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Climate Change: Speaking the Unspeakable

Climate Change Evidence

Rosemary Randall, a writer I’ve just encountered for the first time, has a very worthwhile piece up at Aeon Magazine, The id and the eco:

In dealing with climate change, we are in the terrain that psychoanalysis calls resistance or defence — the ability to defend ourselves from too much mental and emotional pain. Although each statement carries an element of truth, its primary purpose is protective: a rationalisation for inaction. These are subtler forms of denial than those found among outright climate sceptics or deniers. The reality of climate change is acknowledged but its significance is discounted, and the person involved avoids taking any responsibility for the issue. If, however, you delve behind these kinds of statements, you frequently find anxiety, unease and apprehension. Sometimes you find guilt, sometimes grief, and sometimes a sense of impossible conflict.

One explanation for such defensive reactions is that climate change is the kind of intractable, vast problem that systems thinkers term ‘wicked’. The urban designers Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber coined this phrase in the 1970s when they were struggling with the fact that public policy rarely seemed to please everyone, often had unintended consequences, and never seemed to solve problems neatly and efficiently. ‘Wicked’ problems are embedded in social complexity: drug trafficking is a good example. They defy easy definition and there is little chance of applying an off-the-peg answer. Every attempt at a solution intervenes in the system and changes the situation. There are many stakeholders, and the problem’s shape, definition and potential solutions look different from each perspective. With ‘wicked’ problems, there are no true-false solutions, only better-worse ones.

Please go read it all, after you’ve plowed through the rest of this post, of course.

Randall points to something I’ve run into numerous times: Someone who really wants to know something about climate change finds out that the bearded guy with the too-loud voice (i.e. me) at the gathering “knows about environmental stuff”, and asks a sincere but very open-ended question like, “Is it real?”, or the dreaded, “How bad is it?”, or, from those with a little knowledge of the topic, the even more dreaded, “How f***ed are we???” This is where I have to make some very delicate decisions. Depending on the physical circumstances of the conversation, I’ll sometimes encourage the person to e-mail me (“this isn’t the time or place for a long answer”). Other times I’ll say something like, “it’s really serious”, and then tell them one or two standalone facts, like how long we’re stuck with our CO2 emissions after we spew them into the air, and recommend a book or two.

Recently, I’ve increasingly been tempted to say, “If I told you how bad it is, you wouldn’t believe me.” While I’ve never said it that way, when I think about the basic science of greenhouse gases, the amount already in the air, the ever-present sub-bed monsters like infrastructure lock-in and fossil fuel funded legislative paralysis, etc., I almost wonder why I haven’t given in to that urge. I know that if I take someone who genuinely wants an answer to a question, someone who isn’t just looking for a debate while we all stand around at a cookout waiting for the burgers and hot dogs, and hit him or her with The Whole Climate Change Smash, the conversation will fall apart very quickly. The other person will retreat into a maze of defense mechanisms, assume I’m a whack job, and I will have accomplished nothing positive. In fact, I likely will have pushed that person away.

But here’s the nasty detail: If people don’t understand the severity of the situation and therefore how much additional pain and expense we can avoid by taking swift action now, then they won’t do it. People won’t make anywhere near the level of changes required in their consumption and voting patterns just to “be green”; mass numbers of them will only take those drastic (in their perception) steps to avoid pain, and for most people pain to their own children a few decades from now doesn’t qualify. It has to be much closer in time and distance, much more personal. They have to be either angry (e.g. the Pearl Harbor response) or scared to death (they’ve been personally impacted severely by repeated floods or droughts or fires). I can tell them how much better we can live with a near-zero carbon world, including not importing massive amounts of oil into countries like the US, not dealing with the by products of coal use like mercury pollution, acid rain, and coal ash; not pursuing damaging policies and technologies like fracking for natural gas; creating many good jobs building, erecting, and maintaining solar and wind farms, etc. But none of that registers with the overwhelming majority of people. It’s too abstract, too outside their comfort zone, too easily dismissed by their fear of change.

