Is Civil Unrest The Only Way Out?

Is the climate crisis is getting so severe that civil disobedience is justified to compel the federal government to confront the fossil fuel lobby?  This is the question that was raised at a recent panel discussion “Blessed 350” at the Commonwealth Club.  The panel was moderated by Greg Dalton. The full audio is available at

My name is Gary Latshaw, PhD and I wanted to share my notes from this event with as many people as possible; I believe you will find the thoughts expressed by the authors very interesting.  My notes are presented to you here in the form of bullet points.  Please chime in with your views and feelings about these issues in the comments and let’s have a discussion.

Guests: Paul Hawken, Author, Blessed Unrest and Bill McKibben, Founder,  Both these authors are well-established environmental activists. The presentation was conducted as a panel discussion with the moderator posing questions to the two. At the end there was audience participation. I thought it was a very interesting discussion on climate issues – both the politics and the science. Here is what I captured. In parenthesis I have introduced some of my own thinking:

  • “Problem is that government policy has artificially increased consumption. There have been tax incentives for home ownership and government subsidies for freeways to get to all the homes. Thus, we have created a housing/work transportation design, which is very carbon-intensive (driving long distances) and now that carbon based fuels are expensive, it is an expensive design. Nevertheless, studies show people in cities have twice as many close friends as those in suburbia.
  • Financial meltdown will take 10-12 years. (I have heard this before. It is not clear to me that without substantial changes to our economy that simply waiting will relieve our problems. The Great Depression was not relieved for 12 years until massive government spending for World War II.)
  • Nation is at risk.
  • Better future is in more local transactions. Closer factories and farms to consumers. Farmer’s markets are actually growing. The number of farms has increased. Good trend.
  • Correct phrase for “climate change” or “global warming” is “climate volatility”. “Change” is not descriptive of what is happening. Record rains in Vermont due to Hurricane Irene, which became storms in Vermont has destroyed the farms for this year’s crop. Extreme heat wave in Texas is another example.
  • Climate change is happening much faster than any of the climate scientists expected. An example is the heat waves in Texas that are threatening the viability of the cattle industry. (I am not surprised as I have watched this for a couple of decades; the scientists have consistently underestimated the changes. This is not an unexpected result of trying to model complex phenomenon.)
  • Public water departments are believers in climate change as they have to increase the size of culverts. Original culverts were designed for 100-year rain events, but those events are happening with an increased rate.
  • Adaptation has two tasks: (1) building a non-fossil fuel economy and (2) making our society more resilient to the violent weather that is inevitable for the next several centuries., an environmental activist organization, has engaged in all countries on these efforts except North Korea.
  • Recent protests at the Whitehouse asking that the pipeline for the delivering Tar-sands chemical slurry be cancelled have created the most civil-disobedience arrests since the civil rights movement.
  • Exxon has made more money last year than any company ever. With this money comes political power. Although the population actually accepts most of what climate scientists are saying, the political power of the fossil fuel industry is formidable and so far has won on most issues.
  • The US Chamber of commerce spends 94% of its campaign contributions on climate deniers.
  • Need conviction from Obama. He has the power to do much more than he has. For example, overruling the EPA on ozone levels.
  • Solar panels made in China are responsible for much ghg emissions. The energy involved in processing comes from coal and then the chemical processes release gases that are very powerful ghg. Unclear whether the panels are really benefiting ghg emissions when their lifecycle impact is calculated.
  • At one time, the weather channel had a rule that severe storms could not be linked to climate change because the linkage was unpopular with some of their advertisers.”

I asked at the Q and A about the lack of media coverage of the protests at the Whitehouse where world famous scientists were getting arrested. McKibben answered that there was some coverage. His arrest was in the NY Times editorial so that made him feel good. He pointed out that the major civil rights protests by Martin Luther King that got a lot of media attention had been proceeded by much less coverage of other events.

