ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
[personal profile] ecosophia
city under waterThere's a conversation that happens nearly every time I discuss climate change, or contemporary politics, or (as in the most recent case on my blog) the cultural chasm that divides privileged intellectuals from the rest of the population here in the United States. It goes something like this: 

Reader: How can those of us who recognize the threat of climate change convince the rest of the American people to listen to us? 

Me: You have to start by changing your own lifestyles. As Gandhi said, "you must be the change you seek to make in the world. 

Reader: No, you don't understand. The problem's too big for that.  Just having activists change their own lifestyles won't make enough difference to matter.

Me: I never said it would. The question you asked is how to get people to listen to you, and the answer is that you have to prove your sincerity and lead by example, by changing your own lifestyles, or nobody else will take you seriously. 

Reader: But the situation's so desperate! We've got to convince everyone on the planet to stop using carbon or we're all doomed!

Me: You can't be part of the solution if your lifestyle is part of the problem.  Why should anyone else take the problem seriously and stop using carbon if climate change activists themselves aren't willing to accept even modest cuts to their own carbon-fueled lifestyles? 

Reader:  (Crickets...) 

It's really quite simple. Imagine, dear reader, that instead of talking about stopping climate change, we were talking about stopping rape. Imagine that there were big organizations dedicated to stopping rape, and curiously enough, most of their membership consisted of serial rapists. Imagine, then, that people pointed out to the serial rapists that if they really wanted to stop rape, they ought to start by not committing any more rapes themselves -- and every time, the serial rapists responded by insisting that you can't stop rape by just having the members of anti-rape organizations give up raping people, that the problem's much bigger than that, and how can they find a way to communicate to everyone in the world that rape is wrong? The answer, of course, is that they can't, because nobody will take them seriously until they themselves stop committing rape. 

Climate change activism these days is almost entirely a concern of middle- and upper middle-class people in the industrial world: people, that is, whose lifestyles are disproportionately responsible for the dumping of greenhouse gases; people who use much more fossil fuel energy, and many more of the products of fossil fuel energy, than the average human being. This fact isn't lost on anybody outside the climate change movement -- and the fact that climate change activists by and large insist on leading carbon-intensive lifestyles, while insisting that everyone else has to do something about climate change, has done more to scuttle the movement to stop climate change than any other factor I can think of. Unless something changes fast -- and by "something" I mean the attitudes of those who aren't willing to draw the obvious connection between the problems they think they're fighting and the lifestyles to which they think they're entitled -- the deindustrial future I described in my novel Star's Reach is looking more likely every day. 

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Date: 2018-04-10 11:28 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Also, continuing the example: any time anyone started talking about stopping rape in their own life, many of these activists have mental breakdowns, and start screaming at the people saying how they're doing it.

This makes the people who are willing to take action decide to shut up, and so of course no one will listen.

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From: [personal profile] tiagoantao - Date: 2018-04-11 08:55 pm (UTC) - Expand

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Date: 2018-04-11 01:30 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
That recent discussion on the other blog has got me thinking about how to improve my energy usage. I learned a few things, first of all that electric assist for bikes is absurdly effecient. Fully charging my battery, which has range enough to go as far as I would like to be on a bike in a day, uses about the same energy as a 30 second shower. Secondly, I learned that heating water is the most glaring inefficence in my energy usage. I hope to make enough money this season for a solar batch heater. Truly hot showers are one of my most savored luxouries; and since I take upwards of 100 showers a year, they are equlivent to driving from my home to Saint Louis and back, in a car! Until then, I will try to cut out a shower a week. Blah. Cooking and home heating are the following catagories, but they are much smaller potatoes, and some progress has been made.

That's where things stand personally, consumer goods don't add up to much, and my farming practices only use a couple gallons of fuel a year. Except for taking the harvest to market, but I have an idea to ditch the depenency on the s10, by making a bike cart out of a laddar and getting 500 more watts of motor assist for making it over the hills to market. That would replace a half gallon of truck fuel with, 500 watt hours of electricity; a significant savings. I need to earn about $400 to realize these parts, but I've got enough veggies planted to have a good chance at that.

