Phone A Friend: Tad DeLay.

Author of Future of Denial: The Ideologies of Climate Change.

Podcast art for Unf*cking The Republic alongside the book cover for Future of Denial by Tad DeLay. Image Description: Podcast art for Unf*cking The Republic alongside the book cover for Future of Denial by Tad DeLay.

Summary: Welcome to Phone A Friend. Today we’re speaking with Tad DeLay, the author of the newly released book Future of Denial: The Ideologies of Climate Change. Tad Delay is a philosopher, religion scholar and interdisciplinary critical theorist. His books include Against: What Does the White Evangelical Want?, The Cynic and the Fool, and God is Unconscious. He is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy in Baltimore. I positively devoured this book and am anxious to dig into his previous titles as well. There are so many intersections that speak to the work that we do on UNFTR that I know it will resonate with you. Philosophy. Theology. Science. And even the dismal science. Future of Denial takes a multidisciplinary approach woven together with factual anecdotes and projections of science fiction. It is at once deeply intellectual and approachable; a delicate feat. Marx and Engels in dialogue with Freud and Greta Thunberg concluding with the words of Rosa Luxemburg…obviously I was in pure heaven digesting this work.

Max: Tad DeLay, thank you so much for joining the program today. I appreciate you taking the time.

Tad: Wonderful to be here.

Max: I decided to start by imagining, were I asked to write a blurb for the book, this is what I put together: Philosophy, theology, science, and even the dismal science. A multidisciplinary approach woven together with factual anecdotes and projections of science fiction alike. At once deeply intellectual and approachable, a delicate feat. Marx and Engles in dialogue with Freud and Greta Thunberg, concluding with the words of Rosa Luxemburg. So obviously I was in pure heaven digesting this work.

I feel every inch of that, I think what you put together here is magnificent, and I want everybody in our audience to order this book. So we will talk about that. But let me let you talk about your book by asking you the hardest, simplest question possible. What is the central thesis of your book?

Tad: Yeah, sure. Well, thank you for that introduction. The thesis is that climate denial should be a flexible term designating a broad range of activity. It’s best theorized as a tendency to negate threats, but that negation has to be in accord with certain material relations and ends up curating and justifying regimes of power. I wanted to think about denial, as we often approach climate change denial in what I kind of think of as like a Protestant mode, where what saves you in Protestant Christianity is not the sacraments, it’s nothing embodied at all. It’s getting your thoughts right. The theologians would not like me putting it that way, perhaps. But if you think of being saved by faith—by grace through faith, right, the way it’s usually put—that essentially means that you have to kind of curate and get your thoughts right in order to be saved rather than damned. And we often talk about climate change as if it’s something where, if we just all get our thoughts right, if we all just believe the correct things, then that will erupt into some sort of change in the mode of production. And that’s just not quite how it works.

I was struck by the way in which we tend to talk about denial in behavioral ways very commonly, but we reflexively confine ourselves to just talking about thoughts, conscious affirmations or disaffirmations of a certain belief when we talk about climate change. So, for example, we might talk about teenage recklessness as expressing some sort of denial of mortality. Or if you have a troubling symptom in your gut, you might be in denial about what that might be and refuse to go to see a physician, you know, afraid of what they might diagnose. We talk about people expressing denial in the midlife crisis where their unsatisfied desire or fading youth converts into the expensive purchases or the affairs. People go to great lengths to talk around their racist ideas, or they drink away their troubles at work. We commonly talk about denial as something that is—I don’t love the term embodied, but something that expresses itself in material relations, activities, but we don’t do that for climate change.

And so I guess my book is essentially trying to widen the scope of what we consider denial. How does, to take my opening example, how does a massive wildfire in the Pacific Northwest not get interpreted as, “oh, this is what happens when you have warmer, drier conditions. You know, erupts and more wildfires.” And instead you have these militants spring up to say, “well, this must be because of Antifa arsonists who are, you know, infiltrating our communities. And so we need to ferret out those arsonists and find them,” and end up pointing weapons at reporters and families. I wanted to think about that or the whole regimes of offsets markets or the misplaced trust in carbon capture technologies, the racism, the economics, all of it as an expression of denial, because we cannot come to grips with the magnitude of the crises that we are facing.

Max: So let’s talk a little bit about your background personally and how you were able to approach this from a theological perspective and a philosophical perspective. What did you study, and what has your career journey been?

Tad: Right, so I’m a professor of philosophy. My background is training in religion and philosophy. And then sort of during my dissertation, I got more into political philosophies, Marxist thoughts, psychoanalysis. And so I’m approaching it from sort of an interdisciplinary perspective, but I am not trained in the hard sciences at all, although that’s been kind of a lifelong side interest of mine. I should also say that I, myself, am no longer a religious person. I’m not a theist of any kind, so I don’t want to kind of mislead on some of my intellectual proclivities here. But I was raised in a very conservative religious culture of Little Rock, Arkansas. I grew up very Christian and sort of worked my way out through studying the theologies and philosophies, as it were.

So I ended up doing graduate work in humanities, and when I started to kind of have a side interest in climate change—I would say probably I started to worry about it around midway through college, Al Gore’s documentary came out. There was starting to be more public discussion about climate change. And it was something that I had been taught growing up studiously was not real and not worth caring about whatsoever.

And during my graduate work, I started keeping an eye on numbers about how many Americans just don’t believe that there will be a future. We have pretty poor data on this. In my last book, I have a whole chapter trying to aggregate all of the survey data that we’ve ever accumulated on this, which is not a lot. But the best I can tell, somewhere between a fifth and a third of all Americans, as well as about two thirds of white evangelicals, simply do not believe there will be a 22nd century. So I can remember ministers kind of saying, “all right, Tad, even if we believe what the climate scientists are saying, why does that matter? You cannot destroy what God has promised to destroy.” And beyond just the kind of parochial religious expressions of this, my mind always goes to Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior when he sat before the Senate for confirmation. One of the questions he was asked is, “are you going to protect the parks for future generations?” And he point blank just said, “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.” And that is wild to me, but that is just a normal American belief. So we have kind of a, what I want to say on the one hand is kind of like a religious disregard for the future that is kind of abstract, right, projected in its theologies and its imagination of the future.

But that resonates with Wall Street, right, which thinks not in like literal apocalypticism, but sort of thinks more or less in financial quarters, or at most the 20 year bond, and is not terribly interested in the long term, whether or not there is a 22nd century either. So Wall Street and to kind of take William Connolly’s—a Johns Hopkins theorist—he uses this term “evangelical capitalist resonance machine” to talk about how there are certain affinities shared between—not not goals, they have they have different goals—evangelicalism and Wall Street, but they have certain affinities that can allow them to resonate together in a sort of disinterest, it sort of leads us into this quotidian malaise of just refusing to address climate policy. What you kind of get in aggregate with all of that is you end up with a Republican Party, which I think is fair to say is the most dangerous organization in the world. But if I’m going to say that, then perhaps the Democratic Party needs to be somewhere in the top 10. And you end up with Joe Biden promising to never ban fracking, after which Democratic support for fracking rises by 16 points. You have the largest lease of federal land ever under the Biden administration just a couple of years ago.

