Animated explainer: "Is it too late to stop climate change?"

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Such a pity. The video is beautifully produced, but, as you’ll see when you get to the end, it’s pushing a rather biased view, courtesy of it’s sponsor, Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy. So not surprisingly the whole thing is set up to persuade you that what we really need is more R&D in clean energy. Unfortunately, this is bollocks. What we really need is to deploy existing technologies as rapidly as possible, and the reason we’re not doing that is because vested interests (ie Big Oil) have fought every attempt to do so.

It’s a shame, because the Kaya Identity is a great way to explain the key ideas:
Emissions = Population X GDP per capita X Energy per unit GDP X Carbon intensity per unit Energy
You can play with a model of the Kaya identity here:

But the Kaya identity, when used at the global scale as they do here, masks some massive structural problems. For example, population growth isn’t really as big an issue as they make out in the video, because all the current population growth at the moment is in countries that have very low emissions per capita. Climate change is really only caused by the richest 10%. Yeah, that’s Bill Gates and his cronies:


God, Damn! This, in a nutshell, is a prefect example of of the gaslight we are all getting sick from.

The second factor, “economic growth”, is presented as a given. Obscene wealth inequality must continue in the future, and changing from this fucked up imbalance to a more equitable future, can’t possibly be part of what finally ends this crisis!

Meanwhile, taking the current levels of energy demand as a given, only by continuing to make money hand over fist, will the ones currently in power, continue to stay in power.

I wish these capitalist geniuses had the imagination to consider how many more failure modes our climate can have, than the ones we are already experiencing. A dead planet isn’t going to make anyone rich. We need to stop pretending that the current power/energy structure cannot be changed. These failure modes are going to change it, with or without the people’s input.


Assuming those are global numbers, then no, the threshold for being in the “richest 10” is an annual income of about $15,000. In other words, basically the federal minimum wage in the US, before any transfers from any assistance programs of any kind.


Yeah, there’s a tendency to blame the super rich as a way to deflect the blame. And no, while the super rich are individually worse, there’s a pretty healthy chunk that’s the result of our choices. (And especially American choices.)

Do you a have a source for those numbers? Because from what I’ve seen, you need a net worth of nearly $100K in the US to be in the top 10% globally. E.g. see here:

While that’s about 100 million Americans (Bill Gates has a lot of cronies), it’s not even the entire middle class. You won’t find minimum wage Americans in that club.

ETA: Last year, China overtook the US as the country with the most people in the global top 10% wealthiest

We’re talking about different things, then. Your numbers are for net worth and mine are for income, so they are not in conflict. Although, it does look like my number is a few years old and the number has since gone up to about 18k.

(No, that doesn’t mean the average person with 18k income has 100k net worth, just that a lot of the people who have that much are not working, many of the retired, some others may have inherited a home or money, that kind of thing. Also, I understand all such numbers try to account for things like household size in different ways, and I’m ignoring that).

Fundamentally though, I agree with you that the very richest bear outsize responsibility. Not because of their consumption, but because of their influence over corporate and political decision making processes that lock in emissions with only modest opportunity for the rest of us to make changes around the margins.

The maths doesn’t work out. The US and EU alone make up 10% of the population of the planet, and we still have to add Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, and the richest people living in poorer countries.

Either there are a lot of people in those countries who don’t meet that threshold, or someone has been doing creative accounting.

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There are absolutely a lot of people in those countries who don’t meet that threshold. Or at least, there are plenty of not-necessarily-creative-accounting degrees of freedom I’ve never investigated too deeply i terms of how you handle household size, purchasing power parity, government transfers, employment vs investment income (see my mention of retirees), and probably others I’m not thinking of.

I know that, because I was one of them (15 years ago in the UK). The problem is that to get those figures to work then over 20% of the population of those countries should fail to meet that threshold.

If that is true then the super rich have bigger problems than being blamed for climate change.

That’s because changing the behavior of a tiny number of super-rich people who (for example, the Koch family) could potentially have a bigger impact than changing the behavior of millions or billions of working-class people.


Is there’s a tl;dw “yes” or “no” conclusion?

In the US, 20k is not too far from the 14th percentile for household income as of 2020, and nationally, household size averages ~2.5 people. Unfortunately I can’t find average-household-size-by-income-bracket data.

I didn’t watch either, but my answers to that question are either 1) yes, because it’s already affecting us today, and we can’t change the past, or 2) “Too late” and “stop” are both undefined terms, and that’s enough degrees of freedom to make the answer whatever you want.


Not in this video.
But the most basic answer is that climate change stops when we reach global net zero emissions. But that’s all it does: it stops. It doesn’t go into reverse. All the warming (and impacts) up to the time we reach global net zero emissions is locked in for centuries. That’s why activists want to set the target date for net zero to be as soon as possible - the planet will keep warming until we get there.
More here:

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