Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Nobody To Shoot.

Unbridled Consumption: This civilisation we have built (we being the whole human species) is the most astonishingly wonderful thing homo sapiens has ever seen. We love it. We cannot imagine how awful life would be without it. And, we most certainly are not going to co-operate with anyone who advises us to throw it away.

THERE’S A SCENE in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” where an embattled dust-bowl sharecropper struggles to defend his land. He threatens to shoot the man sent to demolish the farm buildings on behalf of the bank. Don’t blame me says the demolition man. The farmer then threatens to shoot the bank president who signed the foreclosure papers. Patiently, the demolition man explains that the bank manager is only carrying out the instructions of the bank’s owners back East. Utterly defeated, the propertyless sharecropper cries plaintively: “But where does it stop? Who can we shoot? I don’t aim to starve to death before I kill the man that’s starving me.” To which the demolition man replies: “I don’t know. Maybe there’s nobody to shoot. Maybe the thing isn’t human at all.”

It’s an exchange I always recall whenever I hear people advocating going after “the man that’s starving me”. The latest target of this “who can we shoot” proposition are the 100 companies allegedly responsible for 71 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Not surprisingly, the first of these planetary polluters to fill the gunsights of Earth’s angry sharecroppers are the oil companies.

Former One Tree Hill-feller, Mike Smith, now working for the Iwi Leaders Forum, is aiming to bring Rainer Seele, CEO of the Austrian oil-giant OMV, before the International Criminal Court for “genocide and other climate crimes impacting on indigenous communities now and in the future”. It would be churlish not to wish Mr Smith well, but the chances of Mr Seele being convicted (or even indicted!) by the ICC are about as good as Steinbeck’s sharecropper bagging a New York banker with his gopher gun.

The Iwi Leaders Forum may have deep pockets, but they are unlikely to be as deep as OMVs when it comes to keeping a team of international law experts on retainer for the length of time between Mr Smith launching his legal case – and its inevitable abandonment. Inevitable? Of course. The idea that the CEOs of those 100 companies will ever be brought before a criminal court for doing what their billions of customers and clients around the world demand of them is ludicrous.

That’s the nub of the problem, isn’t it. Those giant corporations would wither and die in just a few months if the peoples of the world unanimously agreed to stop purchasing their products and services. What could be simpler? Just throw away your lap-top and cellphone. Junk your car – and your ready-to-wear wardrobe. Leave the city you’re living in. Stop using electricity. Throw away your prescription medicines. Easy-peasy! Take away the demand, and rest assured, there will be no more supply.

Except, the demand for all those goods and services isn’t going anywhere – is it? In fact, it is set to grow, exponentially, as all the peoples on earth currently shut out of the Western lifestyle determinedly amass the wealth needed to acquire it. Now, the Mike Smiths of this world will undoubtedly urge the people of India and Brazil, and the poorest nations of Africa, to embrace their poverty as the surest means of saving the planet, but I would advise them to put on their running shoes before they start making their pitch.

There will be many who object that this is nothing but a crude exercise in victim blaming. Most people really do want to save the planet, but the relentless battering of journalists, advertisers, public relations consultants, lobbyists, corporate fixers, corrupt politicians – many of them on the payrolls of those 100 companies – keep us all running, like so many demented consumerist hamsters, on the great wheel of capitalism.

But, once again, all we have to do is stop. Except, we don’t stop – do we?

This civilisation we have built (we being the whole human species) is the most astonishingly wonderful thing homo sapiens has ever seen. We love it. We cannot imagine how awful life would be without it. And, we most certainly are not going to co-operate with anyone who advises us to throw it away.

We like our lap-tops and our cellphones. We like our cars and our cheap RTW clothes. We like living in vast, vibrant cities built out of concrete and steel. We like being able to flick a switch and get all the energy we can use. We like turning on a tap and being able to drink the water that comes out. We like it that there are hospitals and clinics full of clever doctors and nurses, and pharmacies full of clever drugs. And we don’t actually care if every last Polar Bear in creation is reduced to a pathetic heap of skin and bones – just so long as our super-civilisation, powered by its indispensable and irreplaceable (at least for the foreseeable future) fossil-fuels, keeps on a-rockin’.

