Your Money or Your Life

For the Sake of Life on Earth, We Must Put a Limit on Wealth

Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns

Citigroup Yields to Pressure from Environmentalists

You elders may remember the famous radio sketch by Jack Benny: the mugger says, “This is a stick-up! Your money or your life!” A long pause ensues. “Look, bud, I said, “Your money or your life!: Jack: “I’m thinking it over!”

The ultra-rich could understand Jack’s quandary. Their lives are circumscribed by money and all its attendant privileges. Writer George Monbiot has cataloged some of their more outrageous excesses, behavior that inevitably attacks the environment. He says these people are committing ecocide, the impunity to get away with destroying the natural world on which we all depend.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that when Google convened a meeting of the rich and famous at the Verdura resort in Sicily in July to discuss climate breakdown, its delegates arrived in 114 private jets and a fleet of mega-yachts, and drove around the island in supercars. Even when they mean well, the ultrarich cannot help trashing the living world. . . .

Surplus money allows some people to exercise inordinate power over others: in the workplace; in politics; and above all in the capture, use and destruction of the planet’s natural wealth. If everyone is to flourish, we cannot afford the rich. Nor can we afford our own aspirations, which the culture of wealth maximisation encourages.

People of less wealth and the best intentions are still captive to the consumption culture which drives so much of the world economy. The president is our prime exemplar, a man of less wealth than the ultras and certainly without good intentions. When questioned last Monday about his fondness for arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Trump said, “Saudi Arabia pays cash.” The cash nexus seems to motivate everything he does.

An interviewer asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” he said. Bill McKibben would agree. He has an interesting piece in the New Yorker claiming that the big banks like JPMorgan Chase, the biggest of them all, are the true sources of capital for the fossil fuel industry, to the tune of $196 billion over the past three years. Much of that money goes to “fund extreme new ventures: ultra-deep-sea drilling, Arctic oil extraction, and so on.”

It’s kind of a Hail-Mary pass, says McKibben, but what if that flow of money could be disrupted, just as some of the largest corporations and pension funds through pressure have divested themselves of “socially undesirable” organizations? Almost twenty years ago the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) took successful action against Citigroup to slow down the deforestation in the Amazon—showing celebrities cutting up their Citi credit cards. Lately it has publicized and ranked the investments of the largest banks in terms of their damage to the climate.

Some envision campaigns to pressure the banks to disinvest. “Chase’s retail business is a huge part of its enterprise, as is the case with Citi, Wells Fargo, and the others.” The new generation of consumers cares a lot about climate and may well have the clout to demand action. Their protests will finally learn to address the distribution of wealth and power.

Joe’s Gibberish

Would You Leave Joe Biden Alone With Trump?

A Joe Biden presidency would be a climate catastrophe

In Second Democratic Debate, Candidates Criticize Biden’s Climate Plans

Excuse me, but after listening to and watching Joe Biden doddering through his responses at the third Democratic debate Thursday night, you have to wonder how he is still the front-runner. His climate change plan is better than nothing but goes less than halfway to get the job done.

“Middle-ground solutions, like the vice president has proposed . . . are not going to save us,” James Inslee has said. “Literally the survival of humanity on this planet and civilization as we know it is in the hands of the next president,” and God save us if that’s Joe Biden.

It’s not just his climate plan, folks. It’s him. And how his mind works—or produces the bloviations that expose it.

The Democratic front-runner cannot speak in complete sentences when he is feeling tired or defensive. And 90 minutes of debate is enough to make him tired. And a reference to something that he said about race in the 1970s is enough to make him defensive.

These were my three main takeaways from the Democratic Party’s third presidential primary debate in Houston on Thursday. And they’ve left me rather apprehensive about the prospect of the Democrats sending Joe Biden into battle against Donald Trump next year. . . . If Biden can’t keep his talking points straight for an entire evening, what shape will he be in after running the gauntlet between today and his televised showdowns with the president next fall? And if a pointed question from an ABC News anchor can reduce him to spasms of anxious blather, how well will he hold up when Trump comes after his family?

And just how seriously does he take the threat of climate change? When he got caught out taking big funds from a fossil fuel guy, the NY Daily News ran this headline: “Biden claims he doesn’t take fossil fuel cash at NYC fundraiser co-hosted by fossil fuel company co-founder.” He called that a misrepresentation.

