The climate crisis Is worse than you can imagine
February 1, 2021 8:17 AM   Subscribe

"A climate scientist spent years trying to get people to pay attention to the disaster ahead. His wife is exhausted. His older son thinks there’s no future. And nobody but him will use the outdoor toilet he built to shrink his carbon footprint."
posted by simmering octagon (152 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
This article really hits where it hurts. I am just like his wife, I know exactly how bad things are but cannot face it. There is only happiness in pretending not to know and enjoying the present, because there is literally nothing else I can do. I am not charismatic, or good at organising social media campaigns, or rich, or powerful. I might as well spit in the wind.
posted by stillnocturnal at 8:31 AM on February 1 [44 favorites]


This guy is the same age as me, and all I can say about that is anyone my age or younger who decided or decides to have kids is a hell of a lot more optimistic about the future of our civilization than I am. The pandemic was a good case study of how large groups of people react to slow-moving emergencies like climate change (as opposed to, say, short-term events like earthquakes or tornadoes, which tend to inspire altruism and cooperation) and while there were exceptions the overall results have been...discouraging.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:46 AM on February 1 [42 favorites]


Just to keep things in perspective: The Doomsday Argument (TL/DR smart people do some math on the subject of the end of the world. Worth a read, for being encouraging. Here's the MeFi thread, from 2002

The piece itself was an odd kind of lifestyle piece where the writer clearly has some strong opinions non-universal opinions and so reading it I couldn't help but wonder what this guy's fucking problem was. He's clearly got a good science brain but he's maybe not using it optimally. Also, he sounds like he is taking out his anxieties on his immediate family. I don't know why anyone even wrote an article about him - I kept waiting to hear that he was on the cutting edge of some CO2 remediation project... but no, he's just the only one in his family still using the composting toilet.
posted by From Bklyn at 9:01 AM on February 1 [36 favorites]


Nobody wants to use composting toilets and environmentalists should stop trying to get people to use them. Indoor plumbing is great, it's good to not have cholera and hookworm. If ecological resources are scarce, toilets should be near the top of the priority list. They only make the slightest bit of sense in places like California where there are actual serious water shortages.

I don't want to derail the thread into an argument about composting toilets. But I honestly think this illustrates two things about the environmental movement that show up quite a bit in this article:

1. It seems to have such strong California roots that California problems get exported all around the world. Extinction Rebellion has been putting up posters in Northeastern cities talking about wildfires and droughts, which does not really make much sense as messaging.

2. There is an element of asceticism and something like spirituality. I think really committed environmentalists have a moral intuition that harm to our ecological system is a moral wrong, and they want to find personal practices to live their lives in accordance with this moral intuition. Sometimes it seems like they would not be satisfied if our society collectively lived within its ecological limits for pragmatic reasons; they really want each individual person to share their moral intuition and put it into practice individually.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:02 AM on February 1 [118 favorites]


There is an element of asceticism and something like spirituality.

I mean the whole "if we don't do these, we're all gonna fuckin die horribly sooner than later" thing definitely gives a good reason to give into asceticism, to be fair.

Also, it's always good to hear Vogon Poetry at the end of the world...
posted by deadaluspark at 9:05 AM on February 1 [5 favorites]


“There’s almost like a pornographic fascination with ‘Oh, I’m going to imagine just how bad everything is going to be,’”

Sparked an instant connection with one of my favorite metafilter comments ever as measured by the almost audible sound you can hear your worldview make when it suddenly snaps into a new, clearer focus.
Sorry to break it to you, that's one of the main forms of the romanticization of war - a great example, in fact. Fervent descriptions of the utter disgusting qualities of war function quite similarly to pornography for many people. All of those terms - "unburied bodies scattered everywhere," "an act of supreme will," "hell's own cesspool" - those are gloriously evocative expressions of *intensity* which *excite* many people. The author may not be "trying" to romanticize it, but he is doing just that.
Future history, if any, is likely to look back on the climate crisis as a war in its own right, so the connection's not as tangential as it may seem. Articles about guys toughing it out, going through hell's own cesspool (or composting toilet?), etc., when the more interesting, but less romantic, stories are women and kids having to pick up the pieces. Mostly thinking "his poor family" from the article reinforced that connection for sure!
posted by Drastic at 9:08 AM on February 1 [44 favorites]


stillnocturnal: I agree it is difficult to face the overwhelming onslaught of climate change. However, I heard an interview with Michael Mann on CBC's Quirks and Quarks detailing what he calls the New Climate War. Instead of outright denial of climate change -- which is now essentially impossible -- vested interests are using disinformation in many ways, with the ultimate goal of creating inaction.

Changes need to happen on a systemic level, and as individuals most of us have little ability to influence that. However, there are many small things we can do, even those of us without vast personal fortunes or politically connected friends. Something as simple as volunteering a few hours on a weekend to clean up plastic waste on a beach makes a tangible difference.
posted by kmkrebs at 9:13 AM on February 1 [12 favorites]


Extinction Rebellion has been putting up posters in Northeastern cities talking about wildfires and droughts, which does not really make much sense as messaging.

I live in a Connecticut town which (though not as big as Hartford or New Haven) is the largest and least rural town in my county. We had a 100-acre brush fire in early September. Never heard of such a thing here before. Plus, part of the reason it continued to burn for several weeks (although contained) was severe drought.

Maybe it doesn't make sense in a real Northeastern CITY city like Boston or something, but it sure isn't limited to California anymore.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:15 AM on February 1 [20 favorites]


Boston's Fens have had fires during the summer when the Muddy River isn't muddy enough.
The Fells are on notice that a fire risk may occur at any summer.

California is just first.
posted by ocschwar at 9:20 AM on February 1 [12 favorites]


GM pledging to have all electric vehicles by 2035, versus dude's vanishingly small edge-case of composting toilet conversion? Hmmm, who should I pay attention to?

Hey, NYT lifestyles, did you lose an author? I think I found one of yours writing here for Pro Publica.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 9:20 AM on February 1 [17 favorites]


But on the winter trips to visit their families in the Midwest, the grease coagulated in the cold, which made Maeby break down more. Some nights Sharon cried in the motel room, but “when it’s daytime it all seemed better,” she said. She talked about renting a car or even flying home but never did. Still, late one night on a very cold, dark and lonely Utah highway when Peter was under the broken-down car, and Braird and Zane were in the back seat, screaming, and Sharon was revving the engine at Peter’s request — she started to wonder if she had Stockholm syndrome.

I dated someone like this and let me just say I was very glad I got out when I did. It requires a total abdication of oneself's desires, hopes, dreams, boundaries, goals, all in service of the greater good your significant other is pursuing, even if (or especially if) you also care about that greater good deeply. I would say partner, but there's no equality about it.
posted by stellaluna at 9:21 AM on February 1 [46 favorites]


The thing is, this guy can be right and mentally ill at the same time. The level of constant, pressing anxiety he describes, and the way it had been inflicted on his family isn't healthy, even if it is based in fact.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:24 AM on February 1 [109 favorites]


People (especially NYT Style section writers) really mean just Northern California when they complain about excessive fires here. Here down south, not only do we get fires every year, some of the native flora requires those fires in order to reproduce.

I’m 40, and I can probably count the number of years I couldn’t see at least one significant smoke plume from my house on one hand.
posted by sideshow at 9:27 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


There's debate on the popular podcast Reply All over whether Climate Pessimism (either out of despair or to shock people into action) or Climate Optimism (things will be bad, terrible even, but we still have lots of opportunity to keep things from getting worse, and some of the news is even good) is better. Mefi's Own Alex Goldman is the pessimist.
posted by rikschell at 9:30 AM on February 1 [7 favorites]


he sounds like he is taking out his anxieties on his immediate family

Yeah, this guy sounds intolerable and his wife sounds long suffering. He yells at her about climate change when they’re prepping to evacuate from a fire? And then feels good because he has said it? Meanwhile his wife is crying at rest stops as he’s ruining their relationships? He made them take their family vacation to somewhere where they could internalize climate change. He claims to care about humanity but just sounds deeply, deeply selfish from here. He knows individual change won’t help but ruins his family’s life so he can “burn his boats”? No. Just no.
posted by corb at 9:30 AM on February 1 [57 favorites]


When this guy wonders why people don't save the earth, it's because he doesn't understand social structures. The "people" who could "save the earth" right now are the rich and powerful, and they won't act because they plan to live through this in the few remaining comfortable and safe places. The masses won't act until much, much later because, perversely, their cost to act is much higher. It would cost the powerful only some marginal wealth and power to change things and it would only taking writing and enforcing laws; it will cost ordinary people everything, because the only way the ordinary can make this change is through mass action, and even the most benign mass action is going to involve violence as the powerful try to crush it.

Ordinary people won't act until their daily lives become untenable, and ordinary people can put up with a lot.

You have only to look at the pandemic to see the climate future - the rich leaving the poor to die. You have only to look, hell, at the Titanic - "they put the poor below, where they were the first to go".

It's not this guy's fault. He's a symptom. He's ill. There will be more and more of us who are symptoms, who are ill, between now and the time when life becomes unsustainable. Anyone who isn't rich and powerful and who can't turn off future thinking is going to be ill. I'd expect a lot more suicides, to tell the truth.

The way I see it, there's three options for ordinary people in the medium term: Accept that your life is going to be thrown into truly terrible and permanent chaos and danger whether or not you participate in mass movements; try to find somewhere to live off the grid that will be somewhat sustainable; or be ready to get sick and die from the weight of the future.
posted by Frowner at 9:33 AM on February 1 [117 favorites]


The article does discuss reproductive choices, FWIW. Making comments about existing children is about as awkward as my uncle rhapsodizing about what life might be like if my dad became a priest - odd, awkward and unhelpful for The Now of It All. Is this guy Not Committed Enough? His zeal’s first audience is his family, and all of them had to leave their home due to a months-long California wildfire. It may not turn the next generation into an army of Greta Thurnbergs, but there will be less climate denial by two. There is a baby bust happening now, which may be content for another climate-related post.
posted by childofTethys at 9:40 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


I feel pretty hopeless about our chances with climate change, but also, can't bear thinking about it.

It's too big. It's already here, yet feels far in the distance still. And it feels like there's so little I can do. And when you already have chronic depression due to other problems, that's a toxic trio to keep in your head.

When you look at the biggest carbon emitters in the UK, it's heavy industry (steel etc), electricity producers, and airlines.

We've cut back on flying; no long haul, and only short flights to see close family in the south of france (not in the last 12 months, obviously). We've looked at trains, but that turns a 2 hour flight into about an 18 hour trip with multiple changes - it's hard enough with young kids as it is.

we don't buy lots of new things, we buy 2nd hand clothes and furniture mostly. We recycle all we can (god damn the supermarket non-recyclable plastic wrap on everything). We've switched electricity provider to one that buys 100% renewables, Bulb. Both our 2nd hand cars are over 10 years old so we're not contributing to steel for new. We bought diesel, cos that was what was supposed to be better at the time, sigh. I even vote for the green party.

We'd buy electric cars, but we live in a flat with on-street parking - no way to charge one unless I go spend 6 hours a week sitting in a supermarket car park with a piddly slow charger that's 20 min drive from my house, and I just don't have the strength to make that sacrifice. Nor can I afford £30k on a new car anyway, let alone 2.

Yet we had twins, a huge carbon cost. But my wife was desperate for children, and there was no way I could say no - I knew it's what she wanted early on. And they're adorable 5 year olds (most of the time). I cannot, hand on heart, say they shouldn't exist. I love them. But we've stopped at 2.

We MUST stop burning coal and oil. Really really quick. And I can't make my right-wing government make that happen, and hardly anybody else of voting age gives a shit, hence them being in power for the last 11 years. We're going to make parts of the earth unlivable, that much is certain. I just hope we wise up as a species before we lock-in making it most or all of it unlivable.

What world are my girls going to inherit? I hope it's better than I fear. I feel guilty about it all the time.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 9:42 AM on February 1 [13 favorites]


Promoting the use of composting toilets for environmental reasons is the equivalent of an anti-war activist blasting off a bit of friendly fire on their own soldiers on the basis that fewer soldiers = less war. It is counterproductive to deplete our personal energies (and ruin community solidarity against the power players) by focusing on changing our personal habits in order to supposedly address climate change.
posted by MiraK at 9:44 AM on February 1 [31 favorites]


I mean, it's normal and reasonable to want to have children. As a species, though not as individuals, we're hard-wired to want to have children. We're all clear on the political wrongs done to disabled people and women of color when the state tries to take away their ability to have children. Although certainly I'm afraid of what my friends' kids are going to face, I don't think that "good people don't have kids" or "it's hypocritical to be concerned about the climate and have kids" are helpful positions, any more than "good people don't want to have time off from the struggle" or "good people never do anything environmentally unsound" are.