So, much and all as Mr Smith might wish it were otherwise, Mr Seele and all the other CEOs of those miscreant 100 companies have nothing to fear from virtue-signalling activists. They know, just as the demolition man in Steinbeck’s novel knew, that there’s nobody to shoot.

Because the thing that is frying the planet – and all our futures – isn’t human. It’s a vast and impossibly complex economic machine, and it absolutely does not care what we think or say – only what we buy.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 14 March 2023.


Gary Peters said...

"But, once again, all we have to do is stop"

"Because the thing that is frying the planet – and all our futures – isn’t human. It’s a vast and impossibly complex economic machine, and it absolutely does not care what we think or say – only what we buy."

And yet unbiased scientists clearly state that "man" is responsible for a mere 3% of climate impacting emissions.

I sugesst that you "true believers" head a few ks up the ocean and have a chat with some of the volcanoes that continue to show they are the masters of this world not us. Oh, and then pop off to that irritating yellow blob in the sky and ask it to just calm down with it's gamma rays and thingys.

At no time in the past have we had such access to available information and data yet most still just allow "experts" to construct their narrative that islands are sinking under sea level rise, polar bears are dying out and carbon dioxide, you know plant food, will fry us all. This despite the existence verifiable facts that islands are growing and we have more polar bears than 15 years ago and yes, we do still have glaciers.

PS: The Great Barrier reef isn't dying either, it's growing.

Why do we seek out the worst narratives rather than live in a happy place? By the way, 80,000 didn't die either 😎

John Hurley said...

You don't describe me in your list Chris.
I bought a used Camry years ago (1997 still under 100,000 km), I recall wishing houses were cheap and cars expensive (reversal).
When I was young I sat on the next door neighbors concrete steps at Diamond Harbour and watched fascinated by tiny red "money spiders" among the spots of lichen. My generation hold up signs "daylight robbery" while Yuppies hold up signs saying "more housing". They are like Stu Donovan, Hayden Donnell and Bernard Hickey ("our pohutukawa"), who would raise the bar so that their children watch the money spiders in their own private space and everyone else on TV.
The problem is minorities are sacred (the Woke); minorities are profitable (Ashley Church; Bob Jones;Connel Townsend; Eric Crampton) so population is not a problem.

You should have talked to Brenton Tarrant. Using Moslem's to make a point is like running an innocent person over and smearing the canvas with blood as a form of politcal art. There are more-guilty people up the hierarchy (such as) the people who filter our thoughts. Politics depends on a public square; technology allows us not to see the speakers pushed aside and spoken over.

Archduke Piccolo said...

We don't have to stop. But we CAN slow down.

Recall in recent years when the economy was looking a bit sluggish and the Government and businesses were saying 'people aren't spending enough'? Wasn't that a large and hairy hint? Recall - even in recent years - as how depositors in banks got scant sympathy for seeing their savings withering away, because those savings were not being spent on ... stuff? Recall the nonsense from the likes of Milton Friedman saying that the billionaire types should be rewarded for being billionaires, because they spent more money and hence contributed more to the economy? You know: the 'Let 'em eat shit' theory.

I guess he hadn't heard of the Cayman Islands-type of tax havens and tax dodging. Maybe 'hoarding' had somehow avoided his vocabulary. I guess he forgot the 666,667 people will spend as much money buying their loaves of bread as some Fat Cat will buying a million-dollar yacht. And they will do that every other day; he won't.

It is true that the health of an economy, according to FDR's adviser who created the New Deal, is predicated upon the 'velocity of money'. Our 666,667 people contribute to that, as he allowed (this was one Fat Cat who had a measure of wisdom). So by slowing down spending in small ways without any spectacular - or even so very onerous - sacrifices (but letting it be known that you ARE cutting back, and why), will do something to alert the Fat Cats. Maybe.

The fact remains, though, that we many - we insignificant many - can do very little ourselves to ameliorate humanity's ill effect on the Earth's environment. The Fat Cats can do a deal more, and that will, of course, force the bulk of humanity also to adapt. We need leadership, not followership, but followership is pretty much all we have right now. So our aim might be better directed towards the people who can have large effects towards change. Something to consider, maybe?

