Population

No Season

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 10, 2016

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"They have given up their banana and avocado farm in Africa and hope to make a go of it in a land where they do not recognize the trees and have a bit of trouble understanding the local dialect."

 

  We are midway through #REX3 — a 10-day advanced permaculture design workshop with our friends Darren Doherty and Cliff Davis here in Southern Tennessee. The site this year is the newly acquired farm of an emigrant family in the rolling hills of Maury County, just about 20 miles from The Farm community.

For those not familiar with the changes going on in the southern regions of Africa, a bit of history might be helpful. The British took control of the Cape of Good Hope in 1806 in order to prevent it from being occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Dutch-speaking Afrikaners who had been there more than a century chaffed under British authority and didn’t like being forced to speak English, so they migrated inland and although the British recognized the independence of the South African Republic in 1852 and the Orange Free State in 1854, after gold was discovered the Empire returned and reclaimed those regions in the Boer Wars. A visitor from New Zealand described the typical Afrikaner Kraal of that era:

The Boer republics were sparsely populated and most farming communities lived in isolation, linked to each other by crude wagon trails. Following the custom of their forefathers, the Boers believed a farm should be at least 2400 hectares. Boer farms, even those tending livestock, often had no enclosures; the farmhouse would simply be surrounded by open pasture, a few fields of crops and maybe an orchard. The house itself would often be built from clay and usually consisted of two rooms with a thatched roof. The decorations within were modest and the clay floors were routinely smeared with a mixture of cow dung and water to reduce dust.

Of course, the large farms of the Afrikaners did not remain poor. Thanks to slave labor, many generations of farm toil, and the commerce of the British Empire, they grew to be some of the wealthiest and most productive in the world.

Afrikaner history, although now a distant past, was a thorn in the side of the later African anti-apartheid drives of the last century and animosities linger. For a very long time a small white minority had ruled cruelly, and now, finally, majority rule returned. What happened in nearby Zimbabwe is illustrative of what that can mean for the whites.

Like Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in South Africa, in the white-ruled state of Rhodesia the opposition party ZANU was banned and its leader Robert Mugabe was imprisoned in 1964. In prison Mugabe taught English to his fellow prisoners and earned multiple graduate degrees by correspondence from the University of London. Freed in 1974, he went into exile in Zambia and Mozambique where he built the resistance movement. Later, with support of British negotiators, the new state of Zimbabwe was given majority rule and in 1980 it elected Mugabe, who has been president ever since and has no intended successors.

Mugabe worked to convince his country’s 200,000 whites, including 4,500 commercial farmers, to stay. Then, in 1982, Mugabe sent his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to smash dissent. Over five years, an estimated 20,000 civilians were killed and many whites were dispossessed of their farms with no advance notice. In 2000 Mugabe rewrote the Zimbabwean constitution to expand the powers of the presidency and legitimize seizures of white-owned land. The country’s commercial farming collapsed, triggering years of hyperinflation and food shortages in a nation of impoverished billionaires.

In recent years the horrors inflicted by Mugabe have been so sadistic that we are left wondering whether he is demented by syphillis. And yet, through all of this, he enjoyed the support of the ANC in South Africa and has widespread approval in the continent. With the death of Mandela, South Africa has begun moving away from the policies of equanimity between races and it has become increasingly difficult for whites to attend universities and obtain professional employment. Which brings us to Tennessee.

The farm where our students are congregating this morning is a lifeboat for this old family of Dutch ancestry. They have given up their banana and avocado farm in Africa and hope to make a go of it in a land where they do not recognize the trees and have a bit of trouble understanding the local dialect. Back in South Africa are a number of relatives who look towards this young couple and their Tennessee farm as Noah’s Ark in event of a hard rain coming.

The REX advanced course “cuts to the chase” with farm design to assay what the needs are and what strategies will get this ark on a prosperous footing most rapidly. As the Regrarians website describes it:

In the world of workshops & courses there is nothing quite like the #Regrarians 10 day Integrated Farm Planning course or #REX. A carefully crafted distillation of the world’s greatest and most effective methodologies, the #REX is designed for nothing less than effective outcomes. People are participants, not ‘attendees’ or ‘students’ at a #REX, such is the integrity of the course model for its inclusive approach. Following the Regrarians already renowned & highly respected #RegrariansPlatform, the #REX follows a subject a day, building layer by practical layer for the real client and real enterprise that is the basis for this unique 10 day experience.

DAY 1 – Climate (90 minute sessions)
A – Client ‘Climate’ Briefing, Develop Holistic Goal/Concept, Terms of Reference
B – Atmospheric Climate retrieval & analysis, macro & micro climate factors
C – Legal ‘Climate’ retrieval & analysis, Municipal & State planning, other regulations
D – Climate Layer Exercise – Over 60 mins in small work-teams frame responses to the above and report to course findings in 10 mins each group (includes feedback)
E – Thermophyllic Composting Demonstration (scalable)

DAY 2 – Geography
A – Revision; Sandpit: Keyline Geography, Geometry & Applications
B – Assemble & Study Cadastral, Geology, Soil, Topographic, Planning & Mining Maps
C – GIS/GPS/Survey Applications & Technologies, Online GIS resources, Developing Effective Plans
D – Farm Walk ‘n’ Talk, Landscape Reading & Analysis, ‘Farmscape’ Analysis, Define Primary Land Unit & Land Component Boundaries, ‘Bullseye’ Demonstration

