Go read The Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson and tell your friends what a rollicking tale and thought-provoking read this was. I thought it was so memorable I took a lot of notes/excerpts, below.
The Ministry for the Future: A Novel by Kim Stanley Robinson
He had read that if all the sun’s energy that hit Earth were captured by it rather than some bouncing away, temperatures would rise until the seas boiled.
a new Subsidiary Body for Implementation of the Agreement, as authorized by Articles 16 and 18, to be funded using the funding protocols outlined in Article 8, which bound all Parties to the methods outlined in the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage. The announcement said: “Be it resolved that a Subsidiary Body authorized by this twenty-ninth Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Paris Climate Agreement (CMA) is hereby established,
work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and all the agencies of the United Nations, and all the governments signatory to the Paris Agreement, to advocate for the world’s future generations of citizens, whose rights, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are as valid as our own. This new Subsidiary Body is furthermore charged with defending all living creatures present and future who cannot speak for themselves, by promoting their legal standing and physical protection.”
“Obviously we have to do better,” she said. “The Paris Agreement was created to avoid tragedies like this one. We are all in a single global village now. We share the same air and water, and so this disaster has happened to all of us. Since we can’t undo it, we have to turn it to the good somehow, or two things will happen; the crimes in it will go unatoned, and more such disasters will happen. So we have to act. At long last, we have to take the climate situation seriously, as the reality that overrides everything else. We have to act on what we know.”
For a while, therefore, it looked like the great heat wave would be like mass shootings in the United States— mourned by all, deplored by all, and then immediately forgotten or superseded by the next one, until they came in a daily drumbeat and became the new normal. It looked quite possible that the same thing would happen with this event, the worst week in human history. How long would that stay true, about being the worst week? And what could anyone do about it? Easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism: the old saying had grown teeth
The ruling elite lost legitimacy and hegemony, and the inchoate fractured resistance of victims coalesced in a party called Avasthana, Sanskrit for survival. The world’s biggest democracy, taking a new way. India’s electrical power companies were nationalized where they weren’t already, and a vast force was put to work shutting down coal-fired power plants and building wind and solar plants, and free-river hydro, and non-battery electrical storage systems to supplement the growing power of battery storage. All kinds of things began to change. Efforts were renewed to dismantle the worst effects of the caste system—
now it was made a national priority, the new reality, and enough Indians were now ready to work for it. All over India, governments at all levels began to implement these changes. Lastly, though this was regretted by many, some more radical portion of this new Indian polity sent a message out to the world: change with us, change now, or suffer the wrath of Kali. No more cheap Indian labor, no more sell-out deals; no deals of any kind, unless changes were made. If changes weren’t made by the countries that had signed the Paris Agreement— and every nation had signed it— then this portion of India was now their enemy, and would break off diplomatic relations and
economic war. The world would see what this particular one-sixth of its population, formerly the working class for the world, could do. Time for the long post-colonial subalternity to end. Time for India to step onto the world stage, as it had at the start of history, and demand a better world. And then help to make it real.
Humans are burning about 40 gigatons (a gigaton is a billion tons) of fossil carbon per year. Scientists have calculated that we can burn about 500 more gigatons of fossil carbon before we push the average global temperature over 2 degrees Celsius higher than it was when the industrial revolution began; this is as high as we can push it, they calculate, before really dangerous effects will follow for most of Earth’s bioregions, meaning also food production for people.
already more of the sun’s energy stays in the Earth system than leaves it by about 0.7 of a watt per square meter of the Earth’s surface. This means an inexorable rise in average temperatures. And a wet-bulb temperature of 35 will kill humans, even if unclothed and sitting in the shade; the combination of heat and humidity prevents sweating from dissipating heat, and death by hyperthermia soon results. And wet-bulb temperatures of 34 have been recorded since the year 1990, once in Chicago. So the danger seems evident enough. Thus, 500 gigatons; but meanwhile, the fossil fuels industry has already located at least 3,000 gigatons of fossil carbon in the ground.
listed as assets by the corporations that have located them, and they are regarded as national resources by the nation-states in which they have been found. Only about a quarter of this carbon is owned by private companies; the rest is in the possession of various nation-states. The notional value of the 2,500 gigatons of carbon that should be left in the ground, calculated by using the current price of oil, is on the order of 1,500 trillion US dollars. It seems quite possible that these 2,500 gigatons of carbon might eventually come to be regarded as a kind of stranded asset, but in the meantime, some people will be trying to sell and burn the portion of it they own or control, while they still can.
Executive decisions for these organizations’ actions will be made by about five hundred people. They will be good people. Patriotic politicians, concerned for the fate of their beloved nation’s citizens; conscientious hard-working corporate executives, fulfilling their obligations to their board and their shareholders. Men, for the most part; family men for the most part: well-educated, well-meaning. Pillars of the community. Givers to charity. When they go to the concert hall of an evening, their hearts will stir at the somber majesty of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony. They will want the best for their children.
Ireland neither for that matter. We got killed by the Brits for centuries. Something like a quarter of all the Irish died in the famine, and about as many left the island. That was something.”
England never seemed to pay too much of a price for its crimes.” “No one does. You pay for being the victim, not the criminal.” Her whisky arrived and she downed half of it. “We’re going to have to figure out how to change that.”
there is no sheriff for the world. So, the US does what it wants, and the rest of us also do what we want. The courts only work when some petty war criminal gets caught and everyone decides to look virtuous.”
the general disregard for the Agreement’s emission reduction targets, was just the latest example of this kind of behavior. “So what do you think we can do to improve that situation?” Tatiana shrugged. “Rule of law is all we’ve got,” she said darkly. “We tell people that and then try to make them believe it.” “How do we do that?” “If the world blows up they’ll believe it. That’s why we got the international order we got after World War Two.”
nothing is ever good enough. We just make do.” Tatiana brightened, although Mary saw the sly look that indicated a joke: “We make a new religion! Some kind of Earth religion, everyone family, universal brotherhood.” “Universal sisterhood,” Mary said. “An Earth mother religion.” “Exactly,” Tatiana said, and laughed. “As it should be, right?” They toasted the idea. “Write up the laws for that,” Mary said. “Have them ready for when the time comes.” “Of course,” Tatiana said. “I have entire constitution already,
Even farther north a heat wave could strike. Europe once suffered one that killed seventy thousand people, even though Europe is so far north. Well more than half the land on Earth is at risk.
Ideology, n. An imaginary relationship to a real situation. In common usage, what the other person has, especially when systematically distorting the facts. But it seems to us that an ideology is a necessary feature of cognition, and if anyone were to lack one, which we doubt, they would be badly disabled. There is a real situation, that can’t be denied, but it is too big for any individual to know in full, and so we must create our understanding by way of an act of the imagination.
we all have an ideology, and this is a good thing. So much information pours into the mind, ranging from sensory experience to discursive and mediated inputs of all kinds, that some kind of personal organizing system is necessary to make sense of things in ways that allow one to decide and to act. Worldview, philosophy, religion, these are all synonyms for ideology as defined above; and so is science, although it’s the different one, the special one, by way of its perpetual cross-checking with reality tests of all kinds, and its continuous sharpening of focus. That surely makes science central to a most interesting project, which is to invent, improve, and put to use an ideology that explains in a coherent and useful way as much of the blooming buzzing inrush of the world as possible.
one would hope for in an ideology is clarity and explanatory breadth, and power. We leave the proof of this as an exercise for the reader. 12 Bypassing the imaginary relationship part for a moment, what about the real situation? Unknowable, of course, as per above. But consider this aspect of it:
PTSD, the great affect of our time. As one of his therapists had once explained to him, one of the identifying characteristics of the disorder was that even when you knew it was happening to you, that didn’t stop it from happening.
Some things we can mitigate, some we can’t. Some things we can adapt to, others we can’t. Also, we can’t adapt to some things we are now failing to mitigate. Need to clarify which is which. Mainly need to tell adaptation advocates they’re full of shit. Bunch of economists, humanities professors, they have no idea what talking about. Adaptation just a fantasy.
The big Antarctic glacial basins, mainly Victoria and Totten, hold ice sliding downhill faster and faster. Will soon be depositing many thousands of cubic kilometers of ice into sea. Now looking like could happen in a few decades. Sea level rise two meters for sure, maybe more (six meters!) but two meters enough. Doom for all coastal cities, beaches, marshes, coral reefs, many fisheries. Would displace ten percent of the world’s population, disrupt twenty percent food supply.
Jurgen throws up hands. Cost of this cannot be calculated! Calculate it, Mary orders him. J. frowns, pondering big picture in his head. A quadrillion. Yes, really. A thousand trillion is not too high. Maybe five quadrillion. Dick: So just call it infinity. Adele: Number of species threatened with extinction now at Permian levels. (Piling on here?) Permian the worst extinction ever. Now on course to match it. Kaming: Ninety-nine percent of all meat alive is made of humans and their domestic beasts. Cattle, pigs, sheep, goats. Wild creatures one percent of meat alive.
world GDP 100 trillion/year. Half that GWP is so-called consumer spending by prosperous people, means non-essential buying of things that degrade biosphere. Ship going down. Parasite killing host. Even the productive half of GWP, food and health and housing, burning up world.
Have to find ways to spend our sixty billion that strike at leverage points. Dick: Our money not enough to matter. Have to change laws— that’s our leverage point. Spend our money on changing laws. Tatiana likes this. Imbeni: Critical infrastructure needs funding. Elena: Ag improvements. Mary chops discussion. Chop chop chop! Stop. We need to lever change, and fast. However we can. By whatever means necessary.
There was scientifically supported evidence to show that if the Earth’s available resources were divided up equally among all eight billion humans, everyone would be fine. They would all be at adequacy, and the scientific evidence very robustly supported the contention that people living at adequacy, and confident they would stay there (a crucial point), were healthier and thus happier than rich people. So the upshot of that equal division would be an improvement for all.
The 2,000 Watt Society, started in 1998 in Switzerland, calculated that if all the energy consumed by households were divided by the total number of humans alive, each would have the use of about 2,000 watts of power, meaning about 48 kilowatt-hours per day. The society’s members then tried living on that amount of electricity to see what it was like: they found it was fine. It took paying attention to energy use, but the resulting life was by no means a form of suffering; it was even reported to feel more stylish and meaningful to those who undertook the experiment.
there energy enough for all? Yes. Is there food enough for all? Yes. Is there housing enough for all? There could be, there is no real problem there. Same for clothing. Is there health care enough for all? Not yet, but there could be; it’s a matter of training people and making small technological objects, there is no planetary constraint on that one. Same with education. So all the necessities for a good life are abundant enough that everyone alive could have them. Food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, education. Is there enough security for all? Security is the feeling that results from being confident that you will have all the things listed above, and your children will have them too. So it is a derivative effect. There can be enough security for all; but only if all have security.
To my mind, money acts as if it worked as gravity does— the more of it you gather together, the more gathering power it exerts, as with mass and its gravitational attraction. Cute. Ultimately this is a very big and articulated system! Insightful. All right then, back to the ones who administer our economic system as such, and teach others how to work it, and by a not-so-coincidental coincidence, benefit from it the most. I wonder how many people that would turn out to be? About eight million. You’re sure? No. So this would be about one in every thousand persons alive today.
Who matters the most in that group of eight million? Government legislators. That’s a bad thought. No it isn’t. Why would you say that? Corruption, stupidity— Rule of law. But— But me no buts. Rule of law. What a weak reed to stand on! Yes. What can we do about that? Just make it stick.
one form of PTSD therapy goes like this— you don’t have to worry so much, because if it stays this bad you can always kill yourself. And for some sufferers this thought is a real comfort, sometimes even the anchor point of a way back to sanity. You can always end this misery by killing yourself; so give it another day and see how it goes. It’s not easy to stay unafraid. It can’t always be done. Try as you might, want it ever so much, things are out of your control, even when they are in your mind, or especially because they are in your mind.
mind is a funny animal. If it were just conscious thought; or if conscious thought was something we could control; or if unconscious thoughts were conscious; or if moods were amenable to our desires … then maybe things could work. Things like cognitive behavioral therapy, or the project of sanity itself. Just make it happen! But no. You’re swimming in a river. You can get carried out to sea on riptides not of your making, or at least not under your control. You can find yourself swimming against a current much stronger than you. You can drown.
HOPE TO DO SOME GOOD, NO MATTER HOW FUCKED UP YOU ARE Every time he remembered to brush his teeth or shave, which was getting less and less often, he would see that sign and ponder what he might do. This mainly made him feel confused. But it did seem like the urge to do something was there in him, sometimes so strong it was like a bad case of heartburn. When he was exhausted by sleeplessness, or groggy with too much sleep, that burn still sometimes struck him, radiating outward from his middle. He had to do something.
You could work off a lot of stress walking the streets of Glasgow, and the views kept changing their perspectives under the changing weather, reflecting the storms within, the fear, the sudden bursts of exhilaration, the black depths of ocean-floor grief. Or beautiful dreams, the world gone right. How to share that? How give? Saint Francis of Assisi: give yourself away, give up on yourself and all you thought you had. Feed the birds, help people. The positive of that was so obvious. Do like Saint Francis. Help people. But he wanted more. He could feel it burning him up:
then also there were particular people, many still alive, who had worked all their lives to deny climate change, to keep burning carbon, to keep wrecking biomes, to keep driving other species extinct. That evil work had been their lives’ project, and while pursuing that project they had prospered and lived in luxury. They wrecked the world happily, thinking they were supermen, laughing at the weak, crushing them underfoot.
It got way hotter than it had been up till then, but everyone … everyone said it was normal, that the time right before the monsoon was the hottest of all. But then it got hotter still. Then it all happened fast, one day it was so hot even the people were scared … and that night some of the older people and the littlest kids died. That sent everyone into shock, but I think they were thinking it was as bad as it could get. Then it got worse, and the power went out, and after that there was no air conditioning … and not much water. People freaked out, and rightfully so. The heat was beyond what the human body can stand. Hyperthermia, that’s just a word. The reality is different. You can’t breathe. Sweating doesn’t work. You’re being roasted,
So that if that were to happen and you wanted some relief from it, you could move your eyes and start maybe thinking of your spoken version of what happened, and it would relieve you from reliving it. If you see what I mean.”
