About The Hopeful Realist

Analyst of the human illusions of our place in the Earth System. Soon to be published: At the Edge of Illusion: Facing the New Great Transformation.

Trump, the Manchurian President: Culture Jam from Far Away

Remember the 1962 movie, The Manchurian Candidate based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel? There was a remake in 2004, with Denzel Washington playing the man who knows something is wrong about the presidency. A slick candidate for the U.S. presidency has been “brainwashed” to do the bidding of a foreign power. The inevitable struggle between good and evil ensues and the crisis approaches apocalypse.

Atomic TrumpI think we have an apt metaphor here for the Trumpery we all now experience. After all, his election rested on more than one form of electoral fraud, from Russian trolls and bots to widespread Republican voter suppression by tampering with voter rolls and extreme gerrymandering.

These days the US president appears to be helping the Russians in several ways. One has to wonder what Putin and his henchmen have on the Empty Clown Suit pretending to be president. Could it be the laundering of oligarch money or the Deutsche Bank loans of suspicious origin when no other bank in the world would loan him a nickel? He is also jamming core American values and interests in national security in service to the Billionaire Class and especially his own (largely secret) financial interests. I am not the first to suggest the Manchurian Candidate as an appropriate metaphor for this situation.

The whole thing, morally as well as socially and economically, is far, far away from the everyday lives of ordinary Americans. It is, in a word, foreign, although many Americans have been infected by the “new normal” of demagoguery covering political corruption and possibly treason. The financial and corporate elites control the Senate. They support the endless executive orders and appointments undercutting the public interest in established law and administrative regulations by the Manchurian President.

The reality TV show that now guides the nation brands the President as the only real winner among the rest of us “losers.” Every vulnerable ethnic group is cast as some form of evil. The amoral Trump brand touts greed, meanness, and blatant racism as its central principles of governance. Yet, the man himself has no idea how to govern a nation. He has gained the power that allows him to take what he wants, whenever he wants, from whomever he wants by ignoring the law and democratic principles. He exposes thereby the fragile nature of democracy when so many of its citizens remain uninformed by their lack of critical thinking.

I still cannot get over how easily he dupes so many Americans. I was in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, the day before his arrival for one of his rallies. Along some major streets, I saw hawkers selling MAGA tee-shirts, hats, and other paraphernalia of the New American Fascism (Shall we call it NAF? No, let’s not. That would just reify the insanity.)

When will we realize the destructiveness of this evil vindictive brand of irrational self-dealing hate and gross political corruption, masked as patriotism, which projects itself across the world in our name? Our nation’s security suffers severely for it. When American power is projected around the world based on the whims of narcissistic sociopathy, it only instills confusion and mistrust among our allies, as well as everyone else.

Light Bulbs and Straws vs. Human Survival

If we can Save the Banks, We can Save the World.

~ Greta Thunberg

During Elizabeth Warren’s segment on the CNN Climate Forum on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, Chris Cuomo asked her whether the government should dictate the kinds of light bulbs and straws we use. It was typical of mass-media-pundit questions, which so often implicitly incorporate a climate-denialist trope. During the prior debates among the twenty or so Democratic presidential candidates, both questions and answers seemed to acquiesce defensively to right-wing Republican definitions of “political reality.” Cuomo’s question framed the climate crisis as a simple matter of individual choice versus government intrusion into our private lives.

Warren Overcomes

Elizabeth.Warren_CNN.ClimateHowever, Elizabeth Warren would have none of it. She immediately recognized that she was being set up to accept the individualization of an inherently collective, even global problem. Why should the citizens of America submit themselves to government dictates regarding what kind of light bulbs we must buy? What if we prefer plastic straws to the paper ones, which sometimes soften and grow flimsy before we finish our diabetes-encouraging high-fructose corn-syrup infused 20 oz. soda? Warren pointedly asserted that the corporate elites deploy millions of dollars each year to keep us distracted by desires for individual convenience and comfort.

Isn’t the right to choose a sacred value of American Individualism? Well, corporate propaganda regularly confirms its application to industrial consumer behavior, anyway. However, the white nationalists and religious fundamentalists who demand total conformity to the sacred imaginaries of their madness, even as they assert “individualism” in the abstract, do not allow it. Nor do their political enablers. The corporate culture works very hard to exploit such madness to keep the public discourse focused on individual behavior, not institutional corruption. Yet, the force of the climate emergency is gradually making inroads into the “normal politics” that sustain corporate hegemony over industrial civilization until it collapses from the weight of excess.

Warren answered Cuomo’s loaded question by pointing out that such redefinitions of global problems as issues of individual choice rather than matters of public purpose, are exactly what the fossil-fuel industries and their allies and lobbying agents want us to focus upon. The power of the electricity-generation, the fossil-fuels and construction industries produces about seventy percent of global carbon emissions. We participate, of course, by using and wasting the energy and products these institutions produce. The inordinate power of the corporate state has enabled, indeed caused, the national denial of climate chaos.