So… what to do? How to find a way to metaphorically grab people by the shoulders, turn them, make them look at the horrid thing they and their kids and parents and grandparents helped create, tell them how bad it really is, and then convince them that there’s no such thing as it “being too late”, that the urgency they now see and feel is not an argument for disengagement, but an argument for taking action to stop it from getting far worse?

Photo Credit: Cimate Change and Argument/shutterstock

Lou Grinzo's picture

Thank Lou for the Post!

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John NIchols's picture
John NIchols on August 21, 2013


If we abandaon fossil fuel now, there will be lots of “additional pain”, and I may I add suffering.  Food prices are skyrocketing, the cost of transportation is going through the roof and many can not afford to heat or cool their home.  This is real pain and this “externatility” is the one that needs to measured.  Fifteen years of no “global warming” and I am called a “denier”.  The real deniers are those who continue to promote the global warming hoax. Please, it is time give up.

A. G. Gelbert's picture
A. G. Gelbert on August 21, 2013

The only  “additional pain” to be had if we accelerate the transition to 100% renewables is the loss of swag for those who make thier living from fossil fuels. Why? because renewable energy causes continual demand destruction for fossil fuels. Good!



I hear you and understand perfectly. I have the same problem. I have recently had more success by putting on a hopeful frame on renewables from a profit perspective and dwelling very briefly on the climate. In short, I say, “Put money in your pocket and help save the planet too! What’s not to like?”

You can then talk about how PV panels (Columbia University study put out 15 to 30 times the energy used to make then AND they are almost 100% recyclable, unlike the Internal combustion engine (ICE). You can add that both wind and pv are now cheaper than fossil fuels for generating power. The fact that wind turbines DO NOT require high temperature alloys in order to stand the heat stress of running like the ICE also makes them 100% recyclable without additional raw materials mining except for the drop in the bucket, in comparison to mining for ICE metal alloys, of mining fro rare earths that trhe fossil fuel industry has tried to make such a big deal about.

Our hope for the future is not quixotic even if things look really bad. Lemna minor (duckweed) grows form the equator to Siberia, is the smallest angiosperm know to man and the fastest growing (it doubles its mass in 24 hours). Whats more, while 38% (according to Scientifc American) of arable land is now used to grow food crops, lentic system (shallow stagnant water ponds on non-arable land fertilized with pig feces and no chemical fertilizers or fossil fuel used for ploeing or harvesting) duckweed growing over non-arable land (there is more non-arable land than arable land and it’s cheap too) can begin the process of sucking up CO2 even while using a portion of the duckweed for lubricants, fuel, plastics and pharmaceuticals. The Chines have already determined it’s cheaper to have duckweed refiberies than petroleum refineries:

Duckweed for Biofuels? 2013-03-07

Duckweed may be a viable material for biofuel production according to a new report in ACS’ journal Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research. Duckweed is a fast growing floating plant that turns ponds and lakes green.

Christodoulos A. Floudas, a professor at Princeton and Xin Xiao with Langfang Engineering and Technology Centre, Institute of Process Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences, along with several colleagues explain that duckweed, an aquatic plant that floats on or near the surface of still or slow-moving freshwater, is ideal as a raw material for biofuel production. It grows fast, thrives in wastewater that has no other use, does not impact the food supply and can be harvested more easily than algae and other aquatic plants. However, they say, few studies have been done on the use of duckweed as a raw material for biofuel production.

In the article, Floudas and Xiao describe four scenarios for duckweed refineries that use proven existing technology to produce gasoline, diesel and kerosene. Those technologies include conversion of biomass to a gas; conversion of the gas to methanol, or wood alcohol; and conversion of methanol to gasoline and other fuels. The results show that small-scale duckweed refineries could produce cost-competitive fuel when the price of oil reaches $100 per barrel. Oil would have to cost only about $72 per barrel for larger duckweed refiners to be cost-competitive.

The research was partially funded from grants from the National Science Foundation and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. (”.

Cheer up Lou! Fossil fuels are now pricing themselves out of the market! And to help them go away sooner Senator Sanders of Vermont has introduced this bill (it won’t be the last one – there will be many more until we succeed) to stop the subsidies to fossil fuels.

