The New Mutually Assured Destruction

The MAD Doctrine was a cold-war era do-nothing doctrine to prevent disaster. The USA and USSR each threatened to obliterate the other if the other started a nuclear war. These mutual threats worked because both sides did nothing.

By contrast, doing nothing to reduce to zero a nation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a decade or so (going-slow instead of doing absolutely nothing is the apparent generally accepted worldwide doctrine for responding to global warming/climate change) is a doctrine which assures climate-caused disaster.

NB: Although the world community of nations has made some agreements to reduce GHG emissions, these agreements do not require the nations to do so quickly—say in a period of a decade or so. And nations often do not do what they promise.

If mankind continues to emit GHGs at or near present levels for another decade, the disasters which we’ve begun to see already—higher average surface temperatures, melting glaciers and polar ice, rising sea level, coastal flooding, fires, droughts, heat-waves, floods, out-sized storms, and the heating and acidification of oceans—will continue and increase and be experienced by humankind as a major disaster, ultimately leading to extermination of humankind (among other animals and plants).

MAD: A Do-Nothing Doctrine to Prevent Disaster

The military doctrine called Mutually Assured (“MAD”) was a cold-war doctrine designed to prevent nuclear war between the USA and the USSR. It has worked. So far. Of course, it has not prevented the horrors of so-called conventional war, notably the horrors of the USA’s and its allies’ incursions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, etc. But it has prevented the overwhelming disaster of nuclear war.

The MAD doctrine is a doctrine of threat. The threat is made by the nations.

Each of two nations—the USA and the USSR—threatens to retaliate if the other starts an all-out nuclear war (or perhaps if it merely starts any nuclear war). Since each nation can destroy the other utterly and might be crazy enough to do so, the threat is “real”. Accordingly, neither side can afford to “go first” and each side must—as far as making nuclear war goes—do nothing. In that case, the threat has been successful and what has been threatened has never needed to be made an actuality.

What MAD assures is that the USA and the USSR (today, the Russian Federation) “do nothing”. And doing nothing, in this context, means starting no nuclear war, “doing no harm”.

Climate-Non-Urgency: A Do-Nothing Doctrine to Assure Disaster

Today there is a new situation. It is often characterized as a threat but is more aptly described as a promise.

This promise is the promise of climate-induced disaster called “global warming / climate change” (GWCC).

GWCC is not a problem come upon us recently. As long ago as 1969, Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned of the danger of climate change:

—nearly 47 years ago—Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a high-ranking aide to President Richard M. Nixon, dispatched an internal memo to one of his White House colleagues warning of the ominous consequences of climate change. He predicted that the Earth would get so warm and sea levels so high, that it could be “Goodbye New York, Goodbye Washington.”

This promise has been made by climate science, not by the nations. What is the promise?

Science promises that if enough of the nations of the world (so to speak, “both sides”) “do nothing” (that is, decline to reduce to zero, and quickly, their own emission of GHG), then the earth will—after the delay of a very few decades—be swallowed up in:

* local heat-waves, slowly but ineluctably rising average earth and ocean temperature (see wonderful graphic history of world most likely in GWCC washout), forest fires;
* droughts, replacements of snowfall by rain, and consequent water shortages and failures of (especially) agricultural water-supply;
* violent storms, tremendous rainfall and flooding;
* melting of all glaciers and ultimately all polar ice, leading to considerable sea-level rise which will ultimately over-flood most coastal cities and many islands;
* acidification and heating of the oceans;
* disease epidemics (diseases of people, animals, and plants);
* agricultural failures;
* and massive disruptions of human societies including very large scale population movements away from places made uninhabitable by GWCC; and consequential war or slaughter by the still strong against the weak.

This is a promise, not a threat. It is a promise of what will happen, not a threat of what might happen. It is a promise that things will get progressively worse and worse, but will ultimately get “only so bad” if mankind stops emitting GHG soon, but will get a great deal worse for every delay mankind permits in getting to zero-emissions.[1]

It is a promise which says: there is no advantage to mankind to delay getting to zero-emissions. Every day, every year of delay means a more terrible ultimate future.

And it is an interesting promise, because part of the promise is that all the promised ills, which are already beginning to happen (and not only imperceptibly any more), will continue to happen, in greater and greater ways, until and for quite a while after) mankind stops emitting GHG. If indeed mankind ever does so in a more-or-less timely fashion.