The best and easiest ways to fix things would be from the top - change society so that individuals simultaneously are able to live climate-sound lives and aren't constantly exhausted/tempted by climate-unsound choices. If it's so unsound to fly, I should neither be able to buy a cheap flight nor should I have so much trouble taking the time and money to ride the train. If plastic wrap is so bad, I shouldn't always have to be picking between my immediate hunger and doing the climate-sound thing, not least because decision fatigue is a thing. If you ask people to always be struggling to make the right choices, only a small percentage of people will have the money and emotional bandwidth to do that. But of course, it's profitable.
posted by Frowner at 9:51 AM on February 1 [92 favorites]


I'm not sure that a 'war' metaphor will be all that helpful in the United States, where insulating the public from making sacrifices due to war has been a winning formula for the government and military since the draft was ended. If people who had volunteered died on extended deployments fighting climate change, while we "support" them, that would be more our kind of thing.
posted by thelonius at 9:54 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


The war metaphor is apt, it's just that we've been propagandized to be confused about which the warring factions are.

This isn't a "war against climate change" with the earth & climate activists on one side fighting against all the masses thoughtlessly destroying the earth on the other.

This is a war of the people who would like to live on earth against powerful capitalist & colonialist hegemonic entities who destroying the earth and gaslighting us into thinking it's our own fault. When you see the war for what it really is, it becomes clear why pointing fingers at people for having children or shaming people for taking flights home or even trying to get regular people to use composting toilets is utterly counterproductive to the war effort. Our energies need to be aimed at the actual enemy, not at each other. Frowner is right: let's make it easy and effortless to be climate-friendly... and that can only happen top-down.
posted by MiraK at 10:04 AM on February 1 [44 favorites]


I'd expect a lot more suicides, to tell the truth.

There will be more - but there will also be a tipping-point - no 1% elites can survive indefinitely, completely isolated, without a support system of us plebs... Their lifestyle relies on a complex chain of just-in-time logistics, support infrastructure and the labour of us plebs to make that all happen. If we die off, or stop working, they will be royally screwed. Delivery, surveillance and "policing/law enforcement" drones will still require maintenance - and yet can still be taken down with a shotgun or a net - or radio jamming - or hacking.

There will be a reckoning. Unfortunately, it will probably be too late for humanity to do anything but scrabble desperately over the leftovers.
posted by rozcakj at 10:05 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


“WE NEVER EVEN TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE! DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?” he said. This did not go well.

She threw a laundry basket. “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME,” she shouted. “Our entire lives are about climate change.”

This man has driven himself insane.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:05 AM on February 1 [27 favorites]


This isn't a "war against climate change" with the earth & climate activists on one side fighting against all the masses thoughtlessly destroying the earth on the other.

This is a war of the people who would like to live on earth against powerful capitalist & colonialist hegemonic entities who destroying the earth and gaslighting us into thinking it's our own fault.


Exactly this. People shouldn't avoid decreasing their carbon footprint, but we should know that those efforts are largely symbolic. Symbols have importance and value in the "propaganda war" against the industries who profit now at the expense of all humanity, but it is also something that can be misconstrued to give people the deeply false and extremely dangerous impression that personal choices, not systemic reform, can affect the looming outcome.
posted by tclark at 10:10 AM on February 1 [19 favorites]


This gentleman needs help managing his anxiety.

Is he correct that changes need to be done? Sure. But he has a wildly unrealistic expectation of the amount of emotional support other people can give him. And he is using trying to control their behaviour on a small scale to mediate a sense of being out of control.

It's one of my big frustrations with progressive movements, that the need for action is often supplemented by the demand everyone lives in a state of keyed up panic to maximize their engagement.

I find it striking his wife describes herself as "more anxious" but has more emotional regulation ability. It's absaloutely no use to save salvage food to reduce your carbon footprint if you fret yourself into an early grave from constant fight-or-flight inflammation.
posted by Phalene at 10:11 AM on February 1 [44 favorites]


Ctrl-F “First Reformed”
posted by Going To Maine at 10:11 AM on February 1 [6 favorites]


Nobody wants to use composting toilets and environmentalists should stop trying to get people to use them. Indoor plumbing is great, it's good to not have cholera and hookworm. If ecological resources are scarce, toilets should be near the top of the priority list. They only make the slightest bit of sense in places like California where there are actual serious water shortages.

You know, a soil scientist once told me he believed that Rome fell because they didn't take good care of their soil. There's more to compost toilets than water saving. It's also about completing the soil cycle.

As for cholera and hookworm? There's standardized international code for regulating home-built compost toilets these days.
posted by aniola at 10:12 AM on February 1 [18 favorites]


Promoting the use of composting toilets for environmental reasons is the equivalent of an anti-war activist blasting off a bit of friendly fire on their own soldiers on the basis that fewer soldiers = less war. It is counterproductive to deplete our personal energies (and ruin community solidarity against the power players) by focusing on changing our personal habits in order to supposedly address climate change.

I have seen the power of legislation to change things quickly and it can be wonderful. But I think it's wrong to say there's only one right way to do something. So it is likewise counterproductive to tell people they're wrong to work on personal habits in order to address climate change.*


*which you may or may not be doing, but it's certainly a common refrain.
posted by aniola at 10:12 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Even if individual actions are symbolic, symbols have power of their own (as mentioned above).
posted by aniola at 10:15 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I became a stepdad.
posted by parmanparman at 10:17 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


“WE NEVER EVEN TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE! DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?” he said.
Christ, what an asshole.
posted by noop at 10:19 AM on February 1 [30 favorites]


Composting toilets are not that big of a deal and they do not spread cholera or hookworm. Joe Jenkins wrote an entire book on the subject called "The Humanure Handbook." It's remarkably simple and effective. There is absolutely no smell-- at all. You cover everything with sawdust and then transfer the contents to a well-designed compost bin covering everything with straw. There is no need to turn the pile-- you just fill it up (including yard material and kitchen scraps) and wait a year or so before using it.

I have a feeling that in a few decades the kind of revulsion most feel for composting toilets now will be directed towards those who continue to insist on peeing and pooping in purified drinking water.
posted by drstrangelove at 10:20 AM on February 1 [17 favorites]


But I think it's wrong to say there's only one right way to do something. It is likewise counterproductive to tell people they're wrong to work on personal habits in order to address climate change.*

I mean it's not wrong as in morally wrong. It's wrong as in if you're trying to write a 10-page report before 5 pm today, you shouldn't run to the library to read books on How To Polish Your Report To A Shine. Reading books on how to polish your reports is great! It's also the wrong thing to do towards achieving your current goal of finishing the report by 5 pm.
posted by MiraK at 10:20 AM on February 1 [5 favorites]


This man has driven himself insane.

The thing is, some people ruminate and some don't. Some people can control their rumination and some can't. This doesn't just map onto gender and privilege, either.

I ruminate and it's very hard to control. I've gotten to the point where I can stop ruminating about stupid stuff ("my toe hurts! It must be toe cancer! I'll suffer horribly and die!" "I accidentally said a rude thing and then apologized! This must be a sign that I am a monster with many unalterable terrible characteristics and I don't deserve friends!"). I've gotten to the point where I can slow down rumination about things that I can sort of control in the long term ("What if I lose my house because the economy collapses? First, I can do [X] financial things, but in the last instance I have friends and relatives who would help me")

I have a great deal of trouble not ruminating about actual bad things that are almost totally outside my control, especially slowly unfolding ones that I have to watch day by day. The pandemic has been absolutely crushing for me in ways that it has not for some of my friends who also struggle with mental health stuff. It is only with a combination of great self control and a flexible work schedule that I have been able to stay somewhat functional and employed. And yet my average day is pretty much constantly "talk myself down from panicked screaming, make various mistakes because I am so depressed and anxious".

Anyway, my point is that I have a lot of sympathy for this guy, not because I think what he's doing is so great but because I know only too well that when reality is the exact kind of reality that perfectly targets your individual mental weakness, things get very bad and it's not really in your control.
posted by Frowner at 10:20 AM on February 1 [29 favorites]


You have only to look at the pandemic to see the climate future - the rich leaving the poor to die. You have only to look, hell, at the Titanic - "they put the poor below, where they were the first to go".

Naomi Klein argued that there's two paths open to us in dealing with the consequences of climate change. Solidarity or barbarism. Consider what happened in the face of a virus that, although I very much don't want to get it, has a mortality rate of under 1% overall. EU member states using their intelligence services against each other, let alone what fully independent countries did to get their hands on PPE. American state and federal government hiding supplies from each other. A panicked European Commission triggering a hard border on the island of Ireland without even consulting the Irish government before backing down in order to get more vaccines. Note this is in the context of Europe having an awful lot more vaccines than the world's poor countries. Does this sound like a system that when faced with decades of repeated low level climate related disasters is going to show solidarity?

We MUST stop burning coal and oil. Really really quick. And I can't make my right-wing government make that happen, and hardly anybody else of voting age gives a shit, hence them being in power for the last 11 years.

There is barely any coal left on the GB grid, we went from 70% in 1990 to 3% currently and all existing coal plants will close by 2024.

The only country that has an earlier ICE phase out than the UK is Norway (although their progress to-date has been much better).

So the good news is that even your/our right-wing government is making this happen. Is it as fast as I would like? Not really. In particular, the white paper on decarbonising buildings which is due early this year had better be ambitious or we are going to stall as buildings and heavy industry make up a greater and greater % of remaining emissions. That being said, The UK has genuinely made tremendous progress. Keep pressuring your MP if they're amenable to it, even the most foolish politicians are not deaf to the demands of their constituents and even right wing governments can be made to see sense on climate change.
posted by atrazine at 10:24 AM on February 1 [14 favorites]


Although certainly I'm afraid of what my friends' kids are going to face, I don't think that "good people don't have kids" or "it's hypocritical to be concerned about the climate and have kids" are helpful positions

It would be a political disaster. It would absolutely spam the moral values button of every pro-birther and every marriage discrimination advocate, and probably lots of other people who don't want the government telling them what to do.

In fact, if climate change really is an existential threat, it's possible that due to the political structure of the US, the party that actually cares about it might have to de-prioritize pro-choice positions or drop them. Yes, it's stupid that abortion is a wedge issue that keeps them from voting for more generally sensible policies, yes, pro-birth isn't pro-life, yes, body autonomy is important. All those points matter. But there's a large number of people -- possibly more women than men -- who orient themselves around *this* political issue.

They shouldn't? Maybe they shouldn't. But the oligarchs have a massive propaganda machine that's spent a half century firing them up on this issue. Can we outdo them at that game? Maybe. Or Maybe Stacey Abrams has figured it out and we win enough senate seats and introduce statehood for PR & DC and maybe even pacific states and start to work on structural issues that consistently disadvantage the non-insane party in this country. Maybe we won't have to prioritize any of our principles to deal with existential threats. Maybe.
posted by wildblueyonder at 10:41 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


This is a really interesting article, simmering octagon, thanks for posting it. I would never have found it on my own, and I'm glad I read it, even if I do not like the person profiled, and am frightened by the subject matter.

I guess I'm in Sharon's camp, in the sense that I take deliberate measures to limit my exposure and anxiety on this subject. After supporting political parties and policies that work to address climate change, taking practical measures regarding my own consumption and resource use, and working to see appropriate things put in place in my community, I let it go. I'm very thankful to have that ability, which I recognize as a privilege.

One of the many things that leapt out of the article for me was this:

But he also knew, deep down, that Sharon could not, and should not, give that up. She was a more anxious person than he was. They both knew that.

Despite their collective knowledge that she is the more anxious person, it's pretty clear from the article that managing his anxiety gets priority in their relationship. I hope they can both take a look at that someday. I simply could not live with that situation for any length of time, and I hope they address it before she comes to the same conclusion.
posted by rpfields at 10:42 AM on February 1 [15 favorites]


It's also the wrong thing to do towards achieving your current goal of finishing the report by 5 pm.

It's not a zero-sum game. Different people have different strengths. Some people can think big picture and work on solving problems at scale. Politics is like the opposite of my strength, so it's not where I'm going to focus my efforts. That doesn't make my efforts dispensable.
posted by aniola at 10:44 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I will have to recheck my views around droughts and fires in the Northeast. An increase in these things, probably as a result of climate change, is definitely depressing.

I maintain that it's still California-centric messaging, though. "The sky is red and we're all breathing smoke" or "the city has to shut off all public fountains due to extreme drought" were true in the West, and that's why "the Earth is literally on fire" is a good propaganda message in that context.

In the Northeast it's more like "there are more forest fires but they remain manageable" and "municipal governments have to monitor water reservoirs due to troubling decreases in precipitation". It's more of an indicator of something bad than a current disaster, so the XR propaganda posters still seem quite strange.
posted by vogon_poet at 10:44 AM on February 1


I find it striking his wife describes herself as "more anxious" but has more emotional regulation ability.

