Extinction Rebellion, David Blunkett and Me

I briefly mentioned the Extinction Rebellion climate change protest in my last post. In this one I want to describe what some of my misgivings about it were and how I’ve now laid them aside and embraced the movement, thanks to a few dark nights of the soul and a little helping hand over the line from former British Home Secretary, David Blunkett. The issues bear directly on many wider themes of this blog, so it seems appropriate to lay them out here.

A key demand of Extinction Rebellion (XR) is for the British government to act now and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. My main ground of skepticism on this was that for some time now I’ve been of the view that the British government, and most other governments, is so inextricably bound into a model of carbon-intensive capital accumulation that ‘demanding’ anything of it that requires deep systemic change to that model is a waste of time. Better to try to work around it by building autonomies from it and new political structures at a local level as best one can. Besides, if Britain did achieve net zero emissions by 2025, what would that involve? Well, though our farm falls far short of achieving post-carbon perfection, it would involve a national farmscape very different from the present and much more like the localized, mixed, labor-intensive kind of farming we practice. Better just to get on with the farming, then, I thought, and with related activism such as the case I try to make for small-scale farming in my writing.

Other reservations included a sense that my own lifestyle and life choices have been less than perfect environmentally – let he who is free of sin cast the first stone, and all that. Plus I wasn’t sure that disrupting ordinary people going about their business was the best way of spreading the climate change message, especially since I’m a stereotypically diffident Englishman who hates getting in other people’s way and making an exhibition of myself.

So what’s changed in my thinking? In some ways, not much. I still think that the government is inextricably bound into a model of carbon-intensive capital accumulation that makes it virtually certain Britain won’t have decarbonized by 2025. I still think that building local political autonomies via local food and farming work is a key activity. And I think I’ll be a stereotypically diffident Englishman till the day I die. What’s changed for me is the extraordinary success of the protests in gaining national attention and getting people thinking about climate change, and the high levels of public support they achieved despite the radically disruptive tactics.

The BBC ran an explainer article. Are XR’s demands realistic? No, according to some of the experts it quoted. We’ll have to radically cut back on flying, meat and dairy consumption, ditch gas boilers, and build scores of thousands of new wind turbines if we’re to continue consuming energy as we currently do with net zero emissions. Of course, we or our descendants will have to cut back on a lot of things too if we fail to slash emissions and usher in a world of climate breakdown – civilization possibly being one of them. So here’s a thing – to achieve zero emissions by 2025 we may actually have to use less energy. Well, it’s a thought. Not one articulated in the BBC article. Not yet. But we’re inching closer – thanks to XR, closer than we’d ever be if it was mainly obscure bloggers like me talking about a low-energy future.

But how did XR raise the profile of climate change so successfully? By mass civil disobedience involving the blocking of London thoroughfares and bridges by people who were willing to get arrested for the privilege. If they’d protested legally without obstructing anyone or anything, it wouldn’t even have been a footnote in the news. Two of the 1000+ people arrested were my wife and son (yep, I have children, I’m afraid … and yet I still think the government should take action against climate change). So I followed events in London with a keener interest than I otherwise might.

While they were in London, I spent the week at home on the farm, helping to keep it ticking over, being a parent to my daughter, spending long hours at the computer working on the draft of my book where I try to make the best case I can for a low-carbon, low-energy small farm future, keeping going with endless cups of coffee (I drink coffee too …  Give me a break – it’s organic, fair trade, bird-friendly … OK, OK, I’ll think about it …), and following the news.

One news item I read was David Blunkett’s article in the Daily Mail ‘Why hasn’t the full force of the law been used against these eco anarchists who fill me with contempt?’ “Sorry,” began Baron Blunkett, “but I don’t need any lectures from any Johnny-come-lately on the urgent need to tackle climate change. Eleven years ago I was one of 600 MPs who voted to pass the Climate Change Act, committing Britain to slash carbon emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050.” After roundly condemning the tactics of the “anarchists – for that is what Extinction Rebellion are” and opining that “unlawful protest in a democracy ultimately achieves nothing” Blunkett wrapped up by saying “It fills me with contempt to hear the protesters ‘apologising’ to the public for causing disruption.”

Well, it’s great of course that Baron Blunkett voted for the Climate Change Act eleven years ago. But bear in mind that a fair-sized chunk of the CO2 we put into the atmosphere every year stays there for centuries, adding to the CO2 of emissions past in its climate-forcing work. Bear in mind too that despite the undeniably valuable work on climate change by innumerable people who Blunkett praises for their law-abiding ways, global greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use are rising year on year. The climate change responsibilities of a wealthy, early-industrializing colonial power like Britain, now a largely post-industrial one that’s burned through most of its own carbon, is a topic that perhaps I’ll examine more thoroughly in another post. But I think there’s a case for suggesting they go beyond the Climate Change Act and other official decarbonization efforts currently underway.

The evening my wife came home from the protest, for the first time in years I cried. I cried because the protests triggered pent-up emotions about things far too personal to mention in this post, and not much relevant to it anyway. Maybe I also cried because I was strung-out on too much writing and coffee (organic, bird-friendly). But I think I also cried because I’d looked at myself and realized that my judgments about XR had been wrong, that I should have been in London with the protestors that week, and that while I could have been less supportive of my wife’s choice about where to invest her time, I could have been more supportive too. Like a lot of people, a lot of women in particular, she’s given so much of herself over the years to making good things happen for other people – including raising our children to be decent, thoughtful citizens. So when I see that my son and my wife believe in something so much that they’re willing to get arrested for it for the first time in their respectively young and not-so-young lives (sorry, darling), I think I need to pay attention. It’s surely worth everyone’s while reflecting on their actions from time to time with a dose of self-criticism. Did I get that right? Could I have done that better? There are plenty of times when my personal answer to those questions is ‘no’ and ‘yes’, and this was one of them. But if I were to nominate a single category of people who could most use a dose of humble self-reflection along those lines, frontline politicians in rich countries who’ve had the opportunity to take action on climate change over the last thirty years or so would be right up there on my list. Baron Blunkett, I’m glad you voted for the Climate Change Act. It wasn’t enough. Not by a mile. That’s why we need XR.

So the next time XR stage a climate change action, there’s a good chance I’ll be there. I don’t expect my presence will make much difference to the low probability that Britain will be carbon neutral by 2025. I want to be there anyway. And I’m fair game for anyone who wants to say I’m a hypocrite for even being there in view of my other actions and inactions over climate. One of XR’s principles is to avoid blaming and shaming “We live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame”. The whole issue of personal environmental action is a troubling one that I’ve written about in the past. Before permitting myself to attend an XR action my aim will not be an impossible sense of perfect moral purity. But it will be to think a bit harder about the things I do and the things I don’t do and take some modest steps to address them. What’s really needed, though, is non-modest steps from the government that make it easier for people to address them collectively rather than individually.

If I’m at a future protest, I just want to put on record now that I’m not an ‘eco-anarchist’ (surely, surely we can get beyond the notion that civil disobedience is the same as ‘anarchism’, which itself is a complex and multi-faceted political tradition). As long-term readers of this blog will know, I’m a left-republican agrarian populist – and I’ll happily write a piece for the Daily Mail or the BBC explaining what that is and how it relates to climate change (all proceeds to go to XR. Please get in touch via the Contact Form). Granted, if the Daily Mail starts publishing articles on left-republican agrarian populism it’ll be a sign that XR’s goals are almost in the bag. Well, hope springs eternal. But I daresay neither anarchism nor left-republican agrarian populism exhaust the spectrum of political views within XR.

If I’m at a future protest, I’d want to be cautious of falling prey to ‘protest romance’ or to treating arrest as a badge of honor. But the truth is a relatively small number of dedicated protestors made relatively large waves by politely stretching Britain’s largest police force to the limit, and I’ve noticed the implications of that for future political change. Already there are calls to toughen up policing and stop protestors from occupying urban areas. If that happens, we’ll be moving towards the world I wrote about here where the militarized policing of international borders that criminalizes climate change refugees from abroad begins to connect up with the internal repression of dissent against the carbon-intensive status quo in the rich countries. Firm resistance will be needed to stop such a drift into political authoritarianism in the face of climate breakdown. XR gives me some hope that the reserves of resistance are there. And if I’m asked whether our hard-pressed police officers don’t have better things to do than spending time clogging up their cells with thousands of peaceful demonstrators, I’ll say “yes, they bloody do”.

If it comes to it, I’ll have to screw up every ounce of my courage (and there aren’t too many ounces of it to go around) to put myself in line to be arrested or to engage with hostile members of the public held up by the protests. But I’ll apologize politely for disrupting their day, because it’s not something I want to do and because, well, I’m a stereotypically diffident Englishman. But I’m not so diffident that I can’t match David Blunkett’s contempt with a contempt of my own for his epic levels of self-importance and complacency. Thank you, Baron Blunkett, for helping to turn me into a climate change activist.

85 thoughts on “Extinction Rebellion, David Blunkett and Me

  1. Dear Stereotypically Diffident Englishman:
    First allow me to acknowledge the links provided here. Your compatriot fellow’s remarks about the failures of protest movements seems to have overlooked a couple of movements that have had some result. Gandhi in India (pushing out the British no less) and Martin Luther King in the US… non-violent protest is not for the weak of heart… but is not a complete non-starter either.

    My own participation in non-violent political activism is really rather mild. No arrests, and no loud or intrusive behaviors. But I’ve also never stood for election to a government post. I have written to news papers, canvassed door to door, marched in a march (with the appropriate permissions). I’ve shown up at local government meetings to support neighbors and my own property rights, and tried to spread some care for sharing spaces being subjected to controversial uses. Relatively mild by ‘Occupy’ or XR standards. Thus one might paint me as a relatively diffident American.

    Writing your thoughts for the consideration of others is, and should always be, a respectable form of participation. And for me the best behavior in such a space is a respectful participation in a back and forth to bring thoughts and concerns to a level of maturity and significance that can move the needle for everyone’s benefit. I suppose this is what drives me to quibble.