0 is the coefficient if everyone owned an equal amount, while 1 would obtain if one person owned everything and everyone else nothing. In our real world of the mid-twenty-first century, countries with a low Gini coefficient, like the social democracies, are generally a bit below 0.3, while highly unequal countries are a bit above 0.6. The US, China, and many other countries have seen their Gini coefficients shoot up in the neoliberal era, from 0.3 or 0.4 up to 0.5 or 0.6, this with barely a squeak from the people losing the most in this increase in inequality,
indeed many of those harmed often vote for politicians who will increase their relative impoverishment. Thus the power of hegemony: we may be poor but at least we’re patriots! At least we’re self-reliant and we can take care of ourselves, and so on, right into an early grave, as the average lifetimes of the poorer citizens in these countries are much shorter than those of the wealthy citizens. And average lifetimes overall are therefore decreasing for the first time since the eighteenth century.
monocausotaxophilia, the love of single ideas that explain everything, one of humanity’s most common cognitive errors. The Gini figures for Bangladesh and for Holland are nearly the same, for instance, at 0.31; but the average annual income in Bangladesh is about $2,000, while in Holland it’s $50,000. The spread between the richest and the poorest is an important consideration, but when everyone in that spread is pretty well off, this is a different… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
of the best is the “inequality-adjusted Human Development Index,” which is no surprise, because the Human Development Index is already a powerful tool. But it doesn’t by itself reveal the internal spread of good and bad in the country studied, thus the inequality adjustment, which… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
the Gini coefficient for the whole world’s population is higher than for any individual country’s, basically because there are so many more poor people in the world than there are rich ones, so that cumulatively, globally, the number rises to around 0.7. Also, there are various ways of indicating inequality more anecdotally (perhaps we could say in more human terms) than such indexes. The three richest people in the world possess more financial assets than all the people in the forty-eight… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
these disparities in wealth have been increasing since 1980 to the present, and are one of the defining characteristics of neoliberalism. Inequality has now reached levels not seen since the so-called Gilded Age of the 1890s. Some angles of evidence now suggest this is the most wealth-inequal moment in human history, surpassing the feudal era for instance, and the early warrior/priest/peasant states. Also, the two billion poorest… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
fully one-quarter of humanity, enough to equal the entire human population of the year 1960, is immiserated in ways that the poorest people of the feudal era or the Upper Paleolithic were not. Thus inequality in our time. Is it a political stability problem? Perhaps in a controlocracy backed by big militaries, no. Is it a moral problem? But morality is a question of ideology, one’s imaginary relationship to the real situation,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
one often sees inequality as a problem judged economically; growth and innovation, it is said, are slowed when inequality is high. This is what our thinking has been reduced to: essentially a neoliberal analysis and judgment of the neoliberal situation. It’s the structure of feeling in our time; we can’t think in anything but economic terms, our ethics must be quantified and rated for the effects that our actions have on GDP. This is said to be the only thing people can agree on. Although those who say this… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Alternative measures that compensate for these deficiencies include: the Genuine Progress Indicator, which uses twenty-six different variables to determine its single index number; the UN’s Human Development Index, developed by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq in 1990, which combines life expectancy, education levels, and gross national income per capita (later the UN introduced the inequality-adjusted HDI); the UN’s Inclusive Wealth Report, which combines manufactured capital, human capital, natural capital, adjusted by factors including carbon emissions;
Happy Planet Index, created by the New Economic Forum, which combines well-being as reported by citizens, life expectancy, and inequality of outcomes, divided by ecological footprint (by this rubric the US scores 20.1 out of 100, and comes in 108th out of 140 countries rated); the Food Sustainability Index, formulated by Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, which uses fifty-eight metrics to measure food security, welfare, and ecological sustainability;
Bhutan’s famous Gross National Happiness, which uses thirty-three metrics to measure the titular quality in quantitative terms. All these indexes are attempts to portray civilization in our time using the terms of the hegemonic discourse, which is to say economics, often in the attempt to make a judo-like transformation of the discipline of economics itself, altering it to make it more human, more adjusted to the biosphere, and so on. Not a bad impulse! But it’s important also to take this whole question back out of the realm of quantification, sometimes, to the realm of the human and the social.
ask what it all means, what it’s all for. To consider the axioms we are agreeing to live by. To acknowledge the reality of other people, and of the planet itself. To see other people’s faces. To walk outdoors and look around.
As with perceptual illusions, knowing that cognitive errors exist doesn’t help us to avoid them when presented with a new problem. On the contrary, these errors stay very consistent, in that they are committed by everyone tested, tend toward the same direction of error, are independent of personal factors of the test takers, and are incorrigible, in that knowing about them doesn’t help us avoid them, nor to distrust our reasoning in other situations. We are always more confident of our reasoning than we should be. Indeed overconfidence, not just expert overconfidence but general overconfidence, is one of the most common illusions we experience.
We have to create and employ an ideology to be able to function; and we do that work by way of thinking that is prone to any number of systemic and one might even say factual errors. We have never been rational. Maybe science itself is the attempt to be rational. Maybe philosophy too. And of course philosophy is very often proving we can’t think to the bottom of things, can’t get logic to work as a closed system, and so on. And remember also that in all of this discussion so far, we are referring to the normal mind, the sane mind. What happens when, starting as we do from such a shaky original position, sanity is lost, we defer to another discussion.
“We can only model scenarios,” she said. “We track what has happened, and graph trajectories in things we can measure, and then we postulate that the things we can measure will either stay the same, or grow, or shrink.”
“So you know! I mean, in your exercises, is there any scenario whatsoever in which there won’t be more heat waves that kill millions of people?” “Yes,” she said. But she was troubled. This possibility that he was bringing up to her now was exactly what kept her awake at night, night after night. Scenarios with good results, in which they managed to avoid more incidents of mass deaths, were in fact extremely rare. People would have to do things they were not doing. His presence in her kitchen was all too much like one of her insomniac whirlpools of thought, as if she had stumbled into one of her nightmares while still awake, so that she couldn’t get out of it.
“Come on,” he said. “You know. You know the future.” It sounded like he might hurt his voice, he was so intent to speak without shouting. He coughed, shook his head. “And yet you’re not doing anything about it. Even with your job.” He stood again, went to her sink, took a glass out of the drainer, filled it from the tap, took a drink. He brought it with him back to the table, sat again. “We’re doing what we can,” she said. “No you’re not. You’re not doing everything you can, and what you are doing isn’t going to be enough.”
Finally he said, “But it isn’t working. You’re trying, but it isn’t enough. You’re failing. You and your organization are failing in your appointed task, and so millions will die. You’re letting them down. Every day you let them down. You set them up for death.” She sighed. “We’re doing all we can with what we’ve got.” “No you’re not.”
“This is why I’m here. You have to stop thinking that you’re doing all you can. Because you’re not. There’s more you could be doing.” “Like what?” He stared at her. He sat down again across from her, put his face in his hands. Finally he released his face, sat back in his chair. He looked her in the eye. There she saw something: a real person. A very troubled real person, a young man, sick and scared.
You have to stop thinking with your old bourgeois values. That time has passed. The stakes are too high for you to hide behind them anymore. They’re killing the world. People, animals, everything. We’re in a mass extinction event, and there are people trying to do something about it. You call them terrorists, but it’s the people you work for who are the terrorists. How can you not see that?” “I’m trying to avoid violence,” Mary said. “That’s my job.” “I thought you said your job was to avoid a mass extinction event!”
“The ministry was set up after the Paris meeting of 2024. They thought it would be a good idea to create an agency tasked with representing the interests of the generations to come. And the interests of those entities that can never speak for themselves, like animals and watersheds.” The young man gestured dismissively. This was boilerplate, known to him already. “And so? How do you do that, how do you defend those interests?” “We’ve made divisions that focus on various aspects of the problem. Legal, financial, physical, and so forth. We prioritize what we do to portion out the budget we’re given, and we do what we can.”
Things don’t change, we’re still on track for a mass extinction event, we’re in the extinctions already. That’s what I mean by not enough. So why don’t you do something more?” “We’re doing everything we can think of.” “But that either means you can’t think of obvious things, or you have thought of them and you won’t do them.” “Like what?” “Like identifying the worst criminals in the extinction event and going after them.” “We do that.” “With lawsuits?” “Yes, with lawsuits, and sanctions, and publicity campaigns, and—”
Some of these people are committing crimes that will end up killing millions! They spend their entire lives working hard to perpetuate a system that will end in mass death.” “Violence begets violence,” Mary said. “It cycles forever. So here we are.” “Having lost the battle. But look, the violence of carbon burning kills many more people than any punishment for capital crimes ever would. So really your morality is just a kind of surrender.” She shrugged. “I believe in the rule… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
violence against the carbon burning itself? Would bombing a coal plant be too violent for you?” “We work within the law. I think that gives us a better chance of changing things.” “But it isn’t working fast enough.” He tried to compose himself. “If you took your job seriously, you’d be looking into how to make change happen faster. Some things might be against the law, but in that case the law is wrong. I think the principle was set at Nuremberg— you’re wrong to obey orders that are wrong.” Mary sighed. “A lot of our… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
“If you were serious, you’d have a black wing, doing things outside the law to accelerate the changes.” “If it was a black wing, then I wouldn’t tell you about it.” He stared at her. Finally he shook his head. “I don’t think you have one. And if you do, it isn’t doing its job. There are about a hundred people walking this Earth, who if you judge from the angle of the future like you’re supposed to do, they are mass murderers. If… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
What if they woke up one day with no assets? Their ability to murder the future would be much reduced.” “I don’t know.” “If you don’t do it, others will.” “Maybe they should. They do their part, we do ours.” “But yours isn’t working. And if they do it, they get killed for it. Whereas you would just be doing your job.” “That wouldn’t justify it.” “So… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
“Look,” he said. “If you really were from the future, so that you knew for sure there were people walking the Earth today fighting change, so that they were killing your children and all their children, you’d defend your people. In defense of your home, your life, your people, you would kill an intruder.” “An intruder like you.” “Exactly. So, if your organization represents the people who will be born after us, well, that’s a heavy burden! It’s a real responsibility! You have to think like them! You have to do what they would do if they were here.”
“Look,” he said, visibly pulling himself together. “People kill in self-defense all the time. Not to do that would be a kind of suicide. So people do it. And now your people are under assault. These supposed future people.” She heaved a sigh. She kept her eyes on her tea cup. He said, “You just want someone else to do it. Someone with less cover than you have, someone who will suffer more for doing it. That way you can keep your good life and your nice kitchen, and let the desperate people take the hit for trying. The very people you’re tasked with defending.”
I want to help to stop it happening again. The heat wave, and things like it.” “We all want that.” His face went red again. Choked voice again: “Then you need to do more.”
access to their money, if people get cut off from that, they are definitely scared.”
A mammal never forgets a bad scare; and they were mammals.
The Hebrew tradition speaks of those hidden good people who keep the world from falling apart, the Tzadikim Nistarim, the hidden righteous ones. In some versions they are thirty-six in number, and thus are called the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim,
Other accounts refer the idea to the Talmud and its frequent references to hidden anonymous good actors. The hidden quality of the nistarim is important; they are ordinary people, who emerge and act when needed to save their people, then sink back into anonymity as soon as their task is accomplished. When the stories emphasize that they are thirty-six in number, it is always included in the story that they have been scattered across the Earth by the Jewish diaspora, and have no idea who the others are. Indeed they usually don’t know that they themselves are one of the thirty-six, as they are always exemplars of humility, anavah.
anyone were to proclaim himself to be one of the Lamed-Vav , this would be proof that actually he was not. The Lamed-Vav are generally too modest to believe they could be one of these special actors. And yet this doesn’t keep them from being effective when the moment comes. They live their lives like everyone else, and then, when the crucial moment comes, they act.
There were about fifty glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland that were going to dump ninety percent of the ice that was going to end up in the sea in the next few decades,
There turned out to be a lot of water under the Thwaites, as predicted. Bigger and bigger summer pools of meltwater on the surface had run down moulins, which are like vertical rivers that run down cracks in the ice. That water bottoms out on the bedrock and then lubricates the slide of the ice over it, until the ice is like riding down a water slide. The glaciers are therefore becoming more like rivers than ice fields, flowing almost as fast as some flat-country rivers, but with a hundred times more water in them than the Amazon, or even more.
the water in the Amazon was rain the week before, but the ice in Antarctica has been perched up there for the last five million years at least. So we’re going to see sea level rise, big time. So if we could pump that subglacial water out from under the glacier, the ice would thump back down onto bedrock and slow down to the grind-it-out speed that used to be normal. After that we would keep pumping subglacial water out, and the ice would stay grounded on the bedrock, and it would stay at its old speed, deform viscously, shatter in crevasse fields, all the usual behaviors, and at the old speeds. Thus the plan.
I clarified reality for them: Look, if you have to do something, you have to do it. Don’t keep talking about cost as if that’s a real thing. Money isn’t real. Work is real. Money is real, Dr. G. You’ll see. This method is the only way that will work. But it didn’t work! It cut out on us! Yes, but this was just the start. If at first you don’t succeed— You’ll never get funded again.
Say the order of your time feels unjust and unsustainable and yet massively entrenched, but also falling apart before your eyes. The obvious contradictions in this list might yet still describe the feeling of your time quite accurately, if we are not mistaken. Or put it this way; it feels that way to us. But a little contemplation of history will reveal that this feeling too will not last for long. Unless of course the feeling of things falling apart is itself massively entrenched,
Certainly its work so far has been admirable. Since sweeping the elections, the national Coalition government has completed the nationalization of all the country’s energy companies, and set to work decommissioning all coal-fired plants. Completing the clean electrification of the country is being accomplished by construction of massive solar power arrays, and then electricity-storing facilities, and a refurbished national grid. This again has been labor intensive, but India has lots of people. And lots of sunlight. And lots of land.
It’s a very strong feeling now, that India belongs to Indians— that Indians are not to be sold by other Indians as cheap labor to fill the economic needs of global capital— that the colonial and even now the post-colonial days are over. It is the New India now, and everything is to be reconsidered. Many a time we now say to each other, when the arguments get intense, as they always do, Look, my friend— never again. Never again. This reminds us of the heat wave and the stakes involved, but it is also a more general rejection of the bad parts of the past. Never again, we remind each other, and then go on to consider, So what must we do here, to get to an agreement and act on it?