Linguistic giveaways from two of the front-runners repeatedly bother me. Biden’s fillers are “the fact of the matter” and “look”; Bernie’s is “let me be clear.” The other candidates in Thursday’s debate thankfully avoided most thought padding like this.

At the debate ABC News’ Linsey Davis asked him what responsibility Americans should take to repair the damage of slavery. Joe answered:

Well, they have to deal with the . . . Look, there is institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining, banks, making sure that we are in a position where — Look, we talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title 1 schools, triple the amount of money we spend from $15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise to the equal of . . . A raise of getting out of the $60,000 level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to the help with the stud — the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need . . . We have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are required — I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them.

Make sure that every single child does, in fact, have three, four, and five-year-olds go to school. School! Not daycare, school. We bring social workers into homes of parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not want they don’t want to help. They don’t know want— They don’t know what quite what to do. Play the radio. Make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night. The phone — make sure the kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — er, a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

Davis: Thank you, Mr. Vice-President.

Biden: No, I’m going to go like the rest of them do, twice over, okay? Because here’s the deal. The deal is that we’ve got this a little backwards. And by the way, in Venezuela, we should be allowing people to come here from Venezuela. I know Maduro. I’ve confronted Maduro. Number two, you talk about the need to do something in Latin America. I’m the guy that came up with $740 million to see to it those three countries, in fact, change their system so people don’t have to chance to leave. You’re all acting like we just discovered this yesterday! Thank you very much.

No, thank you very much, Joe.

P.S. More evidence from the debate of Biden’s mental stumbles.

Playing Politics with Nuclear Energy

Democrats are divided on using nuclear energy to stop climate change

 On Climate, Sanders and Warren Must Go Nuclear

 Why Nuclear Power Must Be Part of the Energy Solution

The 3,122-megawatt Civaux Nuclear Power Plant in France, which opened in 1997

In his latest denial of reality, Trump got out his sharpie and altered Hurricane Dorian’s direction to send it 650 miles west to Alabama. And naturally he refuses to admit he was wrong. The press is having a field day.

For a much longer timeframe, the opponents of nuclear power have engaged in a similar denial of reality and good scientific evidence. They have mounted protests and lobbied Congress for years and are now coming up against the overpowering reality of climate change. Nuclear will have to be in the energy mix, whether they like it or not. We cannot mitigate the problem without it.

Now, most of these deniers are Democrats and so the presidential candidates have walked on eggshells over this issue. Finally in the recent CNN climate town halls, Cory Booker and Andrew Yang came out in favor of pursuing nuclear and developing the technology. Others waffled; Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren said no. Perhaps, as their understanding of energy options deepens, they will change their tune. Or maybe not: there are lots of votes out there that might go against them if they go nuclear.

Nuclear now provides 20 percent of US total energy output. And yet, says the Union of Concerned Scientists, “nearly 35 percent of the country’s nuclear power plants, representing 22 percent of US nuclear capacity, are at risk of early closure or slated to retire.” The reasons? They are unprofitable, costly to operate, need upgrading. But you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Nuclear produces near-zero emissions, its biggest selling point. It doesn’t shut down when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. The two downsides people point to are: the accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima and the storage of waste. Storing nuclear waste is something we know how to do. The problem is political, per the evidence of Yucca Mountain.

And we have learned something from both meltdowns and their aftereffects. One, similar events could and should never happen again. Surprisingly, the health consequences have been much less severe than expected. Two, safety will not come cheap, and new power plants are expensive. New, smaller modular reactors may be the answer; thorium as a fuel poses less storage risk than uranium.

It will take a hardnosed view of energy policy and a commitment to state-owned nuclear power plants to get us to anything like scale in an effective climate policy. Scientists and many planners know this. France did it in the ‘80s, and the transformation worked.

