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This is the December 2015 site
that was set up to second climate negotiators
seeking a 1.5ºC limit to manmade global warming.
It remains for the most part relevant, since the “Paris Suicide Pact”
has achieved little other than affirm a symbolic consensus,
confuse actors, and demobilize public pressure.
The “well below 2ºC” goal agreed to is not merely aspirational:
it endorses de facto and de jure levels of carbon emissions
expected to make catastrophic climate change unstoppable.

COP21’s unofficial 2°C target is poised to legally
program an unrecognized “climate apocalypse”.

The alternative is a 1°5C limit to manmade global
warming …for which conditions are also set.

Especially: a safe future can be ensured at the stroke of a pen,
with a tool that pins global choices in the geophysical conditions of
climate stability. Science's sanction of a safe climate is peremptory
…and makes all political disagreements irrelevant or suicidal.
There is one number that will determine the shape of the future:
the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
It is the only relevant issue. All others only matter
insofar as they sustain the decisive condition
for the continuity of civilization.


or IN-DEPTH 15-PAGE BRIEFING (click individual + )

Alfredo L de Romaña

Most scientists and most countries opt for a 1.5°C limit to global warming above pre-industrial levels. But you would never guess it from the echo chamber of politicians and activists who repeat the 2°C mantra, that is still being relayed by uninformed journalists. Even some scientists join the herd to parrot the political goal, incognizant of the consequences of the false scientific sanction that they lend to a misconstrued and unwittingly dangerous target.

  • Since 2008, perhaps the most prominent climate scientist (with a particularly strong record of prophetic insight), ‘James Hansen has declared the goal of keeping warming at 2°C “a recipe for global disaster”' 1.
  • By 2011, ‘Most leading climate scientists […] believe[d] that 2°-C of warming would pose a substantial risk both because of its direct impacts on climatically sensitive Earth systems and because of the potential to trigger irreversible changes in those systems,’ according to a report by Professor Clive Hamilton from Melbourne University.2

    The question is: are the scientists mentioned a marginal group among humanity’s best informed and thus best qualified opinion? Or are they a major, let alone dominant current in the profession? Can we even afford not to know?

Because climate science has been framed by political norms, nobody has formally reckoned what the majority of scientists think a “safe” temperature would be. No more than a guestimate is possible. But the scientists’ subjective assessment of how climate dynamics will play out constitutes our best available knowledge, and indispensable if we are to successfully cope with the challenge. For only an aggregate scientific assessment can incorporate the “known unknowns,” as we shall see, that have so far been left out of the picture on whose basis policy is made.

  • List of the 105 countries on record for supporting 1.5°C limit to global warming (mostly African, Central American, Small Island States, climate vulnerable, and least developed countries: the victims of industrialized countries’ pollution, that are discounted because they have no economic or military power to wield in the geopolitical chessboard).

    BREAKING NEWS - 06/12/15: Now they count with the support of Australia, Germany, as well as France, that supports it “if possible.”)

    Like others, François Hollande is clearly unaware that he is offering support to preserve the continuity of civilization if possible.

    The unawareness or silence of major players in the basic climate stakes at play in the choice of a warming limit is alarming.

    The threat is simply not in their radars, which are calibrated to register the social (economic, political and technological) aspects of climate change, not nature’s dynamics. The invisibility of nature becomes apparent when even the Global Carbon Project's focus is on fossil fuel emissions (i.e. human action), and only peripherally of that other key component of the global carbon cycle: land use and land use change (i.e. human interaction with nature).

    The climate challenge has been framed by a combination of geopolitical considerations (concerned with maximizing access to resources to sustain “vital interests”), of economic cost-benefit analyses (of investment in clean ways to avoid destruction) and of technological fixes (mostly to secure carbonless energy): the geophysical dynamics revealed by climate science have been the last consideration. And they have been filtered by the lenses of convenience —national self-interest and even collective global interest—, forgetting the independence of Nature’s processes, that are barely in the picture.

    As climate disruption and its prevention break their way into social life, however, nature irrupts into human consciousness. To such a degree, indeed, as to completely transform our worldview. For if the scope of awareness and the required reconversion are to be commensurate with the scale of the survival challenge, the process can take a generation to be fully integrated. But it starts instantly with the crises we suddenly see coming or even unfolding.

    Nature is not in modern civilization’s organizing vocabulary: it is at best a resource. Only recently has modern man’s consciousness recognized it as our habitat. With the radical existential threat posed by catastrophic climate change, it is set to irrupt into our political imagination, economic equations, and cultural sensibilities.

    The threat of cataclysmic climate disruption is so unprecedented in scope, reach and depth, that as François Hollande himself once whispered, it ushers in no less than “a crisis of civilization that dares not speak its name.

So why is everybody talking 2°C ?

Almost every government and scientific academy agrees that we should not exceed 2°C warming over the pre-industrial average temperature. So what is the problem with 2ºC, you might ask?

Well, first, that it is a social norm, as we shall see, not a critical geophysical threshold –it has been politically, not scientifically construed. This is the result of the conventional reading of climate, which derives from the modern understanding of what the world is and what it should be, respectively embodied in science and politics. Its roots are deep: they lie in the positivist conceptual distinction between facts and values —of positive and normative judgement, description and prescription/evaluation, or, more simply, between the true and the good. And science being at the service of human action, it is politics that calls the shots. Scientists thus take political preferences as the given norm. The problem is that Nature doesn’t obey human preferences —earthquakes can’t be banned. Descartes’s vision of humans “like masters and possessors of nature,” that has driven and still drives human organization, crumbles in the face of climate change.

Second, the political choice is only the lowest common denominator of opinion —like saying that people need four hours of sleep: most may need more, but a few need only 4 hours.

The third reason for the 2°C chorus is political expediency. Since current “free pollution” policies are committing us to at least a 4°C world, panicked observers are demanding action —any action— so everyone insists on a 2°C limit to man-made global warming: because all have agreed to this, saying 2°C ensures that no one will start objecting to the political watchword. As everyone repeats what others say, an echo chamber of groupthink creates the impression of solid agreement on the 2°C limit. In a word, much of it is parroting the current political unanimity derived from hearsay (because they don’t themselves know the issues), not necessarily the temperature the majority prefers, let alone a safe temperature.

And perhaps most seriously, as we shall see: world scientists, economists and managers —and the political representatives they inform— do not see how to reduce emissions fast and drastically enough without causing wide social dislocations. Forget the upbeat promises of politicians, publicists and cheerleaders –those who look at the hard numbers know better. Hence, the polite caveat “if possible.” If even the 2ºC goal is so hard to meet, the reasoning goes, any talk of 1.5º seems pointless.

The problem is that nature does not care whether humans are or are not able to eliminate GHG emissions before these trigger irreversible processes that devastate the world. So we are suppodely impotent to avoid catastrophe.

