I imagine that you are a skilled communicator who cares about our future.

Many groups are arising that are concerned about climate change. However, there are reasons to suppose that the global climate conversation is somewhat misfocused. And there is a line of action that is very hopeful. Clear thinking here is essential.

I would like your help in helping climate campaigners become more accurate and effective. And of course more is involved in addition to climate change. We have a polycrisis, and need to evolve a viable system. My suggestions here go beyond climate change.

This email is as succinct as possible. Even so, it is fairly long. This is because it introduces novel ideas that take some explanation.

(Note: In all goodwill views you yourself hold may be challenged. I trust that is all right with you.)

Here is an executive summary.

Executive summary

  • Reducing fossil fuel emissions and sequestering carbon can have no effect on atmospheric CO2 levels for the next one hundred to 1000 years. This is because any CO2 drawn down from the atmosphere will be replaced by CO2 outgassing from the ocean.
  • The major driver of increased fossil fuel use is our global economic system. Fossil fuel use is going up despite the uptake in renewable energy.
  • Fossil fuel use will not come down until collectively we agree to greatly reduce industrial production.
  • Despite the hype and hope, renewable energy cannot completely replace our fossil fuel system. There is a serious shortfall in essential minerals such as cobalt, manganese, graphite, vanadium, and rare earths. It is even questionable whether we will have the amount of copper required.
  • We reached peak oil around 2015. Going forward the oil supplies will reduce, and the price will go up. Oil is used for long-distance shipping and hauling, agriculture and mining equipment, lubrication, and plastic products. This will profoundly slow the global economy. Collectively we should prepare for it.
  • We are in overshoot on many dimensions, including freshwater and quality topsoil. We have more people than the Earth can sustain.
  • We may conclude that our energy-rich globalized civilization has peaked and will decline as energy constraints plus climate change accelerate.

Collectively we would be wise to embrace decline. Decline is going to happen whether we want it are not. And the sooner we reduce consumption the better for coming generations and the rest of life on earth. However, as you know currently government policies push for ever increasing economic growth.

On the positive side:

  • The Earth has a natural cooling system. It is green forests and grasslands. Regenerating arid lands on a global scale can not only reduce the heat that greenhouse gases capture, it can increase reflective cloud cover and accelerate the dissipation of heat into space.
  • There are millions of groups that care about ecological and social well-being. By aligning to shift public mindsets (improve thinking and emotional well-being) the environmental-progressive movement can become orders of magnitude more influential.

One key is to inspire the members of established groups to act as citizen educators, and provide succinct purpose-built that make communicating straightforward.

Another key is for inspire thought leaders to champion the overarching goal of evolving a compassionate life-affirming culture (or some such positive goal), and articulate – over and over – what’s involved.

A robust set of communication tools has been developed. Typically they use images to communicate chains of ideas that enable people to connect dots. The tools carry the conversation; no great training is required. However, there is always scope for individual creativity and initiative.

I have a vision of millions of people acting as citizen-educators through personal conversations. However, that’s for later. The key leverage point now is to engage leaders of groups and thought leaders.


Your possible involvement

Your role (or so I imagine) will be to reach out to potential colleagues and influential leaders. For starters, these may be people you already know. An indicative list of individuals and groups to potentially contact is at the end of this email. It will give you an idea of what’s possible; no doubt you can generate your own list.

I have a vision of an evolutionary social change movement devoted to helping people function better both intellectually and emotionally. This is different than protests, messages and typical lectures (although they too are part of the mix). We help people think better.

The intellectual side of helping people function better has to do with helping people grasp the systemic drivers that make ecological trends worse, and the need to greatly reduce industrial production to preserve our life support systems.

The emotional side, more specialized, is about introducing people to techniques they can use to resolve their own emotional triggers. Resolving our emotional triggers makes our innate goodness, as the Buddhists call it, more accessible. Feeling okay ourselves, perhaps we will more readily accept consuming much less than we are used to. And I would like to think that feeling happy and clear in ourselves makes us less prone to emotional manipulation by demagogues.

If we are to give present and future generations the best chance, collectively we must profoundly change our thinking. This is why I am seeking colleagues. Becoming an Evolutionary Catalyst provides both a theory of mindset change and practical tools to act on this.

If you accept this invitation, the amount of time you put into it is up to you. All of us have projects we are already involved in.

Critical thinking

As mentioned, for reasons I will explain below, much climate change communication is wrongheaded though good willed. As change agents, we would be well advised to use our critical intelligence to be alert to ‘solutions’ that are not actually sufficient.

Beyond that, which is the point of this email, it would be excellent if we could help leaders of established groups that have money and prominence think more clearly.

Who am I to suppose that I know better than these other folks? Well, I’ve been an activist and a researcher in the areas of ecological sustainability and personal development for more than a decade. I’m always on the lookout for ideas that might be relevant. And the key ideas are not very hard.

The important question is Do the ideas I present and the sources I draw upon makes sense to you? We would each do well to think the issues through for ourselves.

In what follows I will present why I think much climate communication is wrongheaded, and put forward constructive proposals that I and others are working on. See what you think.

