trends.
    Interesting also Bob Inglis approach may provide mechanisms to accelerate change.
    Thanks for the post.

  3. James Fernie

    excellent excellent excellent article Paul. this is exactly how I felt and feel, but without being able to articulate it.

  4. Welcome back Paul – I fully agree, although the “renegades” in Washington might inflict a lot of harm to many people, and nature, they are significantly increasing the speed of decline for US “world importance” as well as old “neoliberal” capitalism.

  5. Don’t you wish it was a movie? Then we could sit in the dark and scare ourselves witless about this apocalyptic future. The credits would come up and we’d walk out into the sunshine of a beautiful afternoon on our flourishing, ecologically balanced planet and thank our lucky stars that the nightmare wasn’t real.

      • lizzieconnor

        What a great comment – and an even greater response! Thanks John and Paul. I don’t even mind that I won’t be here when it happens – as long as it happens.

  6. “Climate change will be our Vietnam.” Great! I can’t wait for all the new protest music à la Dylan and Lennon. Seems to me that protest music has been one of the missing ingredients in the global conversation about climate change.

    • Paul Gilding

      Nadia – a topic for a future piece, but basically I see all resistance to fossil fuel developments as being crucial and a practical way to slow down the crisis. In market terms it puts risk into these investments and makes them harder to do as well. So they are powerful contributions.

      • Joan Halgren

        Paul, do you think the ideas of a carbon tax on fossil fuel and other gas emitters or a carbon fee on polluters with a dividend from the fee passed onto citizens would help or not? Are we too late for this type of economic incentive that would help reduce greenhouse gases quicker than many regulations? Your thoughts, please!

  7. Very eloquently stated, however; paints a scary future!?! Glad I came across your article, Paul, while browsing. Hope to hear more from you on the so-called Presidency of Donald Trump — your insights are enlightening & offer a different perspective.

  8. William Roth

    David Brooks of the NYT wrote a column this week saying that the problem with the 21st century was the lack of economic growth. I thought, “Well duh,” and tried to send him an excerpt from your book about why that was exactly what we should have expected. However, I was unable to find an email address for him and so just gave up, but not before reflecting on how long it had been since I had last heard from you–and wondering what your take was on the Trump election and what it portended. As others have posted, my thoughts were very similar to yours, but just not as cogently expressed. So good to receive your validation that while, at best, Hillary would have been a blessed “holding action,” now all of us, out of necessity, genuinely feel the urgency to get off the couch and become true activists to save ourselves and, hopefully, future generations. Let “The Great Disruption” begin!!

  9. Paul M. Luxon

    Ever since watching the Democrats of the ’50’s – 70’s fall for Reagan’s economic fantasy, I too have felt we’d only get REAL change after we’d run into a wall (or to your analogy, off a cliff), as most people are too focused on their own little worlds to realize how inter-dependent we all really are until someone or something comes along and bites them in the rear. I’m guardedly optimistic that this may now happen, and that with the tools of IT our younger generations might be able to effect a much bigger changes
    than even we did back in the ’60’s. We’ll see……………………………

  10. Michael

    The author misplaces blame, contending that “unfettered markets” produce extreme inequality, that “capitalism” once worked, but doesn’t any longer, and is to blame. The system he’s talking about isn’t really capitalist, and never was, and the gross inequalities he speaks about can be traced back, not to free exchange of goods and services, but to the coercive hand of government, regulating this, licensing that, prohibiting the other… always with the claim of acting in the public interest, but always actually doing the bidding of wealthy interests, bent on acquiring yet more wealth. The vast fortunes of the “robber barons” of the past were all easily traceable to the government participation in the building of the railroads… fortunes were amassed in steel, oil, banking, and in railroads themselves, by exploiting the powers of government… funding, eminent domain, regulating competitors out of existence and obtaining choice deals in land and service contracts. The same sort of thing has continued ever since.

    • Joan Halgren

      Michael, I don’t think Paul would argue with your truth. Indeed, the wealthy have always co-mingled with government to the point now where there’s no separation! Our lawmakers are mostly bought by the rich with a very few exceptions, particularly, here in the U.S. The only alternative is a massive revolt from the bottom up to declare a truly fair, resilient economy for all. Either we do it or fall. The choice will be up to us.