The good news is that not only the scale of the climate threat (and thus of the required reorganizational challenge) have been underestimated; so have available —tried and tested— solutions, beyond the alternative energy systems that are already being deployed. This is crucial, for in social action it is solutions that often define the problem, rather than the other way around: a 2ºC rather than a 1.5ºC limit to global warming is being touted because few if any informed observers deem 1.5º to be technically feasible.

But as we shall see at the end of this “extended briefing,” absence of a solution does not mean it doesn’t exist. Only that it is probably not where we have been looking. For it is emerging in a different part of the world, indeed in a different world ...that gives us a glimpse of a safe future and of a “post-industrial” civilization rooted in the land.

But the scale of the threat at 2ºC explains why Cristiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, once explicitly warned that "If we are not headed to 1.5°C we are in big, big trouble."

Two years after the 2°C target was adopted, Cristiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), declared that "Two degrees is not enough – we should be thinking of 1.5C. If we are not headed to 1.5C we are in big, big trouble."

Why has she since dropped the issue, when her job is to protect a livable climate: to preserve the future —not to endorse whatever politicians come up with, even if it amounts to the “suicide pact” against which Ban Ki-moon once warned us while calling for “revolutionary thought” and “revolutionary action” to avert disaster ?

  • (hypothesis 1)

    The lenses of institutional analysis point to an obvious suspect. The social role of both Cristiana Figueres and Ban Ki-moon is to foster accord: a kind of power protocol job that has habituated them to find and articulate consensus. After a lifetime of consensus-seeking habits, skills and views, this becomes second nature —it is only a small exaggeration to say that they are programmed for it.

    The problem with any consensus-based organization arises when consensus –or worse, unanimity– requires the blessing of the ignorant, retarded or mentally deranged, of opportunists, profiteers or thieves, or of self-serving bullies. Spelling out the common good then requires calling and marginalizing the causes of disorder. The problem thus becomes unsolvable for anyone formatted to seek and endorse the approval from the causes of disorder. In plain English: when defining safe pollution levels requires the approval of the polluters who stand to lose billions of dollars, their role is, well, doomed. In this protocol post —lacking executive capacity, armies, appropriate budgets, or even a vote on issues— one would have to be a magician.

    But do they fully realize the power they have as symbols of human purpose? It is chemically pure cultural power: no more —but also no less— than a rostrum for humanity’s voice. That power is apparent in what would be just about the only thing they could actually do in the scenario where the drama is playing out: the shockwaves from their boisterous resignation over anything beyond a 1.5° norm, say, or even better, beyond an independent panel of scientists. For that would propel climate awareness from the periphery into mainstream political discourse. Questions concerning the substance or structure of inter-national relations indeed lie beyond their procedural mandate. But the core of this mandate is a safe temperature. Which changes everything.

    Such a coup de théâtre would bring Nature to the scene, that the Parties forgot to invite to the negotiations. It reminds everybody of the common purpose that they are there to fulfil to begin with, while disallowing the causes of its disruption.

    Habituated to power, political representatives from around the world forget that Nature does not negotiate, let alone comply with the wishes of Power, or even of a unanimous Humanity. They might as well outlaw earthquakes

    Of course, nobody in his or her right mind would bet on some resounding gesture or declaration —a “clear message” in the lingo— that propels the spread of awareness: that’s the stuff of which heroes are made, not civil servants. You can’t expect that from mortals like the rest of us. Then again, one never knows what “hero within” might suddenly awaken…

  • (Hypothesis 2):

The 2ºC “guardrail” convened in Copenhagen 2009, first conjectured in 1975, was adopted by EU policy in 1996 on the basis of its human impacts. What few know is that

  1. Climate science has since revised this impact significantly upward. But the additional threat is not generally known because the scientific revision was deliberately shrouded by political actors, that scientists even denounced publically (see below)
  2. Human impacts have nothing to do with the decisive geophysical factor: the self-accelerating natural feedbacks that, past clearly identified but ill-measured tipping points beyond which cumulative emissions are expected to trigger “runaway” global warming. Although this would devastate civilization (see below), they have been ignored because they remain inadequately quantified: the resulting uncertainty has sanctioned inaction by uninformed, irresponsible or impotent political leaders wary of compromising the sources of the energy that drives modern economies.

The most polluting countries have continued their leisurely emission reduction timetables because they imagine that the human impacts at 2ºC will devastate mostly the economically and geopolitically weakest countries, which are least responsible for climate disruption. But a reading of its geophysical consequences shows that the self-serving calculus can be expected to backfire, as they mean wholesale devastation and common ruin.

COP21’s current 2°C target is a minimal and fragile consensus possible only in a context of widespread ignorance. It has not been wrought to protect the integrity of the habitat, but by rationales (and the narratives that express them) needed to maximize tolerable carbon emissions from the fossil fuels that have powered modern civilization.

Once well-accepted but dispersed and discounted (indeed concealed) knowledge spreads sufficiently, the 2°C target will inexorably be revised.

The only question is whether this will happen on time to trigger a reaction commensurate with the scale of the threat and of the organizational challenge it poses.


1. Collective awareness

If climate change were constantly in the infosphere, and you are like most people, your opinion about its importance and urgency would probably change.

To a large degree, in other words, individual opinion (and knowledge) relies on collective opinion (and knowledge).

Widely spread individual opinion acquires politically operative force in its mutually recognized expressions: not only when you know and I know something, but when we both know that the other one knows. Collective manifestations of popular preferences such as demonstrations, polls, the media, elections or popular petitions, but also science (the collective expression of learned opinion), are such forms of public knowledge and opinion ...the basis of policy and law as much as of inherited institutions –as well as of policy and institutional change.

Mainstream media have long served as such 1) vehicles and 2) expressions of collective awareness (“public opinion”): they not only inform and thus guide peoples’ and politicians’ views of the world, but express the consensus of a society, their “social acceptability.”

This highlights two social dysfunctions. The first is mental inertia —few professions are so aligned along hearsay and "consensus" as journalism. But when facing a systemic problem, that by definition can only be solved with a new consensus, a system wired to express and sustain a maladapted or dysfunctional consensus is rigged to shroud the problem. The second and more serious dysfunction is manipulation. If a society's collective communications deliberately black out an issue from the infosphere, as we shall see has been the case with climate, ideological- and interest-driven agendas will not only succeed in shaping politics, if only temporarily: they will also prove socially dysfunctional. For by fostering ignorance of the climate threat and challenge –that without drastic and rapid reductions in carbon emissions, the devastation of civilization is our most likely prospect– they in effect fuel the threat.