So it’s very clear who the worst offenders are, but even the liberal science believers, that “in this house we believe” type, so you kind of get this refusal to kind of deal with what we are facing and what needs to happen, because all of it has to be negotiated on market friendly terms. Which I realize now as I’m kind of getting into that, that may have kind of deviated from your first question of kind of where I came from. But yes, you can kind of see a trajectory from how many people just don’t believe there will be a future, to, how many people do believe, and it just doesn’t seem to matter.

Max: Well, I think that’s a very powerful thread to pull through this narrative, because so much of the Republican Party base does come from that place. But what I loved about the book, I think you have a sense of what my political affiliation is and what our audience enjoys. I think I have a sense of what your politics may or may not be. You’re incredibly even handed throughout the book. That it’s perhaps in levels or in degrees of incompetence or callousness, there might be a difference, but all of it is contributing to this sense of denial and the way that we act through it. So that’s really—a lot of what I appreciated about it was how even-handed the narrative really was. You take some shots here and there, but you’re pretty balanced in doing that. But it’s all backed up by science.

And so even before we go further into some of the individual findings and the chapters here, you seem very, very comfortable in speaking to the science, the hard sciences, as you put it. So where did that level of comfort come from and how did that become such a natural language to you?

Tad: Well, like I said, I have always, I mean, going back to middle school and high school, I’ve always loved earth sciences and chemistry. It’s sort of a result of me kind of having to work through a bunch of religious baggage that I kind of ended up in the humanities. Otherwise, I think I might have gone into the STEM field, although I’m quite grateful that I am where I am now.

I wanted early on to be able to talk about what’s on the horizon with a level of expertise where I was not simply relying on journalism. I’d read some of the IPCC, the front document that’s usually like 40 pages long called a summary for policymakers. I’ve tracked with those for a few years, but I wanted to really get into understanding, okay, how does a carbon budget work? What’s the logarithmic equation for energy imbalance enforcing? How can I actually understand these things so that I can, if something seems out of whack, I can kind of just run the back of the envelope calculation myself to kind of see what’s going on with the source. So an example is, early on, I realized I had this problem where one of my driving questions was, if we just burned all of the fossil fuels, how hot would it get? And I remember reading one climatologist that said nine degrees Celsius, another that said 20 degrees Celsius. Pretty big spread. And then another journalist said 18 degrees, but didn’t specify Celsius or Fahrenheit. So it could have been closer to either one. And I thought, okay, well, this is a number that if we do have some sort of idea of the correlation of the coefficient between carbon dioxide pulses and temperature, then all you would need to do is just to take the full volume of fossil fuels that we think exist, and convert them into CO2 and then run them through the equation, and there’s your answer. And that’s a related question of how much are they worth. And that’s a big problem too, because I could not find good numbers on that either. I remember reading in one book something like an estimation of $30 trillion, and I thought that is way too low, that’s not possible.

So I wanted to run the numbers myself, and I wanted to get to a point where I could kind of show the reader, all right, here in the main text is what the numbers are. And if you really want to get into how to calculate these things yourself, that’s in the footnotes. So it’s a little bit of a choose your own adventure. I try to keep a limit to the numbers of gigatons of CO2 on the page. I break my rules in a few places and it gets a little bit heady, but for the most part, I wanted to have a readable text that kind of states what’s the volume? How much are they worth? How do we think about these calculations? What’s the relationship? And then to explore things that you kind of don’t get in American science education. I don’t think that most people are aware that the big mass extinctions—with the exception, for the most part, of the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction that killed the dinosaurs—all the rest of them correlate with rises or falls in carbon dioxide, and they just don’t teach you that in American school.

Max: I thought that was really valuable.

Tad: Yeah. So I wanted to have a whole chapter where I just kind of say, what if we talk about the whole history of the earth through changes in chemistry. And that gets into not just the early evolution of life and the mass extinctions, but how do we think about the rise of agriculture and then four or five thousand years later, the emergence of class society at Uruk and think about what a Milankovitch cycle does, Earth’s tilt, which kind of puts us into a temperature range where we can suddenly do agriculture, but if you’re going to have agriculture, you’re going to have to start having more sophisticated societies, which means we’re going to have hierarchies, which means that we’re going to have writing. And then you end up in these things in very short order. You move from higher temperatures to agriculture, to class society, to cuneiform at Uruk, where one of the most common symbols, one of the first symbols that we learned to write all of the time that we needed was female slave of foreign origin. It gives you this testament to how closely the rise of agriculture and temperatures are to the emergence of a class society, and people that society considers able to be liquidated, used, exploited for surplus labor.

Max: So one of the trap doors—I don’t want to call it a danger—but one of the trap doors in laying it out the way that you did through the different periods and epochs of the earth’s history is, that is one of the central arguments that some of the, and I’ll say it’s probably more on the evangelical side of the of the republican party, uses to say “no this has always happened,” but what you did was you were able to demonstrate, through Marxist literature and then analyzing it at a deeper level, that it’s also the speed. So if you could maybe just talk a little bit about the speed, because the way that you frame all of the different eras is really important for us to understand the impact of carbon, and then how that actually produced not just the environment that we have now, but civilization—

Tad: Right.

Max: And the hierarchies of civilization, but it is the speed at which we are impacting climate that is different ,and what that might portend. So if you could just talk to that because, that’s for me what took the air out of the “climate’s always been changing argument.”

Tad: Yeah, yeah. So I’m really upfront with it. Yes, of course, climate has always been changing. For the last two and a half million years in the quaternary period, we’ve gone in and out of what most people call ice ages, what scientists will call a glacial period, and now we’re in an interglacial period. We’ve gone in and out of those 50 times just in the last two and a half million years. And if we search further back into Earth’s deep time, typically the Earth has been much hotter than it is right now. And one of the reasons, for example, that the Earth is cooler now is that India collided into Asia and pushed up the Himalayan mountains, which created a lot more space for rock weathering, which is this fascinating little mechanism by which the Earth naturally removes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and drops temperature. And so in my book, I show graphs, for example, that show you exactly where sea level and temperature—which, of course, the unfortunate reality is that sea level lags slightly behind temperature, because it takes a while for the ice caps to melt down—but sea level, temperature, and carbon dioxide move right together with each other. Those three things are always moving. And if you pump up the carbon dioxide, the sea level will rise in one to four centuries, and the temperature responds within decades.