That jumped out at me too. Is she really more anxious? Or was she just always more in touch with her emotions and willing/able to admit when she's anxious? His reaction to an approaching fire was to go on a rant at his wife, who was taking action that could mitigate their losses, that they don't talk about climate change. That's someone who isn't handling things well.

His initial obsession seemed to be triggered by impending parenthood. That throws a lot of people for a doozy. I've known a quite a few who change their worldview when the first kid arrives by finding or losing religion. He found climate change. And it has performance metrics that you can latch onto. You can't really impact the big picture, but you can control and measure your contributions to the big picture. That's probably an intoxicating mix.
posted by ghost phoneme at 10:54 AM on February 1 [10 favorites]


Not shaming anyone who makes personal choices to try to ameliorate climate change. However, the pandemic has shown us that if we're going to fix things it needs to be on an industrial basis. Many parts of the world were under lockdown, flights have reduced dramatically, car trips have dropped – and emissions only dropped by 7%. The pandemic has been a proxy for "what if everyone made dramatically better choices regarding personal carbon emissions?" If we want more, it has to happen on a governmental or industrial level.
posted by rednikki at 10:55 AM on February 1 [85 favorites]


It seems pretty clear to me that we're going to need some kind of carbon sequestering technology that isn't practical as yet if we're going to get through this. We've passed the point where we can stop the carbon from getting into the atmosphere sufficiently (though of course we need to stop digging deeper). Will it happen? I don't know. Probably, I think, though I expect the costs will be astronomical and the global standard of living will drop noticeably. As usual that drop will not be evenly distributed.
posted by Justinian at 10:55 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I think my anxiety has been softened because when I was a kid in the early nineties I badly overestimated the speed things would go to shit. Every year of the 21st century that has gone by with recognizable winters and with coastlines more or less in place has been irrationally reassuring to me.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 10:56 AM on February 1 [13 favorites]


I think my anxiety has been softened because when I was a kid in the early nineties I badly overestimated the speed things would go to shit

I'll see your early nineties and raise you to the early seventies, when we watched TV during the energy crisis (with no remote control to mute the commercials) and were told in absolute no uncertain terms that we were going to completely run out of oil in 20 years.
posted by Melismata at 11:01 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


The way I see it, there's three options for ordinary people in the medium term: Accept that your life is going to be thrown into truly terrible and permanent chaos and danger whether or not you participate in mass movements; try to find somewhere to live off the grid that will be somewhat sustainable; or be ready to get sick and die from the weight of the future.

These are truly terrible choices, but luckily they are not the only ones available to us. Instead of falling into a kind of denialism or prepper doomism dichotomy where the only option is to run away (either mentally or physically), I like to think of it this way: To save civilization we must engage with civilization fully. That means creating and engaging in communities at multiple scales. Nationally as a voter/volunteer, locally in innumerable ways-- from transforming your town into a transition city to just getting to know your neighbors. If you run to the woods you're gone to die alone. If you create a more resilient society we're going to make it.

As for this dude, I feel his pain. But he needs therapy to deal with his crippling anxiety and how he is destroying his family because of it. The article hints at it but I'll make it explicit: It's not that the world isn't listening to climate activists. They're not listening to him. And the reason is most likely that he (to put in charitably) does not have the gift of communication and persuasion that he so desperately desires. There are counter-examples to his failures everywhere, the most obvious one being Greta Thunberg. That young woman takes zero shit, can be abrasive, preachy, etc.-- all the things that some say turn people off from climate work and yet she has been wildly successful and inspiring, in small part because she walks to walk, but in large part because she just has the gift-- of communication, of persuasion, of leadership. We are going to see more and more of them with the younger generations and it is a big reason for hope.
posted by gwint at 11:06 AM on February 1 [25 favorites]


If you want to change the course of world carbon emissions, take the time you spend carrying your poop to the garden of your detached single family home and use it to lobby for meaningful change. If 100% of the people in the US cut their household and light-duty vehicle transportation energy use by 2/3, which is unlikely to happen voluntarily without significant incentives, that's a 13% reduction. So, if this advocacy succeeds better than it possibly could. . . you buy us a few years in the next few decades to adapt to climate change. [1] [2]

If you're super excited about making small personal sacrifices for the environment, move to a big apartment building, walk to work, fly less, and spend the time you aren't fertilizing your garden lobbying your city, state, and national legislators to do things that actually matter. If you really want to make a sacrifice for the environment that actually might have long-term impact, have fewer wealthy children.

Biodiesel cars, poop gardens, and air drying clothes are just fine if you enjoy them. Aside from forcing your neighbors to smell your poop, they probably do more good than harm. But, let's not pretend they matter. This is not a consumer-choice problem. Personal austerity is not the solution. (As someone who literally shared an office hallway with this guy, though I never met him, I'd have expected more perspective. Perhaps his next wife will talk some sense into him.)
posted by eotvos at 11:07 AM on February 1 [28 favorites]


Many parts of the world were under lockdown, flights have reduced dramatically, car trips have dropped – and emissions only dropped by 7%. The pandemic has been a proxy for "what if everyone made dramatically better choices regarding personal carbon emissions?" If we want more, it has to happen on a governmental or industrial level.

Oh wow, I hadn't even thought about this. It's a bit staggering to hear how little impact this pandemic made on emissions, even for me. Despite my skepticism about what impact widespread individual travel austerity could have, even I didn't think it would just be 7%.

it's pretty clear from the article that managing his anxiety gets priority in their relationship

YEP. I suppose one of the reasons I feel actively hostile to individual-change proselytizers is exactly this: there's a definite sense that I'm being asked to manage their climate anxiety for them. The individual change will have little impact and they know it... but still they want me to suffer inconveniences or at least humor their diatribes just to make them feel better. I bristle at that.
posted by MiraK at 11:10 AM on February 1 [7 favorites]


The Haber process ultimately made modern agriculture and the ability to feed billions possible (at least, in principle). No one before 1909 saw that chemistry coming, nor could they anticipate the resulting changes to humanity. No one knows what the future holds about how we may yet deal with the scientific problem of catalyzing the extraction of carbon from the atmosphere. There may be difficult years, we may not make it, but there will be -- and there are -- people working on the problem.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:11 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


The problem isn't that he's worried about climate change and nevertheless he had kids. The problem is that he's obsessed with climate change to the degree that he's incapable of living in the built world and yet here he is in the built world and he opted to create more people to live here. Why? What was the plan? Torturing his kids by, among many many other things, announcing to the world he'd willingly orphan them is somehow the carbon offset for having had them in the first place? If they just suffer enough it will be okay for them to be alive? This guy is not ancient. Sixteen years ago it was pretty obvious where things were headed. If he was capable of jettisoning his principles then so that he could have the two children, he can resist the urge now to make the children miserable. Perhaps they should not be here, but that is all melted glacial ice under the bridge, now, and it will not benefit the cause for him to make them props in his demented model family object lesson for the rest of indifferent humanity to learn from lickety split before the last coral reef dies.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:12 AM on February 1 [21 favorites]


Aside from forcing your neighbors to smell your poop, they probably do more good than harm.

This is utter nonsense unless you're openly-defecating on your lawn.
posted by drstrangelove at 11:13 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


This reminds me how yesterday some jackwagon told me "You probably do a lot of harmful stuff too." when I said I was really down at how many people are completely ignoring any COVID guidance. Okay, sure, helpful, got it.

Wanting to not die is difficult. For my brain. My brain doesn't want any more of... this.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:13 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


(To be clear, following my angry rant above - I'm very happy to see this article posted. I was considering posting it myself. It's well written, and the discussion is very interesting and worthwhile.)

On preview, I've never fertilized a garden with human poop. It's entirely possible I'm making bad assumptions.
posted by eotvos at 11:14 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


even I didn't think it would just be 7%.

One of the big stories in Boston a few months ago was the fact that even though the traffic is virtually gone on the Southeast Expressway (the "Distressway"), traffic fatalities are exactly the same. Because a lot of [men] see the empty highway and go "woo-hoo! I can gun it!" We can't change other people. We can only change our reactions to them.
posted by Melismata at 11:15 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


Many parts of the world were under lockdown, flights have reduced dramatically, car trips have dropped – and emissions only dropped by 7%. The pandemic has been a proxy for "what if everyone made dramatically better choices regarding personal carbon emissions?" If we want more, it has to happen on a governmental or industrial level.

Car trips haven't really dropped that much, and airline fuel usage is measured at the aggregate vs the individual, so it seems higher than it is.

UMich Personal Transportation Factsheet for the USA
" Total U.S. passenger miles traveled in 2018 were 5.6 trillion.1
U.S. population increased 32% from 1990 to 2020. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased 51% over the same time period.1,2,4
70% of the total annual vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. occur in urban areas.1
"
Federal Government VMT for 2020
That 2nd line is the kicker: yes, VMT has fallen in 2020, back to about year 2000 records. But it doubled between 1990 and 2020 - so it's nowhere close to 1990 levels, and it's still slightly above 1990+ 32% (so population and VMT grow linearly). #3 is the nugget of hope - that 70% of travel occurs in urban areas, so improved growth patterns and mass transit solutions should make huge differences. Also, population and VMT should not grow linearly, more population growth should occur where people already live, so VMT should fall with population growth.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:15 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


7% reduction in a year without industrial collapse seems like a lot tbh
posted by gwint at 11:16 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Ctrl-F “No Impact Man”
posted by Going To Maine at 11:34 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


The thing is that if more people really felt the full weight of what climate change is doing to the whole planet, not just our little areas of it, and how many millions and millions of people are going to suffer and/or die as consequence of its wide ranging impacts, as well as the incredible loss of biodiversity and so on, then there would already have been more accomplished and we wouldn't be waiting around to see if the incremental changes will have sufficient effect to forestall the worst case scenarios.

This guy gave up his career to devote himself to trying to do something, he doesn't think his individual actions will change anything on their own: Peter himself believed that you can’t fix climate change with individual virtue any more than you can fix systemic racism that way. But he also knew, at some point, “You have to burn your ships on the beach,” as Richard Reiss, a climate educator and fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Cities at Hunter College, put it. You need to commit, perhaps even create drama, and make real changes in your life. And it sounds like he's devoted to his family, just as his wife is, they have different ways of dealing with the reality of the situation, but have tried to work through it together and have made compromises to do so.

He isn't a hero or anything, just a guy who feels a burden he can't shake, but looking for heroes is just way to displace the weight, like saying individual actions don't matter. The narrow truth of that statement obscures the broader truth that the demand for change, the actual fear of what climate change can and likely will do to the world, is still held back by the desire to hold on to our sense of normality and hope things can be "fixed" without having to be unsettled too much, social propriety still being the greater weight.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:35 AM on February 1


Although certainly I'm afraid of what my friends' kids are going to face, I don't think that "good people don't have kids" or "it's hypocritical to be concerned about the climate and have kids" are helpful positions

I know one could argue that the real issue is the impact of population in the “developed” world, averting the apparent conflict between “don’t have kids” and “preserve the world for future generations” - but in general I think a big reason it’s not a good message is that there is an apparent conflict right there.
posted by atoxyl at 11:45 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Anyway this guy just seems like he’s perpetually in crisis and hard to be around and I’m actually pretty sympathetic to that but I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to learn from this profile. I mean, it’s certainly not giving me a positive model of how to approach the issue.
posted by atoxyl at 11:48 AM on February 1 [10 favorites]


And it sounds like he's devoted to his family, just as his wife is, they have different ways of dealing with the reality of the situation, but have tried to work through it together and have made compromises to do so.

While his wife was going through the house taking photos for potential insurance purposes, berating her thusly:

“WE NEVER EVEN TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE! DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?” he said.

This isn't "different ways of dealing with the reality of the situation," as you put it. This is a man who, at that moment, was unhinged, and by the indications of the rest of the article, is dealing with the reality of the situation in a way that is not just counterproductive, but could be construed as abusive. I'm not making any accusation of abuse, but his actions are not the actions of a person taking strong measures to deal with an emergency, they're the actions of someone who feels so unable to control the larger situation that they are taking draconian measures to control what, and whom, are nearest to hand.
posted by tclark at 11:51 AM on February 1 [30 favorites]


This guy gave up his career to devote himself to trying to do something

Did he? The entire time I was reading this article I kept thinking, "Who works in this family? Who makes the money for the electric car and the house in LA County that they must own, because they can opt for an indoor or outdoor composting toilet? The wife is in a (sadly impractical) PhD program with a 50-minute commute--does that mean SHE isn't working? Are they coasting on money from his former Wall Street job, or do they have family money?"

A darn good bit of how much personal agency you have over these things depends on who in the family is working. The only reason my spouse (who isn't quite Peter but could be given a little more time/unrestrained anxiety) can be as much of a climate/trans rights/racial equity/etc. activist as she is, is because I have what's considered a decent job. And we DON'T have the money for an electric car or bathroom renovations or a spouse's graduate school or non-oil home heating (hell, we barely have the money for the oil home heating, and we don't live in California so we're stuck with it).