But those future people will be just as real as you and I. Why discount them in the same way you do money? Dick: It’s partly to help decide what to do. See, if you rate all future humans as having equal value to us alive now, they become a kind of infinity, whereas we’re a finite. If we don’t go extinct, there will eventually have been quite a lot of humans— I’ve read eight hundred billion, or even several quadrillion— it depends on how long you think we’ll go on before going extinct or evolving into something
If we were working for them as well as ourselves, then really we should be doing everything for them. Every good project we can think of would be rated as infinitely good, thus equal to all the other good projects. And every bad thing we do to them is infinitely bad and to be avoided. But since we’re in the present, and trying to decide which projects to fund, with limited resources, you have to have a finer instrument than infinity when calculating costs and benefits. Assuming you’re going to only be able to afford a few things, and you want to know which of them get you the most benefits for the least cost. Mary: Which is what economics is for. Dick: Exactly. Best distribution of scarce resources and so on.
So there isn’t any moral justification for the discounting, it’s just for our own convenience. Plenty of economists acknowledged this. Robert Solow said we ought to act as if the discount rate were zero. Roy Harrod said the discount rate was a polite expression for rapacity. Frank Ramsey called it ethically indefensible. He said it came about because of a weakness of the imagination.
Basically, they were playing for more than the game. The other teams were playing because that’s what they did. It was their profession. But those South Africans, they were playing for Mandela. They were playing for their lives. Mary: So … is there a way we can make the calculations better? Dick: This is where India comes into it. Since the heat wave, they’ve been leading the way in terms of re-examining everything. So regarding this issue, you could just set a low discount rate, of course. But Badim tells me that in India it was traditional to talk about the seven generations before and after you as being your equals. You work for the seven generations.
What remained was that feeling. Oh I will never forget it. When you lose all hope and all fear, then you become something not quite human. Whether better or worse than human I can’t say. But for an hour I was not a human being.
This was a feedback loop with teeth. The Arctic ice cap, which at its first measurement in the 1950s was more than ten meters thick, had been a big part of the Earth’s albedo; during northern summers it had reflected as much as two or three percent of the sun’s incoming insolation back into space. Now that light was instead spearing into the ocean and heating it up. And for reasons not fully understood, the Arctic and the Antarctic were already the most rapidly warming places on Earth.
we are all like quarks, which are the smallest elementary particles, he told us— smaller even than atoms, such that atoms are all made up of quarks held together by gluons. He made us laugh with these stories. And like quarks, everyone had a certain amount of strangeness, spin, and charm. You could rate everyone by these three constants, and our mother was the most charming person on Earth, but not very strange, and with almost zero spin. Jake confessed to having a high spin rate, also strangeness; and we found him charming too. He didn’t agree to that.
we were watchful for, so that when he was friendly, or contrite and remorseful, we would take it with a grain of salt, not knowing if he might turn on us in a second. Volatile people, you can’t trust them, that’s the thing; and they know it. So that even if they feel remorse, it does no good, and they know that too. So they get lonely. And they feel the remorse less and less, maybe. They give up. In any case, he left.
The four billion poorest people alive have less wealth than the richest ten people on the planet, so they’re not very powerful, but no one can deny that there are a lot of them. Might they force change from below? There are guns in their faces. What about the so-called precariat, then? Those middle billions just scraping by, what Americans still call the middle class, speaking of nostalgia? Could they rise up and change things by way of some kind of mass action? Guns in their faces too. And yet we do sometimes see demonstrations, sometimes quite large ones. Demonstrations are parties. People party and then go home. Nothing changes.
nationalization of the banks, for instance. National governments would then be back in control, coordinating a complete takeover of global finance. They could rewrite the WTO rules, and create some kind of quantitative easing, giving new fiat money to Green New Deal–type causes. We call that legislation. So again we come back to legislatures! These are usually thought to be features of representative democracies. To the extent that such democracies still exist, if they ever did, their legislatures would have to be voted in by voting majorities, by definition.
all these laws that need to change are intertwined, and therefore can’t be easily disentangled? Yes. You could even say that money itself would resist this change. Indeed it seems to be the case that there’s simply a kind of inherent, inbuilt resistance to change! Constipation is a bitch. Sometimes you just have to sit on the box and push harder. Well put! I guess you could call that the story of our decade. Or the entire century for that matter.
Such a trenchant image for history, I must say. Tremendous relief when all that shit is out of you. No doubt! Well, that about wraps it up for this week. Perhaps it’s time to pull down our pants and have a seat. I invite everyone listening to join us, next week this same time. It might take longer.
The rebound effect of this paradox can be mitigated only by adding other factors to the uptake of the more efficient method, such as requirements for reinvestment, taxes, and regulations. So they say in economics texts. The paradox is visible in the history of technological improvements of all kinds. Better car miles per gallon, more miles driven. Faster computer times, more time spent on computers. And so on ad infinitum. At this point it is naïve to expect that technological improvements alone will slow the impacts of growth and reduce the burden on the biosphere. And yet many still exhibit this naiveté.
The orienting principle that could guide all such thinking is often left out, but surely it should be included and made explicit: we should be doing everything needed to avoid a mass extinction event. This suggests a general operating principle similar to the Leopoldian land ethic, often summarized as “what’s good is what’s good for the land.” In our current situation, the phrase can be usefully reworded as “what’s good is what’s good for the biosphere.” In light of that principle, many efficiencies are quickly seen to be profoundly destructive, and many inefficiencies can now be understood as unintentionally salvational. Robustness and resilience are in general inefficient;
The whole field and discipline of economics, by which we plan and justify what we do as a society, is simply riddled with absences, contradictions, logical flaws, and most important of all, false axioms and false goals. We must fix that if we can. It would require going deep and restructuring that entire field of thought. If economics is a method for optimizing various objective functions subject to constraints, then the focus of change would need to look again at those “objective functions.” Not profit, but biosphere health, should be the function solved for; and this would change many things. It means moving the inquiry from economics to political economy,
Why do we do things? What do we want? What would be fair? How can we best arrange our lives together on this planet? Our current economics has not yet answered any of these questions. But why should it? Do you ask your calculator what to do with your life? No. You have to figure that out for yourself.
now, with computers as strong as they’ve gotten, the Red Plenty argument has gotten stronger and stronger, asserting that people now have so much computing power that central planning could work better than the market. High-frequency trading has been put forth as an example of computers out-achieving the market proper, but instead of improving the system it’s just been used to take rents on every exchange. This a sign of effective computational power, but used by people still stuck in the 1930s terminology of market versus planning, capitalism versus communism. And by people not trying to improve system, but merely to make more money in current system.
some environmental economists now discussing the Chen plan and its ramifications, as an aspect of commons theory and sustainability theory. Having debunked the tragedy of the commons, they now were trying to direct our attention to what they called the tragedy of the time horizon. Meaning we can’t imagine the suffering of the people of the future, so nothing much gets done on their behalf. What we do now creates damage that hits decades later, so we don’t charge ourselves for it,
But by the time they get here, these problems will have become too big to solve. That’s the tragedy of the time horizon, that we don’t look more than a few years ahead, or even in many cases, as with high-speed trading, a few micro-seconds ahead. And the tragedy of the time horizon is a true tragedy, because many of the worst climate impacts will be irreversible. Extinctions and ocean warming can’t be fixed no matter how much money future people have, so economics as practiced misses a fundamental aspect of reality.
It’s another way to describe the damage of a high discount rate. The high discount rate is an index of this larger dismissal of the future that J-A is describing. Agreed to that. And this Chen line of thought solves that? Mary asked. It extends the time horizon farther out? Replied, Yes, it tries to do that. Explained how the proposal for a carbon coin was time-dependent, like a budget, with fixed amounts of time included in its contracts, as in bonds. New carbon… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
since this is a case of central banks issuing new money, as in quantitative easing, investors will believe in it because it’s backed by long-term bonds. And this money could be created and given to people only for doing good things.… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
For every ton of carbon not burned, or sequestered in a way that would be certified to be real for an agreed-upon time, one century being typical in these discussions so far, you are given one carbon coin. You can trade that coin immediately for any other currency on the currency exchanges, so one carbon coin would be worth a certain amount of other fiat currencies. The central banks would guarantee it at a certain minimum price, they would support a floor so it couldn’t crash. But also, it… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
the creation, the first spending of the new money, would have been specifically aimed at carbon reduction. That reduction is what makes the new money in the first place. The Chen papers sometimes call it CQE, carbon quantitative easing. Mary said, So anyone could get issued one of these coins after sequestering a ton of carbon? Yes. Or also a fraction of a coin. There would have to be a whole monitoring and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
And the carbon coins would all be registered, so everyone could see how many of them there were, and the banks would only issue as many coins as carbon was mitigated, year by year, so there would be less worry about devaluing money by flooding the supply. If a lot of carbon coins were being created, that would mean lots of carbon was getting sequestered, and that would be a sign of biosphere health that would increase… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
with carbon taxes, you would get taxed if you burn carbon, but paid if you sequester carbon. Agreed, and added that any carbon tax should be set progressively, meaning larger use more pay, to keep it from being a regressive tax. Then it becomes a good thing, and feebates can be added that pass some of this tax income back to citizens, to make it even better. A carbon tax thus added to the carbon coin was said by Chen and others to be a crucial feature of the plan. When both taxes and carbon coins were applied together, the modeling and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
If the dozen biggest central banks agreed to do it together, it would go. But that’s true of almost anything! Mary exclaimed. What’s the minimum you think it would need to succeed? Said, Any central bank could experiment with it. Best would be the US, China, and the EU. India might be the most motivated to go it alone, they’re still very anxious to get carbon out of the air fast. But the more the merrier, as always.
Explained how the central banks could simply publish the rate of return that they planned to pay out in the future, no matter what. Investors would therefore have a sure thing, which they would love. It would be a way to go long, and to securitize their more speculative bets. The stick, the carbon tax, also needed to rise over time. With that tax rate and its angle of increase published in advance, and a long-term rate of return guaranteed for investing in carbon coins, one could then calculate the cost of burning carbon, and the benefits of sequestering it.
If the central banks announced they were upping the amount of carbon needed to earn a coin, they could then balance it with other safe asset classes like treasury bonds and infrastructure bonds. That would add liquidity and give traders something about this that they could short, which is something they like to do. Agreed this might be good. Mary said, Could we issue these carbon coins ourselves from the ministry? Shook head. You have to be able to buy them all back at some floor rate, to make people believe in them. We might not have the reserves to do that.
The part of Antarctica that holds its ice the longest is near the middle, between the Transantarctics and an ice-submerged mountain range called the Gamburtsev Mountains. The Gamburtsevs are almost as high as the Alps, yet still completely buried by ice; they were only discovered by overflights using ice-penetrating radar. Between this newly discovered range and the Transantarctics there’s a flat plain, surrounded by mountains in such a way that scientists estimate the ice sitting on it won’t reach the coast for at least five thousand years. In other areas of the continent ice will get to the sea in the next couple of decades.
if sea level rise did increase in speed in any significant way, it would overwhelm any possible attempt to pump that water back up onto Antarctica or anywhere else. If it got as bad as even a centimeter a year, which could easily happen if things went south, ha ha, the amount of water in that rise would equal a cube roughly the size of the District of Columbia at its base, thus twice as tall as Everest. And moving that would take far more pipe than ever made in all history.
and the US Federal Reserve was no exception. It was a federal agency, therefore a public bank, but it was funded by private banks, at the same time that it oversaw them. It created money, being along with the Treasury the seigniorage function of the United States, and between that and setting interest rates it was thus responsible for the state of the US dollar, the strongest currency in the world, the currency every other currency was pegged to— the one everyone ran to whenever there was a currency scare of any kind. The money of last resort, so to speak. In this sense, a very crucial sense, the American empire was alive and well.
“I don’t see how we can get into the business of backing a currency that isn’t the US dollar,” she said when Mary was done. “The Federal Reserve exists to protect and stabilize the dollar, nothing else. That means stabilizing prices more generally, which means we pay attention to unemployment levels too, and try to help there as we can. So this idea is not really in our purview, and if we tried this new alternative currency and it somehow destabilized or harmed the status of the dollar, we would be worse than derelict in our duty.”
can’t just quantitatively ease your way to a rapid transition out of the carbon economy. It costs too much and it isn’t profitable, and if you tried to simply QE your way to paying for it, that would undercut the dollar even more than our plan. And yet something’s got to be done. It’s the vital work of our time. If we don’t fund a rapid carbon drawdown, if we don’t take the immense amount of capital that flows around the world looking for the highest rate of return and redirect it into decarbonizing work, civilization could crash. Then the dollar will be weak indeed.” Yablonski nodded, grimly amused. “If the world ends, the dollar is in trouble. But aside from that contingency, we’re here to defend it in the ways we’ve been given.
The technocratic elite at its most elite: financiers. Mary thought of her group back in Zurich. It was composed of experts in the various fields involved in the matter, people with all kinds of expertise, many of them scientists, all with extensive field experience of one sort or another.
Power was entrenched— but that phrase caught just a hint of the situation— actually the trenches were foundations that went right to the center of the earth. They could not be changed. The meeting dragged to a close. Time to get a drink. Nothing had happened.
I still hate them for not seeing me. For looking me in the eye while they put food on my outstretched plate, and yet never seeing. I try not to but I hate them. Just as I hate everything else in this life. No one likes to feel gratitude. Gratitude is recommended by the clerics but I say no one likes it, no one. Not even the clerics. They go into their trade in order never to be in a position to have to feel it. They receive our gratitude as they receive our pain, but they never have to give gratitude themselves. Or only in their professional capacity as our receptacles of feeling and of meaning, our representatives to God or whomever. No, I don’t like clerics either.
in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, and there, after three weeks of meetings, they published recommendations that when ratified by the member governments resulted in the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development,
John Maynard Keynes, the chief British negotiator, also suggested at Bretton Woods that they found an International Clearing Union, which would make use of a new unit of currency to be called a bancor. The purpose of the bancor would be to allow nations with trade deficits to be able to climb out of their debts by calling on an overdraft account with the ICU that would allow them to spend money to employ more citizens and thus create more exports. Nations making use of their overdraft would be charged 10 percent interest on these bancor loans, which could not be traded for ordinary currencies, or by individuals.
with large trade surpluses would also be charged 10 percent interest on these surpluses, and if their credit exceeded an allowed maximum at the end of the year, the excess would be confiscated by the ICU. Keynes thus hoped to create an international balance of trade credit which would keep countries from becoming either too poor or too wealthy.