Regarding these particular notes, I hope people will recognize the threat of climate change and take political action to stop mankind’s destruction of the global ecology. In particular, there are large reservoirs of carbon trapped in what are called Tar Sands. The process of extracting, transporting, and processing this type of carbon is particularly carbon intensive – that is for every unit of energy more dangerous carbon dioxide is emitting into the atmosphere. If we build the pipeline that is proposed from the Canadian border to New Orleans, we will be on our way to using this very dangerous type of carbon. I would ask people to write to the President Obama and ask him to turn down the permits.

Now that Obama is politically weakened and the leading Republican candidates favor voodoo instead of science, major changes in green house gas emissions will require civil disobedience and court actions. Similar to the Civil Rights movement of the 60s.

AUTHOR:  Gary Latshaw, PhD.  “I am a retired physicist who has worked in many Silicon Valley companies and has taken training with Al Gore’s group on climate change. I give lectures on climate change to various groups and have watched the progression of the science on climate change for several decades. I am convinced that man’s emissions will produce a much more difficult if not catastrophic environment for future generations.”


One thought on “Tar Sands, Political Impotence, and Voodoo Science – Is Civil Unrest The Only Way Out?”
  1. I was at the CCC also for that talk and during the following week at the march on Market Street for Tar Sands Action. I’m still underwhelmed by the progressives’ ability to engage the public in looking for alternative action and am pessimistic about our leadership’s ability to find a way out on this one.

    My work is directed to the use of competition to move useful information- at all levels. (anyone interested can reach me at the following: jsuter at sbcglobal dot net) Finding and informally testing and moving information will be essential as the environment changes. It will be especially important as there is a lot of resistance at the local level to to know exactly what the threat is and what to do about it. I think that both energy and economy issues can be addressed by models of communication and feedback.

    Chris Martenson has interviewed a number of interesting people and last week he interviewed David Stockman who seems to have more common sense in his older age. They mostly talk about the financial meltdown which could possibly be coming but touch on the energy issues too. Chris has made the connection of energy and the economy (and environment) in a convincing way.

    Market Place interviewer Kai Ryssdal asked the question about how to get out of the ever expanding model of the economy now that there are some walls and limits coming into view.

    Following is a comment that I sent to Marketplace (following an interview with Tiffany Shlain on her movie “Connected”:

    On your interview with Tiffany Shlain (“Connected”) you raised the question, “How can you keep on growing economically. . . without it all collapsing under its own weight?” The question doesn’t seem to be discussed much. Maybe because there is no obvious answer. So what do we do?

    Part of the answer may be in how one defines “we”. Let’s look at small-groups-as-actors and a buffer against another recession. Small groups of about 100 people or less could theoretically provide a safety net for those unemployed among them. 100 is about the upper limit of small group sizes that can potentially meet face-to-face to talk and get to know all the other members of the group.

    The small size group has a mutual accountability that depends less on written contracts and less on the consequent coercive power of the court. When it comes to gathering useful information, a small group of people working as a group, has a distinct advantage over the same number of people working as individuals.

    We don’t yet have good tools to do this consistently because of resistance to the flow of useful information at the local level. This is understandable since people at the local level must sometimes fight over existing resources – which seems to make all politics local.

    You might be familiar with Tim Harford’s book “Adapt, Why Success Always Starts With Failure” in which he describes how failure is a part of the learning process. Good information is still the key though, and the future will most likely belong to those who can gather and test information in a timely manner. Better and more efficient ways of getting ideas and information must be found. We have not really used competition at the local level to gather and informally test ideas and information. Competition not only creates a money and resource gradients, but creates an information gradient as well.

    Creating the small-group buffer can help in managing, for example, the social security issue, a big sticking point in Washington. Small groups of 10 people who all agree on their own portfolio of retirement investments should be allowed to take the risk together. They would have good reasons to talk with each other and it may stimulate a discussion among them about which investments are risky and which are not. The rest of us who unable or unwilling to be part of such a small group can stay in the existing large pool of social security recipients.

    We might be headed for a financial collapse, but society doesn’t have to collapse if it can evolve in the direction of voluntary small groups that can work as a unit. That would benefit everyone, including the bankers.

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