So not only do we go crazy because we're told that personal agency is what's going to save us, we go further crazy because don't have the wherewithal to take that kind of action. Why do people like Sharon (and I) shut it out emotionally? Three guesses.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:52 AM on February 1 [17 favorites]


Americans, especially, should reconsider how we use energy and cut back as much as possible, and then some more. Personal choices do make a difference.

Composting toilets don't affect climate crisis very much, and flush toilets, in most areas, are massively better. There are many ways to conserve water. There are use cases for non-flush toilets, but they're uncommon.

But. How stupid is the article? They could easily have found a family doing more meaningful changes. This feels like a backhanded way to make fun of people who make personal changes to reduce their carbon imprint. Had to go back to check that it wasn't a classically passive-aggressive NYTimes article. I rarely use the dryer, my clothes last so much longer, and if they're wrinkled, a brief spin in the dryer with a wet cloth does the trick. I make an effort to not buy stuff. I'm a bit edge-case in some areas, but most Americans just buy way too much stuff, discard way too much stuff, have, heat and air-condition houses that are far too big, drive too much.

We need governmental and other systemic change. 10 years ago, preferably, more, really.
posted by theora55 at 11:54 AM on February 1 [11 favorites]


Nobody wants to use composting toilets and environmentalists should stop trying to get people to use them. Indoor plumbing is great, it's good to not have cholera and hookworm. If ecological resources are scarce, toilets should be near the top of the priority list. They only make the slightest bit of sense in places like California where there are actual serious water shortages.


Sure, it's great to shit in fresh water if you have it, but many people don't- 2.3 billion, by WHO estimates- and many more people in the future will not. As it is, far more places than California are experiencing serious water shortages, you know, far flung places such as New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska. In San Francisco and many other cities with "modern" sewage systems, any heavy storm sends raw sewage into the local waterways, hardly a recipe for eliminating pathogens that humans are exposed to via toilets.


1. It seems to have such strong California roots that California problems get exported all around the world. Extinction Rebellion has been putting up posters in Northeastern cities talking about wildfires and droughts, which does not really make much sense as messaging.

Composting toilets have been used in Europe since the 70's, they are a much bigger deal there than here in California where they are mostly used in state and national parks, or by folks who want to do a better job eliminating waste than crapping in a hole in the ground behind their cabin.
Widespread use is not feasible until numerous issues are sorted out, not least of which is what to do with all the compost that we currently put into landfills when it leaves the sewage plant. Describing the concern with the obvious worldwide shortage of drinkable water that is only getting worse a "California problem" is just provincially mind-boggling. I don't have any affection for composting toilets, but pretending a tool that people worldwide have used for decades is some sort of internet era West Coast bullshit that people install for Fake Reasons is wildly off the mark and totally oblivious to the actual fucked up relationship Americans have with water and waste.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:01 PM on February 1 [10 favorites]


On preview, I've never fertilized a garden with human poop. It's entirely possible I'm making bad assumptions.

The results have been amazing in my garden. Healthier, more disease resistant plants. That being said I totally understand that this isn't for most people. I just try to dispel some of the myths I hear whenever I can. :)
posted by drstrangelove at 12:01 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


This is a man who, at that moment, was unhinged, and by the indications of the rest of the article, is dealing with the reality of the situation in a way that is not just counterproductive

Indeed, and that's what came out in the article about that moment, and goes towards the overarching point about trying to work out a balance in their relationship, and by extension, for the rest of us in how to deal with the contrasting needs. Focusing too much on "why that guy is wrong" misses the larger implications of the piece, not to mention short changing the deeper relationships suggested by their family history. But I'm not going to argue that point by point, since there'd be little gain in that, so I'll leave it there and just say I think there's more to their story than making easy criticism of the flashpoints of the issues at hand.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:03 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


2 points of anecdata. In one group on fb, someone asked how to repair a 10+ year old toaster. 90% of answers said Buy a new toaster. That's not a great approach.

Someone on fb, maybe in St. Louis?, said her town does not accept styrofoam in recycling, fine, it's never recycle-able, but that they also didn't allow it in regular garbage. How do you avoid it?

Companies shouldn't be able to sell stuff without a disposal plan for its end of life. I checked on this when I got a Prius, because I had no idea about what happens to that big old battery at the end of its life. Turns out there's quite a market for them. Also, effort should be put in to recycling lithium; all those electronic batteries mount up, and sourcing lithium is non-trivial.

Human poop in the garden? Hard to sanitize well, doesn't scale. I did compost dog poop at my old house, in an area that won't be used for food. Lovely crop of lilies & daylilies. Carrying pee to the garden, not a horrible idea, good source of nitrogen.
posted by theora55 at 12:04 PM on February 1 [9 favorites]


Hard to sanitize well, doesn't scale.

Not really. I monitor the temperature of my bin closely and it has been ~140 degrees for the last two weeks, even though it has been very cold. During the summer these temps approach 160, once or twice peaking at 170.

I can't speak to the scalability since I'm only contending with one household but I don't see why a commercial operation couldn't be scaled up from what I'm doing.
posted by drstrangelove at 12:17 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


This quote from the "parable" is what strikes fear into me:

“I did not say that he is lying,” Frankfurter explained. “I said that I didn’t believe him. It’s a different thing. My mind, my heart — they are made in such a way that I cannot accept. No no no.”

I've heard this response from people for so many uncomfortable truths. How can we help folks (individually and as a society) get past this hurdle?
posted by travertina at 12:18 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Companies shouldn't be able to sell stuff without a disposal plan for its end of life.

Yes. I'd put money on this being the fight of the next decade, like oil/fossile fuels was/is the fight right now. Plastic pollution is a capitalism problem, same with burning of fossil fuels.

There are solutions out there, solutions that work economically, its just a matter of getting politicians onboard.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:19 PM on February 1 [13 favorites]


Because climate change is such a tremendously complex hyperobject, I prefer focusing on systemic change over individual choices. But individual choices like voting matter greatly because they ultimately end up dictating systemic change.

Unfortunately, the country with the most power in this situation is comprised of two very large voting blocs that have deluded themselves into either thinking climate change isn't happening or that it is coming slowly enough that reforming the status quo will save the day. The best we can do now will still lead to ecological collapse.

Once people understand all the feedback loops we have successfully activated (and just how much warming is already baked in and unavoidable), I don't know how anyone can sleep at night, especially the people who have children.

Of course, in saying that, I know exactly how people can (and do) sleep at night.
posted by Ouverture at 12:25 PM on February 1 [10 favorites]


It's one of my big frustrations with progressive movements, that the need for action is often supplemented by the demand everyone lives in a state of keyed up panic to maximize their engagement.

I don't mean to derail but just wanted to say that this is one of the reasons I'm not more politically active than I could (and should) be. I have some pretty intense anxiety issues and this sort of atmosphere freaks out in a very not good way. I want to participate more than I do but sometimes participating makes me flash back to my fundamentalist childhood where every single moment of just being with your thoughts and desires feels like a sin and the rapture might have just happened when you weren't paying attention.
posted by treepour at 12:25 PM on February 1 [14 favorites]


I have inadvertently fertilized a small area of our lawn with human waste due to a plumbing issue. We have a tree there which grows spectacularly. It stank much less than you'd expect as long as you were a few yards away, once we buried the waste under maybe half a foot of dirt.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:29 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


One of the biggest lie's capitalism and by extension their lobbied government agents sold us, was that "WE" as the consumer must bear the brunt of environmentalism and recycling.

So - when we show up are the supermarket, and the plastic packaging appears to be exponentially increasing - or, because we must stay home for the pandemic, every single "franchised" food delivery restaurant has seemingly switched to plastic containers - exactly how can we change this individually? Not much. Especially when, other than aluminum - plastic and glass recycling programs have also mostly been a lie...

What we can do is get our governments to stop listening to corporate lobbies and money - and to create laws and fines with teeth - and enforce them - because corporatism is not going to ever listen to us directly, unless it is performative and profitable.
posted by rozcakj at 12:31 PM on February 1 [19 favorites]


I want to participate more than I do but sometimes participating makes me flash back to my fundamentalist childhood where every single moment of just being with your thoughts and desires feels like a sin and the rapture might have just happened when you weren't paying attention.

I don't participate much either, for the opposite reason. When I was 5, my 7-year-old sister told me that I was a bad person for leaving the water on while brushing my teeth, and it got worse from there. (She also made some popcorn and put cloves on them, and when I refused to eat it she accused me of wasting food.) But I'm overall a peaceful person, pointing out the good in people, and when I try to point out that I'm helping to save the planet by doing little things and not making it worse, I get called a "good German" who let the Nazis in. (Not by my sister, she's grown up since then.)
posted by Melismata at 12:38 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


So, I read a lot of what he posts on Twitter because Greta Thunberg follows him. And while I agree that he needs to step back and see how his anxious response affects his family, on the other hand, a lot of people in this country have responded to the events of the last year in ways that are way more fucking bonkers and detrimental to those around them.
posted by ocschwar at 12:58 PM on February 1


Reading this thread / doomscrolling about climate change makes me super anxious. Just wanted to plug BankSwitch, which is a simple action that lots of people can take to help fight climate change.

The idea is to target banks to get them to stop financing fossil fuel exploration. It actually works, there was a FPP about it back in 2019. If you have an account with a big bank, send them a letter!
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 12:58 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


Uh, a 7% decline in global emissions is fucking huge. I know it doesn't sound like much, but that is just extraordinarily massive and as far as I know unprecedented since the Industrial Revolution.

It's absaloutely no use to save salvage food to reduce your carbon footprint if you fret yourself into an early grave from constant fight-or-flight inflammation.

I mean I'm pretty sure dying is an effective way to reduce your carbon footprint. I find it morbidly ironic that a whole bunch of my fellow Americans of the climate change-denying coal-worshipping, oil-slurping, big truck-driving variety are probably doing more to help the environment than I, simply by doing such a shitty job of controlling the pandemic that the US population is actually in decline.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:18 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


I knew a girl in college who grew up in the household of the 1970s and slightly more Cult-y version of this Dad. Throughout early college, she spent a lot of time trying to balance her father's environmental doomsdayism, zealotry (and any notion that her future should consist of more than doomsdayism, zealotry and suffering) and, like, wanting to find some kind of happiness and fulfillment in life. I remember she dated an ex-Evangelical friend of mine, whose parents raised him on The Rapture, and they two of them really clicked on their pasts.

I know this sounds like tragic irony punchline bullshit, but I swear to Christ, last time I heard anything about her she'd turned Republican and was selling SUVs.
posted by thivaia at 1:18 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


The entire time I was reading this article I kept thinking, "Who works in this family? Who makes the money for the electric car and the house in LA County that they must own, because they can opt for an indoor or outdoor composting toilet?

He works at JPL, which generally does pay people enough for houses in Altadena and electric cars. His wife is a writer who hasn't published much yet.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:21 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I know this sounds like tragic irony punchline bullshit, but I swear to Christ, last time I heard anything about her she'd turned Republican and was selling SUVs.


Part of why I sometimes talk like a Republican around my kids is to give them something to rebel against.
posted by ocschwar at 1:23 PM on February 1 [11 favorites]


Metafilter: forcing your neighbors to smell your poop.
posted by transitional procedures at 1:26 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]


I mean you even see this kind of thing here on Metafilter where a light and fun link will inevitably draw comments like "I can't believe people are doing light and fluffy things and having a good time while I squat amongst my own (composted) filth and ponder the inevitable demise of the human race. It's really disgusting."

There is a tremendous appeal--as we see in QAnon believers--in being The One Who Is Right, where everyone will have to come to you on their knees and admit they were wrong and you were right. In this case, he actually is right, but you can't spend every second contemplating the void or you go insane.

Which is the larger point. Ernest Becker's book The Denial of Death really cemented a lot for me, like people just cannot imagine a world without them and it freaks out your psyche to contemplate, so you either go a little nuts or try to build a legacy that lasts after your time is done.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:39 PM on February 1 [16 favorites]


so you either go a little nuts or try to build a legacy that lasts after your time is done.

Thank goodness for the part of the Ash Wednesday service in my Episcopal church, which says "you are dust, and unto dust you shall return."
posted by Melismata at 1:48 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


If we can’t get people to wear face masks and stay home during a pandemic...how are we going to get them to make changes necessary for dealing with the climate emergency.
posted by interogative mood at 2:09 PM on February 1 [10 favorites]


> Composting toilets don't affect climate crisis very much

Climate change isn't the only Bad Thing going on and it's probably not the worse of them considering the whole mass extinction thingy well underway.
Never really understood its place in the spotlight compared to everything else going on but I bet it has something to do with its propensity for selling replacements: swap your gas car with an electric one, replace your light bulbs, install solar panels, yadda yadda. The obvious answer of Consume Less doesn't have quite the same ring to it when the dominant ideology is one of cancerous growth. Long may the numbers go up!