Ion A. Dowman

RedLogix said...

For some time Chris I ran pretty much the identical argument on The Standard. Over the course of some articles based on the Kaya Identity and many comments I put the case in some considerable detail - and was of course countered with nothing serious. The response from that pack of arrant activists was some combination of hippie magical thanking, thinly disguised 'smash capitalism' rhetoric or the usual resentful pathology of people - like Marx - just smart enough to understand the problem but too stupid and useless to contribute to it's solution.

And as you say it is hard not to have little but impatient contempt for the climate catastrophisers who refuse to acknowledge that everything about their lives, the basic fact of their existence even, is predicated on the fossil fueled economic machine they simultaneously demand to dismantle and utterly depend on.

Nor should I pretend to be so smart myself, despite a decent science and engineering education I too was sucked into that dissonant pathology for decades. I am honestly disappointed in myself when I consider how long it took me to understand the solutions were in fact under our noses all along.

Without burdening this comment beyond its modest intent - the energy solution is nuclear fission at scale. A very good author on this topic is Jack Devanney at or on Substack. A retired veteran of the industry with detailed technical knowledge he explodes the myths and irrational stupidities of not just the activists who lied for decades, but the venal cowardice of industry insiders who opted to make money off government subsidies pursuing impossible safety goals rather than progressing the industry itself. If you are reading this comment and are reacting to it with all of the standard anti-nuke responses - you need to pull your head out of your arse and start reading. I have heard them all and they are all false.

But in my experience few but the sincere will respond constructively, for the simple reason that it not nuclear power they object to, it is not even the opportunity to cut through the seemingly intractable problem of sustaining and developing a truly just global civilisation with cheap, abundant and clean energy that might engage them.

What motivates so many activists is a hatred of other people. They believe the planet is overpopulated and want to smash the systems upon which the lives of billions depend. Of course few will express it in such genocidal terms, and indeed I can have a grudging respect for outfits such as the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (look them up they exist still) who are at least honest about their motives - if somewhat indecisive on the logical and efficient execution of their proposal. But some version of this Malthusian pathology underlies much Green activism, the idea that humanity is a cancer on the face of the planet and it should be - apart from their noble selves of course - be diminished as fast as possible.

When expressed intentions make no sense - in this case demanding action on a climate 'emergency' while vehemently rejecting the obvious solutions - look to the consequences of their actions in order to understand.

Ricardo said...

Tout à fait d'accord. I would be most interested to read an honest and reasoned rebuttal of your thesis from Chloe Swarbrick, something a bit more sophisticated than a simple "but we have to do it to survive" argument.

Anonymous said...

‘Because the thing that is frying the planet – and all our futures – isn’t human. It’s a vast and impossibly complex economic machine, and it absolutely does not care what we think or say – only what we buy.’

Yet further comment from a left/green perspective. Everyone being to blame but me and my ideology. And then to top it off, a ridiculous claim that the problem is not individually human, but somehow part and parcel of a vast impossible economic machine.

Let me point out here; there is nothing wrong with the machine... the problem is with the operatives involved.

There are however operatives that fully understand, not only its construction and production, but can fully appreciate the intricacies behind why such a machine was assembled.
If ever this latter account finally gets to be understood and practiced by all operatives contributing, there will be no need for a Grapes of Wrath synopsis…. Or the effing gun to enforce it.

Our contingent from the left will certainly recognise the significance of the gun.
If they do not recognise the symbolic picture of its presence then they do not have much of an end ideology without its reality.

But in the lefts defense, the subjective nature of their ideology is but a bastardised human condition.
Though rather ironic they continue to ignore the internal structure of their own machine.

Odysseus said...

The planet is not being "fried", that is palpable nonsense. People are in the grip of an insane millenarian religion, possibly the greatest mass delusion in history. Severe weather events are hyped up as foreshadowing the day of judgment. The believers will allow no debate, probably because deep down their faith is not secure. Charlatans rule for the moment but their time is coming to an end. China, India, most of Africa and Latin America don't give a sh*t about so-called climate change and Europe and the US have now effectively abandoned the farcical mirage of "Net Zero". Only in New Zealand and Albo's Australia do the swivel-eyed loons still run rampant.

