Giving up on saving the world

I think this is an important message, even if we are going to be optimistic about the future. We need to move away from a sort of assumption that no matter how difficult things get, we will survive in the end and somehow it will all be OK. It’s incredibly frustrating to see people who will still not admit that we will soon have a serious problem with getting energy from fossil fuels, or that climate change is real and will have devastating, long-term consequences, or that we can’t just keep growing indefinitely, or that the things we feel we need or want are not necessarily our right to have, and may not be around for that much longer. In the 70 years since WWII, we have gone from using minimal fossil fuels to almost exhausting them - and we aren’t even slowing down. We have found ways to be more efficient and refined other renewable but somewhat limited sources of energy, but as in the link @tekna2007 posted, this has not even come close to replacing fossil fuels or building a sustainable future (which I would define as being a lot longer than my own lifetime). Evidence needs to be presented that we can control our consumption and switch to renewable sources, because the data is shouting otherwise pretty loudly. Now countries like China are really starting to consume on our level, and there’s not a whole lot we can say against this growth without showing up our own hypocrisy. The best thing we can do at this point is move away from the idea that we will somehow find a magical source of energy that will solve all of our problems - at this point, it isn’t looking likely. “Sustainability” is a lie, for the most part, and has been co-opted by consumerism to make us think that buying green is actively helping the planet, rather than hurting it a bit less than if we weren’t being environmentally friendly. This isn’t to say that environmentally aware products aren’t good, but consumerism and capitalism aren’t going to save us and leave us with everything we had before.

I don’t think Kingsnorth is claiming that we should despair absolutely, just that we should face the facts and redefine our parameters for success to remove our wishful thinking and survivor’s bias. Civilizations have been wiped out before through lack of resources, so if we can’t even imagine it could happen to us we will be fatally unprepared when it does.


On a side note, there is a LOT of energy available - in thorium. 232Th->233U breeders are a potential way out of the trouble. And e.g. India works on that area, due to their size, population, and virtually inexhaustible supply of thorium.

Combine that with a molten-salt reactor, with online fuel reprocessing, and we’re golden. (Once the material engineering issues get solved. The molten salts erode/corrode many materials, the neutron flux in the core of the breeder wreaks havoc on the material structure - swelling, softening, embrittlement, the whole gamut, depends on what alloy you got there.)

With further progress in spallation neutron sources we also have the avenue towards subcritical reactors, able to burn even spent fuel from conventional reactors, and breaking down the actinides that are the long-term radiation problem. (Not really a problem. The real trouble with the fuel are the mid-life isotopes, namely 137Cs and 90Sr. Long enough half-life to not just sit it out, short enough to be unpleasantly “bright”. The hundreds-of-thousands years “danger” the “greens” love to moan about is just the long-term isotopes that aren’t all that intense. 300 years and the activity of Cs+Sr is on one thousandth. The rest then can be considered a high-grade uranium/plutonium/americium ore.

There are places all over the world that have rolling black outs. If that became a common thing, people would adapt. It would suck, but people would adapt.

Really, Humans are adaptable. We will be the last species alive on the planet in the event of total environmental catastrophe. It’s all of the other animals and plants that will be fucked.

What does climate change mean for humans? It means coastal cities will have to spend enormously on flood prevention (every city becomes New Orleans) or face periodic catastrophic events. Some parts of the Earth become more arid, while other parts flood more frequently. The opposite may also happen in some areas. People living in already hot equatorial areas find their summers to be even harder to survive. Famine will be a problem as some areas experience crop failure, but they will largely be regional and affecting poor areas.

Now try a non-rolling one, unplanned, unannounced, and lasting for too many days or even weeks; a solar event that fries enough of the big transformers (which are unprotected even if it is for relatively low cost), and the worldwide manufacturing capacities won’t cope to replace them fast enough. (One of the perils of few big nodes instead of many small.)

Edit: This was close.

Obviously our civilization will one day collapse but doomsayers have been predicting the end of every civilization every day since the dawn of time. We don’t know why our civilization will collapse or when.

Doomsaying is marketable, it seems, but it isn’t useful, and I especially don’t think it’s useful for environmentalism, since overconsumption is driven by unhappiness.


Yeah, I encounter this attitude every week or so.

Some people decide they’re superior because they can live without hope, they tell us “you have no tomorrow, so you should just enjoy today,” which is like saying “you will be in immense pain and will die, so you should just enjoy pain.”

If civilization collapsed because everyone listened to this guy, then won’t he feel silly?

