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EV hypocrisy
Image by Stephanie McMillan

Climate Confusion

Climate change is an idea that makes many people sweat and squirm.  Poorly informed folks say it’s a hoax spread by lunatics.  Religious folks might have faith that climate change is God’s will. 

 Other folks, who pay close attention to the news, perceive that climate trends have obviously swerved into spooky new patterns that potentially endanger the status quo for everyone everywhere. 

Folks who believe that climate change is real and important tend to be divided into two groups.  (1) Techno-optimists feel confident that the threat of climate change can and will be resolved via human brilliance.  (2) Techno-skeptics perceive that the danger is powerful, intensifying, overwhelming, and destined to destabilize life as we know it.

On the center stage of mainstream discussion, the spotlights are usually kept shining on the optimists.  They celebrate the miracles of new technology that will eliminate climate change, and steer us into the fast lane to utopia.  Everything is under control.  Our prosperous way of life is safe and sound.

Samuel Alexander added that the “techno-fix” approach is politically and socially palatable.  “It provides governments, businesses, and individuals with a means of responding to environmental problems (or appearing to) without actually confronting the underlying issues.”

Wackernagel & Rees neatly summed up the clumsy predicament: “The politically acceptable is ecologically disastrous while the ecologically necessary is politically impossible.”

Big Mama Nature is not amused.  She doesn’t care what we believe.  This is her circus, we are her monkeys, and Mama is pissed!  We’re monkeying around with extremely destructive games, while screeching and chattering.  Life is but a dream!

Secret Weapons

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, brilliantly convinced war weary Germans that they’d soon be saved by an amazing technological miracle.  The human mind has a spooky ability to develop a powerful blind faith in almost any idea, no matter how goofy.  Literally, nothing is unbelievable.

Albert Speer was in Hitler’s inner circle.  In March 1945, German defeat was inevitable.  In the final weeks, Hitler revealed his brilliant plan to the German people.  What seemed to be a rapidly approaching brutal defeat was actually a cunning trap!  He was luring the enemy armies into an ambush where they would soon be obliterated by a new and terribly powerful secret weapon!

Just days before the fall of Berlin, Speer made a visit to the western front.  While German cities were smoldering heaps of rubble, rural folks enjoyed a hopeful blind faith in the secret weapon nonsense, and were eagerly awaiting a glorious victory.  Speer was surprised that many top-level Nazis also believed this. 

Ghost Dance

By 1889, the once vast herds of bison on the U.S. plains had nearly been driven to extinction.  To the native people, this monstrous tragedy felt like the end of the world.  Lame Deer, a Lakota medicine man, described the Ghost Dance movement, a desperate effort to conjure a powerful act of spiritual healing.

Dancing would roll up the all the crud of the white man’s world, like a dirty carpet.  This would uncover once again “the flowering prairie, unspoiled, with its herds of buffalo and antelope, its clouds of birds, belonging to everyone, enjoyed by all.”

The Ghost Dance movement spread from tribe to tribe.  Dancers were not allowed to have things from the white world: liquor, guns, knives, kettles, or metal ornaments.  They would dance for four days.  Whites feared an armed uprising, so they attacked the dancers.  During the Wounded Knee massacre, 153 Lakota people were exterminated.

Electric Car Dance

Today, drivers concerned about climate change are being persuaded to abandon their old-fashioned petroleum powered machines, and acquire one of the new and luxurious electric powered wheelchairs.  Marketing wizards assure us that the batteries in these wheelchairs will someday be charged with “clean green” electricity produced by solar panels, wind turbines, and other cool gizmos.  Currently, the primary source of energy used to generate electricity for charging stations is fossil fuel, often natural gas

The motorized wheelchair fad began a few years before my father was born in 1913.  Ford was an early leader.  In the previous 300,000 years, humans primarily got around on foot — a cheap, healthy, practical, and climate friendly mode of transportation. 

Newborn infants squirt out of the womb with two astonishing miracles at the ends of their legs.  These happy feet allow us to wander through forests, prairies, deserts, wetlands, and mountains.  They propel us while swimming and dancing, and they’re quite useful for kicking and stomping troublesome annoyances. 

Happy Thoughts

In the Peter Pan story, Tinker Bell is the fluttering fairy of magical thinking: “Just think a happy thought and you can fly!”  We’re so lucky to live in a golden age of happy news!  Scroll your phone.  Read the paper.  Turn on the radio or TV.  It’s not hard to find soothing climate change news.

The core message assures us that we have a plan, and we’re making significant advances on important goals.  Some issues are more challenging, and will take additional time.  Climate change is a complicated rascal, but we know what we’re doing.  Everything is under control.  It’s not too late.  Relax!

For example, Wikipedia’s 100% Renewable Energy page reported: “Recent studies show that a global transition to 100% renewable energy across all sectors – power, heat, transport, and desalination well before 2050 is feasible… worldwide at low cost.”  Elsewhere, eco-warrior Bill McKibben wrote that “we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch fossil fuels.”