  11. Gray Southon

    You might well be right, and this is what I fear. The Great Disruption heralded a massive transformation forced on the establishment which responded in ways reflected by the US response to the Pearl Harbour attack. This was an authoritarian, top-down coordinated initiative provoking a bottom-up supportive response.

    Now you are saying that that whole authoritarian structure is collapsing and society will disintegrate into chaos, dominated by irrational and impactful political forces. You seem to welcome this development purely for its revelation of the realities of the current authority. Paul, it would be great if you could put this into the context of our history of revolution and how chaos is often exploited by the authoritarian and the unscrupulous? Quite unique to our period of history is the magnitude of the chaos, and our ability to destroy the world through its military power, and destroy the viability of human existence by our current fossil fuel exploitation.

    We need to know how we can, within this chaos, resurrect what elements we have of constructive intelligence and organisational coherence to re-construct a better society. They are many, and exist at all levels, but they need to be fully recognised for their capabilities. Important amongst these are those at the United Nations level, which have engineered quite unprecedented global agreements to address the very issues that you identify.

    We have an enormous task to piece together any future that one can look forward to, and I look forward to your contributions to this.

    • Joan Halgren

      Gray, I like your ideas. It’s sad the U.S. often ignores the policy it has backed at the UN. Then, of course, international laws are ignored on matters, like our illegal use of drones! Toxic behavior in the 21, century–high tech cave mentality. We can do better?

  12. Patricia Miller

    Hi Paul, I’ve been thinking about you; so glad you are back writing. My daughter and I were in New Zealand in October and went to a conference with Lee Carroll channeling the Spiritual entity, Kryon. It was profound. And, like, you, I think Trump’s election is a wake-up call to us all. Thanks for your thoughts and your good writing. Patricia Miller

  13. Chloe Lewis

    Delightful to see you back! And refreshing to read a different and thoughtful perspective on the Trump regime. Yes, perhaps some good will emerge from these times, but it surely is deeply unsettling to actually live through what is going on here in the US. But you are right in that many heretofore relatively politically inactive people such as myself have become quite radicalized and, more importantly, organized. Looking forward to seeing more insightful essays from you.

  14. Jonathan Evelegh

    Thanks, as ever, for your cheery thoughts and persistence in recognizing the silver lining to the darkest of clouds. With respect to the cliff analogy, perhaps we will not pull up short, perhaps we have already launched off the edge. Definitely, we need to learn how to fly — and in a hurry

  15. Lorraine Leach

    Great to see you back again Paul. The Great Disruption is indeed well under way and the melting Antarctica too close for comfort here in Victoria, Australia where I live.

  16. Joan Halgren

    As usual, Paul has written an excellent article that we all need to value. Equally important, we must resist the new endeavors in the U.S. to turn back the clock! Fight I will!

  17. Doone Wyborn

    So right, and the sooner we hit the cliff, the smaller it will be, perhaps even small enough to avoid human extinction from locked-in human-induced global warming.

  18. Leif Knutsen

    Good to see you back Paul. Like others, I missed you.
    With that said there is a lot in play during this transition from fossils to the Green Awakening Economy.

    Capitalism and tax funded pollution profiteering unencumbered by the requirements of functioning Planetary life support systems = mutually assured destruction.

    As George Orwell wrote in “Homage to Catalonia” about fighting fascists, I don’t always need to know what I am fighting for when it is clear what I am fighting against.

    These are different times and demand different solutions.
    “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”
    —Albert Einstein
    Albert again: “I do not know the weapons of WW III but WW IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

    I believe it is fair to say that humanity is currently embroiled in a life and death world wide battle with an evil beyond the current comprehension of most Americans. An adversary that feeds many but in the end can kill all higher carbon bases life forms. That evil is CAPITALISM unrestrained by functioning Planetary life support systems! A construct of the very people now threatened with their extinction within a hand full of generations at best. This is unprecedented in human history. If there was ever a time, NOW “We must learn to see the world anew.”

    I vote for WW III to be fought with equality, justice, and LOVE. WW IV with sonnets.

