What If We Stopped Pretending Articles Like This Are Helpful? The climate apocalypse is coming, only if we refuse to act. To prevent it, we need to take global-scale action. A rebuttal to Jonathan Franzen's terrible article in the New Yorker.
Jonathan Franzen opens his piece with a Kafka quote, “there is infinite hope only not for us” and pretentiously modifies it to the converse saying “there is no hope, except for us.”
I’ve got a better Kafka quote that requires no modification to be applicable to him and to accurately summarize the frustratingly ignorant perspective in his article: “It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves.”
Franzen starts out by claiming that if you care about the planet you have two choices: “You can keep on hoping that catastrophe is preventable, and feel ever more frustrated or enraged by the world’s inaction. Or you can accept that disaster is coming, and begin to rethink what it means to have hope.”
This binary choice is a false dichotomy, and frankly, is a dangerous thought to even entertain, especially when his greatest hope, which he closes this weak article with, is a vegetable garden run by homeless people that he thinks offers us successful model for his dystopian future “when the systems of industrial agriculture and global trade break down and homeless people outnumber people with homes.”
Honestly, Franzen, if that’s what gives you solace while you sit at home watching Netflix, writing this kind of drivel, and waiting to die, you should instead immerse yourself in the materials on carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and climate change mitigation strategies because we are just getting started on implementing these processes. This is the exact moment when we as a society cannot afford to just throw in the towel and accept a “climate apocalypse.” In fact, we need to do the opposite and take direct action to remove as much CO2 from the atmosphere as possible and mitigate our other destructive processes as fast as possible.
Franzen’s defeatist idea is garbage and only slows down progress. Franzen works to inject his pessimism by mocking non-pessimists, who “even at this late date” express “unrealistic hope.” He finds it ridiculous that people believe it is time to “‘roll up our sleeves’ and ‘save the planet’; that the problem of climate change can be ‘solved’ if we summon the collective will.” His main argument is that because society was aware of the problem of CO2 emissions 30 years ago, and the world has not yet acted, that it is too late to act now.
This is the equivalent of the US looking at WWII in 1941 and saying, “Well its been 2 years since the Nazi’s started taking over Europe, and we didn’t take action and get involved back then when the threat first materialized, and even though this is an increasing threat to the planet, we should just give up and refuse to take action.” Where is the resoluteness in dealing with the dramatic problem in front of us? Where is the clarion call to take a true war footing? I’m glad instead of Franzen, we had someone like a Roosevelt at the helm of our country, who after being attacked said:
“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, December 8, 1941″
We need this kind of might and mindset to fight, mitigate, and reverse climate change, and not resolve to adapt to it as if it is some minor inconvenience. Franzen doesn’t seem to care about the consequences because in his words, he says, “I’ll soon be dead forever, I live in the present, not the future.” This is like saying “Hey, I’ll be dead soon and won’t have to directly deal with the consequences of this problem, so what’s the point of fighting the spread of the Nazis and fascism?” For Franzen, he chooses to surrender because there are “new comedies on Netflix” he could be watching. It turns out, bingeing mindless TV shows is a lot easier “impending collapse is even harder to wrap my mind around than death.” I’m sorry Franzen that your simple mind is unable to comprehend the consequences of catastrophic climate change, so sticking to my Kafka quote on the incompetence of the confident, maybe you should bow out of this discussion (or at least educate yourself before writing more of this junk).
This mentality of Franzen and the like will truly and indisputably lead to the total destruction of our planet by declining to even put up a fight. I’m so sorry Mr. Franzen that there is no “neatness” to planetary decline from climate change where “one moment the world is there, the next moment it’s gone forever.” I’m sorry that the planet doesn’t make its own demise so simple for you to comprehend, and that you have to deal with the inconvenience of the “climate apocalypse, by contrast, [being] messy.”
Frankly, it’s not messy for you because you aren’t doing anything except contributing to the decline through putting out pessimistic despair porn like this poorly thought out article. But luckily for you, you don’t really care, as “things will get very bad, but maybe not too soon, and maybe not for everyone. Maybe not for me.” Well, some of us will have to deal with this problem and I can tell you that your rhetoric is not helpful in any way. With this stance, you are just as bad as those climate change deniers you call “evil.” That paragraph is as senseless as those preceding it in relating to those who stand in the way of accepting climate change. If you are one of the people contributing to this toxic discussion, you are just as bad as them.
What you are seemingly unaware of is that there are two sides to the equation in terms of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It doesn’t just go one way, we can actually work to remove the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. While society organizes itself to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it is extremely helpful to have those so-called “gargantuan renewable-energy projects” that slow and ultimately end CO2 emission release. Otherwise, we are simply running and staying in the same place. If we make changes to stop emitting gigatons of CO2 yearly, we can focus on remediating and removing the irresponsible emissions of your entire generation (which you readily admit knew about this issue for decades and did nothing). In fact, as a 60-year-old, you have been alive for the release of over 80% of total global CO2 emissions since 1751.
The “climate scientists, who do indeed allow that catastrophe is theoretically avertable” believe this is possible because they believe that society will ultimately take action to avert the full brunt of the crisis. That is why “the stress falls on the word theoretically” because if dense morons like yourself promulgate the mindset that all is lost, people won’t cut emissions, allowing us to focus on carbon dioxide removal and other negative emissions processes.
You also ignorantly neglect that climate change is going to be a spectrum, as has been pointed out by others, that 2° C (3.6°F) of warming is not a yes or no scenario, anything we can do to mitigate the change will be helpful, especially for the coming generations of humanity who are not at the end of their selfish lives like yourself.
