Losing Earth: A Recent History
a book by Nathaniel Rich
(our site's book review)
The Amazon blurb says that By 1979, we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change—including how to stop it. Over the next decade, a handful of scientists, politicians, and strategists, led by two unlikely heroes, risked their careers in a desperate, escalating campaign to convince the world to act before it was too late. Losing Earth: A Recent History is their story, and ours.
The New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to Nathaniel Rich’s groundbreaking chronicle of that decade, which became an instant journalistic phenomenon—the subject of news coverage, editorials, and conversations all over the world. In its emphasis on the lives of the people who grappled with the great existential threat of our age, it made vivid the moral dimensions of our shared plight.
Global warming is real, certain, and it is coming to a theatre near you—AND to every other place on the planet
Now expanded into book form, Losing Earth: A Recent History tells the human story of climate change in even richer, more intimate terms. It reveals, in previously unreported detail, the birth of climate denialism and the genesis of the fossil fuel industry’s coordinated effort to thwart climate policy through misinformation propaganda and political influence. The book carries the story into the present day, wrestling with the long shadow of our past failures and asking crucial questions about how we make sense of our past, our future, and ourselves.
Like John Hersey’s Hiroshima and Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth, Losing Earth: A Recent History is the rarest of achievements: a riveting work of dramatic history that articulates a moral framework for understanding how we got here, and how we must go forward.
"An eloquent science history, and an urgent eleventh-hour call to save what can be saved." —Barbara Kiser, Nature
“Reading like a Greek tragedy, Losing Earth: A Recent History shows how close we came to making the right choices — if it weren't for our darker angels.” —Adam Frank, NPR.org
"Exceedingly well-written . . . a must-read handbook for everyone concerned about our planet's future . . . Losing Earth: A Recent History is eloquent, devastating, and crucial.” —Booklist (starred review)
"A maddening book full of what-ifs and the haunting suspicion that if treated as a political problem and not as a matter of life and death, climate change will cook everyone’s geese." —Kirkus Reviews
A maddening book full of what-ifs and the haunting suspicion that if treated as a political problem and not as a matter of life and death, climate change will cook everyone’s geese
“This deeply researched, deeply felt book is an essential addition to the canon of climate change literature. Others have documented where we are, and speculated about where we might be headed, but the story of how we got here is perhaps the most important one to be told, because it is both a cautionary tale and an unfinished one. Reading this book, I could not help but imagine my children one day reading a future edition, which will include the story of my generation's response to what we knew." —Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
“How to explain the mess we’re in? Nathaniel Rich recounts how a crucial decade was squandered. Losing Earth: A Recent History is an important contribution to the record of our heedless age.” —Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
"Combining the dramatic immediacy of a police procedural with the urgency of prophecy, Nathaniel Rich's provocative book chronicles the failure of our scientific and political leaders to act to halt the climate apocalypse when they appeared on the verge of doing so, and casts the triumph of denial as the defining moral crisis for humankind." —Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families
In this book, Nathaniel Rich demonstrates exquisitely how shallow debate of a deep problem—the planetary scale and civilizational consequences of climate change—exacerbates the problem
“In this book, Nathaniel Rich demonstrates exquisitely how shallow debate of a deep problem—the planetary scale and civilizational consequences of climate change—exacerbates the problem. We are still a long way from thinking about climate change in the multi-century frame we need to deal with it realistically. Getting there will be a new skill for humanity, if we get there.” —Stewart Brand, author of Whole Earth Discipline
It is discouraging for any of us to examine the enormous problems humanity is facing, and see so many powerful people flatly refusing to work toward solutions. How can it be that we as a species are not better at learning from history by now? People who refuse to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.
To be specific, there are people who are willing to sell the whole of humanity as well as our beautiful planet down the river for a wad or bag of cash. Reporters, networks, producers, TV hosts, scientists, professors, spokespeople—the list is depressing. Worst of all are the oligarchs and corporations and think tanks and politicians who seem almost eager to flush humanity's future down the toilet for money. The science is clear but they are pretending that it is unclear. The risk is monumental but they are pretending it's no big deal. Why? See:
- Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
- The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming
- The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption
- The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions
- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
- The New Know-Nothings: The Political Foes of the Scientific Study of Human Nature
- The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It
- The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy
There are people who are willing to sell the whole of humanity as well as our beautiful planet down the river for a bag of cash
There are thousands of people who know the hugely devastating catastrophes that await us and who understand the science and the facts, but they have chosen to stab our future in the back because they will be well paid if they do so. Big Oil and their cohorts one way or another covertly went from person to person and found out what their price was to sell out the world. Big Tobacco did the same thing in mid-century in the 1900s, but they got caught in their lies and ended up paying huge fines for killing millions with their evil product. Big Oil has planned to be too sneaky and careful to ever get caught in their conspiracy to kill the world to keep their profits maximized. They want it to look like "the scientists disagree" so there needs to be a few more decades of study before we can act. But as any climate scientist knows, we've already pushed our luck way too long and more delays will seal our fate in an irreversible Hell.
