Is it too late to stop climate change?

I’ve been having similar thoughts recently. Not only is China showing promising bold progress on the environmental front, as a society they seem to be united behind it. The graph below supports this idea.

However, there are two different sets distinctions to be made here: democracy vs. authoritarianism (or liberal vs illiberal) and free market vs. centrally planned economies. It’s become abundantly clear that progress on climate change cannot happen without smart central planning. China is evidence of this, but so are many European countries, which are democratic. Letting the private sector lead the way doesn’t seem to work, despite the best of intentions. That’s also true for alleviating poverty.

Although more and more good things are happening at local levels, the US is in awful shape nationally in almost every possible way right now. There are well-developed federal-level proposals for combating climate change as you are probably aware, and the ones getting the most attention and the ones most likely to make a lasting difference are centrally planned and would be enforced by law.

It’s also important to be deeply skeptical of any government’s grand promises, including China’s.

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I’ve scrolled through a lot of online conversations where no matter what evidence is presented, the other party ignores it and posts a different set of links. I was a participant in the educational effort to get parents to vaccinate their children. The evidence for the safety and effectiveness of vaccination is overwhelming. If people were consistently rational actors, whose beluefs could be changed by presenting evidence, there would be no anti-vax movement.

There’s even a growing body of research demonstrating that presenting people with the evidence doesn’t effectively change views.

Disagreeing with me or not is irrelevant. In some areas the science is clear, and the models for the consequences are good. Observing a pattern for undermining that science is useful.

And my point, of course, was not to argue with those who disagree with the evidence. It was to suggest to people who do want to make progress on climate change that maybe they should not just ignore old-school climate change deniers, but recognize and ignore what I’m calling phase 2 climate change deniers. And that perhaps the guidelines on this forum should expand the definition of climate change denialism to clearly include this phase two rhetoric.


Do the guidelines currently have rules in place about how we can talk about climate change? I just checked and didn’t see anything, but maybe there’s a different version out there.

From the guidelines section on extremist views:

  • We are concerned primarily with Buddhist extremist views, but other forms of anti-reality extremism are included, such as climate change denial.
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Thanks @JimInBC. So, would classify so called bright greens as extremist?

There are other things Schellenberger says that either make little sense or dodge reasonable logic. For example, the argument that wildfires are worse today because there’s more wood fuel than in the past is a case of reaching point A in a causal chain and then not following it any further. There are so many dead trees in California today because of extreme drought conditions that prevailed the first half of the 2010s. Trees that are water stressed become more susceptible to disease and parasites the same way a malnourished person gets sick more than a healthy person.

The fires are also made much worse by drier conditions in the underbrush. Higher temperatures evaporate water faster, which both makes fires start more often and become uncontrollable. The fires this year weren’t controllable during the heat wave that saw sustained temps above 100F. Daily highs above 110F were widespread across the state in August.

There was also the comment of his about the amount of land devoted to animal husbandry today being reduced by an area equivalent to Alaska. Well, yes, all the animals are crammed into aluminum buildings now in horrible living conditions. What’s his point? Now, we can farm more land by making the Faustian bargain of tormenting animals their entire lives before we slaughter them? The amoralism that’s passed off as normal today is breathtaking to me sometimes.

There are alot of details being ignored in many of these arguments. The ground water aquafers under the central plains are being overdrawn, for example. The idea that we’ll be able to indefinitely farm those naturally arid grasslands forever is questionable. Maybe climate change will bring enough additional rainfall to recharge it. But farming practices today purposefully shunt rainfall off the topsoil into the rivers with tiling to avoid standing water.

California’s central valley is another area of farming that’s in real danger of drying up. Climate change to taking water away from the southwestern US. It looks unlikely that the water supply will continue to support both the farming and megacities in the future. Maybe the cities will begin emptying, or maybe the farming will be reduced. Either way, it’s not a rosy picture.


My two cents on Schellenberger: I only knew of him as an enthusiastic advocate for nuclear energy; his divisive role in the larger environmental movement is all new to me. Nonetheless, I find the pro-nuclear energy argument pretty convincing – the one that is not about breakthroughs but about existing, proven technology.

