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Joshua Spodek


Social changes having happened in my lifetime such as wearing seat belts and public smoking tell me it's possible here. I created the Leadership and the Environment podcast http://joshuaspodek.com/podcast to help with the third pillar in a way you didn't mention (still supporting the other pillars).

Changing the behavior of people on the scale of nations and the planet means leadership. I believe a leverage point of systems of environmental behavior is the behavior of existing leaders -- that is, people skilled and experienced at leading others. They're generally not scientists, professors, and legislators, but people who lead businesses, celebrities, athletes, performers, and such. Think Oprah, LeBron, Elon, and others that hundreds of millions of people know and follow.

If they don't change, people who feel "I want to change but if others don't, my change won't matter" will keep feeling that way since their roles models aren't changing. That is, Google may make itself carbon neutral, but if Google's 3 Top Executives Have 8 Private Jets (see https://techcrunch.com/2011/12/11/googles-3-top-executives-have-8-private-jets), people will aspire to be like them.

One of my goals is to lead leaders at leverage points to change, to help people start to feel, "Sergey and Larry [or whoever] changed. I can too." They may feel meaning, purpose, and community replace guilt.

Then people may change their behavior, support legislation as you described above, and so on -- that is, cultural change.

This is the tip of the iceberg of the podcast and its goals. More than followers, I hope to find more leaders to create podcasts to reach audiences I don't with leaders in other areas: Leadership and the Environment [X], where X can be Europe, Africa, Silicon Valley, Elderly, Younger, Women, etc.

I don't mean to promote, but I believe this is a useful approach, just starting, and that listening will reveal more than I can describe here.




“ the results of behavioural change policies have been disappointing so far. What people do is also conditioned, facilitated and constrained by societal norms, political institutions, public policies, infrastructures, technologies, markets and culture. In fact, by placing responsibility – and guilt – squarely on the individuals, attention is deflected away from the many institutions involved in structuring possible courses of action, and in making some very much more likely than others. behaviour is just the “tip of the iceberg”, and the effects of intervening in behaviour are limited accordingly. “

Welcome to “The Matrix”, where we are simply a power plant to keep the system operational and sustain it, while being played by whatever Programs the computers unleash on us. And not the opposite, where we dictate the Programs to be used on the system.

Good examples:

1. identical chocolate pralines made in two separate plants, one in the UK and one in France. Only difference: the packaging of the identical chocolate pralines. Both are sold in the UK and in France, to attract local French consumer to ‘upscale’ British chocolate, and attract local British consumers to French ‘upscale’ chocolate, to sell more of the identical stuff. Each needs transportation, supplementary storage facilities, etc in the other country, extras that are using up more resources from our planet, while each British and French consumer is basically sucking on the identical same chocolate pralines, that’s made much farther away than the local plant next door.

2. German poly-tic-ians deciding overnight to close all nuclear plants to pander to their electors, and replace them with natural gas power plants as backup for to be built intermittent wind turbine and solar power plants and battery storage systems. Nuclear is very low carbon emitting, while the build up of the renewable energy structure, battery storage and natural gas burning power plant alone will increase manifold the carbon emissions that were avoided by the nuclear plants. “We are green” they say, while the opposite is true, when you look at their current country emission figures, which are exploding upward. They now are spending 3x the money to build it all, a full wind turbine park and a full solar PV park and a full NG plant park to cover their ass, because they still want electricity when the sun is not shining and the wind turbines are standing idle in a hot windless summer night. They German poly-tic-ians also decided to subsidize coal extraction in their country (lignite) for up to € 150 Billion over 50 years, because many electors are working in that sector, and this is political suicide to touch the given subsidies. They then put in place a carbon emission tax to restrain carbon emissions, to look green, while the system is simple transferring cash from one pocket to another, to basically reduce the CO2 emission by zero . . .