I think the lefties on the Democratic side may be getting the message, slowly. Eric Levitz wrote a very good summary of the problems and processes here. He says:

The political center’s ideological hangups are a much bigger obstacle to rational climate policy than the left’s. As David Wallace-Wells writes, the gap between “political realism” and scientific realism on climate policy is vast and ever-growing. We have procrastinated past the point when incremental, nudge-based approaches to emissions reduction could be described as serious. . . . We have already put enough carbon in the climate to ensure that our planet will grow increasingly inhospitable for the rest of our lives, and the longer we wait to find an alternative means of powering our civilization, the more inhospitable it will become, and the more human beings will needlessly suffer and die. The available evidence suggests that decarbonizing at a remotely responsible pace will require us to transcend the neoliberal era’s taboo against ambitious state planning and industrial policy. . . .

We know what happens when a country committed to scaling up renewables decommissions its nuclear plants—it starts burning more coal.

P.S. The Future Looks Like Salt Reactors

The Gasbag-in-Chief Is Leaking Methane

Scientists Underestimated How Bad Cow Farts Are

Trump’s Methane Rule Rollback Divides Oil and Gas Industry

Fracking May Be a Bigger Climate Problem Than We Thought

In its continuing war on all regulations—to include those on greenhouse gases and anything Obama passed—Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency last Thursday said it would basically allow “oil and gas operators to largely police themselves when it comes to preventing [methane] from leaking out of new wells, pipelines and other infrastructure.” It turns out that there are lots of leaks.

The big companies (Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell) came out against the new rollback. They don’t want to be seen as “climate villains” or dirty well operators. The little guys, with thousands of leaky wells, can’t afford to clean them up, so they welcomed the Trump plan.

The methane scare got started a couple of years ago when it was revealed that cow farts were major contributors to global warming. The methane in animal burps and farts was seen to play a major role in the big heat-up because methane is eighty-four percent more potent than CO₂ in trapping heat and causes one-quarter of our present global warming. The notion that cow farts are funny sort of undercut the seriousness of these findings.

What got covered up was the fact that livestock and farming, plus landfills, were not the major source of methane. It was, you guessed it, the oil and gas industry. These guys, the drivers of our economy, were “creating one-third of all methane emissions,” says a science writer for ideas.ted.com. “As companies extract and transport oil and natural gas, methane leaks from their pumps, pipelines and wells at a rapid rate . . . leaking 60 percent more of the harmful gas than government estimates had predicted.”

Now we’re told that the recent spike in atmospheric methane could likely be caused by the preponderance of fracking, which produces vast amounts of shale gas and methane. Fracking is done mostly in the U.S. and Canada. The industry touts it as the best replacement for coal and is building out more than 700 fracked gas projects, LNG terminals, and gas-fired electricity plants.

Environmental advocates were universally opposed to the EPA’s action. “This is an unnecessary leap backwards,” adds Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford. “Very few people in the public or the industry want this rollback.”

But to eliminate all fracking, as Bernie Sanders and Jay Inslee have proposed, would be to take on one of the largest, most profitable industries in America. The battle over that would be epic.

Climate Awareness, Like Ice Cream, Doesn’t Last

Americans demand climate action (as long as it doesn’t cost much): Reuters poll

It takes about three weeks for Americans to stop paying attention after a mass shooting

Amazon rainforest fires: global leaders urged to divert Brazil from ‘suicide’ path

You have to wonder why something as dramatically urgent as climate change doesn’t seem sustainable in the public’s consciousness. Another way of saying this is that a majority gives it a high priority but doesn’t want to pay for the fixes. Ice cream tastes better than wormwood and gall.

Or maybe people just have shorter attention spans (though perhaps not) because they are constantly distracted with disorienting and irrelevant information. They are too busy with their freaking phones. Or being caught up in the latest cultural drivel. Or scandalized by Trump.

It’s also the enormity of the climate problem, as we have discussed, and the complex conundrum of a solution. For many, that tends to force climate onto the back burner.

The analogous situation is gun control. Philip Bump of The Washington Post analyzed Google searches interested in recent high-profile mass shootings. He found that interest always spikes high after the event and then greatly subsides after about twenty days. “People have moved on.” You and I know that finally the climate will not allow us to move on.

It’s certain that the crisis isn’t going away, and the media will necessarily cover the latest shocking events. Last week it was the fires in the Amazon rainforest and their consequences. You have a political story about the lunacy of Bolsonaro’s policies, and there’s an agricultural/environmental story about the ranchers and loggers who set the fires, and a story about the effects of the fires. A smorgasbord of climate stories.

