Press "Enter" to skip to content

If climate change didn’t exist, we’d invent it

Doesn’t it sometimes feel like we’re living a low-budget rerun of our parents’ era?

They had the Beatles. We got Lady Gaga.

They had Paris 1968. We got Occupy.

They had Vietnam. We got Iraq.

They had Marlon Brando. We got … George Clooney.

But there is one thing we’re just as good at as the boomers: worrying about global apocalypse.

We took their Mutually Assured Destruction, and raised them Climate Change.

For 45 years following the end of WWII, the world lived in constant fear of nuclear war between the US-led capitalist West and the Soviet bloc. Such a war would be different from all previous wars because the simultaneous detonation of thousands of nuclear warheads was calculated to result in a planetary catastrophe — the Nuclear Winter — that would wipe out most life on earth. No matter who won, everyone would lose.

That fear mobilised millions of idealists all over the world to denounce such lunacy. Naturally, some people — like the unhinged US general Curtis LeMay — argued that a nuclear war could be won without destroying the planet, famously declaring: “We might have destroyed Russia completely and not even skinned our elbows doing it.” Thankfully for your humble writer, his assertions never came to be empirically tested. The Cold War ended and, although nuclear weapons have not gone anywhere, the spectre of atomic apocalypse has been all but forgotten.

Perhaps feeling left out, our generation also needed something to project our romantic struggles, express our ideological positions and fight to save humankind. Enter climate change, which, if it didn’t exist, would have certainly been invented (and actually was invented, according to News24 commenters and Fox News viewers).

Its logic, gatekeepers, and even some of its language (“Ban the Bomb”/”Keep the Oil in the Soil”) echo those of the disarmament movement. At bottom lies the same basic prisoner’s dilemma: nuclear weapons/fossil fuels are bad, but nobody wants to be the one left without them. Just as UN Security Council members preached nuclear non-proliferation atop their existing missile stockpiles, they now denounce the proliferation of the very fossil fuel-led development model that made them rich. But who wants to be left behind?

Given the similarities between these two movements, what lessons does the world’s experience of nuclear disarmament hold for the current fight against global warming?

Unfortunately, the most important takeaway is that any concessions, whether on the grounds of principle, weakness or expediency, are likely to be exploited rather than rewarded.

Former Soviet president Gorbachev removed Soviet nuclear weapons and troops from Eastern Europe both because he believed in disarmament and because their costs were becoming prohibitive for a bankrupt Soviet Union. He expected the US to follow suit with their missiles in Western Europe. Instead, rather than close its shop now that the Soviet threat was neutralised, Nato expanded eastwards, to the areas and even the physical bases vacated by the retreating Russians. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Or take smaller countries. Gaddafi thought that by stopping his nuclear programme, he would be welcomed into the fold; instead, he was overthrown. Would that have happened had Libya retained its nuclear programme? Just ask Kim Jong Il!

The lesson here is that, in international politics, might remains right. That even if America were to unilaterally cut its emissions, China would be the first to exploit it, rather than follow the good lead. Small nations, too, would be wise to repeat whatever folly the rich and large nations are doing or else risk getting taken advantage of, even if it means doing something stupid and useless like spending billions on nuclear technology or building vast polluting power plants. Any idealism will be severely punished.

Like nuclear disarmament, real pollution reduction must be done universally and simultaneously, or not at all. And simultaneously isn’t looking any more realistic than it ever did. Even more worryingly, unlike Mutually Assured Destruction and short of a miraculous technological solution, climate change is a creeping, inexorable process that cannot be averted by a freak deus ex machine moment like the sudden implosion of the USSR.

Of course, our fears might turn out to be exaggerated, the world might yet manage to adapt just fine to a few more degrees, and the next generation will invent a new imminent apocalypse to rally against. But if that best-case scenario does not pan out, then the world may actually be doomed this time.

In which case, at least we’ll have finally outdone the baby boomers in something, and that’s what matters.


  • Journalist Vadim Nikitin claims to be working on a book about nostalgia. He blames his poor judgement and unhealthy obsession with the past on having been born perilously close to the Soviet Union's largest nuclear submarine base.