The ammount that many of my environmental minded friends travel for wreak-creation is very strange. Among the poorer ones that has to do with the fact that homelessness is far cheaper than carlessness.

I think there is alot of dark humor in all of this, and in that humor a hope at a tactic. Consider the following. A lot of folks who are not into the abstraction behind global warming are aware enough of recent strange weather patterns in their own life; in Colorado for sure, and I figure in enough other place to matter. A lot of folks who never got any egg on their faces by pretending to be environmentalist are prefectly aware of the spinelessnes of those who talked big on the environment; they also have pent up well earned frustrations toward members of the broader catagorie of people that include enviromentalists. Finally polluting is expensive, and wallets are thin.

What about a rhetorical stragity that completely ignors the preeners, and focus on speaking frankly about their hypocracy to folks who wouldn't call then selves an environmentalists; followed by observing to these folks that there is an exciting new way to be a bee in the bonnet of those people. By doing what they claim ought to be done, but aren't willing to do, and then speaking honestly and publically about that difference.

What I have in mind is almost serratedly nasty; but I think there may be gains to make working together with folks who today are rolling coal to piss of environmentalists, by making sport of the environmentalisms hypocracy.

Ray Wharton

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Date: 2018-04-13 09:39 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
That *is* a surprise! Can you share your calculations? Like, how are you heating your water?

(I also enjoy hot showers, but I have a tankless coil water heater in my oil-fired boiler, so I don't get them. I mean, that did turn out to be a way to cut down on showers...I hate my now-lukewarm showers, so I take sponge baths as much as possible instead...)


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Date: 2018-04-11 03:03 am (UTC)
marcu: (Default)
From: [personal profile] marcu
Dear Mr. Greer,

I was wondering if you had some kind of measure for reducing your energy use? A benchmark of sorts. A handy measure that I've come across is the "The Wheaton Eco Test"( whereby you aim to spend less than the average American does on energy. This can be really simple (or hard) depending on your lifestyle but I think it is a good first step.
I was just wondering if you had something similair?

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Date: 2018-04-11 03:07 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Well, John, yes in general. Speaking as a "climate activist" who has been at it for a number of years, the discrepancy you highlight is generally true. BUT, the "times they are a changin'" as more of us realize and take steps in the direction Ghandi suggested. For example, an increasingly larger number of people we know and work with have switched to electric cars and some form of solar energy to power them. Now you'll say correctly, "but only middle and upper middle class folks can afford that option" and that is largely true. BUT, these same people are also fighting for low/no cost solar/wind power for low income people, better public transportation and and end to fossil fuels. One friend, a doctor who is certainly upper middle class, not only rents an electric car, she bikes and takes public transportation to work in her inner city clinic serving largely immigrants and she's in her sixties! Yes, this is anecdotal (re: your recent blog), but I see this spreading among committed people we know. In our seventies, my wife and I are downsizing and building an off the grid solar powered home within walking distance (2 miles) of our small town center. Many of us have stopped flying, started growing our own food, etc. So perhaps there is some hope that things will change. I think those of us who are older do this because we believe we must do anything we can to save this planet for our children and grandchildren.

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Date: 2018-04-11 08:40 am (UTC)
exalhel: (bastila)
From: [personal profile] exalhel
Regarding your hypothetical example of an anti-rapist group with rapists in it, several years ago there was a big scandal in the online feminist community when it was found that a big-name male feminist had a history of violence against women.

The most charitable assumption was that this guy thought he was somehow redeeming himself, but it turned out he had an ongoing history of sociopathic behaviour that had somehow been swept under the rug.

Sometimes the best place for a wolf to hide is among the sheep...
From: [identity profile]
Hi John Michael,

You know I've long since come to acceptance about the realities of 'global climate disruption'. I'm not happy about the situation, and neither do I feel that I'm in a position where I'll get off largely scot-free. At 11pm last evening it was 75'F, which would have been a hot night for summer, except that it is now mid-autumn and today the thermometer reached 97'F. Well done us.

