An existential article on climate change

This is a very powerful essay. It digs into our astonishing failure to come to grips with the greatest existential crisis ever to face humanity.


Sujato points to an article in UK’s The Guardian by Clive Hamilton which, in his words, “digs into our astonishing failure to come to grips with the greatest existential crisis ever to face humanity”. This article brings me to grip with what appears to be to be another kind of astonishing failure. I speak of the growing body of scientific research from social scientists as well as field work from committed climate activists and think tanks that caution us about articles such as Clive Hamilton’s.

This research warns of a crisis in how we talk about climate change. In short this work suggests that articles such as this are not something climate activists (or Buddhists for that matter) should be focusing on. In a follow on post I’ll point to some social science research and observations which demonstrate why I say the article is counter-productive.

I would describe this article as a counter productive, narcissistic dystopia. Reading it is somewhat like hearing only the first half of the four fold nobel truths. Hamilton’s article is about suffering and duhkka but with no end of suffering in sight.

A Summary of “The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it” by Clive Hamilton
For Hamilton just about everyone on the planet “ignore or downplay the warnings”. In his version of planet earth there are only a “few alert to the plight of the Earth [who] sense that something unfathomably great is taking place.” Hamilton himself never admits that he too might, on a rare occasion or two, ignore or downplay the warnings.
Hamilton takes his argument to absurd levels when he says that even many “intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world”. All those painters of landscapes, those books and poems about the glories of the natural world? Sadly they are mostly clueless too.

Some of the list of the clueless according to Hamilton are:

  • “Most citizens” because they “ ignore or downplay the warnings:.

  • “most of the intelligentsia”

  • “Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please”

  • “leading intellectuals of left and right” for whom “the intellectual surrender is so complete”

Hamiltons dsytopia tale ends thus:

" How can we understand the miserable failure of contemporary thinking to come to grips with what now confronts us?
Yet the Earth scientists continue to haunt us, following us around like wailing apparitions while we hurry on with our lives, turning around occasionally with irritation to hold up the crucifix of Progress. "

I agree with Hamilton on one point: “For many, the accumulation of facts about ecological disruption seems to have a narcotising effect”. For years a number of thoughtful activists and social scientists have been warning about this narcotizing effect or climate fatigue. Some even have named this kind of writing “climate porn” for the way it tends to stimulate and excite.

The several ironies here are rich. If Hamilton followed up on his own observation about the narcotizing effect on humans he might have to pay attention to the warnings from social scientists about the social impact his words were having. But if he applied his rants about listening to warnings to himself he would have to shut up or drastically change his tune.

Preview of next post:

Hamilton says,

“This bizarre situation, in which we have become potent enough to change the course of the Earth yet seem unable to regulate ourselves, contradicts every modern belief about the kind of creature the human being is. So for some it is absurd to suggest that humankind could break out of the boundaries of history and inscribe itself as a geological force in deep time.”

On this point, I can’t agree with him at all. The notion that human beings have a very difficult time controlling the powerful technologies they have unleashed, and preventing their sometimes baleful and hideous impacts, is a persistent theme in modern thought. It was a common reaction to the industrial revolution; to the explosion in lethal military technologies that gave us the mass-murdering trenches of World War I; to the proliferation of ghastly nuclear weapons following the First World War; to the growth in the use of dangerous pesticides and chemical agents; and now to the planetary-scale impacts of our fossil-fuel based energy systems.

That we are having difficulty responding to this latter challenge in an effective way is not in the least surprising. The organization and mobilization of massive numbers of human beings for some large cooperative project has always been very difficult.

Hamilton seems to be worried about intellectuals in the social sciences and the humanities who are ignorant of science, or unable to come to grips with the possibility of large-scale and long-term human impacts on the history of the planet. No doubt he is speaking accurately from his own personal experience, but while I don’t know which intellectuals he hangs out with, the intellectuals I know generally seem quite alarmed and preoccupied by climate change and what to do about it.

