Thursday, August 21, 2014

Marching against climate change

The other day, I got an email with the following cheery message:
This September, tens of thousands of people of all walks of life will gather for the largest climate gathering in history to build a world safe from the ravages climate change. Among them will be many Minnesotans! Will you add your voice and join us?
  • What: People's Climate March
  • When: September 21st
  • Where: New York City
  • How: Learn more and buy your ticket here and Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light are excited to send a large delegtion to NYC make the People's Climate March the biggest environmental gathering in the world. Buy your ticket here, check out the Facebook event here. Together we'll call for the world we know is possible; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities. Donations are much needed to help sponsor those who can't pay their full fare. It's important that youth and low-income people can have a voice in this movement, so please donate here if you can.

The People’s Climate March is an opportunity to embody the truth that significant climate action is not a liberal or conservative issue, but for those who want a world for us all to live on. Will you join us in NYC?
Now as regular readers here will attest, I am not the biggest fan of big symbolic gatherings to cope with scientific / technological matters.  But since this email was so damn earnest and provided a working email address, I thought I would attempt to reason with this sincere liberal who wants so badly to be helpful.  So I wrote:
Help me out here.  We are supposed to somehow get to New York to protest that too much carbon is being injected into the atmosphere.  And how much carbon will we put into the atmosphere to get to this gathering?

Well, if I drive my car which gets about 23 miles per gallon the 2400 mile round trip, I'll burn around 105 gallons of gasoline.  A gallon of gasoline burned yields 20 pounds of CO2.  So to get my oh-so-important body to the gathering of concerned climate change folk, I'll add a ton of CO2 to the atmosphere.  CO2 is a very stable molecule with a minimum estimated life of 100,000 years.  I must be REALLY important.

Of course, I am not and neither is anyone like me so the whole point is to gather thousands of us nobodies into a colorful mob large enough to attract the attention of those organized organs of mass ignorance—the TV networks.  Because THEN we as a world will get serious about stopping the process of putting excess carbon into the atmosphere.  I mean, "look at us," say the climate scolds, "we are so serious about the problem we were willing to drop an extra ton of CO2 per head into an already over-polluted atmosphere just to gather and walk in circles carrying signs that just MIGHT make the nightly news."

What am I missing here?  Why would ANYONE remotely serious about climate change even CONSIDER going to New York to participate in an event so meaningless and counterproductive? When are the climate change people going to grow up and realize that this problem won't be fixed by petitioning politicians?  I mean the solution to climate change is blindingly obvious—stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere.  And we should start by not burning gasoline / jet fuel / diesel fuel to get to a march modeled after a method employed by Gandhi in the 1930s to protest British Imperialism.  It is not relevant.  It redefines the empty gesture.

Worst of all, events like these prove to the world that we are not serious.  Unfortunately, climate change is DEADLY serious—as in, a threat to human existence on earth.
After a couple day's wait, I got this response.  Liberals may be seriously misguided but they are really nice people.
Hello Jonathan,

Thank you for your concerns and feedback on the event. I will pass along your points to fellow organizers for the event.

There is only one point in your email that I may take issue with, which is when you indirectly call yourself a "nobody". To this point I will respectfully disagree. You most certainly are not a nobody, contrary to your suggestion of such. Your voice is deeply important and I hope you will continue to use it in future events.

All the best,
Damn!  The kids are nice.  Here, I am being kindly scolded for my lack of self-esteem (something I really don't have a problem with.)  But again—misguided. Whether one is polite, kind, or just politically correct in some passive aggressive way, it makes absolutely ZERO difference to the debate over how to replace fire.  So I decided to come clean.
Busted.  All right, I am not a nobody.  I have written two books on the economics of environmental renewal and I have a blog called real economics that tracks the progress people are making around the world in the battle to reduce CO2 emissions.  I have had readers, at last count, from 148 countries and I average around 21,000 pageviews a month these days.


The rest of the world is furious at our casual attitude towards a deadly problem.  You see, no matter how important you may think a March Against Climate Change may be, the days for that sort of symbolic behavior were over by at least 1995.  And everyone seems to understand it but us Americans—exceptional us.