DAY 3 – Water
A – Revision; Examine & Overview of Existing Farm Water Systems, Farm Catchment
B – Earth Dam Construction & Water Harvesting Infrastructure – Design, Processes & Applications
C – Farm Irrigation Systems – Design, Applications & Installation
D – Water Layer – Over 90 mins (plus break time) develop farm water storage, harvesting
E – Water Layer Presentation & Feedback session + 10 mins each group for presentation & feedback

DAY 4 – Access
A – Revision; Examine & Overview of Existing Internal & External Farm Access
B – Access Earthworks Design, Engineering, Construction & Applications
C – Dam, Water Harvesting & Access Set Out Practicum: using Surveyor & DIY Instruments (RTK-GPS, Total Station, Transit & Laser Levels)
D – Access Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm access concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 5 – Forestry
A – Revision; Forestry Systems Applications: Shelterbelts, Alleys, Orchards, Avenues, Woodlands, Blocks, Riparian
B – Forestry Systems Design & Establishment Strategies
C – Forestry Systems Management & Utilisation
D – Forestry Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm forestry concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 6 – Buildings
A – Revision; Building Types & Technologies: Dwellings, Sheds, Yards & Portable Livestock
B – Building placement strategies, Existing Building Analysis & Retrofitting Options
C – Lucas Portable Sawmill Practicum + Broiler Shelter Construction
D – Building Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm building concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 7 – Fencing
A – Revision; Fencing Technologies, Applications & Costings
B – Fencing Placement – Land Components/Structures/Livestock systems
C – Fencing Installation Practicum – with local ‘Pro’ Fencer: Build end assemblies, ‘wires & pliers’, electric net fencing, tumblewheel
D – Fencing Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm fencing concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 8 – Soils
A – Revision, ‘5 Ingredients for Soil Formation’ – House Envelope & SilvoPastoral Applications
B – Farm Soil Classifications & Sample Analysis: Earth Building, Earthworks & Agricultural
C – Yeomans Keyline Plow ‘Pattern Cultivation’, Survey & Set Out
D – ‘Time Poor’ Farm Garden Practicum: No Dig/Wicking Beds; Keyline Plow Forestry &
Orchard Ground Preparation
E – Holistic Management Planned Grazing – Grazing Plan Practicum
 

DAY 9 – Economy
A – Revision; Farm Enterprise Planning: Comparing Enterprises, Market & Resource Analysis, Complementary Enterprise Options & Liaisons, Managing & Limits to Growth & Expectations
B – Farm Enterprise Management: ‘The Team’, Interns/WWOOFERS, Apprentices, Employees/SubContractors, Terms of Reference, Job Descriptions & Contracts
C – Economy Layer – Over 90 mins prepare a Farm Enterprise & Marketing Concept Plan
D – Economy Layer – Continued from Session C – 60 mins of Farm Enterprise & Marketing Concept Plan preparation then 10 mins per group presentation & feedback

DAY 10 – Energy
A – Revision; Farm Energy Conversion & Storage Systems: Solar PV, Solar Thermal, Biomass, BioDigestor, Wind, Hydro; Analysis of suitability & applications
B – Energy Layer – Over 60 minutes prepare an Farm Energy Concept Plan + 10 mins per group presentation & feedback
C – Farm Enterprise Development & Reporting; Client & Contractor Liaisons; Prioritising Works
D – Completed REX ‘Regrarians Platform’ Concept Plan Layer Analysis & Review – Client & Participant Feedback; ‘What’s Next?’; Presentations

Today we are on Day 7 – Fencing. Tomorrow we get to speak about biochar and carbon farming and are looking forward to that part.

As we walked the high ridges of this farm we happened upon an old cemetery, overgrown with vines, its raised crypts caving in, its carvings fading. We posted a photo of one stone on Instagram and someone was kind enough to provide the reference to the verse, which is by poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835). It is called The Hour of Death.

Leaves have their time to fall
And flowers to wither at the north wind’s breath
And stars to set, but all
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, o Death

In many ways this family is lucky. They sensed the north wind’s breath and got out before the knock on the door in the night. They cashed in and took the value of their previous farm with them. All across Europe and the Middle East, changing climate and conflicts over dwindling resources — effects of the population bomb long ago forecast —  are sending waves of penniless and desperate refugees fleeing with nothing at all, just the clothes on their backs.

With the increase of global climate weirding we sometimes get the sense that we may be entering a time without reliable seasonality. There is only one name for that. Death.

In the end, there is no refuge. There is just this one blue marble in space. Either we begin to steward the land the way this workshop of Darren’s teaches, or it will heat up, dry out and support no one.

Alternatively, we can school ourselves with methodologies such as these and live on a garden planet once more, keeping our numbers and demands in harmony with her natural abundance.

Is it even a serious choice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Limits to Growth was RIGHT

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on February 28, 2016

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Italy's Population Starts Declining
 

 

The "base case" scenario described in the 2004 edition of "The Limits to Growth", an update of the original study sponsored by the Club of Rome and published in 1972. Note how the world's population is supposed to start declining some years after the peaking of the world's economy. We are not yet seeing this decline at the global level, but we may be seeing it in some specific regions of the world; in particular in Italy.
 