I would suggest that the usual, entirely normal difficulty we face in dealing with this large political challenge, a challenge ultimately requiring a collective solution organized through powerful central governments, has been exacerbated by a more recent tendency in political thought that is skeptical of collective projects and governments altogether. Contemporary liberal political thought tends to focus on the continuously unfolding “liberation” of individuals. One is to think about what specific variety of individual human being one is, consider whether the full expression of that kind of individuality is being socially repressed or hindered in some way by social norms or habits, and then work on destroying the social norms or habits that are responsible for the hindering. One is then “liberated” when one has acquired just as much social license to eat, screw, exploit and make money as others. That’s most of latter-day liberal politics as we know it. At that same time, especially since the end of the Cold War, western liberals have developed tremendous skepticism of, paranoia about and hostility toward collective social action and organization.

But it turns out to be much easier to destroy norms through cultural crusades and moral suasion than it is to organize seven billion people, many of whom have a powerful economic stake in the preservation of existing forms of industrial organization, capital formation and wealth, to change some of their most fundamental industrial systems and economic way of life.


The reason this debate about climate change can not end is because there is no deffinite answer to weather it exists or not. I’ve researched the subject quite a bit. There is no scientific consensus in the scientific community, nobody knows if it is real or not. Nobody knows if it’s just a normal cycle of warming of the earth or if industrialization has something to do with it. The subject is long and complicated. Since not even scientist managed to came to a conclusion, discussion about climate change data between non-scientist is pretty useless.

What conclusions do we need to draw from this:

  1. Apocalyptic predictions, Jehova Witness style about the earth are not backed by science.

  2. A total ignorance of climate change because it’s unclear if it exists or not is not the way to go either. The fact that it’s unclear if it exists or not does not equal “it doesn’t exist”.

This means some prudence should be shown in regards to climate change. Both the apocalyptic prophets and the global warming denialist do not have a scientific basis for their opinion.

Also, if we do want to reduce polution, driving a Toyota prius is not going to help it. Individual consumers are not the problem. The big problem is China and pretty much all the rest of the globe except US and EU. The best way to reduce climate change is probably promotion of nuclear energy to replace coal plants witch are still heavely used in many countries. For example 35% of Romania electricity is produced in coal plants. 75% of Serbia electricity is produced in coal plants. Romania nuclear power plant with 5 reactors has taken like 35 years to build and still only 2 reactors are functional, with the third on the way. Nuclear plants take a long time to build. In my opinion, the most efficient way to reduce climate change is promotion of nuclear energy, especially since no country would object to that. The problem is it takes a long time to build and a huge financial investment to built a nuclear plan. But in US, we have enviromentalist protesting against nuclear energy, basically shooting themselves in the foot. They’ve probably never seen a coal plant in their life. The sky is gray above them and the air is almost unbreathable if we are speaking about a big coal plant like Turceni or Rovinari, not to mention they are using limited resources to produce electricity witch can be produced in many better ways. Another stupid thing americans are doing is driving petrol cars instead of diesel cars because 1 liter of petrol polutes a little less than a litre of diesel. But what the geniuses who are doing this have not considered is that a diesel car consumes 2 times less. This means it pollutes 2 times less, wastes 2 times less limited resources and costs only about 40% more than a petrol car. It’s cheaper for the individual consumer and also better for the environment. This is why the EU uses diesel cars.

Nuclear energy in europe has been under a brutal assault by enviromentalist after the 2011 Japan problem. Almost all western countries have either closed a lot of their plants or have stopped building more. Governments have imposed high taxes on nuclear energy. In Romania, the construction of 3rd and 4th reactor of our nuclear plant has stalled too. Just like in the case of shale gas extraction, the russians are manipulating environmentalist to stop nuclear plants too. I don’t know about other countries but in Romania, the Russian propaganda effort has been very big and very succesfull so far, managing to stop shale gas exploration and causing some problems to the nuclear power plant. Russians are doing this because europe is completely dependent on Russia for gas and the new discovery of shale gas is putting that in danger. Not to mention it would highly reduce the price of gas and oil world wide. This is one of the weaknesses of democracy but let’s hope greed and financial interest will win in this particular case. I’ve read that the US is trying to increase it’s nuclear capacity by 50%, meaning russian propaganda has little effect there. But it sure has devastating effects in europe where it is primarely focused on.

