Creating irresistible demand
for a global atmosphere upgrade

Bruce Sterling's Viridian Design Movement


Viridian Note 00475: Getting Real
by Bruce Sterling
Key concepts:
climate change, prevention, adaptation, political realism
Attention Conservation Notice:
A glum and comprehensive fit of handwringing as it dawns on everybody that matters that climate change is not just "an issue" but destined to become "the" issue.

Fun links before the depressing mayhem:

In Iceland, they turn out all the city lights to watch the stars! The descendants of seafaring Vikings have to be told what constellations are, since they've never seen any.

Rich hippies will save the world – while flying designer passenger rockets into outer space!

Rubber sidewalks! That's bouncy news!

Who can't like a METROPOLIS design competition? And it's about energy!

London City Hall is green! Rule Britannia!

This wild scheme actually turns CO2 back into fuel! What? Huh? What happened to the Second Law of Thermodynamics?


Climate change: time to get real

by Tom Burke
September 26, 2006

"The science is clear, the technology is available. To meet the challenge of 'the most serious threat to humanity since the invention of nuclear weapons,' climate-change campaigners now need to win the political argument, says Tom Burke of E3G.

Link: (((Tom Burke is a career British green political who must be perfectly aware that the time to "get real" about weather violence was about thirty years ago. What the heck, carry on!)))

"The public argument on climate change has been transformed by a series of recent interventions by scientists. First, James E Hansen, the global doyen of climate scientists, announced that the world has only ten years in which to take decisive action on the climate.

"'I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change ... no longer than a decade, at the most,' he told the Climate Change Research Conference in Sacramento, California.Â

(((Hansen may be right... or it may be time to figure out who to abduct and torture after the 'window of opportunity' stays nailed shut. But wait, that would be the glorious job of the US Congress!)))

"Second, John P Holdren, the incoming president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in his inaugural address that the world is already experiencing dangerous climate change.

"Third, Britain's national academy of science, the Royal Society, sent a letter to the oil company ExxonMobil asking it to stop supporting organisations that were deliberately distorting the science of climate change.

(((A stern letter from the Royal Society! I reckon they're trembling in their snakeskin boots over at Exxon's Texan HQ.))),,1876538,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=1 (((Kind of an interesting letter, though.)))

"We are much more accustomed to scientists entering the public debate about risk to say that our fears are exaggerated. There is no precedent for the kind of interventions we are now witnessing.

(((An entire scientific intelligentsia being wiped out by Lysenkoism springs to mind, but that may not be a "precedent" that our author is eager to contemplate.)))

"They are a mark of the growing panic within the scientific community at the deepening abyss between what they know about the climate and what governments are doing.

"Two things are now becoming clear. The climate is changing faster, and the impacts of this change are going to be nastier, than we first thought."

(((A few change-impacts, like, for instance, these, thoughtfully assembled last month by Arlington Institute. It's a nothing deal to assemble reports like this now. The change is coming much faster than anybody is managing to "get real.")))


"Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder have now figured out how to project the results of global futures scenarios, based on sophisticated computer predictions – formerly just rows of numbers – as changing colors on a 5-foot sphere with the continents outlined on it. A number of these spheres are now being installed in museums around the United States and the world, so the world can see what it's in for.

Forecast Puts Earth's Future under a Cloud -- (Guardian -- August 15, 2006),,1844789,00.html

"More than half of the world's major forests will be lost if global temperatures rise by an average of 3C or more by the end of the century. This prediction comes from the most comprehensive analysis yet of the potential effects of human-made global warming. Extreme floods, forest fires and droughts will also become more common over the next 200 years as global temperatures rise owing to climate change."

Greenland Melt 'Speeding Up' -- (BBC -- August 11, 2006)

"The meltdown of Greenland's ice sheet is speeding up, satellite measurements show. Data from a NASA satellite show that the melting rate has accelerated since 2004. If the ice cap were to completely disappear, global sea levels would rise by 6.5m (21 feet)."

Aspen Trees in West Dying -- (ABC -- August 11, 2006)

"A conservative estimate is that about 10 percent of the aspen in Colorado may have died or become afflicted with something in the past 5 to 10 years. Possible causes include a fungus, hungry caterpillars, drought, man's interference with the natural cycle of forest fires, and even resurgent herds of hungry elk nibbling saplings to death.