So I think it’s really good to be upfront about the fact that, yes, the world has always changed. And if you look at the cycles of temperature, you will notice that we should be right about to enter an ice age. And this is where you get some of the myth that in the ‘70s, all the scientists thought that we were going to enter an ice age, which is not true, but on paper, we should be entering an ice age. And the reason that we’re not going to slide down four degrees and instead are on track to go up four degrees—which appears nowhere in the record of the last 800,000 years of ice core data—the reason is because of all this extra carbon dioxide. And here, the physics are almost kind of tragically simple. We kind of look at climate effects on a broad scale through three different tools that we have at our disposal. One is paleoclimate records. So we can look at ice core data or before that we can look at oxygen isotopes and as a proxy for temperature. And another is in-situ data, like we can just take measurements and see that the temperature is going up. So we can look at climate data or actual measurements today to kind of think about what the effects are. But another is just basic physics. So the physics equations are pretty well understood now. They get adjusted here and there by a fraction of a decimal or whatever. But, essentially, the simplest way to put it is that Earth is in a state of energy imbalance.

The whole problem is that we receive the same 174,000 terawatts from the sun that we’re always receiving, and about 29/30% of that bounces off the clouds and the ice sheets. But we receive the same temperature, and an object that receives temperature has to radiate out exactly that same amount of temperature in order to stay in energy equilibrium, temperature equilibrium. If an object is receiving energy and emits more, there’s a net energy loss, and the object gets cooler. If the object is receiving energy but holds in a little bit, it gets warmer. This is very, very basic physics. So what our problem is now is that the sun hits us with broad spectrum radiation and carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases make the earth atmosphere, the troposphere specifically, the lowest level of the atmosphere—which is another wild thing that this whole problem is the troposphere, the lowest level of the atmosphere. So a jet flying at very, very high up, like in the lower stratosphere is actually flying above the problem.

So in the troposphere, greenhouse gases make the atmosphere slightly more opaque at infrared wavelengths, which are the wavelengths where we radiate out heat. So the sun hits us with broad spectrum radiation, the heat can’t rise quite as effectively. It rises about 99.5% as effectively as it should. It’s just a very small fraction, but it retains a little bit of energy. That energy is now measured in watts per square meter. So the energy retained every day is 1.3 watts per square meter and rising. And that’s about the same as holding three Christmas tree lights over every square meter of the planet, which doesn’t sound like much. But if we multiply out that 1.3 watts per square meter across all of Earth’s 510 million square kilometers, the aggregate daily energy that we are now holding in the Earth system is equivalent to a little over 900,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs, or about 330 million bombs per year. That is not an exaggeration. We are holding in everyday excess heat worth more than 900,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. And the vast, vast majority, more than 90% of that goes into the ocean, where it will continue to raise sea levels for thousands and thousands of years, even after we zero out emissions and stop the warming.

So even if we hit these 2050 net zero goals, which we won’t, but even if we did and temperature stops rising, the sea levels will continue to rise for thousands of years, leaving our descendants in a kind of an awkward situation of cursing us for what we did, and they have no technology to stop it.

Max: So let’s talk about time for a second, because one of the things that really struck me in your narrative was—I was aware of the modeling that the scientists at ExxonMobil had been doing since the 1970s that has actually proven to be painfully accurate, and then of course it was suppressed and held from the public. And we did an episode about the military, we called it the Climate Industrial Complex, where we talked about the military’s involvement from a scientific perspective, of not only how they too have been modeling climate change with pretty amazing accuracy, but building resiliency plans—not trying to counteract it—building resiliency plans for the inevitability that would be brought upon the planet. So I had an understanding, at least, that for let’s call it 50 to 60 years, we’ve kind of known at an institutional level, we’ve known what we’re doing, what’s happening, what’s causing it and what will come next. What I wasn’t aware of was Eunice Foote and John Tyndall. Can you tell us a little bit about them? Because I do these interviews and I read the books and I go through them and I’m always like, how did I miss this? This is just one of those incredible, I’m like, are you kidding that these people were doing this work? So can you tell everybody a little bit about them for anybody that doesn’t know?

Tad: Yeah sure, so it’s very common to say that in the ‘70s Exxon knew, and then I think people kind of over attribute what Exxon was doing. Exxon did end up taking some original documentation on carbon dioxide measurements, but all of that was kind of ancillary. Basically you had Exxon’s research firm adjacent to it, a little daughter company, reading what climatologists were doing and then writing internal reports about it to alert the heads of the company who then just told them, “we’re going to cut your budgets if you keep doing this.”

So the wild thing here is that some of the most basic concepts that were experimented with, Eunice Foote and John Tyndall, were already understood slightly before the American Civil War. So it is quite a bit older than just the ‘70s. So Eunice Foote was an amateur scientist. She was an original signatory of the Seneca Falls Declaration, calling for women’s suffrage, this is how old this is. She was an amateur scientist. Going back and reading her paper, which couldn’t even be presented by her, I think because of sexist reasons, before a scientific society had to be read by a man, she becomes, as far as I can tell, the first, and I’ve heard other climatologists say this, she becomes the first person to correctly identify carbon dioxide as the chief warming gas. She did not quite understand the dynamics by which it becomes the warming gas, which is the trapping of infrared wavelength radiation rate. That was discovered by John Tyndall, who began publishing this in the late 1850s. He starts publishing before the Royal Society in England and then writes a book, Heat Considered as a Mode of Motion, something to that effect, in the mid-1860s.

And this, of course, is what Engels reads and immediately tells Marx that he needs to read it while he’s finishing Capital. And as far as I can tell, doesn’t figure out what he’s reading, which would have been wild. So I consider my work kind of an effort to stitch what Tyndall was discovering to what Marx was also discovering at the same time. But yes, so Tyndall, John Tyndall, is this Irish physicist presenting for the Royal Society in London. Marx was going to a bunch of his lectures and reading his work. But he becomes the first person to identify the way that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases—he calls it dry coal gas at the time, they’re using these very archaic terms when you kind of look at it in the literature—to say that what it’s doing is it’s trapping infrared wavelengths, radiation, in his book, Heat, which doesn’t really talk that much about global warming or the radiative effects of carbon dioxide. It’s really only a few small paragraphs here and there. I had to search pretty hard for them when I went back through the document. He talks about how a planetary blanket, or a planetary envelope could be created on another planet, he says, to raise temperature. And it’s not clear to me that he’s thinking in terms of combusting coal.

There is another chemist called Svante Arrhenius in the 1890s, a Swedish chemist, who becomes the first person to try to calculate exactly how hot the Earth would get if you doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and he was thinking specifically about combusting coal. His calculations are six degrees, whereas we now think it’s probably closer to about three degrees for the warming that you get from doubling the amount of carbon dioxide. But he’s starting to calculate. I mean, again, you can do this just through the physics. If you have enough correct input data, you can kind of measure how much air is there, like if you change these proportions, how much is the radiative effect? Again, it’s tragically simple in a way.

So we have known since the 1850s that carbon dioxide produces a warming effect. We’ve known since the late 1850s, early ‘60s, that you could produce a warmer planet. And we have known since the 1890s that doing injections through coal will raise temperatures by roughly X amount. So yes, the science goes back very kind—it’s maddening. And then by the way, if anybody’s interested in these, Exxon knew, those have all been because of all the lawsuits that have gone through, those are all published online. So you don’t have to take my word for it. You can actually go and just read the original memos yourself, which are usually only like a few paragraphs long. They’re not terribly hard to kind of slew through, but it is quite maddening to kind of get your eyes on all of that.