    And so long as I’ve brought up my penchant for quibbling, I may as well throw in here that I have a quibble over the assertion that carbon, once released into the atmosphere, can remain there for centuries. Really? Merely citing the year over year increase in atmospheric carbon content does not imply the correctness of the assertion. Biologically the very carbon dioxide that a plant will expel over the night time in the course of respiration can (and very often actually will) be reassimilated the very next day by the same or other plants within the canopy. Is this biological fact too insignificant to the overall importance of the climate change debate? I think not. Just as I also think David Blunkett gets it wrong when he only considers failures of some protest actions. Complexity may make our arguments difficult, but complexity is the stuff of life. Picking and choosing which aspects of a complex system we want to acknowledge doesn’t push the needle nearly as much as we need.

    Sincerely yours,
    A Diffident American (which is likely not stereotypical).

    • Most of the carbon dioxide emitted by fossil fuel burning is absorbed by the oceans, but the remainder stays in the atmosphere.


      If atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is reduced, the carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans will tend to be released back into the atmosphere (difference in partial pressures).

      The carbon cycle is generally in annual equilibrium. Carbon from animal respiration and plant matter decay cycle between the atmosphere and the biosphere between growing seasons. This is shown by the annual variation in the Keeling Curve.

      When we burn fossil fuels (or a volcano emits CO2) the extra carbon that isn’t absorbed by the oceans has nowhere to go unless the standing stock of global biomass increases (the reverse of which has been happening due to human activity.) This is why the annual average of CO2 in the atmosphere keeps going up, as also shown by the Keeling Curve.

      • Most of the carbon dioxide emitted by fossil fuel burning is absorbed by the oceans, but the remainder stays in the atmosphere.

        I’m fine with “most” in the first clause… but not with the second clause. If all the carbon emitted by fossil fuel burning could somehow avoid the biotic carbon cycle, then you’d have a point. But it doesn’t. And for a simplistic thought experiment – increased crop yields per acre have to get their carbon from somewhere. Yes, the Keeling curve does demonstrate increases in CO2 in the atmosphere. And the accumulated data also suggest the rate of CO2 concentration increase is accelerating. But my point is that the system is not so simple as the Keeling data might suggest.

        Rattan Lal published a nice review in 2008 which outlines some of the complexity;


        Table 2 in the linked article is also pretty interesting IMHO… it essentially suggests that best ways to moderate CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are biotic rather than abiotic (engineering based). He is suggesting cover crops, biofuels, and many other favorable agronomic practices to increase soil organic carbon (SOC).

        I agree that carbon can stay in the atmosphere for a long time… but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it must stay in the atmosphere that long. And we humans have some agency in the matter.

        • Yes, the carbon cycle is complex and the Lal article covered the topic very well.

          I agree that biotic sequestration is one of the easiest ways to go, but we will be lucky if it re-sequesters even a small portion of the CO2 emitted since 1850 from land use change and agriculture, totaling about 150 Pg carbon, about a third of anthropogenic emissions over that period. The other two-thirds, from fossil fuels, are stuck in the ocean and the atmosphere until we figure out some other way of sequestering it.

          Albert Bates suggests growing lots of biomass, converting it to non-labile carbon by pyrolysis (bio-char) and then mixing the carbon in the soil. This would require an industrial operation as big as all fossil fuel extraction and use. But until there is a price to be paid for emitting carbon or a price to be gained by sequestering it, I doubt that anything will change.

          • But until there is a price to be paid for emitting carbon or a price to be gained by sequestering it, I doubt that anything will change.

            What I’d once thought would be a relatively easy approach for a government to tackle would be increasing fuel taxes. If coal and petroleum taxes were significantly higher there should be a dual benefit of reduced consumption and increased revenue for amelioration efforts. But it seems the devil’s in the details, and he drives a hard bargain.

            Ohio just squeezed through a very modest increase in the road tax (tax on highway fuels) – the revenue to be used to repair and maintain highways. You’d have thought we were being attacked by aliens – ‘the government wants more of my money… ‘

            I hit a pothole last month, crippled a rim and the replacement cost a couple hundred dollars. I can’t imagine I’m the only driver to suffer from that hole. And while this particular incident isn’t directly tied to the overall carbon balance, the complexity of “how stuff works” can make a case for it.

            Fuel taxes can be branded as regressive and as such get even less support. And it is easy to argue we have too much road infrastructure as it is. Start passing fuel surcharges on to consumers and more belly aching ensues. Make everyone’s vacation travel more expensive and more crying is heard. Perhaps the complexity of the system is just too much for the common person to wrap a head around.

          • “Fuel taxes can be branded as regressive and as such get even less support…Start passing fuel surcharges on to consumers and more belly aching ensues.”

            Case in point: the Giletes Jaunes protests. One might argue, though, that seeing fuel taxes as regressive isn’t unreasonable in an era of austerity and skyrocketing inequality.

          • I agree that fuel taxes can be branded as regressive, but the conversation which I think needs to take place concerns what ‘we the people’ should do with the taxes. Even the Yellow Jackets breath air and would certainly suffer under climate change (indeed may be among the earliest of climate displaced folk).

            If we’re to get started on a way forward, and one that doesn’t require getting arrested in order to have a voice, then we’ll need a plan and a way to pay for it. Ruben Anderson’s ’19 Earth Day piece: http://www.smallanddeliciouslife.com/how-many-species-will-that-cost/
            speaks to this.

            Inequality is a very real issue as well, even more complexity to factor in. But solutions have to come from somewhere… what have the Yellow Jackets proposed?

          • Or why not impose lower speed limits that would both reduce consumption & be far more equitable

          • Oof. Ruben’s Earth Day piece is a punch in the gut. It immediately brought to mind these lines from Eric F.’s recent comment about Paul Kingsnorth:

            I read Kingsnorth as saying that we can’t have it both ways. Either you accept that the steel mill that you require will poison entire watersheds, or you exchange that set of values for a way of living that values the lives of all the beings around you, and accept that you may get eaten by wolves. What he is attempting, as I see it, is to try to make a case for why embracing the natural world, with all of the dirt and danger that comes with it is the better choice..

            As for solutions, I’m not sure what, if any, the Gilets Jaunes (which I see that I misspelled above…cringe) participants have to offer. My sense is that the movement is more about airing grievances (the legitimacy of which I’m no position to judge).

  2. My compliments to La Brassicata (Or whatever name you gave poor Cordelia) & whichever of your sons got nicked.

    As Danny Dorling pointed out in his talk on Brexit in Frome a few weeks ago, UK Citizens are significantly less likely to have gone on a Demo than even the Germans (!?!)

    And of course as you say its the collective action that is needed…………..

  3. Extinction Rebellion’s website says this about their mission…

    Extinction Rebellion is an international apolitical network using non-violent direct action to persuade governments to act on the Climate and Ecological Emergency.

    Although “non-violent direct action” has sometimes been found to be dramatically persuasive, I wonder how it will get already persuaded governments to act when virtually none of the actions required to make a meaningful dent in carbon emissions are accepted by the public. When Gandhi’s movement persuaded the British to leave India, the vast majority of the population was in favor of independence. When Gandhi tried to persuade that same population that an independent India could accommodate a large Muslim minority, he failed miserably and millions died during partition.

    Extinction Rebellion will run into a similar problem. Most everyone is already persuaded that climate change is a serious problem that must be fixed, but very few are willing to accept partition from the urban modernity that enables them to live relatively long and prosperous lives, indeed even to live at all. And if it were still possible to create a society that could maintain modernity without carbon emissions (and stay within our carbon budget), poll after poll reveals that hardly anyone is willing to pay the enormous increase in taxes required to make an attempt to create it.

    Even if by some miracle the conversion to a carbon free modernity were accomplished, it would do nothing to mitigate the “Ecological Emergency”, the largest part of which is created by humans taking over more and more of the earth’s photosynthetic net primary productivity.

    Unless Extinction Rebellion is willing to undertake violent direct action against the energy infrastructure that underpins modernity, it will have little effect. Some people believe that “only the struggle matters” and there is a lot to be said for that view, but I prefer to struggle for circumstances that will help my family survive if we are lucky enough to have modernity crumble in the near future, whether from its own internal contradictions, from resource depletion, from war or from pandemic.

    Even though I sympathize completely with the motivations of XR protestors, modernity will not fade away because of their attempts at “persuasion”. I see their efforts as wasted time and energy, which would be far better spent on creating a small farm future for as many as possible, starting of course with their own families. The Smaje family is in the vanguard of that optimum course of action. Don’t be distracted by futile diversions.

  4. I believe our societies ability to cope with climate change, its mitigatoin and all the political issues around it is a bigger challange than the changing climate itself

    I found this article by Myles Allen very good. In particular the fact that he, despite being a climate scientist has a social perspective on climate change: “Climate change is not so much an emergency as a festering injustice. Your ancestors did not end slavery by declaring an emergency and dreaming up artificial boundaries on “tolerable” slave numbers. They called it out for what it was: a spectacularly profitable industry, the basis of much prosperity at the time, founded on a fundamental injustice. It’s time to do the same on climate change.”


    • Thanks Gunnar for the link. Myles makes some great points. But here again I want to offer a quibble… at least in the case of the US experience with chattel slavery – there were indeed “artificial boundaries on ‘tolerable’ slave numbers” – it was even written into the Constitution in terms of the 3/5ths provision. There was a Missouri Compromise, and many other political wranglings at the time. When all this wasn’t good enough many states seceded and following that a very brutal and very bloody Civil War was fought. One hopes we can find a path forward without going that far.

  5. I completely support XR…. but Joe has a point. For instance here in Hawaiʻi, public awareness is quite high and almost all politicians profess to take climate change seriously, but not, of course, seriously enough to be inconvenienced. The same is true in Great Britain, it would seem. Large swathes of the US could use more public awareness but getting arrested might be the least thing to worry about.
    Which is to say that I think the work that you do not at a XR demonstration, Chris, is just as important as being at one. Even if it doesnʻt make headlines. Creating public awareness through whatever (non-violent) means necessary is crucial. But so is thinking about/theorizing and modelling/practicing a version of the path forward. There are far too few people thinking through the details and fewer still trying to put them into practice. Anyway, itʻs silly to say that one must choose one or the other, specialization is a luxury we wonʻt be able to afford for too much longer!