Yet much of the major media, like The New York Times, still seems obtuse about running climate stories. I did a search query there for “Amazon fires” and the first four items that came up had to do with Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet! I guess the search editors know which side of their bread is buttered.

Artisanal Martini Wisdom on Climate Change

Elizabeth Warren thinks corruption is why the US hasn’t acted on climate change

 How One Billionaire Could Keep Three Countries Hooked on Coal for Decades

 Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home

We were drinking freshly distilled artisanal martinis at Ralph’s house (he makes his gin from a small still), and so after a time the subject of climate change had to come up. We also talked about the latest Trump outrage, Rashida Tlaib and Israel, uses of CBD oil, the broken bones in Epstein’s neck. Yet climate seemed to dominate, with several expressing strong opinions as to how the Democrats could approach the issue.

None of us felt the Dems were doing justice to the climate crisis, much less scoring any political points with their “programs.” They have invariably ducked the hard issues of cost and scale and failed to get much media attention. After another martini we generated several brilliant solutions to their problems.

Bryan thought that Elizabeth Warren, the policy maven, needed to make a strong capitalistic pitch.

“She has the brains to come up with a policy that meets some of the challenges but she doesn’t know how to sell it. The economic benefits are what’s going to sell it. The government will prime the pump and money will pour into software development, clean energy companies, biomass, electric cars, agriculture, all of that. Farmers will get rich. People will breathe clean air. The trade deficit will fall. Poverty will decline. The country will come back from its present madness.

“She’s got five climate change plans now. Who knows what any of those are? This is a capitalistic country, for God’s sake.”

Bryan got a round of applause, and Ralph took another approach. À propos my last blog post, which he and others found very depressing, the third martini produced this:

“My bedrock notion is that global warming/climate change can only be moderated with less resource consumption, especially carbon-based fuels. So how do we do this? Unless the global populace really, really lowers its carbon footprint (like taking sailboats to China to visit grandkids [Ralph’s is there]) or escapes materialism in the first place (not a chance—look at India’s buying coal from Australia to generate electricity to sell to Bangladesh), disastrous levels of global warming/climate change are inevitable.

“Other than some wacko techno fixes (like nuclear-powered ice machines on American-owned Greenland), the other approach I think holds promise would be to lower the world’s population—whether as: 1) a policy (China did it actually); or more likely 2) as a result of some as yet unknown and very nasty calamity (e.g., defective nuclear ice machines make all of Greenland melt, and hence the world’s oceans become deadly radioactive).”

We stood and cheered for this ode to climate fatalism. After that, I didn’t feel so bad about writing “The Climate Change Blues.” I wanted to end on a more hopeful note and so talked about Pope Francis’s encyclical of four years ago, Laudato Si’. 

You know, no one else has written anything like it. It is a directive to all of us to wake up and recognize the oneness of life. And it’s really much more than a Catholic document. It tells us that everyone is responsible for the health of the earth; everything is connected; and climate change is both a social and environmental crisis.”

Bringing a religious document into the discussion produced more discussion, of course. But who has a better grasp on reality—the Pope or Bill McKibben?

The Climate Change Blues

The Green New Deal isn’t big enough

Climate change will force 120 million people into poverty

What I learned writing about climate change and the US south for a year


The outlook is full of distressing signs. A climate change blues plays in heavy rotation on our interior Spotify. It echoes the rainstorm that never quits, the drought that never ends. Try applying analytical reason or talking about solutions, and you confront boundless examples of human inertia, narcissism, bias and denial.

One problem is the vast scale that a viable solution requires. The Green New Deal by itself can’t stave off calamity even if the US adopted it. It’s not nearly enough because the problem is global and historic. The U.S. and other wealthy nations will have to kick in vast amounts of money in “climate finance” to mitigate emissions in developing countries, not to mention their own. Electorates show no sign of being willing to do this.

The leaders of developing nations aren’t suckers, and they know how dire the problem is. They have something rich countries want (emissions reductions), and they’d be fools to just give it away for free, even if they could. If we want them to succeed, it’s going to cost us, and we’ll need to move quickly. The science is clear: We do not have another decade to waste.