More and more data are accumulating to disprove the legend of the "mistakes" that has been accompanying the study titled "The Limits to Growth" (LTG). For instance, Graham Turner has shown how the historical data for the world's economy have been following rather closely the curves of the "base case" scenario presented in 1972. But the fact that this scenario has been working well up to the beginning of the 21st century doesn't mean it will keep working in the same way in the future. The base case scenario describes a worldwide economic collapse that should start at some moment during the first two-three decades of the century. Clearly, the world's economy has not collapsed, so far, even though it may be argued that it is giving out ominous signs that it is starting to do just that. But, we can't yet prove that the base case scenario was right.

Yet, the LTG collapse scenario is an average over the whole world and we may imagine that some sections of the world's economy should collapse earlier, and some later. And, indeed, it appears that some local economies are collapsing right now. It may be that a country like Italy is already well advanced in this process, so that we shouldn't be not just seeing the decline of its GdP, but also the start of an irreversible population decline. And some recent data indicate that this is exactly the case: the LTG base case scenario is playing out in Italy, and probably not just in Italy.

So, let's try to make a qualitative comparison of the LTG scenario and the actual data for Italy. First of all, the scenario shows how the consumption of natural resources is supposed to reach a maximum and then decline, followed by a similar trajectory for the economic output. We are already well past this point in Italy. As you can see in the figure below, from a previous post on Cassandra's legacy, Italy's consumption of hydrocarbon fuels (by far its main source of energy) peaked in 2005, followed by the peak in the GdP in 2008. Considering that the GdP is a measure of the overall economic output of a country, we can take it as proportional to the parameters that were indicated as the industrial and agricultural production in the LTG study (the data for 2015  indicate a small GdP increase for Italy, but that changes little to the overall trend).
 

So, we may say that the base case LTG scenario has been playing out in Italy in terms of the behavior of the economy of the country. But, if this is the case, at some point we should expect another curve of the scenario to peak and start declining: the population curve. And, indeed, we seem to be seeing exactly that. Here are the most recent data from the Italian statistical agency, ISTAT
 

You can see the remarkable jumping up in the mortality rate for 2015: it corresponds to 165,00 more deaths than births. Despite the influx of immigrants, Italy has lost 139,000 residents in 2015; not a large loss (0.23%) but it is significant. And it had never happened during the past few decades. Also, Italy sees for the first time in decades a reduction in the life expectancy at birth (from 80.3 years to 80.1 years for males and from 85 years to 84.7 years for females).

 

What have been the causes of this population decline? There are several, and the torrid summer of 2015 has surely played a role in killing more old people than usual, as you can see in the figure below (again from ISTAT)

 


Then, other causes have been proposed; the general aging of the population, the economic crisis, the worsening diet, pollution, the higher costs of medical care, and more. But the point, here, is not to discuss these various causes, most of which probably had a role in the decline. The model doesn't describe the details of the process, nor it is detailed to the point of considering different age cohorts. It is a quantitative description of a relatively simple phenomenon: a population under stress because of reduced resource availability and pollution will react by an increasing number of deaths in its weakest age groups: the elderly ones. And this is exactly what we are seeing in Italy: a decline in population following the decline in GdP.

Of course, we only have data for one year and we cannot say if what we are seeing is a long-term trend or just a statistical fluctuation. Yet, it is hard not to think that the degrading economic, social conditions in Italy, as well as the degradation of the ecosystem, are not taking their toll on the population. And that we are indeed seeing the LTG scenarios playing out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dystopias and Eutopias

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 3, 2016

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"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

 

 

 

 

 

Here Comes the Sun

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Published on Peak Surfer on December 13, 2015

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"The COP agreed that the era of fossil energy is over. That is no longer in question. It will end by 2050, if not sooner. The question is how, and the Paris Agreement leaves that to fairy dust."

  At 7:27 pm Paris time (ECT), the President of the COP, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, gavelled the Paris Agreement home. The crowd stood, applauded and whooped. The text is here: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09.pdf

Success, it seemed to us, came because of the unions. They were not dockworkers or ironmongers. They were unions of countries with brands that read like corporate logos: AOSIS, ALBA, G77 Plus, High Ambition, the Like-Minded in favor of Kyoto Annexes, stealth-OPEC. No single effort could broker a deal unless it got the big unions on board. In the end ALBA and stealth-OPEC were too small to matter. The Like-Minded splintered in favor of the Ambitious. AOSIS and G77, the Climate Vulnerable Forum, and High Ambition ruled.

In their 2 minute closer, Philippines noted it was the first time that the concept of Climate Justice appears in a legally binding document. In time, they hinted, the United States and other overdeveloped countries will be made to pay reparations to those who will lose all or substantial parts of their counties, including all that high-priced real estate in Rio, Capetown, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Consumerist Empires built on fossil energy may have an unusually large credit card statement coming at the end of the billing cycle.

Pluses and minuses in the new agreement: the 1.5C target is in, thanks to the efforts of UNFCCC head Christina Figueres to give a voice to civil society in these corridors. Five-year 'stocktakes' (Websters Dictionary please take note) — reassessment of progress and commitments — are in. Full phase-out of fossil energy by 2050 is not, but that door is not entirely closed and may be reopened at Marrakech next year.

"Each Party’s successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition, reflecting its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances."

What the text mandates, which is actually significant, is to "achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty."

Decarbonization by 2050 is no longer just a t-shirt. Now it's international law.