On the other hand, many educators deliberately limit what they tell their students, to avoid souring their precious innocence (don’t scare the children!).  News organizations often limit coverage of unpleasant stories that could disturb their audience and/or advertisers.  Politicians who promise quick and easy solutions win more votes.

Rupert Read wrote, “Environmentalists are often accused of being doom-mongers… I think that almost all environmentalists incline in fact to a Polyanna-ish stance of undue optimism.”

Kevin Anderson noted that this undue optimism was the product of something like a conspiracy theory.  “Half of global emissions come from just ten percent of the population.  The top one percent are responsible for twice the amount of carbon as the bottom half of the world’s population.  The inequality in in who is causing emissions is obscene.”  “We’re heading for collapse of modern society, and the collapse of most of our emblematic ecosystems.”

At the same time, this elite one percent is primarily responsible for framing the global discussion on climate change.  They are especially interested in perpetual economic growth, boosting their personal wealth, and keeping business as usual in the fast lane for as long as possible, by any means necessary. 

Sharply reducing emissions would sharply disrupt business as usual.  So would doing nothing, disregarding climate impacts, partying like there’s no tomorrow, and letting nature clean up the bloody mess.

Green New Deal

Anyway, climate change sucks.  It’s largely caused by a mob of eight billion critters generating way too many carbon emissions.  A primary source of carbon-rich pollution is the combustion of staggering amounts of fossil fuel. 

Shazam!  The quick and easy solution is perfectly obvious!  We just abandon our naughty addiction to dirty energy, and replace it with clean green renewable energy.  Hooray!  State of the art technology will allow us to painlessly glide into a beautiful green utopia that requires no significant lifestyle sacrifices. 

In this great healing, solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and electric motors play starring roles.  The climate-saving magic word here is decarbonize.  In a number of nations, this crusade has gradually been growing since 2018 or so.  The main U.S. version of this movement is called the Green New Deal (GND).

The GND vision is to make radical, gargantuan, and super expensive changes around the entire world over the next 20 to 30 years.  Ideally, every nation would eagerly cooperate, and this would allow humankind to gradually reduce the brutality of the beatings that Big Mama Nature receives every day.  Then, miracles happen, and future generations maybe enjoy a smoother journey into the future.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as noted earlier, ongoing CO2 emissions are increasing, and they are accumulating in the atmosphere, where they will persist for thousands of years.  John Gowdy concluded, “The effects of fossil fuel burning are irreversible on a time scale relevant to humans.”  We’ve started something we cannot stop.

In 2021, Megan Seibert and William E. Rees released a free report that provided a vigorous critique of the GND’s shortcomings and fantasies.  It’s a competent intro, and it’s fairly easy to read — “GND proponents are appallingly tolerant of the inexplicable.”

Vaclav Smil is an energy theorist, the author of How the World Really Works, and 40 other books.  He’s a sharp critic of the GND’s pipe dream of a full-scale transition from fossil energy to clean green renewable energy.  He calls it science fiction.  “Heavy doses of wishful thinking are commingled with a few solid facts.”

Smil smirked at the GND’s juicy promises.  “Who could be against solutions that are both cheap and nearly instantly effective, that will create countless well-paying jobs, and ensure care-free futures for coming generations?”  Many others agree with Smil’s skepticism.

We talk about two categories of energy: nonrenewable (fossil), and renewable (wind, solar, etc.).  Nate Hagens clarified this subject.  Geese and oak trees are “renewable.”  Solar collectors and wind turbines are “rebuildable.”  They have a working lifespan of up to 20-30 years, at which point they must be periodically replaced, until the time when civilization rusts in peace.  Their components are not designed to be recycled in an affordable and eco-friendly way.  Many go to landfills.  Some are considered to be toxic waste.

William Rees explained how our dreams of “solving” global warming have deep roots in magical thinking.  Proposed “solutions” are compatible with perpetual economic growth and business as usual.  We can pretend to save the world while mindlessly enjoying our cool toys until the lights go out.  Yippee!

During its evolution, the GND mindset has been an intoxicating cornucopia of heartwarming utopian fantasies.  We’d have 100% renewable energy by 2030.  Decent jobs for everyone.  Free college education.  Single-payer healthcare.  Adequate housing.  Healthy affordable food.  Public transportation and high-speed rail.  Perpetual economic growth.  And so on.  (See Wikipedia’s Green New Deal section.)

 [Note: This is a new section from the rough draft of Wild, Free, & Happy. It’s finally getting into the home stretch, maybe four more to go (or fewer).  These samples start with sample 01, and follow the sequence listed HERE (if you happen to have some free time).


Richard Reese lives in Eugene, Oregon. His primary interest is ecological sustainability, and helping others learn about it. He is the author of What Is Sustainable, Sustainable or Bust, and Understanding Sustainability and is currently working on a new book titled Wild, Free & Happy.  Reese' blog wildancestors.blogspot.com includes free access to reviews of more than 196 sustainability-related books by a variety of authors both contemporary and historical, plus a few dozen of his own rants.

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