There’s no momentum here, however. The changeover to carbon-free energy sources is all about renewables, which are ultimately more damaging to the environment than nuclear.

India had long had an ambitious plan, which it radically cut in the last few years. France, famous for its reliance on nuclear power and its safety record, is also cutting back.

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Here you can find the National Interagency Fire Center records on number of acres burned in the US since 1926. Even though the number of acres of woodland in the US has increased over that period, the number of acres burned has fallen precipitously. Approximately 7.5 million acres have burned this year, more than 2019 but less than 2017. It is also less than every year from 1926-1955 and many years since.

I very much agree with your view that industrial animal farms are cruel.


In practical terms, we have what we have. Any kind of major reform, whether for better or for worse, takes time and creates its own instability. So we have to get everyone on board right now, regardless of their system of government.

Don’t believe the CCP’s spin about its environmental credentials; it has been a disaster for the environment. The level of corruption is so deep and complex that it is difficult to assess their actual actions. For example, they give lists of coal power plants that have been shut down, but researchers visiting those places found that they are still in operation. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been genuine progress and action; China is big and complicated! Overall, however, their performance on climate change is currently rated as “highly insufficient”.

The lack of response on climate change by the denialist governments of the US and Australia is, I think, not due to “democracy”, but is better seen as a failure of democracy. It is due to the fact that our democracies have, over the past decades, effectively ceded environmental policy to the fossil fuel industries.

Have a look at the fossil fuel exporting nations here. Indonesia and Australia are the biggest coal exporters. Yay?

The government systems of Russia (kleptocratic autocracy), Saudi Arabia (theocratic monarchy), the US (presidential democracy), and Australia (parliamentary democracy) are all very different. Yet they all have denialist policies; for example, they all try to undermine and water down the findings of the IPCC reports.

What they have in common is that they are all major fossil fuel exporters. China is not in this club, and I believe that is why they take a different tack (in theory, anyway). I don’t know much about the situation in Indonesia, but the Climate Action Tracker rates their efforts, like China, as highly insufficient. Incidentally, the same site ranks Australia as merely “insufficient”, while the USA is “critically insufficient”.

The interesting thing is that there are some countries that are democracies and fossil fuel exporters and accept climate science. That is, Norway, Canada, the EU (possibly others, I don’t know the policies of all these places). So it is possible. Accepting the reality is, of course, just the first step.

The problem with autocratic governments is that they invariably end up having to distort the truth to justify their power. In well-functioning democratic systems, there is more openness and accountability. At the end of the day, reality kicks back. You can’t live forever in a world where truth is unspeakable. Even in a flawed and troubled democracy like the US today, it is still possible to criticize the government without fear, and to access a diverse range of accurate information and opposing opinions. These are not rights accorded to the people of China.

Theseus put it well in Euripedes’ Suppliant Women:

There’s no heavier burden for a city to bear than a monarch. To begin with, a city like that has no laws that are equal to all of its citizens. It can’t. It is a place where one man holds all the laws of the city in his own hands and dictates them as he wants. What then of equality? Written laws, however, give this equal treatment to all, rich and poor. If a poor man is insulted by a rich one, then that poor man has every right to use the same words against that rich man. The poor can win against the rich if justice is on his side.

The essence of freedom is in these words: “He who has a good idea for the city let him bring it before its citizens.” You see? This way, he who has a good idea for the city will gain praise. The others are free to stay silent. Is there a greater exhibition of fairness than this?

No, where the people hold the power, they can watch with great enjoyment the youth of their city thrive. Not so when there is a single ruler. He hates that. The moment he sees someone who stands out in some way, he becomes afraid of losing his crown and so he kill him.

So how could a city possibly flourish like that? How could it grow in strength when someone goes about culling its bright youth like a farmer goes about cutting off the highest tips of his wheat during Spring?

Why would anyone want to bother with wealth and livelihood for his boys if it will all end up in the ruler’s hands? Or his girls. Why bother raising sweet daughters in your house if they, too, will end up with the ruler, whenever he wants them, leaving you with tears of sorrow? I’d rather die than have my daughters dragged against their will into a wedding bed!


