Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Deckchair fight on sinking Titanic

with 18 comments

Yesterday, on Learning from Dogs, Paul Handover re-published an essay by Gail Tverberg, who writes the Our Finite World blog.  On her About page, Gail describes herself as… “an actuary interested in finite world issues – oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change.”

The post in question, on Gail’s Our Finite World blog is ‘Climate Change: The Standard Fixes Don’t Work’.  It is quite long but well worth a read because, as I have myself commented (on her blog):

It is nice to see someone not shying away from the inconvenient truth that all our environmental problems can be boiled down to Limits to Growth phenomena. A frontier mentality was OK when early European settlers spread out across the New World; today it is not. When you live alone in a wilderness, it is safe to use a passing river as a source of water, a washroom, and a toilet; but when you live in a Mumbai slum, it is not. Over-population is not a magic number; it is a function of our environment. One person per probably makes a desert over-populated.

To understand why I said this, you could do a lot worse than read the short series of posts I made on this blog, starting exactly a year ago today, regarding the 1996 book by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, entitled The Betrayal of Science and Reason. It could just as easily have been written today because, sadly, very little has changed (apart from our problems have grow far more acute as a result of their generally having been ignored).

With the benefit of her actuarial expertise, Gail summarises all the reasons why our politicians need to wake up; because they (and most of humanity with them) are in the middle of sleepwalking us all into an ecological catastrophe.

  • In 1992, the World got together and agreed to start trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  We failed.  Since 2002, global emissions have accelerated.
  • For decades, people have dismissed the idea that oil production might peak soon as foolish nonsense.  It is not dismissed as such today.  Today, Peak Oil is a reality; one that is driving global economic stagnation.
  • Echoing the points made by Dr Samuel Alexander of the Simplicity Institute, Gail highlights the Perfect Storm of problems arising from the urgent need to decarbonise our economies; and the fact that many of the things we need to do to achieve that ultimate goal will require fossil fuel to be used.
  • Echoing the points made by Garrett Hardin in his 1968 ‘ Tragedy of the Commons’ paper, Gail highlights the essential need for a global solution, globally implemented (because otherwise those who do not implement the solution will gain an economic advantage over those that do).

And so Gail goes on…


I suspect my pessimism is an artefact of my being unemployed and – seemingly – unable to challenge the collective hypnosis with which our politicians (and most people) seem to be afflicted.

Accusing someone of “re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” is a grossly over-used analogy but that is not what we are doing.  Humanity today has gone way beyond just re-arranging the deckchairs.  As more and more of them float off into the icy water, like people involved in some insanely short-sighted game of musical chairs, many of us seem determined to fight over the dwindling number that remain.

I will close by quoting the words of Film Director James Cameron (for context see my post in April this year):

The human population of the Earth today is analogous to the passengers on the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic. Due to a combination of arrogance and hubris it was considered ‘too big to fail’; and where have we heard that before?… Firstly, the big machine of the Titanic is like the huge system that is modern civilisation today. The Titanic had huge momentum and could not quickly turn away from disaster [even if the wheel was turned the right way]. Secondly, it carried First, Second and Third Class passengers, which are analogous to citizens of Developed, Emerging, and Less Developed economies; wherein the poorest will be the worst affected by climate change [only 25% of Third Class passengers survived – compared with 60% of First Class]. Thirdly, we can now see the iceberg [i.e. anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD)] very clearly but, even so, we cannot turn away from it because of the political momentum of our fossil fuel based systems. There are too many people making money out of the system the way the system works right now. Those people are in control and until they relinquish control and/or turn the wheel [the right way] we are not going to avoid hitting the iceberg… When we hit it, the rich will still maintain their access to land, food and water; whereas the poorest will lose it… This story [of the Titanic] will always fascinate people because it is such a perfect analogy for our current predicament.

18 Responses

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  1. Excellent post, Martin.

    P.S. is it just me or has John Cook’s skeptical science website apparently disappeared off the face of the planet? — My imagination runs riot and suggests to my poor, tired mind that so many people are waking up to current reality and trying to use it to seek answers that its servers have overloaded and crashed… (though a traceroute from here via suggests a possible network break)


    5 December 2012 at 03:19

    • P.P.S. happy to report that the rumours, instigated by some deluded ‘pendantry’ bloke, of the demise of Skeptical Science appear to be totally unfounded:)


      5 December 2012 at 03:46

  2. Global solution: global carbon tax, right away. Just what Gail campaigns against, in a fashion too subtle for the sheeple. As I explained on LfD, Gail was paid by the oil industry, for years, and her propaganda is transparent to me. It is the latest trick of the oil industry to keep on going as before, while the attack against europe’s carbon tax is on Obama’s desk.

    Patrice Ayme

    5 December 2012 at 04:47

    • Patrice: If you think you know Gail, I am happy to apologise for rushing to judging you as being unfair. However, if you are being fair, why not post your criticism of her position on her blog (so as to ensure she has an opportunity to respond to it)?

      If she is opposed to the fossil fuel industry paying to pollute the atmosphere (via a “tax” on carbon dioxide generating processes such as James Hansen’s Fee and Dividend system from which governments do not benefit) then I would have to distance myself from that part of her supposed agenda.