Anyway, the reason flush toilets are massively wasteful isn't just about fresh water but mostly about phosphor, soil depletion, etc.
posted by Bangaioh at 2:24 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Companies shouldn't be able to sell stuff without a disposal plan for its end of life.

100%. I'd go further and say companies shouldn't be able to do anything without at the same time paying for their externalities, where that cost is passed onto the consumer, in the case where the government is not willing to subsidise it as an unfortunate necessity. Right now we're allowing companies to withdraw pretty freely from the Bank Of The Environmental Future, and it's time to start paying back those loans, with interest.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:27 PM on February 1 [15 favorites]


> What good would that do when he's already replicated not once but twice? Did anybody ask him that blazingly obvious question? [27 favorites +]

My guess is that yes, he has considered this angle and is aware of the impact of his reproductive choices.

> composting toilets... Indoor plumbing is great, it's good to not have cholera and hookworm [67 favorites +]

Um... you don't get cholera or hookworm from composting toilets.

Metafilter goes strangely reactionary at times. Don't be Mister Gotcha. Don't be like Trump ranting about low-flow showerheads, especially when you don't know what you're talking about.
posted by splitpeasoup at 2:29 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]


Hard to sanitize well, doesn't scale.

They manage to do it with non-human manure just fine. Just don't make your piles too big or they can combust spontaneously. Humanure is not some sort of magical exception to how manure works.
posted by aniola at 2:29 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: I sometimes talk like a Republican around my kids to give them something to rebel against.
posted by PhineasGage at 2:30 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]


There are two things that get conflated when talking about what to do wrt to mitigation of effects due to climate change. Personal vs. the Systemic changes required. Personal changes I have made are basically directed to feeling good about myself. Like Obama said; "I am not going to affect much change by switching to fluorescent lights." This is going to have very little effect on the problem. There was a list of 15 things you can do right now to change that I read last earth day; and I found I was doing almost everything (except composting, only because I live alone and don't generate enough waste to bother with this). But I really don't think this is going to have any real effect.

The real change only comes from systemic change, and I don't see that happening. The recent change in rhetoric of the entrenched powers wrt to talking about this gives me reasons to be more pessimistic actually. It started out with denialism and they borrowed the same playbook as the Tobacco Industry did in the 1960's. I think there was a book by a couple of Harvard Profs that actually traced the history of climate denialism back to that. Now these same powers have switched their attack to the cost-benefit analysis route; after spending years denying the existence of the problem. They now say it is a problem, but we can't do anything about it from a cost perspective. Heartland, Cato and the ilk put out ostensibly 'independent' reports about this all the time.

The bigger thing for me is that I think we are past the tipping point. What we should be talking about more is not mitigation; but adaptation. Forecast what's going to happen and where; and what are we going to do to adapt to it. I expect that migration and climate change refugees are going to become a bigger part of the world. Plus more and more severe weather is going to become a regular part of life. We are going to see more regular occurrences of '100 or 500 year events' every 5 years. After seeing how we dealt with the pandemic; I have little reason for optimism wrt how we are going to adapt to this changing world.

There are only two things in my life I am confident that I did the right thing. Helping my brother with 100% of his grad school tuition for one semester, from savings from my grad school stipend. And deciding not to have children.
posted by indianbadger1 at 2:39 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


I mean, it's normal and reasonable to want to have children. As a species, though not as individuals, we're hard-wired to want to have children. We're all clear on the political wrongs done to disabled people and women of color when the state tries to take away their ability to have children.

While this is true, I think it's worth asking the question "if this guy knows the costs of adding to the population #s in spite of all that he knows, how can we expect others to consider the option not to?

+ while there's some truth to being "hard wired", does that mean that we as a species should always just surrender to our biological forces and not to consider these in relation to our knowledge and understanding of where we are at now as a species?

I think defense of the criticism of procreating is typically (improperly) framed as an all or nothing rule for everyone to follow ... I think that perhaps it's time to consider that there will ALWAYS be people having children and so maybe we should re-consider this in terms of cultural / government messages that create incentives vs. disincentives for having more children.

It's a loaded topic + it's clear why it is, but it should not be ruled out of the conversation each time that climate change discussions arise... have you looked at a population clock recently?
posted by clandestiny's child at 2:42 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


A few MeFi earliers:
The Case For Climate Rage
Existential Climate-Related Security Risk
an unveiling, a revealing

And perhaps helpful to the main subject of the article would be the insights of Jem Bendell and the Deep Adaptation community.
posted by PhineasGage at 2:55 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


it's a loaded topic + it's clear why it is, but it should not be ruled out of the conversation each time that climate change discussions arise...

No. Telling people to stop having kids in order to save the climate *should* be ruled out of the conversation, because

(1) there is zero direct and immediate good done by raising such a topic, and substantial the direct and immediate harm done - shaming parents who, FYI, are quite directly keeping your ass alive with labor they are donating for free by raising the kids who will be your nurses, cleaners, lawyers, etc. Unless you live literally alone, outside of society, without coming into contact with any other human directly or indirectly, you are living off of the gift parents give you of surrounding you with functional, productive, fully formed humans. You don't get to shame us on top of benefiting for free from us.

(2) there is minimal medium-term good done by raising such a topic - consciousness-raising, and perhaps the beginnings of a movement - but once again, overwhelmingly greater harm done in the medium term from encouraging and normalizing eugenics as a topic of conversation, thus encouraging the formation of modern eugenics movements. I say eugenics because over my lifetime of being part of many, many of these conversations, NOT A SINGLE ONE has managed to avoid going there. The most recent time was a few months ago when my local Zero Waste group folks patted each other on the back for having no children, and said to each other, "This is totally like Idiocracy, though, that the people who shouldn't be having children are, but responsible people like you are not, so that the children of tomorrow are being raised with their earth-destroying ethics rather than our enlightened consciousness." I pointed out to the room how disgusting this discussion was. They were not happy. I left the local Zero Waste group over this, without regrets.

(3) there is questionable long-term good done by promoting zero or negative population growth, because while the climate may or may not improve purely because of this (who is to say emissions will remain proportionate to population??), the people who will definitely suffer the hardest from this are the demographics who are already the most vulnerable:

- those who rely on children to care for them in old age,
- those who cannot afford to hire caregivers in their old age,
- those whose livelihood depends on their children sharing the load,
- those who are vulnerable to human trafficking in the event of a global shortage of human beings to work and provide sex and bear children for the rich,
- etc.

In fact the only people who stand to benefit from zero/negative population growth are people who are rich enough to buy the labor of others to sustain themselves. And on the other hand, the long term harm of empowering eugenics movements to control people's bodies and fertility is an all-too-realistic horror waiting to happen.

So NO. Let's NOT go there. The idea that we should encourage people to have fewer kids for climate reasons - or whatever other reason - is harmful and bullshit on every level. If you don't want to have kids, don't. Stop telling others what to do with their bodies.
posted by MiraK at 3:07 PM on February 1 [31 favorites]


I think some people are essentially walking total perspective vortexes. If you actually grasp the scale of the issue and the reality of what is going to happen, it'll drive you insane. I survive by being intensely glad I never had kids, and that I'll be likely be gone before the worst starts to hit.

But the fact is, he chose to marry and have kids. You can't take out your pain on the people you supposedly love, even if you are right about how desperate the problem is.
posted by tavella at 3:10 PM on February 1 [15 favorites]


Strange that the article doesn't mention (unless I missed it) living in a single family house versus living in an apartment.

There's hardly more someone in California can do to address the climate crisis than 1) live in an apartment and 2) legalize apartment construction throughout single-family residential zones.
posted by lewedswiver at 3:17 PM on February 1 [13 favorites]


This man sounds like a bully who has discovered that climate change is the perfect means to control others in his life, while always being in the right. I have read other pieces on the sheer horror that climate scientists feel looking at our future, but strangely none of them mentioned berating your family in the middle of a fire threat or making them feel guilty for living as a solution.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:28 PM on February 1 [25 favorites]


FTA:

Sharon commiserated with a friend who was married to a priest. How do you have an equal marriage with a man who’s trying to save the world? The priest’s wife, too, found “it impossible for her to have any space for herself,” Sharon said. “Because he was called by God to minister to people. When she tried to do her own thing, it wasn’t as important as his.” Motherhood was hard enough. Sharon wanted to write a novel. She wanted to write poetry. She wanted to go for a run, or even a walk, in peace. “His dreams were so much more heroic and important that I had to sort of, I don’t know,” she said. “I had to go along with it.”

...

Some nights Sharon cried in the motel room, but “when it’s daytime it all seemed better,” she said. She talked about renting a car or even flying home but never did. Still, late one night on a very cold, dark and lonely Utah highway when Peter was under the broken-down car, and Braird and Zane were in the back seat, screaming, and Sharon was revving the engine at Peter’s request — she started to wonder if she had Stockholm syndrome.
posted by MiraK at 3:32 PM on February 1 [6 favorites]


What's even more telling is that Stockholm syndrome likely doesn't even exist. It's more that a man with a vision is more valuable in our society than anything a woman might want.
posted by tiny frying pan at 3:46 PM on February 1 [10 favorites]


Y’all need to stop obsessing about whether to have kids. Negative population growth is going to be a bigger issue. Kids surviving to adulthood through better sanitation and medical care, improved education, and access birth control makes birth rates drop through the floor, to below replacement in much of Europe. Bangladesh has a birth rate of 2.04 births per woman as of 2018. People aren’t the problem.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:00 PM on February 1 [10 favorites]


So NO. Let's NOT go there. The idea that we should encourage people to have fewer kids for climate reasons - or whatever other reason - is harmful and bullshit on every level. If you don't want to have kids, don't. Stop telling others what to do with their bodies.

my intent was not at all to tell people not to have kids at all ... quite the opposite, actually ... it's to allow for people to have the freedom to live lives the way that they want to in the face of such overwhelming forces (often culturally) to have kids. In many countries, people who'd rather not have kids end up having them anyhow because the family expectations are great and to choose an alternative means being shunned from the family. I know this for a fact because I work with some people in this situation.

I thought I raised my point in a rather benign way that just asks questions, I wasn't trying to set a new set of universal rules or standards at all .... sorry that you interpreted it that way, I wasn't trying to be polarizing but just to suggest that our world cultures and religions still promote (yes, promote) procreation and frown on those who choose an alternative path and that they might perhaps catch up with science, which would benefit both those who do want (or need to in the very valid cases you mention) kids and those who'd prefer not to ....

I'm glad you provided some scenarios to consider, it's a reminder to consider all the other factors that go into it beyond the more obvious ones, thanks for that
posted by clandestiny's child at 4:01 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


If we can’t get people to wear face masks and stay home during a pandemic...how are we going to get them to make changes necessary for dealing with the climate emergency.

I'm probably underthinking this, and I'll take my lumps if I am, but isn't it just going to come down to laws and tax? I mean I've been thinking about remodeling our kitchen. I want a new gas cooking range - because gas is more convenient. But if there was a regulation that said "no new gas appliances where electric appliance options are available and the home is on the power grid", or a tax on new gas appliances of 33% (making a number up). Then yeah, I'm getting an electric range.

New Zealand's Climate Commission just this week released its draft consultation on how NZ is going to reach its climate targets, and the steps that will be needed. Recommendations (and its just draft recommendations at this stage) include, as a cherrypicked example, no further natural gas connections to the grid, or bottled LPG connections after 2025.

The challenge is the motivation to make/change the laws and apply the taxes. The problem with masks from my perspective was no enforcement and no cost if you didn't comply (and the patchwork quilt of rules made up on the fly changing sometimes day to day).
posted by inflatablekiwi at 4:32 PM on February 1 [9 favorites]


isn't it just going to come down to laws and tax?

Precisely. Structural top-down enforced changes on a population-wide scale, not individuals pleading with other individuals to please do this one individual right thing (which, as the case of masks shows, doesn't work).

my intent was not at all to tell people not to have kids at all ... quite the opposite, actually ... it's to allow for people to have the freedom to live lives the way that they want to in the face of such overwhelming forces (often culturally) to have kids.

This is really conflating two ideally unconnected arguments into one, to the detriment of the more defensible one of them.

(1) There's wanting to change our culture to stop pressuring people to have kids, respect all kinds of personal procreative decisions, accept childfree people, normalize childfree lifestyles, and invent novel forms of family that integrate parents and nonparents within the social fabric equally tightly, as is our birthright.

(2) And then there is the argument that "science" apparently says people having kids is bad for the environment, and if religions or non-white cultures encourage people to procreate that proves how utterly backward/worthless/uncivilized/animal-like they are, those sheeple! (in your words: religions still promote (yes, promote) procreation ... they [should] perhaps catch up with science)

The second argument is unsalvageable BS. Holding up science as a reason to discourage people procreating (or even as a reason to stop religions/high-population non-white cultures promoting procreation) is indistinguishable from eugenics. Also it's malthusian nonsense. Also it's unbearably elitist and condescending. It's reddit converted into argument form.