It is a difficult area, and I don’t have any answers. I see this kind of argumentation as a form of sealioning:

The problem is, there is a spectrum between deliberate bad-faith engagement, simple delusion and misunderstanding, and genuinely diverse opinions in a complex matter. It’s not always easy to know where a given poster falls, and harder still to draw the cutoff line.

Personally, I try to at least present reliable facts, not so much for the sealioner, but for others reading who may not be well-informed and may take authoritative-sounding sources on face value. It’s important to learn about what sources are reliable and why. But at the same time, not to get drawn into an endless debate, which is pointless.

And also note the ultimate success of derailing techniques, as evidenced by the fact that the question for this thread is an extremely serious, existential problem demanding genuine responses on both factual and emotional levels. I tried to give a genuine answer to the question, one that engaged thoughtfully with the important issues. Yet here we are, discussing how to have a discussion. What a waste of an opportunity. Again.

Anyway, to return to some of the more interesting questions that have been neglected:

Well, there are plenty of such descriptions in mythological or cosmological texts, including Buddhist ones. If the question is about samsara as a whole, then yes, it will go on. Worlds, even the whole universe, can end, and the cycle starts again.

On a smaller scale, there have been many instances of civilizational collapse due to environmental destruction; it is a regular feature of human societies. But there’s nothing that really compares to today’s global crisis.

Human beings are resilient and highly adaptable, and I guess we’ll go in some form. There are so many unprecedented variables that it’s ultimately a bit of a guessing game.

For myself, I believe that the immediate cause of the problem is industrialization, and the outcome will be a return to a pre-industrial state. That would mean the loss of billions of lives, and the disappearance of the technologies and material culture that we know today. I imagine that the village will survive, and maybe some towns, but few if any cities and nations.

That’s just a guess: it could be better or it could be worse. Obviously the less damage we do starting from today the better the prognosis for the future.

Don’t be torn! If you are wondering about the best way to be generous, you’re doing great already!

In one sutta, the Buddha’s answer to this question was, “give where your heart feels inspired”. And that seems like pretty sound advice.

Giving is ultimately an expression of the human spirit. It is good, in and of itself. So give, and don’t worry too much about the best place to give.

Having said which, I believe that Buddhism, with its emphasis on renunciation and spiritual happiness, offers a set of values and practical application of those values that shows there is another way. It’s a shame that many Buddhists don’t see that connection, so maybe think about supporting Buddhist organizations that have a strong environmental ethic.


Yeah, thanks for this graphic. It highlights the real problem (in any system of government) which is corruption. The scientific community and majority of the public agree on the seriousness of climate change. If an aristocratic, technocratic government were truly run by experts or if a democracy were truly responding to its citizens we would have climate action either way.


For sure. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but maybe it’s like two different forms of greed: greed for political power and social status in autocracies and greed for raw wealth in capitalist democracies.

And that brings up the question: what about greed? Thomas Friedman isn’t someone I turn as an authority, but he does a great job of locating exactly where the American political center is (with a 5% deviation to the left or right depending on the year), and then inhabiting it and expressing it pithily. He has a clever line here:

But which Green New Deal? Mine is focused on innovation. I believe there is only one thing as big as Mother Nature, and that is Father Greed — a.k.a., the market. I am a green capitalist. I think we will only get the scale we need by shaping the market.

That’s pretty much the consensus in the fully developed world. Corruption has to be weeded out, but assuming that can get done, markets must then to be harnessed in the solution to the trilemma of climate change, poverty and energy security, and so does technology – in a major way.

The question coming up for me in the discussions on this particular forum is whether it is just wishful thinking that markets and technology (a.k.a. capitalism and industry) could actually contribute meaningfully to solutions.


What is “this” in this sentence?

Haha! This line of argument is similar to the one I see back where I am from (Brazil) which has seen a relevant chunk of its original forests and bushland burnt and replaced with farmland over the last few decades, as shown in the link below:

So, the thing is that the more you burn and devastate the less is left to burn further isn`t it?Hence, the greater the devastation the better the statistics get with time. If the trend is maintained there will be a point in which no further burn will be reported, as at that point there will be not forest or bushland left to burn! :sweat_smile: :man_shrugging:

I edited the post. I hope it is clear now!