Likewise, Philip Alston, author of a devastating UN report, finds that

mainstream discussions about climate change are remarkably out of touch with the scale of the crisis and the economic and social upheaval it will bring. Political leaders have failed to put forward a vision for avoiding catastrophic consequences or protecting those most affected. . . . 

[Climate change] will impoverish hundreds of millions, including middle class people in wealthy countries. It will push 120 million people into poverty by 2030 alone, and could lead to a “climate apartheid” scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.

While American attitudes toward the climate crisis vary significantly, many people in rural regions like the South have powerful interests in promoting denial. A climate reporter for The Guardian comments:

A Pew survey indicated that white evangelical protestants are the least likely to profess a belief in climate change. Power companies, developers and conservative politicians have a vested interest in deregulation and maintaining the environmental status quo, and many paint environmental concerns as nothing but liberal pagan ideas.

In a region that recapitulates decades of delay and denial, some plan to stick it out at any cost and go down with the ship. Is it really any different with the rest of the country? Although their scale and threat have dramatically increased, floods, famine and extreme weather events have always been with us. Bessie may help us remember that “when it thunders and lightnin’ and the wind begins to blow /there’s thousands of people ain’t got no place to go.”

No Agreement on Climate Solutions

The World’s Climate Emergency Is Getting Harder to Ignore

Climate change requires big solutions. But baby steps are the only way to go.

Implementing The One Viable Solution To Climate Change

Greenland glaciers melting

The accepted way to solve a big problem has always been to break it down into smaller components and work on them. Most solutions to the climate crisis seem to rely on this approach which, for the most part, hasn’t shown much promise. Climate defies rationality. We don’t have the proper language to express it.

But it forces its way into our consciousness and will keep intruding on our carbonized dreams until we pull our collective heads out of the sand. The first step to awareness is recognizing how current events are sending an unmistakable message. Consider:

    • the heat wave in Europe that has now moved to Greenland to vastly accelerate glacial melting
    • the crazy variability in weather everywhere, with more weather-related disasters
    • the weakness of most current plans to reduce global heating
    • the political atrocities of deniers like Trump and Bolsonaro.

Some of these things are outlined in a recent Washington Post piece by reporter Ishaan Tharoor, who is not a climate scientist. While he sounds a few hopeful notes, he thinks massive public awareness finally will not activate the changes required—though it may move the political pendulum.

Solutions offered have ranged from the cosmic to the incremental, from the Green New Deal to a carbon tax. I can’t see that either approach will finally pay off. A couple of recent proposals illustrate how far apart our climate pundits remain.

Ted Nordhaus in Foreign Policy wrote in favor of “baby steps” to resolve the crisis. He seems to feel that big solutions, like the Green New Deal and a carbon tax, will simply be rejected by consumers and government. These things are too politically difficult and economically costly. He proposes a “quiet climate policy” of incremental change.

Ultimately, the choice we face is between some action and no action. Neither economists’ dreams of rationalizing environmental policy through the power and efficiency of markets nor progressive environmentalists’ hopes of heroic state-led mobilization to save the planet are likely to do much to address the problem.

Ted, the problem is too big and too pressing to solve incrementally. There is no time left to wait for your solutions to take hold.

In another camp we have Steve Denning, an Australian management guru, who proposes what seems to be the only viable solution to climate change, an Apollo-type moon shot program that brings to bear the human talent for innovation and a commitment to bold collective action. I think he’s right.

The initiative would pursue the options already on the table, such as carbon capture and storage, nuclear fusion, storage of nuclear fission materials, as well as incremental efforts in wind, solar, batteries, and reforestation, taxes, subsidies, regulation and deregulation, where they are scalable enough to make a difference.

All this would require a massive bipartisan effort “with the best minds, agile management and adequate funding to find the best technology for creating non-polluting energy for the planet.”

If we don’t make the effort, history will not be kind—if there are any historians left.

Trump’s Climate Vendetta

The Trump Administration Takes Climate Denial to New Heights

Would Trump’s Re-election Doom the Planet?

Trump’s Failure to Fight Climate Change Is a Crime Against Humanity

Climate change didn’t come up in the Mueller hearings, but maybe it should have. Of all the high crimes and misdemeanors Trump has committed, his continued sabotage of efforts to understand and ameliorate the climate crisis may finally be judged the worst and most permanent of his crimes.