White, the assistant secretary of the US Treasury and the chief American negotiator, said of this plan, “we have taken the position of absolutely no.” As the world’s biggest creditor and holder of gold by far, the US was in a position to enter the postwar period as the sole owner of the major global currency, the US dollar, which was to be backed by gold reserves. White proposed an International Stabilization Fund, which would place the burden of debt firmly on deficit nations; this later became part of the World Bank. So at Bretton Woods, White’s plan prevailed over Keynes’s,
1694: Charles II and William III had been borrowing money from private banks and not paying them back, or else levying taxes on all kinds of activities to be able to afford to make their debt payments, and thus making life more expensive for everyone, except for the royals involved, who were less and less liable for their profligate spending. So a Scottish merchant, William Patterson, proposed that 1,268 creditors lend the English king 1.2 million pounds for a guaranteed rate of interest of eight percent, and once William III signed off on that, a big piece of the system of the current world fell into place.
capitalizing of state power now had its roots in private wealth; thus the rich and the state became co-dependents, two aspects of the same power structure. After that, the Bank of England became the mechanism by which the financing of the state apparatus was monopolized by a small group of wealthy tradespeople, and the shift from feudal land power to bourgeois money power was complete. The state from then on was always indebted to private wealth, and so relied on the good will of particular private individuals, who were unelected and unrepresentative of anyone but their own class, and yet were inserted right into the heart of state power.
wasn’t going to happen. The bankers were useless. They would look at each other and see the mutual lack of enthusiasm in their peers, and hide behind that. If the world cooked and civilization fell apart, it wouldn’t be their fault, even though they were funding the disaster every step of the way. Something was going to have to make them do it. The “structural adjustment programs” enforced by the World Bank on the developing countries caught in the debt crises at the end of the twentieth century set the conditions for what became the world order
unlike the older empires in that it did not insist on ownership of its economic colonies; it only owned their debts and their profits, no more than that. The best empire yet, in terms of efficiency, and the neoliberal order was all about efficiency, in its purest economic definition: the speed and frictionlessness with which money moved from the poor to the rich. So there was a reason it was called the Washington Consensus. Its SAP requirements, made of any country that wanted a bail-out in the form of further loans, came only by adhering to the following conditions:
reduction in public spending; tax reforms, especially reducing taxes on corporations; privatization of state-owned enterprises; market-based interest and currency exchange rates, with no government controls on these; a set of strong investor rights, so investors could no longer be given haircuts (the long hair provisions, so-called); and the massive deregulation of everything: market activities, business practices, labor and environmental protections.
though these structural adjustment programs were widely criticized, and judged a failure by some analysts at the end of the twentieth century, they were the template for dealing with the EU crises in the small southern countries, and were inflicted on Greece in full to scare Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and Italy, not to mention the new EU countries from eastern Europe, at the prospect of what the EU (meaning in this case France and Germany) would do to them if they tried to create and hew to a line of their own.
Just as America had conquered the world by way of finance rather than arms, Germany had conquered Europe using the same methods— in some cases, using even the same capital. Because Germany had been very good at being a client state of America though the course of the Cold War. Now that the Cold War was over and Germany was in economic terms stronger than Russia, it could detach itself from the US a bit, cleverly pretending to be a client when it was convenient, but by and large pursuing its own course.
China’s central bank, the richest of them all, had four trillion US dollars in assets. All the central banks combined held about fifteen trillion in assets. The world’s annual business, the GWP, was eighty trillion a year, and in the depths of the high-frequency dark pools, something like three trillion dollars got traded every day. Even admitting that these last were in some senses fictional dollars, it was still very clear: the market was bigger than all the nation-states put together.
Even if market and state were two parts of a single system, that single system was ruled by law; and the laws were made by the nation-states; they could therefore change the laws, that was sovereignty, that was where seigniorage and legitimacy and ultimately social trust and value resided. The market was constructed by, and parasitic on, that structure of laws. The market can buy the laws, one of them suggested. The market is impervious to law, another added. It is its own law, it is human nature, it is the way of the world.
It’s just a legal system. We change laws every day. Central banks only exist to stabilize currencies and prices, to curb inflation and keep interest rates a viable tool for that. Mary said, Together the central banks often advise their legislatures to change tax levels as needed to stabilize money. That means changing the laws. Legislatures do what they want. Mary said, Legislatures pass financial laws that the central banks tell them to pass. They’re scared of finance, they let their quants write the laws in that realm. If you advised it, they would do it. Especially if you advised them to increase their own power over finance!
Russia’s central bank was almost as much a state operation as China’s. Half of its profits went to the Russian state, by constitutional design. It owned sixty percent of Sberbank, the country’s largest commercial bank, and one hundred percent of the country’s national reinsurance company. Their central bankers were very intent on protecting Russian interests above all. It
Globalization was many things— including a reality, in that they all lived on one shared planet in which borders were historical fantasies— but it was also a form of Americanization, of soft power imperialism combined with economic dominance, in that the US still had seventy percent of the capital assets of the world secured in its banks and companies, even though it had only five percent of the world’s population.
the heat wave, which was now said to have killed twenty million. As many people, in other words, as soldiers had died in World War One, a death toll which had taken four years of intensely purposeful killing; and the heat wave had taken only two weeks. It somewhat resembled the Spanish flu of 1918 to 1920, they said; but not. Not a pathogen, not genocide, not a war; simply human action and inaction, their own action and inaction, killing the most vulnerable. And more would surely follow,
And yet still they burned carbon. They drove cars, ate meat, flew in jets, did all the things that had caused the heat wave and would cause the next one. Profits still were added up in a way that led to shareholder dividends. And so on. Everyone alive knew that not enough was being done, and everyone kept doing too little. Repression of course followed, it was all too Freudian, but Freud’s model for the mind was the steam engine, meaning containment, pressure, and release. Repression thus built up internal pressure, then the return of the repressed was a release of that pressure. It could be vented or it could simply blow up the engine.
invisible matter, we don’t know them or what’s going on there. Presumably its individual constituent elements are something like me, but maybe not; no one knows. All that stuff flies around as if in a parallel universe slightly overlapping ours, maybe just waves, in any case gravity works on it for sure, because its very existence has been revealed to us by its gravitation effects. If we are similar to those dark-matterinos, it is in the way that light and dark are similar. Two parts of a whole, perhaps. I am visible, I embody light itself; dark matter is not actually dark, it is invisible, and we don’t know how or what it is. Our absent self, our shadow, our twin. Although there are a lot more of them than us, maybe.
Mary hunkered down in the wan light of winter Zurich, meeting daily with her team to plot their next moves. The whole baker’s dozen gathered in the mornings to share the news and plan the day, the week, the decade. It was like a war room now, yes, and their work felt like war work. Not war, however; there was no opponent, or if there was, it consisted of fellow citizens with a lot of money and/or passion. If it was war, they were outgunned and on the defensive; but really it was mostly just discursive struggle, a war of words and ideas and laws, which only had brutal death-dealing consequences as a derivative effect that could be denied by aggressors on both sides.
a body politic punching itself over and over. In any case, war or not, it had that same besieged awful feeling of existential danger, of stark emergency that never went away. The large number of people living rough in Zurich, busking for change, looking for work, or worse, not looking for work; that never got ordinary. It was not a Zuri thing. Nevertheless, Mary’s life settled into a routine that was, she had to admit, almost pleasant. Or at least absorbing. Busy; possibly productive. There were worse things than having a project in hand that felt crucial.
The fossil fuels industry’s lawyers were getting more and more interested to learn how much they could extort from the system if they chose to sequester their asset. This was by no means a trivial topic, indeed it was a crucial matter, and Mary entered into it with great interest. To a certain extent it felt to her like she was negotiating to buy off terrorists who had explosive vests strapped around their waists, and were saying to her and to the world at large, pay us or we blow up the world.
their threat was hollowing by the day, which explained why they were talking to her at all; their leverage as terrorists, with the biosphere as their hostage, was lessening. And as the Ministry for the Future was one place where they might be able to negotiate a settlement, they were coming to Zurich to bargain. Then also, they were not terrorists. It was an analogy, maybe a bad one, or at least a partial one. Civilization needed electricity, and it was citizens who had powered themselves on these fossil fuels for the last couple of centuries. The owners of these fuels were sometimes private individuals who had gotten fantastically rich, but many times they were nation-states that had claimed ownership of the fuels found within their boundaries as assets of the state and its citizenry.
Maybe it was just psychological rather than economic, but people liked to be paid for doing things more than they liked avoiding having to pay for something. There was a mental difference between carrots and sticks, no matter if the numbers were the same in a ledger. With the one you got fed, with the other you got hit. They simply were not the same.
in terms of making a carrot: the oil industry had equipment and an expertise that could be adapted from pumping oil to pumping water. And pumping water was much easier. This was good, because if they were going to try to pump some of the ocean’s water up onto Antarctica, the pumping effort was going to be prodigious. Even if they confined their efforts to draining the water from under the big glaciers, a lot of pumps would be needed. So the oil industry needed to stop pumping oil, for the most part, but they could be hired to pump water.
The fossil fuel lawyers and executives looked interested when this was proposed to them. The privately owned companies saw a chance of escaping with a viable post-oil business. The state-owned companies looked interested at the idea of compensation for their stranded assets, which they had already borrowed against, in the usual way of the rampant reckless financialization which was the hallmark of their time. Paid to pump water from the ocean up to some catchment basin? Paid to pump CO2 into the ground? Paid how much? And who would front the start-up expenses?
we’ll sue you if you don’t. And you do have it. You can pay the upfront costs of the transition, and if you invest in that, we’ll pay you in a guaranteed currency that is backed by all the central banks of the world to increase in value over time. As an aspect written into the currency itself. A sure bet no matter what happens. Unless civilization crashes. Yes. You can short civilization if you want. Not a bad bet really. But no one to pay you if you win. Whereas if you go long on civilization, and civilization (therefore) survives, you win big. So the smart move is to go long.
“The AI group is making open source instruments that mimic the functions of all the big social media sites.” “So people can shift over to this new set?” “Yes. And it will protect their data for them using quantum encryption.”
For everyone else, using these sites means they’ll control their data, rather than it being used and mined. That privacy can then be a resource to them. They can sell their personal data if they want. That plus the security of encryption, and the public ownership of these sites as a commons, should be enough to entice every user on the planet to shift. Publicize it, make it easy, set a date, be ready to handle the influx, boom.” “How many do you think will shift?” “Maybe half. After a few years, everybody.” “So, the decapitation of Facebook.” “And all the rest like it.” “Replaced by a system owned by its users, in effect.”
it will serve as the operating platform for ICU.” “Which means,” Mary prompted, playing along. “International Credit Union. A people’s bank. The team has set that up too. Lots of bank mirroring, and credit unions are already a thing. This won’t be quite like a credit union, because it would be an open network of people who make a distributed issuance of credit, issuing carbon coin fractions to each other on proof of good action on carbon. People deposit their savings and create new value in a customer- and employee-owned distributed ledger. Their bank, as one function of their YourLock account. It invests mindfully as a group mind, a kind of planetary mind, that has to always be funding biosphere-friendly activities. Also, a place to go if everyone removes their deposits from current private banks at the same time. Those banks are so over-leveraged that they will immediately crash. Then individuals have to have a safe harbor.
for any planned attack on private banks, best to have a safe harbor ready. Then you can tell the legislatures to approve central banks’ bail-out QE, but only on condition of buying equity in them.” “Nationalizing the banks, you mean.” “Yes, but that puts it too simply. Central banks take possession of private banks, having saved them from bankruptcy or death. Good as far as it goes, but legislatures also need to take possession of their own central banks, by increasing political control of them. It’s a double action. You need both.”
modern times: we had to get out into the streets day after day, week after week, and talk to ordinary people in their cars stuck in traffic, or walking past us on the sidewalks and metro platforms. We had to do that work like any other kind of work. It wasn’t a party, it wasn’t even a revolution. At least when we started. But soon we saw that people wanted to talk to us. They all knew they were being used, that they were just tools now.
No one had to direct us. It was Trotsky who said the party is always trying to keep up with the masses. Strategy comes from below and tactics from above, not the reverse, and I think that’s what happened here, some trigger or combination of triggers, the extinction of some river dolphin, or another refugee boat going down offshore, who knows, maybe just lost jobs, but suddenly we were all headed to Paris together, often on foot when the highways jammed.
back in yellow vests talking to people driving by in the roundabouts, and there is a lot of support for what we say. One driver when the traffic had stopped leaned out his window and said to me, Look it’s all about how we treat the land, the revolution will happen there. Another man said I don’t own my kids’ teacher, I don’t own my doctor, I don’t need to own my house. I just want to pay the collective for it, not some landlord. So maybe someday the solidarity will overcome the splitting. I hope so. During the occupation I didn’t want reform, I wanted something entirely new. Now I’m thinking if we can just get the fundamentals working, it would be good. A start to something better.
The dead hand of the past clutches us by way of living people who are too frightened to accept change. So we don’t change, and one hard thing now is to go through a time like that, like ours during Paris, two hundred days of a different life, a different world, and then live on past that time in the still bourgeoisified state of things, without feeling defeated. For a time everything seemed possible, you felt free. You feel things so intensely when you’re young, and really it’s the first time I spoke to the world, the first time I wasn’t just the stupid kid in school, but a real person with a real life. Those seven months made me, and I’ll never forget it, never be the same. I only hope to live long enough to see it happen again. Then I’ll be happy. 56
If we convince a signatory nation to go to the World Trade Organization and file a complaint to the effect that destroying the biosphere contravenes WTO rules against predatory dumping and the like, this is so tenuous and slow as to be useless. — Meanwhile the fossil fuel companies keep pouring vast sums into buying elections, politicians, media, and public opinion. Even when they come to the table to negotiate with us, they never stop these other aggressive actions. Because the best defense is a good offense. — This last is true for us as well as for them. Mary
They spoke enthusiastically of carbon-negative agriculture, clean energy, fleets of sailing ships, fleets of airships, carbon-based materials created from CO2 sucked out of the air and replacing concrete; thus direct air capture of CO2, a necessary component of the drawdown effort, would provide most construction materials going forward. Cheap clean desalination, clean water, 3-D printed houses, 3-D printed toilets and sewage, universal education, vastly expanded medical schools and medical facilities. Landscape restoration, habitat corridors, ag/habitat combinations—
you could literally fill a medium-sized encyclopedia with the good new projects already invented and waiting to scale. “Admitted; there’s no end to the good projects we could fund, if we had the funds. But what should we be telling national governments to do now?”