    What is the roll of the military as we go forward? This is a subject that is seldom discussed as humanity faces the the door step of doom? Our military has acknowledged global warming to be a National Security issue for some time. The militaries of the world are also the top emitter of green house gas.. I have long argue that our military has to become GREEN in tooth and nail for the survival of the Nation, and by inference, the world’s planetary life support systems. Given that the military has taken an oath to defend the Nation and its people from all enemies, both foreign and domestic, it presents a quandary. To wit: It costs our nation >50% of our tax base to operate so it needs a strong capitalistic system to support it. However, that very capitalistic system of “socially enabled capitalism,” (privatized prpfits and socialized losses), is clearly killing the people and Nation it has sworn to defend. Wasting trillions of dollars on fuel, weapons, infrastructure, maiming and killing our youth.

    For how long can the military justify sending legion after legion of our youth to kill and be killed in efforts that in the end will kill the people, military, as well as the corporate capitalistic paradigm that it requires for support? For how long will the enlisted continue to march to its drums as family and friends back home succumb to planetary climate carnage? Surely at some point f… it must prevail. Can the leaders of the Military be prosecuted for treason for supporting the same paradigm that it requires? By whom? The Military courts? The Supreme Court? The children? Who has standing? “We the People” affected? World court? It gets tricky in my book.

    “War becomes perpetual when used as a rationale for peace,” Norman Solomon.

    “Peace becomes perpetual when used as a rationale for survival.” Yours truly.

    • Joan Halgren

      Leif, I love your last quote! And agree with all your concerns. I am hoping the millennials will rise up collectively to overcome the destructive status quo! It maybe our only path to sustain Earth.

      I am glad you care!

      • Leif Knutsen

        Thank you Joan. I am glad so many care and we are growing quickly. The Pollutocrats thought they buried us time and again, They still don’t grok we are seeds.

  19. There are many factors driving the Great Disruption, not the least of which is the increase in longevity which will inexorably drive major social change. Along with the obvious threats, there are opportunities. One of these is the availability of increasing numbers of people who are well educated and with a strong drive – and the time and financial capacity – to leave things better. Enlisting the older generation to help reform our society should be a major goal of those supporting more informed activism – and may even help them lead longer and even more interesting lives!

      • Hi David
        Interesting thought. I’ve become very curious about this lately and wondering how large this pool of experienced, influential, skilled and in some cases wise cohort of still working or recently retired people is.
        I’ve been wondering what needs this group might have in being supported to organise and activate.
        Any further thoughts? Keen to discuss further offline?

      • Leif Knutsen

        The influence of the “elders” is huge. Many of us have been in the fight since the 1960. Even then, we were standing on the shoulders of generations before us. I bet 90% of the commentators on this blog alone are 50+. Go to any large peace march and look at the demographics.

  20. Lois Irwin

    I’m glad you’re back and thank you for this article. It has shown me a way to process a positive approach to what for me, up till now, has been purely negative. The old saying, ‘I didn’t see the woods for the trees’.

  21. Birthe Millerr

    Thank you, you helped me seeing this drama from a different point of view, helps when you try to be an activist.

  22. I too wish to thank you for coming back at a time when I felt most forlorn! I have read a few Christian statements that Trump is the Anti Christ and,not being Christian I hold with the potential for action NOW !

  23. Wayne Roth

    Paul – Good to hear from you again! I’ve been wondering about you.

    Do we have 4 or 8 years to sacrifice on the altar of greedy capitalism? From Lester Brown to Naomi Klein and many in between we have a decade to get of carbon energy, as Klein puts it in “This Changes Everything”, this is THE LAST DECADE.

    When I’ve tried to convince people of the seriousness of our Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC) crisis, I sometimes refer back to your “One Degree War Plan” and ask, do you see the airline industry and every other multinational business conscious enough about the threat of ACC that they will willingly cut their fossil fuel emissions 10%/yr. for 5 years? That they will do this because they know in their bones this is what is necessary if civilization is to have any chance of stopping ACC from passing irrevocable climate system tipping points, to keep civilization from falling off a 100,000 year cliff? 2017 was the year you proposed we had to start the upfront climate war effort. Think your upfront climate war effort is going to start this year??

    Nope. In the game of Climate Parcheesi we are about to move 4 to 8 squares backward, not forward. But this isn’t just some casual board game is it..

    I agree with the words Madonna spoke at the Women’s March about Trump getting elected. “It took this horrific moment of darkness to wake us the fuck up.” A false sense of hope will not rock our grandchildren to sleep in the year 2100 or 2200 or 100000.