Mainstream media, in short, have been neither informing nor reflecting public opinion –and have thus become a major factor of unawareness. But that will not stop the climate change that such behavior ultimately fuels from eventually bursting into social reality.

The only question is not if  but  when  wide awareness will rule: will it be on time to avert catastrophe?

2. Individual awareness

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Abraham Lincoln

This site underscores two things above all:

1) COP21 is using a temperature limit determined wrongly on the basis of its human impacts (which are generally presumed to mostly devastate economically and geopolitically weak countries), instead of the geophysical processes —the tipping points that threaten to devastate civilization—, which will lead to common ruin.

2) The only way to incorporate the “known unknowns” into the relevant decisions is through a standard institutional mechanism: an independent panel of scientists to determine a “safe carbon budget” under conditions of uncertainty.

A distorted —and suicidal— consensus

ARM YOURSELF WITH KNOWLEDGE to navigate the confusion, avoid the manipulation, and overcome the impotence that follow from an inadequate understanding of the climate’s challenge to civilization. Meaningful and effective action begins with VISION. And this, with awareness of the environmentally, economically, politically and culturally decisive factors –and of the distortions that cloud them:

Mainstream politics, media and politically framed science, in short, are all aligned around a dangerous level of man-made global warming.

Such systematic obfuscation is not the result of some mega-conspiracy. It follows from the natural vocation of any established order to perpetuate itself: it is the result of its normally healthy social inertia.

The problem arises when the prevailing social order must rapidly face an existential threat for which it is ill-prepared, or somehow riddled with a systemic dysfuntion: when partial reform is not enough to ensure the social system’s continuity —as when it needs to eliminate over 80% of its energy sources overnight, historically speaking. In a systemic shifts, like that needed to avert dangerous climate change, a very different dynamics comes into play: it implies a “transition” (into a new “system,” based on a new consensus), which presumes the prior collapse of the "old" consensus (which itself only occurs after a long period of slow erosion and discredit), so a new emerges from beyond the dysfunctional system’s radars, typically with the eruption of a repressed factor.


Disconcerted by the multiplication of political aberrations,
the spread of blatant abuse, and repeated failure of attempts at reform?
No social order implodes before a period of hubris,
spreading discredit and slow erosion of legitimacy —until...

What is already plain for some,
at one point suddenly becomes obvious for most. […]
Like other widely shared insights, the popular imagination flips.
Major institutions unexpectedly lose all respectability,
legitimacy, and their reputation for serving the public good.
This is what happened to the Roman Catholic Church in
the Reformation and to the French monarchy in 1793.
Overnight, the unthinkable becomes obvious."

Ivan Illich, La convivialité (Paris: Seuil, 1973; p 148, my paraphrase)

As noted, the UN Environment Program has pointed to the alarming discounting of methane from melting permafrost in standard IPCC scenarios.

But this is only one of several tipping points that lurk in nature. The key remaining climate uncertainties concern less their existence than their speed, strength and "timing": they derive mostly from identified but not fully or robustly measured reactions of the planet, given the complex dynamics of global warming. And here, uncertainty is no reason for inaction, as we can only have certainty once it’s too late to avert it.

UNEP: Policy implications of Warming Permafrost

There are two kinds of irreversible processes:

    1) habitat-weather impacts and

    2) self-accelerating global-warming feedbacks (and their impacts).

They are best discerned as, respectively, "catastrophic" and "apocalyptic."
Our challenge thus has two very different aspects:
    1) Managing the inevitable (catastrophes), and
    2) Avoiding the unmanageble (apocalyptic disruptions)

Journalist gets temperature (and its basis) completely wrong, but summarizes our predicament brilliantly —3:02


One major category of tipping points concerns natural processes that could be unstoppable and once set in motion would disfigure the habitat irreversibly but not necessarily trigger self-reinforcing feedback dynamics. They range from the shutdown of the great ocean conveyor belt (the "thermohaline circulation," aka the "Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation," which, e.g., drives the Gulf Stream's warm currents and winds that keep West European winters much warmer than comparable latitudes); to alteration of monsoon systems, or of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation pattern, to destruction of biological ecosystems like coral reefs. Two of these stand out.

The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt — 2:46

  1. Ocean acidification
    –"the other CO2 problem" because it kills marine life (which stocks carbon).

  2.       As oceanic uptake of CO2 dissolves in water, the resulting carbonic acid dissolves shells and skeletons of shellfish, bleaches corals and threatens fisheries, if not most of the food chain.
          When the WWF reports in 2015 of a Crisis in global oceans as populations of marine species halve in size since 1970, it becomes obvious that one of the biggest threats of global warming has long been off our radar screens, which are not calibrated to register natural processes.

Ocean Acidification:the Other CO2 threat — 3:09

      The good news is that this decay is only partly due to global warming, as it can also be traced to 1) overfishing and 2) pollution (e.g. from detergents, fertilizers, or sewage runoffs from land), which are less intractable than CO2 already in the atmosphere.
      Thus "the United Nations estimated in a 2009 report (pdf) that 3 to 7% of current fossil-fuel emissions could be offset in two decades if more action is taken to prevent marine vegetation loss and degradation worldwide."

FAO: Blue Carbon

      The bad news is that overfishing means that humanity will have to stop eating much fish for some time, until the fish stocks replenish, to eventually yield a sustainable flow of seafood. And this is a huge organizational problem, since "nearly 3 billion people rely on marine and freshwater fish as a major source of protein, and 12% global the population rely on fisheries as a livelihood." Despite its scale, however, this is a comparatively "manageable" problem compared to extraction of CO2 fom the atmosphere. Both overfishing and CO2 emissions are typical cases of a tragedy-of-the-unmanaged-commons, that we must now solve at a far vaster (geopolitical) scope than the typically local instances in which we have experience of successful management.

Expansion of World Fishing from 1950 to 2006 — 2:46

  • Sea-level-rise is second major long-term impact that already we have either tipped off or are close to tipping off.

  • SLR is partly due to thermal expansion of the oceans, which is a linear function (which in principle could be eventually reversed by a lower temperature following removal of CO2 from the atmosphere).

    This accounts for at least half of SLR until now, but will only amount to one-third as melting and breakup of the ice-sheets, and the melting away of glaciers, precipitate irreversible processes.

    Worse: SLR is only one impact irreversible in a human time-scale: weather would also be dramatically changed, as superstorms and temperature drops drastically change the habitat at regional scales.

    Long-Term Sea Level Rise after Major Ice-Sheet Ice-Melt: Top 10 Countries in Danger (by population)— 02:51 to → 3 :00

          UPDATE: 22 March 2016

          First, without drastic emission reductions, leading studies are now contemplating "loss of all coastal cities —most of the world's large cities— and all their history" by the early 22nd Century if not before.

