Anthropocene

Mount Pleasant

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Published on Peak Surfer on February 19, 2017

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"The problem is not our understanding of the science or the efficacy of our potential solutions. The problem is human willingness to do the right thing before its too late."

 

 

  We first latched onto the notion of catastrophic climate change back around 1980 when we were a young attorney taking quixotic cases involving impossible-to-rectify injustices like cancers among atomic veterans, trespass of sacred sites or nuclear waste disposal, and shoving those insults under the noses of attorneys-general, judges and justices to try to get a reaction.

Occasionally we would finesse a surprising win and that helped attract donations to keep the enterprise running and the entertainment value high, attracting more donors, and so it went.

One such case was against the deepwell injection of toxic effluent from the manufacture of pesticides and herbicides by agrochemical companies in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. The effluent in question had been extracted from an aquifer and tested by State laboratories where was quickly ranked as the most concentrated poison they had ever pulled from the wild. A single green fluorescent drop killed all the fish in the tank. There were 6 billion gallons injected under Middle Tennessee from 1967 to 1980. It made Love Canal look like the kiddie pool.

As we mustered our arguments to go before state regulators and appellate judges, we were compelled to counter some rather absurd arguments being advanced by the mop-up squads of high-priced attorneys for the companies. They said, “Heckfire, Tennessee has plenty of water,” meaning there was no good reason to protect the nonpotable (mineral-rich) waters of the Knox Aquifer a mile down.

Apart from the fact that the Knox is an artesian source of water for area industries and thereby already protected from “contaminants” whether toxic or not by the federal Safe Drinking Water act, we advanced two principal lines of argument, bringing in expert witnesses and entering scientific studies into the record.

Our first line was population growth. Tennessee was growing and what may seem like a lot of water in 1980 may not be nearly enough in 2080. The second line was climate change.

We argued that global warming was advancing, just as scientists had been consistently predicting for the past hundred or more years, and that it would put pressure on water supplies not just in Tennessee, but across the continent.

At that time science suggested warming in the 20th century of about half a degree Celsius. Those were the good old days. Nonetheless, persuading a country judge that global warming was real and something to be concerned about was no mean feat.

 

 

 

 

We had to pull out the big guns. We went to our local congressman and got his assistance to troll the federal agencies for useful studies. We holed up in Vanderbilt science library poring over journals and books on climatology. We spoke to some key figures in the field at that time — Stephen Schneider, Susan Solomon, Kerry Emanuel, Edward A. Martell, Mario Molina — and we assembled that advice into legal briefs and memoranda.

All in all, we scared the bejesus out of ourselves.

The case lingered on for a number of years but by 1985 had been largely resolved by gutsy State regulators, who wrote new rules that essentially prohibited hydrofracking. The companies shut down the injection wells, closed their factories soon after (the phosphate ores that had attracted them in the first place having long since played out and the costs of hauling in by train making the location uneconomical) and moved on. The litigation cost meter ceased running and the death threats stopped. But we were still beset by unshakable malaise.

We had seen the future, and it was different than we had previously imagined. It was not our father’s future.

The materials gathered over the course of ten years were published in our book, Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do. The book came out on the heels of two other fine 1989 books that said essentially the same thing: Stephen Schneider’s Global Warming and Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature, all to resounding popular disinterest.

Fast forward a quarter century and we were still very much in a funk about what the future holds. When our granddaughter was born in 2005 we felt very sad for her.

We were still tracking the literature, still going to conferences, still speaking with experts, but until the International Permaculture Conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil in June, 2007 we had not found much to call hope.

Biochar

It was at the Ecocentro do Cerrado that year that we caught a first fleeting glimpse. Andre Soares and his partners were conducting experiments in recreating terra preta do indio – the Amazonian Dark Earths. They were, not coincidentally, massively sequestering carbon while growing wholesome food.

Just over a year later, in September 2008, the Permaculture International Journal sent us to Newcastle, England to report on "Biochar, Sustainability and Security in a Changing Climate,” the 2d International Conference of the International Biochar Initiative, with over 225 attendees from 31 different countries and over 70 presentations. That, and some intervening trips back to Brazil to visit the archaeological sites near Manaus, provided the source material for our 2010 book, The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change.

For those readers who might be new to biochar, the Virgin Energy Challenge offers this quick synopsis:

 

 

 

Biochar is a relatively low-tech approach inspired by the terra preta soils found in the Amazon basin. These black, fertile soils were created in pre-Columbian times by indigenous farming cultures. They mixed wood char, crushed bone, and manure into the otherwise relatively infertile Amazonian soil to build crop beds. The wood char, though not a fertilizer per se, served to buffer nutrients from the bone meal and manure. It apparently served as a soil analog of a coral reef. Its porous structure and nutrient buffering surface area created a favorable microenvironment for communities of soil fungi and other organisms that aided soil fertility.

Terra preta soils, once well established, appear to be self-sustaining. So long as crop cover protects them from wind and water erosion, they maintain their high level of soil carbon and productivity long after additions of the materials that built them have stopped. In fact they gradually increase in depth as new material composts. In the Amazon basin, thick terra preta soil beds built as far back as 450 BCE remain productive and highly valued by local farmers to this day.

Terra preta soils were initially thought to be peculiar to the warm, wet environment of the Amazon basin. Research has shown, however, that similar results can be obtained in temperate regions by amending soils with formulations of biochar and other ingredients tailored to local soil and crop conditions. The amount of carbon that can potentially be stored in this manner is huge; the amount currently stored as soil carbon has been estimated as 2,300 GT, nearly three times the 800 GT of carbon now present in the atmosphere. If soil carbon could be increased globally by an average of just 10%, it would sequester enough carbon to return atmospheric CO₂ to pre-industrial levels.

The issue with biochar then is not the amount of carbon it could ultimately sequester in the soil; it’s (surprise!) economics. There’s little doubt that a well designed program of soil building, incorporating use of biochar as an element, would be an effective way to sequester carbon while providing long term economic value to farmers. It would boost crop yields while reducing the amount of fertilizer needed. It would also reduce water runoff and nutrient leaching while improving drought resistance. On the other hand, biochar is costly to produce and distribute in the amounts needed, and it may take decades for the considerable investment in soil quality to pay off financially.

The key to success for biochar will come down to technology for producing it from local resources, and dissemination of knowledge for how to employ in in a broader program of soil building. A sense of the complexities can be found in a document from the International Biochar Initiative: Guidelines on Practical Aspects of Biochar Application to Field Soil in Various Soil Management Systems. The three VEC finalists developing biochar display the diversity of product and business strategies possible for addressing these complexities.

There are a few errors in that account, but they are trifling. Biochar is not a “relatively low-tech” approach, it is about as low-tech as you can get. Some Amazonian deposits, similar to those “as far back as 450 BCE,” are ten times older than that. Most estimates put soil carbon at 2500-2700 PgC, not 2300 PgC. You don’t need to increase carbon content to 10 percent globally, 5 percent would probably do it, but remember: we were at 20-plus % soil carbon before the age of agriculture and most soils are hungry to get that back. Building it back with biochar makes a more permanent repair, not just moving the furniture around, as other Virgin Challenge competitors — BECCS (Biomass Energy Carbon Capture and Storage), direct air capture and holistic grazing — do.

Biochar gave us hope, but it did not, in and of itself, solve the climate crisis.  We asked that question at the close of our book — “Can it scale quickly enough?” The answer, from what we have seen at the recent UN climate conferences and the lack of early adoption as the dominant farming paradigm, is — “Probably not.”

The rapid rise of global temperature that began about 1975 continues at a mean rate of about 0.18°C/decade, with the current annual temperature exceeding +1.25°C relative to 1880-1920 and +1.9°C relative to 1780-1880. Dampening effects by the deep oceans and polar ice slow the effects of this change but global temperature has now crossed the mean range of the prior interglacial (Eemian) period, when sea level was several meters above present. The longer temperature remains elevated the more amplifying feedbacks will lead to significantly greater consequences.

While global anthropogenic emissions actually declined in the past decade, there is a lag time for consequences. The rate of climate forcing due to previous human-caused greenhouse gases increased over 20% in the past decade, mainly due to a surge in methane, making it increasingly difficult to achieve targets such as limiting global warming to 1.5°C or reducing atmospheric CO2 below 350 ppm. While a rapid phasedown of fossil fuel emissions must still be accomplished, the Paris Agreement targets now require “negative emissions”, i.e.: extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The first rule of holes is, when you find yourself in one, stop digging. We, the two legged hairless apes, are still digging.