  6. TFTC.

    Michelle – I appreciate your supportive comments about the importance of the thought-work I do. My wife has been saying the same thing. Neither of you have quite convinced me yet, but it’s comforting to hear the sentiment. I guess it’s easy to overdo agonized self-recrimination and my personality inclines to it…but I’m hopeful there’ll be a positive payoff and I’ll emerge from this episode as a more effective operator. Trying to be more open to other people’s paths to justice is a part of it. Treading the fine line between doing that while still calling out those who Blunkett themselves with self-justification is a challenge.

    Joe – I take your point, but as Michelle says it’s not either/or. 51 weeks on the farm and a week in London seems a reasonable balance (though a week in London still sounds like hell to me – I can’t believe I used to live there…) I agree with you that the hard part is not the protest but the detail of how to create the different future. But what’s given me a glimmer of encouragement is seeing greater public receptiveness than I’d imagined to that task, and the relative ease with which XR has managed to challenge mainstream narratives at various levels. Much as I agree that a rapid takedown of the energy infrastructure is desirable, I think XR’s rigorously non-violent approach and the clarity with which it’s avoided treating police officers as the enemy has been key to this.

    Clem (and Joe) – thanks for the debate and links about carbon dioxide persistence. The Lal paper looks good – I’ll be interested to read it. Not sure that anything I said above is wrong, though. Here’s a layperson’s guide that I’d take to be supportive of my assertion: https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2010/12/common-climate-misconceptions-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide/

    Gunnar – thanks for the link … very interesting. The surreal if unlikely prospect of writing an article about the difference between eco-anarchism and left republican agrarian populism for the Daily Mail is lightening my mood this morning…

    John – thanks for that, I’ll pass on your congratulations. Dammit, I didn’t know Danny Dorling was speaking in Frome … must get out more …

  7. https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com
    Read this , two pieces one on windfarms and their total inability to power anything carbon neutral because they need too much carbon energy to built them , the other is the IEA international energy report that states there will be an oil crunch in the mid 2020 ‘s .
    Chris how are you going to get your produce to market without diesel ? How is the UK going to keep the water clean without trucks carrying the chemicals ? Dont look at Tessla trucks , the battery pack uses their entire payload capacity , london has built over its rail marshaling yards they cant deal with the amount of trains they did in the 1950’s , NO ONE has looked at the logistics of feeding london or any other major city .
    IF the gov wanted to do something how about rationing petrol to two gallons a week ? That would cut emissions no end , stop full supplies to farms altogether , park 20% of the truck fleet every year until there is no emmisions , and sit back and watch the politicians swinging at the end of ropes from every lamp post , the yellow jacket protests would be a carnival compared to sixty million hungry people , the politicians nod towards climate change if they really acted their end would be quick and nasty and any fool that thinks deeper than a tea spoon knows that !

  8. Re further comments:

    I’ve often thought about the relation between 18th century anti-slavery activism and modern environmental activism. One difference was that nobody needed to convince the slaves that slavery was a bad idea, and we tend to downplay the importance of their activism from everyday foot-dragging to world-historical events like the Haitian revolution. Still, I do think British and later US abolitionism was important – not least in the way that it basically created the modern public sphere of self-critical middle-class do-gooderist talking shops (“all that misery just to sweeten my cup of tea” “am I not a man and a brother” etc.), which I for one think is a crucial force for change in the world (entitled middle-class wealthy consumerism, not so much). On the other hand, slavery vs anti-slavery ultimately was mostly an economic struggle within the capitalist economy for which version of capitalism would prevail. The situation we now face in my view is one in which no version of capitalism can prevail … except possibly sustainable rural capital.

    So that puts me largely in agreement with Ruben’s passionate, neo-physiocratic Earth Day post. Except I don’t think wealth just comes from the Earth – I think it comes from people in their relations with each other and the Earth. It’s very easy for those relations to become abusive and for the debts they accumulate to become unpayable, but I still don’t see any point of equipoise or return for humanity in nature in the way that Kingsnorth does. I see a more difficult job ahead of always striving to keep those human and natural relations healthy, rather than sinking back exhaustedly into nature’s welcoming bosom.

    Daz, getting my product to market without diesel isn’t a major worry for me, but I agree that humanity has got itself into a fine, fossil-fueled pickle and there are no obvious ways out. Really, the only aim of the post above was to say that I’d given up lobbying the government to take issues like this on board because I thought it was pointless, whereas now I’m embracing it again because I don’t think this particular movement is pointless even though I still don’t think the government will take it on board. But I think it may have other positive consequences that may ease the bumpy road ahead very slightly. However, I think Joe’s right that it’s best to prioritize the farm – which is pretty much what I intend to do.

    • Daz, getting my product to market without diesel isn’t a major worry for me

      Well if there is nothing in the market for the people the people will come looking for it , people will swarm out of cities like locusts , check out the non msm / google news from Venezuela ,look at what happened in Bosnia , better have a good shotgun and an abundance of twelve gauge slugs you will need them .

      • You know, there was a famine called the “Hunger Winter” in Germany right after the Second World War, so this kind of situation isn’t entirely out of the living experience of people in Western countries. (Losing pretty much your entire adult male labour force to death, severe disability or foreign POW camps – where they were sometimes used as forced labour to replace the winner’s missing agricultural labour force, as was the case in the UK POW camps – will naturally cause problems with the harvest. Not that the situation hadn’t already been dire under the Nazi government as the war dragged on, due to the massive draft of almost every able-bodied male between 16 and 5, and also the lack of oil, as Nazi Germany had no oil production of its own and didn’t manage to get/hold the oil fields of southern Russia. My farmer grandfather – who had managed to dodge the draft at the risk of getting executed for it, thanks to being the only miller in a tiny village where people were interrelated and not so likely to rat you out when you were hiding in the hayloft – actually used a wood-powered tractor for a while, though of course it didn’t work very well.)

        It was bad enough that people were eating animal feed turnips and even weeds. (Though ground elder, which can be harvested in the “hungry gap” in spring, is actually quite high in vitamin C – there are claims that this saved people from scurvy at the time – and was originally brought to Germany by the Romans and intentionally cultivated in monasteries all through the Middle Ages – and it’s almost unkillable, which is why it now grows wild in areas with good soil, like public parks or old kitchen gardens. Tastes like a combination of parsley and carrot greens and works perfectly well as a substitute for spinach. Just make sure you don’t get it mixed up with hemlock.)

        And of course the people living in towns and cities “swarmed out” to see what they could get from the rural farmers – whole trainloads full of them. But somehow, this resolved itself into a black market barter economy. People brought out stuff that was easier available in cities – like soap, meds, and of course alcohol and cigarettes and stuff bartered from the occupying soldiers (chewing gum, nylons, chocolate, cigarettes, etc.). I’ve never heard of things getting violent in a major way or public order breaking down – not even when the farmers were really exploiting their “seller’s market” power. (My mother likes to tell the story about her parents, who were city folks, but did rent a small vegetable garden, as community garden plots for working class people had been part of German cities since the late 19th century; and her father was a pharmacist, so he did have important things he could barter. And yet, they still had to give away cherished possessions like my grandmother’s heirloom porcelain teapot for just a cup of milk because my mother was an infant and seriously needed the protein/calcium.)

        Of course the Allies were trying to alleviate the problem somewhat by handing out emergency rations in the cities, but my parents’ families lived in the Societ bloc, where the opposite was true, if anything. (The Soviet soldiers often were from areas so poor that they weren’t familiar with the concept of indoor plumbing or water-flushed toilets. And the Soviets made East Germany pay the highest war reparations that have ever been paid by any country in history – 99 billion Deutschmark between 1945 and 1952 – and that’s not “adjusted for modern inflation” but the original sum as it stood in 1952, so it would be considerably more in modern dollars. A lot of this was paid in kind – industrial machinery, railroad tracks, uranium, etc. – and German workers/POWs were used to rip out the infrastructure in Germany and mine the dangerous resources. A lot of people also disappeared to Siberia – not just scientists (just like with Operation Paperclip in the US) but the Red Cross to this day can’t find out what happened to 1.4 million POWs that never returned or were officially registered as dead and most of them had been captured by the Soviets. And of course some 80% of housing stock in the cities had been bombed to smithereens, especially in East Germany, where the US and UK Air Force was trying to make sure that there wasn’t much intact industrial infrastructure left to loot when the Soviet Red Army arrived to occupy that part of the country. My small Berlin suburb of 30.000 inhabitants still digs a dozen unexploded delayed-fuse bombs out of the ground every year, and the old aerial photos with the impact craters suggest there are still a few hundred more, which may still explode if they are disturbed by building activity or just vibrations…
        (Meanwhile, Allied-occupied West Germany paid just 2 billion in reparations and then got the Marshal Plan. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that East Germany’s comparative poverty was solely the fault of Socialism. Or that the national anthem that starts with the line “Arisen from ruins and facing the future” was based on hyperbole.)

        It should tell you something about the general public health situation that my mother, age 4, was hospitalised with a form of tuberculosis (normally a disease that mainly affects already malnourished people), which would have been in 1948. My father also contracted tuberculosis and had to spend months in a sanatorium to recuperate, when he left the family farm to go study in Berlin. (This was more than 10 years after the war, so I think it was more a case of too little veggies and milk, due to his personal poverty as his parents didn’t support his wish to study. The Socialist State did support him financially as a student, since he came from a farmer/worker background, but it probably wasn’t enough. In pictures of him as a young man, he’s rail-thin, even though his entire family as I knew it later tended towards obesity.) And my mother had to repeat her highschool final exams because she got a severe case of dysentery that was causing an epidemic in Berlin at the time. (Which probably means that the sewage system still wasn’t fully repaired or there were still too many people pushed together in small apartments with a single bathroom to share for the whole house. Dysentery is a disease of spoiled water supply and army/refugee encampments, much like cholera, which is why almost nobody gets these diseases anymore in modern Western countries.)

