The Reason Humanity Is Losing The Climate Fight
The main culprits of the slow slide to bitter climate defeat are not who you think.
Immense amounts of attention have been paid over the past thirty years to the proven fact that the fossil fuel industry long fought tooth and nail to deny the reality of climate change.
Their denial has been a thorn in the side of anyone pursuing meaningful climate action, to be sure.
But far more decisive is the simple fact that the powerful people who dominate most of the world’s countries have never wanted substantial change either.
And despite all the hollow pledges at COP26, they still don’t.
The reason? Fossil fuels remain the lodestone of geopolitical power.
An energy-dense, liquid fuel source is a prerequisite for conducting modern military operations. Planet Earth has been carved up into territories run by armed gangs whose ability to maintain their power over the long run is inextricably tied to their capacity for violence.
Accepting this situation is quite literally the foundation for what these armed gangs have collectively agreed to call International Law.
The historical reasons for this mostly boil down to the fact that Europe ripped itself apart in a religious conflict known as the Thirty Years War in the early 17th century. It ended only once the various kings and emperors involved agreed to a simple principle: areas and people currently under their control were their legal territory to do with as they wished.
This principle of non-interference, termed sovereignty by scholars, did little to stop future conflicts in Europe — it merely ended the old belief that Europe would one day be united under the common religious authority of the Vatican.
Its more important impact by far is that the Treaty of Westphalia became the foundation of an agreement between rulers that is still invoked today: that borders are sacred and maintained by the State, a godlike entity invested with the power of life and death over its citizenry.
Now, it isn’t that non-interference tied to agreed-upon jurisdictional boundaries is a bad principle — this is essentially the core logic behind individuals and households having basic rights and freedoms.
The trouble is that people can’t and won’t always agree on where those borders actually fall.
Every State is its own agent, with an incentive to act in its own narrowly-conceived best interests — usually boiling down to those defined by its ruling elite, which faces constant external and internal challenges to its power.
States and their Elites survive so long as no one beats them at their own game. States are destroyed all the time, dividing or being absorbed by a neighbor that always portrays its actions as legitimate, following International Law.
When States don’t agree, their ultimate recourse is violence. They may build alliances and understandings, elites in one country may prefer to associated with those of another like in the USA and UK’s special relationship or the deepening alliance between Russia and China.
The States’ existence is ultimately maintained by a bluff: that it maintains the power to enforce all its sovereign claims. This is rarely the case, which is why resistance groups are generally able to wear down occupiers over the long run.
Which is why maintaining the bluff is so essential. Most human behavior is moderated by expectations — in effect, bets we make about the future based on the knowledge we have at hand.
If power goes unchallenged for a long time, it becomes invisible. Those who try to make it visible are accused of being troublemakers and wind up repressed or ignored, because most people don’t like to change unless there’s a pressing reason to.
This dynamic tends to deepen the systems that keep people in poverty across the world. States drain public resources to fund military power, always working to raise the specter of military attack to sustain spending that tends to reinforce the power and wealth of the elite. Ability to adapt to change requires resources, and access to them is too often a matter of privilege.
Ironically, this is what makes States and Empires fragile in time and leads to their demise.
Understanding that it is the State that is most responsible for creating the climate crisis and blocking most of the systems shifts need to fight it is the first essential step to actually beating the climate crisis.
The main reason climate change is accelerating with little meaningful global action taking place to stop it is that the world’s States are all more concerned about what taking real climate action might do to their power than they are protecting people.
For twenty years, climate change activism in the English speaking world has focused on two overriding objectives:
- Convince people climate change is real and a growing threat
- Getting governments to take action to fight it
The first was always necessary and will remain so for all time — science is ultimately about communication and persuasion, people have to be given the opportunity to develop their own understanding of the world.
The second is where the climate movement has gone so horribly wrong for so long the damage may now be irreversible.
Most national governments around the world were originally established by some elite aiming to establish a State they could control. They invest in institutions like political parties and written laws that secure their power even when that government becomes more democratic.
Certain areas of government policy are sequestered and kept under close control outside of normal democratic channels. All States build military forces capable of controlling their territory. This costs, on a global basis, around $2 trillion annually, more than 2% of world gross domestic product.
Tragically, virtually all of this spending is a stupid waste of resources controlled by deeply unaccountable organizations that rarely have to prove they used them well. In situations where they do people are usually dying, which lets them evade public scrutiny while national passions are being provoked.
This situation is described well by a simple scientific concept called the security dilemma. This is a behavioral trap where one country sees another building an arsenal, which makes them realize they are potentially vulnerable so they arm up too.