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I agree. How we’re responding to the climate change problem is par for the course human behavior. It’s the exception, not the rule, when nations got together and mount an effective response to a global problem.

The fact that as an international community we haven’t effectively responded to such basic problems like lack of food, clean water, and sanitation among a significant part of the world’s population tells me we won’t respond to climate change as those other problems are far more obvious and causative of suffering here and now. That’s the real tragedy of non-response, not climate change. If we don’t respond to them, why would we respond to something whose effects are so diffuse and whose worst effects are off in the future?


What problem? Where is the evidence there is a problem? I have lived for many decades & I have not noticed any change in the climate. It is still the same as it was when I was a child.

I used to believe in climate change, for many years, before it even became a popular idea. My simple logic was if trees are cut down & fossil fuels are used, the atmosphere must accumulate more CO2 (because trees use CO2 to create oxygen).

Therefore, my response to my unproven belief was to minimize my use of resources. I have not owned a motor vehicle for the last 30 years. The only technology I own is a fridge, washing machine, phone & computer (and only bought the computer for work purposes). I took personal steps & responsibility to practise what I believed.

However, if one believes there is a political solution to the superstitious belief & new god of “Climate Change”, one is entering a very dangerous path, imo.

The Guardian is part of the corporate media. It is no longer an alternative media. It is the corporations that are promoting the use of natural resources which could possibly create climate change if proven. Therefore, how can one support an article written by the corporate media on a matter than can be politically used to impose austerity & other harsh political rules upon the common man.

The corporate elite who are pushing climate change are not sacrificing their lifestyles. I doubt Al Gore has given up a life of luxury & given away the millions of dollars he has made promoting climate change. The inevitable outcome of this ideology will be more forced austerity upon the lower classes & an increasing in the current tendency of government towards plutocratic totalitarian dictatorship. It is more Cultural Marxism & social engineering.

It is extremely dangerous for Buddhists to support any ideology that can be used by governments to harm people. Instead, the Buddhist approach ideally is to practise what they preach rather than resort to & support political means. [quote=“Mkoll, post:5, topic:5172”]
The fact that as an international community we haven’t effectively responded to such basic problems like lack of food, clean water, and sanitation among a significant part of the world’s population tells me

Very good point, which supports my view about how dangerous the climate change ideology is from a political perspective.

I sponsored three children in Africa for around 12 years. (Now, my income is less reliable so I stopped). We can only respond by acting & encourage others to live more responsibility. Apart from that, supporting political solutions probably should be avoided. :deciduous_tree:

[quote=“Deeele, post:6, topic:5172”]
The corporate elite who are pushing climate change are not sacrificing their lifestyles
[/quote]This sentence very neatly summarizes the entire post above in many ways, those who do not wish to read it can judge it largely, positively or negatively, based on this phrase, by my evaluations at least.

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It is a question that not even the most informed scientist can answer. A common person with no training in the field even less so. It is a matter that can be used for political gains by both sides. Ecology is the only thing people can support now that all that needed to be done, was done. In developed countries there is no more to fight about, all that needed to be done was done. Only thing left to debate in the political system of such countries are social issues.

And we should be very happy that is the case and monsters of the past such as communism have been defeated. The best option regarding how to organize a country politically and economically has been decided. But people will always feel the need to push for something, to revolutionize something, especially young people. Only thing one can possibly fight for is ecology. And that is why it has become the only important movement in modern times.

I remember when I was little, one time I wandered what could people in developed countries be debating about in politics. It turns out only thing left to debate is ecology and social issues.

As a person not living in such a country, such problems are like the least important things I could possibly think of. At the Trump vs Hillary election, despite not liking PC culture, I could not care less about who will win. It was like choosing between 2 angels and watching people get hyped up like it was Hitler vs Stalin. The guys who recently won the romanian ellection tried to legalize corruption 1 month after they won (no joke, google “romania legalized corruption”). Things in Ukraine or Rep. Moldova are even more decades back in time in terms of politics or economy. The same thing is happening with ecology and different social issues. People get hyped up and think these are life and death matters cause they never had any meaningful fights to fight in their lives, in the political sense. Also they tend to forget USA has only 4% of the world population, they think it has 96%.