Bill McKibben said:

“Every government seems now to recognize that the fossil fuel era must end and soon. But the power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry. This didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

350.org Executive director, May Boeve said:

“This marks the end of the era of fossil fuels. There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground. The text should send a clear signal to fossil fuel investors: divest now.

The final text still has some serious gaps. We’re very concerned about the exclusion of the rights of indigenous peoples, the lack of finance for loss and damage, and that while the text recognizes the importance of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees C, the current commitments from countries still add up to well over 3 degrees of warming. These are red lines we cannot cross. After Paris, we’ll be redoubling our efforts to deliver the real solutions that science and justice demand.”

The thinktank E3G said,  “The transition to a low carbon economy is now unstoppable, ensuring the end of the fossil fuel age.”

Carbon Tracker said: “Fossil fuel companies will need to accept that they are an ex-growth stocks and must urgently re-assess their business plans accordingly.”

The Guardian called it "a victory for climate science and ultimate defeat for fossil fuels."

One piece of statescraft managed by Obama and Kerry was to neatly skirt what killed Kyoto: the 60 Neanderthals in the US Senate put there by the coal kings Koch Brothers. The New York Times spotted the play and reported:

Some elements of the accord would be voluntary, while others would be legally binding. That hybrid structure was specifically intended to ensure the support of the United States: An accord that would have required legally binding targets for emissions reductions would be legally interpreted as a new treaty, and would be required to go before the Senate for ratification.

Such a proposal would be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate, where many lawmakers question the established science of climate change, and where even more hope to thwart President Obama’s climate change agenda.
 

***

The accord uses the language of an existing treaty, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to put forth legally binding language requiring countries to verify their emissions, and to periodically put forth new, tougher domestic plans over time.

In just updating regulations enacted under an already ratified treaty, the Paris Agreement bypasses the need for new Senate ratification.

Inside Le Bourget, after the obligatory high fives and selfies, delegates crafted sound bytes for the press and kept the lights on and microphones active past midnight. Outside, 10,000 activists took to the streets to pull a "red line," representing 1.5 degrees, to the Arc de Triomphe.

French President Francois Hollande, who has a gift for hyperbole, said "History is made by those who commit, not those who calculate. Today you committed. You did not calculate." Although not in the way he meant it, this is ironically a first-rate assessment of the Agreement.

There is a quality of awareness among all the delegates to the Paris climate talks that, after 20 years of these discussions, is passing strange. We would not call it a deer-in-the-headlights look, because it is not even quite there yet. Those jockeying for the best outcome for their own economies and constituencies are still quite oblivious to the science of what is transpiring and the seriousness of the threat. They have their noses down in the trough and do not hear the butcher at the barn door.

This should not be surprising. Nowhere in the fossil record is there anything quite like what is transforming the world of humans today. Our physical brains are virtually the same as they were 30,000 years ago, when we were standing upright in the savannah, alert to proximate, not distant, threats and quickly obtained, not slowly exploited, resources.

We make ourselves ignorant in at least three ways: not knowing the basic science of climate change, not knowing what to do about it once we 
become aware of the problem, and being barraged with wrong information about both of those and being unable to distinguish fact from fiction.

We might think that a lamb raised in New Zealand and eaten in London would create more greenhouse gases than one being locally grown, but in the way the world works today, the opposite is true. We might think that going vegan is more climate responsible than raising farmed animals, but because of how pastured animals stock soils with carbon, the opposite can be true. We might think, as climate scientist James Hansen does, that low prices for gas cause more fossil fuels to be burned, but the opposite is true, because low prices keep whole provinces of production from being tapped.

When disciplined and deliberate attempts 
by profit-driven vested interests in the production of 
greenhouse gases cast doubt on science and corrupt politics and the media, grasping these nuances becomes even more difficult.

We are a lucky species in that our optimism is more-or-less hard-wired. People tend to be overly optimistic 
about their chances of having a happy marriage or avoiding illness. Young people are easily lured to join the military, become combat photographers, or engage in extreme-risk sports because they are unrealistically optimistic they can avoid harm. 
Humans are also overly optimistic about environmental risks. Our confirmation bias helps us keep up this optimism even when confronted with scientific truths to the contrary.

The principal outcome is less about the how than about the whether. The COP agreed that the era of fossil energy is over. That is no longer in question. It will end by 2050, if not sooner. The question is how, and the Paris Agreement leaves that to fairy dust.

The Guardian reports:

Throughout the week, campaigners have said the deal had to send a clear signal to global industry that the era of fossil fuels was ending. Scientists have seen the moment as career defining.

Carbon Tracker said:

“New energy technologies have become hugely cost-competitive in recent years and the effect of the momentum created in Paris will only accelerate that trend. The need for financial markets to fund the clean energy transition creates opportunity for growth on a scale not seen since the industrial revolution.”

What will replace fossil energy? The basket of renewables described by Jeremy Leggett in Winning the Carbon War? There is a slight problem there, and one wonders how long it will take for that to catch up to the delegates. Perhaps by the first stocktake, but maybe longer.

The problem, as often described on this site and elaborated in our book, the Post-Petroleum Survival Guide (2006), is net energy, or return on energy investment (EROEI), first elaborated by systems ecologist Howard T. Odum. These days the leading scientists in that field are calling it "biophysical economics."