Max: So a fun part, speculative though it might be, is you do allow yourself to dream a little bit about how amazing it would have been if Marx had connected the dots at that time to what the effects might have been on the masses. Can you just talk about that little piece, that little nugget.

Tad: Yeah, so I have all of, I think, two paragraphs dedicated to Marx in this time. And I am very thankful for John Bellamy Foster, who wrote a really wonderful book called Marx’s Ecology. And he was very helpful in private email correspondence, kind of working through it. Because I was very interested in was Marx reading Tyndall’s book Heat? Did he have eyes on these paragraphs talking about this? And, you know, is there any possibility he could have thought about this? Because if you read Capital: Volumes One–Three, you don’t get any sort of hints that he’s thinking in terms of like, “what is the Industrial Revolution’s dependence on fossil fuels going to do to the atmosphere?” He is, however, reading Tyndall and several other chemists and physicists on soil. He’s studying this guy because he’s interested in what we would call the metabolic rift that capitalism produces; where traditionally you farm land, you eat what you produce, and your human waste and animal waste gets deposited onto that same land. So there’s a cycle of nutrients. Marx was interested in the way that with Capital, you get a different thing where, you farm food in one place and you transport that food to the city and all of the waste gets deposited somewhere else. So there’s no sort of cycle of nutrients in the same natural way that you would have gotten with—well, I won’t say completely natural. We’re still talking about farming, but closer.

So I find it painfully ironic that Marx was reading the guy who discovered that raising levels of carbon dioxide would raise the temperature. And he would have known that this is what happens when you do coal. There’s no interaction with this problem within Capital. So that’s the tragic irony. It would have been wonderful if he could have, in addition to thinking about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, or, these various other ways that he thinks about surplus value creation and necessary labor time and surplus labor time, if he had been able to kind of say, “and what a factory is doing on a longer scale is raising the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which will have these other deleterious effects on warming, on soil fertility, on ocean chemistry, killing off the food chain.” That would have been quite fascinating to see. Unfortunately, I can find no indication that Marx put together what he was reading.

Actually, the recent work that’s being done to catalog all of Marx and Engels’ unpublished writings has turned up some indications that Marx had a copy of Tyndall’s book from 1870. So this is slightly after he publishes Capital: Volume One in 1867. So it’s clear he was reading it after Capital: One was published. John Bellamy Foster suggested to me that it’s unthinkable that Marx wouldn’t have immediately read it in a London library, the moment that Tyndall told him about it in 1865, ’66. So he was probably reading it while finishing Volume One, and definitely, while he still had Volumes Two and Three unpublished sitting in front of him. But yeah, no detection.

Max: Reading that I had the same feeling as when I found out that he had written a letter to Abraham Lincoln, and for some reason that broke my brain, thinking about Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln being contemporaries. I mean, it’s just an obvious thing. But the way that we have such an ethnocentric view of American politics on the world, and then you think that Marx is just simply from another time. He’s from the past. But Abraham Lincoln, that’s our person. So putting all of this stuff in context and in time order, I find it super helpful. So I thought that was really neat.

So it’s probably a good time to talk about the impact upon the classes, and you do a really great job talking about the correlation of the increase in temperatures with GDP, the 93% correlation I believe it is, but the insufficient nature of GDP itself as a measurement and what it hides. Can you just talk about GDP? Because the way that I rely on it, obviously, as a tool, as somebody who writes predominantly about socioeconomics, GDP is an important measurement for how we value entire economic systems. But there’s some fallacies hidden within just how we calculate it and some things that it obfuscates that you bring out in this book in a really powerful way. So if you could just kind of give us an overview of GDP, its relation to the increase in temperatures, but also how it’s kind of a destructive tool to analyze productivity.

Tad: Right, so gross domestic product is a tool that we have that counts a certain thing and doesn’t count a whole range of other things. I think of economics as essentially a field of theology for people who like to count things, and count a fairly small number of things. But essentially, an economy is a distribution of resources. At any given point in time, there are a set number of resources, and we have to think through how to distribute what those resources are. And those resources can grow or they can shrink. But at any given time, who gets what?

And so this is a classic—going back to my second book, I made the same critique—but it’s a theodicy question. In theological terms, a theodicy is an explanation for why they were suffering. Why do some people deserve to get a lot and others don’t? The classic example of this is the Book of Job, where Job has these terrible events befall on him, his possessions are taken away, his children die. And he has to ask, “why did this happen to me? I don’t seem to have done anything wrong.”

And his friends basically offer the three explanations that are kind of still with us anytime something terrible happens. One is, “well, God’s punishing you because you did something wrong, you just haven’t figured it out yet. God’s punishing you or the universe is punishing you. You did something wrong to deserve this.” The second explanation is, “well, you know, maybe God’s not punishing you, but giving you an opportunity to better yourself, to show your righteousness by how you respond.” Or we might say today, if you’re struggling, you have an opportunity to go back to school and take on all kinds of debt and throw your dice that way. And then the third explanation in Job is kind of more or less, “don’t complain, others have it worse.” So you get these three explanations, why is there suffering? And you can think about theodicies in all kinds of ways. Every time a cop shoots somebody, well, did this person deserve to die? Maybe they had smoked marijuana one time when they were a teenager, perhaps they’re a garbage person that deserved to be killed off or something. You find these kinds of explanations. These are theodicies, an explanation for why suffering happens.

And what GDP does is sort of obfuscate some of those dynamics, such that we kind of think of—if you think about it, GDP can be moral in nature. It’s good or bad, depending on whether it’s going up or down, and as you kind of pointed out, it correlates quite well to carbon dioxide because the rich emit more. So if the economy is doing well, so is carbon dioxide doing pretty well as well. So if I run a book study that doesn’t contribute to GDP, if I get in a ghastly car accident on the way home, insurance payouts and ambulance bills and, you know, a new car and everything like that, GDP does great. So GDP measures certain things, but it does not measure human flourishing. It’s not meant to measure human flourishing. If I was talking to a classically trained economist, they would be banging their head against the wall saying “that’s not what it’s meant to do.”

The problem is that all of our climate modeling, all of the you know, how much would we have to strand, how much would it cost to mitigate emissions, it’s factored through these integrated assessment models, which do try to line up GDP with fossil emissions. So the model that I’m most familiar with is one of the six or seven big models that the climate community uses, it’s called GCAM. What it does to think about GDP is it takes numbers from either the World Bank or the IMF for like the next five years and just kind of calculates them out as kind of a guesstimation, out to 2100 and tries to kind of say, “okay, in a situation where GDP declines by this much, how much do we think fossil fuels will track along with that? Or what if we turn up the GDP and study how fossil emissions will respond to that?” And you end up with these models that can tell you exactly what the price point of natural gas will be in 2050, but it’s not necessarily what it actually will be. It’s a research tool, but anybody in the climate community will tell you these are just research tools. They’re not meant to be predicting the future.