If you try to use the second argument to bolster your case for the first argument (which on its own is eminently worthy and self-sufficient), you taint it, too, and turn a good thing into unsalvageable reddity eugenics. Let's not.
posted by MiraK at 5:07 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


If you try to use the second argument to bolster your case for the first argument (which on its own is eminently worthy and self-sufficient), you taint it, too, and turn a good thing into unsalvageable reddity eugenics. Let's not.

fair enough .. I will let that single point stand on its own merits then .... but I don't know how eugenics got into this thread when it was never even once on my mind, perhaps you read more into things than what I was intending to say?

In any case, this topic was / is climate change, I thought it relevant to the discussion to mention population but apparently it's controversial to bring it up + I regret doing so, perhaps I'll save any other thoughts or opinions for some future post where it makes sense to continue on .... consensus seems to be to knock off this sub-topic and I will now gracefully leave the discussion so that we can focus on the subject of the article ... thanks again for your perspective it was constructive
posted by clandestiny's child at 5:20 PM on February 1


Really glad PhineasGage upthread mentioned The Case for Climate Rage, which I think lands much differently, and much more effectively, than this piece. Perhaps because the author of that essay is a woman?

Ultimately I think this is a (very imperfect) piece about the totally overwhelming and emotional process of staring climate change in the face. At least in the US, so many of us live in cultures that are utterly unprepared to talk about this and move through it in a productive and caring way. I think even this thread shows this in spades. I'm not a huge fan of the "this guy needs therapy" response because that's one more individual solution to a collective problem. It's sort of like how sometimes I think about seeing a therapist for how exhausted I feel all the time, but ultimately a therapist cannot solve late stage capitalism for me or the knowledge that many of the cities I've loved will drown in my lifetime. If/when I ever return to seeing a therapist, one of my main screening criteria would be whether a therapist understands systems of power, because it's not reasonable to expect someone to individually suddenly become OK with a problem that is absolutely meeting most of the bad predictions that were floated 30 years ago.

There's a lot of excellent work out there about climate grief. Scientists are talking extensively about how terrified they are. Climate anxiety/grief/despair is a real issue, and pretending it doesn't exist, individualizing/medicalizing it, or turning it into a source of nihilism serves no one. There's already one high profile example of someone dying by suicide who cited their climate grief. We really need to get a handle on this before there are more.

I have previously done research on the effects of climate change on cultural heritage. The first time I pulled up a map of sites in a coastal area and what sea level rise could do to them, I wondered "is this what it's like to be an oncologist seeing slides before giving a patient a terminal diagnosis?" I made the decision not to have children long before I got into climate change research, and it is not my position to tell anyone else what they should do. For me: I am a 35 year old woman, and every day I experience profound relief that I will not have to think about how to protect them from what is coming. And I worry like hell for every other child in my life I care about.
posted by mostly vowels at 5:28 PM on February 1 [16 favorites]


When you look at the number of action groups this guy joined and then left because they weren't doing the thing HE thought they should be doing...it starts to look like there's some narcissism wrapped up in here. And the only people you are getting the story from are him and his wife, which sets off my DANGER WILL ROBINSON alarms.

For example: Transition Pasadena. He complains that the people spent too much time talking about city council meetings. Why were they talking about city council meetings? Because they were trying to get Pasadena to get off fossil fuel. It sounds like he wanted to turn it into his own consciousness-raising group, but didn't want to do the work.

Dumpster diving. This article acts like he invented it. LA has tons of freegans, y'all. When I see that he has arrangements to pick up the food once every two weeks, it makes me think that he was probably encroaching on someone's turf.

“His dreams were so much more heroic and important that I had to sort of, I don’t know,” she said. “I had to go along with it.” This struck me in a big way, because this is also a reason people get into QAnon. It makes them feel heroic and important.

I am deeply concerned about climate change. I volunteer in order to stop climate change. A lot of this feels like he is using climate change as an excuse to center himself and make himself the hero.
posted by rednikki at 5:36 PM on February 1 [20 favorites]


I love my children so much I chose not to expose them to this world. Climate change is never going to improve (in our lifetimes, in my non-children's lifetimes). We'll all either survive it or we won't, and I can't bear to think of putting another human being in the position that I've been put in.
posted by erattacorrige at 6:18 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]


As I was reading this article, all I could think was why profile this guy who is an individual making a bunch of individual level choices? Is it because he's an educated man (with a science phd no less!) who works at a respectable institution?

Why is it chill that he's seemingly above local politics where it's often possible to enact changes?

Like am I supposed to role my eyes knowing how poorly thought out it was to take a biodiesel conversion 1. on a long road trip 2. in cold temps? Am I supposed to think, ah yes of course it's a dude in a heterosexual relationship forcing these constraints on the family. Environmentalism has a long tradition of dudes forcing extra domestic labor for the sake of the planet on their households. Is this whole article a trap for me to feel smug?

Legit, I don't get why this specific person was profiled on ProPublica, as opposed to, say, any climate activist who isn't a middle class white dude. He's clearly not meant to be an everyman, so what is the angle?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:28 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


I knew before clicking that this must be about Peter Kalmus. Our kids went to the same school, and we used to talk occasionally. I know him just well enough that I can't really read this because it feels a little too much like voyeurism.
posted by 3j0hn at 6:30 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


There's already one high profile example of someone dying by suicide who cited their climate grief.

I remember when he died. In looking for more news, I accidentally, and absolutely unwillingly, saw a picture that some dipshit tweeted -- a picture of his corpse. It was later a topic of conversation between me and the psychologist at the intake for my outpatient mental health hospitalization. I have thought of this poor man long afterward, never in terms of the climate but in terms of mental illness. When thinking of the climate, I have never thought of him.

Only a Joan of Arc can be a Joan of Arc -- that is, a single-minded teenage girl. We have got one of those, and I like her. But the rest of us, the mortals in her wake, have got to do the work and adapt.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:43 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Pro Publica is like a song in my heart, but I couldn't get more than a few paragraphs into this article. I want to link Neoliberalism has conned us into fighting climate change as individuals [Stop obsessing with how personally green you live – and start collectively taking on corporate power], from The Guardian in 2017, and news from last week:

Biden signals radical shift from Trump era with executive orders on climate change (The Guardian); as an example from an order, Biden vows to replace U.S. government fleet with electric vehicles (Reuters) [f'instance, right now Hundreds of US Postal Service delivery trucks are catching fire as they continue to outstay their 24-year life expectancy (BI)] & Here’s What Happens When Every Government Vehicle Is Electric (The New Republic) The government purchases will include both standard light-duty vehicles, as well as specialty ones for agencies like the U.S. Postal Service, which—with 225,000 vehicles—is the single largest part of the fleet.

These executive orders were issued on Jan. 27; section 215 of "Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad" calls for the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative to put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation, increasing carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protecting biodiversity, improving access to recreation, and addressing the changing climate.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:01 PM on February 1 [11 favorites]


^the above, after reading rednikki's excellent [...] The pandemic has been a proxy for "what if everyone made dramatically better choices regarding personal carbon emissions?" If we want more, it has to happen on a governmental or industrial level upthread.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:07 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


There is absolutely no smell-- at all.

A key criteria for a well-designed bathroom (composting, flush, or whatever) is that it doesn't smell bad inside. Everyone wants to go to the bathroom without having to smell past excretions. But poop smells; it smells worst under anaerobic conditions but aerobic (ie well-functioning compost) still has a distinctive smell. That smell can show up out at the treatment plant outside of town, or can come out of your composting vent stack; either way, there's going to be some smell in the process.

People over-sell composting toilets as a technology (going back much further than the Humanure book mentioned above), including its scalability, ecological benefits, and utility. (I mean, I live in an apartment building. My neighbors can't put out their recycling correctly. Would I want each of them to be figuring out what to do with full containers of hopefully-composted poop?)
posted by Dip Flash at 7:36 PM on February 1 [11 favorites]


I would never tell anyone that they should have kids or not have them, it's their business and a fundamental right/biological drive...but fortunately for me, when it came time to decide whether or not I wanted to have children my concerns about the future neatly dovetailed with my dislike of stress, responsibility, anything that reduces the amount of free time I have and being forced to ask/tell people to do things more than once.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:10 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]


Totally agree about the need for government and collective action to make a difference with climate change.

And if you *do* want to pursue individual choices, you should know there are alternatives to a composting toilet. For example, we’re very happy with our rainwater tank system. (Here’s a random example from googling - I actually have no idea who did our system.)

We’re also on a gradual project to decarbonize, with renewable power and plans to replace the gas tankless water heater with maybe a heat pump. Why the previous owners had gas for hot water despite the lovely induction cooktop, I cannot say... (And don’t get me started on my urban neighbors and the air/carbon pollution caused by wood stoves - it’s a real blind spot apparently...)

But again, collective action to regulate of climate change provoking externalities is the real game.
posted by ec2y at 10:37 PM on February 1


Because climate change is such a tremendously complex hyperobject, I prefer focusing on systemic change over individual choices. But individual choices like voting matter greatly because they ultimately end up dictating systemic change.

It's individual consumption choices that don't matter, individual political choices do matter.

Think of politics as a technology we invented to deal with large scale (geographic, temporal) collective action problems. Logically trying to solve a problem with long time scales and large geographic scales which require collective action without using that technology is nuts.

The real change only comes from systemic change, and I don't see that happening. The recent change in rhetoric of the entrenched powers wrt to talking about this gives me reasons to be more pessimistic actually.

The entrenched powers is not a static set of people or companies. One of the most active lobbyists in DC is now a renewable energy company.
posted by atrazine at 2:25 AM on February 2 [4 favorites]


A key criteria for a well-designed bathroom (composting, flush, or whatever) is that it doesn't smell bad inside.

This is absolutely no smell inside if you use sawdust. If you notice an odor you simply add more sawdust. Until I tried it I didn't believe it either. It really works.

As for your comment about others in your apartment not even figuring out the recycling--- point taken. Again, the Humanure thing isn't for everyone. At least not yet. But I think it's possible at some point in the future it will become essential. I started out doing this simply as a project to see if it was possible and now I'm fully committed.
posted by drstrangelove at 4:17 AM on February 2


There's a lot of excellent work out there about climate grief.

I got so caught up in my passion for composting I forgot to post yesterday about the climate scientist my brother got to know at the university where they both work. My brother walks to his office everyday (at least before the pandemic) and over time was able to strike up a conversation with another fellow he saw walking the same way at the same time every day. He said the man was standoffish and reluctant to discuss his research which contrasted to the other scientists who are usually eager to talk about their work. But my brother knew he was a climate scientist simply from looking him up on the online public directory. Eventually once this fellow started trusting my brother he opened up-- a bit. Basically admitting to him that he thinks we're headed for disaster. In his own life he radically decarbonized. No car, no flying. He walked everywhere or used his bicycle for longer trips. If he had to get somewhere it was only the places where Amtrak went. He eschewed conferences for that very reason. He and my brother actually had a lot in common-- they bought everything used, lived without A/C in the summer and kept their heat low in the winter. The sad part for my brother was learning how severely depressed this guy was. He quit dating because everyone he met wanted to have children, something he was not going to do. And I suspect his gloomy outlook probably didn't help much in that arena either. He also was extremely circumspect about who he talked to about anything--- apparently a few years before that he was called by a paper wanting an "expert" opinion on climate change and was barraged with emails and phone calls (listed on that same public directory my brother used) from low-information cretins accusing him of trying to ram "SOSHALISM" down their throats. So not only is his work depressing but he's also completely isolated.

Sounds like a rough gig-- at least in my day job I can temporarily forget about the looming threat of climate change for a while. Climate scientists don't have the luxury.
posted by drstrangelove at 4:31 AM on February 2 [6 favorites]


The sawdust thing is interesting, but unless it uses very small amounts of sawdust it seems like it would run into scalability problems that would have to be factored in for comparison to other systems. I heat my home with wood pellets—which are made from sawdust, of course—and I constantly think of all the kiln drying and plastic packaging and everything that made a carbon footprint even before I burn them. But, it's been down around 0 ℉.
posted by XMLicious at 4:43 AM on February 2


Kind of relevant, I teach engineers who specialise in sustainable energy technology. I think we are fairly safe in assuming they all accept climate change as a real thing and want to help address it. When we start the programme we basically set out why we need low carbon energy as a key part of decarbonising society. We spend about 2 hours on explaining CC as part of that. But only 2 hours. It is basically depressing as fuck. We don't feel we need to go any further with this. I remember doing the intro to CC back in ~1995 as part of my own MSc in environmental science and how overwhelming that seemed. Our programme instead then focuses on real actions that they can take in terms of their professional goals, taking in the tech, but also policy, some economics, a bit of innovation theory, the need to think about people, current society and the difficulties of transitioning between states of meeting societal needs as well as, and as part of, technological development.

