I get the sentiment. There is an annoying kind of climate activist whose shtick is to constantly tweet stuff like “we need dramatic, massive concerted international action NOW!!” suggesting something like Covid-or-higher level of disruption, sustained for a decade.
Greta Thunberg has joined this tribe, now as an adult. I’m not quite sure what this crowd wants to see, but it feels like they have dreams of legions of bureaucrats administered by someone like Fauci, driving relentlessly. Think masking but for low-carbon living.
This rhetoric is futile, annoying, counterproductive, and doesn’t map to anything large human masses have ever show capacity for doing. In fact Covid has shown us collapsing under a third of the lifestyle stress they expect us to keep up for a decade. Something doesn’t compute.
BUT... they’re not wrong about one thing. If action is warranted at all, it does mean changing business as usual. There is no gentle acceleration of a non-disruptive current tendency that meets the urgency-of-action constraints. You might as well do nothing if you insist on that.
I think we do need dramatic, discontinuously shifted, urgent action. But not as a general exhortation. What are we all supposed to do? Recycle faster? There’s an operational ovation gap between the rhetorical urgency on display and mechanisms of action.
These are specific, modern precedents for large-scale collective action at the scale and speed we’re talking about. There are plenty of lessons. Plenty of understanding of the ugliness and messiness that results from moving this hard and fast and breaking things.
These are NOT pure “work through market mechanisms” precedents but there’s 10x more market thinking in them than socialists would like.

These are NOT pure statist models either, but 10x more statist than pure marketist types would want.
I think neither side gets this. “Not business as usual” and “not governance as usual” means 10x of *both* mechanisms stressed like crazy. Like trying to run a passenger sedan on rocket fuel while adding more traffic signs.
Action like this is possible. We have an existence proof. It will just be remarkably unpleasant to everybody despite their favorite mechanism being not just used, but 10x more intensely than they are used to.

But there’s good news: there’s one way this is easier than Covid.
Covid has been a weird collective action problem, one aimed squarely at America’s weakest point: minor constraints on individual freedom that utterly destroy the sense of self of 1/3 of this country 🙄

Fortunately climate action does not call for that type of constraining
Stopping a virus unfortunately at least for Americans requires individuals to act in highly socially disruptive ways (masks, distancing).

Fortunately, decarbonizing the economy largely requires action from institutional leaders on backend matters, not last mile/last inch.
- Cities electrifying bus fleets
- automakers shifting to EVs
- Utilities switching to renewables
- CEOs okaying WFH, killing commute
- Real estate devs, urban planners driving densification

All this on a war footing only requires coordination among 1000s, not billions of people
In the 5 years since I wrote that article, I’ve been involved in a half dozen climate-action type consulting gigs, ranging from national-government-level initiatives (not US) to huge corps to startups. Learned a lot. It’s about half my consulting practice now.
I know from actually having been involved that “WW2 like mobilization” is not just possible, but is actually happening. It’s just unevenly distributed. It’s been utterly amazing to witness some of this from the ringside. Like a switch being flipped and suddenly huge things move.
And I hate to say this, but one of the biggest obstacles is penny-ante activist types who have NO appreciation of the challenge of actually operating at the scale and urgency we are talking about and getting in the way of us doing bigger things, faster by screaming about it.
People who have never organized anything larger than a parade. Who usually have zero appreciation for the engineering, numbers, or proportions involved. Who obsess over plastic straws and about dragging extraneous social justice goals under “big tents” so the whole thing stalls.
They haven’t bothered to study precedents like WW2 mobilization or the Marshall Plan. They want to purity test every damn action with the mindset of a small, local vegan coop governing committee. It’s... annoying.

I *will* give them credit for driving up urgency, adding some pressure at the right places and times. Yes even the parades and protests and the pious letters to CEOs signed by 1000s. That helps.

But only up to a point, and far less than they think.
Their conceit is in thinking that’s the whole thing.

