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Climate Change a Symptom of Bigger Problem

You might think the biggest threat to human civilization, or at least to a comfortable life, is climate change. It’s not, and Richard Heinberg makes the Wall of Fame today for clearly articulating this. He gets extra credit for putting technology in its place (not our savior) in this piece originally published in Ecowatch, but better headlined here at

Why Climate Change Isn’t Our Biggest Environmental Problem, and Why Technology Won’t Save Us

“Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue…. Until we understand and address this systemic imbalance, symptomatic treatment (doing what we can to reverse pollution dilemmas like climate change, trying to save threatened species, and hoping to feed a burgeoning population with genetically modified crops) will constitute an endlessly frustrating round of stopgap measures that are ultimately destined to fail.”

Don’t get him, or me, wrong. Heinberg agrees our disruption of the climate is a looming disaster. Significant, urgent, and catastrophic.

“It’s not that climate change isn’t a big deal. As a symptom, it’s a real doozy. There’s never been anything quite like it, and climate scientists and climate-response advocacy groups are right to ring the loudest of alarm bells. But our failure to see climate change in context may be our undoing.”

Heinberg calls this “tunnel vision.” The very important take-away from this piece is that a myopic focus on technological climate fixes like massive conversion to renewable energy or carbon capture and storage will not fix the fundamental problem of overshoot.

“If climate change can be framed as an isolated problem for which there is a technological solution, the minds of economists and policy makers can continue to graze in familiar pastures.”

The problem is, there are many problems with the familiar pastures. If we’re somehow lucky enough to constrain our greenhouse gas emissions and survive the climate emergency, our system’s obsession with everlasting growth will still crush Earth’s life-supporting ecosystems and bring human civilization down. It’s the system, stupid. We need to get over our love affair with “more.” To borrow a few words from Huey Lewis, we need a new drug (one that won’t make me nervous, one that won’t keep me up all night, one that won’t make us crash our civilization).

Heinberg is a brilliant analyst, a great thinker, and an excellent writer. Read this piece and share it with your kids, parents, siblings, colleagues, elected representatives and journalists.

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Dave Gardner

Producer of the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. Dave writes and speaks regularly on the subject of growth addiction, including the pro-growth media bias that perpetuates prosperity-from-growth mythology.

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