Late Afternoon and the House is Warm

Another storm blowing through the Bay Area today. Jets are flying into SFO from the north, a rare circumstance. (I can see them from our balcony.) Our three kitties lie near me in my living room office, to be near the gas fireplace. It’s cold and wet outside, but the gas fireplace keeps the living room warm.

  • How solving the climate crisis will challenge human nature;
  • Short items about Republican hypocrisy, about the stock market, and infrastructure votes;
  • How the media isn’t focusing on Trump’s mental acuity;
  • Robert Reich discusses Trump’s Brownshirts.
  • R.E.M.’s “Sad Professor”

Is this restating the obvious, or is there something new here?

The Guardian, Rachel Donald, 13 Jan 2024: Human ‘behavioural crisis’ at root of climate breakdown, say scientists, subtitled “New paper claims unless demand for resources is reduced, many other innovations are just a sticking plaster”

Three screens. Well to begin, this restates the situation.

Record heat, record emissions, record fossil fuel consumption. One month out from Cop28, the world is further than ever from reaching its collective climate goals. At the root of all these problems, according to recent research, is the human “behavioural crisis”, a term coined by an interdisciplinary team of scientists.

And then it gets to the idea that the manipulation of human nature — by other humans of course — is at the root of our being unable to properly address the crisis. (It’s hard to imagine how to overcome human nature, among so many humans.)

“We’ve socially engineered ourselves the way we geoengineered the planet,” says Joseph Merz, lead author of a new paper which proposes that climate breakdown is a symptom of ecological overshoot, which in turn is caused by the deliberate exploitation of human behaviour.

“We need to become mindful of the way we’re being manipulated,” says Merz, who is co-founder of the Merz Institute, an organisation that researches the systemic causes of the climate crisis and how to tackle them.

Merz and colleagues believe that most climate “solutions” proposed so far only tackle symptoms rather than the root cause of the crisis. This, they say, leads to increasing levels of the three “levers” of overshoot: consumption, waste and population.

“Essentially, overshoot is a crisis of human behaviour,” says Merz. “For decades we’ve been telling people to change their behaviour without saying: ‘Change your behaviour.’ We’ve been saying ‘be more green’ or ‘fly less’, but meanwhile all of the things that drive behaviour have been pushing the other way. All of these subtle cues and not so subtle cues have literally been pushing the opposite direction – and we’ve been wondering why nothing’s changing.”

The paper explores how neuropsychology, social signalling and norms have been exploited to drive human behaviours which grow the economy, from consuming goods to having large families. The authors suggest that ancient drives to belong in a tribe or signal one’s status or attract a mate have been co-opted by marketing strategies to create behaviours incompatible with a sustainable world.

So yes, this is the root of the problem — the relentless urge to grow the economy and belong to tribes, behaviors incompatible with a sustainable world. What to do?

“We’re talking about replacing what people are trying to signal, what they’re trying to say about themselves. Right now, our signals have a really high material footprint –our clothes are linked to status and wealth, their materials sourced from all over the world, shipped to south-east Asia most often and then shipped here, only to be replaced by next season’s trends. The things that humans can attach status to are so fluid, we could be replacing all of it with things that essentially have no material footprint – or even better, have an ecologically positive one.”

The Merz Institute runs an overshoot behaviour lab where they work on interventions to address overshoot. One of these identifies “behavioural influencers” such as screenwriters, web developers and algorithm engineers, all of whom are promoting certain social norms and could be working to rewire society relatively quickly and harmlessly by promoting a new set of behaviours.

Does this smack of behavioral manipulation? But advertising agencies, and Hollywood screenwriters, have been doing this for decades. The article concludes,

The team is adamant that solutions that do not tackle the underlying drivers of our growth-based economies will only exacerbate the overshoot crisis.

“Everything we know and love is at stake,” says Barnard. “A habitable planet and a peaceful civilisation both have value, and we need to be conscious about using tools in ethical and justice-based ways. This is not just about humanity. This is about every other species on this planet. This is about the future generations.”

“I do get frustrated that people sit in paralysis thinking, what do I do? Or what must we do? There are moral hazards everywhere. We have to choose how to intervene to keep us working on a path forward as humanity, because everything right now is set up to strip us of our humanity.”


Short items. First, two recurring themes.

