David Orr's Climate Collapse Doesn't Exist

By: Shawn Alli
Posted: October 4, 2013


David W. Orr's 2009 book, Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse, is the usual radical environmental book of how the world is at the brink of an environmental global collapse, and we have to radically change our entire way of living right now.


Orr's ideology is very clear to readers in the preface:

The few remaining climate skeptics aside, there are two general positions that bear on my own views. The first is the belief that there is a rising tide of groups, associations, and nongovernmental organizations forming around the world as a kind of planetary immune system that will transform our politics, heal the widening breach between humankind and the rest of nature, and lead on to sunnier uplands. There is considerable evidence for what Paul Hawken calls "blessed unrest." Clearly something is astir in the world, and perhaps it will eventually transform our manner of living and relating to the world and to each other.

Essentially the leader's task is consciousness-raising on a wide plane (Burns, 1978, p. 43). And we will need a great deal of consciousness-raising in the years ahead.


This sounds like a new environmental cult that believes it's their job to correct the balance of humanity and the world. As a young undergrad I remember having similar thoughts to this. It's only by experiencing life that I see reality and wake up from such delusional ideologies.


Orr brings forth the typical doomsayer claims:

Changes are already apparent: spring comes earlier and winter arrives later, birds characteristic of southern regions are showing up in the north, storms and heat waves are more frequent and more severe. Around the globe new records for extreme weather are being set at a record-breaking pace. With another degree or so of warming, the changes will be unmistakable: traditional northern winters will be mostly a memory, food prices will rise sharply, forest fires will be more frequent, and many species will disappear.


Here in Canada, the seasons continue as normal, summer is still summer and winter is still winter. To claim that a 1C change is going to alter all the life on the planet is nonsense.


And food prices already rise without the weather having any role - we call it the capitalistic greed of multinationals who allow the free market to "bear whatever price it can." While this is the current norm, it's both unethical to the poor and a disgraceful attitude to have as a human being.


The problem with radical environmentalists like Orr is that climate change is the perfect scapegoat. A hurricane kills hundreds of people? Man-made climate change. A drought prevents farmers from the highest yields? Man-made climate change. A flood? Man-made climate change. A warm winter? Man-made climate change.


This type of pseudoscience has no place in rational thinking. Orr is obviously part of the radical environmental groups that advocate for nothing less than a global environmental revolution. This type of thinking usually leads to myopic claims:

Polls show that the public is awakening and becoming increasingly supportive of action on climate change, energy efficiency, and solar power. A revolution has begun.


Where is this revolution? Or is it a political and economic ploy to manipulate the general public in order to believe in a cause? Thereby electing a particular government or voting a particular way.


In Chapter 1 Orr makes an interesting claim:

The climate system has roughly a 30-year thermal lag between the release of heat-trapping gases and the climate-driven weather events that we experience.


Is this a scientific rule? Some sort of natural law? If it is I'd love to see the hundreds and thousands of scientific journals stating this and explaining all temperature changes for the last...let's say...500 years. If Orr can prove this with overwhelming scientific journals, I would be compelled to give climate change a second reading. Until then it's merely conjecture, speculation, and a perfect scapegoat.


But then again, mainstream meteorologists can't even predict the weather a few days in advance, so why should I believe climatologists who make predictions decades and centuries in advance?


Orr definitely paints a dire picture of the consequences of man-made climate change:

As the once familiar trees, birds, and animals of a region die out, the sense of loss will be impossible to calculate. People, attached to the sights, sounds, and smells of familiar landscapes and regions will go through a process of grieving similar to that of refugees forced to flee their homes and cherished places. The degradation of the forests of Appalachia and the Southeast to scrub and grassland, for example, will incur crushing psychological costs for which we have no adequate words.

The conclusion is unavoidable: a great deal that we have long taken for granted, like the Sunday drive, the trip to the mall, the SUV, cheap food on well stocked store shelves, or even the transition from one season to another, will likely become intermittent, or perhaps even distant memories.


I've never heard such nonsense in my entire life. I'll spare you the commentary.


This is not the end of oil but rather the beginning of the end of cheap oil...when supply and demand curves for oil eventually diverge the results likely will be long gas lines, economic downturn, unemployment, inflation, political instability, and wars fought over the remaining reserves of oil.


In this quotation Orr pays homage to Marion King Hubbert and the Hubbert Curve. If oil peaks in 1965-70 for the US where is this war? It's 43 years late at the moment. And if global oil is already peaking in the first decade, why are countries still exporting their oil? Why not keep it for themselves and ration it off? Because there is no peak oil or shortage in the supply of oil.


No government really believes in peak oil today. This should tell Orr, peak oil theorists and radical environmentalists, that something doesn't make sense. Their usual response is that these government officials are living in a fantasy world. But it's the other way around, radical environmentalists are living in the fantasy world.


Orr makes a good point about the insatiable demand for growth in Western society such as over-fishing and massive deforestation. But then again, in time, fish stocks will recover if the fishing industry paces itself. Sustainability is not about hoarding all the fish until there's nothing left for everyone else.


The same is true for logging. In the past, loggers cut down anything and everything, but now there are regulations for replanting in many countries. No system is perfect but these two examples are attempts at sustainability.


Efficiency in vehicles today is another small innovation. It doesn't cut out the source, but many car buyers now look for the most fuel efficient models when buying a car.