To put it as simply as possible, the source of almost all our energy is the sun. When the EROEI of a resource is less than or equal to one, that energy source becomes a net "energy sink", and can no longer be used as a source of energy, but depending on the system might be useful for energy storage (for example a battery, or the tidal storage in Scotland). A fuel or energy must have an EROEI ratio of at least 3:1 to be considered viable as a prominent fuel or energy source. This chart shows typical values for various technologies.
 

Right now most of what powers the world comes from the top half of that chart. The Paris agreement suggests that most of what we need by 2050 must be selected from portions of the bottom half of the chart — the so-called "clean" energies." Quoth the prophet, Wikipedia:

Thomas Homer-Dixon argues that a falling EROEI in the Later Roman Empire was one of the reasons for the collapse of the Western Empire in the fifth century CE. In "The Upside of Down" he suggests that EROEI analysis provides a basis for the analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations. Looking at the maximum extent of the Roman Empire, (60 million) and its technological base the agrarian base of Rome was about 1:12 per hectare for wheat and 1:27 for alfalfa (giving a 1:2.7 production for oxen). One can then use this to calculate the population of the Roman Empire required at its height, on the basis of about 2,500–3,000 calories per day per person. It comes out roughly equal to the area of food production at its height. But ecological damage (deforestation, soil fertility loss particularly in southern Spain, southern Italy, Sicily and especially north Africa) saw a collapse in the system beginning in the 2nd century, as EROEI began to fall. It bottomed in 1084 when Rome's population, which had peaked under Trajan at 1.5 million, was only 15,000. Evidence also fits the cycle of Mayan and Cambodian collapse too. Joseph Tainter suggests that diminishing returns of the EROEI is a chief cause of the collapse of complex societies, this has been suggested as caused by peak wood in early societies. Falling EROEI due to depletion of high quality fossil fuel resources also poses a difficult challenge for industrial economies.

When we hear pleas from underdeveloping countries for greater financial assistance to allow them to adapt — meaning building out renewable energy and migrating coastal cities inland — we have to ask ourselves if they really comprehend what they will need to adapt to, and whether any amount of money will ever be enough. The status quo ante – the way things worked before — is gone, and so is the modo omnia futura. One hundred billion dollars per year is not enough to save human beings as a species but asking for more won't help, either. What might help is committing to degrowth, depopulation, and scaling back our human footprint to something closer to what we had coming out of the last Ice Age, before we started building monumental cities, mining metal, and inventing writing. We don't need to abandon writing, but lets get real — those megacities may be unsalvageable on a solar budget.

Dr. Guy McPherson writes:

Astrophysicists have long believed Earth was near the center of the habitable zone for humans. Recent research published in the 10 March 2013 issue of Astrophysical Journal indicates Earth is on the inner edge of the habitable zone, and lies within 1% of inhabitability (1.5 million km, or 5 times the distance from Earth to Earth’s moon). A minor change in Earth’s atmosphere removes human habitat. Unfortunately, we’ve invoked major changes.

This discussion seems strangely absent, despite the pushback against Saudi Arabia and India after they succeeded in excluding the substantive recommendations of the Structured Expert Dialogue from the COP. They were not allowed to dump the provisions on transparency and uniform accounting, although it was not for lack of effort.

Instead, we keep hearing reference to an outdated and unfortunate IPCC number — the bent straw everyone is grasping for — that to have a 50-50 chance of limiting warming to 2°C (itself untenably overheated), cumulative emissions to end of century and beyond must be limited to 1 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide in total, starting 5 years ago. In that past five years we burned through one tenth – 100 Gt. Most predict that with added growth (a big assumption) we’ll have burned through 75% of this "budget" by 2030 and we’ll bust the budget around 2036. If we cut back, we might have until 2060.

Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace said, "We have a 1.5C wall to climb but the ladder is not tall enough." But he acknowledged, “As a result of what we have secured here we will win… for us Paris was always a stop on an ongoing journey… I believe we are now in with a serious chance to succeed.”

Glen Peters, scientist at CICERO, said 1.5C effectively requires a fossil fuel phase-out by 2030. He later clarified that was without negative emissions or the immediate introduction of a global carbon price, which are some of the assumptions in 1.5C models. His personal view was chances of achieving 1.5C were “extremely slim.”

Will voluntary pledges, revisited every five years starting in 2023 be enough to cut emissions and hold to the budget? It is the wrong question. That budget does not exist. Closer scrutiny of embedded systemic feedbacks reveal we'd blown though any possible atmospheric buffer zone by the 1970s and have just been piling on carbon up there every since.

The Atlantic today reports:

Recent science has indicated that warming to two degrees, still the stated international red line, might be catastrophic, creating mega-hurricanes and possibly halting the temperate jet stream which waters American and European farmland.

From that perspective, 1.5 degrees is an encouraging, ambitious goal. But it’s also a promise that costs negotiators nothing while indicating great moral seriousness.

Because here’s the thing: The math still doesn’t work. 2015 is the hottest year on measure. Because of the delay between when carbon enters the atmosphere and when it traps heat, we are nearly locked into nearly 1.5 degrees of warming already. Many thought the world would abandon the two degree target at Paris due to its impracticality.

Once we apply honestly science-based Earth system sensitivity at equilibrium, excluding none of the feedbacks and forcings that we know of, we discover we passed the 2°C target in 1978. To hold at 2 degrees we would need to bring CO2 concentration down to 334 ppm, not increase it to 450 as the Paris Agreement contemplates. To hold at 1.5°C we would need to vacuum the atmosphere even lower, to a level last seen some time before mid-20th century.