    I feel one thing is certain, this is our last chance to wake up. We may already be beyond the point of any climate redemption, but giving up is not an option, depression is a waste of time. These just guarantees failure. We must rise up and kill Stephen Schneider’s Climate Nazgul: Ignorance. Greed. Denial. Tribalism. Short-term Thinking. That’s a lot of dragons to slay in a short time.

    I tried to get versions of this op-ed published in four major US newspapers. No dice.

    The White Arctic Is Turning Into a Black Swan

    Shockingly high Arctic temperatures these last three months, at times 20C/36F above normal, have put the brakes on the usually rapid re-growth of the Arctic sea ice as we head into winter. Last November the Arctic was so hot that the Arctic sea ice extent didn’t just slow or level off, it retreated! Climate specialists are deeply worried that our carbon emissions have finally pushed this sensitive region over the edge.

    Donald Rumsfeld famously said about war, “There are the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns.” A Black Swan event is an unknown unknown, with consequences so vast it changes the playing field, rewrites the rules, even reshapes history. A Black Swan event makes a mockery of statistical analysis, the odds are so vanishingly small that statistics cannot give meaning to what is happening.

    But statistics, numbers, are the basic language of science. In the description box for Figure 7 on the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) webpage for December, (, the science team gave a statistical analysis of the extraordinary low Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extents this November. They concluded, “As a result of both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice currently tracking at record low levels, global ice extent near November’s end stood at 7.3 standard deviations below average.”

    7.3 standard deviations doesn’t sound like much but standard deviations are calculated logarithmically like the Richter scale for earthquakes. 7.3 standard deviations works out to odds of 1:7,000,000,000,000 – one chance in seven trillion. To grasp how absurd these odds are, the odds of winning Powerball are roughly 1:292,000,000. That makes the odds of November’s global sea ice loss about 24,000 times worse than winning Powerball! These astronomically small odds indicate that this event cannot be due to natural variations. It’s an unambiguous signpost that our human footprint is accelerating climate change. We’ve changed the rules of the game.

    Dr. Ted Scambos, senior research scientist at the NSIDC put it this way, “This is what I meant by a ‘black swan’ event. The traditional measure of scale of anomalies, standard deviation, assumes that the system is showing random variations about a mean; and in a system like this, that the rules or governing processes remain the same. What happened this November tells us that, for both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice, our current record of 38 years does not represent all the processes or rules that the poles are now seeing — something else, something not previously seen, is going on. It’s telling us that statistics are not the way to look at the events. It’s as if you were rolling dice, and instead of a two or a ten or a twelve, you rolled an “A”. Ah: not the same dice anymore.”

    For those who may have thought that the trend of climate records was just a run of bad luck, something that might well reverse itself in the near term, consider the implications of one in seven trillion. Our continuing addiction to fossil fuel energy is like playing Hyper-Powerball, betting our civilization, perhaps even the continued existence of our species, on the outcome. We can’t keep playing Powerball with the climate and expect to win – that’s insane. We’re gambling away the future of our grandchildren. We must stop this, now.

    (Grateful acknowledgement to Dr. Scambos for his quote.)

  24. Chris Chatteris

    Thanks Paul. Hopeful and helpful perspective as ever (though the reference to what’s going on in the Arctic could undermine the hope of the most hopeful).

    I agree that there are zombies in the White House, but although they are in a sense just symptoms of our crisis, they are also extremely powerful and at least one – Steve Bannon – seems to me to be worryingly unhinged.

    So, we have to do all we can to prevent these zombies getting us into a world war. We also have to beware of the political phenomenon of revolutions devouring their children, as politics get further upended. And while we are about it we have to transform our economy and adapt to the climate change which is already happening.

    Busy times ahead.

  25. Chris Harries

    Extending the logic that Trump’s election was a good result – I understand that well enough, Paul, but if I am to follow this thinking through I would need to help this along by voting One Nation (for example) in future Australia state and federal elections – i.e. if I wish to hasten the onset of the Disruption that has to happen anyway.

    That’s a philosophical question, not a statement.

    This would cause me some internal conflict on election days!

    • Leif Knutsen

      That brings to mind a quote attributed to Robert F. Kennedy in the 1960s:

      “A revolution is coming – a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough – but a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.