You know I'm doing my best here to reduce the impact of my life right now, whilst also building some biological resiliency - because of course it is not lost on me that the only thing that is sustainable in the long run are biological systems - and I work for the plants, animals, insects, amphibians etc. that live here.

I have a deep suspicion that people fall back on the 'activism' option because it not only delays any significant change in their own lifestyles, but also largely because they hold a belief that there is a possibility that things will not end up too unpleasantly. My understanding of the situation is that it is simply too late for that, and it is now in the hands of the Gods themselves. That does not mean that immediate changes are not worthy goals - because they will reduce the future impact – it is just that impact is here and it is … progressing.

The ancient Greeks well understood the tragedy that hubris exhibits itself as: 'excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis'


Solar powered cars, well I never...

Date: 2018-04-11 01:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hi John Michael,

As someone who lives in a house where the electricity is sourced 100% everyday of the year from solar PV panels, I know this stuff is good. But it ain't good enough to power an electric vehicle.

Nothing annoys me more than somebody suggesting that just because it is remotely possible, that it will actually happen. I know of only one person on the entire continent who is currently doing just that trick using his off grid solar power system, which is so frankly huge that it makes no economic sense - and he lives in a part of the country that receives far more winter sun than here. And I get a lot more winter sun than most of you lot up in the northern hemisphere.

And such claims about solar powered electric vehicles are the sort of claims that I hear made every time someone wants to hijack an argument to distract away from the crucial point that you have made.

Such claims are an embarrassment and they make me feel sad to hear them churned out in their tired old way.

Their next step is usually to say how good and cheap this stuff will get at some unspecified point in the future...

I'm embarrassed for people when I hear that one too.



Fell off the wagon:-)

Date: 2018-04-11 02:12 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] jpc2
Ray - where in Colorado - I'm in COS,

I've got a LONG way to go and try to notice every bad choice I make.

Last year we paid for electricity for 1 month and that was less the 100 kWh. Some friends wanted some new chickens and mine are laying. So this year I'll be paying about 3 months - about 50 kWh each. The chicks require heat for the first month or two. Especially in an unheated garage with temps down into the low 20s. Six years ago I took part of a windfall and put a 3 kW solar system on the garage. It was as big as I could get sun for. My overall usage has dropped each year. I record the meter readings (along with participation) every day. I see the results of small changes both up and down.

I had to make a trip to California last week. That blew most of the carbon savings for I don't know how long. I could not make the trip other than flying. The other options required more time than I could afford. It was the first time I've flown in at least 15 years. At one point I was close to being a million miler.

Picked up a Sonders E-bike a couple of years ago. Cancer after effects makes my sense of balance dicey so I don't ride as much as I want. But it is a blast when I can. The carbon foot print for it is HIGH - made in China. But it was inexpensive - $700 (Kickstarter or Indigogo).

I don't do activist. I don't try for zero carbon - just try to be aware of it. I'd like to think I'm doing some good but I'm probably not. Not quite down to Tier 5 but maybe 6. Active with the community garden group and still shepherding the 'Take A Peak Chicken Coop Tour' from the side lines. Showing, success or failure, seems to make some difference. More than screaming at any rate.

Coop Janitor

Re: Fell off the wagon:-)

Date: 2018-04-12 04:47 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)

I suspect your electricity usage is more optimized than mine, it is certainly a weak point for me. I find it easier to go cold turkey and live off grid for months or so then try to navigate a modern miricle house and not activate it's joule thives. Then again, a lap top and two l.e.d. bulbs are most all the juice I use. My family has the coffee pot going around the clock, and other things like that, I try to optimize those things a bit, but it doesn't go well to change much.

Don't sweat a plane ticket or two, it uses less energy than driving I am told; just the great speed makes it much easier to rack up huge milage.

Re: Fell off the wagon:-)

From: [personal profile] jpc2 - Date: 2018-04-13 02:51 am (UTC) - Expand

The Fear of Nature

Date: 2018-04-11 02:47 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] fluiddruid
On a cynical note, I think the US government is doing a great job at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with so many people living in the streets now...I suppose killing people overseas also helps.

