Down To The Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse

Key Points

From the preface:

  • p. ix, a quote from John Holden: "The ongoing disruption of the Earth's climate by man-made greenhouse gases is already well beyond dangerous and is careening toward completely unmanageable." (Even thinking of the climate as "manageable" is a bit of hubris that seems beyond the pale….)
  • p. x: "…we will shed our illusions of being separate from nature and our pretense that we can master nature or each other through violence….. In the fossil fuel age we lived in the unspoken faith that there are no 'booby traps for unwary species,' as biologist Robert Sinsheimer once put it. Unwittingly we set our own, and now the carbon trap is nearly sprung…. We set the trap and it will now take our most creative and sustained efforts to avert catastrophe…."
  • p. xi: "Even in the near term it is already too late, however, to avert significant disasters…. We will need leaders first, with the courage to help the public understand and face what will be increasingly difficult circumstances…. The mythical figure of Cassandra and the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah were fated to be ignored until it was too late to avoid the dire things they foretold."
  • p. xii: "They must see…the many connections between climate, environment, prosperity, security, and fairness."
  • p. xiii: "In the long emergency ahead, people, communities, societies, institutions, organizations, and global society will be sorely stressed…. The reasons for authentic hope are on a farther horizon, centuries ahead…. The change in our perspective from the nearer to the longer term is, I think, the most difficult challenge wil will face…. we will need stamina and faith to work knowing that we will not live to see the results." (The diligent farmer plants trees of which he will never taste the fruit.)
  • p. xiv: David Archer says: "The climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge." Then "Climate change, in other words, is not so much a problem to be fixed but rather a steadily worsening condition with which we must contend for a long time to come."
  • p. xv: We ought…to make hope possible, not despair plausible."
  • p. xvi: Our best chance of surviving through the long emergency ahead lies in our capacity to face difficult facts squarely, think clearly about our possibilities, and get down to work."
  • p. xvii: The United States…is…the linchpin in the effort to avoid catastrophic global destabilization…. My focus is…transformational leadership that recognizes 'real need, the uncovering and exploiting of contradictions among values and between values and practice, the realigning of values, reorganization of institutions where necessary, and the governance of change…. consciousness-raising on a wide plane'….


  • p. 2: "My starting point is the oddly tepid response by U.S. leaders at virtually all levels to global warming, more accurately described as 'global destabilization.'"
  • p. 3: "The accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere is still accelerating, while some evidence suggests that sinks for carbon are decreasing…. Changes are already apparent: spring comes earlier and winter arrives later, birds characteristic of southern regions are showing up in the north, storms and heat waves are more frequent and more severe. Around the glob new records for extreme weather are being set at a record-breaking pace. With another degree or so of warming, the changes will be unmistakable: traditional northern winters will be mostly a memory, food prices will rise sharply, forest fires will be more frequent, and many species will disappear….
  • p. 4: Wallace Broecker once put it, that the climate system is 'an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks."
  • p. 6: "If the United States were a sailing ship heading into stormy seas, we would be well advised to lighten the load, secure cargo, trim sails, and batten down the hatches. But no comparable actions are being discussed in the United States or elsewhere…. The global crisis ahead is a direct result of the largest political failure in history." (Compare Stern's "greatest market failure" of all time.)
  • p. 7: Climate destabilization, similarly, is the aggregate result of our means of travel, our consumption, the infrastructure by which we are fed and provisioned, and our manner of living, all o which have been subsidized by the rapid drawdown of fossil fuels. The enemy is us…."
  • p. 8: "I also write with the assumption that we will succeed in reducing atmospheric CO2 below the level that would cause runaway climate change; otherwise, there is no point in writing anything other than an elegy or funeral dirge."
  • p. 9: "The third is to help forge an honest vision of the future and lay the foundation for authentic hope….. My subject is hope of the millennial kind."

p. 9: Three challenges of leadership:

  1. Prepare public
  2. energy choices -> ecological consequences
  3. lay foundation for authentic hope
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