But the CC stuff gets depressing really quickly, it can start to become a drag on progress as an individual if you spend too much time engaging with the magnitude of the problem, I think it can be much healthier not to, especially if you are interested in one area and don't need to be constantly thinking about the very big picture. While we do need some people to consider it obviously, I think its all to easy to be consumed by your own behaviour if you take the personal responsibility too far.
posted by biffa at 4:58 AM on February 2 [8 favorites]


how severely depressed this guy was. He quit dating because everyone he met wanted to have children, something he was not going to do. And I suspect his gloomy outlook probably didn't help much in that arena either

This is a genuine issue, tying into the OP, and makes me believe that perhaps people whose work brings them into constant direct engagement with the realities of climate change are no different from people whose work brings them into constant direct engagement with the realities of war, disease, severe mental health disorders, domestic violence and child abuse, etc.

PTSD is real. Trauma responses to prolonged, ongoing crises are real. Vicarious trauma is real. This is a public health issue -- that those who are most deeply involved with climate change research and activism may be suffering severe personal psychopathologies as a result of their exposure to traumatizing conditions. People like the guy in this article are no different from a post-war vet who abuses his family and tortures himself because society has no recognition of his trauma, nor of his need for treatment for the trauma.
posted by MiraK at 5:32 AM on February 2 [6 favorites]


And, like, the above reframing of these folks as suffering from mental health issues isn't a diminishment of the seriousness of climate change. It's a recognition that a person needs good mental health in order to continue doing good work towards fixing an overwhelming problem.

This isn't a new situation for people to find themselves in. Since the human race began we've all been grappling with unfixable, dire problems with impossible odds stacked against us... Problems we feel helpless to address and yet know we have no choice but to address. Victor Frankl wrote Man's Search For Meaning as an answer to this very question: how can our souls survive when we are living through unimaginable horrors day in and day out, that we are powerless to stop? He was writing about life in a Nazi concentration camp, but the lessons are still applicable to those whose spirits are battered by climate research.

Crucially, as Frankel's book and the wisdom of many millions of thinkers before him tells us, the overwhelming problem does not have to be solved in order for human beings to live with joy and zest and in loving connection to people around us. That's what mental health treatment can give to battered souls: a way to allow ourselves to live full lives while knowing horrific truths... A way to not turn into abusive assholes just because we have no idea how to deal with the trauma of those horrific truths.
posted by MiraK at 5:45 AM on February 2 [8 favorites]


I think the last decade, and the past five years in particular have clearly shown the path forward. It doesn't, for the most part, involve shaming people or even asking anything of individuals. A few aspects of the situation can be improved in that way, but it's a wall we've been beating our heads against for over 30 years.

The answer has clearly been shown to be changing the economics of the situation. Make it cheaper to do the right thing and enough people will, including enough CEOs and middle management that there is no more means to stop change than there is to fight the quite literal rising tide that is going to swallow my city no matter what actions we take today. (Unless that action includes atmospheric carbon capture or geoengineering)

Individual action only comes in regarding making it politically possible to implement a carbon tax or literally putting our money where our mouth is and investing in companies that have a reasonable chance of making carbon neutral and carbon negative technologies financially feasible.
posted by wierdo at 7:04 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


I think that perhaps it's time to consider that there will ALWAYS be people having children and so maybe we should re-consider this in terms of cultural / government messages that create incentives vs. disincentives for having more children.


The US government already dis-incentives having children. The max per child tax credit is $2000, it's been a while since I did daycare, but my daycare expense was like $20k a year and I maybe got a few hundred to a thousand as a credit. Meanwhile, increases to my health insurance for a family plan (my max-out of pocket for a family plan more than doubles), auto insurance, and general costs of having kids is way more than $2k a year per kid. Raising someone is a serious financial drain. Oh yeah, the portion of my property tax that goes to public schooling is more than 1/3 of my total Federal Income Tax. I honestly don't know how the government could do more to disincentive-ize children.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:49 AM on February 2 [3 favorites]


Failing to incentivize something isn't the same thing as disincentivizing it. They could implement taxes that charged parents more per child, or make property taxes higher specifically on households that contain children rather than offering any tax breaks at all. I'm not saying the situation is great now, but it could be much worse if there was a genuine desire on the part of the government to reduce birth rates.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:55 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


A tax credit for your child is an incentive, since you would be paying the rest regardless.
posted by biffa at 8:01 AM on February 2


They could implement taxes that charged parents more per child, or make property taxes higher specifically on households that contain children rather than offering any tax breaks at all.

Ok sure, but I just pointed out 3 things (health insurance, day care, and auto insurance) that are directly dramatically more expensive if you have children. Also local governments tend to forbid 3 bedroom apartments in most areas (there are 0 in my zipcode) so property tax is not really my choice either.

A tax credit for your child is an incentive, since you would be paying the rest regardless.

It is not, because the marginal amount matters and that is easy to see with the recent $600 vs $1400 that literally turned an election.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:07 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


The average number of children in a family varies by race, ethnicity, and religion.
posted by XMLicious at 8:12 AM on February 2


Failing to incentivize something isn't the same thing as disincentivizing it. They could implement taxes that charged parents more per child, or make property taxes higher specifically on households that contain children... I'm not saying the situation is great now, but it could be much worse if there was a genuine desire on the part of the government to reduce birth rates.

.... Like, do you have any idea how much childcare costs? You think that doesn't count as a significant enough monetary disincentive for people to have kids? And like, take a look at poverty stats within USA... the people supposedly least able to afford more children invariably have the highest birth rates.

So what exactly is your justification for taking even more money away from parents, making parents even poorer? Where's the evidence anywhere in history or anywhere in the world that forcing parents to become ever more impoverished reduces birth rates?

On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence throughout history and all over the world that your policies to "disincentivize" parents will do the opposite of what you intend. You see, parent is a gender-neutral word in theory, but not at all in practice. When you punish "parents" parents and impoverish "parents" what you're actually doing is impoverishing and punishing women. Which is to say, you are systematically disempowering women. And guess what: wherever women are disempowered... wherever wage equality, women's labor force participation, gender equality, and women's equality are all super low, you get the highest birth rates. Wherever women are economically, socially, medically, and politically empowered, that's where fertility rates are the lowest.

The only policies proven to work around the world as a surefire way to reduce birth rates and decrease the rate of population growth are when society steps up and empowers women rather than punish and oppress us. The core factor in reducing fertility is increasing gender equality within the heterosexual home, and especially workforce participation and wage equality for women.

Far from punishing parents (i.e. mainly female caregivers), we need to collectively *support* parents (i.e. mainly female caregivers) by ensuring they are not discriminated against by employers and pushed out of the workforce, by eliminating the mommy wage gap (which accounts for the entirety of the gender wage gap, FYI), ensuring parents' rights & needs at work are protected robustly by law (e.g. lactation breaks and pumping rooms, mandatory paid family leave that covers kids' sick days, etc), by enacting labor policies that lead to men taking on unpaid parenting work in order to allow women to stay engaged in paid work (e.g. mandatory use-it-or-lose-it paid paternity leave), by providing universal free/affordable childcare to allow low-income mothers and grandmothers to climb the career ladder just as easily as rich women do, etc. Such policies have been proven over and over again to cause fertility rates to plummet. When women are just as rich and powerful as men, people don't have too many kids.

What you will achieve with your proposed "disincentives" is the exact opposite of this. If governments have a "genuine desire to decrease birth rates" your way is the wrong way to go.
posted by MiraK at 9:49 AM on February 2 [9 favorites]


The sawdust thing is interesting, but unless it uses very small amounts of sawdust it seems like it would run into scalability problems that would have to be factored in for comparison to other systems.

I agree with you but is the continued use of fresh water for flush toilets ultimately sustainable?

For the most part sawdust is thrown away. I have a woodshop and that's where I source mine and I know two professional cabinetmakers who would be more than happy for me to take as much of it off of their hands as possible since they pay to get rid of it. One or two scoops is all that's needed for most visits to the bathroom. The small pile I put in the corner of my back garden (that was collected in a 30 gallon trash can) has kept our two composting toilets in operation for going on 3 years.

It should also be mentioned that Joe Jenkins talked about other cover materials. Rice hulls, coco coir (which is the recommended material used in a Nature's Head toilet), etc. One person he mentioned actually used ground up blackberry brambles that were overrunning her property. Any fine, organic material should do.
posted by drstrangelove at 10:26 AM on February 2


eliminating the mommy wage gap (which accounts for the entirety of the gender wage gap, FYI

I don't take exception with the rest of your comment, but this part isn't actually true. Women literally get paid less even when controlling for career experience, level of education, etc. Lately it kinda looks that way if you squint because women (in the US, at least) have a higher overall educational attainment than men for the past couple of decades
posted by wierdo at 10:49 AM on February 2 [6 favorites]


Based on my experiences with composting toilets (entirely reasonable at what they're good for), I think a tricky part there is going from "Adopted by people inclined to make them work" to general adoption.

In other words, how do they handle people specifically mistreating them in the ways that flow toilets get mistreated? If we're talking about putting them en masse into apartment buildings (or are we sacrificing that anchor of sustainability in favor of this), how well do they hold up to that level of treatment? People'll flush *anything*, and they'll use whatever cleaning products they're used to & have on hand. I'm not exactly sure how well composting toilets handle getting bleach or Lysol dumped in them, but I can't imagine it's a pretty sight.
posted by CrystalDave at 10:54 AM on February 2


When it comes to climate change, having children is not the issue. The anti-natalism (and the resulting derail) is frustrating.

The issue is average emissions per person. After all, people in Bangladesh having children will not create enough GHG emissions to worsen climate change, even as they suffer the worst effects of climate change.

It will be the middle to upper-class Westerners, particularly Americans (of all races and genders) whose children may end up producing the most significant amount of GHG emissions in our lifetimes.

But that future emissions metric is entirely variable. Their future emissions impact (and our current impact) is entirely dependent on how rapidly America can decarbonize and begin adopting NETs (and whether their parents and American society will encourage them to pursue the endless-growth carbon-intensive lifestyle of air travel, beef eating, and single-family homeownership that got us into this mess in the first place).

There is no reproductive freedom under ecological collapse. If people want to have kids, they should be able to have them. And all of the systems above us should support them and make sure that those kids don't have to face ecological collapse.
posted by Ouverture at 10:54 AM on February 2 [3 favorites]


Although the article shows there is a darker side of his story, Kalmus wrote a fine book that sheds light on his reasoning behind trimming household emissions:
Perhaps surprisingly, my main motivation for reducing was not to keep my own emissions out of the atmosphere. One person’s reduction is a tiny drop in a vast ocean of human greenhouse gas emissions. If directly reducing global emissions were my main motivation, I’d find it depressing, like trying to save the world all by myself. Instead, I reduce for three much better reasons. [...]
First, I enjoy living with less fossil fuel. I love biking, I love growing food, and I love being at home with my family instead of away at conferences. Less fossil fuel has meant more connection with the land, with food, with family and friends, and with community. If through some magic spell, global warming were to suddenly and completely vanish, I’d continue living with far less fossil fuel.

Second, by moving away from fossil fuel, I’m aligning my actions with my principles. Burning fossil fuel with the knowledge of the harm it causes creates cognitive dissonance, which can lead to feelings of guilt, panic, or depression. Others might respond to this cognitive dissonance with cynicism, or perhaps by denying that fossil fuels are harmful. But I find that a better option is simply to align action to principle.

Finally, I believe personal reduction does help, indirectly, by shifting the culture. I’ve had countless discussions about the changes I’ve made, and I’ve seen many people around me begin to make similar changes in their own lives. By changing ourselves, we help others envision change. We gradually shift cultural norms.

The essential story I’m telling is that life can be better without fossil fuel. I’ve experienced this to be true; if others also experience this to be true, who’s to say the story won’t develop a powerful, change-making resonance?

Of course, there’s no reason to limit our actions to the personal sphere. I find that actions aimed at the personal and actions aimed at the collective are mutually reinforcing. I see no reason not to do both.
And concerning family size:
[W]hen viewed in the global average, it’s actually irresponsible to have more than two children. Of course, I’m not placing the entire onus of population control on individuals and letting institutions off the hook. Nor do I think that a poor woman in rural Bolivia, with no education or access to birth control, is acting irresponsibly by having more than two kids. However, I am suggesting that privilege carries responsibility, and that those of us with privilege can choose smaller families with only one or two children, or to adopt. We can also support those who decide not to have children at all. Unfortunately, women who choose to be childless still face social stigma, whereas I believe they deserve respect for their choice.
posted by ContinuousWave at 10:57 AM on February 2


The sad part for my brother was learning how severely depressed this guy was. He quit dating because everyone he met wanted to have children, something he was not going to do. And I suspect his gloomy outlook probably didn't help much in that arena either. - drstrangelove

This fellow stopped dating entirely, rather than, say, seeking out partners who were
- already parents, & happy with their number of offspring, or
- deliberately childless, or
- climate activists/advocates with similar reproduction-related values.