First, the good news

I believe that Australian scientist Walter Jehne and others have come up with an approach to global warming that can make a major difference.

There are three key points:

  • If we ask where does the heat come from that greenhouse gases trap?, it comes from land surfaces. Bare land reradiates much more heat than vegetated land. About half the Earth’s arable land is now arid or desert. If we regard greenhouse gases as the lid on the pot, then arid land is the hotplate.
  • The good news is that we can turn down the hotplate by regenerating arid land on a massive scale. Regenerating forests and grasslands not only turns down the heat locally, globally it has the potential to restore the Earth’s cooling system.
  • Folks have worked out how to regenerate arid and desert land, and there are many projects underway. However, I believe government invested is required for regeneration at a scale that will make a difference.

The dynamics of the interactions between soil microbes, forests, atmosphere in the global water cycle are complicated – and fascinating! Regeneration to cool the planet has links to short animations, articles and an in-depth explanation by Walter Jehne. I encourage you to dig into it!

More good news

There are millions of groups that care about ecological and social well-being. Millions!

A majority people accept the reality of climate change. The fires and floods around the world have done that. People care.

Now, the bad news

Most folks working on climate – whether they are large organizations or local climate activists – naïvely champion proposed solutions that have no chance of working within a timeframe that matters. Let’s have a look.

Why carbon sequestration will not work

Proposed solutions for global warming include massive reforestation (which we should do), carbon capture and storage, and stimulating the growth of marine organisms. However, within a timeframe that matters these will have little effect.

The reason is simple.

The oceans hold about 50 times as much CO 2 as the atmosphere. Like CO 2  fizzing from a soft drink, any reduction in atmospheric CO 2  will be replaced by CO 2  outgassing from the oceans. Therefore, in the near term – and we are in a climate emergency now – reducing emissions will make no difference.

(NOTE: CO 2  moves between the atmosphere and the ocean by molecular diffusion when there is a difference between CO 2  partial pressure (pCO 2 ).)

On the face of it, reducing emissions seems to make sense. Greenhouse gases trap heat, so we should reduce emissions.

Thirty years ago reducing emissions would have been very helpful. We still need to reduce emissions as rapidly as possible. But now reducing emissions won’t make any difference to global CO2 levels for the same reason that carbon sequestration will not help. Any reduction in atmospheric CO2, whether by natural or artificial means, will be replaced by CO2 outgassing from the oceans.

This insight puts many knowledgeable people in despair. (Or perhaps it taps into an underlying despair that is already there.)

Why emissions are not coming down

Emissions are not coming down because fossil fuels are essential for our global economy, and indeed for the physical survival of most of us.

Coal, oil, and gas are used for mining, manufacturing, long-distance transportation (cargo ships internationally, and trucks locally carrying food to your local supermarket), and agriculture. This supply chain graphic shows the pattern; it applies generally.

Any severe interruption in the supply chain, including sudden reduction in fossil fuel use, would bring our civilization to an abrupt halt. Recall the empty shelves in supermarkets when supply chains were interrupted during the pandemic.

Economically, a significant reduction in industrial production would trigger another Great Depression or worse. In due course the economy will slow anyway, because of resource shortages. Collectively, we would be wise to plan for it.

All major governments push for increased economic growth, and I believe that by and large the public would be with them on this (my job, my mortgage, my superannuation!). Although the Nordic countries do better on this, America, Australia and many other countries do not have the social safety nets to take care of people in a slowing economy.

I draw three conclusions from this. See what you think.

1. In terms of public policy, global emissions will not come down until there is public willingness to reduce industrial production to preserve our life support systems. In other words, willingness to slow our economic system and live far more materially modest lifestyles.

2. A precondition for intentionally slowing the economy (along with the education) is to establish social safety nets. Two promising policies are Universal Social Services (low cost housing, transportation, education and health services), and a Job Guarantee.

3. Climate activists should be helping folks think this through, so that the general public becomes willing to support measures to slow the economy in order to stop making global warming and other disastrous ecological trends worse.

More immediately, in terms of dealing with planetary overheating, we activists should be actively championing regenerating arid and desert lands on a global scale (while simultaneously pushing to reduce emissions, protect endangered species and the rest of it).

The illusion of 100% renewable energy

Many people place their hope in electrifying everything and transitioning to 100% renewable energy. They hope that we can keep business as usual going while reducing emissions. This seems to make sense – until you look into the logistics of actually doing it.

Replacing the current fossil fuel system with renewable energy is a massive building project. We are talking about building windmills, solar panels, electric motors, transmission lines and transformer stations on a scale larger than the 100 years or so we have spent building out the current fossil fuel energy system.

It takes physical materials to build these things.  Lots. Some of the critical materials are not common. So the question has been raised:

Do we actually have the raw materials to completely replace our current fossil fuel system with renewable energy?

Analysts such as Simon Michaux of the Geological Survey of Finland and Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute conclude that when you crunch the numbers the answer is unequivocally No.

There are serious shortfalls in critical minerals such as cobalt, manganese, graphite, vanadium, lithium and rare earths. Even the amount of copper that will be available is questionable; most of the high-grade ores have already been mined.