        Anyway, this was back in a time when most of the adult male population had received weapon’s training after being drafted into the army. And when most of the surviving males were quite battle-hardened. (Not the active soldiers who were in POW camps for years. I’m talking about veterans who’d been sent home early due to amputations, or people like my pharmacist grandfather, who had been drafted but managed to pretend he couldn’t shoot straight and who had a profession that was “essential” on the home-front, and my grandmother did… something… to influence the recruitment officer, so my grandfather eventually could go back home after a year on the French front.) And as I said, the Soviet soldiers were quite poor themselves.
        And yet, no major riots or city dweller vs. farmer violence. No raids on farms that I’ve ever been told about. Martial law enforced by the occupying armies may have had something to do with it, but you should give people some credit as well. (There was an uprising in 1953, but that was directed against the occupying Soviet army.)

        And maybe don’t believe everything you read you about this current situation in Venezuela – do remember that all Western mainstream media currently support the goal of staging a military invention and/or rightwing coup in that country, so that their nationalised oil reserves can be exyploited again by Capitalist corporations. The people I hear on independent podcasts or who are contributing reports to online magazines like Counterpunch after having visited Venezuela, say that people there are having to subsist on a largely vegan diet (and are embarrassed about not being able to serve meat dishes to their guests) and that food is expensive due to inflation and hoarding, but they aren’t actually starving. Hence why the UN did not agree with US that there’s a need for emergency food shipments. Even the poor get heavily subsidized staple food packages from the government (rice, beans, oil, etc.) or are organised in sort of co-ops for buying in bulk. And of course the crisis has been going on for long enough that people have started to grow their own vegetables, even on the roofs and balconies of city buildings. (Which is the same thing my family had to do – well, we had a normal suburban garden – when the economic situation turned to crap again when I was a child in 1980s East Germany, due to the higher international oil price vs. the worthless currency and due to mismanagement of the planned economy. The Socialist government had MANY serious faults, as I describe in my other comment further below, but they did know to prioritize the scarce fuel and fertilizer for the agricultural production of long-storing staple crops like grain, potatoes, onions, cabbage and carrots, and of course fodder for cows and pigs – though getting butter was always such a problem that all East German cook books listed margerine instead. But if you wanted fresh vegetables and fruit, or some more diversity in your diet, then you had to grow it yourself.)

  9. Thanks Chris, interesting read.

    I have a friend and colleague who is a local XR organiser and we often have discussions about what constitutes appropriate action in the face of climate breakdown. So I followed the protests in (Edinburgh and) London with interest.

    It’s interesting that this had a similar effect on me as it did on you. I didn’t cry, but I felt like it. (Maybe I didn’t cry because I don’t drink coffe?) I was quite emotionally shaken up, asking myself the questions XR was asking: “If not you, who? If not now, when?” What difference do my, admittedly limited, attempts to develop, model and diffuse a low-impact, high-resilience lifestyle, actually make? In focusing on adaptation to a breakdown I see as almost inevitable, rather than mitigation, am I not hastening that breakdown? C.f. the debate between Jeremy Lent and Jem Bendell, published on resilience at the moment. I’m currently more persuaded by JB’s “Deep Adaptation” and I see XR aligned more with JL’s “Deep Transformation”.

    I don’t have a warrior personality, non-violent or not. So I don’t think I’ll be joining the next XR protest. But I will provide what support I can: Feeding the rebellion with surplus produce from my garden and debating appropriate action with my friends and colleagues (“telling the truth” in the words of XR). Both have been confirmed of value by my colleague. Warriors need farmers and thinkers. And I am coming to accept that the converse is also true.

    Nice to see Zero Carbon Britain quoted in the BBC piece. What’s interesting in the BBC coverage (this article and others) is the lack of consideration given to the question “so what if XR’s demands are unrealistic?” These demands (well, at least the 2025 target) are based on climate science, not on what’s possible. If we’re not going to meet the targets because they’re unrealistic, then we should be preparing for severe levels of climate disruption. We have to do one or the other to have an outside chance of preserving our way of life. Doing neither guarantees failure. This is the truth the BBC should be telling.

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  11. I went to the first XR event in London last November – standing on a bridge over the Thames in November is cold – nothing romantic or glamorous about that – but I did get to talk to Roger Hallam – he’s an interesting man, a social scientist whose area of expertise is successful radical political movements – So XR’s tactics aren’t random – but the first thing I said to him was ‘thank-you’. I think that’s how lots of people involved in XR or supportive of XR feel – that some space has been made for them to do something, that that thing may ultimately be more symbolic than effective (I’m with Chris in believing the current systems of power are unable to even conceive the sort of change that would really be necessary to halt climate change or slow the extinction rate – hence Blunkett’s moronic comments) doesn’t necessarily matter – Chris Hedges says he fights fascists not with an expectation of victory but because they are fascists (I think he’s borrowed that from somewhere) and I think we should take the same attitude here – and who knows what the results may yet be – climate change is suddenly on the national agenda in a far more radical way than ever before – so that’s a start.

    The accusations of hypocrisy leveled at protestors are just another attempt to delegitamise the the protestors arguments without actually engaging with them. I heard Jacob Rees-Mogg interviewing Richard Read (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qD4AS7bpDk) and Mogg raised the hypocrisy argument several times – It occurred to me that he identifies as a Roman Catholic Christian despite not, it seems to me, living a Biblically pure life – he certainly hasn’t given away his wealth to follow Christ (Matthew 19:21). So the accusation of hypocrisy isn’t a real thing and if you were ecologically ‘pure’ in how you lived your life no one would listen to you anyway because you’d be seen as being very very weird

    Similarly positing the ‘unrealistic’ nature of XR’s demands is another way to not engage with them. I’ve heard Derrick Jensen say something along the lines of that for most people it’s easier to imagine/contemplate the end of life on Earth than to imagine the end of industrial/capitalist civilisation – and that’s the thing with XR’s demands, they are completely unrealistic if current structures of power and wealth are prioritised over remaining within planetary boundaries – they may be unrealistic even without those priorities but the longer we wait the more unrealistic the goal becomes so anything that pushes us toward action is surely welcome, although there’s none so blind as those who will not see (sorry Mr Blunkett)

  12. Thanks Joshua and Bruce for those thought-provoking comments. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has gone to the trouble of calculating the emissions of all the protestors charged by the police associated with travelling from their hometowns to London, “if all these people were travelling separately and all drove a car emitting average emissions”:


    To which my first response would be to invoke a Spartan “if” and my second would be to invoke Bruce’s only slightly less laconic “the accusation of hypocrisy isn’t a real thing”.

    On the upside, seeing such concern about personal emissions in the Daily Mail is surely heartening…

    • The protesters should look back into UK history , try the miners strike , see how the government treated the strikers when the government meant to break the strike , the police turned paramilitary and the army drove coal trucks , drivers hours and truck weight laws were suspended , high sided grain trucks were carrying 80 tonne payloads = 95 tonnes gross ( 38 tonnes was maximum legal weight then ) , the tanker drivers were treated the same way , the firemans strike and the green goddesses remember that ? , in 1890 the army shot strikers in newcastle staffordshire .
      The government will put up with protests untill it gets tired of them then it will set the army on them , that is the way HMG operates . The protesters will go home licking their wounds and join the ling list of anti government protesters that lost .

      • If you look at the history of protest movements that won – civil rights movement, Gandhi in India, suffragetes, the movement to secure workers rights and unionization (particularly in the USA), etc you find they all at some point faced paramilitary style policing – in fact one of the strategies of such movements is to force an overreaction from the state that actually produces wider public support and sympathy – Internment in Northern Ireland leading to greater support for the paramilitary organisations is a reasonable example.

        Of course there’s no guarantee of success in the face of such tactics from the state – but there’s almost a certainty of failure if you’re not provoking an extreme reaction – if the state can accommodate you it will – its less costly.

        • Governments do accommodate protests unless it becomes a threat to the status quo , then they stomp on it .
          There could be a sea change coming if Farage wins the election destroying the tories in the process , both main parties need a total shake up if not collapse and replacement by new people with new ideas , neither have had any new ideas for over a century .

      • Bruce nails it for me. It’s fascinating that while governments always monopolize military force and sometimes social force, they can’t always monopolize the latter and when they can’t the military force counts for almost nothing. While Margaret Thatcher’s government was (narrowly) able to prevail over the miners through paramilitary policing, there are plenty of reasons to think that Theresa May’s government won’t be able to do so over XR. But how it plays out longer term is anyone’s guess…

        On the diesel on the farm issue, one reason I’m not too bothered is that we only have about 40 customers who basically live within walking distance of the farm. Of course, a global no diesel situation would be very different and I can’t just generalize from my present situation to connote an easy transition – but imagining how to ease the transition rather than its impossibility engages me more.

        • The uk and the usa are vastly different in scale , here in tx leuttice and al brasicas are a winter crop , potatoes do grow but do not keep even root cellars are too hot for potatoes , those foodstuffs come from CA Or idaho a 2000 + miles away , black eye peas were a staple ( denigrated by northerners as cow peas ) the increasing numbers of rust belt refuges wont eat them , localism demands you eat what you can grow , the waste of energy caused by people that demand northern climate food in a southern climate is mind boggling ..

        • I read this morning that the UK government has folded and declared a climate emergency , now the fun starts , how will they act ? Petrol rationing ? Smart meters limiting the KW you are allowed ?they allready banned gas water heaters , you the Brits have just become the lab rats testing the ways to cut consumption this will be interesting to watch .
          Worth a read , totally politically incorect , but correct from an engineering point of view , this is where wishes hit the wall of whats possible with todays technology , it aint pretty .

  13. There is such a dichotomy with green politics and steady as we go commercialism , last week the president of the maldives spoke from a submersible 100 feet down off one of the reefs , yup he was complaining about sea level rise yet his country gets the majority of its funding from long haul tourism , they just extended the runway to take bigger jets ( over the top of a coral reef ) you cant square the circle ..
    If you read the link I posted it stated that installed renewable energy gross capacity is one third of global electricity consumption yet it generates eight percent of global consumption , renewables will never keep todays economy going people are going too have to get used to a far lower standard of living be it by political choice (which I doubt ) or by just simply running out of fossil fuels , the future is agrarian .