Nevertheless, you will read articles about, you know, there’s one recently, one that came out that said, we have something like 19% or 20% GDP loss locked in already. No matter what we do. So it’s purported as if it’s a future projection tool when that is not what these tools, these models are meant to be. My critique of the way that mainstream economics gets talked about in climatology is not that you don’t want any of this, it’s important to count things in certain ways, but we have to be honest about the fact that we are just counting things. The numbers occlude or obscure a type of moral arrangement about who deserves to suffer. Because at the end of the day, the top 10% does more than half the emissions. The top 1% emits 1.5 times as much as the bottom 4 billion people. And so when we talk about GDP, aggregately, it obscures the fact that Bill Gates might be emitting hundreds and hundreds of times more than an average American, but gets to say, “well, I’m funding solar radiation management experiments and carbon capture,” or in his climate book, he touts the way that he’s so responsible because he purchases something called sustainable jet fuel, which is kind of ridiculous. He’s paying for something that doesn’t exist. So that’s kind of generally what my take is—

Max: I think what you left out there though is that he’s actually flying Wonder Woman’s jet and so you have to take that into consideration it’s invisible, it doesn’t exist.

Tad: [laughing] Sure.

Max: Let’s talk about the politics of denial then. You make the case—you just stated, for example, that Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior made sort of that evangelical statement. Let me strike an optimistic note for a second, from that exact period. We had done an episode on the Montreal Protocol and the elimination of CFCs from aerosol emissions and how it may be the last time that science coordinated with politics in a meaningful way to actually produce a policy that beat back the influence of big business. There’s so many caveats to this because as a practical matter, it worked in the favor of the primary producer of CFCs to have it be something that was being depreciated, because they were already moving on from the technology. So there’s a case to be made that this was going to kind of happen anyway, but this did accelerate it, and it did show what was possible between raising awareness, public policy, the scientific community, also achieving a consensus, putting together a plan and it being enacted; oddly started under Carter, enacted under Reagan, and then it was adopted globally. And it worked, and we were able to close the hole in the ozone and all those kind of things. That was the big existential crisis when I was a kid was that there was a hole in an ozone that was going to come through like a laser beam and burn us all one by one, and then it wasn’t a problem.

Tad: Everyone was afraid of getting cancer, that was easy to project, so it was much more visceral.

Max: Exactly, it was a health risk. But, if we’re to give our most generous view of it, there was a confluence of events that occurred to produce a positive outcome. But in today’s political environment we often say, “okay well that’s just no longer possible,” and some of the roots of that have—I think you uncover some of the roots of that in talking about Reagan’s merchants of doubt. So before we even talk about the politics and the nature of denial today, can you maybe talk about its origin story during those years and how those groups began to take prominence and learn how to, again, obfuscate what the real story might be?

Tad: Right. Yeah. Well, let me pick back up on the CFCs. The big difference between those and fossil fuels is that while the science behind them is just as clear, CFCs were a fairly small part of the economy. The economy did not run on CFCs. Four-fifths of our energy comes from fossil fuels right now. So it’s a very different perspective. The fossil fuel industry is also a $5 to $6 trillion, depending on the year, out of $100 trillion global GDP. And so it’s a massive part of the economy in itself, but since it runs 80% of the world economy, what that also means is that if you subtracted the fossil fuel industry—let’s just say, you know, just to kind of think, if we kept them all in the ground today—what happens is a $6 trillion industry collapses, out of 100 trillion. You probably lose roughly 100% of the GDP associated with that energy. So now we’re talking about a 80% GDP loss globally. So now we’re talking about a depression that is two to three times worse than the Great Depression. And also, if we can’t even pull them out of the ground for the Haber process that allows us to produce agriculture, like fertilizers for agriculture, then probably three to four billion people would starve in the first year.

So what we are dealing with is something that—we can’t scale up alternatives in the same way that we could simply switch to different chemicals versus for CFCs. So the origins of doubt, when Exxon begins, and the rest of them also, begins detecting what’s happening, they began kind of launching a public misinformation campaign, especially Exxon, Shell does some of this, all of the industry would have known. They start organizing these compacts where the industries are all working together with chemical companies and other American Enterprise Institute type affiliated organizations. And what Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway explore in their book, Merchants of Doubt—which is wonderful, highly recommend everybody get into this, because it kind of looks at how the same figures, where the guys that establish the territory of climate change denial are the same guys who were arguing that we could shoot down nukes with lasers in space. They were arguing that the CFCs were not dangerous and we wouldn’t all get cancer. They were arguing that perhaps it would be possible to survive a nuclear winter and wouldn’t be that bad. And if you go back far enough, they are also the same guys who were very often paid to do the lying around the link between tobacco and cancer as well. So the tobacco cancer guys are also the climate change guys. There’s four or five of them that are quite prominent. I won’t go into all of the names, but essentially, they draw some of them from marketing, like Fred Singer has his connections with the scientific industry, but several of them are very prominent scientists. And they’re using their scientific expertise to launder what the economists want them to launder.

So the argument in Oreskes and Conway’s Merchants of Doubt is essentially that after the end of the Cold War, there was a vacuum where all of these conservative think tanks didn’t have a cause anymore. So if they had been arguing about surviving nuclear winter, and that’s why we need to build up arms to go to war with the USSR, suddenly they don’t have that cause, and climate change presents a wonderful new cause. There was a guy speaking before the Heartland Institute that made this point more recently and said “if everything is on the table for climate change, then nothing is too big of a cost.” If it’s the economy or the environment, the environment’s going to win. And to be clear, he was taking the side of the economy against the environment. He was saying we need to downplay this because obviously the costs are so high that nothing is off the table, even the end of capitalism itself.

So this little cadre pioneers—at first they’re blaming imprecision in measurements. Is it the sun cycle that’s heating things up? And, I would say, to be fair, our instrumentation wasn’t really good at that. It wasn’t like what we have now. Now NASA has CERES, C-E-R-E-S, a satellite system that pings the Earth and measures what the sun is putting out and what the Earth is radiating out at the same time, and that’s what allows us to calculate wattage per square meter.

Max: Amazing.

Tad: It’s amazing. But we didn’t have that type of sophisticated technology when these guys were pioneering arguments about blaming it all on the sun. And so there is some natural variance in the sun. And Earth’s energy imbalance at the time would have probably been within the expected range of a sun cycle. The sun has an 11-year dimming and warming cycle. And so it was quite easy for them to kind of say, in the same way that they could point to cigarettes and cancer, and lie their arguments in court would be, “can you as a doctor prove that this person got cancer because they smoked?” And the answer is always no. Actually, that’s actually really, really hard to prove. You can take a population and say population wide, X percentage of smoking leads to Y percentage increase of cancer. But to attribute any individual cancer—it’s always possible that somebody got lung cancer from inhaling air next to a coal plant or something else, that’s possible.