Sometimes, being a nobody is not such a bad thing, come to think about it.
The key to understanding this sort of behavior lies in the fact that only a small minority of the people of the earth have anything meaningful to offer when it comes to this problem.  Politicians are not going to invent new methods of electrical storage and environmental activists usually have little to add to the difficult subject of capturing solar energy.  They want to help, but usually all they can offer is moralizing bullshit.  The decision to use fire was made so long ago that anyone who wants to debate the morality of that decision really IS wasting everyone's time—because the real question is, How do we live without it?

So I understand—most people have almost nothing to offer on the subject of climate change but that doesn't mean they should stop trying to do something. I don't want to live that way myself, but I understand it is an only option for some.  Only PLEASE do not confuse the issue by asking people to make the CO2 problem worse by trying to get them to assemble in their thousands (millions?) for a silly symbolic gesture.  At least, get THAT right!


  1. Of course I have to agree with everything you said… (It’s embarrassing to be a 73 year old bleeding heart liberal ex-hippie from the ‘60’s who never marched in any of the turmoil of the ‘60’s but rooted for those who did!) There wasn't a lottery when I was drafted into the army in 1966. I am one of those who definitely doesn't have much to offer on the subject of climate change, but who would still like to die happy thinking I at least tried to help in some way to fix the problem not make it worse.

    I believe James Hansen’s “Fee and Dividend” approach toward this would help (to discourage carbon based “fires” themselves)…and now he adds “fast” nuclear power plants to the equation:

    "The Energy to Fight Injustice," [by James Hansen]
    Available on his web page:
    And on his group blog:

    He says (in part, extensively edited), “What makes me sick [about climate change and atmospheric carbon pollution] is that [it’s] preventable. Scientists informed political leaders’ decades ago that carbon-free energies must be phased in to replace fossil fuels. [But we didn't do a good enough job of it to persuade and convince everyone of the timeline.]

    “…We should have made it clear that removing carbon from our energy supplies – particularly for developing countries such as China and India – requires a suite of carbon-free technologies: hydro, solar, wind “and [now perhaps most important of all] nuclear power.” [Years ago American] nuclear scientists were ready to build a demonstration ‘fast’ nuclear power plant…that can utilize more than 99% of nuclear fuel and…‘burn’ nuclear waste. [Today’s ‘slow’ reactors use less than 1% of the nuclear fuel and create lots of waste!]

    “China is [currently, actually]…doing more to safeguard the environment than we are…new buildings in China use geothermal heat and other renewable s…efficiency standards are ratcheted up when improved technologies appear… [For] example, the new US solar power plant, “Ivanpah,” near the Nevada–California border, which cost $2.2 billion and covers 13km2, will generate 0.82TWh of electricity per year [where] In contrast, Westinghouse is nearing completion of two AP-1000 nuclear plants in China [each requiring 1/10th the km2 of Ivanpah but will produce 8.8TWh per year and]…further advances beyond AP-1000 are possible!

    “…Declining production and rising costs of conventional oil [is] making it commercially viable to extract unconventional fossil fuels, such as shale gas and tar sands that should be left in the ground. [And] Ironically, environmental groups’ insistence that renewable s are the only alternative to fossil fuels actually assures expansion of fracking, locking in long-term dependence on gas…and crude oil…

    “…We could [help start to] phase down fossil fuel emissions with a simple rising fee on carbon collected from fossil fuel companies, with funds distributed uniformly to the public. This would drive efficiency and [development of] carbon-free energies… [But] Instead, our governments subsidize fossil fuels and facilitate more [of the awful polluting same]…

    “It is still possible to minimize climate change effects…solve air pollution [land and ocean acidity] problems…but if we don’t help developing countries obtain abundant, affordable carbon-free energy…our children and the world…will find us guilty…of the greatest crime(s) against humanity and nature…of all time.”

  2. Jonathan,

    Thank you so much for posting this entry - I have been grappling with my issues with the Climate March and it is so refreshing to hear someone with similar concerns who works in the realm of climate and energy. I tried to email you through the blog and through your website but neither were working. I would really like to chat with you if you have time. Please let me know if there is a way to connect!


    1. I don't know why they did work but try this email address:
      reply (at)