  14. While I do have some misgivings about XR, I think that establishment politicians are calling them “anarchist” and calling for even more arrests and tougher police crack-downs are a very good sign – it shows that the establishment is actually worried about this protest movement, which is more than I was expecting.

    (My misgivings with XR are more about them not being “anarchist” enough, and way too timid in their approach. If you promise from the start that you’re never going to go into actual rebellion mode (i.e. you’re always stressing that this is a non-violent protest), and you’re not costing the establishment money by organising mass labour strikes, and you’re living in a country that doesn’t have a coalition government system, so voting for small parties like the Greens doesn’t give them bargaining power (i.e. the senior ruling party needs the votes from the junior partner to for example push through some new tax law, so they promise to fullfill one of the wishes of the junior parnter in return, e.g. better support for wind turbines) or take any significant power away from the big two parties that only care about economic issues – then what actual leverage do you have? Why should any top-level politician – who should always be assumed to care only about staying in power and getting well-paid by campaign sponsors, with the policies they support depending entirely on what will keep them in this position, not their personal opinion – care about what you want? Realpolitik rules. Appeals to morals or the fate of future generations do nothing in politics, because scum swims to the top, since kind-hearted, ethical people don’t have the climb-over-corpses ruthlessness it takes to claw their way to real power. And if, due to some odd circumstances, someone decent actually manages to slip through, they will be character-assassinated by the establishment majority and their paid-for propagandists, as Corbyn’s case shows right now.)

    Anyway, I wanted to give you two examples on protest movements that actually worked, from my country of Germany.
    You know how Germany finally decided to get out of the business of producing nuclear waste a few years ago and plans to shut down all the remaining nuclear plants in the country by the early 2020s? The anglophone press usually presented this as a rushed decision in reaction to the Fukushima catastrophe. That is nonsense. What really happened is that there was an anti-nuclear civic protest movement in West Germany that started all the way back in the 1960s andd 70s, when the first nuclear power plants were built in the country. (Apperently it was originally started by politically conservative farmers and wine growers, who weren’t worried about radiation – that part wasn’t well-known back then – but more about the extra heat directed into the rivers and about the general industrialisation plans for their rural idylls, as the first power plants were built to power heavy industry and factories that were also planned to be built in the same area.) Apparently the government back then overreacted and arrested protesters, which in turn got more people out into the streets in solidarity, even little old ladies that no police officer wanted to arrest.
    (Provoking a disproportionate crack-down from the powerful is always a good way to get the sympathy of the majority population, who don’t particularly care about the issues you are protesting, but who do care about people’s basic civil rights and aren’t willing to tolerate fascist methods from the State. See also: the death of Benno Ohnesorg through a Socialist plot to make sure that the West German anti-capitalist student movement in 1968 got the martyr it needed. (The police officer who shot him recently was revealed to have been an East German mole/spy.) And how many people in the general population / mainstream media were paying attention to the Standing Rock protest in the months before the police started using attack dogs against them and breaking the bones of protesters during the arrest? By the way, this is also the basic strategy of terrorism, which is always a strategy of a relatively powerless group fighting an established power – it’s not about “destroying Western society” or “they hate our freedom”; it’s always about provoking the bellicose and militarily over-equipped Western governments to invade and carpet-bomb the areas where the terrorists are from, so that they will soon have a much larger pool of potential new fighters who hate everything the West stands for (e.g. secularism) as well as a completely destabilized local government, which is who they are actually intending to fight and displace. The rise of ISIS after the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq shows how well this strategy works. So, even if you aren’t willing to go anywhere near as far to provoke the establishment as for example the Weather Underground or the West-German Red Army Faction did, never discourage a police crack-down against your protest movement if your government is so stupid to go that route even against protestors who do nothing more harmful than trespassing or property damage. It may be nasty for the people who are being arrested or martyred (even by accident, like the journalist who died when he fell out of a tree during the break-up of a recent long-term coal mine protest in Germany, which is probably what got that protest another lease on life), but in the long run, it can only help your movement gain mass appeal.)

    Anyway, over the years this anti-nuclear movement swelled and attracted younger, more left-leaning supporters, fuelled partly by Cold War fears about nuclear weapons – after all, the civil nuclear industry serves both as a figleaf to encourage bright young physics students to go into nuclear research (very few people would volunteer for that career if the only possible area of application that you can find a job in later was weapons of mass destruction) as well as providing the means to produce weapons-grade plutonium from the natural uranium ore, which is why First World governments are concerned about which developing countries they’re going to allow to build nuclear power plants. Of course, it helps in this regard that Germany does not have its own nuclear weapons industry to lobby politicians to keep the “peaceful” nuclear industry alive, unlike in the UK and France – hence why the UK still intends to build a new nuclear power plant to replace the aging ones, no matter that it makes no economic sense for electricity production and that they had to guarantee them high prices for decades to come.

    The West German Green Party was actually founded largely by people from the 1968 protests and based around this particular issue (originally they were pacifists, though sadly not anymore). And after the Chernobyl catastrophe – which hit especially Southern Germany with fallout bad enough that people where told not to eat salads or drink milk at the time and long-lived enough that to this day hunters still have to get boars tested for allowable levels of radiation before they’re allowed for human consumption and it’s recommended to only eat wild-collected mushrooms once a year – right into the 1990s and eary 2000s there were more and more anti-nuclear protests involving real civil disobedience, not just people using their right to the streets and asking the police for a permission to demonstrate first. (E.g. people chaining themselves to railroad tracks to prevent nuclear waste transports from going through.) Eventually, the police actions and precautions against this style of protest (thousands of police personnel getting overtime and danger pay; water cannons, etc.) meant that the State had to pay tens of millions of Euros for each of these nuclear waste transports, according to an article I read in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist a few years ago. Also, with the Reunification of Germany, the place where long term storage for the radioactive waste had been planned (after sending it to France to filter out the usable plutonium), suddenly was in the middle of the country and not a “sacrifice zone” out near the border. So that plan was scrapped. (There has not been any serious new plan for long-term storage of the German nuclear waste since. The can is just being kicked down the road, like in most countries where citizens can actually protest against a nuclear waste dump being built in their neighbourhood.) Given this untenable situation and the mounting security costs to the public purse caused by the constant protests (don’t ask me why the transport costs weren’t covered by the private companies who are actually operating the nuclear plants…), the government finally found itself forced to outlaw the nuclear waste transports and order the nuclear plant operators to just store the waste on-site indefinetely. (Just as it is done in the US, as far as I know.) Of course even a small child could see that this is no long-term solution and that the radioactive waste would pile up quickly. So in the mid 2000s, when the Greens finally got into the government as a junior partner for one legislative period, they fulfilled their long-held goal and pushed through a plan to shut down all German nuclear power plants by 2022. This was written into law, and not really that hard to push through, since, as I said, there is no military interest behind the nuclear lobby in Germany, and even the nuclear industry knew for a long time that it was a dead man walking, because the public opinion against nuclear power was so strong since the late 1980s that there had been no plans to build any new nuclear power plans in Germany since before the Chernobyl catastrophe happend.

    Then the conservatives and neoliberals got the power in government again, and in early 2011, our physicist-in-chief Chancellor Merkel decided to lenghten the time until the last nuclear plants had to be shut down (to 2035, I believe), though it was never in question that the plants would have to shut down eventually and that no new ones would be built. And a few months later, the Fukushima catastrophe happened. We don’t know if it was the sudden insight that no, Western nuclear technology is not really any safer than the Soviet nuclear plants were (the one big nuclear plant that existed in East Germany had been shut down immediately after the Reunification, with good reason, as there had been a long list of near-catastrophes that had been kept hidden from the East German population, which also only found out about Chernobyl from Western radio / TV), that drove Chancellor Merkel to undo her earlier decision, or if it was the fear of loosing power to a left-Green government in the next election caused by the Greens briefly polling at over 20%, but suddenly she was all for the original Green Party plan of shutting the nuclear plants down by 2022 after all. And 8 of the oldest nuclear plants that already had problems and would have had to make very costly investments in technological upgrades to avoid possible severe failures like in Fukushima, were shut down immediately and not put back online. The was no electricity shortfall caused by this sudden shutdown – Germany was and still is a massive exporter of electricity – and the power these 8 nuclear plants used to produce was replaced within 2 or 3 years by the renewables that were also rapidly expanding at the time, due to another law put into place by the previous left-Green goverment but later co-opted by Chancellor Merkel. (The German government has always had a special security oversight over the nuclear power plants. So even though they are owned and operated by private companies, not a state-owned power company like in France, the German government can still order nuclear plants to shut down. Unfortunately, there is no similar established provision in the law and environmental hazard institutions that would allow the same unilateral shutdown for coal power plants, hence the lenghty negotiations with the much more powerful coal lobby and mining unions that are necessary now to get to an agreement regarding a planned exit from coal power.)

    And that is how an anti-nuclear protest movement eventually led to the end of the industry in Germany. But it did take decades of sustained protest, hundreds or thousands of arrests for being a really costly roadblock for the normal operation of the industry, some lucky circumstances to the general political environment (no military lobby interest in the issue, unlike in most other nuclear-using countries), and some timely large-impact reminders from Mother Nature as to why nobody can afford to get complacent and allow the establishment to sneakily roll back the successes already pushed through.