In a recent Soil Day paper presented to the American Geophysical Society and the Society for Ecological Restoration, Harvard professor Thomas Goreau wrote:

 

 

 

“Already we have overshot the safe level of CO2 for current temperature and sea level by about 40%, and CO2 needs to be reduced rapidly from today’s dangerous levels of 400 parts per million (ppm) to pre-industrial levels of around 260 ppm.”

Goreau, citing the work of John D. Liu and ourselves, provided his prescriptions:

 

 

 

"Current rates of carbon farming at typical current levels would take thousands of years to draw down the dangerous excess CO2, but state of the art methods of soil carbon sequestration could draw it down in as little as decades if the percentage of long lived carbon is raised to as little as about 10%."

Here we note that Dr. Goreau’s arithmetic is much better than the 4 pour 1000 or Holistic Management calculations we criticized last week. Goreau has distinguished labile carbon from “long lived carbon” and not limited land area just to existing farms. He advocates 10 percent rather than 4 tenths of a percent. He continues:

 

 

 

While all soils can, and must, be managed to greatly increase soil carbon there are two critical soil leverage points that will be the most effective to reverse global climate change, namely increasing the two most carbon-rich soils of all, Terra Preta, and wetlands. These are the most effective carbon sinks for very different reasons, Terra Preta because it is 10-50% carbon by weight, composed of biochar, which can last millions of years in the soil. Wetland soils can be up to pure organic matter, because lack of oxygen prevents organic matter decomposition. Wetlands contain half of all soil carbon, and half of that is in marine wetlands, which occupy only about 1% of the Earth’s surface but deposit about half of all the organic matter in the entire ocean. Yet they are often ignored in both terrestrial and marine carbon accounting. Marine wetland soils have more carbon than the atmosphere, but are being rapidly destroyed in the misguided name of “economic development.”

Biochar is what soil scientists call “recalcitrant carbon,” meaning that it does not readily combine with other elements unless high temperature heat or some other catalyst is present. Consequently, as much carbon as can be gleaned from the normal “labile” carbon cycle and turned into recalcitrant carbon can be kept from the atmosphere. We know from the experience of the terra preta soils that it doesn’t just stay out of the atmosphere for a few seasons, it traps carbon in the soils for thousands of years.

Switching to renewable energy will not arrest climate change. None of the schemes that involve planting trees can succeed unless they also include biochar. None of the claims of Allan Savory, Joel Salatin or the Holistic Management movement for mob grazing, or any of the claims related to organic, no-till, animal-drawn carbon farming by Eric Toensmeier, Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva and others pencil out to reverse climate change unless you include biochar. Even then, the area required for biochar-augmented conversion of land-use, farming and forestry is massive — something like 7-10 Spains per year, and maybe more. Anything less than that and the ship goes down.

 

 

 

When we first grasped this in Brazil in August 2006, it provided our first “ah ha!” moment. But then we concluded it likely can’t scale fast enough, by gradual adoption through word of mouth or a few good books, to prevent Near Term Human Extinction. In October 2007 we called that our "Houston Moment," not in the sense that "Houston we have a problem" but because we were in Houston at an ASPO meeting when it dawned on us — it may already be blown. The death sentence for our species — in the next century if not this one — could have been handed down even before we were born.

The problem is not the science or the efficacy of the solution. The problem is human willingness to change. There also seems to be something called profit that always complicates matters. We will tackle that, and offer some possible ways forward, in our coming posts.

 

You Too Can Have a Bigger Graph

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 22, 2016

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We confess to occasionally indulging in the optimistic whimsy that if we humans would only recover the common sense to let nature be nature, and maybe help her out by planting a few trees, the climate crisis would be over quite quickly. Then in a darker rebound, we despair that indeed we are really a very dumb species and probably will be doing creation a favor by going extinct, and moreover, let’s hope we do it soon enough so that fewer other species will be harmed in the process.

 

 

 

Do we need to be reminded by more Doomer Porn? The greatest impediment to Earth’s ecological recovery is not her ability to heal. Our planet still has that, even at this late date. The greatest impediment is human cultural and cognitive inertia.

In our naivete, we used to think that humans might stand a chance at culture change, but the more we learn about neurobiology, the more it seems we sapiens are locked into a primate brain that is determined to retain more reptilian instincts and reject anything sounding vaguely angelic.

Lately, credible scientific research tells us that a lack of information is not the problem. No amount of public opinion mustering will matter, so trying to educate is a lost cause.
What could change the equation? Don’t really know that yet. We are pinning hopes on raising on permaculture army, but who can say? Hang on for the ride. The best is yet to come.

Here are more than 40 visual images of what is transpiring in the real world, outside our cultural filters. Beyond this point, as Robert Scribbler said, "We're gonna need a bigger graph."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“There is a possibility that this gradual global warming could lead to a relatively abrupt slowing of the ocean’s thermohaline conveyor, which could lead to harsher winter weather conditions, sharply reduced soil moisture, and more intense winds in certain regions that currently provide a significant fraction of the world’s food production. With inadequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth’s environment.”

Climate Institute 2003 Report

 

 

 
 
 
 

“Many of the most memorable and devastating storms in eastern North America and western Europe, popularly known as superstorms, have been winter cyclonic storms, though sometimes occurring in late fall or early spring, that generate near-hurricane force winds and often large amounts of snowfall. Continued warming of low latitude oceans in coming decades will provide more water vapor to strengthen such storms. If this tropical warming is combined with a cooler North Atlantic Ocean from AMOC slowdown and an increase in midlatitude eddy energy, we can anticipate more severe baroclinic storms.”

Hansen et al. 2015, Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2C global warming could be dangerous.
 

 

 

 

 

 

“Doubling times of 10, 20 or 40 years yield multi-meter sea level rise in about 50, 100 or 200 years. Recent ice melt doubling times  are  near  the  lower  end  of  the  10–40-year  range,  but the record is too short to confirm the nature of the response.”

Hansen et al. 2015, Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2C global warming could be dangerous.
 

 

 

 

“Many of the most memorable and devastating storms in eastern North America and western Europe, popularly known as superstorms, have been winter cyclonic storms, though sometimes occurring in late fall or early spring, that generate near-hurricane force winds and often large amounts of snowfall. Continued warming of low latitude oceans in coming decades will provide more water vapor to strengthen such storms. If this tropical warming is combined with a cooler North Atlantic Ocean from AMOC slowdown and an increase in midlatitude eddy energy, we can anticipate more severe baroclinic storms.”

Hansen et al. 2015, Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2C global warming could be dangerous.
 

 

 

 

 

We show that long-term fluctuations of war frequency and population changes followed the cycles of temperature change. Further analyses show that cooling impeded agricultural production, which brought about a series of serious social problems, including price inflation, then successively war outbreak, famine, and population decline.

– Zhang, et al, 2007. Global climate change, war, and population decline in recent human history
 

 

 

 

 

Hand in hand with the skimpy ice cover, temperatures across the Arctic have been extraordinarily warm for midwinter. Just before New Year’s, a slug of mild air pushed temperatures above freezing to within 200 miles of the North Pole. That warm pulse quickly dissipated, but it was followed by a series of intense North Atlantic cyclones that sent very mild air poleward, in tandem with a strongly negative Arctic Oscillation during the first three weeks of the month.

– Jeff Masters, Wunderground
 

The normal climate of North America in 2095 under business as usual warming (i.e. no Paris agreement) according to a 2015 NASA study. The darkest areas have soil moisture comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl:

 

In the 1993 blockbuster movie "Jurassic Park," a sleazy scientist played by Jeff Goldblum quips that "life finds a way." For real biologists, climate change is like a massive, unplanned experiment, one that may be too fast and strange for some species to survive it.

Colorado Bob

 

Solomon et al., 2011. Warming World: Impacts by Degree, based on the National Research Council report, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia

 

 

 

 

 

 [I]f indeed Sivaram (Foreign Affairs) and Revkin (The New York Times) are joining all the nations of the world in acknowledging that 1.5°C is the preferred target for humanity, then we are in a “hair on fire” moment.

Joe Romm, Climate Progress
 

 
 
Increased temperatures from global warming are decreasing rain and snowfall and are increasing evaporation in the Colorado River watershed. This is reducing runoff into the reservoirs. The team predicts the water storage in Lakes Mead and Powell has a 50 percent chance of becoming exhausted by 2021 if climate change reduces runoff as predicted and if water consumption continues at current levels. This scenario would have dire consequences for the American Southwest.