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Indeed no, this is a list of the acreage burned from the US government.

Yes I agree with both of these statements. I’m just trying to neutralize the prejudice towards authoritarian system and simply saying they too might help in this environmental issue. There is no benefit at all excluding them simply because of their system.

But is this the condition in China? I believe this is a skewed view towards their system. Instead an example I can give that exactly this is happening today in a democratic government is the case of Julian Assange. The elites in USA doesn’t like him for exposing war crimes and they try so hard to kill him, slowly but precise. He is an australian citizen by the way, but I don’t see them doing much. Moreover it seems western mainstream medias too are trying to keep this major violation on free speech hidden. Excerpt from the article:

Among the most important documents shared by WikiLeaks were the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs, which revealed war crimes including mass killing of civilians, extrajudicial killing, torture, corruption, and other crimes and abuses committed by U.S. and coalition forces and the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2010 WikiLeaks also released the infamous “Collateral Murder” video, which shows U.S. Army attack helicopter crews joking and laughing while massacring Iraqi civilians—including two journalists—and shooting children and first responders.

“I have also observed that those who have been party to exposing them have been and continue to be themselves threatened and criminalized,” Ellsberg added, a likely reference to other whistleblowers targeted by the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations, including Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Jeffrey Sterling, and Reality Leigh Winner.

I cried when seeing the video of that Collateral Murder. It’s just beyond me how could a human killed another one and joked about it like some kind of game. Might this happen in China? Sure. So back again with my point that the system doesn’t mean much. The difference is only between one ruler with an agenda and many elites with an agenda. Let’s hope their agenda is environment sustainability.

In Indonesia, I believe there are not much people know about climate change. I’m not even sure whether many people know that Jakarta is sinking. One simple example is that the project to move capital city to Kalimantan was not based on the consideration that Jakarta is sinking. It’s all an economic endeavor. So there are not much climate denialist here, as they don’t even know about it to begin with. Education about environmental issue might be the key, but poverty, yes poverty is the biggest hindrance. People don’t care about any issue if they are barely eating. Thus the government eyes are fixed in solving this issue first and foremost. But corruption slows it down. A bad cycle.

Indeed, and as I said, for this we need all hands on deck.

As a general rule, the Buddha’s approach with governments was not that they all must have one ideal system, but that within the system they have, people should behave with integrity.

What can I say? I agree, Assange has been thrown under a bus, and the behavior of the Australian Government has been disgraceful. I don’t really want to defend the actions of any of these parties, but at the same time, I’d still a thousand times rather live in a democracy.

That’s so sad.

On my last trip to Jakarta, I talked about this with some of the people there, and they knew what was happening; but what to do? We can imagine the end of the world, but we can’t imagine a government that works well and honestly for its people.


Thanks for the data. Gabriel’s point may be partially correct, though. These figures are opaque in terms of where the fires were taking place and what their cause was. Some of that excess acreage may have been land-clearing. The plains were still be settled back in the 1920s. Also, I noted the paragraph at the top of the chart:

The National Interagency Coordination Center at NIFC compiles annual wildland fire statistics for federal and state agencies. This information is provided through Situation Reports, which have been in use for several decades. Prior to 1983, sources of these figures are not known, or cannot be confirmed, and were not derived from the current situation reporting process. As a result the figures prior to 1983 should not be compared to later data.

That change in data sources appears to be the reason the number fires goes from 100,000+ in 1982 and less than 100,000 thereafter. Obviously, the older data is different. Also look at the notes. Those older numbers don’t include all 50 states until 1966, and the totals are nicely rounded. So, I wonder about data quality on the really old numbers that are so large.

All of that said, then, we probably should be looking at what’s happening in the past decade or two, when climate change began to be noticeable in the US, and say the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a clearly deteriorating situation. Even with all the resources we throw at wildfires in the US, it’s getting markedly worse.

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I suspect that you are right that we have better data now, but the point that the earlier data didn’t include all 50 states would mean that earlier number understated the problem. I threw the data over the last 20 years into a spreadsheet so we could see if there is a pattern.