          But just as seriously, freshwater from melting ice-sheets could shut down deep ocean circulation and lead to a surge in superstorms in the North Atlantic regions –"all hell would break loose," as James Hansen puts it succinctly.

          At a minimum, this is geopolitically consequential, as it reveals the suicidal backfire of the self-serving relief of those who thought that climate disruption would affect only the weak victims of their pollution.

    Scary science, explained by Dr. Hansen himself— 15 min


    Even if we resign ourselves to losing the coastlines, however, there is another category of climate dynamics that could devastate life on Earth: the self-reinforcing warming feedbacks. We detect these in natural processes that

    Extensive Methane Venting…

     Science: Permafrost Methane

  • reduce the oceans' uptake of atmospheric carbon.
          The threat of ocean acidification has, understandably, diverted attention from the diminishing rate of the oceans' uptake of CO2 as its atmospheric concentration increases. But the "small decline in the rate of increase in the last few decades" suggests this is a comparatively minor concern.

  •  Nature: CO2 uptake by Oceans and Terrestrial Sinks

  • reduce the heat reradiated back into space by reducing the “albedo” (reflectivity) of, e.g., the white-turned-blue Arctic. This may well be one of the highest impact feedbacks if preliminary observations are confirmed.

  •  Arctic Ice Sea Volume 1979-2013

    Greenland Ice Sheet Feedback - Heat Impact — 00:28

  • release methane —as global warming melts

  • the land permafrost   and
  • Permafrost in 53 seconds

    General Introduction — 06:04

    Threshold of the end of civilization: NOT 2ºC — 00:53

    The Arctic Death Spiral
    (yes: including the drama) 12 min

    The State of Things in 2 mins

    Fire on ice - 00:31

  • shallow coastal seas permafrost
                 (both of which are already underway)

  • Plumes of methane bubbling in the Arctic

     Plumes of methane bubbling in the Arctic
  • deep-water seabed methane clathrates: the “clathrate gun” or doom scenario, described below, guestimated to be unlocked at 6ºC— or

    Beyond the life it condemns, the Arctic crisis is the onset of these two powerful feedbacks: its diminishing albedo and the methane that it is releasing.

  • A chilling number — 00:40

  • release extra CO2 —as

  • a. intensifying heatwaves ( by way of example, the 2003 European heatwave not only killed 70,000 people. It also parched plant life, thereby releasing the equivalent of almost 1/12 of the year’s global fossil-fuel emissions



    b. intensifying wildfires

    UPDATE : May 12, 2016
    — Nature’s backlash


    …that most media didn’t mention


  • while the degradation of carbon sinks like the Amazon forest leads to serious reductions in their capacity to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
          The preliminary science on the subject is chilling. An alarming 2009 study predicted a 20-40% die-off of the Amazon at a 2C rise above pre-industrial levels, and 85% at 4C (to which natural feedbacks would propel it).
  • The Amazon will not be burnt down for soya factories, after all, but by fossil fuel polluters. Note the sharper 2009 and 2013 predictions of climate science since the 2006 study. — 01:54

    Although a 2013 study from the same Hatley Centre was far more reassuring, it “does not invalidate [the first study]: Amazon dieback remains a possible scenario of dangerous change that requires further understanding.” In 2015, indeed, a new study confirmed the Long-term decline of the Amazon carbon sink, which in the last decade removed nearly a third less carbon than the previous one. And this is before global warming takes off for real...

    The Amazon: over one half of the planet's remaining rainforests, the most biodiverse
    tract of tropical rainforest in the world, 16,000 species of 390 billion individual trees

    The Amazon: a BBC / National Geographic full documentary. — 01:09.05

    Core reason for protecting the Amazon rainforest — 00:14 to 1m44s

    Two Hadley Centre Studies

    Amazon dieback — Two Studies from the Hadley Centre

    Amazon removing 1/3 less CO2

     Nature: Long-term Decline of  the Amazon Carbon Sink

    Why hydroelectricity, in the Amazon e.g., produces GHG (not only the construction of dams is itself very carbon-intensive) — 01:40

    turn CO2-absorbing into CO2-emitting land

    And, scarier than any of the individual feedback loops

    6. The interactions between feedbacks.

    Don’t laugh: it’s as dreary as it sounds 00:10


    Human emissions propel these natural “slow positive feedbacks,” that boost carbon content in the atmosphere, which fuels more warming, which boosts the feedbacks, which….

    So global warming results from:

    1) Anthropogenic (man-made) carbon x 2) Amplification from natural feedbacks.

    It is this amplification that has not been factored into routine assessments of the “safe carbon budget” available to humanity. If we are to dispel undue risk of triggering what can only be concisely described as climate apocalypse, the amount of fossil fuels that can be burned is even smaller than has been reckoned so far.

    The following video summarizes the full extent of the threat that now looms in the horizon.

    It depicts an extreme case that may not be the most likely —for before reaching 6ºC, “runaway” global warming might stabilize in a plateau at, say, 4ºC—, but which can no longer be excluded.

    There is no single “tipping point,” but several, and the first abrupt acceleration might taper at a point in which it devastates civilization (in an optimist scenario, in which it does not lead to human extinction). Or it might not (stop before 6ºC): if, for example, one tipping point feeds into another. Extinction, in a word, has become a scientific possibility.

    We might be reassured to hear that, according to the IPCC, a long-term temperature rise of 6ºC following the doubling of carbon concentrations normally used as a gauge (Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity) is "very unlikely" –until we learn that this expression has a very specific technical meaning: "up to 10% probability." In other words, according to the scant knowledge we do have, at current rates of emissions (or even much lower rates if we factor in the various feedbacks), we are running a one-in-ten chance of killing off most life on the planet.

    ( A not irrelevant detail in need of correction is that the 97 percent scientific consensus that has gained wide circulation since John Cook et al.’s 2013 paper (pdf), [John Cook, et al., Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, in: Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 8, No. 2 (May 2013) ] only counts scientists who explicitly endorse the anthropogenic source of global warming: including those who endorse it implicitly (and thus believe in it) add up to 99,9 percent, as Professor James Lawrence Powel has noted. (Methodology) ).

    Last Hours (2014) — 11 min.


    Roughly the same message as above, but with zero drama (well explained, but requiring careful listening) …including the chilling detail and number: “if only one percent of the methane embedded in the deep sea were to be released, it would double the amount of methane already in the atmosphere” (NB: the deep sea) :

    The Arctic Methane (2012) 19:35 min


    The conceptual recognition of tipping points outlines the research agenda needed to inform policy on the one factor that will define the shape of the future –atmospheric carbon concentrations– and its normative and managerial implication: the carbon budget required for climate security. This should answer many of the questions raised by the "global carbon management" that decarbonization will require.