American Museum of Natural History Science Updates
 

 

 

 

 

The world is just not prepared to handle large scale abrupt changes, most of us never learned to grow our own foods, we just go to the supermarket and pick whatever we want from the refrigerator. Unless we learn to accelerate our efforts to keep pace with the system change required to stop all the developments, we risk that parts of the world become uninhabitable, and turmoil which could even lead to nuclear war. 

The growth of our civilization reached a threshold, which will test our species capabilities, especially our intelligence in regards to how we manage future states of our environment. We can either try to stay in the realm of ecosystem boundaries (basically as far as possible back to a planet with around 280 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere), or we can keep acting situational and experimenting with the Earth’s climate.

The majority of us is still using the same old technologies, and thinking which caused the climate crisis in the first place.

– Chris Machens, ClimateState, based in Berlin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 comments:

 

 

 

dex3703 said…

As always, thank you for this grim work.

Could you provide a link or reference for the paragraph beginning: Increased temperatures from global warming are decreasing rain and snowfall….

 

 

 

Albert Bates said…

Thanks and apologies for the omission Dex3703. The link is American Museum of Natural History Science Bulletins. It reports on a Scripps Inst. study and provides a video of Lake Mead drying up by 2021.

 

 

 

Doomstead Diner said…

This would be a good time to start dropping acid. 🙂

Take the new Renewable Energy survey!

http://freeonlinesurveys.com/s/Wixv2RMd

RE

The Paris Gravity Well 2: Trillionization

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 24, 2016

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"We will not suddenly convert steel mills, cement kilns and road surfacing machines to operate on sunbeams."
 

Charlie said, "That's the trouble. You see it the way the banking industry sees it and they make money by manipulating money irrespective of effects in the real world. You've spent a trillion dollars of American taxpayers' money over the lifetime of the bank and there's nothing to show for it. You go into poor countries and force them to sell their assets to foreign investors and to switch from subsistence agriculture to cash crops. Then, when the prices of those crops collapse, you call this "nicely competitive" on the world market. The local populations starve and you then insist on austerity measures even though your actions have shattered their economy….

"You were intended to be the Marshall Plan, and instead you've been carpetbaggers."

— Kim Stanley Robinson, Sixty Days and Counting: Science in the Capitol (2007).

“With fundamentals changing slowly and risk appetite falling rapidly, the stage is set for a longer period of risk asset underperformance,” Jabaz Mathai, a strategist at Citigroup Inc., said.  “There is no quick fix to the headwinds facing global growth.”

"Similar periods of weakness have occurred in only five other instances since 1985: (1) the majority of 1988, (2) the first half of 1991, (3) several weeks in early 1996, (4) late 2000 and early 2001, and (5) late 2008 and the majority of 2009 … all either overlapped with a recession, or preceded a recession by a few quarters."

There has been a storm brewing since the last trifle with full-on collapse in 2008-2009. The extend-and-pretend debt balloon was reinflated and stretched to new enormities as Keynesian cash infusions fueled a Minsky Moment, if not a Korowicz Crunch.

The instability in finance is compounded by the instability in demographics. In Mexico City, Bogata and Rio they call them NINIs — the millions of youth between 15 and 24 who neither study nor work. They are now about a fifth of the population in the underdeveloping world, responsible for higher rates of homicide, gangs, and unwed pregnancy. Of those born to NINI mothers, there is a 22.3% greater likelihood of becoming a NINI, according to the World Bank. All this tinder simply builds, bides its time, wanders the streets, waits for a revolutionary spark.

As we said here last week, the trigger for the markets' sudden move may have been what happened in Paris but could not stay in Paris. When it filtered out from the December summit that 195 countries had actually done the unimaginable and set a goal of carbon neutrality, meaning phasing out net fossil fuel emissions by 2050, the financial sector was at first caught dumbfounded. The World Bank guys flinched.

Now it has sunk in. The Guardian reports:

Former OMB Chief David Stockman's recap

Investors face a “cataclysmic year” where stock markets could fall by up to 20% and oil could slump to $16 (£11) a barrel, economists at the Royal Bank of Scotland have warned. In a note to its clients the bank said: “Sell everything except high quality bonds. This is about return of capital, not return on capital. In a crowded hall, exit doors are small.” It said the current situation was reminiscent of 2008, when the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank led to the global financial crisis. This time China could be the crisis point.

Government subsidies are about to undergo a titanic shift. Many governments spend more on fossil-fuel subsidies than they do on health and education, more than a trillion dollars. Consumer benefits such as subsidized fuels and cheap finance add $548 billion per year. Government support for companies to expand production add another $542 billion just in G20 overdeveloped countries, and a mere top 8 of those will spend $80 billion of this kind every year, four times the investments going to renewables globally.

Tomorrow those same Big-8, and 188 others, will begin spending several times those trillions subsidizing renewables. Jeremy Leggett, founder of Solar Aid and Solarcentury, calls it "trillionization." It won't begin to fill the energy gap that the switch will create, but the psychology of sunk investment will be in charge from thereon out.

Oil producing states and countries are aghast. The "clear signal" that Paris sent was not what they were expecting. In Alaska, the Permanent Fund has been running in the red and the legislature is talking about an income tax. Had the Paris Agreement not come together, they might hope for a rebound of fossil prices and investments in drilling the North Slope and Arctic Refuge.

Petroblas, the national oil company of Brazil and wellspring of the Brazilian Economic Miracle, is now cash negative. It will be forced to turn to the government for a bail-out, but to where will its government turn?

In Mexico, the deficit is running 100 billion and the peso has dropped from 12 in 2014 to soon-to-be 20 against the dollar. If you have dollars you can get a meal in a good restaurant or a room for the night for 5 or 10 of them. So far in January the price rise of food for the average Mexican is alarming. Onions are up 19%, poblanos 15%, bananas 10%, tomatoes 9%.
 
The national oil company, PEMEX, came out on Monday saying it is not true that its operating with losses, but below the $26 per barrel it would be. On Tuesday the price dropped to $24.74. It closed the week at $22.77 but as we write this you can buy a barrel in Mexico City for as little as $20.32. Mexico's federal budget is entirely dependent on oil money and don't look now but Mexico, when it was petrodollar flush, became a net importer of most staple foods and many other essential commodities, which helps explain the grocery dilemma. Mexico now buys onions, poblanos, bananas and tomatoes from California. Also beans, corn and rice.

Gotta love those World Bank guys.

Venezuela, which surprised everyone by signing the Paris Agreement at the final hour, declared an economic emergency on January 15. France, which foolishly drank too much atomic kool aid thinking it might spare itself from petrocollapse, has a budget shortfall of 2.2 billion dollars and declared national economic emergency on January 17. The jobless rate in France, the eurozone's 2d largest economy, is above 10%, compared with a 9.8% EU average.

Andrew Roberts, RBS’s credit chief, said:

European and US markets could fall by 10% to 20%, with the FTSE 100 particularly at risk due to the predominance of commodity companies in the UK index. London is vulnerable to a negative shock. All these people who are long [buyers of] oil and mining companies thinking that the dividends are safe are going to discover that they’re not at all safe.

We suspect 2016 will be characterized by more focus on how the exiting occurs of positions in the three main asset classes that benefited from quantitative easing: 1) emerging markets, 2) credit, 3) equities … Risks are high.

Zero Hedge reports:
 

"For dry bulk, China has gone completely belly up,” said Erik Nikolai Stavseth, an analyst at Arctic Securities ASA in Oslo, talking about ships that haul everything from coal to iron ore to grain. “Present Chinese demand is insufficient to service dry-bulk production, which is driving down rates and subsequently asset values as they follow each other.”

“China’s slowdown has come as a major shock to the system,” said Hartland Shipping’s Prentis. “We are now caught in the twilight zone between shifts in China’s economy, and it is uncomfortable as it’s causing unexpected slowing of demand.”

The continued collapse of The Baltic Dry Index remains ignored by most.

According to  Zero Hedge:

The North Atlantic has few to nil cargo traveling in its waters. Instead, the giant container ships are anchored. Unmoving. Empty.

Commerce between Europe and North America has literally come to a halt. For the first time in known history, not one cargo ship is in-transit in the North Atlantic between Europe and North America. All of them (hundreds) are either anchored offshore or in-port. NOTHING is moving.

