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Will we stop the climate crisis? I now have serious doubts.

After working on climate catastrophe solutions and investments for the past year or so I have come to the conclusion that what we are doing is not going to make any difference. The grassroots movement and Greta Thunberg mean really well, but it won’t make a difference. We need extreme global solutions right now (banning cars and banning flying for example), anything less won’t be enough. Let me explain why I have become so negative.

To start, I still believe we can stop and turn around climate change. But we have to move very fast because time is running out. And more important, we have to make huge global decisions that will be very painful for all of us. And that’s what the biggest problem is.

People are not willing to make sacrifices for the climate, simply because they don’t see the big picture or because they feel others should make changes first. I have seen it during the Canadian elections last month where many people felt that Canada should keep on using its natural resources to create jobs and prosperity. They feel other countries should take steps first. The problem is that people in these other countries say the same thing, they all want others to take action first. Arguments about jobs are so short sighted: yes, you can keep a few more jobs for now, but the future cost of those jobs will be so much higher of the temporary wealth they create. Once we get to the point of no return these jobs will be gone (probably long before that already) but the additional burden they have created will not go away anymore.

A few weeks ago I went to a Greta Thunberg rally in Vancouver. I was really excited about it and felt stoked about being part of it. But the event had the opposite effect on me and I felt it was depressing. I realized that the people in the climate change movement are the wrong ones to force a change. Not only was the organization of the demonstration terrible (speakers were hardly visible from the crowds, the speeches lasted way too long and were all similar), but instead of trying to be an inclusive group of people they were actively trying to exclude other groups. I fully agree with them on stopping the oil pipelines, but why combine that point in a speech with supporting the staff of the hotels in Vancouver that were on strike? Keep these issues separate, they are completely unrelated. The same with the support for the demonstrations in Chile that came up a few times in speeches, they are unrelated. Even though I feel sympathy for both the hotel staff on strike and the demonstrators in Chile, I feel they just don’t belong in a climate crisis march.

You need to rally as much people behind you as possible, by excluding others on issues that are not related you don’t do that. The people at the event did not seem like the ones that can make a change in the world, but they did not seem to realize it themselves. It made me feel a bit depressed to be honest. I thought Greta Thunberg was doing a great job until I saw her in action. I highly respect what she is doing, but she is not a very likeable person and I don’t think these climate strikes will make any difference. The grassroots movement may think they are changing the world, but they are not. They are just not the right people to make the change and they won’t get the right people on board with this kind of events.

The only thing that can save us are extreme global measures, things that might seem over the top until it is too late. Once we hit a level of about 450 ppm of CO2 in the air we will get into an unstoppable cycle that will make the current climate crisis seem a like a minor nuisance. At that point the effect of the melting permafrost will lead to methane being released into the air, something that will have catastrophic effects. We have to do everything we can to stay below 450 ppm. At the current rate we will get there by 2030, at which point it will simply be too late to do anything.

That means taking drastic global measures to cut CO2. What kind of measures? I believe the only way to save the planet is to immediately ban flying, to ban fossil fuel cars, and to reduce meat consumption by a large percentage. Sounds crazy? Yes, but if we don’t do it the effects on the planet will be so much worse that we would wish that we would have taken these measures when there still was time.

It will be very painful if we can’t fly anymore. Of course all the airlines will be out of business and hundreds of thousands of people will be out of their jobs right away, but we have no choice! We need to change our lifestyles and we will have to be forced to change them. Voluntarily we won’t do it. The same is true for fossil fuel engines in cars. We will need to make the switch to a different kind of transportation, most likely (shared) electric vehicles in the short run or potentially even autonomous vehicles. I am sure this will lead to new innovations very quickly (fully electric planes with much longer ranges for example), innovations to come out with products that are currently not economically feasible. The same for eating meat, there are simple and cheap solutions to drastically reduce the methane belching of cows (adding a bit of seaweed to their feed or to the water they drink), but there is no real economic incentive to implement it.

We have to make a transition to 100% renewable energy in a few years, while taking out as much CO2 as possible, for example through technological solutions like carbon sequestration. We need to change our lifestyles to a slower kind of life. No more flying to a holiday summer destination, but going there by train or other cleaner modes of transportation. Crossing an ocean might mean taking a boat. Or maybe Elon Musk’s hyperloop trains will be the solution to intercontinental travel. Things will take more time, but is that really a big problem? In the short term yes, but we will get used to it very fast. The Internet, virtual reality and free global communications make it a lot easier to achieve this than it would have been 20 years ago. It will impact me a lot more than most people, but I am willing to sacrifice this.