“As a non-scientist” when you “do [your] own kind of modeling” and “run various future scenarios through [your] brain” it might be helpful to understand that the reasons we need to take more dramatic action, are the very same reasons that you cite. I don’t get how you miss this. When you cite and discuss how “the carbon emissions from existing global infrastructure, if operated through its normal lifetime, will exceed our entire emissions ‘allowance,'” you miss the fact that this is the exact reason we need to alter the course we are on, because yes, if we stay on this course, we are truly fucked. That’s the very reason your defeatest mindset of “admit[ing] that we can’t prevent it” is the completely wrong mentality to take. We need to stop acting as if this is an okay pathway and take significant global action in the face of this “climate apocalypse” and not just “admit” its too late.
I’ve read “The Uninhabitable Earth” and I think you take away the wrong message from its success. The fact is, that the more educated we are on the true range of damages that can be brought on by inaction, the more it becomes clear we need to take action. You take away the wrong concept with your mental model’s “ten thousand scenarios.” It doesn’t matter how many scenarios you run in your “model” (i.e. your brain) if the underlying equation is fundamentally wrong.
Refusing to “publicly admit that the problem can’t be solved” doesn’t’ make us similar to “religious leaders who fear that, without the promise of eternal salvation, people won’t bother to behave well.” It makes us pragmatists trying to deal with a problem using science and logic. In this way, you are much more similar to a religious leader in that you believe all is lost, so we should simply do nothing and ignore the problems with are faced with because you are waiting for the rapture and “end times.” You are the ignorant zealot you seek to criticize.
At Project Vesta, we are working to harness and accelerate Earth’s natural carbon dioxide removal process, known as the longterm carbonate-silicate process. For CO2 to move from the atmopshere into rock with Earth’s own process, it normally takes millions of years.
This process has historically removed volcanic CO2 from the atmosphere through the weathering of silicate minerals and their transport to the ocean whre they bind the carbon in a form (calcium carbonate) that is used by corals to form their exoskeletons. Over time, those skeletons settle to the bottom of the ocean and will eventually store the CO2 for millions of years as limestone.
We know from geological precedent that this silicate weathering process can remove enough carbon dioxide to reverse global temperatures all the way to the point of causing ice ages (in fact, this process has caused the last 3 ice ages). Our plan is to mine gigaton levels of the fastest weathering silicate volcanic rock (olivine) and place it on high-energy tropical shelf seas so that the wave motion will dramatically accelerate the weathering of the rock. The basic math is that each each 1 tonne of olivine weathered, is equal to 1.25 tonnes of CO2 removed from the ocean/atmosphere.
To reach an equivalent level of total yearly human CO2 emission removal, it will require a massive undertaking, however it is still not as you say, “so immense that it needs to be everyone’s overriding priority forever.” For global-scale CO2 removal, we are looking at a volume of less rock than half of what is mined for construction materials each year. Based on extrapolations from the yearly excavated volume of an olivine mine in Norway, it would take less than 3 million people globally mining this rock to gather enough material each year to offset all anthropogenic CO2 emissions. This is less than the number of people currently mining coal in China alone.
And while millions of others would be needed to be involved in the transport process and distribution onto tropical shelf seas (used to rapidly accelerate the weathering process while minimizing energy use), the number of people required is not insurmountable and is less than 1% of humanity. It will, however, take a global desire to implement the concept. With your defeatist rhetoric and mindset, however, global solutions like ours would never come to fruition because you suggest that we don’t even try, and in fact, that we should move the resources instead towards indirect areas such as “ridding the country of assault weapons.”
Mr. Franzen, you really should spend some time working on your “model” of the planet before you put out any more pieces like this. You may “run ten thousand scenarios through [your] model, and in not one of them do [you] see the two-degree target being met,” but again, if your underlying model is incorrect due to your ignorance of active solutions to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and remediate the climate, then your equation is worthless. We suggest you fix your mental model by learning about the true scope of potential solutions to avert a climate disaster and stop “discourag[ing] people from taking any ameliorative action at all.”
I don’t get your entire article’s premise because towards the end you admit that “if collective action resulted in just one fewer devastating hurricane, just a few extra years of relative stability, it would be a goal worth pursuing. In fact, it would be worth pursuing even if it had no effect at all.” And that “to needlessly add carbon to the atmosphere when we know very well what carbon is doing to it, is simply wrong.” Well, you are needlessly putting out hot air yourself with your article that is simply wrong. I wish I had just stopped reading your article long before I got to that point, which undermines everything else before it.
You attack the idea of hope when that is one of the most powerful tools we have to make the world take action to defund carbon, to hold polluters accountable, to move policy forward and help us move hundreds of gigatons of rock out of the upper mantle and onto the world’s tropical shelf seas. Without hope for success, why would anyone take action to keep the planet liveable? You try to come around full circle and say that any hope is worthwhile, even small and short term hope, but that must have been put in by an editor because it doesn’t comport with the rest of your piece. It does not come off as sanguine when you say “as long as you have something to love, you have something to hope for” because with your acquiescent mentality towards not dealing with combating climate change, eventually there will be nothing left to love, and then hope will truly be lost.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news to you, but that little farm that you love which grows the strawberries and kale that give you solace in a diminished world, will no longer be able to grow those crops as the climate shifts and it becomes too hot in your area. That project will then not “offer [you] hope that the future, while undoubtedly worse than the present, might also, in some ways, be better.”
When your favorite farm is barren and no action was taken to avert the coming disaster, you won’t have hope, you will only have your own despair to wallow in, knowing that you promulgated the continued complacency of society and acted in some fractional way as one of the horsemen of “climate apocalypse.” Instead, you could have used your platform to call for direct action to prevent the planet’s destruction and promote actual solutions to this most pressing of problems.