The question of whether or not mankind will ever cease emitting GHG is a bit like the question of whether a car rushing toward a brick wall will ever stop. The car will surely stop if it hits the wall, and it might stop earlier if the car has a driver and if that driver decides to stop. What seems certain is that the car will stop. What is less certain is whether it will stop in timely or comfortable fashion. This is naturally a matter of no small interest for the car’s passengers.

The GWCC promise is structured like a ratchet with a delay built in. The delay means that the bad stuff promised will get worse and worse as time goes by, and the ratchet means that it will get worse and worse but will never (or not within humanly useful timescales) get any better,

It is a situation in which “doing nothing” (about getting to zero-emissions) guarantees tremendous harm, world-wide disaster.

Unlike in the case of MAD, where doing nothing (not starting nuclear wars) prevented disaster, here, doing nothing brings about—ultimately the end of the habitable world.

What I’ve Been Observing

My take is that a few nations, a few cities, a few regions have been switching electric generation away from fossil fuels to wind and solar (and hydro and nuclear) power generation, and thus they have been tending to reduce GHG emission. But even these cities and regions and nations have (in general) been doing it slowly and without evincing any sense of urgency. “We’ve started, isn’t that enough?” “All deliberate speed, that’s what’s needed, no going overboard with anything sudden or extreme.”

And my sense is that most nations, and certainly the USA, have not even made a start to solve this relatively easy problem—getting to zero emissions with respect to electric generation alone.

But eliminating fossil fuels from electric power generation is not the whole of the problem; not at all.

The possibly larger problems of fossil-fueled transportation have not been addressed at all—especially not air and shipping transportation. And electric cars and trucks and buses have a long way to go to replace petroleum-powered cars and trucks and buses. And the problems of switching industrial heat production and building heating away from fossil fuels to renewables has hardly been begun.

And in addition there are all the problems of methane produced by farmers who grow animals (cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens) for use as human food. People like to eat meat, and so the politicians refuse to approach this problem at all.

The politicians even dodge talking about most of these problems. No-one wants to be first to tell unpleasant news.

As far as I am aware, my own city, New York City, has not even asked large buildings to turn off their lights at night, or asked everyone to turn air-conditioning thermostats up and heating thermostats down.

My Conclusion—Our Conclusion

My take is, then, that humankind is rushing—knowingly among the intellectual class—to its own destruction (and to the destruction of much else in the biosphere), all by doing far, far too little to fight GWCC.

We are rushing to our conclusion, the conclusion, the ending, of the human experiment. The termination of human existence.

There seem to be three attitudes toward GWCC, only two of which are taken by many American politicians.

No prominent politicians in the USA other than Green Party candidate Jill Stein and perhaps Bernie Sanders has—to my knowledge—evinced the First Attitude by saying that GWCC is a serious emergency and requires that strong measures be taken immediately and continuously until mankind gets to zero-emissions.

The Third Attitude is the attitude that nothing need be done about GWCC, now or ever, because GWCC is a hoax, its promise a hollow promise. This attitude is not widespread throughout the world, but is curiously very widespread indeed in the USA. Why? This appears to be due to the corrupting machinations of a few very, very rich men and corporations seeking to continue making profits in the fossil fuels businesses. It is also due to corruption endemic among many American politicians whose rather flexible morals and ethics are easily swayed by big-money. It is also due in part to the corrupt morals of the mainstream American media which have failed to teach the public to understand that GWCC is a tremendous and present promise of continually worsening destruction, and not at all a weak-kneed promise of small-scale destruction sometime in some far-off future perhaps in a galaxy far, far away.

The Second Attitude is one which acknowledges that GWCC is a serious problem, but fails to continue to study it as time goes by and fails to understand that it is a cumulative problem which gets worse every day that we have not (that humankind as a whole has not) stopped all or virtually all GHG emissions. People with this attitude think that nothing need be done today, that hard problems (like the proverbial tin-can) may be kicked down the road almost forever.

The USA’s spent $5T on wars since 9/11. Have we spent even $1T to eliminate GHG emissions?

In short, most politicians seem to think that “doing nothing”, so very successful in the nuclear war game (MAD) is necessarily equally useful in the GWCC situation.

Sadly for all of us, it is not. In this “game”, there will be no winners, only losers. And the longer we wait to do the painful things necessary to get to zero-emissions, the more losers there will be and the more seriously they will lose.


[1] Of course, one may always hope for a “magic bullet”. Perhaps scientists will find a way to remove CO2 and other GHGs from the atmosphere. But planners who count on such a “deus ex machina” rescue are not facing present-day reality.

More articles by:

Peter Belmont lives in Brooklyn. He can be reached at: pabelmont2007@verizon.net.

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