“All of the time scales seem to be shortened now. . . . Things are on more of a hair trigger than we thought.” (1)

The rapid and accelerating alterations in climate make it clear that we have to change course. If we care about the future in any meaningful way we literally have no choice (see previous and future posts for more detail on collapse-laden choicelessness). This non-choice is both simple and extremely difficult: Zero Carbon Now (ZCN).

ZCN is simple because the human species knows how to do it: for 99.9998% of our existence we’ve been carbon neutral. It’s also simple because with our current science and technology we can be carbon neutral far more comfortably than at any time in history.

ZCN is so difficult because our climate problem lurks far deeper than science or technology. ZCN is a problem of culture, in particular a global cultural addiction in rich and up-and-coming nations to the luxurious conflagration of ancient energy. The inordinately powerful, wealthy and stupid interests that enforce this addiction are not going down without a terrible fight. But if it’s between Exxon and ilk and the future of life on earth, my vote goes to the latter (2).

Wasted Light

Deciding on Zero Carbon Now

It’s popular to say that people won’t make drastic changes quickly, but it simply isn’t true. When such monsters as drought, wildfire or hurricane – or war – are at our doorstep, we perform all manner of extraordinary transformation and sacrifice, and make do with what we have and can readily create. Right now disasters are lining up with abandon (3).

To get to ZCN we first have to accept that the calamity is here, now, even though global warming may be difficult to perceive at times. Here’s the mindset: focus on the climate-induced community-crushing disaster of your choice, due to arrive tomorrow morning.

(While I believe we are capable of saving the show, I don’t think we will because we’re junkies, and would rather die than give up our fix. I write this in the cherished hope that I am wrong.)

To Do or Not To Do

I can only offer suggestions and point to the goal of ZCN. Each community will have to consider its own resources and inclinations, and I am primarily addressing people in these United States although every community on the planet will be – or already is – confronting such survival issues (4). Collectively we have the information we need to proceed, and are learning more every day. It’s only the will and determination to eliminate net carbon emissions that are lacking. If we were behaving rationally, each of us would dedicate hours a day to resolving our climate crisis.

Here’s a little to-do/not-to-do list. It’s part of our future, one way or another (5):


Shop Shop Shop

No more shopping, except for essentials. Jewelry and baubles, latest fashions, plasma TVs, cell phones, power tools, distant food, bottled water and junk calories – the list is as endless as the millions of tons of wasteful paper catalogues mailed annually, not to mention wanton online cornucopias (6). Local and regional food and products are what we’ve relied on for hundreds of millennia, our brief foray into fossil-driven luxury is heading for the sunset.

Recreation and Sports

Carbon-intensive fun is out. That means the end of golf, downhill skiing, nascar, sky-diving, and night games. Good-bye to Disney Worlds and Lands, and “recreational vehicle” travel. There’s a lot left to play, from outdoor tennis to softball to soccer to volleyball to ping pong to hiking and biking to track and marathons and many, many others. Survival demands some adjustments, we will have to live without the environmentally destructive stuff.


No more private cars, not even hybrids, which only postpone the inevitable. It’s not just the fuel, it’s the forbiddingly expensive (and crumbling) infrastructure, the thousands of square miles of impermeable roadway surfaces, the depletion of raw materials. Air travel, one of the most lethal climate activities, has to end. We can walk, bike or ride public transport, to school, work, shopping and sports. For international travel, look to a revival of sailing ships, modernized, and an opportunity to take our time en route.

Autos Only

If we can’t get somewhere or do something without burning carbon, the answer is simple: we don’t do and we don’t go (except in life-threatening emergencies). We can’t have everything we want whenever we want it. How many of us have said that to our children?

Better Homes and Gardens

Growing grass around our houses is perilous and terminally wasteful. Not only do we take valuable local agricultural land out of circulation, we drench our neighborhoods with toxic carboniferous chemicals, pollute the air with mowers, raise our tension levels with noise, and lose contact with cycles of nature (7).

Mansions will be converted to multi-family dwellings, and, if we don’t exhaust raw materials (a real possibility) every building in the country can be transformed into a zero carbon emitter, creating warmth or cooling as well as a surplus of electricity. Future buildings will be constructed from all local and renewable materials. Talk about job opportunities!

One Child

One Child

More people means more stuff and more waste. There are too many of us, notwithstanding a failed economic system that imagines it wants an endless supply of cheap labor. Fortunately, to control population, we now know many ways of preventing pregnancy with low or no risk to women’s health. Furthermore, from a spiritual perspective, it seems to me that agrarian-based religious obsessions with large families are contrary to the will of any imaginable Deity that cares about the welfare of Its human children. For those who want large families, let’s become a village and share the kids. Nuclear parenting is stressful and isolating anyway, a relatively recent anti-social economic invention. Child-raising should be a joyous collective community adventure.

It’s hard to know how many humans Terra Tostada will support. Whatever the number, we should reasonably aim for considerably less than that.

The Good News

The good news is that our lives will be quieter, less frantic, more self-sufficient, with closer relationships within our communities. We will end the pain and exploitation of peoples and creatures across the planet whom we have “globalized” mercilessly over the past few centuries.

The very best news is that we will live to enjoy what we’ve got.

Next time: Zero Carbon Britain, a detailed plan to eliminate all net carbon emissions in the U.K. by 2027. The best I’ve seen so far except that it takes twenty years, a geopolitical nanosecond, but far too long under the circumstances.

Copyright 2007 by Adam D. Sacks, all rights reserved.

1. Quoting University of Colorado climate scientist Ted Scanbos. Doug Struck, “At the Poles, Melting Occurring at Alarming Rate”, Washington Post, October 22, 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/21/AR2007102100761_pf.html.

2. The puffery, arrogance and futility of empire and its commercial struts is eloquently expressed in Shelley’s “Ozymandias” (referring to the Egyptian emporer Ramses the Great), written in 1817 during the heyday of the British attempts to conquer the world:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

3. Evacuations are a growing commonplace. “Calif. wildfires force more to flee,” Associated Press, October 23, 2007, http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2007/10/23/raging_calif_fires_burn_scores_of_homes/.

4. The American southeast is currently in the throes of a drought which, though foreseen by environmentalists, has surprised politicians and a public deluded by fantasies of endless growth. See, for example, Patrik Jonsson, “South Struggles to Cope With Drought,” The Christian Science Monitor, October 22, 2007, http://www.truthout.org/issues_06/102207ED.shtml.

5. Widespread availability of renewable energy will change the equation somewhat, but let’s get the renewable energy flowing first and then add newly-affordable luxuries one at a time. Aside from energy, we are rapidly reaching the limits to growth on planet earth. See Donnella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis Meadows, Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Chelsea Green, White River Junction, VT, 2004.

6. For stunning graphic depictions of our excesses, visit photographer Chris Jordan’s website, “Running the Numbers,” http://www.chrisjordan.com/current_set2.php.

7. See Heather C. Flores, Food, Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community , Chelsea Green, White River Junction, VT, 2006.