More Frequent Heat Waves Linked to Global Warming -- (Washington Post -- August 04, 2006)

"Heat waves like those that have scorched Europe and the United States in recent weeks are becoming more frequent because of global warming, say scientists who have studied decades of weather records and computer models of past, present and future climate."

(((See? Nowadays, any and every futurist can sound just like Viridian List! Meanwhile, back to the political activist.)))

"The hole we're in

"But other, more hopeful, things are also becoming clearer. We may no longer be able to avoid dangerous climate change, but we can avoid catastrophic climate change.

(((Or, if we trundle right along into 'catastrophic' due to continued political incapacity, maybe we can draw a firm line at 'apocalyptic.')))

"We already have the technologies we need to keep the eventual temperature rise to around two degrees Centigrade. But we need to deploy them with great urgency.

"We also know that we can afford to do so. Economic analyses of the cost of tackling climate change suggest that it will require the equivalent of around 1% of GDP. This is well within the margin of error of these figures and would simply delay the arrival of the same level of wealth by a few months. (((Unless you're Exxon Mobil, in which case you're left in the toilet because, in your infinite market wisdom, you never did a thing about green energy.)))

"Estimates of the economic damage resulting from a rapidly changing climate are often five times as much. It will not cost the earth to prevent catastrophic climate change, but it will cost the earth not to do so. (((The Earth doesn't pay the bills for denial lobbyists.)))

"The problem is neither the economics nor the technology: it's the politics.

"Preventing catastrophic climate change requires nothing less than the complete transformation of the global energy system in the next forty years.

(((Actually, we're gonna get that change either way: we either rebuild the global energy system, or else it catches fire, blows over and drowns.)))

"We must both reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and stop the carbon from the fossil fuels we do use from entering the atmosphere. (((You'd think that Members of Parliament had built all those smokestacks personally. Are smokestacks in the Magna Carta?)))

"We currently add about seven billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere each year. If we continue to fuel our expanding economy as we do today this will become fourteen billion tonnes a year by 2050. (((I'm trying to think of a witty remark to make about fourteen billion annual tons of carbon. Let me know if you have one.)))

"Agriculture adds another two-and-a-half billion tonnes that cannot easily be removed. The oceans and plants annually absorb some five billion tonnes of that carbon. By 2050, therefore, we must remove eleven-and-a-half billion tonnes of carbon a year from our economy, emitting close to zero from our energy use. Then we have to keep it there, effectively for ever.

"This is certainly a daunting prospect. But the consequences of failure are terrifying. (((The future is a kind of slider-bar between 'daunting' and 'terrifying.')))

"In the face of such difficulty there is much glib talk about adaptation. Some suggest that instead of trying to meet such a difficult challenge, we should concentrate our efforts on learning to live with a changing climate. This is a shallow and deceitful proposal.

"It is a fantasy to expect already fragile governments in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia to peacefully manage and adapt to the disruption (including migration) caused by climate change. The politics of insecurity in countries affected there will erupt into factionalism and conflict; Darfur is already one stark example of this reality.

"Californians may be able to adapt to the loss of melt waters from the Sierra Nevada by building hugely expensive, and energy-intensive, desalination plants. But that option will not be available to the hundreds of millions of Indians and Pakistanis who depend on Himalayan melt waters.

(((Okay, the Pakistanis are a basket-case, but I'm inclined to think that the Bangalore contingent might be much BETTER at this than the Silicon Valley crowd. I mean, just look at Vinod Khosla.)))

"Some adaptation will be inevitable, as the climate is already changing. We who live in the rich world must be willing to help the poorest among us to deal with the consequences of climate change; this is an additional and obligatory, not a discretionary, responsibility for the industrialised nations that have benefited most from the profligate use of fossil fuels.

(((Kind of in the same brilliant, noblesse-oblige fashion that advanced industrial Britain is already aiding and helping backward Iraq.)))

"Since adaptation is not an option, we must address head on the difficult politics of prevention. The first step is to recognise that climate change is not just another environmental problem. It is a fundamental threat to prosperity and security.

"An unstable climate threatens the social and political stability on which all prosperity depends. Equity will suffer as the poorest are hit first and worst. Opportunity will contract rather than expand as the stresses of a rapidly changing climate divide rather than unite nations and communities.

(((The collapse of civilization isn't really an equity issue. That probably plays well with the Labour Party, though.)))