This has never happened before. It is a horrific economic sign; proof that commerce is literally stopped.

The slow response to the Paris outcome has been a complete portfolio review by every actuary and bean-counter in the biggest banks and investment houses, pension funds and mutuals. Hedge fund managers are scratching and sniffing for places to park billions being lifted from soon-to-be-stranded fossil assets. The clean-tech market, signaled first by China, is reacting by recycling cash out of fossil holdings.

Peter Sinclair of ClimateCrocks.com reports:

The Energy Information Administration calculates in its 2015 analysis that the average U.S. levelized cost for new natural-gas advanced combined cycle plants is 7.3 cents per kilowatt-hour — the same as solar.

However, to compare accurately, we have to add about 10 percent to the cost of solar to firm up this variable resource. So we’re close to cost parity, but not quite there.

At $1 per watt, the levelized cost falls to just 5.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, well below cost parity with new natural-gas plants. With two-axis trackers and the best solar resources, which increase the capacity factor to 32 percent, that cost falls to just 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. We’re headed to $1 per watt as an all-in cost in the next five to 10 years.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported last summer that wind power was the cheapest source of power in the U.K. and Germany in 2015, even without subsidies. The article’s tagline reads: “It has never made less sense to build fossil fuel power plants.” The same article highlights the feedback loop that solar and wind power have in terms of reducing the cost-effectiveness of fossil fuel power plants due to the dispatch order of renewables versus fossil fuel plants.

The solar singularity is indeed near (here?) in the U.S. and increasingly around the world. I described previously that 1 percent of the market is halfway to solar ubiquity because 1 percent is halfway between nothing and 100 percent in terms of doublings (seven doublings from .01 percent to 1 percent and seven more from 1 percent to reach 100 percent). The U.S. will reach the 1 percent solar milestone in 2016. We’re halfway there. Buckle your seatbelts.

There are plenty of unemployed oil workers ready for retraining. James Howard Kunstler: 

So, in 2015, the shale oil companies laid off thousands of workers, idled the drilling rigs, and kicked back to pray that the price would go back up. Which it didn’t…. The landscape of North Dakota is littered with unfinished garden apartment complexes that may never be completed, and the discharged construction carpenters and roofers drove back to Minnesota ahead of the re-po men coming for their Ford F-110s.

To see what does well in the new, post-Paris domain, watch stocks like First Solar (FSLR), Renewable Energy Group (REGI), SolarCity (SCTY) and Siemens (SIE) over the next quarter, and mutuals like Firsthand Alternative Energy (ALTEX), New Alternatives (NALFX) and Guinness Atkinson Alternative Energy (GAAEX). Some of these know their audience and have vowed to screen for social justice. Gabelli SRI AAA says, for instance:

The fund will not invest in the top 50 defense/weapons contractors or in companies that derive more than 5% of their revenues from the following areas: tobacco, alcohol, gaming, defense/weapons production….

There is a psychology that sets in once the corner is turned on fossil investments that may make a big difference in the political debate about climate change. For more than half a century the GOP, the Fossil Lobby and Wall Street have blocked, cut or delayed investments in renewables and papered it over with greenwash. Forced by pledges made in Paris — and a legally-binding agreement with the word "shall" used 143 times — and the emergence of a huge new global competition to begin not only unchaining the clean-tech sector, but to actively promote it with subsidies, research grants and moonshot-scale deployments, the psychology of chasing after sunk investments will drive an apolitical energy conversion.

Moreover, 350.org and Greenpeace are ramping up campaigns to make sure the promises made in Paris are kept.
 

No pipelines, no mines. You said 1-point-5!
No pipelines, no mines. You said 1-point-5!
No pipelines, no mines. You said 1-point-5!

Clean energy will not deliver a 1:1 replacement for fossil fuels. Get over it. We will not suddenly convert steel mills, cement kilns and road surfacing machines to operate on sunbeams. But the investments we do make, and the worsening weather, will drive us to make even more and ever larger investments, in a forlorn search for a full replacement. While wasteful, it is not nearly as wasteful as the industrial and military investments of the past century or more.

Persian Gulf wars, going back to antiquity, have never been fought over sunlight. As David Stockman recently recalled:

[A] 45-year old error … holds the Persian Gulf is an American Lake and that the answer to high oil prices and energy security is the Fifth Fleet.

***

That doctrine has been wrong from the day it was officially enunciated by one of America’s great economic ignoramuses, Henry Kissinger, at the time of the original oil crisis in 1973. The 42 years since then have proven in spades that its doesn’t matter who controls the oilfields, and that the only effective cure for high oil prices is the free market.

The switch to sunlight will make the lives we are living better for many, especially those on the front lines of the oil wars, even as we continue towards an Anthropocene Armageddon with little sign of being able to change that trajectory.

Guy McPherson is fond of reminding us, after University of Utah professor Tim Garrett's deft analysis, that industrial civilization is a heat engine.

In a well-read article in Climate Change in November 2010, Garrett ran the simple arithmetic:

Specifically, the human system grows through a self-perpetuating feedback loop in which the consumption rate of primary energy resources stays tied to the historical accumulation of global economic production — or p×g — through a time-independent factor of 9.7±0.3 mW per inflation-adjusted 1990 US dollar.

If civilization is considered at a global level, it turns out there is no explicit need to consider people or their lifestyles in order to forecast future energy consumption. At civilization’s core there is a single constant factor, λ = 9.7 ± 0.3 mW per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar, that ties the global economy to simple physical principles. Viewed from this perspective, civilization evolves in a spontaneous feedback loop maintained only by energy consumption and incorporation of environmental matter.
 

Unsold cars sit on receiving docks all over the world

Because the current state of the system, by nature, is tied to its unchangeable past, it looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in CO2 emission rates. For predictions over the longer term, however, what is required is thermodynamically based models for how rates of carbonization and energy efficiency evolve. To this end, these rates are almost certainly constrained by the size and availability of environmental resource reservoirs. Previously, such factors have been shown to be primary constraints in the evolution of species


What this means is the same thing that Gail Tverberg, Richard Heinberg and many others have been saying for a very long time — modern economies are a product of cheap energy. Take that away and they crash and burn. That’s the good news. Garrett says there is no other climate remediation model that works. Civilization is a heat engine whether it is powered by nuclear fusion or photovoltaics. The global economy must crash for humanity to stand a chance. McPherson would take it a step farther and say it is already too late, enjoy what time you have.

The famous Fermi paradox raises the question: why haven’t we detected signs of alien life, despite high estimates of probability, such as observations of planets in the “habitable zone” around a Sun-like star by the Kepler telescope and calculations of hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy that might support life. To produce a habitable planet, life forms need to regulate greenhouse gases such as water and carbon dioxide to keep surface temperatures stable. Early extinction, before interstellar communication, solves the Fermi Paradox. So does merely the extinction of civilization capable of interstellar communication without the same degree of trauma. No civilization, no heat.

But wait! Can that excess heat civilization is producing be turned into air conditioning for the planet? Is there a permacultural decroissance that could rescue our genome? Stay tuned, but first, next week, we play the Trump card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Paris Gravity Well 1

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 17, 2016

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"The idling of rail, barge, ship and pipeline traffic is the biggest change of its kind in 30 years."

 

   The World Bank Guys talked about rates of return and the burden on investors and the unacceptable cost of the doubling of the price of a kilowatt hour. Everyone there had said all of this before, with the same lack of communication and absence of concrete results.

Charlie saw that the meeting was useless. He thought of Joe, over at the daycare. He had never stayed there long enough even to see what they did all day long. Guilt stuck him like a sliver. In a crowd of strangers, 14 hours a day.

The bank guy was going on about differential costs. "And that's why its going to be oil for the next 20, 30 and maybe even 50 years," he concluded. "None of the alternatives are competitive." Charlie's pencil tip snapped.

"Competitive for what?" he demanded. He had not spoken until that point and now the edge in his voice stopped the discussion. Everyone was staring at him.

He stared back at the World Bank guys. "Damage from carbon dioxide emission costs about $35 per ton. But in your model, no-one pays it. The carbon that British Petroleum burns per year by sale and by operation runs up a damage bill of $50 billion dollars. BP reported a profit of $20 billion so actually its $30 billion in the red, every year.