3. We now are ‘forced’ to dump our polluting diesel cars and switch to ‘green’ battery powered cars, if you happen to live in a big city that does not have some good metro or bus transportation or bicycling infrastructure in place as replacement for your own car. Making and using the car batteries alone is probably more carbon emitting that all the diesel emissions spewed over the life cycle of the diesel car, if the electricity used to reload the batteries of the electrical car is not sourced from 100% clean non-carbon emitting energy resources, which is the case everywhere in the world excepted in Norway and Iceland, where all the electricity is sourced from hydro power.

4. We are slowly being forced to switch to electrical cars if you want to live in a big city, which won’t be as non-polluting as expected (by far), but long-distance shipping is still burning the most dirty of the petroleum fuel available, unrestricted. The system makes them install scrubbers cleaners, but only if they ship things to the areas who demand such installations, to be allowed access to their ports. One 20 000 container unit mega ship burns as much carbon in one day as 50 million passenger cars in one year, but is allowed to enter the EU or USA if it has a scrubber who’s only job is to neutralise the Nox and other harmful dirts, while the CO2 simply gets exhausted through the chimney. Those ships are also used to transport the containers full of chocolate pralines from the UK to France and back and forth . . .

5. we are sold average priced medium sized cars who can easily attain 180km per hour or much more, but then are not allowed to drive more than 120km per hour or 55 miles per hour on highways, coz it is too dangerous (or whatever excuse). We are driving a big 2000 kg SUV with only one person in it for 30 minutes up to work 30km away and 30 minutes down back home in one day, just because we can and want to show off our social status, compared to the biker on his bicycle living nearby our work location. The behemoth is used one hour and stand idle 23 hours each day, but must be replaced after a few years, because it is by then "out of fashion" and you don't want to be seen alive standing next to such an 'old' car with only a few thousand used kilometers on the dashboard. The higher up in the corporate echelon, the bigger the car must be. No car and the work place is 30 km away ? Good luck getting there with public transportation or by bicycle, unless you want to spend hours each day on the commute, if you don't buy yourself a motorbike or a car . . .

We are still only evolved talking monkeys living on an organic spaceship flying through the universe, and we are really superb at destroying it . . .

The only real Carbon neutral policy would be to only allow ONE child per couple for the next century, in the whole organic spaceship that is our Earth. That would do more to clean it all up, than whatever program the system invents to clean up our world. But to get that program in place, good luck . . .

Janet Wilkie


I subscribed to Low Tech Magazine to get ideas for self sufficiency, and for intellectual stimulation. Up until now, this worked very well.

Totalitarian life control based on the most currect, and endlessly mallleable, ideas is not what I signed up for.

Most of the ideas seem to come from people who live in the cities. No cars? How will the tens of thousands of people who live in my semi-rural location get to work? No meat? Check your ancestry. But one size fits every cultural, regional and genetic situation, so no problem.

And as for Alain's suggestion that a one child policy is a good idea, check the Chinese, who have been doing it for about forty years. Forced sterilizations, forced abortions...and they are abandoning it because their population pyramid is now upside down. Not to mention thirty or forty million excess males. But no problem there either. They can be disposed of in the next war.

I am extremely disappointed in your view that what we need is even more government control of our personal lives. Have you not noticed that government is generally against low tech, off-grid solutions?

Elaine Codling


Very interesting. Systemic change is forbidden ground. The focus is on the individual so that 'the system' (and the political and economic elites that profit from it) gets a free pass.

There are very good proposals such as David Flemming's Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) that incentivize reduced consumption across the board without dictating behaviour or limiting creativity (Lean Logic Chelsea Green 2016). TEQs ration energy based on average consumption and can be bought and sold. Those who use less energy can profit from their excess quota. Energy quotas are reduced annually in a targeted reduction plan that can be staged to speed up as change happens.

The system is elegant, egalitarian, and simple but then that might be the problem.

Keith H. Burgess


Excellent post, thank you. Society needs to change in more ways than one to solve the problems we have, having a totally corrupt to the core government makes this almost impossible.