  1. Lennon Lennon 2 December 2011

    “The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are f*****.” – George Carlin

  2. Robard Robard 2 December 2011

    Vadim, nobody denies that climate change exists. It is scepticism about whether man is to blame for so-called global warming when the planet has experienced far warmer and far colder temperatures over the past aeons of its existence. It is also unclear why a warmer planet would on balance be a bad thing. And if you doubt that the scientific process has been manipulated I challenge you to spend a week or so at and then come away with your faith in climate science intact. At the moment they’re featuring the release of a second batch of Climategate emails, an event which has been studiously ignored by the media.

  3. Paddy Paddy 2 December 2011

    Nice article Vadim. Either a tech breakthrough will resolve this or we’re f*******.

  4. Thabs Thabs 2 December 2011

    Vaddy! I had given up on you, but ….

  5. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 3 December 2011

    The baby boomers had “Ban he Bomb” and peace signs; their parents had gasmasks and the Second World War; their grandparents had the First World War and death in the trenches…………going back through all the generations to the Black Death and the Plague.

    But part of the similarity to the 1960s and now is that the baby boomers are now in their 60s and have power in the world to influence for change, which they did not have in their teens.

    There is no such thing as independent science anymore, research has to be funded by grants – and the considerable oil lobby with their cartels and oil companies, led by the Americans and the Sauds, deflect all blame for pollution off oil and overpopulation, on to coal and carbon dioxide.

  6. Dave Harris Dave Harris 3 December 2011

    Oh Piet…ahem… Vadim, I was waiting for you to tell us how “tenderpreneurs”, “blue-light brigade”, ANC etc. are the real proponents of the “climate change” which you apparently don’t buy into. Like other beneficiaries of apartheid, I see your denialism runs pretty deep in bones. You views are eerily similar to the neocon Republicans in the US who also have a tendency to deny reality in the face of scientific evidence and also tend to suffer from amnesia when it comes acknowledging injustices of the past.

  7. Enough Said Enough Said 3 December 2011

    Good thoughtful piece Vadim. Don’t know if I agree with you on if America cut emissions, China would take advantage. Right now China is going all out to remain the world leader in renewable energy, appears to be government policy decision.

    China has also slowed on building coal fired power stations, has closed down some bad old coal polluters, slowed on building nuclear power stations, has created a massive solar and wind industry, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

    By last year they were producing 40 GW in wind generated electricity, that is more than South Africa currently uses from coal, nukes, hydro and renewables.

    If America started to threaten China’s position of number one leader in renewables, I think China would then ramp up its renewable energy industries to beat the competition.

    I don’t think you can compare nuclear disarmanent to developing a dynamic new industry that will generate money and jobs.

  8. Scott Scott 3 December 2011

    Entertaining article comrade, satire is a rarity in the “blogosphere”, not that I have actually read many blogs, yet I am going off of my trusty intuition in this matter. Nature definitely loves to fill voids like china’s below ground was really craving alot of nuclear weapons.

  9. Paul Whelan Paul Whelan 3 December 2011

    Whether or not we’ve invented climate change,,it is certain that human nature does not change and that part of our nature is to see disaster just round the corner in one shape or another.

    No doubt this is connected with our own mortality and the uncertainty of all existence, here today and gone tomorrow.

  10. MLH MLH 3 December 2011

    At least Vadim can get past national to international, Dave Harris You, Sir, have such a one-track mind.

    There’s little that hasn’t been said before and although the baby boomers officially invented the cold war, we didn’t all have a hand in it, only an elite few did. This time around, it is interesting that we have all contributed to global warming (if it exists). More importantly, we all contribute to dirtying our planet, by virtue of the fact that we allow our political leaders to make silly decisions. For example: when the ban on plastic bags became part of the SA landscape, we should have ensure that it would actually make some change to our world. I notice that my supermarket expects me to use plastic bags…no change at all…and frets when I produce textile bags.

  11. Neil Neil 3 December 2011


    The evidence is overwhelming that the past several decades of warming are human induced. Climate skeptic blogs are poor locations to retrieve quality information – anyone can publish anything on the internet. Peer reviewed science is far more reliable. Peer reviewed science is the basis on which we understand the modern world, in every aspect from medicine to particle physics.

    The climate-gate emails have been investigated by nine separate panels (from university to national level) none of which found evidence of wrong-doing by the scientists. Is it any wonder “climate-gate 2.0” has been a flop? No. To me it seems that choosing COP-17 as the time to release these extra emails only proves the motivation of those sceptics. If the email hackers were really interested in “the truth”, they would have released all the emails at once.