Renewable energy is a growth industry. But in the long run it cannot keep our current affluent lifestyles going.

The end of cheap oil

Our economic system requires oil in every phase of the supply chain.

And it’s not just the economic system. Our physical existence – food on the table and heating in winter – will be made difficult when there is not enough oil.

That day is coming.

We can think of oilfields as big buckets of oil.

They deplete over time.

In the early 20th century oil was easy to get.

It was close to the surface, and often
gushed out under extreme pressure.

Now most of the cheap and easy to get oil has been pumped.

Oilfields are being depleted faster than new ones are being discovered. Global oil supplies peaked around 2015.

Some oil rigs go down 5 miles to pump oil.

Although delayed by fracking, the conclusion is that going forward oil will become less available and more expensive. We will not run out of oil overnight, but we are in an irreversible depletion phase. Ultimately, and relatively soon, oil will run out.

Oh, but what about renewable energy? Well, we already looked at that.

Our polycrisis

I have focused on global warming because global warming is the most top-of-mind environmental issue for most people. Looking larger, there are multiple trends that do not bode well for the human enterprise. The grim litany includes freshwater depletion, species loss and the all-too-real possibility of nuclear war.

They could be regarded as symptoms of our global economic-industrial system powered by fossil fuels and amplified by population growth. I often show this cartoon by Tony Biddle to quickly present this idea.

Concern about any specific issue, such as climate change, can bridge to the idea of whole system change to a compassionate life-affirming culture.

We have to change this whole system, not just focus on symptoms. This is an evolutionary process – gradually (and as rapidly as possible!) evolving a humane system that operates within planetary boundaries.

Healthy cultural evolution requires that people’s thinking becomes more realistic about the consequences of current ecological trends, as well (big jump!) as the militarized aggressive leadership that has brought us to the brink of nuclear war. These (horrifying) insights provide reason to accept otherwise uncomfortable changes.

Once people grasp the grim ecological reality, the next step is to recognize that we need to change the system.

Healthy cultural evolution also requires reducing trauma, including reducing child abuse (which is happening in many quarters) and reducing poverty pockets. Not to mention put soldiers and civilians who have PTSD from war.

To change the system, change the thinking

Our challenge, for those of us who care, is to somehow communicate in ways that both improve people’s thinking and improve people’s emotional functioning.

A good starting point is for thought leaders to talk about the need for systems change, and champion the overarching goal of transitioning to a compassionate life-affirming culture. (There are other ways to phrase such a goal: this one does the job. Let’s get on with it.)

The members of established groups, if they are willing and inspired, could conduct personal conversations that expand people’s thinking. Inspiring Transition has purpose-built communication tools, including Kitchen Table Conversations.

My invitation

I am forming a cadre of colleagues who are willing to talk to influential people. To shift the culture we need many people communicating both at a grassroots level and to influential leaders and decision-makers.

The big issues of economic growth, population growth, and indeed government funding for regeneration cannot be addressed locally; it will take wise government policy.

Our ultimate aim – the one that really counts – is to evolve a humane society that operates within the Earth’s capacity to support us.

I invite you to work with me and others in communicating with established leaders. Inspiring Transition has well-crafted communication tools to get started with. They use images to tell a story, and are straightforward to apply. Not hard – the images carry the conversation. And of course your own creativity and initiative will come into play.

Becoming an Evolutionary Catalyst describes the tools and outlines a strategy for engaging groups.

Below is an indicative list of potential leaders and groups to contact. This is just to show possibilities. At the end of the day you will contact people that you feel moved to contact.

Please contact me if you are willing to work with me and others on this.

Andrew Gaines
Inspiring Transition
Greta Thunberg will have reason to hope when she sees that mainstream society is committed to turning things around.


Possible folks to contact

Here are individuals and groups who could align to champion transitioning to a compassionate life-affirming culture, rather than continuing on our present course of ecological self-destruction. These are folks who already have positive social and ecological values.

North Face
Paddy Palin (in Australia)

Companies that do energy auditing and offer carbon offsets
Companies that buy carbon offsets
Individual business leaders who care about the environment
Solar energy companies

The Natural Step (in Canada)

Greenpeace (they are currently looking beyond blockades)
Post Carbon Institute – Richard Heinberg
Australia Institute

The Climate Coaching Alliance
Climate Action Network Australia (CANA)
Other CAN groups
TED Countdown

Global Evergreening Alliance
The Global Compassion Coalition
Deep Transformation Network
Inner Development Goals

Pachamama Alliance
Club of Rome

Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB)
The Earthshot Prize
MacArthur Foundation

Doctors for the Environment
Local medical centers (they have videos in their waiting rooms)

Psychotherapy and counseling groups
Natural health companies

George Monbiot
Naomi Klein
Rachel Donald

The Shift Network

Move On

The Feldenkrais Guild (teaching systems thinking through the body)
Yoga groups

GetUp! (in Australia)
The Australian Conservation Foundation
Australia Institute

Mother Jones
The Atlantic
New Yorker
The Futurist

University sustainability departments

International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons