Reflections on the Sam Mitchell Interview

By Frank Rotering | October 2, 2019

My recent interview with Sam Mitchell of the YouTube channel Collapse Chronicles was a milestone event for me.  Prior to this I had worked in isolation for many years to produce an analysis and strategy for ecological survival.  This interview was my first chance to express the results of this project to a substantial audience.  I thank Sam for giving me this opportunity even though I am not a collapse chronicler.  I am also grateful to those who commented on our chat, and would like to offer some reflections on the thoughts expressed.

My main reaction to the comments is surprise at the ratio of positive to negative statements.  I had expected the responses to be about 90% negative given my militant posture.  The actual split is roughly 50-50.  This means that the environmentally concerned - at least those in this group - are far more tolerant of references to a ruling class, revolutionary change, and even military intervention than I had thought.  This in turn could imply that political space is finally opening up for strategic discussions that go well beyond the fatal limitations of mainstream and progressive discourse.

My second observation is that the commentators appear to have three distinct attitudes to the unfolding crisis:

  1. Based on the environmental facts there is no chance of preventing catastrophic collapse, and thus no point in trying;
  2. Based on the environmental facts there is a small chance of preventing catastrophic collapse, and thus some point in trying;
  3. Whatever the environmental facts may be, we are ethically compelled to do our utmost to prevent catastrophic collapse.

For convenience and without prejudice, let me refer to the people holding these views as the no-chancers, the small-chancers, and the ethical-preventers.

As those who have listened to the interview or perused this website no doubt understand, I am an ethical-preventer.  I have adopted this posture for two reasons.  First, humankind is the species that caused the overshoot crisis, and as a human being I have a moral duty to the millions of non-human species to help resolve it.  Second, I have lived my entire life in two rich countries (Holland and Canada), have travelled the world on business trips (software instruction), and have therefore benefitted materially from overconsumption.  I owe it to the young and the poor to commit my fat ass to the struggle for a sustainable world.  In brief, I feel that I have an unconditional responsibility, as both a species member and a globally rich individual, to do what I can to help salvage the biosphere.

For the no-chancers and small-chancers the decisive factor is not ethical obligation but probability of success. This is a personal choice that I can't criticize.  I must point out, however, that these probabilities are typically assessed on the basis of conventional analysis and solutions - that is, lies and errors.  It seems to me likely that, if these falsehoods were erased, many members of both groups would increase their probability assessments and strengthen their commitments to a liveable world.  A few more words on this topic are therefore in order.

By far the most significant falsehoods relate to solar radiation management (SRM) - the stopgap measure of reflecting solar energy.  As emphasized in both my analysis/strategy document and youth manifesto, this approach has been massively distorted and irrationally marginalized by those concerned about the erosion of capitalism's legitimacy.  My pro-SRM argument, which I believe is irrefutable, is this:

  1. The Earth is currently in a state of existentially dangerous energy imbalance;
  2. Reducing net emissions to zero will halt the increase in this imbalance, but won't reverse it;
  3. GHG removal (GGR) will reverse the imbalance, but not before catastrophic collapse occurs;
  4. SRM is all that's left: the only short-term measure that can prevent imminent disaster.

If the standard propaganda is ignored and this argument is embraced, the probability calculus changes dramatically.  An SRM techno-shield would then be available to protect the biosphere while emissions are sharply reduced and GGR purges the atmosphere of unsafe GHGs.  I would be interested to hear from both groups on this line of reasoning.  (For more on SRM, including the risks involved, see my two posts: Geoengineering - the Facts and Geoengineering - the Arguments.)

My final observation refers back to the political space mentioned above.  Robert Curtin commented that, "This interview took it to the limits--Wow!!!"  He's right, and testing those limits was one of my aims for the talk.  This issue is now of critical importance because our ecological salvation, if it is still attainable, depends in large part on our willingness to break through the boundaries of permissible thought.  Remember the central lesson of Orwell's 1984: the scope and content of social thought must be strictly controlled to maintain the existing structure of power.  Consider, for example, that in our societies the ruling class daily uses the military for its own purposes, but that we the people can't even broach the possibility of military intervention on our behalf.  My response is to defy the rulers by discussing what must be discussed.  Retaliation could well ensue, but this is what the struggle for survival now entails.  At this stage we either fight with courage and determination, or we die a submissive and ignominious death.

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