Outside of elite scientists such as those we've mentioned this past week — Anderson, Schellnhuber, Rockstrom, Hansen, Wasdell, and Goreau — few in Le Bourget seem to grasp some simple arithmetic. And so we are treated to the spectacle of fossil producers like India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and many of the underdeveloping countries demanding more time to fill up the available atmospheric space, when in reality there is none and hasn't been for quite some time.

Some say the UN is hamstrung by multilateral consensus, but voting would be no better. After the COP meeting in Durban, the UNFCCC adopted a traditional South African negotiating format to speed up decision-making and bring opposing countries together. The Guardian's John Vidal explains:

Zulu and Xhosa communities use “indabas” to give everyone equal opportunity to voice their opinions in order to work toward consensus.

They were first used in UN climate talks in Durban in 2011 when, with the talks deadlocked and the summit just minutes from collapse, the South African presidency asked the main countries to form a standing circle in the middle of hundreds of delegates and to talk directly to each other.

Instead of repeating stated positions, diplomats were encouraged to talk personally and quietly about their “red lines” and to propose solutions to each other.

By including everyone and allowing often hostile countries to speak in earshot of observers, it achieved a remarkable breakthrough within 30 minutes.

In Paris the indaba format was used by France to narrow differences between countries behind closed doors. It is said to have rapidly slimmed down a ballooning text with hundreds of potential points of disagreements.

By Wednesday with agreement still far away, French prime minister Laurent Fabius further refined the indaba by splitting groups into two.

“It is a very effective way to streamline negotiations and bridge differences. It has the advantage of being participatory yet fair”, said one West African diplomat. “It should be used much more when no way through a problem can be found.”

What may need to happen next year in Marrakech is that the COP host an indaba with experts both in the climate sciences and in biophysical economics.

What may hold out the best hope lies buried 20 pages in, at Article 4:

In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

Article 5:

1. Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the Convention, including forests.

2. Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.

It is not yet clear whether integrated food and fuel sequenced permaculturally designed forests, composed of mixed aged, mixed species robust ecologies and maximum carbon sequestration though biomass-to-biochar energy and agriculture systems will be scaled fast enough, but these two articles could be the spark they need to spur investment.

As the clock ticked on towards end of day, the leader of the High Ambition group, Tony de Blum, introduced to the plenary an 18-year-old girl from Majuro who spoke of water gradually rising on three sides of her home.

"The coconut leaf I wear in my hair and hold up in my hand is from my home in the Marshall Islands. I wear them today in hope of keeping them for my children and my grandchildren — a symbol, these simple strands of coconut leaves that I wear. … Keep these leaves and give them to your children, and tell them a story — of how you helped my islands and the whole world today. This agreement is for those of us whose identity, whose culture, whose ancestors, whose whole being, is bound to their lands. I have only spoken about myself and my islands but the same story will play out everywhere in the world."

Survey Review

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on October 14, 2015

http://static.wixstatic.com/media/c8e775_0f1c95161f9426092453fadbdab6cc88.jpg_srb_p_764_518_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srb

Discuss this article at the Survey Table inside the Diner

We're taking the week off from publishing a new survey, in order to let the Energy Survey collect more responses.  When I first put it up, the links to the Survey were all broken, and the first day is when most of the responses come in from regular Diner readers.  I fixed all the links later, but it only has around 50 responses at the moment, and a bigger sample is better.

Besides that, this is a good opportunity for readers who missed taking some of the earlier surveys to go back and take them now.  They are all still open and collecting more data, which I will update in my end of the year recap article.

The current list of Collapse Surveys TM is as follows, from most Recent to Earliest.

The Future of Energy

Fate of Countries in Collapse

Solutions to the Refugee Crisis

Ordering Preps for Collapse

Currency & Debt Collapse

Most Evil to Least Evil: Recent POTUS

When Does Dieoff Begin?

The Most Dangerous to World Peace

Collapse Survival Locations

The Worst City to Live In

Civilization Collapse Priority

Next POTUS

We have a lot of good data already, but more is better!  Your opinion COUNTS on the Doomstead Diner!

What it counts for I am not sure, but it does count. 🙂

Energy Survey Results Next Week.  Get your opinions in before the count!

Survey: When Does the Dieoff Begin? Results: Most Dangerous to World Peace

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on August , 2015

the-apocalypse11

Discuss the Results at the Survey Table inside the Diner

Take the Dieoff Timeline Survey HERE

According to the UN, by 2050 the Global Population of Homo Saps is projected to be around 11B by 2100:

http://www.21stcentech.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/UN-DESA-World-Population-Table-1-e1439582069476.png

Obviously, they arrive at these numbers by extrapolating out on current trends.  Nowhere do they explain how we'll be able to feed 11B, particularly since climate change and fresh water depletion are both already negatively affecting many of the growing regions around the globe.  Nor does it take into account fossil fuel depletion, phosphate depletion etc.

So, equally obvious to anyone who actually THINKS about this and doesn't simply extrapolate out the current trends, somewhere in the next 80 years the population is going to stop going UP, and start going DOWN.

As with the rest of the questions surrounding collapse, the outcome isn't in question here, just the timeline on it.  When will the population begin its inexorable downward slide?  Once this slide does begin, how fast will the population diminish?  These are the questions for this week's Collapse SurveyTM.