"Politics is often referred to as the art of the possible. Meeting the climate challenge means expanding the realm of the possible dramatically. David King, chief scientific advisor to Britain's prime minister, is right to say that climate change is a bigger problem than global terrorism.

"In fact, it is the most serious threat to humanity since the invention of nuclear weapons. In developing and responding to that threat the world has invested many trillions of pounds over the past sixty years. To respond to climate change, we have yet to invest more than a few billion.

(((The key distinction is that we’re not actually in a real-life, ongoing, steadily mounting nuclear exchange. Though I certainly wouldn't write one off if there's no snow in the mountains of India, California and everywhere else.)))

"The way out

"It is time for those engaged in the battle for a stable climate to get real. Political battles are essentially battles for resources. (((And if you watch those pipelines exploding, you can see that the same truism goes for actual battles.)))

"We face a shared dilemma. To ensure wellbeing for a growing population with unfulfilled needs and rising expectations we must grow our economies. Should we fail, conflict and insecurity will be the result.

"To grow our economies we must continue
to use more energy. Much of that energy will be in the form of fossil fuels. If we use more fossil fuels we will accelerate climate change. If the climate changes rapidly we will destroy the very prosperity and security we are trying to build.

"There is a way out from this narrow ground between rock and hard place. It involves the very rapid expansion of energy efficiency, of biofuels and other renewables and of carbon capture and storage.

"Left to itself, the $17 trillion that will be invested in energy technologies by 2050 will add the other seven billion tonnes of carbon a year to the atmosphere. To keep our climate stable we are going to have spend enough public money to make those technologies carbon-neutral.

"This will be easier than many think. A relatively small carbon tax will yield vast amounts of revenue. That revenue can be dedicated to paying the difference between carbon-intensive technologies and those which are carbon-neutral. As the switch is made, the need for the revenue will decline and the tax can be reduced.

(((Alternately, you can simply INVADE countries emitting carbon, which seems like a likelier scenario once things start hitting the fan.)))

"Europe currently spends 46% of its annual budget on a problem it has already solved: food security. It spends practically nothing on a problem that threatens the livelihoods and wellbeing of every single citizen in the union: climate security.

"It is time to look to the future rather than remain trapped in the past. That means a radical reallocation of European funds from the common agricultural policy into a climate security fund.

"Some of this can, of course, be spent to enhance the role farmers can play in preventing climate change. (((Fewer butter mountains and wine lakes, more cellulosic European ethanol. Plus ca change, plus ce la meme chose.)))

"Successful campaigning requires the relentless hammering away at a deliverable goal that can easily be understood. The present cacophony of ideas coming from climate campaigners simply confuses the public and lets governments off the hook. (((Hmmmm.)))

"Good campaigning builds public awareness and then leverages it to compel specific actions. There is no shortage of public awareness about the threat to the climate. But this has not yet been leveraged by the campaigners.

"It is now time they focused that awareness on three simple questions: how much governments need to spend, on what, and by when."

(((I like it that he ends this by blaming scatter- brained enviros. Still, there's little in this urging to "get real" that is new to Viridian readers. It's a grim warning, but there's not a lot of skin in it.)))

(((That's why I append this NEXT opinion piece, by a Katrina survivor. This guy is an American business manager and he probably votes Republican. He doesn't breathe a word in his speech about climate change; he's just suffering it. He represents the true avant-garde of weather violence: people catching it right in the neck with a glum inability to grasp the cause of their decline. He is the kind of guy who needs comprehensive convincing if anything "real" is to happen in reducing future sufferings. If he "gets real," the rest will follow.)))


Speech to the ISA Convention
by Lee Eagan

INDUSTRIAL DISTRIBUTION magazine, June 1, 02006

(. . . )

"The city that I love and that many of you love is a shell of its former self.

"Eighty percent (not 8) of the city flooded, with as much as 20 feet of water.

"Two hundred fifty thousand homes, not houses, were damaged, most beyond repair.

"Five hundred thousand automobiles were flooded, many still remain on the streets.

"I live 5 blocks from Tulane University and half a block from the St. Charles Ave streetcar line.

"a. The water stopped 2 blocks from my house.

"b. 8 miles from my house, north to the lake – very few houses you can live in.

"c. 23 miles to the East (towards Mississippi) very few, if any, houses you can live in.

"d. My family has long had a presence in Bay St. Louis. These houses on the water had survived all major hurricanes, including Camille. They are gone. You need a GPS to determine where a house was. Complete devastation.