He rips away established environmental protections at EPA and other agencies by installing industry cronies and lobbyists to run them. We’ve seen it many times. Jeffrey Sachs has particularly harsh words for what happened in Puerto Rico:

Trump’s mishandling of [the] Puerto Rico disaster in the wake of Hurricane Maria is grounds itself for impeachment and trial. Thousands of citizens died unnecessarily on Trump’s watch because the administration could not be stirred to proper action before, during, and after the hurricane.

Two independent, detailed epidemiological studies, using different methodologies—one led by researchers at Harvard University and the other by researchers at George Washington University—have estimated that thousands died in the aftermath of Maria.

Then this burlesque gesture:

The Trump administration has dug us ever deeper into the hole of fossil fuel dependence and is happily pushing toward a point of no return. As early as December 2016 his transition team demanded from the Department of Energy names and professional associations of all employees working on climate change. The Department refused. But that was before climate genius Rick Perry took charge.

At Interior, Trump cohorts still intimidate and fire those who try to report the truth. All government agencies have now gotten the message. Politico noted that “The Agriculture Department quashed the release of a sweeping plan on how to respond to climate change that was finalized in the early days of the Trump administration, according to a USDA employee with knowledge of the decision.” Department stooges purge scientific reports of any mention of climate change. Sounds very much like they are trying to replicate the Propaganda Ministry of Joseph Goebbels.

While the Democrats dither over impeachment, our time for attending to the climate crisis is inexorably running out. “Another four years of Trump would probably render futile any efforts to limit planetary warming to 1.5 [degrees Celsius], which is necessary to avert ever-more catastrophic climate change impacts.” Thus Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State.

To translate science like this into terms the public can understand is a major challenge. The media has been lagging in the effort though they may finally be stepping up to the plate. But ultimately we will get nowhere without political change. And political change is impossible unless you can believe in it. More believers wanted.

The Unreality of Climate Change

Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement

Bill McKibben, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

Ganges delta flooding

For many of us, climate change is simply beyond imagining. These two excellent books offer quite different ways of understanding what it is, how the threat grew, and what if anything we can do about it.

Ghosh is an acclaimed Indian novelist; McKibben has been writing for at least thirty years about climate and fighting for recognition of the crisis. In these books, Ghosh is the Platonist, looking at the history, artistic rendering and power politics of climate change through a meta lens. He moves us through vast areas of space and time to uncover trends and events that we never suspected controlled the evolution of climate.

McKibben is the Aristotelian here, writing a detailed story of his investigation about why and how we’ve failed to do anything. A reviewer sums up the message:

“Our lives now are only part biological, with no clear split between the organic and the technological, the carbon and the silicon,” McKibben writes partway through. That transition feels like the heart of the book, which he frames as a look at what he calls the “human game”: How do we balance technology and the natural world? What dark, selfish parts of human nature got us here? And what are the options that might make things better, from installing solar panels to genetically engineering more altruistic babies?

McKibben’s book is more accessible; Ghosh writes of grand, sweeping trends, connections you never thought of. For instance, he explores how literature moved from concern with the epic and the supernatural, the presence of unpredictable nature, to exploring the personal, the subjective, and how that has kept us from seeing climate change developing.

Politics has undergone a similar change, becoming focused on identity and personal (moral) development rather than pushing for the collective action that is essential. The economics of capitalism created the carbon economy, but so did the 19th-20th century drive for empire. Industrialism came late to China and India but their vast populations rapidly brought the crisis to its present peak.

For Ghosh, the imaginative, psychological and cultural failures keep us from talking about climate change or confronting it. So does our concept of time as something linear, progressing, moving always forward. In fact, progress is the spurious idea behind modernity, which fostered the separation of mankind from nature.

Climate change thus remains something beyond our ken, something uncanny, to use his word. Language—and our present use of it—has become inadequate to deal with its strangeness. Finally, however, Ghosh has found ways to describe our great derangement, our divorce from the natural world and, just maybe, turn our despair into at least a wisp of hope.

The scale of the climate challenge is beyond enormous, and Ghosh is not an easy read because he forces you to think in complex new patterns. If you make the effort, you’ll find the patterns make sense and some of the clouds will part.