Regards, Keith.



Perhaps this article should have been subtitled "no man is an island".

An interesting example of the limits of individual action compared to Government action is the UK (actually just in England. Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland had already changed their laws) ban on free plastic carrier bags in shops. For many years people have campaigned against free carrier bags & encouraged people to take their own bags to the supermarket. I've done this myself for over 20 years. A certain amount of change was achieved but what really changed things was a recent change in English law whereby 5p had to be charged for bags.

The number of carrier bags used has plummeted. Bad news for bag producers but good news for the environment.

I think its reasonable to argue that individual action along with the changes implemented by the Scottish & Welsh devolved administrations proved that the sky wouldn't fall in if people re-used carrier bags & so helped build the argument.

As a historical note bags used to be charged for (5p in the 1970s) until sometime in the 1980s I think when technology improved and bags could be made from thinner material.

John Mawhorter


These have been my thoughts exactly, but it's surprising to me that you can write an article like this without using the word capitalism ("dominant economic system") or mentioning the dramatic political actions necessary to overthrow it, without which, as you point out, the challenge of global warming cannot be properly faced. By which I mean revolution. The word social innovation sounds like something Elon Musk would dream up to describe the government paying private corporations to make heaps of money while doing slight amounts of good, innovation is the neoliberal buzzword of the last decade and look how much good that's done us. Nobody's going to finance a startup that blows up all the coal plants, even if it describes itself as a socially innovative and disruptive to the coal industry.

John Mawhorter


I guess I'm saying I agree entirely with your point, but that there is a next step to the argument that is super important and many environmentalists seem to overlook. Systemic change requires massive political upheaval and violence if it's going to happen fast enough to matter. As for Janet, obviously the current government is against decarbonization because it's supported by the oil industry and other large corporations hugely invested in our current infrastructure and the status quo... but how do you expect to regulate and transform our massive energy infrastructure without government... it's not about us vs. them, us being the goody two shoes liberals who drive Priuses and them being those dirty rednecks who drive trucks, most of the carbon as Alain points out comes from industrial transport, manufacture, power generation etc. not from me or you deciding to bike to work (I would point out that in line with the whole point of the article, it is due to a whole century of investment in car-based (ie gasoline based) urban planning and transportation infrastructure development, most Americans even in cities don't have the option of forgoing a car to commute). Don't even get me started on the Great Streetcar Conspiracy (one of the few widely-recognized conspiracies that actually happened and is accepted as true by the courts and historians), where Standard Oil, GM and others bought up all the streetcar lines and let them fail so they could replace them with buses instead. None of these important decisions are made by individuals, the challenge of global warming is a collective challenge that requires collective solutions. If the word collective scares you that's probably a symptom of US culture and education's emphasis on the individual, which is exactly the problem. Also Joshua, name a famous celebrity who started wearing his seatbelt or not smoking that really caused the cultural acceptance of seatbelts and disdain for public smoking... I can't think of one. Enlisting celebrities to help with changing public opinion is all well and good, but you are falling into the exact same individualist trap as the rest. Cigarette taxes, the association of poverty and smoking, and a whole lot of government effort went into making that happen, seatbelts wasn't just laws but auto regulation, people actually realizing they help safety, etc.

Joshua Kaufmann


I wholeheartedly agree with (3), Janet Wilkie,

Localism, direct-democracy local government and low-tech, self-sufficient communities that form local, sustainable economies are the answer to the problem, not more government control and 'green' taxes slapped on by people who haven't got the foggiest when it comes to even the basics of engineering and chemistry.

The promotion of one-child policies in the comments of a low-tech blog surprises me greatly. You do realize that the government is the first to embrace new technology in its ever-growing search for more areas of life to tax and control? License-plate scanning camera's, CCTV all around English cities, electronic voting ... You name it, the government wants it or already has it.