  26. Robert Zandstra

    Hi Paul,

    This is a fascinating take on the current situation.

    However, your essay is compromised by linking it via ‘don’t have much time left’ to a pseudo-science piece by Sam Carana at the dubious Arctic News BlogSpot.

    Prof Dr S from Humboldt-Universität in Berlin had this to say about Carana’s piece:

    “I had a look at the arctic warming blog post: The headline “Warning of mass extinction of species, including humans, within one decade” is a crude exaggeration. “Alarmist” is the least that I would say to this. I think these kind of fear-provoking, not very well backed posts that look like science but actually are a bizarre mixture of science derived graphs and speculations do not help. These posts only help those you are against any real and effective climate mitigation policies.”

    In the light of the above, I suggest that the link be deactivated.

    Robert Zandstra

    • Leif Knutsen

      Misunderstood Robert, I believe. Not mass extinction in 10 years but beyond humanities ability to prevent mass extinction as feed back loops make it all but inevitable to mitigate.

      • Paul Gilding

        Robert, you raise an intelligent comment and I could have said it better (the perils of constantly trying to reduce word count to make things readable!) There’s a whole blog worth in in this topic but I’ll just make a few points here.

        Firstly, I agree some of that blog I linked to is speculative, but there is plenty of good science on these possibilities being realistic risks. And plenty of the Arctic News stuff is good (e.g. Wadhams) Runaway scenarios themselves were ridiculed a decade ago but are no more.

        Secondly the science has been consistently underestimating climate impacts for a long time on the grounds of avoiding being alarmist. (as per your quote) This is good science, but extremely risky for civilisation response planning. We constantly invest hugely in low risk high impact events e.g. war and defence spending, generally using insurance etc. So if there’s a 5 or 10% chance of civilisation threatening impacts, we should be planning for them (i.e. taking action to give us a 90% chance of avoiding them.

        Thirdly, Leif’s point above is key – at least that’s how I interpret the article – the risk is cascading human, economic and security consequences bringing down civilization as we know it. Extinction is an extreme call – and I don’t buy it – but that’s really semantics given what the issue is (how we respond). If it’s extinction or if it’s hundreds of millions of people left, everything we know is gone and thus we should be hitting the panic button know if that’s even a remote risk.

        Thanks for your feedback!


      • Leif Knutsen

        Shell made this 30 minute film about global warming dangers over 25 years ago. Then decided pollution profits was more important.

        EXXON’s own in house scientist reported similar to its CEOs, ~12 years previously. I do not see that the fossil industry has a legal leg to stand on… Unless they were told by the government that they would not be held liable! and have it in writing and stashed in a safe place someplace. You think?

      • I get very tired of people who are keen to nit pick on exaggerated claims of impending doom from effects of climate change.For years the experts chose to allow those lying “scientists” to have free range,while they tried to prove that there would be a 99% chance our planet will be unrecognisable.Murdoch,the devil incarnate has pushed the Fossil Lies for so long that way too much doubt is still out there.
        Thanks again Paul.

      • Leif Knutsen

        Senior moment above in my comment, not “inevitable,” all but impossible to mitigate.

  27. Leif Knutsen

    Obviously the Governments, Wall Street?, (They appear to be one in the same.), have been granted the same nuclear industry exemption from the litigation above certain limits. Look how that turned out. So my conclusion is that the same protections have been granted the fossil industry. If so the fossil industry is just a “red herring” and the real buggy man has yet to be identified I boggles my mind to think that the CEOs of the fossil industry would expose their flanks and profits on such shaky grounds.

    • Joan Halgren

      Greetings Leif and Paul, it’s my understanding that one Republican version of a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend–the one backed by James Baker III and George Schultz–has a clause that would remove the fossil fuel industry from liability! Yes! Equally significant, they wish to scrap regulation by saying the carbon fee and dividend will work! I support the Citizens’ Climate Lobby that is working to have a similar program but retain regulations and certainly not allow these major oil tyrants to get away from the responsibilities to ‘do no harm’! Their outrageous, and now our Secretary of State is in the driver’s seat–shameless! Despite all this awful news, keep fighting!

      • Leif Knutsen

        Government attempting to cover their ass IMO. The carnage must be held accountable and the facts exposed or else we the people will never be protected from a replay.