Still, humanity might have lucked out. I've read a 2013 study that states that the sun might be entering a long cycle of low activity. This could save us from the worst impacts of global warming. I know that this theory is already being used as an excuse to avoid changing lifestyles, but the relentless grind of resource depletion will force lifestyle changes on everyone eventually.

Lastly, you might think I'm an insufferable pedant, but I have to say this. I think that "save the planet" is a cliche phrase of the failed environmentalist movement. The planet does not need saving, we do. Human civilization is much more fragile than the planet. Paraphrasing the biblical proverb I would say "the fear of Nature is the beginning of wisdom" is a better catchphrase for the twenty-first century.

Re: The Fear of Nature

Date: 2018-04-11 06:33 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Yes, that's something I never agreed with JMG about.

Re: The Fear of Nature

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Judging my lifestyle

Date: 2018-04-11 04:17 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Amen to this! I've experienced two other responses to this sort of conversation. One is to insist that the only useful climate action is that taken by national governments, and nothing less will make any difference. The other is to argue that whatever attempt at change I've made isn't a REAL eco-friendly choice. I don't have a dishwasher? Well, hand-washing uses hot water, and besides, their new dishwasher is Energy Star certified! I gave up my car? Well, the bus uses gasoline too, and besides, their new car is a hybrid! I buy second-hand books? Well, the bookstore uses electricity and/or gets remainders (which somehow aren't "real" used books?), and besides, their e-reader means they're not killing trees! Et cetera, ad nauseam. I've tried introducing the ideas I learned from you of embodied energy and so on, but naturally, that doesn't even pause much less divert the stream of pro-consumption talking points. Of course, one has to research real costs and unanticipated consequences of any action, but these discussions seem to be just elaborate justifications of whatever energy/resource usage they enjoy most -- Sister Crow

Re: Judging my lifestyle

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Re: Judging my lifestyle

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Date: 2018-04-11 04:17 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lunchboxbike
Toys. Cars, smartphones, etc. can be used as tools, but someone who spends much more than necessary may be responding to toy marketing. Part of climate change response could be as simple as playing with other toys that use less energy and letting other people see how much fun they are.


Date: 2018-04-11 06:49 pm (UTC)
stuartjeffery: (Default)
From: [personal profile] stuartjeffery
It is flying the annoys me most. Seeing some of my alleged green friends flying off for a mini-break makes me really cross. There are some prominent Druids who seem to fly a lot too - how someone who claims to hold the Earth sacred can still fly is frankly beyond me.

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Date: 2018-04-11 10:39 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The classic example being that conference in Kyoto that the Big Names all flew to. Even holding their conference in a less glamourous place like Akron would have set somewhat of a better example.

Dollars as a proxy

Date: 2018-04-12 02:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Esteemed and wise Archdruid: A friend of mine has a saying I favor: “Dollars are a pretty good proxy for environmental impact.” I’ve tested the veracity of that saying in numerous contexts and it’s held up well. Unsurprisingly, when I enunciate it at my work Green Club, I get either bewilderment, a quick change of subject, or (Crickets). Ah well.

Re: Dollars as a proxy

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International Book Shipping

Date: 2018-04-12 06:39 pm (UTC)
packshaud: Photography of my cat. (Default)
From: [personal profile] packshaud
I'm facing an issue that is annoying me lately. The post deals with one of the problems, so this is not far from topic, but I will go a bit farther than that.

I buy many books that are not published in my country, nor in my native language. Sometimes they are available here (I got lucky and I found a copy of Dion Fortune's The Cosmic Doctrine edited by Aquarius in a local used bookstore, before your announcement makes all copies vanish from the market). When bought outside my country, these books will have an environmental impact being shipped to me. Media mail will often get lost in its way to here (I must be at home to receive an international package otherwise the post office is allowed to discard it). So to offset costs and pay for tracked mail I often buy used or remainder books.

However, this leads to another problem. For example, I bought the two Weird of Hali books from Miskatonic, and they charged me about $60, I think, to ship the two books here in a single package. In the other extreme, before that, I bought a Monsters copy from Amazon for... one cent, plus $26 shipping. Total cost was the same price of a new book, but nor you neither Llewellyn got royalties from that.