    Although the concept of a carbon budget has always been implicit in the temperature limit to manmade global warming, its economic, political and social formulation is comparatively recent. And in some respects it is still in its clarification or formative stage. But it need not have yielded its full potentialities to already be critically useful. Its most elementary application is also the most consequential: a guestimate –or assessment under conditions of uncertainty– of a safe guardrail in cumulative emissions: the sine-qua-non condition for the continuity of civilization.

    The key policy response to the threat of ill-measured tipping points –if only because it would plant the "Carbon Budget" in (geo)political culture– is the creation of an independent Scientific Panel on Critical Cumulative GHG Emissions. It has a strong precedent: the "Abrupt Change Early Warning System" proposed by the US National Academy of Sciences in its 2013 Report on Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises. A "Carbon Budget Panel" could have an analogous structure but a much narrower scope –if far more comprehensive consequences.

    Unless a carbon budget keeps cumulative emissions below a non-self-accelerating threshold, the future is doomed.

    Herein lies the 2°C threat. Given the role of self-accelerating warming feedbacks, 2ºC will only be a signpost on the way to 4°, or even 5° or 6° C, if by the time we reach 2°C we have already triggered the natural feedbacks leading to “runaway” warming.

    The dreaded methane already bubbling from a warming Arctic and permafrost shows that runaway global warming is already being propelled. And beyond certain (clearly identified but not fully measured) “tipping points,” the self-accelerating feedbacks will render it unstoppable.


    The 2°C target can thus be expected (“more probably than not”) to largely disrupt the continuity of life. By ignoring dangerous and well-identified geophysical factors only because science has not fully ascertained them, and to avoid compromising the carbon-dependent economies without which politicians do not know how to ensure social order, COP21’s semi-official target seems poised to legally program the devastation of civilization.

    A "safe" limit to global warming, in short, is a geophysical, not a social norm –whether economic, political or cultural. So it is not for politicians to determine the non-self-accelerating temperature. Not only they have no knowledge of climate dynamics: too many have a solid record of protecting the very destructive polluting ways that need to be discontinued. In decisive instances, officials obstructing climate action are being funded by fossil fuel interests –most notably in the Republican US Congress. More fundamentally, and beyond the question of credibility, those who are equipped to reckon the “known unknowns” and determine the geophysical processes that need to be controlled in order to ensure the continuity of civilization, are not politicos but scientists.


    The geophysically and managerially decisive factor

    COP21 can only become credible and effective if it is equipped with an independent scientific panel that determines a safe temperature in a context of uncertainty: a simple and perfectly conventional procedural tool. Or better still, to spell out the decisive metric into which temperature must be translated: the atmospheric concentration of GHG that scientists expect, with high confidence, not to trigger runaway global warming, and —given a politically-defined level of “acceptable risk”— a safely allowable "carbon budget" (i.e. GHG budget) of cumulative emissions.

    The carbon budget is the geophysically as well as managerially decisive factor, and thus the only metric that in practice matters to ensure climate stability. Although the organizing concept is familiar to some climate professionals, neither has its safe level been specified, nor a proper proposal formulated.

    But it is precisely this goal and metric that have been studiously avoided. The problem, you see, is that a climatologically safe carbon budget raises the geopolitically contentious question of how it is to be allocated. Despite unanimous and strong consensus on "common but differentiated responsibility" as an attribution criterion, a generally acceptable method of translating the ethical agreement in quantitative terms remains almost completely opaque.

    This is partly because countries that stand to lose most have stonewalled discussion (the US negotiator once explicitly said: "If equity is in, we are out"). This was only to be expected from the Realpolitik of nation-states vying for supremacy and resources in the modern Westphalian chessboard, driven by the old knee-jerk nationalist reflexes instilled in habits as much as institutions. Unaware or oblivious of the entirely new nature of the situation, in which pursuit of particular interest leads to common ruin, its expansionary drives keep fueling the reactions and conflict that make the necessarily concerted action impossible. So we keep squabbling while devastation for all looms ever larger, and even begins to unfold. When survival calls for collaboration rather than competition, however, the default stance in international relations dooms us. It is constitutively incompetent: warriors are rarely the best architects --competence in destruction wires nobody for construction, and peace is always constructed.

    For the first time in history, nationalism has become a threat to natural security ...AND VICE-VERSA. For when a threat like climate change can only be dispelled with a concerted effort of historically unprecedented scale, the question of equity becomes central. Without it, no allocation of national allowances (or more generally a Climate Plan) can expect to command the wide support and lasting adhesion that a concerted response requires.

    The impasse, however, is not due only to stupid rivalry. To a significant degree, it derives from the absence of a self-evidently fair allocation criterion. Which is hardly surprising because this is not apparent from the geopolitical, economic, technological and geophysical readings of the climate challenge that have framed the question. It is the lenses of ecological economics, that connects the human and natural spheres, that reveal the tragedy-of-the-commons dynamics at play, that we have learned to handle successfully at the local level. This reading highligts the one certain thing : carbon emissions threaten civilization. And this can only be secured thanks to a carbon budget —whatever its allocation.

    Our geopolitical squabbles, in short, are irrelevant or suicidal: secondary to the condition of survival. We must and can agree first on the geophysical question that will ensure security for all. The distributive questions have solutions that will only be found if sought, and which become apparent when the issue is framed globally rather than "inter-nationally" (i.e. nationalistically).

    IN HIS ENCYCLICAL LAUDATO SI, pdf, online, order paperback, video.

    Pope Francis’s eloquent word-free opinion on climate change





    The only apparent way out

    The world’s political and managerial elites are also aiming at a 2ºC limit to global warming because they do not see how to reduce emissions fast and drastically enough without causing wide social dislocations. If even the 2ºC goal is so hard to meet, the reasoning goes, any talk of 1.5º seems pointless.

    But nature does not care whether humans are or are not able to eliminate GHG emissions before their cumulative levels triggers unstoppable processes that devastate the world: their dynamics will follow her own whims. Not acknowledging this, and setting the bar conviently low enough so we can surmount it, will ensure collective suicide.

    The problem is that, as Marx once observed, “mankind inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve.” Politics cannot raise a problem for which it does not have a “solution.” And insofar as the radars of the overwhelming majority of professionals dealing with the challenge only register conventional solutions inadequate to solve the problem, the task is deemed to be “impossible.”

    The good news is that all fundamental novelty is slow to emerge in consciousness: not only social and environmental perils are routinely underestimated when they first appear (like the scale of the climate threat, and thus of the reorganizational challenge); so are available solutions. It's just that they lie in altogether different places from where we have been looking —and spell not essentially new "technologies," but the methods and ways of a different society, indeed of a different world.