This establishes a vicious feedback loop — neighbor 1 might just like big guns and cannot lie. But catching the nervous looks from neighbor 2 and seeing them buy a weapon too, 1 starts wondering if 2 might be a little nuts.
As a precaution, 1 gets a few more weapons. 2 notices this move, and follows suit.
Welcome to every arms race ever, where only the military-industrial complex winds up the winner.
Now, imagine if just half of this annual spending, $1 trillion, were dedicated to an organization that goes around building community owned renewable energy systems around the world. Every year it would plop down enough solar panels, biomass boilers, biofuel vats, and pumped hydroelectric systems to make half a billion people’s communities self-sustaining indefinitely.
This doesn’t mean unilateral disarmament or dismantle the State, and it would objectively improve literally every State’s security. It will never happen, because the point of the State is to not cooperate.
Over time it appears countries around the world have become more cooperative, but this is because many have become more democratic or figured out that endless fighting is self-destructive in the extreme. The State still controls their interactions, which is why you see people like Joe Biden insisting the world is defined by competition between “Democracy” and “Autocracy.”
This is as much a truckload of horse manure as his claim that America seeks a “rules-based international order.” Yeah, America’s rules, by extension the will of the wealthy, connected elite that dominates the USA’s foreign policy and media coverage of defense matters.
Y’know, the bipartisan one that got the country into Iraq yet managed to never be held accountable for all the people who died.
The death of hope for meaningful climate change action is written in the colonization of the climate change movement by the State. It bears repeating: when climate change becomes a national security concern, real action is dead.
This is why when Joe Biden talks about climate change being part of competition with China, the clock chimes the first stroke of midnight with respect to real climate action.
Why? Because fossil fuels are the penultimate strategic asset in military affairs, second only to nuclear weapons technology.
There is a reason the Biden Administration is emphasizing electric cars: the production of high-quality oil around the world peaked about a decade ago. Oil production globally has only been maintained by the rapid expansion of shale, tar sands, offshore, and other unconventional sources.
Obama began it, Trump accelerated it, and Biden continues it: America’s federal government has, while claiming to be aiming for carbon neutrality — at date conveniently so far in the future it is effectively meaningless — been steadily fracking apart much of the country. Canada has been doing the same thing —when these countries talk about carbon neutrality and carbon trading schemes, what they’re really doing is setting up the infrastructure for oil use to continue indefinitely.
Having Americans adopt electric cars does nothing to mitigate global emissions if for every gas-guzzler retired here a new one is deployed in Argentina. And nobody is designing electric tanks or jet fighters to replace the wasteful designs now used.
Rich States are simply trying to make continues oil use invisible to the people in their countries. If gas price rises — inevitable as lower quality oil sources have a much lower energy gain and so require subsidies to be cost-effective — only affect rural people outside suburban centric electric infrastructure, most people won’t get upset at the government.
They’ll still pay the costs, but they’ll be hidden in the ever-growing military budget. American leaders will then point to carbon emissions as the reason climate change isn’t slowing down, using that as an excuse not to make any more substantial changes because why be the only sucker willing to pay for climate change mitigation?
Adaptation and resilience will become the bywords, both translating to: deal with the impacts yourself, communities. Papa State is busy fighting off imagined foreign hordes.
Which is pretty much how the Covid-19 pandemic has been handled. And, if you look deep into the guts of the system, for much the same reason.
State are cancers on global society, the ultimate driver of climate change. Political inequality sets the stage for the entrenchment of economic and social inequities, all pushing the costs of problems onto the most vulnerable.
The State wages war on us all each and every day, draining our literal lifeblood — you have only so many hours in your life to work, after all — to sustain its pathetic mythos. A fairy tale about the deadly threats that loom if the State is ever chained.
People fear anarchy, but what we have now is anarchy in every way that counts. Nuclear arsenals threaten to end life as we know it long before climate change gets a chance to, controlled by thugs who can’t be trusted not to use them.
Sure, the fossil fuel companies play a role in stoking the climate crisis — but remember: they are all chartered by governments dominated by State interests. So long as they are connected to national security, fossil fuels will never be obsolete.
Giving them up means voluntarily surrendering a key source of power, something all states are loathe to do. They will be burned, and we will all pay the cost, because the energy gain provided by liquid fossil fuels is just too valuable.
Energy gain is probably the least-known but best explanation for the development of civilization.
The concept is straightforward: all matter is embodied energy. Evolution, ecosystems, geological systems, it’s all a function of energy.