  12. Leninist Leninist 3 December 2011

    Oh Dawood…ahem… Dave, I was waiting for you to tell us how “white people” etc. are the real proponents of the “climate change” which you apparently don’t buy into. Like other beneficiaries of apartheid, I see your denialism runs pretty deep inyour Stalinist bones.

  13. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 3 December 2011

    Enough Said

    China is also building massive dams on a river which flows down through other countries – whose fish will die and whose people will starve – the same problem as the daming of the Nile.

  14. nguni nguni 4 December 2011

    Harris, Vadim is as much an afrikaner as you are a white.
    another of your hunches just bit the dust.

  15. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 4 December 2011

    The last thing Africa needs is a Green Fund – more aid with strings attached – which money will go in kickbacks and bribes and to build expensive nuclear power stations.

    What Africa needs is not to develop the oil and electricity dependency of the developed world, but to use coal, like the rest of the world developed on in the first place.

    A railway network in Africa run on coal can work – but run on electricity will be impossible from both the expense and logistics point of view (imagine the cable theft)

    Both electricity and oil dependency are new phenonomen – the world developed very well on coal, steam and gas. South Africa has both vast coal and gas resources (in Mossel Bay).

    Oil is the real polluter – think of the Mississipi oil spill and all the polluting oil tankers.

    That coal is the polluter is an oil company and oil cartel myth.

    Plants absorb carbon dioxide so an increase in CO2 will presumably increase plant growth if plants are planted.

  16. Enough Said Enough Said 4 December 2011

    If Europe can entice China into cutting carbon emissions by creating the world’s most powerful renewable energy industry, it will put India and the USA on the backfoot. You wanna stay competative, develop renewables.

  17. Enough Said Enough Said 4 December 2011

    Amazing how industry trolls always suddenly care for humanity and the environment when it suits their spin, disinformation and propaganda. No names mentioned, but follow the nutcase on this thread.

  18. Lesego Lesego 5 December 2011

    David Harris, I’ve always been supporting and agreeing with all of your view when it comes to politics and I’m so surprised that I get to disagree with your views this time around. I wonder if you have heard that these Climate Change researchers have all along been manipulating their data in order to suit their Global Warming dogma. I thought you of all would be knowing this.

  19. Chrips Chrips 5 December 2011

    You forgot about Y2K in the middle. If there is one thing politicians understand it is the rallying point, the common enemy with which to mobilise the troops. Once there were more politicians than scientists involved, I became sceptical. Not because I do not believe that there is some truth to the science, or that humans are to blame, but because we are trying to find a political solution (more rules,protocols, trying to change human behaviour etc.) rather than trying to find a scientific solution (which is sure to come in the next 10 to 20 years) and through which the correct human behaviour will evolve. As such, the politicians are in charge of the process, and through that power comes opportunities to skim money from the change over process. In the interim, bigger gain can be sought by uplifting poorer communities through any means possible, including the burning of fossil fuels. Once again, good analogy that highlights interesting aspects of human nature accross different cultures. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  20. benzo benzo 5 December 2011

    @ Crips: glad you mention the Y2K scam…planes would fall out of the sky, ships would get lost and the banking world would collapse..if not a bunch of software guys come to the rescue before the 31 December 1999. As it happened, the financial world all but collapsed some 10 years later, simply of their own doing. Politicians saved their backsides. No planes and ships went missing on 1 jan 2000.

    The fatal nuclear war never happened…because even the US was afraid????

    Global warming?? My parents -early 1900 material- used to tell us that the river Maas, flowing thorugh Rotterdam was often frozen during winter time. We, their late thirties offspring, never seen that again but we did have ice for ice skating pleasure. My schildren and grand children have less and less winters with low enough tempartures to have the weeks of ice pleasures we had.

    Some thousands of years earlier, the North of Holland was at the end of a glacier.

    The current hype? Politicians think as far as the next elections and scientists are largely inspired where their next fundings come from to keep their jobs.
    Call me a cynic if you want. I will gladly agree.

  21. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 6 December 2011

    This is the first time the post 1994 ANC has not been on the same page as the Sauds and the USA.

    And the Sauds and the USA are right this time.

    A Climate Green Fund is futile – it would just put more money into the hands of corrupt governments and dictatorships.

Leave a Reply