So these guys kind of pioneered just kind of clouding the waters, and that’s where you get these conservative think tanks, Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, American Enterprise, these types of conservative think tanks that have a ton of money pouring into them because they’re doing really, really important work. At first, doubting climate science, and now what you see increasingly is they will say, “yes, the earth is warming. And yes, it’s probably even caused by carbon dioxide from human causes, but, what we need to do is study this much more. We need to pour more money into the sciences,” which of course we do. But now the argument is kind of, they’re trying to reposition as being pro-science so as to look more responsible for just a little bit longer, because if you say” let’s hold off until we have more research,” what you’re saying is “let’s let’s just keep an eye on it, let’s just not do anything right now.”

Max: So you discuss a Jevons paradox, which I find interesting because I think it plays into how you describe President Obama’s parting words, which were “look you know we got better, we grew, and we reduced our carbon emissions, see it’s possible.” The race toward efficiency, the way that many people personally would like to take personal responsibility by, let’s say, putting solar on their homes, or converting their cars or doing all of the efficiency constructs, but within the same exact capitalist system; but Jevons paradox actually tells a little bit of a different story. Can you describe that?

Tad: Yes, Jevons was a 19th Century mathematician who put out a document where he said that as coal becomes cheaper to access and we need less of it, the efficiency of the resource actually drives more use, not less. So we would like to think that if something becomes more efficient, we need less. But instead, it becomes more reliable as a resource that you’re depending on, so people end up adapting to use more. So the Jevons paradox essentially is arguing that we cannot be saved by efficiencies. I mean one way to think about this is that renewables don’t help us with climate change. It sounds wild to say, but renewables are something that we desperately need in order to weed ourselves off fossil fuels. But the problem is the burning of fossil fuels and releasing of greenhouse gases. If you use renewables, clean renewables, to displace fossil fuels, that helps the climate. If you do what we are more or less doing, which is have an exponential rise in renewables, but instead of using them to displace fossil fuels, essentially just pile them on top, that does not help the climate.

And so that is the way that the Jevons paradox is kind of expressing itself right now, is that we are seeing exponential rise in especially solar and wind, also a rise in quite a few other renewables. And there are plenty of places around the world that are ahead of the U.S., that are actually starting to decarbonize their electricity grids a little bit. Electricity is also only one fifth/one sixth of the energy mix. So even if we got our electricity grid to 100% carbon free, if we don’t use that to decarbonize all of our transportation and building—burning of fossil fuels—then what you essentially have is, you still have a lot of fossil fuels. Theoretically, you could have a 100% clean grid and still be burning most of your energy on fossil fuels. So that’s essentially the problem that we’re looking at there.

Max: So I want to read a quote that you start—I can’t remember which chapter it was, somewhere in the middle of the book—you begin with a quote from Theodor Adorno, who’s an economist from the Frankfurt School, who says, “the lot of workers today is actually no longer as it was in the classical analyses of Marx and Engels. The proletarians today genuinely have more to lose than their chains, namely their small car or motorcycle as well, generally speaking, leaving aside the question of whether these cars and motorcycles are perhaps a sublimated form of chains.” It’s a really powerful quote. I’d like to offer you a quote from my friend Billy, the philosopher king of Brooklyn, who said, “there’s just too much good weed and free porn in the world right now to give a shit.” It’s just sort of an addendum to this whole idea that, just don’t take away our weed, please don’t take away my car. Please don’t take away the things that got me at least my smartphone, the things that got me at least, what in the conservative ideology is their example of, there might be inequality, but everybody’s doing better than they used to.

There’s always an element of truth in these types of arguments. And what I found in Adorno’s quote is something really powerful about human nature and the nature of progress and satisfaction. That when we do satisfy a certain base level of needs and we begin to accumulate things, they can either be seen as chains, but they can also be seen as signs of progress and signs of comfort that people deserve to have. If they have it up here, I would like it down here. So there is an interesting element of this in that to decouple—which is the concept I think that we really need to drive at here, the idea of decoupling capitalism— think there is a fear maybe that that will come down on the very people, the masses, so to speak, that were trying to actually save, and that the wealthiest among us, the most privileged among us will be able to adapt to the future, whatever that future is, just by hoarding resources. And that if we do decouple and if we do abandon a capitalist structure, ultimately, the people who will pay the price for this are those who have the least among us.

So in this process, as you think about this from a moral perspective, from your theological background, when you think about this through the dismal science, when you think about this just even through a philosophical lens, is there a moral case and moral discussion to be had about the decoupling and actually who should be in charge of this process, and who gets what toward the end? I know that’s an inelegant question, but it all does come from this idea that Adorno’s putting forward.

Tad: Right. Yeah. And it kind of touches on not just the decoupling debate, but, you know, within left circles, you have the degrowth versus eco-modernist perspective of we do want people all around the world to have a higher standard of living and that may require fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, and I want everybody to have clean water and electricity and then also their pornography and weed as well, of course [laughing]. But we need people to be able to have the essentials met. And to talk about addressing those needs puts us in a position of having to say, well, okay, how is this going to work in the west, in the global north? Because I have a very, very hard time imagining—without the dialectical conditions for revolution—I have a hard time imagining any of the working classes, to say nothing of the bourgeoisie, allowing policymakers to do things that are going to hurt GDP.

So you refer to Obama bragging about decoupling. It is true, at least on paper, these numbers kind of toggle back and forth, but something like three dozen developed nations are growing in GDP without growing in fossil fuels, or diminishing in fossil fuels. So you know, the United States aggregate output of GDP greenhouse gases has been dropping for a couple of decades now. So when Obama bragged of that after the end of his term, he releases this paper kind of saying, “under my administration, we decoupled, we’ve done it.” And one of the awkward little things as you dig into the data is about a third of the reason that we dropped emissions was because we switched from burning coal to burning natural gas. So a significant portion of what he’s bragging about is switching out one fossil fuel for another, because natural gas produces half the emissions per unit of energy that coal does.

Politically I am more or less—I have to own up to being a climate Leninist. I think the obvious solution is that we need a vanguard party, we need them all over the world, and we need central planning for use value instead of exchange values. Simple enough. But we don’t have the dialectical conditions for revolution, as far as I can tell, hardly anywhere. So what does that get me? I mean, I’ve produced a bit of idealism there. And what that kind of occludes is the fact that my lifestyle is built on the suffering of others. I get to live as kind of a comfy professor because other people are not paid enough to pick the food that I eat. I am talking to you on a computer that’s powered by a coal plant that’s poisoning the lungs of some small child somewhere else who will die of cancer, and I will not think of it. There’s the critiques also of things like cobalt coming from the Congo and so forth. My lifestyle is built on a massive amount of suffering, and I don’t want to give ground on that.