Take the Die Off Timeline Survey HERE

World Peace Danger Survey Results

survey-saysNow the results from last week's survey,  Which Nation or Organization presents the Greatest Danger to World Peace?

Unsurprisingly given the demographics of Doomers, coming mostly from English speaking industrialized nations, ISIS got the nod as the greatest danger.  However, as of yet, ISIS doesn't possess any Nuclear Weapons, so the amount of damage they can actually do is fairly limited.  What they might do of course is become such a nuisance to frustrated neo-cons over here that someone on this side of the pond or the Israelis pushes the button to try to exterminate them en masse.

The FSoA came in as # 2 on the list of Greatest Dangers, although I really think you can make the case it should be #1 because in fact ISIS itself is a creation of the Imperial Foreign Policy of the last Century, going back to before WWI and the destruction of the old Ottoman Empire.  Plus of course as mentioned the huge Nuclear Arsenal wielded by the FSoA and the potential for electing Trigger Happy Idiots like Donald Trump as POTUS..  This combination of factors makes the FSoA a great danger indeed.

Coming in at #3 is Israel, and again you could make the case that Israel is more dangerous than ISIS since they do have Nukes, they are already being managed by a trigger happy nincompoop in Nitwityahoo, and they are surrounded by enemies who want them dead and gone yesterday.  If ISIS makes significant headway and gets hold of some Ruskie missiles with conventional warheads to start lobbing into Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, will the Israelis stick to retaliating with just conventional weapons?  Maybe for a while, but if they are losing, eventually somebody over there will push the button on the Nukes.

On the other end of the spectrum,  putting Pakistan and India dead last depite the fact they BOTH have Nukes and there is a  constant dispute between the two on the India-Pakistan border seems to me to make them both a higher ranking threat to World Peace than say Boko Haram.  However, conflicts between India & Pakistan aren't well reported in the West, so there isn't the same kind of perception of danger that there is from Terrorist groups and the focus of a "War on Terror" constantly being pursued to keep those defense contractors rolling in dough.

Below, the full survey results for Most Dangerous to World Peace:

FULL WORLD PEACE SURVEY RESULTS:

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Standard Deviation Responses Weighted Average
ISIS 19
(32.2%)
10
(16.95%)
2
(3.39%)
10
(16.95%)
7
(11.86%)
2
(3.39%)
1
(1.69%)
1
(1.69%)
5.3 59 3.8 / 13
USA 17
(28.81%)
8
(13.56%)
7
(11.86%)
0
(0%)
5
(8.47%)
0
(0%)
2
(3.39%)
5
(8.47%)
4.67 59 5.25 / 13
Israel 2
(3.39%)
3
(5.08%)
12
(20.34%)
2
(3.39%)
5
(8.47%)
9
(15.25%)
9
(15.25%)
2
(3.39%)
3.39 59 6.15 / 13
North Korea 1
(1.69%)
1
(1.69%)
9
(15.25%)
9
(15.25%)
8
(13.56%)
4
(6.78%)
6
(10.17%)
6
(10.17%)
2.87 59 6.41 / 13
Russia 5
(8.47%)
2
(3.39%)
11
(18.64%)
7
(11.86%)
1
(1.69%)
5
(8.47%)
2
(3.39%)
3
(5.08%)
2.71 59 6.58 / 13
NATO 7
(11.86%)
11
(18.64%)
5
(8.47%)
7
(11.86%)
2
(3.39%)
1
(1.69%)
1
(1.69%)
0
(0%)
4.22 59 6.83 / 13
China 1
(1.69%)
6
(10.17%)
3
(5.08%)
4
(6.78%)
10
(16.95%)
4
(6.78%)
3
(5.08%)
6
(10.17%)
2.73 59 6.85 / 13
Saudi Arabia 3
(5.08%)
1
(1.69%)
1
(1.69%)
6
(10.17%)
7
(11.86%)
6
(10.17%)
3
(5.08%)
9
(15.25%)
3.03 59 7.27 / 13
Hezbollah 0
(0%)
1
(1.69%)
7
(11.86%)
6
(10.17%)
3
(5.08%)
10
(16.95%)
3
(5.08%)
5
(8.47%)
3.13 59 7.69 / 13
Boko Haram 1
(1.69%)
12
(20.34%)
0
(0%)
2
(3.39%)
1
(1.69%)
5
(8.47%)
1
(1.69%)
5
(8.47%)
3.9 59 7.78 / 13
Pakistan 0
(0%)
3
(5.08%)
2
(3.39%)
3
(5.08%)
5
(8.47%)
3
(5.08%)
13
(22.03%)
7
(11.86%)
3.2 59 7.8 / 13
Iran 3
(5.08%)
1
(1.69%)
0
(0%)
3
(5.08%)
4
(6.78%)
4
(6.78%)
13
(22.03%)
7
(11.86%)
3.23 59 8.03 / 13
India 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1
(1.69%)
6
(10.17%)
2
(3.39%)
3
(5.08%)
4.91 59 10.56 / 13

 

New Collapse Survey: Best Collapse Survival Locations & World’s Worst City Survey Results

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on August 11, 2015

Visit the COLLAPSE.GLOBAL Portal for Links & Daily Updates from around the Collapse Blogosphere

survey-says

Discuss these results at the Surveys Table inside the Diner

Last week we surveyed the KollapsniksTM on where the WORST places to be as Collapse moves around the Globe.  Results for last week's survey are down at the bottom of this page.