Life on Earth exists as we know it because photosynthesis allows plants to transform solar energy into organic cells, creating a positive feedback loop. Plants are literally solar batteries, and the herbivores that eat them are in their own turn a kind of more distant solar battery.
When formerly living tissue gets trapped in the Earth under high pressure it is condensed over millions of years into oil, coal, and natural gas. This pressure, stemming from gravity and Earth’s internal radioactive decay essentially squeezes energy into nice tight bundles without a lot of impurities. These can be combusted in an engine, releasing all this pent-up energy in a single burst.
The development of Human civilizations traces to improvements in energy gain through technological development. Hunter-gatherers source energy sufficient to maintain their biology by acting as apex predators and scavengers. When communities discover that animals and plants can be contained in an area, they start to build the earliest form of wealth: crops and herds.
This energy gain allows faster reproduction and healthier communities. Specializations can develop, crafts and trades that improve people’s lives, often with a positive feedback on their working productivity.
Eventually, people discover other ways to harness natural energy sources — windmills, water wheels, and burning dead plants source additional energy from the environment. They discover natural oils with even higher gain, and eventually someone both discovers the latent power of fossil fuels and works out how to harness it in an engine.
That was the Industrial Revolution. Burning fossil fuels has allowed the global population to grow nearly ten-fold in a few centuries. The massive gain created a huge energy surplus that was transformed by States into incredibly destructive, ultimately global conflicts.
And, as we’ve now discovered, this energy gain functions like an addiction — and the hell of those is that no amount of moral scolding does any good. Control of energy gain is power.
Only an alternative source gets us anywhere. Nuclear power has astonishing energy gain, but well-documented negative impacts that make it a useful niche technology, not ideal to have distributed too widely. Fusion will probably require another twenty years to produce enough gain that it is scalable.
This is why the single most important objective in the global fight against carbon pollution is to build out renewable energy systems as fast as possible. Haranguing people into reducing their carbon footprint, pathetic Net-Zero policies — these will always be insufficient.
The reason why they are trumpeted so often in the media and by politicians as climate “solutions” is that the climate movement is being actively colonized to ensure it can never demand real change. We are set to see, in the next few years, climate become a geopolitical football that disguises the player’s true aim: dominate as many sources of high-quality and steadily-diminishing fossil fuels as possible.
The world seems to be a more dangerous place than ever because States around the world know major changes are coming, but rather than work together to meet the challenge they intend to subordinate it to their eternal war for power.
If you really care about fighting climate change, you have to reject the idea of the State as it stands in International Law. Borders can and should be jurisdictional boundaries separating governments with their own style of democracy, but conflict over them must end, and soon.
To save planet Earth, the State must be put in chains. If it isn’t, it will always seek to enslave us, its leaders committed to lying to us with their every breath.
How can this be accomplished?
Step one is to minimize your tax burden however you can. This is especially true if you are in America, as the United States spends almost all of that desperately needed $1 trillion annually the world needs.
Marches and demonstrations accomplish little to nothing because their impact is priced in by the powers-that-be and they are swiftly politicized. Better by far is to establish community organizations that can buy and install community owned renewable energy systems.
The only way to take back power from the State is to be less reliant on it, to find ways to starve it to death. Instead of worrying about your carbon footprint or buying green products, start, join, or invest in a community-owned energy project. The beauty of solar, small-scale hydro, and next-generation biomass facilities is that they can be scaled to meet the needs of a given community.
You can plug these into food production systems too — organic produce can be grown near solar panels and actually improve their efficiency. Farmers can dedicate part of their cropping area to canola or similar oily plant and send it to a local biodiesel facility in exchange for free carbon neutral fuel that doesn’t have to be shipped across the world and refined in places that create cancer alleys, with the poor suffering the worst impacts.
And, of course, you can avoid conducting business transactions in the jurisdiction of a big military spender. Iceland and New Zealand would, I’m sure, love to host your company and advise you on tax law.
Building an international organization that can build community owned energy systems in developing regions will also be essential — but the truth is, any attempt to build one will have to deal with challenges from hostile States.
The more the State is disdained, revealed and loathed for what it is — an institution allowing a small group of unaccountable people to control tools of violence they are allowed to turn on their people — the less power it will have. The State needs, above all else, your participation in its endless quest to accumulate power.
Time has come to tune out, turn off, and ignore any of the nationalist BS forced down our throats.
The truth about climate change is that to deal with it, humanity needs real alternatives. Those can only built once the State is gone.