It’s called the End Polluter Wefare Act. You can become a citizen sponsor here. Don’t expect fossil fuel shill John Nichols to like this bill LOL!

Full text of bill here:

Here are the facts from Senator Sanders’ web site: 

  • Fossil fuels are subsidized at nearly 6 times the rate of renewable energy. From 2002 to 2008, the US Government gave the mature fossil fuel industry over $72 billion in subsidies, while investments in the emerging renewable industry totaled $12.2 billion. 
  • The fossil fuel energy industry does not need taxpayer subsidies. In 2011, the Big Five oil companies alone made $137 billion in profits. During the first quarter of 2012, the Big Five oil companies earned a combined $33.5 billion, or $368 million per day
  • Unlike renewable energy incentives which periodically expire and require Congress to approve extensions, the fossil fuel industry has dozens of subsidies permanently engrained in the tax code from decades of successful lobbying. In 2011, the oil, gas, and coal industries spent a combined $167 million on lobbying the federal government. 


Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on August 22, 2013


Sadly it appears that you have fallen for the misinformation that is rampant these days concerning the issue. While there my be some discomfort transitioning to renewable energy the real pain of continuing down our present path is far more dire than you can imagine. As you note, we can’t abandon FF’s overnight but if we don’t get really busy immediately we are headed for extinction along with most other life forms on this glorious planet. It’s denial like yours that will keep us on the path to destruction.

A. G. Gelbert's picture
A. G. Gelbert on August 22, 2013

I apreciate your efforts to speak truth to all that disinformation out there. We have an existential crisis and the short sighted, profit now and devil take the hindmost cave man logic must be end or we will.

Thanks again.

A. G. Gelbert's picture
A. G. Gelbert on August 22, 2013

Thank you.

A. G. Gelbert's picture
A. G. Gelbert on August 22, 2013

Well said.

Andrew Kazantsev's picture
Andrew Kazantsev on August 23, 2013

So… what to do?” Look for the ideal decision! Moreover, it is already found – Air Hydro Power – – can cover all our energy needs with zero CO2 and cheaper than now…

Paul O's picture
Paul O on August 23, 2013

This has to be a Joke. At best it is very bad  sci-fi.

Andrew Kazantsev's picture
Andrew Kazantsev on August 23, 2013

This is absolutely real. Moreover it has been already tested on real scientific prototype with month ago.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on August 23, 2013

So they propose a baloon to lift a hose 5 km into the sky.

1) What is the Weight of a hose that’s 5km long, What material is the hose to made from that will resist the tensile stress of its own weight at 5 km long?

2) What size (Volume) of Baloon will produce sufficient lift or raise the Mass of the Hose plus the Baloon, (The larger the requisite baloon, the more it weighs), plus the water droplets that condense on the surface of the baloon itself to a height of 5 Km, and the weight of the water inside the hose that’s 5 km long.

3) They talk about air friction experienced by rain on the way down, what about the friction of the water in the hose with the hose? 

Still sounds like really, really bad Sci-fi.


Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on August 23, 2013

It is also worth pointing out that transition to renewables includes transition to a new grid which some refer to as the Super Grid.  The Super Grid is one which enables matching buyers and sellers of energy in near real time making it a real market, a free market and an extremely efficient market.  While many are fearful of the economic consequences, I think it is likely to lead to an economic renassance just as the Internet took us from the mainframe era into new prosperity with truely distributed computing.

Mainstream renewable energy advocates don’t look to an overnight transition.  The utilities have time to adjust, it is their choice whether or not they choose to.  It has already started

and this

both more in response to natural gas than renewables at this point.  In any event, the utilities that see renewables and the SuperGrid as opportunity and have the agility to adapt with thrive, those that don’t will be replaced.  That is capitalism 101. 


Andrew Kazantsev's picture
Andrew Kazantsev on August 23, 2013

See There are some ways to solve this task.

1) ~ 3 tonn for mentioned unit with 5 km, pressed hose, kevlar. But no weight if it is gravity hose.