" And as for Alain's suggestion that a one child policy is a good idea, check the Chinese, who have been doing it for about forty years. Forced sterilizations, forced abortions...and they are abandoning it because their population pyramid is now upside down. Not to mention thirty or forty million excess males. But no problem there either. They can be disposed of in the next war. "

Hello Janet,

Hope you are well. A one child policy is the ONLY approach that will get us out of this sustainability issue. All the rest is "fucking around" the core issue.

Every WEEK, 1 500 001 new kids are born on the ONLY home we have (EARTH). What do you propose to do, to stop the ongoing destruction of our ONLY world, knowing what each person requires on a yearly basis to stay alive, and knowing we can't ship them off to Mars or Venus, so we are stuck on Earth all together, with FINITE resources to cater to a constantly growing pile of very hungry folks, that are constantly bombarded with buy this do that messages, to keep the consumerism programs and system in place, coz the current system can't deal with a complete economic collapse ?

All stop breathing for the next 20 minutes ?

I personally am old enough to not worry about that end scenario, and given that I haven't any kids on my own (officially), my slate is "clean".

Before you "fight" back, know that I am a white male European that was born and grew up in Black Africa, saw there back then what a 15 million people "town" means, and I am now living in Europe (not in a big city), drive a small 16 years old diesel VW golf with only 150 000 km on the dashboard, coz I use my bike and my legs a lot to shop around nearby. I paid to get solar PV panels put on my home roof, supplying my very well insulated home with sun generated electricity since 2011, paid for a 10 000 Liters (4000 Gallon) buried rain water storage tank, has also a water well, both used constantly, to reduce city water use to the max, no need to flush toilets and do your laundry, and spray the vegetables with city water, huh . . .

I now eat 100% vegetarian coz of cholesterol health issues in the past, meat also requires 7x the energy to be grown compared to a similar protein intake sourced from plants, per equal protein weight unit. Yes, I can understand you crave your hamburgers. Me too, but they were killing me slowly but surely. That's why I switched to nuts, olive oil and other fat containing but healthy food items. Lost 25kg / 50 pound in excess body fat in the process, and my heart beat went from over 70 to under 60 beat per minute, while my shopping bill decreased nicely too.

As far as the Chinese are concerned, well their poly-tic-ians did more to save our earth than whatever other nationality poly-tic will ever do. How they did it is very very open for discussion, but what can you expect from a top to bottom ruling system, that didn't supply any birth control pills to their ladies, coz it were all males on the top who did take the decisions, and they were only concerned with avoiding yet another revolution or famine, hence the birth controls using "any" blunt means available ...

And with this I will end my reply additions to this blog comment section, coz I won't be able to do more than swipe before my door, try to think for myself instead of swallowing whatever message is issued by the system programs, through all the media channels we are constantly exposed to.

Having done as much as I can already within my very limited means, this is the end of the subject as far as I am concerned. I wish you a good buy, Janet.

Kind regards,


Brian Young


I agree that individual actions are not enough to avert disaster - that approach inevitably means too little too late. We know that human population coupled with runaway capitalism/consumerism looks pretty well unstoppable or would take strife-filled decades to turn around.
Basically there are just too many people heedlessly pursuing what seemed like a good idea once upon a time.

This is also a problem that can't fully be addressed by government policy, regulation, social engineering or changes in attitude ("nudging" via incentives is one of the approaches often discussed).
Even under the most dictatorial kind of world government, slowing the advance of global warming would require a Stalinesque imposition of austerity where humanity would be reduced to lives of minimal activity and impact. Wonder how that would work out?

I think we're looking at the problem from the wrong perspective.
WE are the problem.
The dreadful corollary is that we can't of our own volition and action "solve" US.
The Chinese had an inkling of this when they imposed the one child policy 40 years ago - with its unintended consequences. If we had started the much vaster and more unthinkable project of dealing with our wasteful lifestyle back then, we might not be in such a pickle today, but I doubt the situation would be much less severe.