    Another example I want to give, though it doesn’t apply to the environmental fight quite so well, is how the Socialist regime of East Germany was finally ousted, which is always cited as an example for how successful non-violent mass protest can be. (As far as I know, this really is one of the very few cases in history where there was no organised violent wing providing the threat that eventually forced the established power elite to negotiate with the staunchly non-violent wing of the revolution that is now celebrated as if they did it all alone. E.g. normally every Sinn Fein has an IRA that they officially repudiate but without them they would never have succeeded. Martin Luther King had the Black Panthers. Mandela became the symbol of non-violent protest against Apartheit because he was stuck in prison for decades, while outside society moved on, pushed by his wife and other former compatriots actually rebelling violently.) Though even the supposedly “peaceful revolution” in East Germany involved protesters fighting with and throwing stones at police officers and torching the occasional police car, especially during the early protests that involved just a few thousand people. You know that old saying by the abolishionist Frederick Douglass “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” ? Sometimes I think people who worship Ghandi and Mandela forget that a public protest is not automatically a demand – without any “or else” to back it up, it’s just a plea. (Especially in a huge country like the US, where “or else we vote for another party” has no chance of influencing the outcome of elections unless you actually manage to get several million people on the street and sticking to their guns no matter the propaganda campaigns come election season. And even then the “will of the people” is easily ignored by the establishment if there are no coalition governments and both election options have basically the same goals so there is no alternative to vote for, as the large but still utterly toothless protests against the invasion of Iraq showed. Compare that to the much more modest size of even the big one-off environmental protests, and you can practically hear politicians rolling their eyes at the protesters who are conscientiously assuring everyone that they’re not going to cause any real disturbance to the public peace.)

    The “Monday Demonstrations” in East Germany were indeed big, eventually, but of course the East German “elections” had nothing to fear no matter the size of the protests, as there really was only one Party and it had no problems faking the election results in any case. The reason the demonstrations swelled to such size was that the general population was unhappy with restrictions to personal freedom and the economic problems (caused by both mismanagement of the planned economy and economic warfare by the West in the form of manipulating the oil price so the Soviet Union could no longer afford to send oil and fertilizer to the resource-poor East-Germany at subsidized prices. So the situation was basically similar to Venezuela today, though nobody actually starved, since the production of staple crops was prioritized and the distribution was state-owned instead of controlled by the capitalist class, so there could be no hoarding to sabotage the economy. The protest demands in East Germany were less about economic deprivation and more about not being allowed to travel outside the country and being constantly spied on by the Stasi.) But the mainstream society also had real reason to fear that the “core” opposition people taking part in the intial protests would be arrested and dissappeared to a Siberian gulag as political prisoners often had been in earlier years. Or that there would be a massacre like in Tian’namen square. Or that Russia would send in tanks to quell the uprising in their occupied territory, as they had during an attempted uprising in 1953. (But it turned out that between the lack of oil production and Gorbatschow’s new policy of Glasnost, Russia was not actually willing to support the East German regime government by military means.) Though of course the police did beat up protesters and arrested some. So even people who initially didn’t want to take the risks (i.e. people with small children, like my parents) said to themselves that they have to get more people out to protect the original protesters by safety in numbers. They can’t arrest everyone or start shooting into the crowd if there are hundreds of thousands in the street. So again, the repressive government actually helped to build the protest into a mass movement. Plus, people thought that this might turn into actual riots and a violent revolution if the protests didn’t “calm down” to something more civically minded involving people who are older and have dependents and thus are reluctant to provoke an arrest. (Getting arrested for political crimes meant violent “interrogation” and long prison sentences and hopefully being “bought free” by the West German government and then getting deported. Some people actually used this as the only “safe” way to leave – as a family friend did by just hanging a banner out of his window and thus publically announcing his wish to leave. He was arrested, as was his wife for “collusion” despite not actually being in town at the time, and they spent a year or more in prison before being sent to West Germany – their teenage children were left to fend for themselves in the meantime. So yeah, this was a bit more serious that what happened to your wife and son.)

    And indeed, the police stopped trying to break up the prostest after the participation numbers reached 70,000, so it was peaceful when the protest marches became really big. Not that the government didn’t still try to shut them down – but the army in East Germany was drafted (with no legal conscientious objection option other than joining a small unarmed and derided “trench-building” division of the army) and even the officer candidates were mostly just in it to be allowed to study at university. And so, when a couple thousand officers-in-training from a local military school were ordered to support the police forces against the overwhelming masses, they refused the order, which would potentially have meant shooting their own families and highschool friends. Similarly, the government eventually realized that, while the soldiers selected to guard the Iron Curtain border were more loyal to the Party and had shot a few hundred people individually trying to flee the country over the years, they probably would not be willing to open fire if a large number of protesters would suddenly try to break through. (This lesson – along with the Vietnam War protests in the US that were caused by thousands of draftees being returned to their families in body bags and the rest of the male youth fearing the same fate – is why Western countries usually don’t have the general draft anymore, but instead have a professional army that attracts recruits who really do believe in obeying authority and that the goals of the State justify killing people. In Germany, it took until 2011 for people to forget that an army largely consisting of reluctant recruits may not be an entirely bad thing, but now we have a completely professional army as well.)

    And of course, the protesters did have to give the movement time to build and stay in the news, so they protested regularly every week for several months throughout the winter (September 1989 to March 1990, when new and free elections happened). Just the occasional event wouldn’t have cut it. Actually, the whole thing started several years earlier with regular public prayer meetings for peace and freedom outside a big church in Leipzig. So, unlike with Occupy which sort of petered out, Extinction Rebellion really has to be willling to make this a regular commitment for years to come.

    So the reasons this relatively peaceful movement was successful were partly truly widespread and severe discontent in the population (even some disgruntled Party members took part in the demonstrations) and the fact that they were protesting against a government that had shown itself to be very willing to crack down violently on any dissent, so a large protest was necessary just to protect the protesters and people felt enough solidarity with them to provide that. (East Germany as a society didn’t really encourage individualism, what with requiring even young kids to join the Socialist equivalent of the Scouts or Hitler Youth – i.e. kids organisations meant to get future soldiers used to wearing uniform, obeying their group leader, respecting the “team spirit” (peer pressure), practicing flag raising ceremonies and loyalty oaths to the State before they even understand what they are saying, being physically active and fit, and which “educates” them in their society’s accepted ideology, be it through collecting scrap metal without pay in the Socialist model or selling cookies in the Capitalist model. I didn’t join, but that was because the system was already looking like it was going to break down soon when I entered elementary school, and my father was kind of planning to flee the country anyway. If I’d been born earlier, this refusal of my parents would have cost me my social life at school and my right to study at university.)

    Also, the army was foolishly relying on teenage and largely unwilling recruits, so that they couldn’t be relied on as an instrument of State violence against their own people. (Why do you think the US government for example spent the last couple of decades equiping their police force with military grade weaponry, having them trained by Israeli instructors in methods previously used to “pacify” militarily occupied Palerstinians, and instilling in the police trainees a sense of shoot-first-or-they’ll-shoot-you fear of “criminals” and a general Us-vs.-Them attitude towards the general population they were originally supposed to “serve and protect”? If that’s not intentional preparation for a popular uprising feared by the establishment elite, then I’ll eat my hat. Same with the mass surveillance by cameras in public spaces in the UK.)

    What also helped was that the East German population had broad access to media that were actively hostile towards the East German government, and not just in a token way. (The West German TV/radio/newspapers covered the protests extensively, having reports smuggled out of the country. And of course everyone who had the option did watch/listen to the West German media instead of the East German media that everyone knew were just publishing government propaganda – even though it was illegal to do so. Back then, people actually believed that the West German media – privately owned radio and newspapers plus government TV channels similar to the BBC – could be relied on to tell the truth.)

    And it helped that Gorbatschow was trying to end the Cold War and thus was not willing to use military intervention. And the long-time leader of the regime, Erich Honecker, was very old already and had lost enough power within his own Party that the Politburo could force him to abdicate shortly after the prostests became serious (October 1989). So there was something of a power vacuum and the government officials were kind of running around like headless chicken. The sudden fall of the Iron Curtain happened because some functionary was supposed to announce the fact that the government was going to relent and allow travel into West Germany eventually. But when a journalist asked him “When exactly?”, this guy (apparently not having been briefed on the details) just blurted out “Uh, right now?” Thousands of people tried to cross the Wall that very night, fearing that the announcement would be redacted in the morning, and the soldiers stationed there wisely decided not to start a riot / commit suicide by mob by shooting as per their still standing orders. This broke the dam, the people made a run on the Stasi headquarters soon after, and the whole system collapsed quickly after that – too quickly for the regime to still try to defend their power through violent means. But what if the forces of established power had actually been well-organised at the time? They might have held on long enough for people to lose patience and start a violent revolution after all.

    So you see, this rare “peaceful revolution” was also the result of a number of unusual circumstances, most of which are not in effect today or in most other situations where the leaders of the protest demand absolute non-violence and well-behaved respectability from their compatriots, thinking they can replicate the success of “non-violent” mass movements like the one in East Germany.

    • Vivi:
      I don’t think it appropriate to join the Black Panthers to the Civil Rights movement in the US – particularly as an example of having To support my contention you might note that the March on Washington occurred in August of 1963; the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 (taking effect on July 2, 1964); and the Black Panthers started in Oakland CA in October of 1966.
      Rosa Parks, King, and many other hardworking veterans of the nonviolent efforts to gain sweeping legislation might demure the assertion that the Black Panthers somehow facilitated their successes.

      And not for nothing – but your history of draft vs. professional military pursuits… at least in the US case and particularly in light of the experience in Vietnam has more to do with the advent of the Panthers.

      For more on the relation between Dr. King and the Black Panthers:

      Non-violence can work.

      • Something happened in the process of displaying the previous comment…

        In the second line where it says”
        particularly as an example of having To support

        It should read:
        …particularly as an example of having violent elements to back their play.
        To support ….

        Sorry for the confusion.

    • I have yet to see anyone in germany protesting Nord Stream the second gas pipeline from siberia , when its complete Russia will have complete control over europe in a way the USSR could have only dreamed of , turn two valves and the euro economy stops dead in its tracks .
      The black panthers as with antifa are classed as terrorist groups in the US .

  15. The protests are surely a more effective way to petition one’s government than adding one’s signature to something or writing to one’s representatives. Cheers to Chris for deciding to act and increase the “social force”.