How do you deal with purchasing used books that are still in copyright? (I fortunately had to pay the full price for The Celtic Golden Dawn, otherwise the embedded booby trap could have made it useless).

Between no fun allowed, and no royalties from used books I'm facing a dilemma. Any suggestions?

Re: International Book Shipping

Date: 2018-04-13 05:42 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
On a used book, someone has payed the royalty, just as with a library book. Surely buying used is more environmentally friendly than throwing the used books away!

If it bothers you, throw a tip in the author's bucket.


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Date: 2018-04-12 11:26 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Glad you made this point about lifestyle change and the hypocrisy of many activists. I think there is a deeper issue as well. They may believe "everyone must stop using carbon, but they want to keep all the goodies. As JHK puts it, they wanna keep running all their sh*t by means other than fossil fuel. They want to have their cake and eat the ea

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Date: 2018-04-14 07:40 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Small City "enviromentalism"

The big news this morning here was that the small city we live near (~45,000) has set up a contract to recycle glass, at a starting cost of $43,000 and additional annual fee of $3,000. The glass will be hauled a couple hundred miles to the nearest big city with a recycling facility.

Being the speaker of unpleasant facts, I promptly commented that I would like to see the analysis of the environmental cost/benefit of this, because that's an awful lot of fuel to avoid trashing 200-odd tons of inert material a year. (I've learned not to say "That's a stupid use of resources" as people get defensive instead of listening.)

It's a done deal, and we're outside city limits, so my say isn't worth much, but maybe one or two folks will think, hey, maybe there's something to that idea, that is a lot of fuel burned to remove something basically harmless from the stream of trash going to the county dump.



Date: 2018-04-16 02:24 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Sorry, I think that blaming hypocrites is a copout. There are always going to be hypocrites in the world. I happen to know climate change activists who don't own cars and won't even ride a taxi. They are not hypocrites. But yes, there are some who are. And there are plenty who are somewhere in between.

But if we are talking about an international treaty or a domestic law to deal with the issue, and that will affect everybody, then how does hypocrisy play in? And if all you're talking about is convincing people to change their own lifestyle, well that isn't going to fix the problem in particular because of heavy consumers, whether they be hypocrites or deniers. The only solution is broad policies and that is what most activists on the issue advocate. And I would add that in this modern world, a low carbon lifestyle can be challenging depending on where you live and your employment. It should not be a requirement for advocating something, though they shouldn't be particularly intensive users.

The more general point is that in a big world with lots of people, there are always going to be hypocrites on any issue. I would assume there were hypocrites when it came to racial desegregation and many other issues. They were not an excuse then and should not be now.

Walk The Walk (Also Forget Offering Facts)

Date: 2018-06-02 10:07 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] seacanary
I completely agree with you. It would appear - in light of the referenced article - that arguing facts is a non-starter.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. “Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017, Accessed 9 May 2018. #psychology

To quote a more earthy source —
Along with the concept of American Dream runs the notion that every man and woman is entitled to an opinion and to one vote, no matter how ridiculous that opinion might be or how uninformed the vote. It could be that the Borderer Presbyterian tradition of “stand up and say your rightful piece” contributed to the American notion that our gut-level but uninformed opinions are some sort of unvarnished foundational political truths.

I have been told that this is because we redneck working-class Scots Irish suffer from what psychiatrists call “no insight”.

Consequently, we will never agree with anyone outside our zone of ignorance because our belligerent Borderer pride insists on the right to be dangerously wrong about everything while telling those who are more educated to “bite my ass!”

Joe Bageant, Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-17 01:10 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Unfortunately, if you do make the necessary changes, and talk about it with others, you’ll witness a range of psychological gymnastics in others —guilt, shame, resentment (toward you, for attempting to do anything to help!).

It’s the easiest, laziest excuse to point to environmentalist hypocrites and say, “why should I do anything if they’re hypocrites?”, considering there are plenty of role models, past and present, who are and we’re walking the talk. I suspect that the people who point out hypocrisy will just find any excuse not to do what’s right.


ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)John Michael Greer

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