Richard Heinberg: What Nobody Talked About

pm115_240.jpgRichard Heinberg is a big-picture thinker who I find trustworthy and credible. That’s why we’ve produced several Conversations and  presentation DVDs with him. In his latest Museletter he paints a planetary big picture following the Climate Conference in Copenhagen. These excerpts don’t cover his important views on the climate accords, but What Nobody Talked About. I urge you to read the full essay: “The Meaning of Copenhagen.”  His appeal to work locally speaks to our hearts about what we’re doing with Peak Moment TV. 

“Climate change is just one of several enormous interrelated dilemmas that will sink civilization unless all are somehow addressed. These include at least five long-range problems:

•    topsoil loss (25 billion tons per year),
•    worsening fresh water scarcity,
•    the death of the oceans (currently forecast for around 2050 based on current trends),
•    overpopulation and continued population growth, and
•    the accelerating, catastrophic loss of biodiversity.
As events are unfolding now, these problems, together with climate change, will combine over the next few years or decades to trigger a food crisis of a scale and intensity that will dwarf to insignificance any famine in human history.

To make matters even more grim, there are two near-term dilemmas that may make climate change and these other problems much harder to address: peak oil and economic collapse.”
. . .

“Because petroleum has been the driver of most economic expansion during the past few decades and there is no ready substitute for it, peak oil basically means the end of economic growth as we have known it. And without economic growth, our entire financial system comes apart. Indeed, that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing over the past 18 months in the failure of trillions of dollars’ worth of bets on future economic expansion. (For a discussion of the role of peak oil in the financial crisis, see ‘Temporary Recession or the End of Growth?’.”
. . .

“To summarize: three factors—the need for resilience, the lack of effective policy at national and global levels, and the tendency of the best responses to emerge regionally and at a small scale—argue for dealing with the crushing crises of the new century locally, even though there is still undeniable need for larger-scale, global solutions. Does this mean we should give up even trying to work at the national and global levels? Each person will have to make up her or his own mind on that one. To my thinking, Copenhagen is something of a last straw. I have no interest in trying to discourage anyone from undertaking national or global activism. Indeed, there is a danger in taking attention away from national and international affairs: policy could get hijacked not just by parties even less competent than those currently in command, but by ones that are just plain evil.”

“Nevertheless, this writer is finally convinced that, with whatever energies for positive change may be available to us, we are likely to accomplish the most by working locally and on a small scale, while sharing information about successes and failures as widely as possible.”

“A final note: As 2010 begins we are about to enter the second decade of the 21st century. Historians often remark that the character of a new century doesn’t make itself apparent until its second decade (think World War I). Perhaps peak oil, the global financial crash, and the failure of Copenhagen are the signal events that will propel us into the Century of Decline. If these events are indeed indicative, it will be a century of economic contraction rather than growth; a century less about warnings of environmental constraints and consequences than about the fulfillment of past warnings; and a century of local action rather than grand global schemes.”

“I suspect that things are going to be noticeably different from now on. ”

This is the most somber message I’ve read from Richard in the past five years. He seems to have largely given up on national and international policy-makers, given the bitter lack of results at Copenhagen, even with an American president whose campaign promised much more. The work we do in our communities may be far more important than we can imagine.


  1. It seems to me the those who speak the most sense receive the least attention … the tragedy in the making unfolds before our “sleeping” eyes.

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