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It would be ironic if that happened, seeing as he got to this way of thinking because people basically ignored what people like him have been saying for decades. I don’t see how that could happen if they did actually listen to him now though. It’s not like he said “Fuck it, I’m buying an SUV” - he no longer sees our current system as capable of solving the problem and won’t waste any more time shouting at the abyss or greenwashing ecological destruction. He sees claims of sustainability and ecological capitalism as lies and their continuation as ultimately destructive to the environment. For him, a better response is to call it what it is and refuse to take part. It’s interesting to see how much anger this causes, even here.

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Thanks, sir.

Worst case scenario I just stockpile resources, start it as a small live-in asshat-free Mondragon+Valve hybrid and we expand from there, right?

It’s still a smidge sad seeing all these people giving up on doing useful things when there’s (at least one) solution out there that’s not getting a chance because everyone’s focused on doing minor variants of the same ineffective things over and over again.

Still, we get this in the hands of someone like Elon Musk and we rewrite the world pretty quickly . . . and then we pull all the good folks from here in, after all, we’ve got privacy, copyright, patent law and all the other big hot buttons here nailed in one.

If we have to create a working proof of concept before we do this then that’s what we have to do. It’s the least efficient way, but it will work in the end.

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The world isn’t going anywhere, nor is our civilization, nor our lifestyle… it’s all just changing, we dont live in a static universe.
Should we stop changing to more sustainable energy sources because “it’s all over”? No of course we won’t, theres a bunch of money in there and it just makes sense. We are fantastic at being inventors, finding problems and coming up with crazy ideas to solve them.
If we didn’t know about ‘climate change’ as the media describes it, there would still be folks out there trying to make more efficient air conditioners, better forms of irrigation and solutions to all the other problems out there… probably eventually take care of the global warming just not on the timeline we should.
As temperatures and ocean levels rise lots of places will not be nice, but there is a huge area of the northern hemisphere that will become much more temperate and better for agriculture.
So, even if we can’t stop climate change, we also are very committed to trying and that won’t stop either. They’ll meet in the middle somewhere.
So I wont be digging my apocalypse shelter and just save my money for a nice electric car when it’s more economical. Solar panels not just because they will help save the world, but that they are just cool.


Our current civilization will certainly change. I strongly believe that the human race will continue though, in one fashion or another, and that all of our struggles, creations and experiences will not have been in vain, not as a matter of faith, but a matter of course. There may yet be ways that we not yet widely skilled in, that could assist us in seeding other worlds. There could be ways to merge our consciousness with machines powered by the sun for as long as that star may last. We may discover other dimensions. We may still learn of other beings, from other worlds, that may have a new idea. We do not know what we do not know. We do know that there are gaps in our collective knowledge, and that we have made serious mistakes in our own collective upbringing as a steward species charged with the care of an amazing living planet. This planet is still alive. So are we. Think about that.

There are good and bad kinds of dark, just like there are good and bad kinds of light. This was the bad kind of dark, not the kind that protects but the kind that consumes and drowns you. It felt as if the entire world was engulfed in this place that was intensely dark, and focused into a kind of false but convincing clarity. Hiding inside that false clarity was a belief that this horrible state of mind was all there really was to the world when you stopped pretending that there was nothing bad going on.

Along with this state went a sense that I was doing the world a favor by constantly immersing myself in it. But while the information I was giving out was important, it was tainted everywhere by this state of mind. I felt like I was telling the world the truth, but it was only one part of the truth. Because the real truth allows for the possibility of fighting this stuff and winning. But the truth I was telling had all kinds of warping around the edges.

I felt like I was lifting away a curtain of ignorance among most people as to exactly how awful the (human, social) world can really be to anyone who isn’t valued. And in a way, I was. But I was not lifting away a second curtain. Behind that second curtain was everything good in the world, that remains hidden from most people as well. Behind that curtain is every possibility for love, compassion, cooperation, and hope. Not the fuzzy greeting card version, but something so powerful, fierce, and solid that it can evaporate all the awful stuff that lies behind the first curtain if enough people act on it.

Amanda Baggs, autism blogger

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Yes, I believe they are called “Buddhists”.

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You know, now you’ve kind of got me thinking.

I wonder if part of the problem is people generally seem to have three different reactions to big problems

  1. Angrily want to fight against the system/destroy it/start a revolution
  2. Want to get away/hide with just you and a few like minded folks
  3. Apathy.

The whole ‘subversively exploit the system and use it’s own flaws (and our advantages) against it’ might be something that only a small number of people naturally digest and gravitate towards without a lot of helping hands along the way.