Phil said...

It's widely recognised that we are all facing a climate emergency.

What I think is less widely recognised is that we are dealing with a general system failure, one far more serious than the last one, known as World War II.

Your piece is definitely pointing us in the right direction. It remains to be seen if our governance systems, our legal systems and ultimately our military systems will deal with the crisis seemingly unfolding as we watch.

David George said...

Another great essay, thank you Chris. Going all Martyn Bradbury with the absurd "frying of the planet" not so much.

Bjorn Lomborg and Michael Shellenberger are doing great work on developments that enhance the environment and secure a sustainable and prosperous future for all; not least the world's poor. Poor that are not only held back by an impoverishing lack of infrastructure, (transport, sanitation, back breaking manual labour, inefficient food production and cheap and reliable energy) but contributing to environmental degradation that's in many ways worse than modern first world peoples. Hacking down forests for firewood for example. Unfortunately the "burn it all down", "we know best" antihumanists and the "business as usual" types aren't really willing to listen.

I note Bjorn Lomborg is part of the organising committee for the newly announced Alliance of Responsible Citizens - a lot of encouraging, proven and sustainable ideas there for a better future.

Some relevant reading, books by Shellenberger:
Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All
Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene
San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities

And Lomborg:
False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World

David George said...

"The planet is not being "fried", that is palpable nonsense".
Yes Odysseus, never let a crisis go to waste it seems - even if it has to be imagined into being. The fear mongering and falsity is what is truly frightening. Here's a great, and very relevant to the discussion, clip (5 minutes) on the real world problems and the dangerous delusions of the apocalyptists.

PaulVD said...

When I saw that Mike Smith and the Iwi Leaders' Forum are going after the big oil companies, I thought "this should be fun; how are they going to get to them?"

And, sure enough, their first target is a minnow, chosen only because it is a Western company. OMV Group's revenue for 2021 was USD42 billion, according to Wikipedia's "List of largest oil and gas companies by revenue". It is only the 36th-largest company on that list.

If you want to prosecute an oil company for climate crimes, surely you go after the largest and guiltiest. That would be the government of China, which controls China National Petroleum Corporation and Sinopec (USD860 billion between them), or Saudi Arabia (Saudi Aramco, USD 400 billion). The first actual capitalist oil companies in the list are ExxonMobil and Shell (both well under USD 300 billion).

So, like most climate campaigners, Mike Smith is fundamentally unserious. To get past empty virtue-signalling, it would be necessary to recognise that the largest "climate criminals" (as for most sorts of actual criminals) are tyrannical governments. But it is much easier to blame capitalism and attack Western firms that lack government protection.

Madame Blavatsky said...

Completely agree: every would-be authoritarian and control freak in history has invariably used fear to gain compliance and increase control over his population. In general, they don't take power as such, they convince people to hand it over to them because of some imminent dire threat that is proposed by the would-be tyrant. I needn't argue this point, because any survey of history will confirm this fact. But people are both naive and ignorant of history, so they have a hard to accepting that their "leaders" are acting in bad faith.

"Climate hysteria" is just the flipside of "Covidmania" in that they are both emotive scare campaigns used as a pretext to ensnare the gullible masses into giving up liberties and autonomy and submitting to a tightly regulated control system in the name of "averting climate catastrophe" in the one case, and "keeping us safe" in the other. The end result is the same – submission to oligarchic technocrats. Perhaps one reason why China aren't that interested in the scheme is simply because they ALREADY have nearly complete control over their population. They don't need to use a false pretext like the West does to achieve what they already have.

Does this represent a conspiracy? Yes, so please, none of these boring "you're a conspiracy theorist" retorts, because that is exactly what I am in this context, and moreover, calling people "conspiracy theorists" one is not a counter-argument – it's purely descriptive.