That the pressure gauge attached to the fuel pump is in fact the whole engine. They seem unaware that an engine is in fact more than a pressure gauge, or that the pressure gauge us not even the most important part.
They seem to think that just because they’re the loudest, most publicly visible piece they are the most important piece in direct proportion to the noise they make. And that more noise at all times and places always improves things. And so we get plastic-straw-onomics.
The war-scale urgency effort is in fact starting. Your life will start getting transformed in dramatic ways at the last-mile level in a few years as the action mature. Some changes you’ll notice (EVs on streets), others you won’t (renewables fraction increasing in your grid)
The most useful thing you can do right now is neither futile virtue signaling shit like agitating to ban plastic straws, nor adding to the pressure-rhetoric noise. These fronts are way past diminishing returns to the extent they had utility at all. The real scarcity is elsewhere.
There is *severe* shortage of technical and administrative talent *inside* of the growing scaled efforts:

- people who can craft and run wonky proposals for funding
- people who can solve renewables tech problems
- data science people who can investigate/analyze obscure details
Every gig I’ve worked in this space, teams trying to do good work are starved of talent. You want someone who will tweet about plastic straws 24/7 you’ll get 1000 candidates. You want to get someone who can do lifecycle analysis or ML on emissions data, you’re in deep shit.
The other thing people tend not to see is that ALL scenarios require this scale and urgency of action:

- with/without nuclear
- 2 deg or 4 deg
- market/state led
- low/high global cooperation
- cooperate/defect by big countries

They just differ in what you do, not scale/urgency
The only 2 scenarios where you are fine with non-dramatic-non-scaled action are:

1. The skeptics turn out to have been right all along
2. Your preferred scenario is widespread collapse

Any other scenario requires urgent and scaled action on *some* front.
Look at what he tried to do:

- Close borders
- Accelerate fossil fuel use to get a bigger cut of the endgame gains
- Drive down trade
- Accelerate a pandemic that hits the outgroup hardest

Now THAT’S an urgent, scaled climate plan! Just not one humane people want.
On climate skepticism. I live in the US and work with many powerful, smart people who happen to also be skeptics. Not all Trumpies.

Institutional experts have been wrong, corrupt, irreproducible etc a lot. Can’t just wave skeptics away when they control key levers.

What to do?
Pragmatism calls for 2 attitude shifts:

1. Acknowledge there’s a chance they’re right. Small perhaps but not zero. That acknowledgment costs nothing unless you’re religious about it. Cost of non-skeptics being right and NOT acting is high enough you can/should Pascal’s wager it.
2. Accept that many will end up doing what to you will seem like “the right thing for the wrong reason” like rationalizing and supporting climate action on other grounds (air quality say, or local problem management like wildfires or tech leadership national pride).

That’s fine.
Adopt a “muddling through” mindset. This is a fundamentally NEW species-scale challenge with even best precedents being weak. There’s tons of uncertainty/ignorance. Dozens of possible good-faith, humane postures one could adopt. Read this, pace yourself: https://www.jstor.org/stable/973677?seq=1
In the *best* case, we’re going to “muddle through” this thing with the “we” being a large, raucous, arguing, disagreeing subset of humanity (fortunately not all of humanity) driving through roughly right actions with frayed tempers, patience tried, and tenuously low consensus.
I dislike (but will tolerate and work with) the “big tent” ideological model where climate gets overloaded into a social-justice-complete (SJ-complete?) problem spanning everything from gender wars to native rights to Mac-vs-PC and DCEU-vs-MCU.

But I’m big-tent on execution.
Big-tent on execution means tens of 1000s will be solving hundreds of versions of similar problems in dozens of different ways, copying, pasting, screwing up etc etc. If we’re lucky it will be like the open-source world in many ways.

Don’t get religious about doing it your way.
The only thing there’s no room for is bad-faith hostile action, aimed at either sabotaging good-faith action, or working by one of the inhumane playbook like avocado politics.

If you spot that within any serious effort, it’s fine to just treat them as enemy combatants.
I mean... there will be plenty of time for the Mad Max avocado-politics games if good faith efforts fail.

Why cut straight to barbarism without giving humane action a chance?
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