      • balanceact1

        Joan, Do you have a link to the article about this qualification of Shultz’s and Baker’s carbon tax proposal? That the fossil fuel industry would not be liable? I have a lot of respect for Shultz but was recently disappointed to hear him support the completion of DAPL and KeystoneXL on a recent KQED Forum broadcast.

      • Joan Halgren

        BalanceAct1, thanks for asking about the Baker, Schultz, etc. approach. One of the four pillars of their carbon fee and dividend plan is regulatory rollback. The exact quote from their report under “4. Significant Regulatory Rollback” says, “Robust carbon taxes would also make possible an end to federal and state tort liability for emitters.”

        To read their proposed policy, go to the laughable but real Climate Leadership Council to see the report. Their web site is

        Take a deep breath and enjoy wherever you are now!


  28. Thank you, Paul. Your understanding is pointed and clear. The desperate middle class is on the brink of finding out that the “alternative” they hoped for is no alternative at all. (The growing lower class has always understood this.)

  29. I tried to post this earlier but it never popped up. Trying again.

    Paul, thanks for the pingback. I really can’t agree with your statement. “US climate policy will no longer matter – fossil fuels will die on the same schedule they were dying on. As I argued in my 2015 article “Fossil fuels are finished, the rest is detail”, these are fundamental trends driven by technology and markets – and no government can stop them.”

    Capitalism and capitalists don’t want to die. The Businessman-in-Chief’s new administration just breathed life back into tar sands. And this is just one of dozens of environment roll backs Trump is initiating. Scott Pruitt at the EPA is disgusting. Hansen has said many times that if the KeystoneXL gets built it’s “game over”. For a lucid discussion see Adam Scott’s OCI paper:

    “Scientists have found that to have a likely (2 in 3) chance of keeping warming below 2°C, global emissions must be halved within little more than 20 years. To keep warming to 1.5°C, emissions must be halved in about 15 years. New pipelines and tar sands projects are designed to last 40 to 50 years. It’s extremely difficult to shut down projects early, once investments have been made.”

    If Trump’s election can be the political crisis that finally wakes the world up, these goals might be possible, but personally I find these numbers unrealistically optimistic. We have at best a decade to get entirely off carbon fuels. Lester Brown; Naomi Klein; Kevin Anderson and others. Even if Bernie Sanders had been elected President along with a Democratic Congress, it would still be a crap shoot, a long long Hail Mary to beat back the ravages of our technological hubris on the planet’s biosphere and resources.

    There is a line in that quote from Scott, that is embedded in almost every scientific paper on the likelihood of their stated conclusions, that we all tend to skim right over, “to have a likely (2 in 3) chance”. Answer me this: Would you put your kids or grandchildren on an airline that touted, “We guarantee to get your loved ones to their destination 66% of the time!!” This is the bet we’re making folks. We have to stop making these very bad bets using our grandchildren as chips.

    What to do? Get ourselves out in the streets. Make a lot of noise; write a lot of letters, emails, make a lot of phone calls to your governmental representatives. Talk with people who don’t have your point of view. Listen to their grievances. Organize. Join forces. Don’t go quietly into the night.

    • Joan Halgren

      Wayne, you are spot on. Deeply troubling that we cannot go peacefully into the night! Equally troubling, most people are unconscious about this whole topic. Tom Friedman calls it the ‘black elephant’ in the room–people just aren’t seeing it yet it’s there! Take care. Best regards, Joan

      • Thanks Joan, I appreciate the positive feedback. I do some work with composting and sustainability in San Mateo, and the people who run the county sustainability programs are really good folks, but even they have trouble seeing the scope and depth of the climate crisis we have brewed for ourselves. Maybe Paul and Madonna are right. Maybe The Donald will wake people of good will into action!

        Thanks for the link to the Climate Leadership Council… such as it is. :-))w

  30. Nadia Mejjati

    I very rarely watch T.V but recently I’ve been turning on CNN (the only English channel here) to get a laugh at Trump. Why is it we don’t hear anything about climate, feed back cycles, glaciers and future water supplies, the Amazon rainforest etc?? Why do we NEVER see the people of Standing Rock or Bill McKibben or Vandana Shiva or Bolan Slat or the Goodbye Plastic Bag Girls of Bali? Maybe the mass population would know and understand more and be more inclined to rise up, take action and create solutions with us if they saw it on T.V EVERY DAY!! Winston Churchill went on the radio and inspired the nation for the 2nd world war. Anybody want to explain the essential need to CNN (etc)….?