Even if someone reading this doubts that these issues are cynical (not to mention extremely implausible) pretexts, the function of which is to herd people in a direction they would never go in unless they were motivated by fear, it is unarguable that the ultimate consequences I describe (i.e. a complete reconfiguration of society and the economy for the benefit of the few and to the incalculable detriment to the many) will be the practical outcome. Digital IDs (whether as vaccine passes, carbon monitors, or, in general, social credit score devices), CBDCs, 15 minute cities, farm confiscations in places like the Netherlands and so on – all of these are openly discussed or are in effect, so no speculation is required to get a sense of the outcome. A good approach to these matters is the look at the likely consequences, and infer motivations from those consequences.

"But the scientists say ..." will of course be the objection. First, people who say this usually have no idea at all what the science actually says, they just parrot third-hand the claims about what the science says; and second, in both the case of AGW and Covid, science is not unanimous on either of these issues (and nor is it generally unanimous on almost any issue). The public has been led to believe there is a consensus because dissenting propositions are censored and those giving them are routinely slandered, something that wouldn't occur in any good faith debate about any scientific matter. The one-sided debate and unwillingness to entertain argument, on any matter as well as these, pretty much guarantees that those controlling the narrative are either lying or distorting in order to sustain a very weak position that couldn't stand up to any serious level of scrutiny.

The commonly-stated proposition that "unless we do X by year Y, then Z will happen" is NOT a scientific claim at all, because it cannot be tested and falsified at any time (which is the definition of a scientific statement). It is speculation and guess-work because we cannot know if it is true until year Y (i.e. in 50 years for instance).

While it is a meme at this point, but it is true that "science" in the 1970s predicted a coming ice age. Why should we believe this similarly unfounded speculation, given they are routinely so badly wrong?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You know what, I'm not hanging around here to debate climate deniers. Or for that matter vaccination deniers. This place is now infested with them.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

David. I don't get my medical advice from politicians, or my climate science from economists.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Sorry forgot. Longborg is of course a political scientist which is even worse.

RedLogix said...

As an engineer, and decently familiar with geo-physics science, I find myself increasingly squeezed from both sides. On one hand by climate deniers who pretend unconstrained CO2 is not a problem, and climate alarmists on the other who insist humanity must be smashed in order to save the planet.

It is not the planet I worry about, it is all the crazy people who scare me.

(PaulVD makes an excellent point above. The one single political entity that is most responsible for CO2 - and it's recent rate of growth - is the CCP. And while they have for decades excused it's rampant increases in emissions bleating about their low "Carbon per capita: number, what everyone misses is how very poor their "Carbon per unit of GDP" is. Last I looked it was somewhere around 3-5 times worse than comparable western nations.

Mike Smith and his cronies do not give a shit about climate. It is their rabid anti-US agenda being pursued here.)

The Barron said...

Ma'am B, leaving Popper aside, the ability to repeat scientic experiments or research can confirm scientific theory. In the case of anthropogenic climate change research and data can show levels of chemicals released by industry, the science profession checks the data and conclusions, and demonstrate a repeat of the process will show the same results.

Scientific research can then look at scientific theories and hypothesis as to the impact this would have on climate. Scientists can measure changes that have occurred. If those chemicals are the only variable, the causation can be deducted. Then it is possible to extrapolate the trajectory into the future.

At all stages, the ability to observe and repeat the data and research strengthen the science. The more this is done, and the more complimentary this is to other research, the more robust this becomes.

Finally, you get a concensus. In the case of man made climate change it is an overwhelming concensus. Further, it is one supported by one of the greatest number of scientists ever working on related projects and across numerous disciplines in science.

I hope this helps you move from your solipsism.

Loz said...

@'Odysseus' / @'Madame Blavatsky 'it would be wrong to suggest China isn't committed to combatting combat climate change. It is - and unlike our western governments, it's government does practical things to achieve tangible outputs in its economy. This is a huge capability difference of having a government involved in investment, production and development as opposed to one that’s focussed on stage-managing its performance perception.

Some might cynically argue that the massive infrastructure development in clean energy was really to achieve clean air in Chinese cities (which was a big domestic policy commitment) rather than climate change… who would know. But contrast that to the endless talking and fluff about electric cars and cows our governments are engaged in.