"Shell reported a profit of $23 billion but if you added the damage cost it would be $8 billion in the red. These companies should be bankrupt. You support their exteriorizing of costs so your accounting is bullshit. You are helping to bring on the biggest catastrophe in human history.

"If the oil companies burn the 500 gigatons of carbon that you are describing as inevitable, because of your financial shell games, then two-thirds of the species on the planet will be endangered, including humans. But you keep talking about fiscal discipline and competitive edges and profit differentials. It's the stupidest head-in-the-sand response possible."

The World Bank guys flinched at this. "Well, we don't see it that way."

 

— Kim Stanley Robinson, Sixty Days and Counting: Science in the Capitol (2007).

 While the story coming out of the White House Press Room this week was phrased as a temporary moratorium on new coal mining leases on federal lands, the bigger story was in the details of the review that the President had ordered. Like Robinson's character in Sixty Days, the White House recognized that the real cost of coal is not currently accounted for in its price, so the new review will tally the environmental impacts, including destruction of public lands from air and water pollution from strip mining and failed mine reclamation, public health impacts from transporting and burning coal, damage from ash spills, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. It will set a price on future leases based on this thoroughgoing review that brings the cost of coal in line with the reality of the actual costs.

If this had to be run through Congress, powerful coal-state Senators like Mitch McConnell would derail it before it got out of committee. As merely Bureau of Land Management regulatory policy, it falls under the Executive Branch, where the President's is the only opinion that counts.

Tomorrow senior politicians, digiratti activists and Hollywood stars ski into the Swiss resort of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. The theme was to have been the 4th Industrial Revolution – robots, AI and the  biotechno singularity — but the buzz is all about the latest crash of the world economy.

The trigger for all this change may have been what happened in Paris but could not stay in Paris. In December we reported from the United Nations climate meeting where many of these same characters — John Kerry, Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Trudeau, Angela Merkel — were on stage. We described then how an amazing role reversal was in progress and how it had transformed COP-21, midway through the second week of deadlocked negotiations.

The roles that switched were between the dominants, like Exxon-Mobil, Shell and BP, and the submissives — the entire renewables industry. Renewables are largely a digital world, enjoying advancements in crystal structure, solid state controllers, neodymium and other rare earth metallurgy that follow the proscribed arc of Moore's law, doubling in efficiency and halving in cost at close intervals, driving exponential adoption and dissemination.

Fossils, in contrast, are an analog industry, trying to wring the last drops of intoxicating elixir from the carpet of the pub after closing time. In 2015 those two curves crossed, and renewables are now cheaper (even free at some hours for select consumers in certain markets) while coal, oil and gas are queuing up outside bankruptcy court.
 

Salvaging beer from the bar floor after last rounds

The US Department of Energy reported this week:
 

The Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) released on January 12 forecasts that Brent crude oil prices will average $40 per barrel (b) in 2016 and $50/b in 2017. This is the first STEO to include forecasts for 2017. Forecast West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices average $2/b lower than Brent in 2016 and $3/b lower in 2017. However, the current values of futures and options contracts continue to suggest high uncertainty in the price outlook. For example, EIA's forecast for the average WTI price in April 2016 of $37/b should be considered in the context of recent contract values for April 2016 delivery, suggesting that the market expects WTI prices to range from $25/b to $56/b (at the 95% confidence interval).

The decline in oil price is too little, too late. It cannot keep pace with the price decline we are seeing in the clean tech revolution. Consequently, more people now work in the US solar industry than in oil and gas at the wellhead. In 2015, for the third straight year, the solar workforce grew 20 percent. Clean tech employs far more women than fossil, and 5 percent of the workforce is African American, 11 percent Latino, and 9 percent Asian/Pacific Islander.

At the same time, rear-guard action by the Coal-Baron-selected legislatures in Arizona and Nevada —  states that could be leading the nation in solar power production — have led to layoffs in the renewables sector. The pushback over solar and wind fees by grid owners, punitive taxes, and net metering promise to keep those states in the Dark Ages, as they did the United States for the past four decades.

In a famous L'il Abner cartoon, Pappy Yokum tells L'il Abner, "Any fool can knock down a barn, it takes a carpenter to build one." To which L'il Abner replies, "Any fool? Let me try!"

Listening to the Republican presidential candidates debate is like watching a Fox-den full of L'il Abners.
 

US Solar Power 2010-2015

So it is not surprising that at the stroke of a pen, three Republican appointees on the Nevada Power Utility Commission decided the fates of millions of ratepayers when they killed solar feed-in-tariffs in that state. It was not unlike Michigan governor Rick Snyder deciding to kill and maim thousands of Detroit residents by switching their water to a polluted source and then covering up the damage. You might say no-one gets killed or maimed from solar energy, and that's closer to true, but plenty more get poisoned every year from the fossil alternative.

The numbers being parsed in Davos will be puzzling to many attending that meeting. From a peak in January 2015 to last October, movements of crude by rail declined more than a fifth. The research group Genscape said rail deliveries to US Atlantic coast terminals continued to drop to the end of the year and the spot market for crude delivered by rail from North Dakota’s Bakken region “is at a near standstill.”

Just 5 years ago investors clamored for more tank cars to pick up the slack from overwhelmed pipeline capacity. Now those cars sit idle on sidings and no one is ordering more. Pipelines are idle too, as refineries on the coasts have found that it is cheaper to buy crude of higher quality than shale oil, shipped by ocean tanker from Canada, Nigeria and Azerbaijan.
 

Junk bond sales are all that supports
the fracked gas Ponzi scheme.

A Congress desperate to please its oil masters in an election year abolished four-decade-old restrictions on exporting domestic crude. While some tankers now take crude from the Gulf Coast to refineries in Venezuela, where the heavy sludges and half-formed keragens can be more economically processed because of fewer environmental restrictions, the US then imports back the finished products at a hefty mark-up.

The idling of rail, barge, ship and pipeline traffic is the biggest change of its kind in 30 years. And while the shift away from coal-powered energy, the long recession, and the petering out of the fracking and shale Ponzi real estate play would obviously lead to fewer tons, barrels and cubic feet being moved, it doesn't explain the full depth of the stoppage. The rail and barge slowdown is now spreading to more consumer-oriented segments. Intermodal carloads typically related to consumer goods fell 1.7 percent in the final quarter of last year.

"We believe rail data may be signaling a warning for the broader economy," the recent note from Bank of America says.
 

"Carloads have declined more than 5 percent in each of the past 11 weeks on a year-over-year basis. While one-off volume declines occur occasionally, they are generally followed by a recovery shortly thereafter. The current period of substantial and sustained weakness, including last week’s -10.1 percent decline, has not occurred since 2009."


“When people get hungry, governments fall” — Stuart Scott, Through A Dark Portal, Radio Ecoshock, January 13, 2016

If you can read the tea leaves, or even if you can't, we are now in the long slide. We will examine the financial road ahead, and the Paris Effect on that, in greater detail next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dystopias and Eutopias

the-day-after-tomorrow_statuegc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 3, 2016

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"Cities like Miami, New Orleans, Tokyo and Venice will squander billons to forestall the inevitable and for a while may even seem to succeed, only to lose it all in one spin of the wheel — a single bad day with some monster storm."
 

The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,
My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty,
The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers,
Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,
A few white clouds all rushing eastward,
A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses,
And everyone, everyone pointing up and shouting! 

—Theodore Roethke, The Child on Top of the Greenhouse

Watching the development of the Arctic superstorm on earth.nullschool.net, our eyes drifted to the Eastern Mediterranean, curious about the lake effect of that large body of water on Palestine and the Middle East. We had seen a photo earlier in the week from Instagram of a trolley making its way through snow in Istanbul, and we knew Eastern Mediterranean weather was likely cold. 

We latched onto two curious patterns. The first was that cold air mass descending out of the Russian steppes, crossing the Black Sea, passing through the Dardanelles and entering the Mediterranean, where the hot air mass in Africa wheeled it around to lash the shores of Gaza. It was no surprise to see our heroic permaculture pioneer there in Ramalla, Murad AlKhufash, bundled up against the cold. 

The other pattern we saw was farther west, beyond the boot of Italy, where two air masses converge and bend up into the continent. The first comes in off the North Atlantic, collides with that hot high in North Africa and swings up into Provence. The second is a westward flow of cool Mediterranean air moving down from the Italian Alps, out through the San Remo Bay and then along the gold coast, past Nice, Cannes, Monaco, before suddenly sweeping north, drawn like a magnet to that same compass heading in the Golfe de Lyon. 