      All I am promoting here is the sensibility of acknowledging the unsustainable nature of the status quo. However, I am not quite clear how she can be both.

      Martin Lack

      5 December 2012 at 11:18

      • Let’s move away from personality cults. People can be very complicated, and go in all directions simultaneously. The point is that a WORLDWIDE CARBON TAX is the first line of defense (& it can be imposed unilaterally, so no need for concertation, as the EU is trying to do!).

        The unsustainable nature of the statu quo ante ought to be obvious even to Wall Street, but I commend you for your indispensable work.

        BTW, days have only 24 hours, I can’t comment everywhere. I have a new essay on the subject coming out, with some seriously new ideas therein.

        Patrice Ayme

        5 December 2012 at 22:30

        • “I commend you for your indispensable work.” Yet more sarcasm, I presume? If it is the only language you understand, try this:

          “I can’t comment everywhere.” I wonder, Patrice, whether you have discovered the delights of your Comments I’ve Made page?

          I unsubcribed from your blog many weeks ago now (simply because I have much better things to do with my time) so, if you want me (or anyone) to read what you have to say on this subject, you had (as I said before) better provide a direct link to it.

          Martin Lack

          6 December 2012 at 11:16

  3. I have been preaching this message since the 1970’s. I can assure all readers of this site that hardly anyone is listening.Most of mankind is averse to any form of mathematics and “our” politicians are only interested in more votes, whence they come is a matter of indifference. The sled is running downhill; with most of its occupants crying, “Faster, faster!”. I doubt that I will live to experience the consequences of this head-in-the-sand attitude that will have devastating effects; especially on religious belief.


    5 December 2012 at 12:02

    • Thanks for sharing more of your perspective, Duncan. I sympathise with your apparent frustration.

      Martin Lack

      5 December 2012 at 19:05

  4. Having dabbled in the study of history there is a patten emerging in the current chapter- arguably the most important in human history. The very clear message of 20 years ago has become- well lets say interesting. Predictions are not as straightforward as the public perceived them to to be, on top of climate is the economy which now is almost certainly linked to peak oil. Added to this is the fact that the oceans are soaking up excess heat and [we much caution] both India & China are generating a lot more soot and may be skewing the heat build up.

    Politicians are going to be more concerned about the economy and also hear the mantra-no warming for 15 years- and if being optimistic imagine there isn’t a problem yet and we have time to change course.

    There seems to be a moment of the perfect storm- the huge $600 trillion finance market that came into being just before the oil/economic peak is collapsing [and rise and fall of oil as a peak of abundance fits with abundant money] and that market will crash in the coming 18months. And Peak came just as AGW kicked in. Solar activity is weak in the last decade but no-one is able to predict the coming decade. The planets weather system will surprise us. As peak bites the BRICS will lose their export markets and growth will slow.

    The problem is China needs growth to keep the population happy- if they don’t get their new car they will hit the streets. Unfortunately the countries that will act will be the countries that get hit by climate disruption and central Asia seems to be the least changed.

    Will it be too late? Humans can do amazing things when threatened- I like to think no, but just like our inability to deal with Cold conflicts where we wait for them to go Hot, war costs a lot of resources. The battle of minds will change to deniers arguing that the weather is changing but we need growth to stay on top and build big armies. What has happened in history is winners and losers- the collapse of the losers suddenly reducing growth and CO2.

    But you never know perhaps the humanity will speak with one voice- perhaps we won’t repeat history.


    5 December 2012 at 13:32

    • Thanks Jules. The picture is indeed now complicated, but, any cherry-picking mantras must be patiently rebutted by the wider body of incongruous facts.

      China is like the rest of the World on steroids. Any mistake made by – or defect in – Western development has been replicated many times worse in China. Sadly, India and Brazil seem determined to copy China. Cuba is about the only country not to make all these mistakes and, far from being the result of any virtue in Communist ideology, its inventive success was born of necessity (as a consequence of the Cold War).

      If history repeats itself it is only because no-one was listening.

      Martin Lack

      5 December 2012 at 19:25

      • I think history repeats itself because it’s mostly written by those who come out on top; the tale of those who were destroyed in the conflict rarely travels well. Leaders are far more likely to extoll their virtues than admit “we won because, well, we, err… got lucky this time”.


        5 December 2012 at 21:21

    • Well said.

      Paul Handover

      7 December 2012 at 13:19

    • Tell me something I don’t know.

      Martin Lack

      5 December 2012 at 19:09

      • Catherine the Great wasn’t killed in an accident involving a horse and rudimentary scaffolding. (I am drawing attention to how myth makes history)


        5 December 2012 at 20:13

        • I am such an ignoramus when it comes to history, that, I initially thought this was a reference to the Saint who was supposedly killed by being tied to a large wooden wheel. Thank goodness for Wikipedia, which could have saved me from making a fool of myself (if I had chosen not to type this).😉

          Martin Lack

          10 December 2012 at 14:26

  5. […] 2012/12/05: LoE: Deckchair fight on sinking Titanic […]

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