Of course I realize that the world will not come together to do this until time has run out. Partly because some people do not believe in the climate crisis (most will eventually, but by then then it will be too late), but mostly because people don’t realize how close we are to a complete catastrophe. A democracy seems like the best political system to most people in the West, but it is not fit to solve problems like this in time. I believe yuou actually need unelected (but smart and humane) leaders to be able to get things done, like in a corporate environment. Leaders that are respected by the people they represent, but that do not have to work on their re-election every 4 years or so.

Because of all of this I have come to the conclusion that we might as well party like it’s 1999, because we won’t come together and fight the approaching disaster. The grassroots movement is not going to make a difference. We need global measures to force people to change their lifestyles 100%. Not just by buying carbon credits to offset their emissions, but by completely stopping their emissions. It’s sad, but it seems to be the reality. For a while I thought I could make a change but except for creating awareness and investing in new technologies I just don’t see that it will have enough impact. We will need a global political force willing to make very painful decisions and we will need that right now. Unfortunately we are further away from that now than we have been in a long time.

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  1. Sad conclusion, but I think you are right. It would be great if there can be a shift to a sustainable lifestyle, but the real urgency is not there. In Holland everybody is taking about the farmers and construction companies being hurt by the new climate rulings.

  2. Yes, everybody is only looking at how it will affect them and complains about it, instead of looking at the global picture. Politicians don’t get re-elected if they take necessary but painful measures, so nothing will get done until it is too late.

  3. Would heavy tax on flying be a solution? First annual flight normal tax, second to fifth annual flight 100% tax and every annual flight above a tax of 500% or higher. The tax income directly to be invested in alternatives to flying. This could be implemented directly.

  4. I believe that a significant part of the problem/solution lies in the way how we define value and related to that how we apply taxation. However, such fundamental changes need to be done on a global scale and I fear that will be really difficult. It will require a global leading coalition, with leaders who have enough support by large groups of people around the world. However, there is a huge difference between writing something and seeing it happening in real life. Adding to this are the huge inequalities in income and everything related to that (India, China, African continent, to name a few). At the end of the day nature doesn’t need mankind to find a new balance.

  5. @Bas, a tax could in theory work well, but it should be from the first flight onwards (many people only fly once a year, we need them to stop flying as well) and you have to ensure the proceeds indeed go into alternatives to flying. Knowing politicians they will try to use if for other purposed that are ‘more urgent’. Of course it should also be a global initiative, not a local/regional one that can be circumvented. I like the idea, because it can be implemented fast.

  6. @Serge: mThe Windy visual is very good and something like that may help to wake people up. However, CO2 data is only recorded at a 3 locations in the world, so a global graph may not be as strong a visual. I look at the data every week, but maybe publishing it on the front page of newspapers (like the weather) might be a good start. Problem is that CO2 is cyclical, it goes down during the Northern hemisphere summer, so people may misunderstand the data. A comparison to 1 and 5 years ago may be necessary.

  7. @Marcel: Nature will find a balance, but with a lot less humans on this planet. A global coalition will only come together when the crisis really hits us, but by then it’s too late because the methane cycle can’t be stopped anymore.

  8. Indeed, the centralized decision making system and the centralized financial system ‘backed’ by oil are a major problem, and without it we may not have had climate change. That’s one reason why I am in favour of a lean government and a decentralized financial system. Problem is, we can’t implement that on time to avoid a world climate catastrophe.

  9. Hi Marc, What are you most favorite sources for this information? Including domain experts? Bitcoin mining is very bad for co2?…..

  10. Good that you’re waking up to the reality of who the people behind those rallies really are and what their real agenda is. I’d suggest you google Richard Lindzen and contrast what he says with your own opinions. Maybe you will change your mind a bit and be less pessimistic.

  11. @L: If you are insinuating that there are other people behind the rallies and that they have an agenda, I strongly disagree. If there would have been other people they would have used a different strategy, because this is simply not working. Greta and her friends are good at getting the message out, but they won’t be able to make the needed changes or even just getting everyone together.

    I know Richard Lindzen, he is often used by climate deniers. How can you take someone serious who also claims there is only a weak link between smoking and lung cancer, and that second hand smoke does not lead to lung cancer? Just with that he already disqualified himself. The fact that he is a paid consultant for big oil, gas and coal companies means he is biased and should be dismissed as a neutral source of information.

  12. Hi Marc, I have two or three developments that might cheer you up / can use your support (in any which way). Let’s call, anytime!

  13. Banning flying… Says the man who some time ago mused about getting a small private jet in some Dutch newspaper…

  14. Irrational? Hysteria? Science is very clear on what is happening to our world if we don’t make drastic changes. Not doing anything and not being afraid is irrational.

  15. Can’t recall that I ever said in a newspaper that I wanted to get a private jet, but if so it was long before I understood the threat of climate change. Buying a private jet knowing what’s happening to the world would be almost criminal. Do your research please Roger, I did mine and it changed my view on the state of the world and what needs to be done. That’s why I would be happy to ban flying immediately.