We watched, rapt, this vacuum in Southern France, endlessly drawing warm air up into Southwest Europe. It is a weather pattern as old as human history. This is where the oldest known hominid settlement, a stick and sealskin family lodge around a central firepit, is found at Terra Amata, 400000 BCE. "Tautavel man" (possibly Homo heidelbergensis) built refuge there, moving along an annual coastal hunting route during the Mindel glaciation. The cave paintings at Lascaux date to the middle of that Ice Age, when this part of Europe was relatively warm and food was plentiful, although stone tools discovered at Lézignan-la-Cèbe in 2009 date humans in France to at least 1.57 million years ago.

What we are looking at now, with this modern satellite imagery, is the climate signature of very old refugia — the places to which our kind, the two-leggeds, repaired when climate changed abruptly. 

As the weather warmed again, there was an expansion of peoples from southwest Asia into Europe from the Aegean and Eastern Steppes, about 8500 years ago, marked by the introduction of Indo-European speech. Vascons bear the remnant genome — related to none other in the world and retaining a fragment of Neanderthal DNA — and pre-Indo-European linguistic roots. These peoples were likely forced from the lowlands and pushed upland by Middle Eastern migrants from 6500 to 4000 BC, moving eventually into the Pyrenees, where they live today in the Basque region of Spain and Andorra.

As an aside, when we were researching the history of the conquistadors for The Biochar Solution, we came across the fascinating tale of Lope de Aguirre (1510-1561), nicknamed El Loco ('the Madman')  who was psychotically depicted by Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog's B-film, Aguirre: the Wrath of God, in 1972 (where our friend, the bioregional poet and singer, Christopher Wells, performed as an extra). Aquirre, a Vascon, was said to be nearly 7 feet tall and was uncomfortable in leather boots, which compells us to muse about the possibility of his Neanderthal bloodline. When Aguirre was sentenced to public flogging for his cruelty towards the indigenous peoples he conquered and enslaved, he endured his whipping but then pursued the judge who sentenced him. Over three years he ran 6,000 km (3700 miles) through the mountains and jungles on foot, unshod, on the trail of the judge, who slept in armor to protect himself. He caught and killed the judge but was pardoned in exchange for his Indian-fighting services, until once more atrocities and his open rebellion against the Spanish crown made him a hunted rogue agent, gone off the reservation, and he so was recaptured and terminated with extreme prejudice. 

The people living in the highlands of what is today Bolivia might of thought they had a pretty good life for themselves in a place of great natural beauty until that guy showed up.

Five hundred years before Aguirre, the Southern French and Italian coast was the tribal homeland for the Ligurians, whose language carries as many Celtic words as Indo-European, and who were conquered in the Punic Wars by Rome. The ancient Roman port of Ventimiglia, on San Remo Bay, lies close to one of Europe's most treasured ecovillages, at Torri Superiori, which perches just back up that river valley, at the transition point where paved roads give way to mountain trails, and a days' walk will take you through many vacant, or nearly vacant, fieldstone towns and cobbled hamlet ruins in the foothills.

In 1834, Henry Brougham, Lord Chancellor Lord Brougham and Vaux, discovered the sleepy fishing village of Cannes and built a winter villa there with immense lawns of turf imported from Britain by sail. Lord Brougham, epitomizing Britain's ruling class, is remembered for his stern attack on the radical idea of providing public education:
 

I should regard anything of the kind as utterly destructive of the end it has in view. Suppose the people of England were taught to bear it, and to be forced to educate their children by means of penalties, education would be made absolutely hateful in their eyes, and would speedily cease to be endured. They who have argued in favour of such a scheme from the example of a military government like that of Prussia have betrayed, in my opinion, great ignorance of the nature of Englishmen.

— Report of the Parliamentary Committee on the State of Education (1834).

Trailing in Brougham's turfboat wake, wealthy Victorian scoundrels landscaped themselves along the gold coast and over the present Italian border to Bordighera, San Remo and other Ligurian villages (until 1860, Nice and Menton were in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia), building exotic terraced gardens and palatial estates befitting the rewards of extractive colonial empire. It was in a family villa near Ventimiglia that Lord Balfour hosted the San Remo conference to design the partition of Palestine, haughtily issuing "Israel's Magna Carta," and precipitating the Jerusalem Nebi-Musa riots of 1920-21.

It was not just the warmth and healthy winter climate that attracted the British gentry. The cost of living was lower there than in London, Belfast or Edinburgh, and if one had served her Majesty in one of her distant colonial outposts and remembered fondly being waited on by servants — and the cool tropical drinks out on the veranda — one could hire poor French peasants for a pittance. These were the years following Napoleon's ruin, when empirical overreach sank French fortunes in a foolhardy Russian winter campaign and then got mopped up and tossed into history's dustbin by Wellington and the Prussians.

To some British ex-pats, the Riviera was simply an escape from Victorian morals, a place for singles and gays to freak freely — as Somerset Maugham put it, "a sunny place for shady people."
 

 

Last week we listened to a Kunstlercast podcast in which James Howard Kunstler chatted with Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns.org.  The two mused at how estate prices had fallen in the rust belt and how easy it would be for aspiring youth and young families of like-minded kith and kin to move in, build collaborative, regenerative local economies while incurring zero debt, and even be supported in that reclamation process by the greater city, state and county taxsheds interested in recovering misallocated and stranded assets amid cascading petrocollapse.

Personally, we think climate change should be a major consideration. As we listened to scientist emeritus James Hansen in his Paris talks last month, we heard the urgency of his concern for sea level rise and took that to heart. But no one can say with certainty how fast an individual section of coastline will give itself up to the waves and that provides some comfort to coastal dwellers. Cities like Miami, New Orleans, Tokyo and Venice will squander billons to forestall the inevitable and for a while may even seem to succeed, only to lose it all in one spin of the wheel — a single bad day with some monster storm.

In Climate in Crisis (1990) we speculated that the hot interiors of continents were not going to be pleasant places in the coming years. With some exceptions, most will become dreadfully hot and water starved, subject to tornadoes, wildfires and even dust bowl conditions. The Pacific Northwest will be more wet, as will the American Southeast, but that also means much greater humidity and unless you can power air conditioning with renewable energy, not very happy places in warm times of the year. Mosquitoes and biting flies will love the change, and will proliferate too in thawing regions closer to the poles.   Much of the Amazon Basin (another lockbox of untapped viruses) is expected to desertify at 3 degrees above now, and that will alter rainfall patterns for a very large part of the world. Being on the Equator, their climate may begin to resemble the lower quadrant of Saudi Arabia in a few decades.

When we taught our most recent permaculture course in Iceland we thought that would be a lovely place for young people to settle and build ecovillages. Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, fits a similar mold. We used to think that might be a great place to relocate our family and maybe take up fishing. After watching earth.nullschool.net and the gigantic storm now churning through the Arctic, we have second thoughts.
 
One thinks of higher elevations as refuges, and indeed, some very spectacular real estate can be found in the Rockies, Alps and Snowy Mountains. Insofar as the rain-shadow effect of cross-mountain winds continues, these may provide some areas of refuge, albeit gradually shrinking. So may certain islands, if they rise up from the sea to secure elevations and can shelter from superstorms.
 
As refugees continue to pour north into Europe we are reminded what it may look like in these more comfortable microclimates like Southern France in the not distant future. Human numbers are already staggering, our fecundity rates show no sign of abating, and we add 220,000 to the number of us at procreating age, every day.

 
In the end, it matters not where we are. It matters who we are, and what we do with our knowledge and skills in the time we are given.
 

Through sunny fields
And valleys deep
Through noisy streets
And river's sweep

Although I may race
With the wind
I keep that quiet place
Within

My heart; a chamber
Safe and warm
To give you shelter
From the storm

 

— Gabriela Duricova

 

 

 

 

 

Exxonomics 101

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Published on the Peak Surfer on November 8, 2015

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Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

"You don't need 100,000 marines to secure windmills in North Dakota."

 

 The New York Times, which is quickly becoming to print media what Fox is to television news, has done what no first year news stringer should do. It buried the lead. 

It buried the lead on what is likely to become one of the most important stories of all time.

Hidden in the science section of its November 6th daily edition is this headline from a story by Clifford Kraus: More Oil Companies Could Join Exxon Mobil as Focus of Climate Investigations.  Kraus's lead is:

HOUSTON — The opening of an investigation of Exxon Mobil by the New York attorney general’s office into the company’s record on climate change may well spur legal inquiries into other oil companies, according to legal and climate experts, although successful prosecutions are far from assured.