Although I disagree with both of you over climate change being real and potentially horrific, I believe your core argument, that we are living in a contrived bubble of "scientific information" is completely right. The tragedy is that information control is so total that we have almost lost the ability to debate as everything not supporting hegemonic narrative is labelled misinformation or completely deplatformed. Trying to maintain objectivity is extremely hard when "alternative information" is equally shaped by the interests of dark money too.

Anything considered "fact" or "truth" in our public narrative probably only exists because powerful people have interests in promoting those narratives.

Odysseus said...

The Barron: the "97 percent" consensus myth is a fabrication dating from the Obama years which has been widely challenged and discredited. In any case science does not proceed by consensus but by skepticism. The demonization over the past 30 years of the life-giving trace gas carbon dioxide is manifestly mad to anyone upon a moment's reflection.

David George said...

" I'm not hanging around here to debate climate deniers. Or for that matter vaccination deniers. This place is now infested with them."

Sounds just like this latest outburst, Sam Harris: "Conservatives “Should Not Have Opinions” On Ukraine, Vaccines, Climate Change". There you go sheeple, omniscient Sam and GS will tell you what to believe, what to think and what you can say.

Similar tantrum as well: "After he received backlash for the remarks, Harris rage quit Twitter and is still absent from the platform, refusing to even entertain debate or opinions antithetical to his own"

Anonymous said...

Oh Dear
The blog reads like a segment of the normal fellow travelers contributing herein are becoming unhinged.
My goodness, what on earth could be going wrong with their original yet unstable scientific philosophies.

The argument usually presented herein by GS relies on a particular logic, it's coherence, with those parts of the argument causally and favorably linked, irrespective of however unstable the proposition may be or under any circumstance historically fallacious.

Anonymous said...

RedLogix (15 March at 10:05) is on to it. There are entirely workable solutions that are totally unpalatable to some of those sounding the alarm most loudly. Fortunately, reality can sometimes impose itself. The Finnish Greens are, after a long discussion, in favour of nuclear power. Even the German Greens are reconsidering their country's nuclear power.

Even building renewable alternatives doesn't get approval from some climate activists. I thought at first the news was satire, but apparently it's not. Greta is demanding (as only Greta can) that the Norwegian government remove windmills from the area also used by indigenous reindeer herders, because the windmills are upsetting the reindeer. If I was in a position to set Norwegian energy policy, my answer to her would be "Fine, they will be removed when we can replace the power they produce with nuclear power. We may be able to do a joint venture with the Finns to speed that up".

The other technology that could help is genetic engineering. That is winning some unlikely converts, too. George Monbiot has become so anti-farmer that he now sees a role for genetically engineered microorganisms in producing proteins for food, under the title "precision fermentation". But he still wants to restrict the genetic engineering to within fermentation tanks, not use it on farms.

After 40 years of successfully making insulin in this way for injection by diabetics, it's finally occurred to George other proteins could be made this way that are safe to eat.

He's right on that. Using cow genes in a similar way can ferment dairy proteins, without cows. Fonterra are among the companies working on this. Now all Fonterra have to do is convince Greenpeace that replacing cows with genetically engineered microorganisms contained in fermentation tanks is a viable option. All they're up against is Greenpeace's science denying ideology that, if put into practice, would mean about half the world's population dying of starvation. (That's how many people it's estimated now depend on synthetic nitrogenous fertilizer. Just the loss of fertilizer production from Russia is already causing food shortages).

If I was in authority at Fonterra, I'd invite a Greenpeace delegation in to tour our development lab. (Overseas trip on Fonterra for Greenpeace, Fonterra can't currently do the work here because of the GE free laws). I'd follow that up with a nice vegan lunch, followed by a presentation on how the genetic engineering works, and how it can replace cows. (Question that just occurred to me: are non-cow dairy proteins vegan? No cows involved, only yeast or bacteria).

If Greenpeace were open to being persuaded by the science, progress might occurr. Unfortunately, they are not. They're more like a millennialist religious cult, sure the end is nigh unless the one true faith prevails.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The argument usually presented herein by GS relies on a particular logic, it's coherence, with those parts of the argument causally and favorably linked, irrespective of however unstable the proposition may be or under any circumstance historically fallacious."

If you want to talk about coherence, perhaps you should put some in your own posts?