    Because they concern energy, that underlies all activity, these can be catalyzed, and can only be catalyzed at the required scale, with a safe global carbon budget

    The dogmas of the quiet past
    are inadequate to the stormy present.
    The occasion is piled high with difficulty,
    and we must rise with the occasion.
    As our case is new,
    so we must think anew and act anew.
    We must disenthrall ourselves,
    and then we shall save [ourselves]
    Abraham Lincoln

    What is new is not the magnitude, not even the quality,
    but the very essence of the coming rupture in consciousness.
    This rupture is not a break in the line of progress to a new stage;
    it is not even the passage from one dimension to another.
    We can only describe it as a catastrophic break with
    industrial humanity’s image of itself
    .      Ivan Illich, 1999.


    Modern industrial society’s knee-jerk response to global warming is technological —the “green energy” solutions that fill IPCC reports and inspire political cheerleaders of all ideological persuasions. The problem is that in order to sustain modern industrial economies while preserving a climate for life, the solar, wind and geothermal energy that has and can be developed will not suffice to limit cumulative emissions to safe levels. Which is why IPCC scenarios assume that future “negative emissions” will be needed to stay even within the limits of the more generous carbon budgets associated with 2ºC, and ignoring the feedback amplification effects, which need to be reckoned to avoid runaway global warming.

    Significantly, moreover, conventional scenarios count on hypothetical, heroically complicated and expensive “solutions,” that absorb virtually all attention and budgets, to engineer the negative emissions: BECCS, or Bio-Energy combined with CCS (carbon sequestration and geological storage, that by itself does not remove carbon from the atmosphere but is hoped to prolong fossil fuel use). But this “technotopia” —the notion that more and better manipulation of matter will solve a problem created by the manipulation of matter— resists neither an economic nor even a technological reading.

    When we turn our eyes to nature, by contrast, tried and tested methods that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere become apparent. Looking at energy technology not only presumes high-energy economies: once again, it diverts our gaze from the geophysical factor that will largely determine the shape of the future: the carbon cycle. For scenarios focusing on energy emissions ignore or at best underestimate the other source of emissions: land use and land use change. And in sharp contrast to the former, this can be reversed.

    Surprise !

    The carbon sequestration capacity of reforestation and afforestation is well known. Beyond these, however, lies a far more promising source of “negative emissions.”

    For just like the energy basis of modern civilization emerged unexpectedly as an existential threat, in the same way a historic solution emerges unexpectedly beyond its industrial culture.

    Specifically: the largely unrecognized capacity of regenerative organic agriculture (and agroecology generally) to store carbon (and water) in the soil is now dangling the possibility of removing vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Scientists with direct hands-on agricultural experience have shown this to be possible time and again. And if such methods can be generalized, the way to save the future is laid out.

    Dr. Vandana Shiva at the “Soil Not Oil” International Conference, September 4-5, 2015, Richmond California.

    Dr. Allan Savory’s “Ted talk

    According to conventional estimates compiled by the IPCC, the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use ("AFOLU") category accounts for almost 25% of annual GHG emissions. This sectoral accounting, however, does not include indirect emissions from such factors as synthetic fertilizer production, or the transportation, storing and marketing components of modern societies' full food production-to-consumption chain. These indirect sources seem of little relevance if the modern model is assumed as a given, since they are accounted for in other categories. But the accounting hides the comparative carbon-efficiency of so-called “subsistence” agriculture, which does not rely on carbon-intensive inputs. If, moreover, the two different "modes of production" have a different capacity to sequester carbon by recarbonizing the soil, their conceptual conflation is even more obfuscating.

    Conventional approximations of proper land use management generally talk of removing some 50 ppm of CO2 —a large share of what we have put into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. But unconventional readings, that suggest even larger amounts, might well prove feasible. Needless to say, this is a very clear lead to a climate response commensurate with the scale of the threat and the challenge before us.

    One thing, however, is by now plain: such is the scale of the conditions we must meet to ensure climate stability, that preserving the future will require us to replace industrial agriculture and produce food by recarbonizing the soil —the only known feasible source of “negative” emissions—, in addition to drastic emission reductions.

    There is no other apparent way to meet the “negative carbon budget” that will be needed to dispel major risk of runaway global warming.

    The proper husbandry of the land, in other words, is the only tried and tested technology available at a sufficiently massive and affordable scale to preserve the continuity of civilization. It is not a “technology” in the usual sense of mechanical contrivances (and the complex infrastructures these presume), but in the economic sense (of a “black box” with an input and an output). Now scaling up the marginally visible and economically marginalized methods to the level required to restore climate stability presumes massively “empowering” or strengthening them. And this spells a very different economy (indeed very different societies) —in which, specifically, the productivity of land, before that of labor, is potentiated by a radical recalibration and overhaul of the macro-economic policy framework that has been designed around carbon-intensive methods.

    Solutions to systemic dysfunctions are subversive by definition

    So now it turns out that the methods and ways of socio-economically humble, conceptually invisible and policy-marginalized small farmers embody responses to the climate challenge that standard industrial agriculture, for example, cannot even dream of.

    They are just off the standard radars of policy and politics (and at best earn their lip service).

    This is the result of a gross misreading of food production that removes nature from the picture.

    Indeed, professionals who were trained before land scarcity and nature’s integrity —let alone carbon— became socially and economically relevant, are conceptually unequipped to address, if not formatted to misframe, the key challenges of our times. Few policies illustrate this better than the first design of the EU’s Emission Trading System, whose strident failure was all too predictable, absent an adequate limit to emissions, and due to its giveaway of emission allowances to polluters. A first-year student of ecological economics would have spotted the error of experienced, highly established technocrats.

    The modern technocracies that inform politicians and policy, to begin with, are typically concerned with labor productivity (“yield per hour,” thanks to input-intensive and/or labor-saving —i.e. unemployment-generating— methods). And this means that they rarely register the productivity of land —”output per hectare” (including both crop yield and "outputs" restorative of soil health—, let alone their carbon removal effects, which are often much higher in labor-intensive farming. Even readings of yield per hectare (before we even look at carbon flows) show small farms to be far more productive per hectare than large industrial ones —about 20 times more, in one extreme case!

    Just as decisively, the carbon-removal potential of agro-ecology has remained invisible because the real solutions do not befit modern society’s view of history as progress, for which these alternatives are, well, “primitive.”

    Indeed, many methods and ways that to the modern, progressive view of human destiny seem economically or technologically backward, turn out to be immensely … energy- and resource-efficient. When regarded in light of ecological footprint, the small-scale and carbon-removing alternatives are so superior to their industrial competitors, that they would easily displace them were these not systematically sustained by policy…

    The major “solutions” for a safe future, in short, lie at the antipode of the triumphant march of, well, carbon-fueled progress: they bring into question no less than the founding myth of modern civilization: the consensual worldview that tacitly presides over the formation of its coordinating policy and institutions.