How can there be college attendance at 120 degrees Fahrenheit and when the buildings are flooded as are the roads to the college?
What are all these sellouts planning to tell their children and grandchildren when these latter confront them with their ruined lives and ask how they could do this to them? "Well, those bribes will be paying for your college." How can there be college attendance at 120 degrees Fahrenheit and when the buildings are flooded as are the roads to the college, and immigrants are flooding in and causing hell everywhere because their countries have been ruined by our egregious fossil fuel burning and they are trying to take over our homes and cities because we wrecked theirs?
The thousands of sellouts know what they've done, but in order to live with themselves they simply repress the truth and pretend that the ongoing disaster is just liberal nonsense, like the whole political correctness foolishness, which 80% of Americans are against, according to polls. But clmate change is not political correctness. The latter is a foolish idea that liberals centered their social justice narrative around and we can deal with PC by ceasing to preach PC gospel and chalk the whole thing up to a serious error in judgment.
This type of hateful dogma is exactly why white supremacist groups are forming, strengthening, and holding rallies, and exactly why the Orange Oligarch is now president
On the other hand, global warming and climate and weather wrecking are pushing us rapidly towards this future: Hell—it's the biggest problem humanity has ever faced
The Reagan administration sold out to the Big Oil oligarchs and hobbled environmental regulations and he turned the country over to the fossil fuel industry goons. And Trump is selling out to Big Oil too. With Fox News or social media trolls spreading their conspiracy theories, it will be a miracle if anything useful gets done about the climate change disaster, much less acknowledging the problem and addressing it. Losing Earth: A Recent History is the sad story of a lost decade in the fight for real action to deal with human-caused climate change: the decade from 1979 through 1989. This is the decade when the seriousness of human-caused climate change first came to the attention of politicians and the citizens of the USA. The decade began with growing acceptance of the scientific evidence, even by fossil-fuel companies and politicians. But then greed set in—limitless insane greed to get insanely rich at the cost of our planet, our people, our future, and our hope. See Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.
The question of why no one acted in those crucial decades is the subject of this short, powerful book. It makes clear that the fundamental flaws in ourselves and in our government are just as much to blame as anything the oil companies did. By this is meant we kept burning fossil fuels at an incredible rate satisfying all our needs and desires and almost no one gave a second thought to the environment.
We kept burning fossil fuels at an incredible rate satisfying all our needs and desires and almost no one gave a second thought to the environment
True, everyone got excited about the environmentalism right at first, but when Reagan and his administration hobbled environmental regulation, we all took that as a sign that environmentalism was unimportant, so we started up the ogry of heedless consumerism and that self-absorbed party has continued to this very day. If only Reagan had been a statesman like FDR, he could have showed leadership and convinced everyone to make the necessary sacrifices like FDR did before and during WWII. But Reagan was the Great Communicator, and not one bit the Great Statesman, so he led us away from taking the environment seriously at a critical time. Talk about blowing an incredibly important opportunity! We needed leadership and integrity—what we got instead was an invitation to a party. Then G.H.W. Bush kept up the incredible failure of leadership and sealed our doom.
Reagan believed in neoliberalism, which taught that deregulation is great for business. So Reagan's simple mind figured that we wanted U.S. businesses to succeed so he deregulated whatever he could get his hands on, including environmental regulations, declaring open war on solar energy. Reagan appeared determined to reverse the environmental achievements of ALL previous administrations. Reagan had insisted scientists utter false statements in their Congressional testimony that would have distorted their conclusions. He didn't want to be the bad news president, so he opted for fake news. Jim Hansen refused, so he testified as a private citizen even though he was the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
But then in 1989 Bush #1 was president and he called himself the environmental president because it sounded good, but he had no real interest in it. So John Sununu, White House Chief of Staff under Bush, felt supported when he boldly prevented the signing of a 67-nation commitment to freeze carbon dioxide emissions, with a reduction of 20 percent by 2005, and singled him out as a force starting coordinated efforts to bewilder the public on the topic of global warming and changing it from an urgent, nonpartisan and unimpeachable issue to a political one. Is he the main planet killer? He's surely one of the main ones, and all the climate deniers since him are his accomplices.
The doddering mouthpiece for the curse of Neoliberalism, Ronnie Reagan
The free market policies that are Neoliberalism at its worst were not the answer for citizens but were found to be a peachy keen answer for rich, greedy elites. There were great public relations efforts which have propagandized this into the public consciousness as a panacea. And the idea that neoliberalism's benefits will eventually trickle down to the have-nots was a covertly mean-spirited scam from day one. The have-nots did not get trickled TO—they got trickled ON. See Trickle-down economics.