"e. The wonderful, beautiful antebellum homes on the Gulf in Mississippi, were not 'damaged,' they were eliminated. Miles and miles of nothing.

"But many of you know this, what you do not know, is where are we now. (((June 02006.)))

"Complete neighborhoods are still void of life. No attempt to rebuild.

"There is a critical housing shortage. People have nowhere to live. Many FEMA trailers are installed, but many people do not have keys, and if they do, they must evacuate when the winds rise above 40 MPH.

"Water service in some areas of the city is dangerously low and cannot support additional usage. Eighty percent of the water system is compromised.

"Public schools in Orleans Parish are basically non-existent. Many damaged beyond repair.

"Louisiana's labor force has shrunk every month since November. The unemployment rate of those that remain displaced is 35%. The well being of the hundreds of thousands of people still displaced by Katrina continues to be in doubt.

"Medical care is unacceptably primitive. Only two hospitals in Orleans Parish are open, and these are smaller hospitals. The large private and public hospitals were destroyed, not to be re-opened.

"Doctors are unable to make a living and are leaving the City.

"Last week our controller had to be rushed by ambulance to one of the hospitals open. The hospital re-directed the ambulance to a hospital 40 miles away, because they could not take him, as the wait in the emergency room was 10-12 hours.

"With significantly less population, there were 25% more death notices in the paper in Jan 2006 than in Jan 2005. Medical professionals (and I quote) have said 'stress, exacerbating underlying health issues, is blamed for many of these deaths.'

"Post traumatic stress disorder and suicide are urgent public health issues.

"Many businesses are still trying to recover from 8-10 weeks of no cash receipts.

"Mail is very unreliable. I have not received a Wall Street Journal since Pre K.

"Both medical schools in New Orleans are in danger of losing their accreditation because of lack of patients, hospitals and people.

"Employees are very difficult to find. The days of $8-10 hour people are history.

"Places to eat lunch are scarce. Many restaurants are open only a few days a week, with limited hours, some close by 8PM. Commander's, Mr. B's and Emeril's Delmonico have been and remain closed.

"Grocery stores have limited hours and have no one to stock the shelves.

"Fifty percent of the stoplights are still dark.

"Blue Roofs are still the most prevalent color in the region.

"People have exceeded their frustration levels in fighting with insurance companies. Most people and companies have not, nine months later, reached a settlement.

"Insurance companies are not writing new business and are raising rates to unheard of levels, with significantly lower limits, in order to flee the area.

"In addition, the fine print now excludes wind and hail.

"The cost of construction and construction related materials have increased over 100% since Katrina.

"Our utility provider has gone bankrupt and with the loss of 50- 60% of its customer base is raising rates as much as 2.6 times in order to spread the cost over fewer customers.

"City services are a joke. Grass is not cut; garbage is once a week if you are lucky.

"Our Governor is an embarrassment. She does not have a clue. It takes her 4 hours to watch '60 MINUTES.'

"Our mayor, by his actions, has basically asked 42% of the population and 80% of the small businesses to leave. Taxes are still being assessed, with no plan for change, on destroyed property. Assuming that he does not get re-elected today, he probably should apply for a job working on the Hershey Chocolate candy line.

"Our political issues are our own fault, but there are significant issues that belong to FEMA and the Corps of Engineers.

"The Corps of Engineers is responsible for levee protection. Although we had patronizing levee boards, in the end it is the Corps, by law, it is their responsibility to protect us from flooding. (((Even if Greenland melts? Well, yeah! Legal is legal.)))

"The Corps must take responsibility for their failure to properly supervise the construction of both the levees and the retaining walls.

"A hurricane can be hell. But the good people of New Orleans – we were not devastated by the storm, rather it was the failure of the Corps to properly design and build and supervise the construction of the levee system and retaining walls that decimated us. (((He's gotta blame somebody for the decimation. But suppose the Army Corps of Engineers gets abolished. Where's New Orleans then?)))

"Be not mistaken, Katrina was a bitch. In 12 hours fifty percent of the barrier island system and wetlands that protect Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas was eliminated. Each 2.7 miles of wetlands reduce the storm surge by 1 foot. Half of it is gone, not to return in my lifetime. This means that a 2006 Cat 2 storm could create as much devastation and a 2005 Cat 3 storm. (((He's tantalizingly close to catching on!)))

"Hurricane season is 10 days away. The levees are not ready and neither are we."

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