    About the contagion and escalation of “social force”, Chris has outlined — in the above essay — the process as:

    “… my misgivings about it were… I’ve now laid them aside and embraced the movement, thanks to a few dark nights of the soul and a little helping hand over the line from… I’d looked at myself and realized that my judgments about… had been wrong, that I should have been… with the protestors…”

  16. Following on from Vivi’s comments, unlike Thatcher the current UK Government hasnt kept the Police ‘onside’ & I suggest that they wont be queuing up to do the Governments dirty work in the way they were in the past

  17. ” Or why not impose lower speed limits that would both reduce consumption & be far more equitable”

    Hmmmm from an engineering point of view , lowering speed limits does little to lower consumption as the engine runs longer to cover the same distance , gas engines need a 12% gas / air mix to run , the longer they run the more fuil they need .

  18. Lowering vehicle speed limits is a great suggestion, and though I guess we have to walk before we can drive again please, I can’t help but feel cognitive dissonance in thinking of species extinctions on one hand and tweaking car use on the other. For my sins I drive a Tuscan Sunset Almera – flash if you see us! – which like all cars uses no fuel at all when parked. My pet theory is humans will have to be prised from their vehicles because after the womb it’s the smallest space we regularly enclose within and attach to. The warmth, the leather, the hum of the road like the blood through the veins. There’s even a wireless knob! Make the cocoon self-driving and you’re almost there, but will the technology swerve to avoid the snakes, birds, frogs etc that happen into our path? That said, I hope the legacy of Greta Thunberg reveals itself to be a Great Turn in the road (though I’d prefer ‘garden path’ if only it didn’t sound suspiciously like I was pulling a leg).

  19. TFTFC. Sorry that the in-tray’s a bit too full at the moment to participate much. Though on the matter of the body counts attributable to different political ideologies, I’d say awarding first place to socialism is a bit ‘MSM’, no? Maybe to avoid too much debate and disrespect to the dead we might agree that *modernist* politics involving a commitment to industrialism and notions of ineluctable social progress has killed (if not always ‘murdered’ as such) far more people than any other kind of politics in the last century? But we’d have to start figuring in issues like the IMF’s structural adjustment programs, Union Carbide in Bhopal and many similar if less spectacular occurrences, along with numerous colonial/anti-colonial conflicts and famines, nationalist conflicts, resource conflicts and genocides (Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Bengal, DRC, Rwanda, Yugoslavia etc), US-backed coups, and mass anti-communist killings (Indonesia, Vietnam). Then there’s climate change. It gets complicated…

    • Complicated yes. Unprecedented? Perhaps. Definitely human.

      Many of our fellow critters can be found to commit horrendous things (even murder) against other members of their own species. On that score we are not unique. To the level of skill, and to the extent of our species’ self destruction we seem to have no peer. But I have to scratch my head wondering why we start keeping score with *modernist* politics involving a commitment to industrialism and notions of ineluctable social progress

      It IS complicated. And if it weren’t, wouldn’t we look stupid for not having figured out how to prevent it by now?

      But for what it’s worth, one could lay the evidence that we ARE so self destructive, so brutal and outrageously cruel toward our fellow humans (in comparison with other species’ self cruelty) – lay that evidence against the fact there are more than 7 billion of us still (and growing) and we occupy more of the terrestrial surface of the planet than any other mammalian species… does this imply that to be successful in the evolutionary process, to dominate a habitat, it pays to be horrendously cruel? Ouch.

      I’ll be collecting up my hoe, scythe, and a bucket and head out to my small farm. Else I may not have a future.

  20. Sorry – also forgot to acknowledge interesting comments from Vivi, Steve & others – will try to work through & catch up.

    Regarding Clem’s response, yep I’d pretty much agree with all that. Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting that we only start keeping score with modernity. I’m suggesting that we don’t keep score at all, not least because doing so smacks of justification. But since we’re still living in the modernist moment I’d also suggest it’s worth attending to the way that modernity in both its communist and capitalist inflections has invented various ways to justify large-scale human killing, which are basically variants on the idea that people standing in the way of progress are fair game. I’m opposed to that way of thinking.

  21. I can’t see that nuclear power isn’t over or maybe I can see good reasons why it should be over – most nuclear power stations are built by large bodies of water – like the sea, because they need all that water for cooling. But the UK’s nuclear power stations are already at risk of flooding and coastal erosion (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/mar/07/uk-nuclear-risk-flooding) and accelerating climate change isn’t going to help that much – according to James Hansen the satellite record shows the doubling time for the rate of ice loss from Antarctica is just 10 years – it might not be contributing much now but at that rate it ramps up rapidly (see scary fact of the day below).

    The nuclear power station Sizewell A, at sea level on the east coat of the UK, is currently being decommissioned – it’s decommissioning will take longer, employ more people and generate more waste than it’s entire generating life. And what long term plan do we have for that waste – well we haven’t got a long term plan so we plan to store it for an indefinite short term period at Sellafield, at sea level on the west coast of the UK. Brilliant – almost as brilliant as building the country’s latest nuclear power station on a site already considered vulnerable to erosion and/or flooding. Its like the people planning these things have a box in their heads labelled climate change and another labelled nuclear power and the contents of the two boxes are never allowed to mix.

    The idea that nuclear will save us from climate change by providing low carbon electricity is about as intelligent as suggesting that we won’t be adversely affected by climate impacts on agriculture because it only represent a few % of the global economy https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/12/06/the-nobel-prize-for-climate-catastrophe/ What could possibly go wrong?

    It seems to me that in trying to imagine solutions to this problem we’re all hamstrung by the problem that we can’t actually envision the problem’s impacts on the systems we’re imagining will provide the solutions. To me that was the great insight of the Limits to Growth Report – it wasn’t that any particular resource or system is in and off itself limiting – it was the interactions between those resources and systems that was key – as you approach the limits in one area that impacts on and limits other areas.

    Scary fact of the day: To change 1 gram of ice at 0 degrees C to 1 gram of water at 0 degrees C requires 80 calories of energy (its a phase change) – a calorie is defined as the amount of energy required to raise 1 gram of water 1 degree C. So the loss of sea ice might not contribute directly to sea level rise but as we lose more of it warming could accelerate in a way we’ll really struggle to adapt to.

    • I watched every minute of Smith’s presentation and agreed with everything he said. It’s very similar, but better, than the talks Nate Hagens gives on the same subject.

      Yes, the collapse of industrial civilization should indeed be celebrated and enjoyed, since that will be the only thing to save a habitable environment, but the side effect of the process will be a lot of death from famine and disease even if we avoid widespread war. Smith was telling his young audience that the vast majority of them were going to die miserable deaths and that the few surviving celebrants were going to be working their butts off growing enough food to stay alive. Titling his talk “How to Enjoy the End of the World” was somewhat disingenuous.

      He seems to have another talk on how to go about adapting to the “end of the world”, which I will try to find on YouTube somewhere. The hints he offered sound a lot like a small farm future.

    • Thanks for the link Daz – I found the stuff on the relationship between complexity and entropy fascinating – I’ve been thinking for a while that our belief that ‘we’ can ‘solve’ climate change is just another expression of of the hubris that created the problem in the first place. I’d never heard of John Conway’s ‘Game of Life’ before (https://bitstorm.org/gameoflife/) but it works beautifully to illustrate that relationship and the rarity of self sustaining complex systems – the thing that really struck me most was the observation that the more complex the system the smaller the peturbation required to cause it’s unravelling – doesn’t bode well for us at this point me thinks.

      • There is a bit of confusion over complexity and how robust a system might be… we tend toward viewing the things we least understand as the most complex. To a youngster even simple algebra is complex. To our distant ancestors an eclipse of the sun was terrifying (and too complex to appreciate). Now we tend to take for granted the complexities of the world we understand to a certain degree [or convince ourselves we understand – hubris again] while those systems we still puzzle over still retain the ‘complex’ description. Conway’s Game of Life is hardly a suitable metaphor for the universe we inhabit.

        What constitutes a small perturbation? If a butterfly flaps its wings in a SE Asian rainforest, will a tornado rip through central Oklahoma as a result? Is a tornado a small perturbation? An earthquake? A volcanic eruption?

        When our distant ancestors started digging irrigation systems they perturbed the natural environment. And they modified the habitats of many other critters in the region as they did this. The planet as a complex system is still here.

        I don’t want to suggest that digging an irrigation ditch is somehow the equivalent of splitting atoms to generate electricity. But there are some parallels. There are historic precedents for human survival through climatic changes as well. The notion we are doomed and the end is next week is a touch simplistic.

        Perhaps our most significant difficulty is how lazy we become when the majority of life’s challenges are somehow dealt with by our machines. Few of us can build or fix the vast majority of the kit we handle on a daily basis. A little software bug and our computer crashes. And there we sit… a small perturbation in a complex system and we are stymied. Then we conflate that experience with the remaining universe. What is the opposite of hubris?

          • Perhaps largely because of hubris, at base, it seems faith in the complexity of man-made systems is the unquestioned norm and our general drift, while moving away from that to a life more entwined with enduring natural systems is still a minority pursuit. I think it was Andrew who wrote that ecomodernists and people like them don’t want to get their hands dirty. When one decides to get one’s hands dirty – simply growing your own vegetables for example – your thoughts can’t help but brush up against the vulnerability of your situation (ie you would likely starve if you had to produce your family’s calories yourself, or even procure them in a way that’s non-polluting). It’s a bit like choosing the 4×4 rather than taking the bike. When it’s going alright the former will likely lull the user into a feeling of invulnerability. In contrast the walker or cyclist may project vulnerability to the drivers. Acknowledgement of vulnerability is the mature choice, hence I repeatedly admonish myself ‘step away from the vehicle and grow up!‘:)

        • I quite agree its impossible to define ‘small peterbation’ and that Conway’s game isn’t a perfect metaphor for the universe we inhabit. That said I think the end permian extinction is an instructive example – it’s thought to have wiped out 90% of all species existent at that time but it’s thought to have taken over a period of 60,000 to 80,000 years. I bet if you were living through the ‘peturbation’ that set that extinction in motion you’d not have noticed a thing. I’ve also read about modelling that suggests we may have lost half the species that were living in 1950 by 2100. If that turned out to be the case we’d be losing species 200 times faster than they were lost during the end permian extinction event – and yet the mojority of humans barely register that anything is changing and even those of us who read about/pay attention to such things don’t notice much difference in our day to day lives.