The idea that neoliberalism's benefits will eventually trickle down to the have-nots was a covertly mean-spirited scam from day one. The have-nots did not get trickled TO—they got trickled ON
"When it comes to our own nation, which has failed to make any binding commitments whatsoever, the dominant narrative for the last quarter century has concerned the efforts of the fossil-fuel industries to suppress science, confuse public knowledge and bribe politicians. . . . It was James Hansen’s testimony before Congress in 1988 that, for the first time since the 'Changing Climate' report, made oil-and-gas executives begin to consider the issue’s potential to hurt their profits. Exxon, as ever, led the field. Six weeks after Hansen’s testimony, Exxon’s manager of science and strategy development, Duane LeVine, prepared an internal strategy paper urging the company to 'emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions.' This shortly became the default position of the entire sector. LeVine, it so happened, served as chairman of the global petroleum industry’s Working Group on Global Climate Change, created the same year, which adopted Exxon’s position as its own. . . . We know that if we don’t act to reduce emissions, we risk the collapse of civilization. We also know that, without a gargantuan intervention, whatever happens will be worse for our children, worse yet for their children and even worse still for their children’s children, whose lives, our actions have demonstrated, mean nothing to us. . . . It is true that much of the damage that might have been avoided is now inevitable. And Pomerance is not the romantic he once was. But he still believes that it might not be too late to preserve some semblance of the world as we know it." (Source: Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change, Nathaniel Rich, NY Times)
Venus, surface temperature 864 °F (Earth is 58.7 °F), surface pressure 92 bar (Earth is 1.01325 bar), atmosphere 96.5% carbon dioxide (Earth is 0.0408% but rising quickly), clouds are sulfuric acid (Earth's are water vapor). Studies have suggested that billions of years ago Venus's atmosphere was much more like Earth's than it is now, and that there may have been substantial quantities of liquid water on the surface, but after a period of 600 million to several billion years, a runaway greenhouse effect was caused by the evaporation of that original water, which generated a critical level of greenhouse gases in its atmosphere. Are humans causing a runaway greenhouse effect on Earth?
"'Losing Earth' Explores How Oil Industry Played Politics With The Planet's Fate. Journalist Nathaniel Rich says the oil industry helped create a partisan debate around climate change in the 1980s by paying scientists to write op-eds questioning climate science." —NPR
Journalist Nathaniel Rich says the oil industry helped create a partisan debate around climate change in the 1980s by paying scientists to write op-eds questioning climate science
"'The dominant narrative for the last quarter century has concerned the unrestrained efforts of the fossil fuel industry, compounded by the ingratiating abetment of the Republican Party, to suppress scientific fact, confuse the public, and bribe politicians.' A big assist came from John Sununu, George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, who scuttled that . . . best chance: the 1989 International Planet Protection Convention in the Netherlands." —Nathaniel Rich
"'There can be no understanding of our current and future predicament,' Rich writes, 'without an understanding of why we failed to solve this problem when we had the chance.' The tragic figure in this story is not Rafe Pomerance or James Hansen, but all of humanity, whose fatal flaw is that we are unable to sacrifice the comforts we currently enjoy to avoid future catastrophe. . . . for the most part it seems as if his 'solution' to the total shipwreck of climate change is to vigorously point the finger as the ship goes down." (Source: Down to Earth: Why is the story of climate catastrophe so hard to tell?, Meehan Crist, New Republic)
It seems as if Rich's 'solution' to the total shipwreck of climate change is to vigorously point the finger as the ship goes down
The bottom line is that the climate change people lost and the climate change deniers won. The Big Oil people who kept spreading lies and propaganda to improve their bottom line—they won as well. The citizens used to realize the huge scope of the problem and the need for immediate action. After all the lying took effect, the citizens no longer see the climate change issue as important, and they believe the lie that "scientists disagree." No reputable scientist disagrees—only the bribed flunkies who have sold out to Big Oil are "disagreeing"—and their "beliefs" are all disingenuous. We wonder how it feels to sell out a planet, our future, and humanity in one fell swoop.
Politicians are very opportunist creatures that say and sign what people want to hear and see, but their actions are mostly token and pretense
But it was more than a meeting scuttling by Sununu that sunk hopes for efficacious climate action. It was also the fact that leaders could say whatever they wanted and sign whatever unenforceable treaty they wanted but this wouldn't make them act against the profit making of the corporatocracy or the convenience of the citizens. Politicians are very opportunist creatures that say and sign what people want to hear and see, but their actions are mostly token and pretense. Social engineering generally is all talk and little action and actions overseen by bureaucrats are mostly ineffective and limp.