“Set increasingly stringent standards for carbon emissions across the six biggest emitting sectors, and pretty soon you’re in carbon-negative territory and working your way back to 350.” “The six biggest emitters being?” “Industry, transport, land use, buildings, transportation, and cross-sector.” “Cross-sector?” “Everything not in the other five. The great miscellaneous.” “So those six would be enough.” “Yes. Reduce those six in the ten biggest economies, and you’re hitting eighty-five percent of all emissions. Get the G20 to do it, and it’s essentially everything.”
Carbon pricing, industry efficiency standards, land use policies, industrial process emissions regulations, complementary power sector policies, renewable portfolio standards, building codes and appliance standards, fuel economy standards, better urban transport, vehicle electrification, and feebates, which was to say carbon taxes passed back through to consumers. In essence: laws. Regulatory laws, already written and ready to go.
had done something similar. Really there were no mysteries here, in either the nature of the problem or the solutions. “And yet it’s not happening,” Mary observed. They regarded her. There is resistance to it happening, they reminded her. “Indeed,” she said. They were caught in a maze. They were caught in an avalanche, carrying them down past a point from which there would be no clawing back. They were losing. Losing to other people, people who apparently didn’t see the stakes involved.
It wasn’t going to happen from the top. The lawmakers were corrupt. So, if not top-down, then bottom-up. Like a whirlwind, as some put it. Whirlwinds rose from the ground— although conditions aloft enabled that to happen. People, the multitude. Young people? Not just congregating to demonstrate, but changing all
“People who have it all, who don’t want anything, they’re lost. If you want something and your work gets you closer to it, that’s the only happiness.”
“I think we need a new religion.” She stared at him, surprised. “Really?” He turned his gaze on her. “Well, maybe it’s not a new religion. An old religion. Maybe the oldest religion. But back among us, big time. Because I think we need it. People need something bigger than themselves. All these economic plans, always talking about things in terms of money and self-interest— people aren’t really like that. They’re always acting for other reasons than that. For other people, basically. For religious reasons. Spiritual reasons.”
we would need a wide spreading zone; at a meter thick, that would be about a third of Antarctica. Not going to happen, no way in the world. We had firmly established a trifecta of impossibilities: not enough energy, not enough pipe, not enough land. So the straight-up seawater pumping solution wasn’t going to work. It was a fantasy solution. The beaches of the world were fucked.
We needed to go back to the plan to pump water out from under the big glaciers, to drop them back on rock beds to slow them down.
If sea level rises even a meter, all the beaches in the world are gone, and seaports and coastal infrastructures and salt marshes and you name it. And as Hansen and his team pointed out in their 2016 paper, if the rate of rise doubles every ten years, quickly you are fucked, all the coastal cities of the world devastated, damage in the quadrillions, if you think you can put a price on it. What’s the monetary value of human civilization? Trying to answer that question proves you are a moral and practical idiot. Well, economists make such calculations all the time, but that’s their job, and they think it makes sense. In this case, better just to throw up your hands and say civilization is effectively a fiscal infinity, a human infinity.
At first his congregation was not impressed by him. He had only one eye as a result of the war, he read verses in a monotone, he seemed distant and tentative. One can wonder if he was shell-shocked, or a bit on the spectrum as we would say now. It took him a few years of quiet listening to his people to come to a determination of how he might help them best. Before the war the area had supported some light industry which had not returned. Father José María wondered if they could start something up again, and as part of that, he helped them to organize a polytechnic school, now known as Mondragón University.
it provided enough engineering support to bootstrap the expertise to begin a few manufacturing businesses again, starting with paraffin burners. And on his suggestion, and with his help, these were organized from the start as employee-owned cooperatives. This mode of organization was in the Basque tradition of regional solidarity, a manifestation of that precapitalist, even pre-feudal gift economy of the ancient Basque, which goes back as far as can be determined, into the time before written history.
these cooperatives thrived in Mondragón, and a complex of them has been growing there ever since. Eventually they included the town’s banks and credit unions, also its university and insurance company. These worker-owned enterprises became a kind of co-op of co-ops, which now forms the tenth largest corporation in Spain, with assets in the billions of euros and yearly profits in the millions. The profits don’t get shifted out as shares to shareholders, but are rather divided three ways, with a third… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
wage ratio between management’s top salary and the minimum level of pay is set at three to one, or sometimes five to one, or at most nine to one. All the businesses and enterprises adhere to the cooperative principles formalized later by the larger worldwide cooperative movement, of which Mondragón is somewhat the jewel in the crown: open admission, democratic organization, the sovereignty of labor, the instrumental and subordinate nature of capital,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
if these principles were to be applied seriously everywhere, they would form a political economy entirely different from capitalism as generally practiced. They make a coherent set of axioms that would lead… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
an alternative to capitalism, more humane, what you might even call a Catholic political economy, not only is possible, but has existed and thrived for a century, and is still going strong. There have also been moments of crisis, as when recessions struck just at the moment that certain critical cooperatives had expanded, or when a manager absconded with an immense amount of money, causing severe cash flow problems. Still,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
There is solidarity and esprit de corps, and even in a world of intense competition, it makes a profit most years, enough for over a hundred thousand people to make a living from it and to give back to the general culture. There are other such enclaves around the world, and systems that while not as distinctive and whole, are yet somewhat like it. They survive, sometimes they thrive. The question is, to put it in the dominant vocabulary of our time, could they… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
company was nothing. It was just an organization devised to help its employee-owners, nothing more.
unceasing discourse demanding the official governments respond to the needs of their people rather than to the needs of global capital; and the governments involved had to face either siccing their police and militaries on their own people, or waiting out the occupations for what could be months, or actually changing in the ways demanded. Time to dismiss the people and elect another one!
climate change caused by carbon dioxide and methane released to the atmosphere; knock-on effects very close to releasing vastly larger quantities of CO2 and methane, now cached in the Arctic permafrost and the ocean’s continental shelves; oceans unable to uptake more CO2 and heat; rate of extinctions already as high as at any time in Earth’s history, in terms of actual speed of extinctions per century, thus set now to match the Permian in terms of total percentage of species gone from the land, which was ninety percent; subsequent to that coming extinction, inevitable famine, dislocation, and war— possibly nuclear war— leading to the destruction of civilization; impossibility of insuring against such an eventuality, or clawing back from it. Irreversible and unfixable catastrophe.
ultimately, as a result of all these converging factors, Mary concluded at the end of her team’s presentations, they were facing the impossibility of stabilizing inflation rates and employment rates as the climate heated up. The specific principal tasks that central banks were charged with could no longer be fulfilled if the climate emergency got out of hand. In other words, central banks would fail in their principal tasks if they did not save the civilization that had charged them with those tasks. And
it was true that full employment would always remain a key objective for them, she finished, it wasn’t such a victory if the remnant of humanity that survived the crash ended up working as scavengers and peasant farmers. That wasn’t the kind of full employment that the world had in mind when central banks were created.
They would issue together a single new currency, coordinated through the BIS: one coin per ton of carbon-dioxide-equivalent sequestered from the atmosphere, either by not burning what would have been burned in the ordinary course of things, or by pulling it back out of the air. They promised to establish a floor in the value of this carbon coin, which exposed them to great danger from speculators trying to scare money out of the plan; and they foretold a rise in the value of the currency over the coming decades. By doing these things they made this investment a sure thing, assuming civilization itself survived.
Then nothing happened. This, Mary thought as the days and weeks after the meeting passed, was beginning to look like a pattern. They were only really doing things to try to ameliorate the situation they were falling into after it was too late for those things to succeed. They kept closing the barn door after the horses were out, or after the barn had burned down. At that point their actions, which a few years or decades earlier might have been quite effective, weren’t enough. Maybe even close to useless. Over and again it was a case of too little too late, with nothing stronger anyone could think of to apply to the worsening situation.
Götterdämmerung Syndrome, as with most violent pathologies, is more often seen in men than women. It is often interpreted as an example of narcissistic rage. Those who feel it are usually privileged and entitled, and they become extremely angry when their privileges and sense of entitlement are being taken away. If then their choice gets reduced to admitting they are in error or destroying the world, a reduction they often feel to be the case, the obvious choice for them is to destroy the world; for they cannot admit they have ever erred. Narcissism is generally regarded as the result of a stunted imagination, and a form of fear.
the other is too fearful to register, and thus the individual death of the narcissist represents the end of everything real; as a result, death for the narcissist becomes even more fearful and disastrous than it is for people who accept the reality of the other and the continuance of the world beyond their individual end. Even the night sky frightens the narcissist, as presenting impossible-to-deny evidence of a world exterior to the self. Narcissists therefore tend to stay indoors, live in ideas, and demand compliance and assent from everyone they come in contact with, who are all regarded as servants, or ghosts. And as death approaches, they do their best to destroy as much of the world as they can.
now, join the carbon coin. Gather the rich small nations into a working group. Help get us to the next world system. New metrics, new kinds of value creation. Make the next political economy. Invent post-capitalism! The world needs it, it really has to happen. And you’ve got to change your banks now anyway, to recover from this attack. So change them for good. Make them better.
Once John Maynard Keynes wrote of “the euthanasia of the rentier class.” This is a very provocative, not to say ominous, phrase. Euthanasia was a 1930s euphemism, one of many phrases used in that period to refer to state-sponsored execution of any perceived political rivals. A century later it still sounds deadly. But it appears that Keynes used the word only to mean something like putting some poor creature out of its misery by a relatively painless procedure.
in literal translation, euthanasia means something like “a good death.” Dictionary: “The painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma. The practice is illegal in most countries.” Mercy killing is one synonym. First use in written language is in Suetonius, describing the emperor Augustus’s “happy death.” First use in describing a medical practice is by Francis Bacon. Relief from suffering was crucial to the early connotation of the word.
it could be argued that the rentier class is not suffering, and in fact is happily engaged in eating up everything. A parasite killing its host by overindulgence is not suffering. In which case, really the rentier class needs to be executed. But perhaps it is overstating the case to compare the alteration of certain tax and inheritance laws to execution. Although possibly more than changes in tax and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
On the other hand, the name for a certain kind of fiscal decapitation is called taking a haircut, which clarifies just how minor and even trivial are most of the financial limitations on wealth that get considered in the neoliberal hegemony. Euthanasia: “For the good of the person killed.” Now this is interesting, because capitalism is not a person, and the rentier class as such, though made up of people, is not a person. And as a class it is suffering, one could argue,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
put this class out of its misery would be to relieve the individuals in that class from that horrible psychic burden, and possibly release them to a fuller happier life as guilt-free humans on a planet of equally guilt-free humans. Capitalism: after a long and vigorous life, now incurable, living in pain. In a coma; become a zombie; without a plan; without any hope of returning to health. So you put… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
“The rentier class.” Keynes meant by this the people who made money simply by owning something that others needed, and charging for the use of it: this is rent in its economic meaning. Rent goes to people who are not creators of value, but predators on the creation and exchange of value. So “the euthanasia of the rentier class” was Keynes’s way of trying to describe a revolution without revolution… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
He did not suggest ending capitalism; just end rent, and rentiers. Although that very well might come to the same thing in the end. He might have been using a euphemism to conceal the shock of his suggestion. A just civilization of eight billion, in balance with the biosphere’s production of the things we need; how would that look? What laws would create it? And how can we get there fast enough to avoid a mass extinction event? The rentier class will not help in that project. They are not interested in that… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
In the early 1950s, a time when many people felt that wealthy individuals had helped to cause and then profit from World War Two, the top tax bracket in the United States had earners paying in income tax 91 percent of all earnings over $400,000 (current value, four million dollars). This rate was approved by a Republican Congress and a Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man who had commanded the Allied forces in the war, and had seen the death and destruction first hand, including the concentration camps. Later these top rates were lowered, over and over, until in the neoliberal period top rates were more like 20 or 30 percent. In those decades the tax loopholes and dodges and deferments and havens also grew hugely,
already low percentages are actually inflated compared to the real amounts collected. Income taxes thus were made much less progressive; this was a feature of the neoliberal period, part of the larger campaign favoring private over public, rich over poor. Capital asset taxes, sometimes called Piketty taxes, tax the assessed value of whomever or whatever is being taxed. Usually these have been applied to corporations, but the same kind of tax can be applied to individuals. France taxed its corporations one percent of their assessed value per year, and if applied globally, the effects of such a tax could be very significant. These asset taxes too could be made progressive, such that the larger the corporation, or the assessed value of any asset, such as property, the higher the annual tax taken from it.
Land taxes, sometimes called Georgist taxes, after an economist named Henry George, are taxes on property, meaning in this case specifically land itself as an asset. Again, these land taxes could be set progressively such that larger properties, or more valuable properties by way of location, or land not lived on by its owner, got taxed at a higher rate. As a great deal of profit and liquid… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
land tax properly designed could again swiftly redistribute land ownership more widely, while quickly swelling government coffers in order to pay for public work, thus reducing economic inequality. A tax on burning fossil carbon, which could be called not a tax but rather paying the true cost, could be set progressively, or offset by feebates, to avoid harming the poorest who burn less carbon but also need to burn what they burn to live. A fossil carbon tax set high enough would create a strong incentive to quit… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Tax rates on the largest uses could be made prohibitive, in the sense of blocking all chance of profits being made from any derivative effects of these burns. If all fiat money everywhere went digital and got recorded in blockchains, so that its location and transaction history could be traced and seen by all, then illegal tax… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
fully considered and vigorous tax regime, using digital trackable currencies and instituted by all the nations on Earth by way of an international treaty brokered by the UN or the World Bank or some other international organization, could quickly stimulate rapid change in behavior… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
taxes are a legal instrument with a pedigree as long as civilization itself, its rates decided by legislatures and backed by the full force of the state, meaning ultimately the judiciary, police, and military. Taxes are legal, in other words, and accepted in principle and used by all modern societies. So, targeted changes to the tax laws— would that… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
orders: these missiles couldn’t be stopped. They were small, they launched from mobile launchers, they came from all directions in a coordinated attack in which they only congregated at their target in the last few seconds of their flights. They did not give off radioactive signals, and thus could be hidden until the moment of launch. And they were relatively cheap. After you launched them, they flew at about a thousand miles an hour. That and the fact they only coalesced to their mob moment in the last seconds before impact was enough to forestall any realistic defense against them. They were lethally explosive
drones that had brought down all the planes on Crash Day. Aircraft carriers? Sunk. Bombers? Blown out of the sky. An oil tanker, boom, sunk in ten minutes. One of America’s eight hundred military bases around the world, shattered. Death and chaos, and no one findable to blame. The war on terror? It lost. Either everyone’s happy or no one is safe. But we’re never happy. So we’ll never be safe. Or put it this way: Either every culture is respected, or no one is safe. Either everyone has dignity or no one has it. Because why? Because this: A private jet owned by a rich man— boom. A coal-fired power plant in China
these pebble mobs were definitely complex military devices, not something you could cook up in your garage. They were nation-state devices, in effect, made for fairly big and sophisticated militaries by fairly advanced aerospace and computer companies, then sold or given to smaller actors. So, after the Interpol meetings, a rumor began to circulate that it was in Russia where the Arabian coup against the Saudi royal family had been planned. But wait, why would the Russians be party to that? Because with Arabian oil off the table, and then Brazilian oil too, Russian oil was that much more valuable.