And more importantly, when the changes ramp up and things like produce become more expensive—well, we have a really recent example of what happens when people go to the grocery store and see that their prices are rising. They get really angry at policymakers. They want anything done, no matter what, to bring that inflation back down. And we start having, again, discussions about GDP and inflation without talking of clarifying that, hey, you know, anytime we have inflation, there’s multiple reasons that can go into that, but one thing that’s always happening is that the people who own are raising the prices. I mean, that’s what inflation is. You don’t get inflation without that. So when that happens, you have central banks that toy with interest rates. And people who are struggling to get into the middle class want to keep interest rates low so that they can have a chance of getting a house one day. and so that they don’t lose their jobs. And if any of that interest rates or toggling around with subsidies for fossil fuels or for agriculture, if any of that starts to touch on middle class American lifestyles, there was going to be a revolt. And they will tell policymakers, “you’ve got to do what you got to do. you’ve got to turn on the coal plants and the natural gas. You’ve got to lease more of this stuff because I don’t want to give up my car.”

Max: So we’ve made the argument in the past that absent—and I think it actually came out of the climate industrial politics episode that we did—that absent a global centralized effort to nationalize, first the fossil fuel industry, but also elements of agriculture transportation, anything that would be seen as a core and vital to the economic infrastructure of the world, would have to be would have to be taken over through a central planning mechanism, which would require some sort of vanguard party. So I’m in complete alignment with the concept of that. Only in terms of it being a thought experiment of, okay, so we know that carbon sequestration, there’s a role for it to play, we’re probably going to need fewer people, that’s happening anyway, the population is going to peak within the century. We need afforestation. We need electrified mass transit on a mass scale so that people can move about, and it even gets into broadband for all. And you touch on all of these different policy shifts and changes that could happen to ameliorate the situation, to give us a fighting chance, not to necessarily hit the IPCC targets, which I found really interesting, but to establish an equilibrium. And the concept, the way that you described the planet being an equilibrium, for some reason, it resonated with me differently and better than any other explanation that I’ve read about it when just reading the policy summaries from IPCC, as you know.

I’m not trying to be Pollyanna-ish here and try to find some optimistic note, because I think you just perfectly illustrated the tension that exists between progress, perceived progress, comfort, rights, natural rights, and then earned rights, the perceived earned rights that we have as people within this community, that I don’t necessarily have to give everything up to reduce to the lowest amount of suffering in order to feel good about being a human in this world. So you’re able to really mix the ethical, the moral, the philosophical into this whole idea. And what struck me was this idea of equilibrium, that we don’t have to get further down, we don’t have to be net zero and then and then some, we don’t have to kill off half the population, we don’t have to do any of these things. What we have to do is understand the science, back into it that way, and the science is to achieve this equilibrium that will at least keep the planet inhabitable, keep it productive, keep some biodiversity, keeps us able to exist on this planet without mass kill So can you just talk about the science of equilibrium and the way that you explain it in the book so that we’re all kind of level setting with the same conversation?

Tad: Yeah, so there’s a few different ways that we could kind of think about this. One is the simplest way that the scientific community talks about equilibrium is in terms of energy in, energy out. And then there’s a few different sensitivities. One’s called transient climate response. Another is whole Earth system response. And for every watt of warming, the Earth is going to warm by 0.75 degrees to one degree per watt warming. So one way to think about it is, right now if we’re at 1.3 watts per square meter out of equilibrium, then earth is going to warm about one additional degree. So we’ve already risen 1.3, so we’re gonna go slightly above two degrees—that’s if we keep the current amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We could drop it, it’s currently still rising. But until emissions reach zero, Earth will continue to warm. And we think that after emissions hit zero, Earth will even out within 50 years or so to about where it was when emissions hit zero.

There other types of ways that the community talks about equilibrium, so there’s been some work around planetary boundaries, [that’s] one well-known framework, where you think about what are the nine or so different ocean acidification, nitrogen mixes of the the land, where are we in terms of warming and how do you think about like the whole earth system as having these boundaries that we can inhabit within a safe zone. That comes out of serious science but it’s also somewhat contested, if I understand correctly, within the climate community. We could apply this more broadly to, what kind of society do we want in terms of a carbon footprint? And I don’t mean to moralize about how you reduce your own carbon footprint, but the average American’s footprint is 14 and a half tons of carbon dioxide per year, whereas the global average is more like four. So we live out of equilibrium by something like three or four times as much as we should.

So do we want a world in which everybody’s living at the world standard now? Or do we want a world in which everyone’s living at the American standard? Is there a way to get everyone to the American standard of life without carbon dioxide emissions? Yes, of course there is. We need clean renewables, but are we going to be able to deploy those in time? I would say more broadly, what your question makes me think of is, getting back to this moral question. I say in my final chapters that the reason I wrote this book, really more than anything else—aside from my personal reasons, is that I have two kids that were born during the process of writing this book, and I’m thinking quite a bit about their futures. The reason is the migrants, the refugees, the people who will be displaced and harmed. You cited Adorno a moment ago, this Frankfurt School philosopher, who survived, he was a Jew living in Germany when the Nazis took power and ended up narrowly escaping the Holocaust. But he spent the rest of his life with this awareness, almost like guilt or a melancholia for having survived something that so many others did not. And one of the things that he said is that Hitler has imposed upon the world a new categorical imperative to never again allow this to happen, to arrange all of our thoughts and actions so that we do not allow this kind of mass atrocity to happen. And I am deeply, deeply concerned about the ways that climate denial will manifest as violence.

I talk about Gaza in the book, which I wrote and turned in in the summer of ‘22. So it was quite before this current genocide. But the reason that I wrote about Gaza is because Gaza gives you a way to kind of think about, how are things going over in the world’s preferred killing field?The world’s weapons testing zone. Because even before the genocide, Israel was experimenting with little rover sentry drones that could just wander around, and theoretically can be fully autonomous and just decide to wipe people out. More recently during this genocide, we’ve heard even more vivid versions of this, where we heard about drone copters that are apparently sending out recorded calls of children, and then if you come out and look for the child, the drone copter shoots at you. So this is what military technology can do, but I’m also just quite worried that maybe the capitalist mode of production, once we balloon up to 10 billion people and run into limits, there’s no more people to extract surplus from. If we take Marx’s basic idea here that surplus value is created by labor, once you hit a certain limit of people and you’ve capitalized the entire world and the people aren’t expanding anymore because they starve if you expand anymore, then capitalism has a declining, again, GDP here, a declining growth rate of GDP. In all IPCC scenarios, from the greenest future to the most fossil fuel future, expect that we will hit somewhere around 1% GDP growth. Which means that if we ever have any sort of economic crisis, capitalism is going to be increasingly unable to spin out of that without toggling back on the fossil fuels.

To put it all together, I am very worried about a future in which capitalism just kind of decides, we don’t really need a 10 billion people, like actually massive numbers of people can be liquidated, maybe in the billions, through planned starvations, or resource allotments. We don’t really need that many billions of people, we can run fine and aggregate off four or five billion people just fine. And so what does that do for the rest of the world? Well, we know that for every degree warming, we get something like 5–10% crop yield loss. So we can expand to new farmland, but there’s going to be challenges, with less fertile farmland that we’re gonna have to develop out. What does that look like in practice? Well, it probably looks like what poverty and food looks like right now. When people can’t get enough nutrition because it costs too much, what do they do? They turn to more processed foods, which produce lots of calories but very little nutrition. If you are a poor single mother trying to feed a child, do you go for the fast food or spend the same $4 or $5 on a box of blueberries that the child might fling across the room? The obvious answer is that you go for the cheap, high calorie, but low nutrition. And so you get things like heart disease and obesity and diabetes.