But, worse yet, neoliberalism was the enemy of the environment from its inception. It was a scorched earth program of corporatocracy enrichment at the expense of everyone and everything EXCEPT the corporatocracy—environment/climate be damned. So we can expect climate change to be devastating and merciless and hopeless. Thanks a lot, Reagan, Sununu, Koch brothers, both Bushes, Obama, Trump, LeVine, neoliberalism, and Big Oil oligarchs!
For a few million bucks, the deniers have succeeded at rolling the planet off the cliff to the fate of hellish destruction
Why would the powers-that-be not only scuttle climate action but also call climate change a hoax and then science itself a hoax? They are not too stupid to see that they're flushing the planet down the toilet and themselves with it. What gives?
Billions of deaths is an acceptable price for their obsessive wealth acquisition. When you go mad with greed, your wealth is all you see
The answer to that is wrapped up in the philosophy subscribed to by our leaders: Neoliberalism. In this philosophy, leaders:
- The answer to "why scuttle climate action?" is infinite greed. Big Oil oligarchs make bigger profits if they don't get profits diluted by regulations and fair corporation tax policies. Billions of deaths is an acceptable price for their obsessive wealth acquisition. When you go mad with greed, your wealth is all you see.
- Pretend the "by the people, of the people, and for the people" motto while acting according to the real motto: "by the corporatocracy, of the corporatocracy, and for the corporatocracy."
- Pretend to support democracy while secretly undermining it at home and globally, but using phrases like "democratization" to cover actions like unprovoked attack, terrorism (while labelling the citizens who criticize their terrorism as terrorists, communists, Marxists, etc., needing extermination, torture, oppression, exploitation)
- Hate democracy because it includes human rights, support for environmentalism, support for regulations, and fair tax policies; but neoliberals support tax policies that avoid taxing the rich, support deregulations including those that will harm the environment, support policies that remove rights from the citizens and call it enhanced security measures
- Pretend to support civil rights but in truth they want rights for themselves but not the citizens; they support a surveillance society like Big Brother from 1984 and say it is for our safety from terrorists but it is actually for the purpose of surveilling and controlling citizens since as the rich keep robbing the nonrich and inequality keeps increasing, the 1% realize that the citizens of the 99% will eventually rebel and the elites are prepared with martial law and a mammoth surveillance system, and laws in place where we can be put in camps and forced to work and they can take anything we own
- Insist that the CIA has people working in all the major media companies to censor anything that fails to toe the party line; this includes feeding the public lies (WMDs in Iraq) if it suits their purposes
- Pretend allegiance to all things American, patriotic, apple pie, while having real loyalty only to the corporatocracy and their own families
- Pretend to have the power to make real decisions, while taking orders from an unelected shadow government
- Support imperialism, exploitation of other countries by any means, coups, assassinations
- Support disaster capitalism and predatory capitalism
- Sabotage democracies that sprout up, not wanting the U.S. citizens to learn about what real democracy is like, and not wanting them to learn that the U.S. is an oligarchy with eroding rights and freedoms; See Democracy—an American Delusion
If the people had any real power, they'd stop the rich from screwing the poor and middle class, so the rich would become less rich, which they would hate, so the rich ensure the nonrich are powerless
So you can see that the elites want citizens to be docile sheep they can shear, or cows they can milk. They want the wealth for themselves so they make sure to fix it so elites' few huge monopolistic companies can take over or kill any of the smaller companies, and they arrange for tax policies that keep wealth moving upwards to the top. If there is climate change that kills billions, neoliberals don't care. They will have access to huge underground bunkers full of food, water, and weapons. The neoliberals will do to the suffering non-elites what they have been doing since the 1950s to poorer countries around the globe, control and terrorize and exploit and take their resources for free or for cheap, using the CIA and installed dictators as tools, or in the case of climate disasters, using the shadow government as their ticket to wealth and safety. See Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order.
The oligarchs would be happy to bury democracy six feet under in order to maximize their wealth
Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power is one of the most important books (and documentary films) ever written, and it comes at a critical time in American history. It is a coherent narrative of the corruption of our American socio-economic-political systems. In addition to being a requiem, the film is also a post mortem, containing descriptions of the strategies and tactics that have transformed the United States of America into an oligarchy.
So what, then, are the ten principles of concentration of wealth and power at work in America today? They're simple enough: reduce democracy, shape ideology, redesign the economy, shift the burden onto the poor and middle classes, attack the solidarity of the people, let special interests run the regulators, engineer election results, use fear and the power of the state to keep the rabble in line, manufacture consent, and marginalize the population.
Chomsky, in Requiem for the American Dream , systematically documents the many ways the system is rigged from top to bottom