    The small farmers might as well be atheists in a religious society. The crushing of peasants, after all, was built into the very program of modern “development”: the transition from agricultural societies, made up mostly of peasants, into societies where fossil fuels allowed 1% to 3% of the population to feed the rest.

    So it is hardly surprising that modern society’s policy framework has been long slanted against small farmers and implicitly against the alternative “organic” practices with which they can recarbonize the soil. Massive direct handouts, indirect tax expenditures (exemptions or “loopholes”), oblique subsidies (tolerance of pollution) to fossil fuels are well known. Usually forgotten is the sectoral or indirect support to carbon-intensive methods. Not only has modern industrial agriculture often been made possible by agricultural policy. A “free trade” deal that opens borders to subsidized and carbon-intensive agriculture, to take but one example, can wipe out small farmers producing food more sustainably. Carbon-intensive ways are unwittingly fostered indirectly even by policies in sectors seemingly unrelated to energy, such as publicly funded daycare programs. (For these implicitly discriminate against families that directly care for infants, who indirectly subsidize parents relying on the “mass produced parental services” that make their transportation- and consumption-intensive choices possible — ALR, Des garderies publiques à l’« Allocation-Bébé » — renforcer simultanément la redistribution du revenu, la liberté individuelle et la communauté au quotidien). Official support to carbon-intensive methods —what economists call distortions— is systemic. And it works against low-, zero- or negative-carbon ways, for the simple reason that it was conceived and designed when carbon emissions were not an issue.

    The problem is that alternative agricultural practices, as much as alternative ways and alternative energy sources, cannot become micro-economically viable if their competition is subsidized.

    But if a livable future is to be preserved, the peasants and farmers that were replaced by oil-driven machines, inputs and chemicals during the industrial era will themselves have to replace the oil-based agriculture that sustained it, but which now needs to be discontinued. "Green energy" is only the easiest part of the answer.

    When nature enters the core of the social and economic equation, in other words, the long-undermined ways of the weak emerge as the best road to collective survival. So they can expect to be “empowered”: formally habilitated by policy. By now, even the CEO of one of the world's biggest traders in agricultural commodities has called for "a price on carbon."

    But the revigorization of long-oppressed peasants is only a special case of a more general structural empowerment of us all, i.e. the sum of all individuals, above the power of businesses or public bureaucracies, that Right and Left political ideologies have respectively favored.

    From the viewpoint of the political economy, as we will eventually discover, the wholesale reconversion into a carbon-constrained economy over the next generation will ultimately require institutions that allocate key decisions and resources to citizens, before states or corporations. Not only because it resubordinates what, after all, are only their instruments, to their useful scope and roles. It is the pragmatic condition of the radical flexibility that will be required for a reconversion of such widespread scope and far-ranging ramifications. What is sometimes described as a “paradigm” or systemic shift can involve no less than such a fundamental redefinition —a tripartite rather than bipartite view— of the polity.

    The top-down framework of a wholesale bottom-up reconversion

    A wide diversity of carbon-efficient ways –age-old, surviving, customary (indeed unwittingly present in many goods we enjoy), incipient or novel– must now struggle in a policy environment geared to sustain modern, resource-intensive society. But for alternative low-carbon or carbon-free technologies, methods and ways to emerge in a large enough scale, they need to become micro-economically viable.

    It should be obvious that abandoning over 80% of society's energy spells systemic change. That means change not only in energy and production technologies (the hardware) but also in the organizations that manage them (society's software: business firms, NGOs, government agencies, families), the policies and institutions that coordinate them (its operating system) and the culture of the people (or humanware) that runs them. Changes at all levels reinforce each other. And the level at which action is most consequential is not “policy,” but what frames policy: “institutions,” that coordinate the organizations designed around their specific functions.

    A key principle of the “social OS” that capitalists have repeatedly called for but seldom respected, indeed, remains valid and highly relevant: a level playing field. Coupled with a systemic overhaul of the correctives that emerged to address market redistribution failures, they can only “empower” people and ways that industrial society's OS has marginalized and weakened, if not driven out of existence.

    For a resource-attuned policy structure (or “framework of incentives”) such as is needed to coordinate the historic “transition” at hand (i.e. from an industrial to a sustainable economies) would decisively render sustainable ways micro-economically viable …while at the same time it makes carbon-intensive ways unviable.

    This choice is structural —it leaves no room for compromise: policy must favor one or the other, polluting or nonpolluting ways. For the macro-economic framework will either 1) continue to systematically incentivize GHG emissions, or it will 2) render low-carbon technologies, methods and ways viable by removing system-wide biases favoring their carbon-intensive ‘competition’ now in place.

    The climate challenge, in short, raises an organizational more than a technological problem. Whatever role technology may play (since it obviously has a place), “new and improved” manipulation of matter can no longer be expected to solve the problems created by the manipulation of matter. Our key tools are not in the hardware but in the policies and institutions that ensure the coordination of people: the “operating system.”

    The radical inadequacy —and threat— of modern economics

    The “price on carbon” routinely touted for an environmentally level playing field (conventional economics’ normative prescript) is only part of a fully carbon-attuned fiscal framework. Especially if the price is the $40 per ton conventionally estimated to represent the damages caused by carbon emissions. The problem with this price, derived from standard externality theory, is not only that it most probably underestimates costs (given measuring difficulties: economists might approximate losses of crops, infrastructure and other such marketable goods, but the social dislocations that such losses typically entail, and many key intangibles, are rarely measured …or even measurable —do the $40/ton cover, to take a banal example, the massively life-changing “discomfort” of Saharan summers expected in Southern Europe at 2ºC?).

    Much more importantly, this calculus bears no relationship whatsoever to the price equivalent of the necessary cap on physical emissions, which are what determines climate: the national carbon budgets whose aggregate constitutes the “safe” global carbon budget (i.e. allowable under non-self-accelerating carbon concentrations) as determined by scientists under conditions of uncertainty.

    A climatologically effective price on carbon would have to cap annual emissions along a path of increasingly tighter limits, up to an aggregate that matches the safe cumulative total. It is, first and foremost, a price determined by geophysically limits, not by the externalities or costs of pollution. Its monetary value is a function of the physical quantities of safe emissions —the price needed to bring down demand to the level of the stipulated cap.

    If applied to the geophysically safe carbon parameter that ecological economics registers, but not conventional neoclassical economics, the standard tools could then determine a safe carbon tax. But the discipline has little to say about the proper distribution or assignation of this tax, that it relegates to the dynamics of interests and ideologies (the “social choices”) in the political economy. Should the money go to citizens, through mechanisms like the so-called Fee-and-Dividend? Should it, by virtue of the polluter-pays principle, finance adaptation, impact redress or prevention? Or should it pay for an energy reconversion? Economists may eventually remember that internalizing externalities means applying the polluter pays principle, but all to often they see the question as "social choice" beyond their purview.

    This is because economics as we know it is, to put it technically, a method of constrained maximization based on a theory of (market) exchange or, more generally, of choice —what has been called a “catallactics.” This means that the discipline is (re)distribution-neutral. The problem is that this has rendered a whole generation of economists (re)distribution-blind.

    Hence the frequent mistake of many economists who advocate a uniform global carbon tax —that entirely ignores its distributional consequences at the international level. And these proposals go unchallenged by the rest of the profession …even though they completely disregard the “common and differentiated responsibilities” that countries have agreed to as the basis of a fair global climate policy…

    The answer to the distribution question, however, becomes clear when looking at the dynamics of a “price on carbon” at the national level.

    The price increases following from restricted supply of fossil fuels, i.e. from a cap (or its tax equivalent), constitute forms of economic rent —a very specific kind of income in that it results from no social contribution: it can be compared, for example, to speculative earnings derived from rising land prices. This economic rent can be captured by the State by auctioning off emission allowances (or by a carbon tax equivalent, since in theory, the quantity of carbon determines the price and vice-versa). If this rent is distributed equally among citizens, it amounts to sharing out an at-cost “carbon share,” that ensures a key form of income security for all in a carbon-constrained world. Without it, a geophysically adequate (and thus relatively high) carbon tax would lead to vast social dislocation. In combination with the polluter-pays principle to pay for externalities, it allows prices to fully preside over the most efficient use of resources.

    And these issues arise before we even bring into question the standard doctrine of "economic growth" —the specific organizing goal that embodies modernity's shared ideology of indefinite increase of consumption. High-school arithmetic, however, suffices to dispel the illusion that a safe climate is compatible with the continuity of modern consumer society (in "advanced" countries), or its replication (in "developing" countries).

    The integrated policy instrument taking shape

    This principle has taken shape in a policy concept that by now is well known in climate policy circles: “Fee-and-Dividend” —a carbon tax distributed in the form (or as component) of a basic income (complemented with a tariff on carbon to level the international playing field).

    This carbon management concept is noteworthy because it reinforces environmental, “social” (i.e. distributional) and (economic) efficiency goals simultaneously —the three dimensions, irreducible to each other, of any economy.

    To function as proper climate regulation, it must still 1) meet a key caveat: ensure the (geophysically defined) level of emissions on a path to the maximum “safe” cumulative level, and be supplemented with 2) the polluter-pays principle to cover the cost of externalities —both negative (pollution) and positive (e.g. science and technological development)—, which it ignores; and especially with 3) a “negative tax” for “negative emissions” (i.e. subsidies to carbon-removing practices, which would potentiate them at the massive scale that will be needed to save the future).

    From the viewpoint of the fiscal architecture, however, these correctives are specifications and supplements of the basically tripartite structure of a carbon-attuned fiscal framework. What amounts to the monetary equivalent of an allowable Share of Carbon Footprint (an important part of a Share of Sustainable Ecological Footprint) “presolves” the environmental and resource distribution/ equity questions (as far as carbon is concerned) and then allows undistorted market exchange to preside over resource allocation.

    An environmentally “level playing field,” in short, involves a 1) carbon- constrained, 2) carbon- equitable and 3) carbon- neutral macro-economic framework.

    A macro-economic framework systematically recalibrated to ensure an environmentally level playing field would thus render a whole range of “sustainable” technologies, production methods and ways (as well as life philosophies and culture) micro-economically profitable or (insofar as they involve no marketable goods) micro-economically viable.

    A “bottom-up” revitalization of society, in other words, begins with a (“top-down”) policy and institutional refoundation that strengthens 1) a ban on civilization-threatening pollution (a carbon budget), 2) systemic income security (such as “basic income” mechanisms) that partially delink income from work (since they would apportion (unearned) economic rent); and 3) real prices (“markets”).

    Economic institutions can be designed to achieve these goals simultaneously. But not governance aligned around growth and redistribution of GDP —which, past a certain optimum, compromises all three equilibria: for it depends on environmentally noxious, dispossessing and centrally supported forms of production. Differently put, environmental integrity, “social justice” and economic efficiency can be reinforced simultaneously ...but only if permanently increasing production is not society's organizing goal. That is to say, official consumerism must be disestablished in much the same way that religion once was. The decisive question simply does not concern GDP (the aggregate of consumption and investment) but environmental impact: so whether GDP growth occurs or not, and for how long, and what its content consists of, will depend on a country’s past carbon emissions.

    Such a shift seems entirely unlikely in today's political juncture. But few have counted on another surprise currently brewing: the systemic fragility of the world economy, if not indeed its crisis unfolding in historical slow motion, apparent in the political destabilization that it is fostering in the most diverse countries. A major crisis can only make the climate shift highly opportune, if not unavoidable. As long, of course, as we are prepared for the latent dysfunctions, with a response plan that provides an alternative to the crisis spiraling into chaos.

    Both the climate threat and the unfolding economic crisis raise a host of new questions. Taken together, they constitute a research agenda commensurate with the challenge of our times: a post-growth macro-economics, such as ecological economics is already exploring.

    The bottom line is clear by now. Climate security precipitates the historical irruption of Nature into human consciousness —into our economic equations, political imagination and cultural sensibilities. And if the continuity and diversity of life are to be preserved and revitalized, a major reconversion of technologies, methods and ways will be required over the next generation.

    The carbon-constrained, carbon-equitable and carbon- neutral macro-economic framework capable of coordinating it needs to be laid out. Of course, it is not the only feature of a proper policy framework —only the cornerstone of the wholesale review that will be indispensable for an overhaul that recalibrates it in the light of carbon. But a new institutional architecture spells another —call it “green”— earthscape, culture and way of life, with sustainable ways at the core of social organization, and “industrial” methods as ancillaries.

    The first glimpse of a different future, if not of a new civilization —an “Age of Soil, not Oil” (pdf)— has appeared in the horizon. And it can be catalyzed by what has always coordinated societies and constituted civilizations: institutions.

    The first function these must fulfil in order to secure the future
    is the defining parameter of carbon-constrained economies:
    a global carbon budget consistent with a safe cumulative aggregate of carbon emissions.
    And an Independent Panel of Scientists that determines this is central
    to what would constitute the first expression of a fully global institution:
    a genuine Climate Security Accord.

    Architect Buckminster Fuller's strategy, quoted by Marc Wilhelm while introducing a James Hansen lecture on February 2016.

    JFK’s American University Commencement Address, 10 June 1963

    World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, introducing the panel discussion Beyond SDGs: A Fresh Start for Planet Earth?, convened by the UN's Global Environment Facility on Sep. 27, 2015 in NYC.