          And I’m not necessarily saying we’re doomed – there are example of humans surviving significant climatic change – my favourite is the Australian Aboriginals who have songlines that extend out under the ocean and which date from before the end of the last ice age – a long term culture. But I’d also suggest that the rate of change we’re now experiencing is far faster than anything in the geological record and so the challenges we face are similarly maginified.

          • I wonder what 200 times faster than 60,000-80,000 years might pan out at? An incalculable mystery I’d imagine. Reading one of the recent bug-loss reports, it was pointed out by one of the insect aficionados that humans don’t register diminshment of another species, only loss.

          • The Monarch butterfly’s diminishment has been pretty well monitored in the US. And it appears to be making something of a comeback. Helps to be flashy and cute. Bald Eagles doing better vs. 50 years ago too.

            At the opposite pole – not so cute… and often affiliated with mosquitos, house flies, ticks, spiders, roaches, one might suppose the insects have a mountain to climb to gain any respect.

  22. Apologies to Bruce for failing to approve his comment for a couple of days. The perils of including more than one link… Trying to juggle writing while even doing a bit of farming means that I forget to look at my blog some days at the moment…

    I agree with Steve & Clem inasamuch as many countries are committed to nuclear so clearly it’s going to be around for a while, but I can’t see it as anything much more than a sideshow at best to addressing current problems – not least because it’s only really financially viable for rich countries, and even then only questionably. As Bruce says, sea level rise is also a non-trivial problem.

    In a 2010 book Vaclav Smil claimed that even a tenfold expansion of current nuclear capacity would avoid no more than about 15% of cumulative carbon emissions forecast for 2000-2075 – I’d be interested if anyone could point me to any updated versions of that kind of analysis.

    • “In a 2010 book Vaclav Smil claimed that even a tenfold expansion of current nuclear capacity would avoid no more than about 15% of cumulative carbon emissions forecast for 2000-2075”

      Sounds like Smil got those numbers from an article published in 2002 (submitted in 2000) “Nuclear energy: Tenfold expansion or phase-out?” by Bob C.C. van der Zwaan.

      Interesting (and personally disappointing) that the original context was pro-nuclear, with author B.C.C. van der Zwaan stating that nuclear energy “could contribute significantly to mitigating carbon emissions” with some caveats:

      “If nuclear energy were expanded 10-fold, it could contribute significantly to mitigating carbon emissions: a 10-fold expansion of nuclear energy could avoid about 15% of cumulative carbon emissions over the period 2000 –2075. Nuclear energy, however, can be no panacea for the problem of global warming. Even with a massive expansion, nuclear energy should be complemented by drastic fossil fuel decarbonization measures or the development of renewable energy resources. Preferably, a combination of both should be targeted and complemented by far-reaching efficiency and savings regimes. Since the risks for humanity resulting from climate change are high, it would be unwise to currently abandon any noncarbon energy resource, including fission.”


        • Van der Zwann’s article was interesting, but dated. It was written before the dramatic acceleration in the rate of industrialization in China, so the rate of carbon emissions that he expected in 2040 (without any tenfold nuclear expansion) was actually reached in 2014.

          It was also written pre-Fukushima, so even though he was aware of the public fear of nuclear energy, he couldn’t anticipate the effect of that major accident causing even more damage to the reputation of nuclear power.

          Since the report was written there has been no expansion of nuclear power. The number of TWh generated last year was almost the same as that generated in the year 2000. This is a good thing, because, except for Finland, no long term nuclear waste sequestration projects have been implemented at all.

          The vast majority of high-level nuclear waste from power plants is still stored in cooling pools that need a continuous supply of cooling water to keep from catastrophic overheating and uncontrolled dispersion. The nuclear industry and governments assume that we can keep doing this forever, which is a very dangerous assumption. Although I am hoping for the collapse of industrial civilization, I hope they get all that waste sequestered before it happens.

        • Under the heading of Further Updates:

          MIT has published several “Future of ____ energy” pieces over the last couple decades:

          The Future of Nuclear Power (2003)
          The Future of Geothermal Energy (2006)
          The Future of Coal (2007)
          Update of the Future of Nuclear Power (2009)
          The Future of Natural Gas (2011)
          The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle (2011)
          The Future of the Electric Grid (2011)
          The Future of Solar Energy (2015)

          And there is a new (2018) one on nuclear in a carbon constrained world at:


          This is 275 pages, I’ve not gone through it all. From the Exec Summary it appears to take nuclear as a necessary piece of a complex basket of electric generation technologies where decarbonization is a priority. In a phrase – there are tradeoffs.

          We’ve discussed tradeoffs here in the past. How we as a populace go about deciding which trades to make is important. There will need to be more thinking on all fronts as we go along. Just setting up a segue…

          • Since MIT has a Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, I anticipated a certain slant to that document. Indeed, it talks about the “challenges of cost and public perceptions of safety” as if the safety issues are largely about PR.

            The public perceptions (and casualties) would be a lot worse than they are today, if something as ephemeral as wind direction had been different at Fukushima.

            Fortunately for millions of people, the wind wasn’t blowing southwest from Fukushima Daiichi towards Tokyo that day, but instead deposited most of the airborne radioactive material into the sparsely populated mountainous area to the northwest of the reactor site.

  23. Further comments re:
    “In a 2010 book Vaclav Smil claimed that even a tenfold expansion of current nuclear capacity would avoid no more than about 15% of cumulative carbon emissions forecast for 2000-2075”

    It appears that the 2002 analysis behind the numbers that Smil used (in 2010) fails to consider the opportunity costs of such an expansion of nuclear power generation. The same amount of money, if instead spent on expansion of some non-nuclear energy sources, would result in greater reductions of carbon emissions, according to this publication found at Stanford:

    “Generating electricity causes two-fifths of U.S. and more than one-third of global fossil-fueled CO2 emissions, which in turn are about three-fourths of total CO2 emissions, excluding the additional effects of other greenhouse gases. Nuclear power addresses only part of the electrical fraction of fossil CO2 emissions—the fraction of chiefly coal-fired power generation that runs fairly steadily, not at widely varying output, in grids large enough to accommodate nuclear units’ size (far too big for many smaller countries or rural users). Nuclear power’s potential climate solution is further restricted by its inherent slowness of deployment (in capacity or annual output added per year), as confirmed by market data below. And its higher relative cost than nearly all competitors, per unit of net CO2 displaced, means that every dollar invested in nuclear expansion will worsen climate change by buying less solution per dollar.

    The reason is simple: you can’t spend the same dollar on two different things at the same time. (Economists call this “opportunity cost”—making any investment foregoes others.) New nuclear power costs far more than its distributed competitors, so it buys far less coal displacement per dollar than the competing investments it stymies…

    The more urgent it is to protect the climate, the more vital it is to spend each dollar in ways that will displace the most carbon soonest. This means focusing on big wins. To gain big climate benefits, deploying the efficiency and micropower resources that now provide upwards of half the world’s new electrical services is vital—but deploying the nuclear resource that provides ~1% of that service growth and yields ~1.4–11+ times less carbon saving per dollar is irrelevant or worse. Ignoring the former and fixating on the latter only reduces and retards climate protection.”

    The Nuclear Illusion, by Amory B. Lovins and Imran Sheikh, 2008

  24. A more recent paper (2015) concludes:

    “Given the powerful economic trends operating against nuclear and central station power, the retirement of uneconomic aging reactors and the abandonment of ongoing new reactor construction can be a non-event. An orderly exit from nuclear and central station power is not only possible but crucial to ensure a least-cost, low-carbon future that is economically more beneficial, environmentally more responsible and kinder to consumers and the nation.”

    “Power Shift: The deployment of a 21st century electricity sector and the nuclear war to stop it”
    Mark Cooper, Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis
    Institute for Energy and the Environment
    Vermont Law School, 2015

    “This paper presents a comprehensive analysis of the ongoing battle between two very different visions for the future of the electricity sector:

    – the 20th century model of central station, baseload/peak-load generation that passively follows demand,
    – the emerging 21st century, decentralized model based on coordinating and actively integrating distributed supply with managed demand using advanced information, communications, and control technologies.

    The paper demonstrates that the current conflict between the dominant incumbents, led by nuclear power on the one side, and the new entrants, on the other, has reached a crucial turning point that will deeply affect the speed of the transformation and the ultimate structure of the 21st century electricity system…

    In summary, the 21st century model has strong advantages over the 20th century model in a low carbon environment on every key policy criteria. It has lower resource and total system costs, less investment risk, a larger resource base, yields more macroeconomic benefits and is more environmentally responsible and sustainable. It is the equal of the 20th century model in
    terms of reliability. Given the powerful economic trends operating against nuclear and central station power, the retirement of uneconomic aging reactors and the abandonment of ongoing new reactor construction can be a non-event. An orderly exit from nuclear and central station power is not only possible but crucial to ensure a least-cost, low-carbon future that is economically more beneficial, environmentally more responsible and kinder to consumers and the nation.”


  25. My thanks to Joe, Clem and Steve for the additional nuclear discussion. Some good stuff there for me to follow up…

  26. The first in a three-part critique of XR’s tactics, organization, and strategy from the Out of the Wood’s blog:


    “Across this three part critique we aim to show that the tactics, organisational form and strategies utilized by Extinction Rebellion (XR) are not just unnecessary, but are deeply damaging. They endanger those participating, other groups using direct action to struggle for political change (both now and in the future), and frame ecological crisis in ways that leave the door open for dystopian ‘solutions’. We make these critiques not to denigrate those who have taken part in their activism: we admire the commitment and bravery frequently evident, and we stand in solidarity with those who face state repression as a result. So severe are these concerns that we discourage participation in XR actions.”

    • Thanks for that Ernie. I’m not overly convinced by their critique so far. It’s possible to accept that the police are implicated in structures of inequality and power while not regarding them or individual arresting officers as enemies of the protest.

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