Media Matters, 22 Jan 2024: Now that Joe Biden is president, Sean Hannity doesn’t find a record high stock market all that impressive, subtitled “Hannity, who spent years touting the stock market as a Trump accomplishment, now downplays the S&P hitting a record high”

The Messenger, 22 Jan 2024: Minnesota Gov Blasts GOP Lawmaker for Celebrating $1 Billion Bridge He Voted Against (via)


Slightly longer items.

The New Republic, Michael Tomasky, 22 Jan 2024: Donald Trump Is Losing It. Will the Media Make It a Story?, subtitled “The media’s obsessions with the mental acuity of our presidential candidates seems dangerously one-sided.”

This concerns Trump’s confusing Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi for the events of January 6th. Noted yesterday. The piece has the video. Editor Tomasky explores all the ramifications. And concludes,

That wasn’t just confusing names. Confusing names is understandable. If Trump had said, “Gosh, Gary Cooper was great in North by Northwest,” that would be one thing. But Trump confused Pelosi and Haley as people. And it’s just the latest in a long string of such incidents (and yes, Biden has had his share of these too, but the world knows all about those; they receive constant coverage on Fox). The New York Times did one story on this, last October. But one story doesn’t qualify as “coverage.” If Donald Trump is losing his marbles, it would be good to know that before he has the power to decide that Daniel Ortega is destroying his country and we have no choice but to invade El Salvador.


Robert Reich, 22 Jan 2024: Trump’s Brownshirts, subtitled “Violence and threats of violence have become inherent to Trumpian politics”


I apologize for the length of this letter, but the subject warrants it. Donald Trump has galvanized an army of vigilantes who are casting a fearsome shadow over the 2024 election. Please spread the word.

It’s impossible to know how large this potential army is, but last October, 41 percent of pro-Trump Americans agreed with the statement that “because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” (That view was shared by 22 percent of independents and 13 percent of Democrats.)

With details about Trump’s opponents being “swatted,” death threats, Trump’s own threats. Many more examples, with this invocation of the Brownshirts:

POLITICAL VIOLENCE IS AN INHERENT PART OF FASCISM. Hitler’s SA — the letters stood for Sturmabteilung or “Storm Section,” also known as the Stormtroopers or Brownshirts — were vigilantes who did the Nazis’ dirty work before the Nazis took total power.

During the German presidential elections in March and April 1932, Brownshirts assembled Alarmbereitschaften, or “emergency squads,” to intimidate voters.

On the night of the Reichstag election of July 31, 1932, Brownshirts launched a wave of violence across much of northern and eastern Germany with murders and attempted murders of local officials and communist politicians and arson attacks on local Social Democratic headquarters and the offices of liberal newspapers.

When five Brownshirts were sentenced to death for the murders, Hitler called the sentences “a most outrageous blood verdict” and publicly promised the prisoners that “from now on, your freedom is a question of honor for all of us, and to fight against the government which made possible such a verdict is our duty.”

A chilling echo of these words can be found in one of Trump’s recent speeches in Iowa, in which he claimed that his supporters had acted “peacefully and patriotically” on January 6, 2021. “Some people call them prisoners,” he said of those who were serving sentences for their violence. “I call them hostages. Release the J6 hostages, Joe [Biden]. Release them, Joe. You can do it real easy, Joe.”

And ending with:

As I’ve said before, America is not the Weimar Republic on the eve of 1933, and Trump is not Hitler. But it is important to understand the parallels.

That Donald Trump still has not been held accountable for encouraging the attack on the U.S. Capitol, or for provoking his followers with his blatant lie that the 2020 election was stolen, continues to galvanize an army of potentially violent Americans.

Human nature doesn’t change, and so history does repeat itself, at least sorta.


R.E.M.’s “Sad Professor,” from UP.

Dear readers, my apologies.
I’m drifting in and out of sleep.
Long silence presents the tragedies
Of love. Note the age. Get afraid.
The surface hazy with attendant thoughts.
A lazy eye metaphor on the rocks.

Late afternoon, the house is hot.
I started, I jumped up.
Everyone hates a bore.
Everybody hates a drunk.
Everyone hates a sad professor.
I hate where I wound up.
I hate where I wound up.

Every day I reread and copy-edit my post from the evening before. If this comment is still here, I have not yet done so for this post.

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