In looking at solutions I find it odd that Orr and many other environmentalists don't talk about a barter system, where no money changes hands, only goods. This is one of the oldest and easiest means of living. If I grow apples on my property and trade them with my neighbour for loaves of bread, the transaction is perfectly legal and money doesn't enter into the equation. The only problem is that greedy tax departments want their cut from anything and converted into dollars.


Chapter 1 is more of a soliloquy of what government should do in terms of environmental, energy and democratic policies. While there's nothing wrong in wanting a better government, there are no legal mechanisms that can force a government to be more accountable to its people.


Many citizens and organizations try to create change in the courts and through non-profit organizations, but the usual result is minor changes with rare exceptions. One exception to this may be the Keystone XL pipeline. If the Obama Administration rejects the plan, it'll show the influence of environmental movements. If he approves the plan, it shows the triumph of private interest groups, big oil, and multinational corporations. Either way, it's a tough call.


In Chapter 2 Orr talks about a new economic model for the future:

An ecologically enlightened capitalism would place value on "natural capital" such as soils, waters, forests, biological diversity, and climate stability while retaining the dynamism and creativity of markets and entrepreneurship.


This sounds good in theory but whether the terms "enlightened" and "capitalism" is an oxymoron, is debateable.


Another claim is quite problematic:

The effects of our present use of coal, oil, and natural gas will kill into the far future, but we cannot know exactly who, where, or how they will die. We do know, however, that the number will be very large and that they will perish in storms, or heat waves, or of strange diseases, or in violence amplified by famine, or in any of a thousand other ways. We have, however, no word by which to describe calamity at this scale and, as yet, no means to hold perpetrators accountable.

Looking ahead to rapid climate destabilization, the loss of perhaps a quarter to half of the species of life on Earth, and the widening gulf of poverty and living standards, we see that it may not have been a passage at all but a road toward the abyss of extinction. But it is a mistake, I think, to regard the possible suicide of humankind as an anomaly rather than the logical outcome of a wrong turn that now must be quickly undone.


This is one issue that boils my blood with radical environmentalists. They believe that using hydrocarbons is the equivalent to the genocide of all future generations. While Orr doesn't come right out and say it, I believe that he wants to.


The claim is complete nonsense, the idea that you can hold oil executives and workers as being responsible for the death of future generations is both unethical and despicable of Orr to suggest.


In Chapter 3 Orr compares US President Abraham Lincoln's position on slavery with climate change - both are morally wrong, and apparently everyone has to admit it. This is supposed to create transformative leadership. It's such an odd quotation that it's better to read it without my commentary.


In Chapter 4 Orr gets into the ecological devastation that coal mining causes and all the health problems on workers and residents in the surrounding area. I'm not defending the corporations. I'm saying the EPA is to blame for its lack of regulations and enforcement.


When a corporation breaks environmental laws blatantly, their license should be revoked and every board member and executive CEO should be charged criminally. The fact that this doesn't happen and that Orr and other radical environmentalists aren't pushing for these reforms...shows a huge disconnect.


And Orr puts the blame directly on coal companies:

'Clean coal' is a scam foisted on the gullible by the coal companies hoping for a few more years of profit at a cost we cannot fathom.


A few more years of profit? Is Orr not part of reality? Coal, natural gas and oil will be around for centuries and millenniums. Coal is even one of the oldest of the hydrocarbons to be produced commercially. Coal will be with the 21st century for the entire period and beyond.


Chapters 5-7 are on human nature, psychology, religion, compassion, our ability to forgive, and non-violent action. It's interesting information but has little to do with climate change now. Most likely, Orr includes it as a prelude for the chaos that will apparently begin after civilization as we know it crumbles.


Near the end of Chapter 6 Orr talks about future wars for water and energy. Taking the form of electricity, energy can be generated very easily using simple devices. The reason people don't do this is because it's so plentiful in Western society.


In regards to the "water wars," Orr doesn't mention anything about rain barrels (collecting natural rain into water barrels). The process of filtering rain water into drinking water is straightforward and requires little energy and cost. If every person who owns a house does this, their water bill will be much lower. Again, people don't do this because water is so plentiful in the West.


In Chapter 7 Orr goes out on a limb to suggest that humans have difficulty handling bad news (global climate catastrophe). While this may be true for some, it's not an accurate generalization. Individuals in Western society are inundated with bad news everyday: reading newspapers, online news and the local evening news on TV.


Generally speaking, the public doesn't freak out and close themselves off from the world when they hear bad news. They handle it in their own way and attempt to move forward. Individuals in developing countries live and experience the worst of the worst-shootings right in front of their eyes, blatant corruption and dire circumstances. Yet, their ability to love and respect other human beings usually remains intact. This is the resilience that all humans naturally have. And I don't think that Orr can recognize this.


In Chapter 8 Orr calls on the Obama Administration to create an environmental and energy policy that will enable radical transformation in all aspects of industry, government and the daily lives of the people. 4 years later in 2013 I can say that Obama hasn't accomplished much in terms of his climate change supporters.


Aside from the NSA scandal and the US government shutdown, Obama's legacy will be decided on whether he approves the Keystone XL pipeline or not.


David W. Orr's book, Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse, gets 2 out of 5 stars for not presenting the evidence of man-made climate change in a clear manner. However, Orr genuinely desires the growth of humanity through reformed environmental and governmental policy. Down to the Wire gets a grade of C+.