 2) Baloon has V calculated from simple condition – 1 kg of weight is 1 m3 of hydrogen or helium. It was absolutely real size even 100 years ago.

3) Drops have a big front resistence, flow has not. Besides the pressed flow has no big speed (although has the big weight instead) and therefore has a little power loss (typically some %% only)

Paul O's picture
Paul O on August 24, 2013

I have been to the site and I’d like to ask some questions.

1) Please confirm that The diameter of the water collumn in the hose is 3mm, that’s about half the thickness of an average lead pencil. Can you confirm that this is not a misprint?

So then,  Water trapped from clouds will be streaming out of a Kevlar hose through a nozle that’s half the diameter of a pencil (3mm),  the hose is about 5km long and is held up in the sky by a Hydrogen filled Baloon thats encased in a nylon mesh that entraps and directs condensation water into the aforementioned kevlar hose.

2) What is the cross sectional area of the Kevlar Hose, this is needed to calculate the weight of the length of Kevlar hose itself.

3) Given the Bouyancy of Hydrogen, the weight of the Hose, the weight of the water column in the hose, the weight of water saturated in the Nylon mesh, the weight of the balloon itself, how big does the ballon need to be to buoy itself and the aforementioned weights.

4) Since this is a Hydrogen balloon, how thick must it be to resist diffusion of hydrogen. The thickness will further influence the weight of the Ballon itself.

5) Is the 200m/s assumption of the water stream accurate given that a 3mm collumn of water will experience forces like high surface tension and cavitation. In other words there may be no water at all if thecavitation in the water collumn causes the hose to collapse inward.

I am trully sorry, but the only way to know that this is not just a science experiment is to actually build one and demonstrate that it works.

Andrew Kazantsev's picture
Andrew Kazantsev on August 25, 2013

3 mm is OUTLET diameter for GRAVITY hose – “2. gravity pipe (waterfall) – variable profile by continuity equation, no pressure (my variant) -> cheap, possible big energy losing” (see )

Gravity hose is more useful for BIG power units where edge effects are small. For this demo unit the “1. standard pressure pipe – 30 mm, 200 ATM in bottom (your variant) -> Kevlar tube/tether, expensive + 1.5 t of water” is more availible. It demands ~ 2000 m3 balloon.

only way to know that this is not just a science experiment is to actually build one and demonstrate that it works” – yes, of course. Our test device has taken approximately 5 liter cloud’s water per hour, however during aerostat landing the rope was broken off and the aerostat had flied off again and was destroyed by Russian Air Defence (therefore we could not fulfil the second part of this experiment with 2 mm PVC hose).


David Newell's picture
David Newell on August 25, 2013

My reading of the head article is that it deals with the  psychological issues of having the greater mass of humanity come to understand that this is an existential issue before us: not “for us” as individuals, but “us” meaning potentially life on the planet.

It is a sad and terrifying prospect, and it is “natural” to avoid the uncomfortable registration of the looming potential for the absolute death which may be the consequence of our ignorance.


But, only AFTER the stark realities confronting  us are registered, can the creative response appropriate to the situation arise.

I have been through much of the process, and have endured depression and sorrow.


My “way of functioning” is different, and I am currently seen as a flaming radical in regard to issues on the environment, by many if not most people.   i feel that you and I have a common knothole through which we will pass TOGETHER, or we won’t make it.

What has arisen in me is what appears to be a significant response to the situation, which I have entitled..




Living on the Edge of Vision


Blueprint for a Thriving Earth


draft V



Almost ready for “prime time”, hopefully will have a URL reference soon.




As for the plan referenced above by Andrew Kazantsev ,

I have not read it, and therefore have no opinion.


i DO know that these times will require some very creative and “new thinking” technologies,

and nothing should be dismissed “out of hand”.


i also intuit that the “answer” will have to do with “water” somehow,

but who really knows.


thank you.




The title of the underlying patent is

(docket 11149)

“Carbon Dioxide Direct Air Capture utilizing Endorheic Basin Alkaline Playa  Deposits

to effect Mineral Carbonation”.


William Hughes-Games's picture
William Hughes-Games on August 25, 2013

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