Global warming as measured by atmospheric CO2 has been building for centuries and accelerating exponentially in the last 30 years. The elastic nature of the change will mean it will continue and worsen for decades or centuries to come, even if we could stop our GHG emissions tomorrow. (Don't forget that about 1/4 of the CO2 load on the planet over the last decade has been absorbed by the oceans. They have a finite capacity to deal with this rapid increase and have suffered greatly from it. Think food chain, if dying coral reefs don't touch you.)

In short the problem for life on our planet isn't global warming.
The problem is us.
Human population has doubled since 1970.
The "solution" to the "problem of us" is already in gear and it's not a pretty one.
The solution is global warming itself.
And we know that will not have the same impact on everyone everywhere, but all of us will suffer.

So, of course we must continue to aggressively seek out and engage in the many solutions that human ingenuity, science and society, and just plain luck come up with: conversion to solar and other sources of renewable energy, changes in personal transportation, living locally and, dare I say, modestly, investing in the commons, respect for human rights, supporting those most severely affected by droughts, floods, food scarcity, etc., etc. It might even be that we can slow down the rate of change wrought by our accustomed lifestyle and the global economy - a least we can convince ourselves that this is possible.

And yet as time passes, the harshest of the conditions we experience this year will seem mild in retrospect. The increased stresses, deprivations and outright disasters are going to happen to more and more areas of the planet. And so, it is how we react to these changes that will be a test of our character, our mettle, our humanity. We need to prepare ourselves to face worsening conditions not competitively but with compassion for each other and most importantly with plans for sustaining what remains of life on our planet.
The alternative is too dreadful to contemplate.



What is wrong with eating meat? We have been eating it for millennia and it is sustainable assuming it is a pastured meat, not a factory one. Ruminants make soil and when pastured lead to CO2 sequestration in the soil.

Migrant Worker


Janet Wilkie, most ideas come from people who live in the cities simply because most people actually live in the cities. There is no need to be upset about mathematics.

Also, if there are no solutions for rural problems then surely you can get rich by providing one, eh? ;)

Göran Rudbäck


the climate scare for ruminant meat is due to a mixup of the concepts of "addings" and emissions. In a continuous production of ruminant meat, there are no Carbon Equivalents. CE's are, due to the construction of the concept of Radiative Forcing, and therefore Global Warming Potential, only applicable to what is added, that is, increases of the amount of the GHG in question in a more or less permanent way. The methane from a constant sized, continuous production of ruminant meat - or swamps for that matter - does not give an increase the amount of atmospheric methane on a yearly basis, because of the atmospheric short lifetime of methane and the continouity of the meat production. A one-off increase of meat production will yield an increase of methane emissions, and that increase is measurable in CE's for some decades, but not the emissions as a whole.
Of course you can convert the emissions of ruminant methane to Carbon Equivalents, but that figure will have nothing to do with the actual climate effect of ruminants. So, the demonization of ruminant meat is due to a flawed use of Carbon Equivalents, not its actual climate effect.



Re: overpopulation

When we don't address this issue, those of us who push our lifestyles very far down the resource ladder are just creating a resource niche that will be filled by another human. An eventual climate refugee, perhaps, banging on the door of our peaceful low-tech communities. What do we do then?

We may not like government meddling in such a sensitive area, but honestly when your options are waiting for everyone to take the high road or waiting for half the human population to be wiped out by war or some kind of environmental catastrophe, how good are those "choices"?



I am going to echo some of Janet Wilkie's points above.

Central planning by green technocrats sounds about as likely to succeed as every other authoritarian good intentions scheme that's been tried over the past couple of centuries, that is, there's zero chance.

It's an enduring delusion that government and politicians or other similar institutions and people are going to carry out your good intentions. "No we just need ~good~ politicians in charge." Then, "Oh crap. They're crooks" Again and again.

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