The story goes on to describe the fraudulent activities undertaken by Exxon Mobil, Chevron and other oil majors from 1990 to 2001, using astroturf fronts with names like Global Climate Coalition and the American Legislative Exchange Council. The writer, and presumably the Times editorial team, assumes the reason NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is investigating is because the companies spent millions or billions on a disinformation campaign, purchasing no fewer than four U.S. presidents and vast numbers of Congressmen and Senators. These disinformation campaigns cast doubt on climate science by parading shill pseudoscientists before legislative committees. The purchased politicians then went before the public and parroted the oil company line: "Climate Change? Nothing to see here, move along."

The Times seems to think the NYAG is after some kind of conviction for perjury or advertising fraud.

By now this spin on the story is so old and been told so many times, we are surprised that it is still considered news. Maybe that is why it got bumped to the science page. Everyone knew, despite the feigned shock of Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and others, that Exxon had extensively researched the subject in the 1970s, concluded by the mid-80s that climate change was a serious threat, and then killed its own research program and financed opposition.

The real news story is something else. It is not what the investigation is but where it is. The New York Attorney General's office peers from its eyrie in Albany down the Hudson River, across the white plains and palisades to lower Manhattan, but it is only one of two such offices that watches. The other is located closer to the action, in the Federal Courthouse just below Wall Street, where dwells the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a Mr. Preet Bharara. If you bike by there, however, you see that dog is chained by a very long chain that runs all the way to the back porch of a big white house in Washington. Lest we forget, the nation's last Attorney General came from and went back to Wall Street's Covington & Burling, after 6 years of hearing nothing, seeing nothing and saying nothing as the nation's top law enforcer.

Why should Exxon and Chevron be worried? That would be because what is of interest to a NYAG watchdog is not about buying politicians or suborning perjury. It's about stock manipulation. After a decade of pretty good in-house science, Exxon and the other majors knew by the 80s that the pace of global warming was accelerating and that very soon there would be a massive, increasingly desperate effort underway to shift from fossil fuels to carbon-free renewables in order to escape Cauldron Earth. The hotter it gets, the more frenzied this effort will become, and the less likely Exxon will be able to cash in its balance sheet of fossil assets.
 

Meadows, et al, 1971 Limits to Growth with overlay of
Bates 1990, Climate in Crisis

If you were a CEO of one of these companies, the math would trouble your mind. It would cloud your thinking as you set up for that long putt on the 8th green. It would creep into your internal dialog as you are eyeing that cocktail waitress at a swank restaurant. Your worth as a company, the basis for the company's share price, and your own compensation and stock option packages, all depend on the estimated and proven reserves of oil and gas still in the ground. If, for some reason, those reserves could never be withdrawn – never be burned – then you have a serious problem. Your company is overvalued, and likewise the share price, and your own personal net worth. This is what interests the NY Attorney General. It's the math. Its also the mens rea – your state of mind; what you knew and when you knew it.

It is one thing to have a company whose worth exceeds not only that of any company on Earth but also of any company in history. It is another entirely if that worth is overstated, perhaps by a factor of 100, 1000, or one million times. That becomes the biggest stock fraud in history. For a young or politically ambitious AG, it is a ticket to glory.

On Thursday the Times reported:

Attorneys general for other states could join in Mr. Schneiderman’s efforts, bringing far greater investigative and legal resources to bear on the issue. Some experts see the potential for a legal assault on fossil fuel companies similar to the lawsuits against tobacco companies in recent decades, which cost those companies tens of billions of dollars in penalties.

Potential fines and imprisonment don't begin to tell the story here. Devaluation of the stock – mark to market – is the real penalty. Is Exxon, whose shares are held by teachers' credit unions, public employee pension funds, and more people than almost any other stock, too big to fail? Whether it is too big to jail is irrelevant. Once that asset is devalued, something huge will be set in motion: a trillion dollar switch away from fossil investment, and just coincidentally, an end to the leading justification for military adventurism, support for Israeli hardliners, the puppet regime in Kiev, the ISIS black op and Saudi Arabian feudalism, among other pastimes.


That whole shooting match in Syria, driving millions of refugees into Europe, is about whether Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Russia and Iran and a proponent of a gas pipeline from Iran across Kurdistan to the sea, will be deposed by ISIS terrorists trained by CIA in the Colonel Kurtz style of spectacular horror and funded by the Pentagon so that the US could instead build a pipeline to European markets through Syria from Iraq. The Russian Air Force, with a new generation of fighters that can fly circles around anything built by Lockheed Martin, is looking like it will decide that one. It is pulverizing ISIS.

You don't need 100,000 marines to secure windmills in North Dakota.

That is the story the Times is missing.

In the Thursday story, the Times had a link to a 29-page Exxon report for its shareholders. The company essentially ruled out the possibility that governments would adopt climate policies stringent enough to force it to leave its reserves in the ground, saying that rising population and global energy demand would prevent that. “Meeting these needs will require all economic energy sources, especially oil and natural gas,” it said. Here is an image from that report. We especially enjoyed the absurdity of their idea of what better farming looks like.

 

World population is going to grow by 3 North Americas in 15 years.

In their report, Exxon predicts that the world will add 2 billion more people in the next 15 years, or roughly four more North Americas if you include Mexico and Canada. This tracks similar assessments by the UN and the World Population Council. That increase is baked in the cake just from the number of adolescents reaching childbearing age in these coming years. Exxon believes GDP will grow at 3 times the rate of population if energy supply is adequate. "We see the world requiring 35 percent more energy in 2040 than it did in 2010."
 

"In analyzing the evolution of the world’s energy mix, we anticipate renewables growing at the fastest pace among all sources through the Outlook period. However, because they make a relatively small contribution compared to other energy sources, renewables will continue to comprise about 5 percent of the total energy mix by 2040."


While we don't buy the whole package, we find ourselves agreeing with Exxon about one thing. Business as usual is not possible with an all-renewables portfolio. We wonder where even the finance for such a build-out would come from? More debt? The world financial system came with in a hair's breadth of financial collapse in 2008. Since then the balloon has reinflated and stretched bigger. China just arrested its free-falling stock market by issuing even more debt. But sooner or later loans have to be repaid, with interest, and in a shrinking resource economy they cannot be. When the day of reckoning eventually arrives, our chances of avoiding collapse are very slim. Gail Tverberg says,  "The change … is similar to losing the operating system on a computer, or unplugging a refrigerator from the wall."

Where we part company with Exxon is that Exxon thinks governments will choose to keep heating the planet and we think they will dispense with business as usual. Only time will tell, although the issue will be up for serious debate this December in Paris.

Business as usual will not be an easy thing to give up.

In terms of energy conservation, the leaps made in energy efficiency by the infrastructure and devices we use to access the internet have allowed many online activities to be viewed as more sustainable than offline.

On the internet, however, advances in energy efficiency have a reverse effect: as the network becomes more energy efficient, its total energy use increases. This trend can only be stopped when we limit the demand for digital communication.
 

***

In recent years, the focus has been mostly on the energy use of data centers, which host the computers (the “servers”) that store all information online. However, in comparison, more electricity is used by the combination of end-use devices (the “clients”, such as desktops, laptops and smartphones), the network infrastructure (which transmits digital information between servers and clients), and the manufacturing process of servers, end-use devices, and networking devices.  

Low Tech Magazine

By 2017, the electricity use of the internet globally is expected to rise to between 2,547 teraWatt-hours (low case) and 3,422 tWh (high case). The high case is made more likely by underdeveloping nations bypassing wired communications to go directly to smart phones and other devices, which are increasingly dependent on cloud services. Under these circumstances electricity use for internet will likely double every 5 years, to 110000 tWh (110 petaWatt-hours) by 2040. This would add another USA in electricity consumers every 5 years  three more USAs in 15 years. That, of course, assumes that cloud computing doesn't follow the exponential growth its proponents seek.

Can renewables meet this demand? Right now in the US, renewables account for 13.2 percent of domestically produced electricity. Wind turbine capacity is 65 GWe installed (0.07 tWe), but because of wind and load intermittency, the mills only turn about 32% of the time, producing about 180 million kWh last year (180 GWhr, or 0.2 TWh). That was one ten-thousandth of what was used globally by the internet. To build out renewables to power just the internet by 2040 would require 110 pWh, or more than a million times all the renewable electricity produced by the USA today.

