The curve we’ve been forced onto bends so steeply, that the pace of victory is part of victory itself. Winning slowly is basically the same thing as losing outright. We cannot afford to pursue past strategies, aimed at limited gains towards distant goals. In the face of both triumphant denialism and predatory delay, trying to achieve climate action by doing the same things, the same old ways, means defeat. It guarantees defeat.

Alex Steffen


The industrial world, one must acknowledge, got to where it is on the sweat of energy slaves. It got there on the other kind too, but those reparations belong in a separate discussion.

“We live like kings today, on the backs of roughly 100 energy slaves each (human metabolism is 100 Watts, but Americans enjoy 10,000 W of continuous power). Our richness is very much tied to surplus energy availability, and that so far has been a story of finite fossil fuels.”

— Tom Murphy, Do the Math

“Every American thus has a veritable army of invisible servants, which is why even those below the official poverty line live, for the most part, lives far more comfortable and lavish with respect to energy and stuff than kings and queens of old (but obviously not as high in social status). Being long dead and pulled from the ground — and thus a bit zombie-esque — these energy slaves don’t complain, don’t sleep, and don’t need to be fed. However, as we are increasingly learning, they do inhale, exhale, and leave behind waste.

“This all raises the question — or at least should — of whether it might not be a good idea to set the fossil slaves free and let them rest, since they’re going away soon anyhow and when they do we will really need a livable planet. They don’t need jobs, and we don’t need dollars for happiness.”

— Nate Hagens, Bottleneck Foundation


A second way to assign fair share would be to assess the capability of a country to reach a reasonable degree of well-being for its population. Put a pin in the development continuum somewhere between Yemen and Sweden. There needs to be a guaranteed minimum standard of living.

What’s the point?

The power of this approach comes from how it allows us to escape the pseudo-debate between, on the one hand, the claim that equity is an entirely subjective matter, a mere battle of opinions, and, on the other hand, the claim that one or another equity approach is the precisely “right one.” It does this by providing a quantitative framework within which explicit choices between well-specified approaches — e.g. more or less progressive responsibility and capability indexes — can be assessed and compared without being over-specified and reified.

What if no one cares?

The following day a #2020Don’tBeLate seminar sponsored by Mission 2020 and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gave a 90-minute picture of the present consensus view of climate science and what that really implies. Speaking were Christiana Figueres, former head of UNFCCC, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Johan Rockström, Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change, and Kevin Anderson, Chair of Energy and Climate Change, Tyndall Centre.

Albert Bates is an Emergency Planetary Technician, founder of Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology (, and Chief Permaculture Officer for eCO2, a COOL DESIGN services company focusing on climate recovery strategies. Please consider supporting this work by becoming a patron at

Emergency Planetary Technician and Climate Science Wonk — using naturopathic remedies to recover the Holocene without geoengineering or ponzinomics.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store