Pebble mobs might even be a force for good, because now war was rendered impossible. It was mutual assured destruction, not of civilian populations, but of war machinery. An end to the twentieth-century concept of total war,
developing nations could. Much of this call for “climate equity” was spelled out in Article 2 of the Paris Agreement. Clause 2 of Article 2 states, “This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.” Article 9’s clause 1 repeats this principle: developed nations are to assist developing nations, they can and should do more than developing nations.
If you give up on sentences you end up in a world of gangsters and thieves and naked force, hauled into the street at night to be clubbed or shot or jailed.
Many of them were now arguing that all the young people on Earth, and all the generations of humans in the centuries to come, and all their cousin creatures on the planet who could never speak for themselves, especially in court— all these living beings added up to something like a poor and vulnerable developing nation, a huge one, appearing inexorably over the horizon of time. These new citizens were young and weak, in many cases utterly helpless. And yet they had rights too, or should have rights; and under the Paris Agreement’s equity clauses, which every nation had signed, one could argue that they had rights equivalent to those of a developing nation. And without quick and massive efforts from the Annex One
the developed world, the “old rich” countries, that giant new developing nation’s development, even its very existence, looked less and less likely. So the COP meetings had to keep insisting on equity as a fundamental value and policy. Which meant that support for the Subsidiary Body popularly known as the Ministry for the Future should continue to be supported in full.
African Union backing all nationalizations in Africa, means a united front toward China, World Bank, all outside forces. Africa for Africans the fastest growing party in every country there. Pressure on Nigeria in particular to claim the carbon coin like Arabia and Brazil. Doing so could fund a lot of other things. Basic infrastructure and education, then more. Possession of oil now seen as a curse to be exorcised. Chance here to help leverage good change. Africa led by Africans.
Antarctica. Test projects pumping water out from under glaciers getting positive results. Pine Island Glacier slowed from hundreds of meters a year to tens of meters. We should help scale this up, support it fully. 60 Antarctic glaciers, 15 Greenland glaciers. Big push, but amazing cost-benefit. Bang for buck. Let’s do it. M nodding.
The 4 per 1000 movement has made an accurate, uncomplicated, inexpensive test kit for year-by-year changes in carbon in the soil. Measurement now possible, need a whole army of certifiers to certify, then good to go. Mary: Anyone paying farmers for losses incurred in transition to new ag methods? Elena: No. No payers found. Mary: But this is perfect for carbon coins! Why shouldn’t they be getting carbon coins? Dick: The banks have to make it clear the carboni can be issued in fragments of a coin. Like carbon pennies.
What can we do to up the pressure on carbon burning? Dick: Get WTO to change rules in ways that penalize carbon burn of any kind. Up carbon taxes progressively. Publicize sabotage of petro now happening more and more frequently, this will encourage more sabotage copy-cat style. In short: arbitrage and sabotage.
Gaia citizenship, or what have you. Earth citizen, commons member, world citizen. One Planet. Mother Earth. All these terms used by people who are coming to think of themselves as part of a planetary civilization. Main sense of patriotism now directed to the planet itself.
A new structure of feeling, underlying politics as such. Global civilization transcending local differences. A different hegemony for sure. Shadow government plans are just one part of that larger movement. Like a software for a feeling. Mary: The global village. JA: Sort of. That’s an old name. Not really a village. Planetary consciousness, biospheric governance, citizen of Gaia, One Planet, Mother Earth, etc. More like that. Village not really the right word. Badim: It should be an explicit religion, like I’ve been saying. A call for devotion or worship.
Data mining tells us things we wouldn’t have known unless we did it. That could be called artificial intelligence, but it’s what we used to call science. What we have really is computer-assisted science. Best to call it that. It’s getting stronger. But we still have to figure out what to do with it. Main potential for advancement here is in human understanding—
there were headwinds. There were people screaming at you at meetings. There were men with guns foaming at the mouth, sick with the anticipation of shooting and killing some animal, any animal, such that their target might easily shift from wolf to man, if they thought they could get away with it. The situation had to be handled with a touch of delicacy.
Hedgerows often saved soil, they built soil, they were considered worth the land they took. Native plant strips, the same. No-till ag, the same. Habitat corridors had to be seen first as extensions of that kind of agriculture, done to increase soil building and soil resilience. Wide hedgerows were the wedge for this topic, the least objectionable innovation. Then the idea of wild animals had to be brought in as kind of pest control devices. Of course those who grazed domestic animals were not pleased, but since the mad cow disease scare in the previous decade, with its subsequent collapse of beef demand, there were simply far fewer domestic beasts out there to worry about. Hogs were enclosed, chickens were enclosed;
wolves would now mostly be eating tick-infested crop-eating deer; it was the deer who were the pests, deer who devastated crops! It was a matter of crop protection to have wild predators on the land! And you could even hunt them later on, if some culling was found necessary. Although making this argument was a bit disingenuous, as some of the more hotheaded among my colleagues were all for doing their culling by hunting the hunters. But we who were friendly Midwestern spokesperson types emphasized the pest control aspect of re-introducing wild animals,
were hurting bad. They were emptying out anyway. People could make more money ranching buffalo and tending wildlife sanctuaries than they could by farming. Those upper plains were never meant to be farmed, and people had learned that the hard way right from the start. Now all the young people were taking off and never coming back. What would make them stay? Wildlife protection! Especially when you could make a good living at it, better than the debt-ridden drought-stricken winter-blasted poisonous hardscrabble farming that people had been attempting for the previous two centuries. All that effort had gotten them nothing but a dust bowl and mounting debt, and kids moving away, and early death.
So the day came, and we alerted the press, and people showed up from all over the world. So many people wanted to march with us that there were more people than animals, and the animals were getting spooked, naturally. But we started up anyway, right after dawn, and hit the state line across a ten-mile front, like a World War One over-the-top assault. And it did look kind of over the top. Those poor animal murderers never had a chance. Actually quite a few of them stood their ground and shot a bunch of animals. Mostly deer, it turned out, as we had sent them out as scouts, poor guys. The first wave.
the day went about as well as we hoped. A few deer were killed, a few animal murderers and all-round jerks were embarrassed by the lame ways they had to stand down or slip away and pretend it had never happened. We even got good film of pick-up trucks driving away at speed, also of a duck hunter’s blind demolished in a charge of buffalo who didn’t even notice they had run something over. Cowboys did figure-eights and stood in their saddles and twirled their lassoes, sheepdogs nimbly nipped sheep through gates, and the images and stories went out worldwide. It was just one moment of the storm, but after that, habitat corridors were more of a thing.
Modern Monetary Theory was in some ways a re-introduction of Keynesian economics into the climate crisis. Its foundational axiom was that the economy works for humans, not humans for the economy; this implied that full employment should be the policy goal of the governments that made and enforced the economic laws. So a job guarantee (JG) was central to MMT’s ideas of good governance. Anyone who wanted a job could get one from the government, “the employer of last resort,” and all these public workers were to be paid a living wage, which would have the effect of raising the private wage floor also to that level, in order to remain competitive for workers.
reiterated Keynes’s point that governments did not experience debt like individuals did, because governments made money in the first place, and could create new money without automatically causing inflation; the quantitative easing (QE) after the 2008 crash demonstrated this price stability despite major infusions of new money. So MMT recommended robust stimulus spending in the form of carbon quantitative easing (CQE) as well as a job guarantee. Both were to be directed to the effort to decarbonize civilization and to get in a sustainable balance with the biosphere, humanity’s one and only support system.
if governments offered full employment then they were in effect setting the wage floor, and if that caused inflation and governments then stemmed that inflation with price controls, then government would be in effect setting both wages and prices, thus taking complete control of the economy, and at that point they might as well dispense with money entirely and go to the Red Plenty solution of computer-assisted production of everything needed; in other words, to communism.
the MMT crowd admitted they were proposing a move to a new political economy, rather than merely adjusting capitalism. It was not just Keynes Plus, nor just the ad hoc theory or rather praxis that had gotten them through the 2020 crash, nor just the theory or praxis that had bolstered and ultimately paid for the Green New Deal, that early shot in the War for the Earth. It was more than that: it was trying to think through how to do the needful in the biosphere’s time of crisis, while orthodox economics failed to rise to the occasion, and stayed focused in its old analysis of capitalism, as if capitalism were the only possible political economy, thus freezing economics as a discipline like a deer in the headlights of an onrushing car.
Many attacks now were on carbon burners, especially those rich enough to burn it conspicuously. Car races and private jets. Yachts and container ships. So now the terrorists involved were perhaps saboteurs, or even resistance warriors, fighting for the Earth itself. Gaia’s Shock Troops, Children of Kali, Defenders of Mother Earth, Earth First, and so on.
Who owned private jets anymore? There were blimps now that flew carbon negative, as the solar panels on their top sides collected more electricity than needed for the flight, so that they could microwave it down to receivers they passed over. Air travel could now also be power generation— so, a jet? No. If a few people got killed for flying, no one felt much sympathy. Fools conspicuously burning carbon, killed from out of the sky somehow? So what. Death from the sky had been the American way ever since Clinton and Bush and Obama, which was to say ever since it became technologically feasible.
The world was trembling on the brink, something had to be done. The state monopoly on violence had probably been a good idea while it lasted, but no one could believe it would ever come back. Only in some better time. Meanwhile hunker down. Try to stay lucky. Don’t fly on private jets, or maybe any kind of jet. It was like eating beef; some things were just too dangerous to continue doing. When your veggie burger tasted just as good, while your beef package proclaimed Guaranteed Safe! with a liability waiver in small print at the bottom, you knew a different time had come.
We know we all live in a village of eight billion neighbors. That’s our now. It’s all of us succeed or none of us is safe. So we take an interest in how the others are doing.” “If that’s all true.” “Isn’t it?” “I think a lot of people don’t do the global village part. Janus Athena says village is the wrong idea. And nationalism has come back big time. Your language is your family. Pull in the perimeter like that and it gets easier. You still get to have your us and them.”
In the United States, the National Students’ Union website showed that thirty percent of the union members had now responded YES to the union website’s standing poll asking them if they were in so much financial distress caused by their student debt that they would like to see the union initiate a fiscal non-compliance strike, by not paying their next debt payment. On joining the union, members had agreed to join any strike requested by thirty percent of the membership, so now the union coordinators called for a strike vote to be sure, and got an eighty percent yes vote, with ninety percent participation.
student food insecurity, meaning student hunger, was widespread, also student homelessness. So the strike began. Student debt was a trillion-dollar annual income stream for the banks, so this coordinated default meant that the banks were suddenly in cash-flow hell. And they were so over-leveraged, and thus dependent on all incoming payments being made to them on time to be able to keep paying their own debts, that this fiscal strike threw them immediately into a liquidity crisis
this time the Fed asked Congress to authorize their bailing out the banks in exchange for ownership shares in every bank that took the offer. This was either nationalizing finance or financializing the nation, in that now it was clearer than ever that the country was in effect run by the Fed. And since Congress ran the Fed, and people voted in members of Congress, maybe it was all beginning to work, somehow, because of this strike. Definancialization of a sort. End of neoliberalism.
that same month, the African Union informed the World Bank and the Chinese government that they were declaring all African debts to these organizations to be odious debts. All the national governments forming the African Union were together backing complete debt forgiveness, the haircut of haircuts, to be followed by a new set of agreements, negotiated by the African Union in collaboration with all the African nation-states. They called this the end of neoliberal neocolonialism, and the definitive start of Africa for Africans. Even Egypt and the rest of North Africa joined in on this, plumping for people over capital, continent over history,
Since money is an idea, a system based on social trust, when things go south, and trust disappears in a poof, then there simply isn’t as much money as there used to be. This was not shocking news to some; which was why much of the wealth on the planet was invested in property.
If public banks held the line somehow— perhaps by creating more money, by keeping all the private banks afloat by way of even more quantitative easing— then all might be well. Since some people had been pinning their hopes on the central banks anyway, this sudden onset of chaos and disorder was seen as an opportunity. Possibly the public could now insist on the right to be properly repaid for public money backing private banks, as they had been all along. Extract reparations from the profit takers; abolish profit if it was necessary to create the reparations. If the private banks objected, let them crash, then move to a fully nationalized financial system, owned by the public and used for the benefit of the people.
it felt like free fall. Inventing the parachute after leaping off the cliff. Which meant it had to be arranged fast. Thus the shadow government devised by the Ministry for the Future in Zurich, Switzerland, became one template for a new plan.
it was a rearrangement of various elements of old plans, in many ways. Mondragón, Kerala, MMT, blockchain, Denmark, Cuba, and so on: all the elements had been out there working all along. Which made the new methods easier to implement. Not complete revolution, no ten-day weeks with new names and so on, no dive into that revolutionary euphoria that tries to change everything at once. Just ownership adjustments. Numbers. Representations. Reversals in some valences of value. Improvisations. The sun still rose, plants kept growing.
everyone is the same, we all fuck up until we get lucky, if we do.
Then if you’re smart enough to see your luck and act on it, things can work out.
given these pebble mobs, maybe peaceful times are what we’ve got now, very fucked-up peaceful times, low-intensity asymmetric insurgency terroristical climate-refugee peaceful times. And in that kind of world, the surface fleet of the US Navy can serve to deploy protective services, and also emergency relief. Like the Swiss military over the last few centuries, its main function will be to bring disaster relief in coastal areas. A force-for-good,
Who is incentivized to do what in a wage ratio of one to a thousand? Those getting a thousand times more than starting wage earners, what’s their incentive from out of that situation? To hide, I’d say. To hide the fact that they don’t actually do a thousand times more than their employees. Hiding like that, they won’t be normal. They’ll be bullshitters. And for the lowest income folks, what’s their incentive? I’m not coming up with one right off the bat, but the ones that do eventually come to mind sound cynical or beat down or completely delusional. Like, I hope I win the lottery, or, I’m going to shoot up now, or, The world is so fucked.
Maybe incentive isn’t the word here. Disincentive, to keep it in that lingo. When you get one pay amount, and someone doing something easier gets a thousand of that pay amount, that’s a disincentive to care about anything. At that point you throw a rock through a window, or vote for some asshole who is going to break everything, which may give you a chance to start over, and if that doesn’t work then at least you have said fuck you to the thousand-getters. And so on.
what if the whole world ran more like the US Navy? What if the standard, or even the legally mandated, maximum wage ratio was set at say one to ten, being so easy to calculate? With the lowest level set high enough for life adequacy or decency or however you want to call it. Enough for a decent life. Which then, ten times that? That’s a lot! I mean think about it. Count it on your fingers and thumbs, seeing the enough amount on the tip of each digit, all ten stuck together at the end of your arms looking back at you. Enough times ten is fucking luxurious.
India Regenerative Agriculture job guarantee program. There was full employment in India now, and the work was hard but it was scientifically based too, and drawing carbon into the soil year by year in ways making them all safer. He worked with them planting corn and then repairing a terrace wall,
Grahasatya. Force peace. It changes it from a noun to a verb, maybe. And you are exerting that force for peace. The work that you do here helps save the world, it forces peace on the world. Keep at it.
he asked her about her refugee division and what they were doing. He said to her, There’s something like 140 million of them now, and growing all the time. That’s like the entire population of France and Germany combined. It’s as bad as it’s ever been. I know. You have to work up a plan all the governments will agree to, he told her. Have you looked at what happened at end of the world wars? There were millions of refugees wandering around starving. They put Fridtjof Nansen in charge of the problem after World War One, and he came up with a system they called Nansen passports, which gave refugees the right to go wherever they wanted to, free passage anywhere.
he took some of our soil and put it in a glass of water, swirled the water, then stopped and showed her how at the moment he stopped moving the glass, the water in it cleared almost immediately. All the grit and mud floating around sank to the bottom. You need to add compost, he told her. Organic material will float in water, but you can see you don’t have much of that. A good starting point.
Doing no-till agriculture is all very well, but first you need soil to not till. That takes first doing some serious turning over and plowing under, I’ll tell you; years of backbreaking work, in our case, and always pinched for cash, as we used everything I could afford to set aside to pay for various neighbors’ manure and crop waste. But shit to gold, as they say; we did all that. I drove him and he drove his workers, and we got some trees and perennials planted and left them alone, and during the harvests we harvested their usufruct with gratitude. We suffered a drought and a flood, but saw our land do a little better through those catastrophes than some of our neighbors’ properties did,
We grew most of what we ate, we grew some things to sell, and we put all we earned back into the land. My ox grumbled; who ever heard of growing a crop of dirt? Finally came a time when the team from the district office was coming through again to check carbon levels. The moment I heard I went down to the district office to sign up for it. Soon after that, the day came when the team, a different one of course, visited to make its evaluation of our little farm’s soil.
I think the bet that the super-rich will take a buy-out is turning out to be correct. For most of them, anyway. M: How can you tell? T: We’ve been trying it. Offer them fifty million they can count on, or endless prosecution and harassment, even a situation like mine, to stay safe. Many of them are taking the deal. M: This is legal? It sounds like extortion. T: There are legal forms for it. I’m just speaking plainly for your sake.
money into tax havens? T: We’ve killed those. That’s maybe the best thing about blockchain for fiat money— we know where it is. There aren’t any hiding places left. If you do manage to hide it, it isn’t really money anymore. Only money on the books has any real value now. The older stuff is like, I don’t know, doubloons. Real money, we know where it is and where it came from.
havens. We blockaded the last ones, got the WTO to declare them a disqualifier, all that. No. For individuals, if you want to stay rich in the current moneyscape, it’s best to take the haircut and accept your fifty million and walk. M: I guess it makes sense. T: Yes. Fifty million in the hand is worth a billion in the bush. Maybe it’s the rich who are most like homo economicus was supposed to be. They have all the information, they pursue rational self-interest, they try to maximize their wealth. But if a maximum level of wealth gets mandated by society, fighting that isn’t rational. Especially if you’ve got something like twenty times as much as you need to be secure.
back to the czar. T: Yes, that’s the bad response. We saw that with Putin. But the Soviet dream is better. We assume our past, use it to save the world. Mother Russia saves the day. M: I hope so. Someone’s got to do it. I don’t think America will. T: America! They are the rich person who has to accept owning just fifty million rather than infinity. They’ll be the last ones to come around.
A hundred thousand dollars of physical damage can leverage a hundred million dollars in lost asset value. Big pension funds notice there’s a problem and move their monster assets elsewhere, then endowments and trusts and universities and non-profits and hedge funds all notice the big dogs moving, and they try to get out of the house before it falls on their head. And suddenly a big famous corporation, which is also of course a legal person, has suffered something like a stroke, and is now lying there paralyzed in a hospital bed, on life support, his heirs arguing over who gets the last of his stuff.
there has to be a pre-existing Plan B. And it can’t be a secret plan, popped on the world in the time of chaos.
Plan B has to be a known plan, an open conspiracy known to all in advance, like the shadow government of an opposition party, putting out all its plans for citizens to consider and hopefully vote for. All of the proposals on the table and argued for. Step-by-step assembly instructions. Yes, this sounds like politics— because it is. Very depressing. A canonical example of how much the lack of a Plan B can hamstring a revolution is— well, pick any revolution you’ve ever heard of! They’re almost always spasms and so you get the usual spastic result, history as fuck-up, as pinball machine, as nightmare.
an example of how the lack of a Plan B can stop a revolution from even starting in the first place, despite the crying need for one, so it’s especially relevant for us now: meaning Greece and the failure to Grexit, back in the early years of the century.
The Greek people voted by a large majority to defy the Troika and refuse austerity. Syriza then promptly accepted austerity and the EU’s leash, going belly-up and begging for a bail-out. Why did Syriza do that, why did they betray the wishes of the people who elected them? Because they had no Plan B. What they needed at that moment was a plan that would get them out of the EU and back to the drachma. They would have needed IOUs of some sort to stand in and do the job of money while they printed new drachmas and made all the other necessary changes as they transitioned back to a country in control of its own currency and sovereignty.
there were people in Syriza working furiously to design that Plan B, which they called Plan X, but this turned out to be a case of too little too late, as they couldn’t convince their colleagues in government to risk trying it. So, in the absence of such a plan ready to be enacted, Syriza had to cave to the EU and global finance. It was that or chaos, which could have meant starvation. People in Greece were already hungry as it was; unemployment was 25 percent, 50 percent for the young, and the austerity regime already imposed earlier by the Troika meant there was no money for basic social services, for relief.
starvation and chaos— those were their only choices, because they hadn’t made a Plan B. This time, our time, when the whole thing broke all over the world, there had to be a Plan B. What was it? Big parts of it have been there all along; it’s called socialism. Or, for those who freak out at that word, like Americans or international capitalist success stories reacting allergically to that word, call it public utility districts. They are almost the same thing. Public… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
necessities are food, water, shelter, clothing, electricity, health care, and education. All these are human rights, all are public goods, all are never to be subjected to appropriation, exploitation, and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
but even if you feel you have some, it’s probably feeling pretty compromised at best. So: public ownership of the necessities, and real political representation. Details can be arranged on a case-by-case basis, and even though the devil is in the details, they are still details, a matter of making the pieces of… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
the Mondragón system, Albert and Hahnel’s participatory economics, communism, the Public Trust plan, the What’s Good Is What’s Good for the Land plan, the various post-capitalisms, and so on and so forth; there are lots of versions of a Plan B, but they all share basic features. It’s not rocket science. The necessities are not for sale and not for profit. One scary thing, there has to still be money, or at least some exchange or allocation system that people trust, which… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
in the crux, when things fall apart, something from the old system has to be used to hang the new system on, hopefully something big and solid. Without that it’s castles in air time, and all will collapse into chaos. So yes: money, meaning central banks, meaning the nation-state system. It’s a social agreement, nothing more. This is what makes it so creepy. It’s like being hypnotized; you have to agree to it for it to work. So we are all hypnotized in a giant dream we… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Now, everyone knows everything. No one on the planet is ignorant of the real conditions of our shared social existence. That’s one real thing those stupid smartphones have done; you can be illiterate, many are, and still have an excellent idea of how the world works. You know the world is spinning toward catastrophe. You know it’s time to act. Everyone knows everything. The invisible hand never picks up the check. The money is already here, it just isn’t evenly… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
occupation, non-compliance, general strike: breakdown. Now it’s time for Plan B. Time to act— as in, act of parliament. It will be legislation that does it in the end, creating a new legal regime that is fair, just, sustainable, and secure. Public utility districts, state-owned (meaning citizen-owned) enterprises, cooperative enterprises, real political representation, and so on. We… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
financial decapitation. As part of altering the investment climate further, their staffs had written up draft legislation to propose to their governments several related reforms, including strong currency controls; attacking and eliminating tax havens; shifting all money from cash to digital forms tracked by blockchain technologies; and mounting the pressure on carbon by way of increased taxation and regulation.
Outlawing dark pools and killing them off. Putting significant delays in high-frequency trading. Creating high-frequency trading taxes big enough to get trading back to human speed. Calculating basic necessities needed and providing these gratis to under-served communities.
Creation of a commons for every necessity. Also, simply the legal requirement that private businesses be employee-owned. Mary shook her head skeptically as she listened, but she was smiling too, thinking that now the baton had passed to this woman. A woman with real power, huge power. We’ll back you, she said happily. Take the lead and we’ll back you.
They helped her to organize the coming COP as the regularly scheduled global stocktake, plus more: a full progress report from every country, every continent, every industry, every watershed. To that account of the good done, they would add a description of every outstanding problem, every obstacle to getting where they needed to be. The global situation was to be judged actor by actor. Rated, scored, judged; and if judged malingering, then penalized. Time was passing, patience was running out. The sheriff would have to be formed by a concoction of every sanction and penalty they had at hand. The general intellect. The world in their time. In all the blooming buzzing confusion of their moment, they would take stock and get some clarity on the situation, and act.
The majority was being drawn down by reforestation, biochar, agroforestry, kelp bed and other seaweed growth, regenerative agriculture, reduced and improved ranching, direct CO2 capture from the air, and so on. All these efforts were paid for, or rather rewarded beyond the expense of doing them, in carbon coins, and these coins were trading strongly with all the other currencies in currency exchanges. In fact, it looked like there was a possibility that carbon coin might soon supersede the US dollar as the world’s hegemonic currency, the ultimate guarantor of value. The US was a big backer of this complementary currency,
if the public kept ultimate control of this new global state, by way of people power exerted by the ever more frequent strikes and non-compliances, then the people too would be seeing where all the money was and where it was going, move by move, so that it couldn’t be shuffled into tax havens or otherwise hidden, without becoming inactivated by law. Digital distribution of the total blockchain record through YourLock and other sources meant there was a kind of emerging people’s bank, a direct democracy of money. So now the various old private cryptocurrencies were only being used for criminal activities, and traded at fractions of a penny.
So this was the financial and the carbon situation, what Mary thought of as the two macro signals, the global indexes that mattered. And at the meso- and micro-levels, the good projects that were being undertaken were so numerous they couldn’t be assembled into a single list, although they tried. Regenerative ag, landscape restoration, wildlife stewardship, Mondragón-style co-ops, garden cities, universal basic income and services, job guarantees, refugee release and repatriation, climate justice and equity actions, first people support,
she was going to try to see to it that the evil ones were winning a Pyrrhic victory. They were going to be the losers of a Pyrrhic victory; and the losing side of a Pyrrhic victory could be said to have won. They were therefore the winners of a Pyrrhic defeat. Because they were never going to give up, never never never. History was going to go like this: lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, win.
The moment we find bone needles in the archeological record, for instance, we see people moving twenty latitude lines farther north than before.
We are the driving force in history. We make do, and on it goes.
By that line of reasoning, you end up saying design is technology, law is technology, language is technology— even thinking is technology! At which point, QED— you’ve proved technology drives history, by defining everything we do as a technology.
Turned out each European nation had a tradition of working communally around their old commons, which had lasted until suppressed by Napoleon or other powers, but still there, if only as an idea, now put back in play. “Good,” Frank said. Also, Mary went on a little nervously, the upcoming COP was going to propose a detailed refugee plan that used some of the principles of the Nansen passports of the 1920s. Some kind of global citizenship, given to all as a human right.
signalled by all Paris signatory nations, which meant all the nations on Earth, to grant legal status to this global citizenship, and share the burden equally, with the historical disparities in carbon burn factored into the current assessments of the financial and human burden going forward. Some kind of climate justice, climate equity; a coming to terms at last with the imperial colonial period and its widespread exploitation and damage, never yet compensated, and still being lived by the refugees themselves.
Of course it would happen this way. No warning; ad hoc; an improvisation, just as it had been all along. They toy with us: cage us, release us, it’s all made up moment to moment. That’s history.
the quotas for all the countries put together added up to two hundred percent of the number of people who had been held in refugee camps for over two years, which was the criterion for this world citizenship. Citizenship would be in your name, non-transferable, with a global passport. Families would be wait-listed together. The requests for residency were to be coordinated all over the world, and the ones who had been in camps the longest would be the first allowed to choose. They could take their immediate families with them.
Combined with a worldwide universal job guarantee commitment, and transport and settlement subsidies, everyone should end up okay. Switzerland had committed to taking twice as many people as were now being held in all the Swiss refugee camps. The housing for these new citizens had been built already or was being finished. It was distributed throughout the country, every canton taking a proportional share. The housing was to consist of apartment blocks conforming to ordinary Swiss building and housing codes. Employment would be offered according to need,
There was work to be done. Facilities for cooperative restaurants were already in place, ready for opening if the newcomers so desired. It was felt that food could be both a gathering place for the new residents and an outreach to the host community. So it had often been in the past. This arrangement was not quite the same as open borders, they said. Countries would still have passports and immigration quotas. The hope was that many people would want to return home. Polling showed that many refugees felt that way, and would go back home if it could be done safely. The destabilized countries that had generated the most refugees would be helped to restabilize as much and as quickly as possible.
A new life in a new city. After such giant changes, would I still be me? Of course I recalled the poem about how you can never escape yourself, every place is the same because you are the one moving to that place. No doubt true. I recalled also the old notion from psychotherapy that people fear change because it can only be change for the worse, in that you turn into a different person and are therefore no longer yourself. Thus change as death. But death of habits. That’s all it is, I told myself. Remember the poem; you can’t help being yourself.
No: the fear I was feeling was perhaps the fear that even if things changed, I would still be just as unhappy as before. Ah yes, that was a real fear! Well, but I was always afraid. So this was no different. Would I miss this place? The beautiful mountains, the beautiful faces … No. I would not miss it. This I promised myself; and it seemed like a promise I could keep. Maybe that was my form of happiness.
Filchner Ice Shelf and the Ronne Ice Shelf in a way that was difficult to deal with. The landforms under the ice resembled a half bowl, not steep enough to easily identify the places upstream where glacial input was fastest. But we had done the best we could with that, and drilled 327 wells over a five-year period, focusing on the crux points we could find and hoping for the best. It wouldn’t have been possible without the navies of the United States, Russia, and England. They let a little village of their aircraft carriers freeze into the sea ice and overwinter in the Weddell Sea, and from these carriers we were able to keep the work going year round, and supply the land bases
that a squat orange insulated plywood box covering the wellhead, a very small shed in effect, heated by solar panels set next to it. The pipeline was lime green, crusted with gray rime. It pumped the water south, up to a hill beyond the south bank of the glacier, joining a big pipeline there, which took a feed from all the pumps in the area.
Drop Plan A when the whole thing goes smash, enact Plan B, which was this: survive! You just do what you have to, in an ongoing improvisation, and survive if you can. We toasted his rugged black-cliffed mountains, rearing up into the low sky south of us. We were 650 meters above sea level, and ready for food and drink. Another great day in Antarctica, saving the world.
it can never be emphasized enough how important the Paris Agreement had been; weak though it might have been at its start, it was perhaps like the moment the tide turns: first barely perceptible, then unstoppable. The greatest turning point in human history, what some called the first big spark of planetary mind. The birth of a good Anthropocene.
the last two days of this meeting consisted of one day of people summarizing, listing, and celebrating various aspects of the positive changes made since the Agreement was signed. The second day was devoted to listing and describing some of the outstanding problems they had yet to solve if they were to secure the progress inherent or promised by the things mentioned on the first day.
if we can generate lots of clean energy, Bob had said, lots of other good stuff becomes possible. Now they were doing that. Also, crucially, even though they were creating more energy than ever before, they were burning far less CO2 into the atmosphere, less per year than in any year since 1887. So Jevons Paradox appeared to be foxed at last; not in its central point,
where excess energy was being lost by lack of completely effective storage methods, people were finding more ways to use it while they had it: for desalination, or more direct air carbon capture, or seawater pumped overland into certain dry basins, and so on. On and on and on it went. So clean energy, the crux of the challenge, had been met, or was being met.
World civilization was no longer using up more of the biosphere’s renewable resources than were being replaced by natural processes. What for many years had been true only for Cuba and Costa Rica had become true everywhere. Part of this achievement was due to the Half Earth projects; though this was not yet an achieved literal reality, because well more than half the Earth was still occupied and used by humans, nevertheless, broad swathes of each continent had been repurposed as wild land, and to a large extent emptied of people and their most disruptive structures, and left to the animals and plants.
more wild animals alive on Earth than at any time in the past two centuries at least, and also there were fewer domestic beasts grown for human food, occupying far less land. Ecosystems on every continent were therefore returning to some new kind of health, just as the result of the planetary ecology doing its thing, living and dying under the sun.
the Gini index figures for the world at large had flattened considerably. Every continent was showing improvement. The pay justice movements, the wage ratio movements, and the central banks’ recommended tax plans, plus political movements everywhere supporting job guarantees and progressive taxation, sometimes under the rubric of “an end to the kleptocracy of the plutocrats,” as one poster put it, had had powerful effects everywhere. Setting a generous definition of a universal necessary income, guaranteeing jobs to all, and capping personal annual income at ten times that minimum amount,
The EU had led the way, the US and China had followed, and then everywhere else had begun to leak their most educated young people to these flatter countries, until the countries losing educated people also instituted it. Guaranteed jobs, yes, but also universal basic services, and supported social reproduction, along with infrastructure and housing construction projects, had completed the rise out of poverty at the low end of the world income scale. Capping individual income and wealth had flattened the top of the scale.
many rich people had attempted to abscond to a safe haven with their riches, but currency controls, and the fact that all money was now blockchained and tracked, meant that all the old havens and shelters were being rooted out and eliminated. Money was now simply a number in the global banking system, so even if one shifted money into property, that property got listed, with an asset price on it, and then got taxed accordingly, and often therefore sold to avoid property taxes that had gone sharply progressive. Some land was surrendered in order to keep the owners solvent in the new tax regimes, which meant there was now more and more public land, defined as such and used as a commons.
A whole new economics was springing up to describe and analyze these new developments, and inevitably this new kind of economics included a lot of new measuring systems, because economics was above a system of quantified ethics and political power that depended on measurement. So now people were using older instruments like the Inclusive Prosperity Index, the Genuine Progress Indicator, the UN’s Human Development Index Inequality Adjusted, and the Global Footprint Index. And they were also making up many new ones as well. All these new indexes for economic health were often now amalgamated to a new comprehensive index of indexes, called the Biosphere and Civilization Health Meta-Index.
the central banks had worked out a scheme to deal with this. The fossil fuel companies were being paid, yes, and even at par, if that meant one carbon coin per ton of carbon sequestered, as certified by the Ministry for the Future’s certification teams, just like any other entity doing the same sequestration. But pay-outs above a certain amount were being amortized over time, and would be paid out, when the time came, at zero interest; zero interest, but not negative interest; and with guarantees, thus becoming a kind of bond. And then the companies were required by law and international treaty to do carbon-negative work with the initial use of the carbon coins they were given, in order to keep qualifying for their pay-outs,
if they merely invested in other biosphere-destroying production, especially carbon-burning production, then they wouldn’t be sequestering carbon at all in the larger scheme of things. The upshot of these policy implementation decisions was that the oil companies and petro-states were being paid in proportion to their stranded assets, but over time, and only for doing carbon-negative work, as defined and measured by the Paris Agreement standards and certification teams. The young staffs of the central banks were all quite proud of this arrangement,
the success of the carbon coin meant was a huge amount of money was now going to landscape restoration, regenerative ag, reforestation, biochar and kelp beds,
“Revolution comes; not the expected one, but another, always another.” The people under the banner who had put it up told Mary it was a phrase from one Mario Praz, which had been quoted by a John P. Farrell, who had then been quoted by a Christopher Palmer.
Ocean health. They could do nothing about ocean acidification, nor the heating of the ocean that was baked in by the previous century’s carbon burn, nor the deoxygenation. Thus die-offs were happening, and presumably extinctions they didn’t even know about, that might have catastrophic cascading results. Ocean health would be an outstanding problem for centuries to come, and little to nothing they could do about it, except to leave big parts of the ocean, half of it at least, alone, so that its biomes and creatures could adapt as best they might.
mammal never forgets a hurt; and they all were mammals. And here these two were. They were afraid of him, she saw. Not just afraid of death, but of him. She wasn’t sure he saw that. Maybe he did and loved them for coming anyway. The young woman would remember this for the rest of her life. All her anger would have to include this too.
The difficulty in giving up any sense of influence on the process, much less control. When you ride a tiger it’s hard to get off. The Chinese had known this feeling for a long time.
everyone’s beginning to do things more like them. I mean state-owned enterprises. Everyone’s taking over money and energy and even land, they’re all seen as public trusts now, and that’s how the Chinese have always treated them. So the containment of the market, of finance— they must feel they led the way on that, or gave everyone an example of how to do it. So it’s really America that is the main problem, Frank said.
solve the same problem will engage in continuous civil war with each other over methods, thus destroying their chances of success. Why does that happen, do you think? The narcissism of small differences. That’s an odd name. It’s Freud’s name. Means more regard for yourself than for your allies or the problems you both face. Well, but sometimes the differences aren’t so small, right? The front is broad.
There’s no more of a real market behind what we now call the market than there is gold behind what we call money. Old words obscure new situations. You think this happens often? Yes. Give us another example. Revolutions don’t involve guillotines anymore. Alas. You think revolutions are less visible now? Exactly. Invisible revolutions, technical revolutions, legal revolutions. Quite possibly one could claim the benefits of a revolution without having to go through one.
doesn’t already-existing power resist revolutionary changes? Of course, but they fail! Because who holds power? No one knows anymore. Political power is itself one of those fossil words, behind which lies an unknown. I would have thought oligarchies were pretty known. Oligarchic power is the usual answer given, but if it exists at all, it’s so concentrated that it’s weak.
Brittle. Fragile. Susceptible to decapitation. By which I mean not the guillotine type of decapitation, but the systemic kind, the removal from power of a small elite. Their situation is very unstable and tenuous. It’s highly possible to shift capital away from them, either legally or extra-judicially. Just capital? Everything relies on capital! Please don’t be stupid. Who has capital, how it gets distributed, that’s always our question. And how does it get distributed? People decide how it gets distributed by way of laws. So change could happen by changing the laws,
Or you could just shift some account numbers, as happened in Switzerland. Ah yes. The banks. That reminds me of a fine story. Do you remember what the bank robber Willie Sutton said when a reporter asked him why he did what he did? I do! Good of you to ask. And good of that reporter too. The reporter said, Why do you rob banks? And Sutton replied, Because that’s where the money is.
Every surface of this ship was photovoltaic or piezoelectric or both. Its passage through the waves, its very existence in the sun, generated power which got sent to the props. With a good wind filling the big sails, and the kites pulling from far overhead, tethered to the bow, they could fly on the thing’s hydroplanes. A hundred kilometers an hour felt really fast.
Hoping, she said when introduced, to find more that could be done to crank the Great Turn.
Chan spoke of equity, getting better in China and the world, but still far from achieved. She spoke of income floors and ceilings, of land taxes and habitat corridors. Of the world as a commons, one ecosphere, one planet, a living thing they were all part of. Looking at the central bankers listening attentively to her, Mary saw it again; these people were as close to rulers of the world as existed. If they were now using their power to protect the biosphere and increase equity, the world could very well tack onto a new heading and take a good course. Bankers! It was enough to make her laugh, or cry. And yet by their own criteria, so pinched and narrow, they were doing the necessary things. They were securing money’s value, they still told themselves;
Mary stood to extend her hand toward the young Chinese woman, and smile at her, and say, I yield the floor, I pass the torch, I like all of these ideas. I say, be as bold as you can dare to be!
Violence didn’t work. Numbers did. That’s the secret, in case you are looking for the secret to resisting an imperial power, which was what we were doing through those years. Non-violent resistance of the total population, or as much of it as you can get. That’s what works.
The people without proper hukou, without residency papers for where they lived, did all the dirty work in China, and there were about four hundred million of them when the occupation happened. That’s a lot of people without any feeling of representation or belonging. So yes, the Party had to deal with that, or lose everything. In that struggle Hong Kong became a smaller matter and had some wiggle room, you might say. Which we used very smartly. It was never about independence, you must understand that. It was only for one country two systems. For the rule of law that we had here to persist past 2047. —
You have to be part of a wave in history. You can’t get it just by wanting it, you can’t call for it and make it come. You can’t choose it— it chooses you! It arrives like a wave picking you up! It’s a feeling— how can I say it? It’s as if everyone in your city becomes a family member, known to you as such even when you have never seen their face before and never will again. Mass action, yes, but the mass is suddenly family, they are all on the same side, doing something important. — How did that play out in reality? What, didn’t you see? Have you forgotten? We took to the streets every Saturday for thirty straight years!
whenever push came to shove, we older people would come back out onto the streets also. As July 1 drew ever closer, we got back out onto the streets such that on some Saturdays the entire population of Hong Kong was out there. Those were stupendous events. — Yes, there were other things we had to do also. Of course. These were not so exciting, in fact they were often tedious, but they needed to be done. Eventually you have to recognize that many necessary things are boring, but also, quite a few things are both boring and interesting at the same time. So we went to meetings,
just wore them down. They couldn’t beat us; they had not the hegemony to do that.
language is family. Language is the real family.
We are the children of this planet, we are going to sing its praises all together, all at once, now is the time to express our love, to take the responsibilities that come with being stewards of this earth, devotees of this sacred space, one planet, one planet, on and on it went, it seemed clear to me that the original had been written in some other language, that we were listening to a translation into English, and in fact you could tap around and hear what was being said in other languages; Gupta insisted on listening to it in Sanskrit, which he admits he doesn’t understand when spoken, though he reads it, but he claimed that what we were hearing had to have been written or thought originally in Sanskrit, maybe even thousands of years ago, and in fact the Sanskrit version did sound very primal,
We are all family, as the new religion was telling us, and as every living thing on Earth shares a crucial 938 base pairs of DNA, I
Playing: music was adults at play.
It’s some kind of offering, Art insisted. It’s a gesture of offering. He’s us, right? So he’s us, offering the world back to the animals! Maybe so. He was definitely saying something. That we could become something magnificent, or at least interesting. That we began as we still are now, child geniuses. That there is no other home for us than here. That we will cope no matter how stupid things get. That all couples are odd couples. That the only catastrophe that can’t be undone is extinction. That we can make a good place. That people can take their fate in their hands. That there is no such thing as fate.