The Life and Death of Denialism

We can see that denialism fading even as the remaining ten candidates for the Democratic nomination for the presidential race, up the ante on their mostly ambiguous “climate plans.” Sure, their vision is incomplete and their tendency to stay within the lines of business-as-usual remains. Yet, the voices of reason and fact are gaining strength.

Greta Thunberg on SailboatThe very fact that a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, has gained an international following, having merely started a personal School Strike for Climate at her high school demonstrates that the tide is turning. We have no idea whether the climate action movements will be able to move whole societies to transform themselves, but there is hope.

A recent public presentation and discussion by Greta Thunberg and Naomi Klein, among other climate activists, reflected the essence of all this. The Intercept organized the event, which is well worth watching and listening to as it demonstrates the wisdom of youth focused on facts.

Getting Real: How to Constrain Climate Chaos for a Livable World

Can we get there from here? That is an open question. It all depends on what we do, and if we do. So far, we have done almost nothing in comparison with what we must do to retain a livable world into the Anthropocene.

Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian ~ Extra Energy from Warm Seas

Overwhelming evidence on global warming and its effects destabilizing the key components of the Earth System – the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the geosphere, and the biosphere – requires that humans cut our carbon emissions to net-zero in the next decade or so. Otherwise, increasingly erratic and extreme weather will destroy food production around the world and cause extreme destruction to coastal cities, island nations, and lowland farms everywhere.

The End of the Industrial Age

Unless the extractive industrial consumer global corporate-growth economy is severely constrained, anthropogenic ecosystem destruction will undercut the very sources of sustenance that humans have always depended upon for survival. To achieve this, a New Great Transformation of industrial-consumer societies is necessary. Neither political authorities nor environmentalists will talk about that. It is too big a challenge for them to contemplate.

So far, international agreements to constrain carbon emissions have focused on idealistic limits on global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels and the relative responsibilities of fully industrialized and not so industrialized nations to achieve them.

How can we reach targets for limiting the heating of the planet? Most put their faith in new technologies for sequestering carbon while continuing business-as-usual economic growth. That will not work any better than applying a Band-Aid to a compound fracture. We must close the barn door before all the horses escape.

extractive industries


We must stop unrelenting carbon emissions at the source – the extraction of industrial materials and fossil fuels from the Earth. Extremely constrained extraction, of course, means that the technosphere – that complex adaptive system whose sole purpose is to grow – must shrink radically, as Dmitri Orlov argues. Yet, abandoning that complex of extractive, industrial, transport, and consumption, will throw the entire society into chaos through the collapse of the corporate global economy that we are all a part of, and that the planet can no longer tolerate.

At the same time, the growing institutional disorder seems driven by instabilities in the globalized growth economy itself. Climate and ecological destabilization will only exacerbate the growing political-economic instabilities around the world.

Facing the Trauma of Societal Transformation

These documented destructive forces lead to some seemingly untenable but inevitable conclusions. First, a New Great Transformation, far more complex than the industrial revolution that caused humanity to overshoot the capacity of the Earth System to carry the load of human expansion, is ending the industrial age.

Second, societal collapse is inevitable unless we rapidly constrain climate chaos and ecological collapse by radically reorganizing our relations to the Earth System and with each other.

Third, the faint gestures toward constraining carbon emissions without fundamental societal transformation are futile. Business-as-usual platitudinous United Nations’ “sustainable development goals” are unattainable. The global neoliberal corporate-growth economy is the problem. Therefore, we must replace it with local-regional ecologically restorative communities that exclude fossil-fueled technologies in favor of human-powered means of sustenance.

Globalized economic and population growth drive species extinction, climate chaos, and ecological destruction, and will soon force depopulation and societal collapse.  Refusing to give up on economic growth, aspirational Earth-heating limits of “climate policy” fail to consider how to achieve extreme carbon-emissions reductions. This existential predicament requires an entirely new political-economic regime. That has not yet reached the level of public discussion.

These uncomfortable conclusions rest on the facts of complex-systems science, global trends, and social analysis. For decades, political and economic elites have denied the facts and avoided facing the existential threat caused by their expansionist compulsion. For that reason, now only the “creative destruction” of unprecedented societal reorganization driven by globally networked indigenous and local-regional movements offer humanity a chance for survival. We must transform communities for ecosystem restoration by deploying appropriate technologies to form ecologically sustainable economies.

Ambitious Goals are Not Enough

I keep hearing about what an ambitious plan the Green New Deal is, how bold and grand its goals and the programs it points to are, implying that “in the real world” it is “impractical.” Granted, the Green New Deal was a giant step forward when you consider where the Congress, the media pundits have been on the issue – exactly nowhere.

Of course, in a society where the only sacred thing is “the economy,” anything that might disturb the corporate vision of “economic growth” talking heads deem evil, “socialist,” or just plain stupid.

Policy Dissembling

Even the supposedly progressive (yet corporately constrained) MSNBC commentators have little to say beyond vague political generalities about “climate change.” The Democratic presidential candidates have said little of any substance on the gravest existential threat to humanity ever – until the Green New Deal gained increasing national attention. In the first two rounds of the debates, the average time spent on climate crisis was under ten minutes in a three-hour event. The greatest existential threat to humanity was sidelined amid regressive jockeying around Republican talking points.