He was a climate scientist so severely depressed that his cognition was affected, and his chosen field only isolated him further; I think it's really lovely that your brother cultivated that friendship.

Peeps, aniola posted a composting/humanure primer FPP yesterday, which has some great info for the composting toilet discussion.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:57 AM on February 2 [6 favorites]


wierdo, you're right that the gender wage gap is not entirely the mommy wage gap but it's *almost* entirely that, at least, a much larger percentage than folks might think. Check out this article which breaks it down from many different angles and lots of cartoons!, as well as a 2015 study that showed unmarried, childless women earn 96c to men's whole dollar, but 72c is what all women as a whole earn for every dollar a men earn.

This is not to downplay the egregious sexism encountered by women at all levels for all kinds of different reasons. Promotions, raises, credit for accomplishments, evaluations of work done, workplace harassment, etc etc etc are all real penalties all women (well, all non-men) face. The wage gap specifically seems to be almost wholly constituted of motherhood, however.
posted by MiraK at 11:07 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]


It is not, because the marginal amount matters and that is easy to see with the recent $600 vs $1400 that literally turned an election.

It is, because if all your costs for day care, insurance, etc associated with having the child come to $X and you get a credit which means your total costs are now $X-2000 then the marginal cost of having a child is reduced.
posted by biffa at 11:30 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


So what exactly is your justification for taking even more money away from parents, making parents even poorer? Where's the evidence anywhere in history or anywhere in the world that forcing parents to become ever more impoverished reduces birth rates?

I have no justification at all, since I am not in any way arguing that. I was just saying that tax breaks for parents are not a disincentive just because they are too small to be a true incentive. Purely a technical quibble, not a position statement.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:45 AM on February 2 [3 favorites]


People like the guy in this article are no different from a post-war vet who abuses his family and tortures himself because society has no recognition of his trauma, nor of his need for treatment for the trauma.

Let us call things what they are. Men like the guy in the article....are no different than male post-war vets who abuse their families.

We now have an enormous body of research and literature on post-traumatic stress, and what we've largely found is that women with PTSD tend to respond in ways that impact themselves, while men with PTSD tend to respond in ways that impact others, because that entitlement and demand for attention that comes with toxic masculinity means that men can continue impacting other people for years without being asked or told to get into therapy to deal with their shit and stop hurting the people around them.

Both the guy in the article and the hypothetical male vet you propose need to get their ass to therapy and stop hurting other people. Having a mental health issue does not give free license to hurt other people, and we need to give a skeptical side eye when people use it to excuse the harmful patriarchal dominance they're exerting over people in their families who did not make the choice to engage with this.
posted by corb at 2:03 PM on February 2 [18 favorites]


My wife and I had been discussing this article earlier today. Following my somewhat stressful late-night fixing of our suddenly leaking toilet and its wonky cistern fill valve just now, she couldn’t resist a grinning “This wouldn’t have happened with a composting toilet, you know...”
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 3:52 PM on February 2 [8 favorites]


An interesting profile.

I think of politics as something like a tug-of-war: your individual effort isn't decisive on its own, but it contributes to the team effort. The outcome isn't predetermined (elections matter!), and giving in to despair isn't particularly helpful.

The IEA's worked out the carbon price path needed to stabilize CO2 levels at 450 ppm ($20/t by 2020, $100/t by 2030, $140/t by 2040). The current Canadian government set up a carbon price exactly like this, and it survived the 2019 national election, so we know it's politically sustainable in a democracy.

Joseph Heath:
I can understand how, when one has been where Marsden has been and talked to the people he has talked to, one could despair of the political process. But thinking that one can bypass it is surely an illusion. We human beings are not particularly good at collective action, and there is no reason to think that we are even capable of demonstrating solidarity on the scale required to respond to the problem of global warming. Yet to the extent that we are capable of solving collective-action problems, the way that we do it is via the nation-state, and through political leadership. It may be an ugly, infuriating process, but there is no alternative to it.
In American politics, the divide seems particularly stark. Mark Jaccard suggests that if carbon pricing is too politically sensitive to apply directly, the key sectors to regulate - accounting for more than half of future emissions - are power generation and transport. The Obama administration was able to make a lot of progress on coal-fired power plants through the Clean Air Act - US emissions have been declining. Under the Trump administration, the oil companies successfully lobbied for a rollback in fuel-efficiency standards. Now the Biden administration is letting California once again set its own fuel-efficiency standards (which automakers then follow nationwide), and is electrifying the fleet of vehicles operated by the federal government (e.g. the Post Office). Maybe there'll be carbon tariffs, which will be tremendously helpful in motivating China to reduce its emissions intensity.

Chris Turner - MetaFilter's own gompa - suggests that the challenge is more like the Marshall Plan than like World War II. Right now 85% of our energy worldwide comes from fossil fuels. We need to build up a new global energy infrastructure - replacing oil wells, pipelines, tankers, refineries, gas stations, and internal combustion engines - powered by carbon-free energy, whether it's from hydro, nuclear, renewable, or even fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage.

Not using fossil fuels means that energy will be more expensive; that's unavoidable. To me it's like using unleaded gas instead of leaded, even though unleaded is more expensive, because we know that lead has terrible effects on children's brains.

The profile reminds me of George Washington's comments on the primacy of self-interest. It's human nature to consider your own self-interest. We can't rely on individuals to continually sacrifice their own interests for the collective good; we need to provide the incentives for them to do the right thing. If we can make carbon-free energy cheaper than fossil fuels, using regulations and/or pricing, that will go a long way towards solving the problem.
A small knowledge of human nature will convince us, that, with far the greatest part of mankind, interest is the governing principle; and that, almost, every man is more or less, under its influence. Motives of public virtue may for a time, or in particular instances, actuate men to the observance of a conduct purely disinterested; but they are not of themselves sufficient to produce persevering conformity to the refined dictates and obligations of social duty. Few men are capable of making a continual sacrifice of all views of private interest, or advantage, to the common good. It is vain to exclaim against the depravity of human nature on this account; the fact is so, the experience of every age and nation has proved it and we must in a great measure, change the constitution of man, before we can make it otherwise. No institution, not built on the presumptive truth of these maxims can succeed.
posted by russilwvong at 3:56 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]


the above reframing of these folks as suffering from mental health issues isn't a diminishment of the seriousness of climate change. It's a recognition that a person needs good mental health in order to continue doing good work towards fixing an overwhelming problem.
Instead of being lionized as one of the few people to ‘truly understand’ the issue.

This article is weird and not healthy
posted by bq at 3:56 PM on February 2 [3 favorites]


I’m not entirely sure how relevant this is, but I’d hesitate to call this guy a climate scientist. He has a degree in astrophysics, and most of his research appears to be in remote-sensing work.

I’d trust him to tell me with a high degree of precision just how quickly the earth is heating up, but he doesn’t appear to have any specific expertise about whether or not pooping into a bucket is going to slow that down.
posted by schmod at 5:06 PM on February 2 [4 favorites]


New York Times: Automakers Drop Efforts to Derail California Climate Rules. California has a zero-emissions vehicle mandate requiring a rising percentage of new passenger vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emissions, rising to 100% in 2035. (In Canada, Quebec and BC have similar policies, with Quebec reaching 100% in 2035 and BC in 2040.) The article mentions that the Biden administration is looking at a national zero-emissions mandate.

Seems ... better than Peter Kalmus and his family driving an unreliable biodiesel car?
posted by russilwvong at 9:51 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


Seems ... better than Peter Kalmus and his family driving an unreliable biodiesel car?

Old Mercedes diesels are some of the most durable and reliable cars ever made. But biodiesel is trickier, requiring that the fuel be heated in colder months.

A question to be asked is if it's greener to keep a 30-40 year old car running forever or to buy the latest EV which has so many electronics that it's unlikely to be on the road in 10-20 years. An example is the problems older Teslas are having with their display screens.
posted by drstrangelove at 4:17 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


I agree with you but is the continued use of fresh water for flush toilets ultimately sustainable?

At my house, with a well and a septic tank, I think it is; I was surprised that there didn't seem to be anything in the OP about whether this was what the composting toilet was an alternative to, or whether the alternative was a municipal water system. I think that, at the very least, if I swapped out the electric pump for a hand pump or something of that sort, and carried buckets of water around, it would be. (Figuring the cold weather won't be as substantial a problem so much longer... or I guess I could build a well house.)

Obviously, at urban population densities or even below that in many places depending on the hydrogeology, wells and septic tanks are still not scalable; it's just not obvious to me that, for example, in a place with no trees but the right hydrogeology, trucking in kiln-dried sawdust for a composting toilet would automatically be the way to go. If we just trust capitalism to abstract it all we'll just have The Lorax scenario of cutting down forests to make Thneeds and toothpicks and sawdust.

But if more strictly necessary industrial waste products that will be plentiful even after the global population starts declining, and we aren't constantly constructing wooden buildings, such as rice hulls or coco coir are workable substitutes, that's good.

Check out “Forest as fuel” from the Dutch news magazine Zembla (2017, Dutch with English subtitles, apparently not in their Youtube channel?), a documentary investigation into whether the wood sourced to Dutch biomass plants, wood gasification and wood-burning, is genuinely from renewable sources as it's supposed to be—plantation trees that are replaced after being cut and remainder material from other logging operations, the accelerating transformation of natural habitats like wetlands into tree plantations, and the amount of Dutch government funds tagged for supporting renewable energy that end up paying for non-renewable harvesting and habitat destruction. A fair amount of footage filmed in the US. As you might imagine, the outlook was already not promising under what were basically still the Obama administration's regulatory environment, nor elsewhere...

On another note, given the dire prospects, I'm starting to feel a bit embarrassed about celebrity chef and food porn shows. Our algae-sludge-eating descendants are going to be seeing that we used the preparation and consumption of bountiful food as a form of entertainment and it's going to be a slap in the face generation after generation, forever. I wonder how many of them will even believe it was real, or if the degree of insult will induce a we-were-always-at-war-with-EastAsia societal coping mechanism.
posted by XMLicious at 4:38 AM on February 3


or to buy the latest EV which has so many electronics that it's unlikely to be on the road in 10-20 years
[citation-needed] – while there are certainly outliers, I don’t buy the “cars used to be more durable” argument.

Yes, it used to be easier to drive a rust-bucket into the ground, but it seems pretty common for cars to last ~15 years these days, while remaining in excellent condition. With a handful of recent exceptions (ahem. Tesla), automotive electronics tend to be extremely over-engineered compared to consumer electronics.

To cherry-pick one example, Toyota’s been producing the Prius for 24 years, and virtually none of the predicted longevity issues have actually materialized.
posted by schmod at 8:53 AM on February 3 [3 favorites]


I want to link Neoliberalism has conned us into fighting climate change as individuals [Stop obsessing with how personally green you live – and start collectively taking on corporate power],

When considering any change of code, governments frequently ask for research and precedent. Precedent doesn't come out of thin air. It often comes from individual actions. We need both.
posted by aniola at 10:28 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


A. This article isn't really about climate change.

B. I simultaneously think there are too damn many people and don't trust anyone to decide who gets to make more.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:38 AM on February 3 [2 favorites]


Since 1965, 20 companies have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide; since 1988, 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. (The Guardian, 2019, 2017; Climate Accountability Institute database with graphics and summaries)

Conscientious individual choices would be easier to make, if the available consumer options were already hewing to good environmental standards.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:31 AM on February 3 [2 favorites]


This thread made a couple babies:
- Children and Climate Change
- There was a lot of fecophobia in this thread, so I posted shit poop feces doo-doo turds crap poo dung dirt BOO!
posted by aniola at 1:18 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]


Conscientious individual choices would be easier to make, if the available consumer options were already hewing to good environmental standards.

Absolutely. But that doesn't negate the point I'm trying to make.

For example, take bucket toilet compost systems. You can get a permitted bucket toilet in a major US city these days. I know because I did it.

It relied heavily on both code and individual actions. I'd be surprised if the code would have existed if there weren't already countless individuals using bucket toilet compost systems. Joseph Jenkins is a famous example. Anyway, so now it's an ANSI standard through IAPMO. That was code people.

Getting the toilet permitted? That was me wanting a permitted bucket toilet and me and my partner being hard-headed about it. Why was I able to be hard-headed about it? Because a long time ago, I had first seen a bucket toilet system in use. I had seen it work. I knew it was possible. Because someone took an individual action.

It is the combined result of individual actions AND people working to change code that make it possible to legally shit in a bucket. We need everyone working hard in the best way they are able. You never know when someone is going to experience an individual action as a meaningful symbol, and then use that symbol to change an entire standard.
posted by aniola at 1:38 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]


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