So we’re talking about fossil fuel emissions and warming, but very quickly, you’re talking about things like food and obesity and addiction. Like we could be, for all we know, 10 years out from a permanent depression. But definitely towards the end of the century, we have a pretty grim set of possibilities on the horizon. And the reason that I wrote this book is, I want us to think about what denial looks like in ways that are not, “I don’t believe in climate change.” What does it look like to increasingly just pull funding from people who can’t get health care for their diseases that are in some way related to breathing coal plant air, or trying to struggle with enough to eat.

I’ll give you one more example of what this might look like. We haven’t really gotten into my whole set of examples; thinking about, like, Greece erecting nets in the Aegean Sea to counter migrants and drown them in the sea as a type of climate denial. What do we do with drone strikes hitting people on the aridity line because they’re in drought-stressed areas? What do we do with Elizabeth Warren’s plan to green the military by reducing the amount of water in toilets? Those types of things are kind of like, I think, expressions of denial.

But here, one final example of how I think of this. So I live in Baltimore. I can drive to the harbor in about 10, 15 minutes. But my home is quite in the north of the city, so about 70 meters above sea level, which is where it would be if we melted every single bit of the ice on the entire planet. So I need to worry about sea level for my house in about a few thousand years. So I’m not really worried about sea level per se for me. But, not long from now, the hydrological cycle, because of those 900,000 Hiroshima bombs of energy—that amount of energy in the Earth’s system boosts the hydrological cycle—means that you get a lot more rain, a lot more flooding. So what happens when my neighborhood, really safe from sea level rise, starts to have basements and first floors that flood more and more often? What happens is home values decline. People who can leave will. People who can’t afford to sell and leave and take that kind of loss on a house will be trapped, intergenerational wealth will disappear, and that means that people’s property values decline, that means their funding for school, like the millage taxes decline as well. So the schools start to suffer, which means the community suffers, which means businesses start to pull out, which means police budgets balloon as crime rates soar, from people who are trying to struggle to survive.

So I want us to think about climate denial not as just, “I don’t believe in climate change.” I want to think about the ways in which a police budget can be a manifestation of climate denial. Because there is just no way—and for anyone listening who thinks like, I can’t keep my head around this, nobody can keep their head around this. There is always something else to kind of explore for what might be on the horizon. I have yet to encounter a climatologist who seems to have a commanding sense of all of the different problems on the horizon. They’re very narrowly focused on their area of expertise. But there is always some sort of new dynamic and it is impossible to keep it all in our head. So I want us to get better at kind of seeing how these systems interlock because the amount of violence on the horizon could be quite drastic.

Max: Unf*ckers, this isn’t the last you’re going to hear from Tad DeLay because, Tad, I’m actually quoting you in our next piece. Surprisingly, as I got toward the end of the book, you had some rich information on the LAC nations, the economic trade zones in Honduras, as an example. Once I saw Grover Norquist’s name in there, and his belief system about the Northern Triangle and how productive that could be in terms of subjugating labor. There’s some really good stuff in there because we’re doing part three in our series, Over The Borderline. The first was to sort of localize the migrant crisis in New York City and how it was stretching social services and the concept of sanctuary city. So giving it sort of a different shape and a different lens that put it into national headlines. The second one was about the politics of migration. And this third one that we’re closing it out on is the economics of migration. So there was some really great insight and some rich data in the book that I’m going to be pulling from to complete that series as well, so I just wanted to say thank you.

So don’t worry, Unf*ckers. Tad will be back, at least in quoted form in that.

Tad: Happy to come back on anytime.

Max: Yeah, I’d love to get you as kind of a regular and a stable because you have a couple of prior books that are of great interest to our audience. For example, What Does the White Evangelical Want? I think is a great- topic for us to explore. We’re connected with the folks over at Straight White American Jesus, so we’ve collaborated with them a couple of times and they do some really good work there as well. So I’m looking at this as the beginning of hopefully a long dialogue between us. And personally, I just wanted to say again, thank you for this book because yes, it was a great resource—the highest compliment that I can give is it’s a great read.

Tad: Thank you.

Max: It’s just a great read. You did a wonderful job constructing the book.

Tad: I wanted it to be a fun, I wanted it to be an enjoyable book to read, and not just a science book. So that’s wonderful to hear.

Max: It’s not fun.

Tad: [laughing] Yeah that’s probably the wrong word.

Max: Let’s stop short of calling it fun. But I did find it riveting, and the way that you infuse the anecdotes in it and even projected like okay, so let’s just follow this down a logical path, just in the way that you summarize that towards the end, which is why I wanted to end it there, I thought that was a really beautiful construction of of how we can think about these things and start to internalize these concepts without getting lost in the data or the denial for that matter.

So if people want to listen to a little bit more about it, if you could just tell everybody about the podcast and also how they can order the book.

Tad: Yes, so I produced a three-episode podcast that you can find by just searching Future of Denial on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get them. Future of Denial, it’s three-episodes. One’s an introduction to what I’m arguing in the book, one’s the psychoanalysis and kind of looking back at ancient responses to plague and how humans usually deny things when they don’t really have any meaningful agency under the regimes in which they suffer, and then a third is on the Marxism, the fossil fuels. What do we do with the fossil fuel reserves that are worth 259 trillion dollars, are we just going to give those up, or are we going to take a trillion here a trillion there. So I have that, and then I have a few other interviews coming out with Richard Seymour and maybe a few others that will come out later as bonus episodes to that podcast.

So I did that too, I wanted to promote the book, but I also wanted to get that information out, that research out, for people who aren’t going to buy the book just to give you something for free, to hopefully make this research a little bit more useful out there. So find that, and also if people want to order the book and avoid Amazon or one of the other large companies like that, you can, of course, you can always order on Bookshop, which is the great Amazon alternative and the proceeds will go to whatever local bookstore you select.

Max: We have it linked there by the way, we have our own bookshop.

Tad: Oh wonderful, okay so, that’s a wonderful alternative. The cheapest option to get it is at Verso’s website, so if you go to Verso and you check out the book, right now it’s running 20% off, but if you enter the promo code “denial,” just “denial,” at check out, you get an additional 25% off, so it brings the the $29 book down to like $17 something or $6 for an ebook. So get it as cheap as possible and spread the word. And I’m on Twitter occasionally, you can find me on Facebook and You can sign up for a mailing list and you can keep track of me.

Max: And hopefully back here again soon.

Tad: Hopefully, yes. Yeah, I’d love that.

Max: Thanks for your time today. Thanks for this book. And we’ll talk to you soon.

Tad: All right. Thank you.

Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).