Just as with the gun control issue, genuine proposals specifying how to constrain carbon emissions from the global industrial-consumer economy have not seen serious public discussion, despite the unequivocal scientific evidence of imminent existential danger. Such talk is so far away from the public discourse that is is almost entirely out of sight. At least, the Green New Deal points in the right direction.

Aspirations or Action

AOC and Markey unveil Green New Deal

@AOC & Senator Markey unveil the Green New Deal

The Green New Deal is, after all, an aspirational resolution in the Congress proposed by its most progressive Democrats. The attempt to get a genuine public political conversation going about mounting a national response to the climate emergency faltered amid claims that it would be too expensive or that it is a socialist plot to take away our (consumerist) freedoms. However, emergent social movements like the Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement, along with outspoken new progressives like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have gained significant public attention with their blunt talk on the climate crisis.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee was the only presidential candidate to base his run for the nomination explicitly on responding to the climate crisis. Inslee posted on his website serious detailed proposals that extend beyond the other candidates’ lip service proclamations. He dropped out of the race because he just could not get enough traction amid the myriad candidates and sound bites on the stage. The debate moderators had presented the climate issue as somehow just another topic for a brief question. 

The Challenge


Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee and the vocal supporters of the Green New Deal have certainly brought the climate emergency to a public that is increasingly aware of the reality of damage already done by climate disruption. Elisabeth Warren offered a climate plan that Mother Jones Magazine gave a grade of C-Bernie Sanders has released a far more detailed extensive plan. Yet, in the short history of climate science, the fossil-fueled propaganda supporting climate denial has set us decades behind when we should have taken rational action. So, we can understand why some view the mere statement of the major actions necessary now, as “ambitious,” bold, or even “unaffordable.”

Yet, ambitious goals are not anywhere near enough. Only massive concrete societal actions will give us a chance to avoid total climate and ecological chaos leading to societal collapse. To curtail carbon emissions to slow global warming and ecosystem destruction enough to salvage some livable degree of climate stability, we need to take drastic actions that will necessarily transform the way we live, as well as the way we relate to each other and to the entire Earth System on which we depend for survival. “Ambitious” as used seems to imply unreasonable or unachievable. Yet, how ambitious is the goal of human survival, as conditions into the Anthropocene turn increasingly unlivable?

A Realistic Assessment of Carbon Emissions by Nations

Relative carbon emissions is a hotly contested issue among nations as they jockey for position. Each nation attempts to minimize its responsibility for reducing their own pollution as compared to other nations. It is a variant of the “free rider” syndrome. Everyone wants someone else to pay the steep price of trying to constrain climate chaos so that they can keep their industrial-consumer “lifestyles” going.

The problem with industrial-consumer economies, however, is that they have already overshot the Earth System’s capacity to sustain them. Even more important, They have already seriously disrupted all the major stable elements of the Earth System that has sustained them until now. Societal collapse will follow global food-shortage events resulting from loss of crops in multiple sites around the world.


Industrial Pollution Unhinged

Some nations started to pollute the planet much earlier than others. Some have contributed very little to global warming since they have not industrialized or are just beginning to join the fossil-fueled industrial era, just when it is about to collapse. Naturally, the earliest nations to industrialize have caused the most pollution over the 200 years of the industrial interlude in human history.

Great Britain (the UK) was first to industrialize and thus produced the most CO2 in the early years of the industrial era. Then around 1912, the much larger U.S. surged ahead. The UK has now fallen to 5th place in cumulative CO2 emissions. After all, it is a much smaller nation than most others and has little room left to grow.

50-lane Traffic Jam in Beijing

50-lane Traffic Jam in Beijing

China was way down the list until its recent surge of industrialization. But now, mostly because of its size and rapid industrial grown it is in second place behind the U.S. with slightly more than half as much total carbon emissions since 1750.

The animation below, by Carbon Brief, shows the cumulative carbon emissions of various nations since 1750, which approximates the beginning of the industrial revolution. The USSR was never very good at industrializing for mostly political reasons yet because of starting earlier it is close behind China in cumulative emissions.

Is “The Wall” Performance Art?

For some time now, I have wondered what it is about the images of The Wall on the U.S. southern border that seems to disturb not only my political cognizance but also my aesthetic sensibility. Most of the images I have seen show it as what I would have to call a high steel fence stretching over long distances, imposing itself upon the desert. But what does it mean? Continue reading

The Medical Insurance Scam and the Candidates’ Cowardice

Healthcare insurance is not a difficult concept to understand. However, if we use the Democratic presidential candidates’ bickering over the details of their so-called “plans” as a measure, we only get confused. Their fallback on Republican talking points in the recent “debates” was both disgusting and counter-productive. Obfuscation of the obvious would seem to be the goal, especially for the corporatist Democrats. Continue reading