    • Joan Halgren

      Good point. I suggest contacting your local CNN reporter and encourage coverage of the risks and losses due to climate change. You make a very valid point! Also, start with local news media where you live. I reached out to my editor and will be writing a piece to be printed in March. It’s hard work but must be done.

  31. Nadia Mejjati

    I’m on the island of Reunion, there is no CNN, however I did just send the mayor an email written as a poem about the plastic everywhere spoiling the stunning scenery and how we should start a cleaning up campaign on the radio and T.V with a drawing of the volcano (the island has a volcano) scolding a litter bug! I would like to involve local artists and maybe some coloured chalk graffiti. My kids helped me with the poem. Positive action can be so easy and fun too!

    • Joan Halgren

      Nadia, this is terrific action! Poetry and art are powerful ways to express the restrictions placed on humanity. Keep it moving forward. Take care, Joan

  32. Lorna Patten

    Thanks for coming back and sharing your perspective and insights Paul :) I agree that Trump is a mighty wake up call for us all and i look forward to the transformation that is inevitable!

    • Joan Halgren

      My fear of Trump is his desire to gut environmental, health care and financial regulations–all pushing us to the tipping point of madness and the demise of human life. Can he be stopped without a bloodless revolution? Anyone care to guess?

      • Chris Harries

        I guess nobody can answer that one Joan. We can only hope.

        This is the risk in taking the bitter medicine that may just restore our society’s health. Trump is like taking a really heavy dose of chemotherapy when we are on death’s door. The risk is that the medicine is so strong that it may well take out the healthy cells, but it’s probably our only chance.

        This is why I can’t and won’t say I’m glad that he’s been elected until we get a better bead on whether or not the medicine is going to be totally destructive. On the other hand, his election is now past tense, so it’s just as well for our head space to put our best foot forward and hope that his election may precipitate a genuine revolution.

        Like sit or nor, this is the adventure we are now on.

      • Melissa Benyon

        Chris, that’s a very interesting and telling comparison. I shall remember it.

    • Leif Knutsen

      Try not to miss this Ted Talk. Profound on many levels.

      “Hidden voices:” you will not look at poverty the same after this.

      My cry in the wind today for today:

      Fuc*k off Thumpers, and all the Pollutocrats beneath you. We are going GREEN anyway. Why you ask? Because it is cheaper, heather, better for the Planet and all upon it. PLUS, you lose money! “The very thing that makes you rich, makes me poor” Ry Codder. By the same token the very things that make the Poor richer will make you POOR! Some even in the hole!

      “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?” Wendell Berry

      Today like all future days you get to save humanity.

      • Joan Halgren

        Leif, great quote by Berry. I shall use it wisely for an editorial piece I am writing.

        Take care, and try finding some peace on our ailing Earth home!

      • Leif Knutsen

        It is not as bad as it sounds Joan. I have been fighting the system since the early 1960s. I am battle hardened. My rant was intended to showcase a technique used by Buckminster Fuller and engraved on his tombstone. “Call Me Trim-tab,” where a little force applied in the correct spots can have a profound impact on the course of events.
        For instance instead of using the phrase “I have have to…” do something, is changed to “I get to…”, Pick the laundry, do the dishes, mow the lawn, fight to protect planetary life support systems yet another day, etc. The concept made a profound impact on Bucky’s life from seriously contemplating suicide at ~35 to how he rejoined humanity and lived the rest of his life. Every day in every way we all get to act as a trim-tab on the course of history. Some days its a rant, some days I get to meditate in the garden.

        Joan, I trust you will post a trail to your efforts. Links are apparently a no-no on this forum.

      • Nadia Mejjati

        Leif: What is the Ted Talk called please and who is it by? I could not find it under Hidden Voices. Thanks!

      • Leif Knutsen

        Nadia: Esther Duflo/social experiments to fight poverty/ted talk/you tube should work better.