I know the majority of friends and such I have that ‘get it’ took quite a while to really wrap their minds around things, while those that got it right away like you did have pretty quirky personalities and I’m starting to see some strange overlap!


The “get away/hide” is not mutually exclusive with your proposal. The “away” can be an enclave of like-minded individuals, WITHIN the system, exploiting its flaws for the group’s benefit, possibly producing data and/or materials further empowering other people to either join or build their own in-system enclaves.

“Getting away” does not have to involve a physical distance.

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Oh, totally agreed! That just doesn’t seem to be the most common approach.

Most of the efforts/resources are going to what is IMHO the worst possible solution…working to influence a system from within that gives the advantages to all the wrong people and for which we have ample evidence gives poor results.

An insane amount of money goes into politics, lots of it donated by good people like those here in this forum. Occasionally those efforts result in a tiny, incremental improvement over what we would have had were they not implemented (Despite his significant failings, Obama was probably a better bet than Romney), but the benefits for the resources spent are pretty pathetic.

Then of course we have the revolutionaries, people who are fighting hard against the system, protesting, calling for a second constitutional convention, those hoping for a worker’s uprising, that sort of thing. They overlap with the above group a lot but they’re generally pushing for a huge change that requires a huge chunk of the population to cooperate…which happens rarely.

Describe it how you will…no bang for the buck, negative return on investment…take your pick. The end result is a lot of wasted effort and passion.

And, to be honest, the idea of trying to force everybody else in a country/region to agree is clearly suboptimal.

So there’s billions upon billions of dollars wasted and hordes of people exhausted, both if which could have been spent far, far better.

On the other end of the spectrum we have all the intentional communities…dancing rabbit and such, as well as a bunch of (generally) short lived mini-utopias. To give them credit at least they understand Dunbar’s number,

However, while they often offer better lives to their members, they don’t have much ability to expand and when they hit the point where they’re conflicting with the local political system they’re invariably bargaining from a position of weakness.

“Getting away” does not have to involve a physical distance.


There’s a tiny few of us who are looking at an alternative approach, using the legal shell of a corporation to create a collection of diverse semi-overlapping self governing entities where we draw a firm line at basic civilized behavior (and I think we’ve defined the basics well enough, it’s not that hard) and give everyone who can take that step the opportunity to have control over their own lives in a very positive way.

All of it while using existing legal constructs and not asking anybody else to change for us. We gobble up the unemployed, the hopeful, the orphans, whoever is willing to be a good person and contribute to a greater goal. There’s lots of people like that, aren’t there?

As @Kimmo pointed out quite some time ago, the approach is powerful because it depopulates the system. We set people free by offering them a job and turning employment into peaceful, productive citizenship. Of course people are still citizens of their home nation (so if they turn out to be horrible people we can always ‘release them’).

As a bonus, thanks to Citizen’s United and all those rulings people are complaining about, this approach still allows us to influence local politics just like we could as individual citizens. We could easily gobble up tens of millions of people and primary Stewart/Colbert vs. Colbert/Stewart by all voting in lockstep.

THAT is how you change everything. Not in decades, centuries, or never…but in years, months, or now.

Besides, it’s not like anything vaguely similar has ever been tried, yet only tiny variants of past failures get chances


Tell that to the global south right now… The Victorians thought they were doing pretty well, while they pillaged their colonies. As Mike Davis said, the victorian era looked like a funeral pyre to the colonies. There is a reason why millennial movements pop up (which we have had a fair amount of in recent years), and it’s not because all is well.

I wasn’t surprised that this article made me uncomfortable- it’s taken me this long to read it!- And I was watching my own reactions pretty closely when I did. There’s some pretty important truths here, buried under the outrage.

He’s absolutely right that environmentalism as a movement has accumulated a large number of sacred cows, of questions that must not be asked. The (realistic) fear I pick up, is that unless we drop our superficial grumbles with each other, the whole group will devolve into a circular firing squad of ineffective grumblers.

At what point does this pragmatic choice become drinking the Cool-Aid? I think he goes too far in completely withdrawing, but I am hard pressed to pinpoint the place where we part ways.

Usually when I’m depressed by this kind of muddle, it helps to distinguish the prescriptive activist from the diagnostic activist. You can wear both hats, of course, just not at the same time.

My diagnostic here is that some richer whiter people have been living high on the hog for longer than anyone can remember, and cannot imagine living the way most people live. To step away from that unexamined privilege feels like the end of the world, and it’s less painful to imagine everyone’s world ending, than to going back to living the way most people do.

The only short term prescription for this problem, is to learn how to grieve. Maybe when the grief period is over, we can actually begin to start digging out.


effin’ A.

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