Much of western america will be uninhabitable in 40 years ian welsh

Now that you mention Ronald Reagan and “Morning in America” do you think the 1970s were perhaps our last chance at stopping all of this environmental damage? It seems to me that the environmental movement reached its peak in the 1970s and then declined dramatically once Reagan became president. In the 1970s you had both Democrats and Republicans supporting environmental measures. Think of the positions of Edmund Muskie and Richard Nixon, for example. The EPA was signed into existence under Nixon.

Today the environment doesn’t seem to be much of a priority for most Democrats and Republicans are now rabidly anti-environment to the point where most of them refuse to even consider any evidence that we are damaging the planet. On top of that I think we are in a new era of techno-utopianism where many people think that technology will save us and that we can trash the planet and just move to Mars.


I think this is wishful thinking and not very realistic. I used to be a techno-optimist but now I think this stuff about space colonization is just fantasy that lets people kick the can down the road when it comes to destroying the Earth.

It takes years to put together these reports so it is not unusual for the science to have moved on before the next one comes out. The role of methane is the big new factor in climate change. As for other stressors, we are already seeing their effects. The Southwest is burning up before our eyes. Last year, we saw major hurricanes devastate Texas, Florida, and especially Puerto Rico. And then there is the algae bloom off South Florida. In the Great Plains, we see the overuse of fossil (non-replaceable) water from aquifers and as Ian notes, the poisoning of the water table from fracking. And then then there is extreme weather, once in a century or even 500 year events are now occurring every few years.

Our timeline to effect meaningful mitigating strategies with regard to climate change (and overpopulation) runs from around 1980 to 2030. Trump wants to bring back coal (nahgonna happen), roll back environmental regulation (delayed mostly by the courts), and pull out of even weak climate agreements like the Paris Accords. Meanwhile, again as Ian notes, our SUV culture is completely at odds with dealing with climate change, as is the slow motion collapse of our political system.

This is why I’ve turned anti-capitalist. One of the most striking things about capitalism is how it gets even smart people to do things that they fully admit are foolish, short-sighted and destructive. I am pretty sure that many if not most CEOs would say “yes, we need to invest in more private and public infrastructure”, “yes, we need to take urgent action against climate change”, “yes, we’re frittering away our antibiotics for short-term profit”, and even some will at least pay lip service to “yes, growing inequality is a problem” but, when it’s time for the next quarterly report, all the good capitalist lemmings go running off the cliff together. This is because, starting in the 1970s, the kind of blended capitalism we had became more ‘pure capitalism’–capitalism is the direction and control of the economy by those who have capital (money) to invest, and Milton Friedman’s adage of ‘stockholder value trumps everything’ essentially turned the de facto decision-making over to the investor class.

What’s ironic about this is that many of these types (more openly or not) are fans of Ayn Rand, who constructed stick-figure tales of the heroic “individualist” struggling against the unthinking, greedy, short-sighted, stupid “herd”–a “herd” who often appealed to the guv’mint for intervention—yet there is not better fit for her portrayal of the stupid “herd” than the capitalist investor class, who’ve made getting freebies and bailouts from the ‘guv’mint’ a fine art.

Capitalism isn’t about making stuff and marginally is about selling stuff (consumerism). Capitalism as I define it is the direction and control of an economy by the investor class, by those who can put up money. These are given de facto the rights to tell how organizations who actually *do* make things what should and shouldn’t be made, and how it should or should not be made. And nearly always this class is utterly clueless about the technical merits or failure modes of their decisions and willfully blind to the long-term consequences. They are numbers-in-an-excel spreadsheet idiots, whose vision is no farther than the next quarterly profit report.

If you just happen to be a leader of such an organization making things who has real insight and vision and a view of the long-term consequences, well, then you probably won’t last. The stockholders will stage a coup against you, and/or your stock will fall and you’ll be bought out (and fired). Everything you do must be done with an eye on the stock price. This is why Henry Ford–admittedly a very problematic person–ended up crashing his own stock in the 1920s so his family could buy a controlling share, because “I can’t make cars with a bunch of idiots who know nothing about making cars looking over my shoulder and second-guessing my every move”.

Increasingly, capitalism isn’t about making stuff at all. It’s about “enclosures” and figuring out ways to charge people for things once free, and not adding any real value at all. Our economy becoming more “pure” capitalist in the past 40 years is also why wages have nosedived, because if you sell money for a living, then the poorer most people become, the more customers (i.e., borrowers) you will have. Passing out the credit cards was a way to maintain consumer spending in the face of declining wages. Now selling things like reverse mortgages and insurance policies on things breaking in your home is a way to address declining savings (a logical consequence of declining real wages).

The profits from all this in turn go into things like stock buybacks and company purchases and other paper transfers that once again do not add anything of value to the real economy. And while I fully concur with you that for environmental and overall human well-being our car culture is a disaster, and that mass transit is much preferable for a whole host of reasons, at least they’re real things. Capitalists, who live in a world of paper, think their paper manipulations are more ‘real’ and valuable than cars.

I am intuitively inclined to agree, but I must caution that I also think this idea may be seriously oversimplified. I cannot find it right now, but there is a particular graph I am thinking of which shows global temperature averages over the past billion years or so, and a glacial cycle (recurring ice ages) is clearly present towards the more recent time period. However, interestingly, that same graph seems to show that the regularity of the ice age cycle was “broken” before the agricultural influences would have been possible, so it may be that although we are still technically in an interglacial period, the natural cycle might be longer than one would expect from previous cycles. Still, there are confounding problems with my caution as well, one being that I am not entirely certain that the graph in question was scaled so as to accurately represent timing of cycles visually identically, another being that the earliest agricultural influence keeps getting pushed back as archaeology advances. As always, there is too much to read for anyone not getting paid to read it.

To the extent that I care what humans would prefer (it’s a very, very small extent), I would say that since we know we have survived an ice age previously, given the choice between hot or cold we should choose cold. The devil you know, as the saying goes. My longshot hope is that the North Atlantic current that keeps Europe warm will shut down, and resulting snow and ice buildup will increase the albedo enough to counteract the temperature increase pressure coming from the atmospheric changes, thus plunging the globe into another ice age, ending civilization and giving the biosphere a chance to continue indefinitely. Of course if this actually happens, my current home will be totally glaciated but oh well.