How probable is that? Exxon is completely accurate in labeling it fantasy.

And speaking of fantasy, imagine for a moment that Mr. Schneiderman gets his teeth into Exxon's stock fraud and won't stop shaking until the company restates its book value, sans proven reserves. There has been a recent fall in oil price (owing less to fracking, as the popular narrative has it, than to China's deflationary spiral that has tanked world demand), but if you are a shareholder, this might be a good time to sell.

Or you could take your advice from the nation's paper of record and assume everything is hunky dory. 

The Gift of Clear Mind: Laudato Si’

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on June 28, 2015

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational."
 

Does the Pope also Duckwalk?

If we are honest and admit climate change threatens the survival of our species, right now and not next decade or next century, and don't just turn away or accept the numbing banality that comes with avoidance of the subject, we would have to, to not be hypocritical, actually choose to do something about what we know we know.

But do what, exactly? Our institutions are not working. Any real change has to come from our personal footprint, changing our choices. Change is our only way of being truthful with ourselves, and not neurotic or schizophrenic.

What is needed, says Margaret Klein Salamon, founder of Climate Change Mobilization, are achievable goals, a set of actions that anyone can take and appreciate that they are actually changing the situation for the better. Merely changing light bulbs or buying a Prius won't cut it. It has to involve not green consumerism but de-consumerism. We have to give up those fabulous perks that came with the Age of Oil; to discard zombie fashion. We have to stop having so many babies, eating so much meat, and cutting down so many trees. We have to go back to understanding our relationship with the land and our sources of sustenance, and showing greater care for the whole of the natural world that underpins our existence.

Salaman says:

When people become agents for truth and vital change, they are elevated, enlarged, and lit up. The truth, and their role in advancing it, affects how they view themselves, what occupies their mind, and how they conduct their affairs. The power of truth allows them to transcend their limitations and what they once thought possible for themselves.

We cannot begin to say how refreshing it is to see Pope Francis face the urgency of the situation and awaken us to our need to be alive, and to swim upstream. To borrow a line from Jim Hightower, “Even a dead fish can swim downstream.” In his new encyclical, Laudato Si', Francis writes:
 

The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

***

[I]f we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.


The pope comes out against technological advances that will save us from our modern sins or magically improve productivity by replacing human work. He eschews market-based mechanisms to solve environmental problems, condemning, like the popes before him, the profit motive at its root.

The New York Times columnist David Brooks, defender of both profits and the fossil economy, responds:
 

Within marriage, lust can lead to childbearing. Within a regulated market, greed can lead to entrepreneurship and economic innovation. Within a constitution, the desire for fame can lead to political greatness…. [G]as and oil resources extracted through fracking have already added more than $430 billion to annual gross domestic product and supported more than 2.7 million jobs that pay, on average, twice the median U.S. salary.


We won't quibble with either Brooks or the pope because they are speaking past each other. Brooks is right that lust and greed are powerful motivators, and part of our serpent brain. Francis is right that to live at peace with each other and the planet we have to set aside those childish things, open our hearts and begin to see the world as adults. Brooks is clinging to the past while Francis is salvaging the future.

Jeb Bush, shortly after announcing his candidacy for US President, told a reporter about the pope's statement, "I don't get my economic advice from my priest." His pollsters are telling him he is on the wrong side of the climate issue but his strategists tell him he doesn't want to see the Koch brothers' billions go to a rival. Perhaps he thinks he will pivot later in the race, before he has to debate Bernie. ‹
 

What is new is that it is not even about pandering to voters anymore. Even half of Republicans now want this issue dealt with. Well, good luck, because the zombie lies aren't about the voters. They're for the donors, who make their living killing the planet. The question is not why today's politicians suck more than ever, it is who they are sucking more than ever.

 

—  Bill Maher


Paradigms change. Jason Hickel, Martin Kirk, and Joe Brewer, co-authors of a London School of Economics comparison between the encyclical and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), wrote in The Guardian:
 

He calls out the transnational corporations that profit by polluting poor countries. He criticizes the foreign debt system that has become a tool by which rich countries control poor countries. And he warns that the financial sector, grown too powerful, has eroded the sovereignty of nation states and “tends to prevail over the political.”

This is an important move, because without naming the forces that cause human suffering and environmental destruction, it is impossible to address them.


As Professor Ian Gough put it, "This revolutionary encyclical challenges both current ethics and economics."‹

Francis continues:

The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation.

Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us. Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.

It is the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed” (quoting the Pontifical Council For Justice And Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, at page 462).


Here Francis begins to sound more like the Dalai Lama. The Tibetian Book of Secret Doctrines says, "Cherish no notion of separated individuality." Subject and Object are one. Man and Nature are one. Form and Formlessness are one. Mind and Buddha are one. The encyclical says:
 

It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.


Speaking directly to his "cheerfully reckless" critics, Francis says:

It has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same. Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all” (quoting Omano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, (The End of the Modern World, at 56).

***

Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.


The study by Hickel, Kirk and Brewer contrasted Francis’s vision with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals:
 

The SDGs are right to embrace a wide range of issues. Unlike their predecessors, the millennium development goals, they recognize that the problems we face are multidimensional. But they have confused thoroughness with holism, lists with patterns. It’s a mistake born of outdated thinking.

The pope, by contrast, has struck at the systemic nature of the issue. “It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is connected,” he says. “To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.”

This is what makes the encyclical far more than a document about climate change. It is a profound critique of the deep logic of our political economy. This is a vastly more sophisticated paradigm than the one that underpins the SDGs and a large part of why the encyclical feels cohesive, fresh and relevant, where the SDGs feel inconsistent, clunky and 20 years out of date.


Francis is not above legitimate criticism, less for what he puts into the encyclical than for what he leaves out. Physicist Lawrence Krauss, writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, says:
 

First off, he dismisses the need to address reproductive rights for women, and also the concomitant problem of population growth in poor countries as part of any proposed solution to world environmental problems. If one is seriously worried about the environment on a global scale, then one needs to worry about population growth. A population of 10 billion by 2050 will likely be unsustainable at a level that provides all humans with adequate food and access to medicine, water, and security.  Moreover, the environmental problems induced by overpopulation are also disproportionately born by those in poor countries, where access to birth control and abortion is often limited. As I have argued elsewhere recently in this regard, ultimately empowering women to manage their own reproductive future gives them the surest road out of poverty.


Perhaps even more glaring is the double standard within which Francis, with Franciscan modesty, lives in a grand gilded palace, overseeing a legion of wealthy Cardinals, while calling for even the poorest among us to reduce consumption. To be sure, the encyclical was directed to believers within the church, including collegially off-key voices within the Vatican. Cardinal George Pell, its head of finance, currently immersed in a scandal involving paedophile priests in Australia, is a prominent climate change denier and plenty of other senior Catholics are dredging up lame, discredited arguments against His Holiness's views. To them, Francis says:
 

Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfillment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.


In 1978, Vaclev Havel, who led the non-violent Velvet Revolution and later became president of post-Soviet Czechoslovakia, wrote:
 

(The power of truth) does not reside in the strength of definable political or social groups, but chiefly in a potential, which is hidden throughout the whole of society, including the official power structures of that society. Therefore this power does not rely on soldiers of its own, but on soldiers of the enemy as it were—that is to say, on everyone who is living within the lie and who may be struck at any moment (in theory, at least) by the force of truth (or who, out of an instinctive desire to protect their position, may at least adapt to that force). It is a bacteriological weapon, so to speak, utilized when conditions are ripe by a single civilian to disarm an entire division…. This, too, is why the regime prosecutes, almost as a reflex action, preventatively, even modest attempts to live in truth.


Salaman wrote, "Climate truth has the potential to be more powerful than any country’s independence; more powerful that overthrowing authoritarian states; and more powerful than civil rights or any group’s struggle for safety, recognition and equality. Climate truth contains such superordinate power because all of those causes depend on a safe climate."

Will the Papal Encyclical make any real difference in the battle against climate change? One need only recall what happened in 1979, when John Paul II traveled to Poland and preached thirty-two sermons in nine days. Timothy Garton Ash put it this way, "Without the pope, no Solidarity. Without Solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of communism." Bogdan Szajkowski said it was, "A psychological earthquake, an opportunity for mass political catharsis…"  The Poles who turned out by the millions looked around and saw they were not alone.  

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