  33. Exactly what I’ve been thinking Paul. Good to see you back on fire. I’ve been back on the stage more frequently and getting asked to talk all over the place which I’m sensing is mobilisation emerging. We delivered near 20,000 signatures on the Climate Emergency Declaration petition to Parliament three weeks back (another mob of walking dead). John HEWSON drove from SYDNEY and back all day just for that event. And even the Thursday before, Bill Shorten said “we have a climate emergency”. Yes the bloody cliff is near, but we are starting to wake up. MAINTAIN the rage……..

  34. Reblogged this on Eucalypso and commented:
    In this fascinating article, Paul Gilding, the author of one of my favourite books, The Great Disruption, writes about the USA Presidency of Donald Trump and where we are today in regard to Gilding’s predictions in 2009 of the global effects of climate change.

  35. Maria McCann

    In Australia our leaders are ignorant to climate change too especially as the main political donations are given by fossil fuel corporations! Currently trying to place a big coal mine next to the Great Barrier reef…

  36. Stephen Young

    Like everyone else who commented, love your blogs. Have not read all the comments but cannot share your optimism, nor that of many others who commented. By this analysis, then George W Bush being elected was also a positive and it most certainly wasn’t on many fronts. Trump just rolled back loads of Obama’s actions on Climate Change. I think I must have missed out when the Rosy glasses were being handed out :-) But I hope You Are All Right.

    • For me now,Stephen,it is a question of the Audacity of Hope .I too felt really depressed at where the polluters want to take us ,for years ,but I attended a gathering of hundreds of young people waging war on that Coal Miner Adani and up till now I have seen little sign that the understand or care about their futures but now hopefully Trump will be impeached and the world will have seen the Emperor’s New Clothes.

      • Yes, a spate of progressive commentators including Joe Romm of Climate Progress have written articles in the past two months pointing to the (possible) bright side of the Trump presidency. I guess commentators don’t want to report that it’s game over, so long as there is a glimmer of hope. That glimmer seems to rest on an uprising that may precipitate and, secondly, he may just help to bring on a collapse of the status quo and thus indirectly the transition that has to happen anyway.

        I know this is all a wing and a prayer, so to speak, but what else can we do?

      • Nadia Mejjati

        We can dump Trump and instead give our attention to (and take hope from) the Eradicating Ecocide movement or Xiuhtezcatl Martinez & kid’s court case or the fast growing (700+ organisations) Fossil Free Divestment Campaign (events globally in May) and climate change litigation recently used to block a runway in Austria and a coal power station in South Africa and giant panda now off the endangered list thanks to China’s eco-endeavors, or Africa’s Great Green Wall, reforestation from Scotland to the Tree Sisters or reforesting coral or permaculture like Greening the Desert and a zillion other positive projects speeding up around the world, none of them fazed by Trump’s daft bumf. We can be like the humming bird and each of us keep on bringing our drop of water to the fire….

  37. Dennis Mitchell

    I come from a state that would elect Lucifer himself if he was on the Republican ticket (maybe we did). So it feels to me like we have avoided armed conflict. The hatemongers have sturred the pot too long. On the solution side of things, republicans have a good core. We just need to remove the corporations from politics. They were the equal rights, enviromental, and anti-slavery party. The tea party and the occupy movements had very similar complaints. One of the lies that got Trump elected was his anti-war rhetoric. I voted for Obama thinking he would leave the middle East rather than increase the bombing. Maybe the right and the left need to unite against its common enemy, big corporations and the government they control.

    • Leif Knutsen

      The important thing to remember as we go forward IMO is the left and the right have far more in common than most realize with the obvious exception of “hate speak.” Both sides are exploited by the pollution profiteers the world over and hate speak is intended to keep the two sides from collaborating against the minority of pollutocrat power brokers.

      The left needs to improve our ability to bridge the communication gap between the left and right to complete the circle of life once again. We have been seriously hampered because Big Money controls the media and hate speak permeates 24/7. However progressive values and supporters have continued to grow and the pollutocrats remain in power because of increasingly questionable ethical efforts. The current pollution profiteering power represents the bust BIG MONEY can buy. That alone should brighten your day.

  38. My thinking exactly. The movement will take many turns, in my mind, more decentralized. I am producing a series of shows on public access TV focusing on the local level as an approach to global issues. I’m starting with the issue of homelessness, nine episodes soon to be posted and moving on to a local dam project and then gun control and climate change. Starting small and building.

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