What I would suggest is not to get too hyped up and certainly not get upset about anything. Things are as perfect as they get in western countries. You’ve reached the end of the road. This is it, there is nothing more to do other than unimportant issues. If you really want to do something, move to a country where there are things to be done. Among the top pleasures noticed by romanians that move back here after spending time in western europe is that all they do here is like so much more significant, that there is nothing to be done there. Not only on the political level, but on the economic one too. There is nothing to develop anymore, every little spot was covered by another guy before you already.

It is simply not clear if there exist climate change or not, if it is caused by polution or is just natural. We actually had a global cooling in the 80s despite the world being industrialized. I am sure that when there will be clear data on the problem, countries will mobilize somehow. There is no reason to despair about nothing being done right now since it’s simply not clear what the truth is about global warming.

We should deffinitely show some prudence. But 8% of the world population showing extreme prudence and pushing regulations through the roof, damaging it’s economy is not the way to go as long as the other 92% could not care less about the problem.

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What I would support in US right now is not pollution regulation, in witch US is leading the world. The problem of US and UK is being brutally energy inefficient because of having suburbia instead of cities. That is consuming at least 5 times more resources than a city. Only in US and UK the suburbia phenomenon developed because of some strange historical conditions. Everywhere else in the world people live in cities. US has only 2 cities (New York and Chicago)

It is strange to see nobody is doing anything about the elephant in the room while big parts of the population being environmentalist. I know there is a movement called Gentrification taking place, but that is something very small that will take like 1000 years to fix the problem by the pace it is going.

US petrol consumption per capita is something like 35 vs 8 in Europe mainly because of this problem. There is also extreme waste in terms of house heating and house construction materials. And it is proven that people are much more depressed in such an environment because of many reasons. People have lived in cities ever since antiquity, that is the natural mode of human habitation.

What point is there in reducing pollution by 1% through regulation on business, when you are wasting at least 5 times more resources and also polluting at least 5 times more due to being the only country in the world not having cities ?

There is a movement made out of urbanist and achitects in the US complaining about this problem and making documentaries about it, but the population is mostly unaware of it. They don’t realize US and UK are the only countries without cities on this whole round globe. It’s quite shocking to have such an obvious problem such as being the only place in the world without cities, but having no clue about it.


This sounds like a disbelief in reincarnation & rebirth. [quote=“dxm_dxm, post:8, topic:5172”]
The guys who recently won the romanian ellection tried to legalize corruption 1 month after they won (no joke, google “romania legalized corruption”).

This is evidence the consciousness of communism can re-enter or descend into a womb.


Very good. Ecological solutions apart from climate change hysteria. :deciduous_tree:

It strains the imagination to think academics in the social sciences (a group that leans hard left) and the humanities are as Hamilton describes them. Simpler explanations, to speak with Occam’s razor, is that Hamilton a) sees the world through a very distorting framework like one might encounter in a psych ward or or b) he speaks in the wild manner we might associate with Donald Trump. (“Oh that association again!” I hear some of you say. :sleepy: )

The ones I know too. Which makes we wonder why and how the article was recommended to us. If there was a great point there it went past me.

Hearing from a couple of infectious disease doctors not long ago the biggest threats to humans on the planet was disease. We already have antibiotic resistant infections. What might a a wild mutation of staff infection or a influenza virus do? And they are hoping that genetic engineering a super-virus or germ proves more difficult than it seems.
And it seems to me we forget about nuclear capability.

I propose all statements that speak of the “greatest threat ever” be treated like the results of free association tests or a momentary onset of Tourette Syndrome.

P.S. Forgive the analogies to Trump but psycho-historical retrospectives on Hitler and his ilk, the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience to authority together suggest to me that we all have a potential little crazy person inside. To see “what is” is to catch glimpses of him or her and own the experience.


I take it you come from a Eastern European country? I say that you bring a important perspective on the more fortunate western countries that is worth considering. Thank you for speaking up.