For this week we look at choices for the BEST place to park yourself would be.

https://www.ctbto.org/uploads/tx_ctbtoslider/HA09_007.jpg

Tristan de Cunha, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas

Take the Best Collapse Location Survey HERE

For last week's survey, once again there were some surprising results..

Not too surprising was Las Vegas was ranked worst, because most respondents come from the FSoA and they are mostly Kollapsniks well aware of the water problems in Vegas.

http://s1.ibtimes.com/sites/www.ibtimes.com/files/styles/v2_article_large/public/2015/04/22/lake-mead-1.jpg

However, Sao Paolo has worse water problems already, but was ranked 3rd below Mexico City.  I also found it surprising New York Shity was ranked above Phoenix as worse.  Phoenix has the same water problem as Vegas, NY still has decent water supply.  Also, as center of Finance, the economy in NY still is kind of functioning.

It's also hard to imagine how Baghdad can be ranked less worse than NY?  It's a fucking war zoe already AND a desert!

My guess here is the survey respondents stopped after making acouple of selections because it is too long.   Future Surveys will have fewer choices.

World's Worst Cities Survey Results:

  1 2 3 4 Standard Deviation Responses Weighted Average
Las Vegas 4
(12.12%)
2
(6.06%)
1
(3.03%)
2
(6.06%)
1.04 33 9.76 / 36
Mexico City 1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
0
(0%)
2
(6.06%)
1.48 33 10.15 / 36
Sao Paolo 1
(3.03%)
2
(6.06%)
3
(9.09%)
0
(0%)
1.3 33 10.39 / 36
Los Angeles 1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
3
(9.09%)
1
(3.03%)
1.14 33 10.91 / 36
Beijing 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
1.34 33 11.18 / 36
New York 8
(24.24%)
0
(0%)
2
(6.06%)
0
(0%)
1.46 33 12.48 / 36
Phoenix 1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
0.98 33 12.52 / 36
Delhi 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
3
(9.09%)
1
(3.03%)
1.11 33 13.48 / 36
Chicago 1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
0.95 33 14 / 36
Rio de Janeiro 1
(3.03%)
2
(6.06%)
0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
1.14 33 14.7 / 36
Baghdad 10
(30.3%)
0
(0%)
2
(6.06%)
2
(6.06%)
2.07 33 14.7 / 36
London 0
(0%)
5
(15.15%)
0
(0%)
3
(9.09%)
1.14 33 14.82 / 36
Moscow 0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
3
(9.09%)
0.92 33 15.33 / 36
Calcutta 2
(6.06%)
4
(12.12%)
1
(3.03%)
2
(6.06%)
1.28 33 15.85 / 36
Houston 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
2
(6.06%)
1
(3.03%)
1.23 33 15.88 / 36
Singapore 1
(3.03%)
0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
0
(0%)
0.92 33 16.36 / 36
Riyadh 1
(3.03%)
5
(15.15%)
1
(3.03%)
0
(0%)
1.57 33 17.3 / 36
Berlin 0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
3
(9.09%)
3
(9.09%)
0.98 33 17.67 / 36
Miami 0
(0%)
2
(6.06%)
1
(3.03%)
0
(0%)
1.32 33 18.09 / 36
Dallas/Ft. Worth 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
2
(6.06%)
1.42 33 18.3 / 36
Tokyo 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1.11 33 19.36 / 36
Detroit 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
2
(6.06%)
0
(0%)
1.32 33 20.76 / 36
Nairobi 0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
0
(0%)
1.36 33 20.79 / 36
Tel Aviv 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
1.34 33 20.94 / 36
Delhi 0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
4
(12.12%)
1.28 33 21.03 / 36
Tehran 0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
1
(3.03%)
1.34 33 21.24 / 36
Sydney 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1.14 33 21.97 / 36
Athens 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1.4 33 22.36 / 36
Madrid 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1.59 33 24.21 / 36
Paris 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1.4 33 24.67 / 36
Caracas 0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
1.55 33 25.24 / 36
Buenos Aires 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
0
(0%)
1.62 33 26.06 / 36
Wellington/Christchurch 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1
(3.03%)
0
(0%)
1.55 33 26.27 / 36
Lisbon 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
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1.52 33 27.3 / 36
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1.74 33 28.82 / 36
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2.51 33 31.09 / 36

 

Snatching Defeat

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on August 9, 2015

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Last week we concluded our post on climate change with a quote from James Hansen, "the matter is urgent and calls for emergency cooperation among nations." All this year we have been leading up to our collective fin de seicle moment in December, the grand denouement of the Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol in Paris. At this late date, we are frankly pessimistic for the outcome there.

It isn't that we expect the parchment won’t get inked, but rather that the document won’t actually accomplish its task even if the conference is a complete success. After more than two decades of negotiating for every paragraph, the Paris Treaty will be two decades out of date and strategically misdirected.

In those 20 years the goalposts have moved. They are not farther away now. They are closer.

The United Nations, Eleanor Roosevelt's singular passion, is showing signs of age, architecturally symbolized by its under-maintained (owing to deadbeat nations who never pay their dues, nudge to the ribs of USAnians) 1950s rusting steel and chipped glass edifice fronting the East River on the New York skyline.

 
Instead of peering through the mists into a bright but challenging future, the building peers out across the river to Roosevelt Island and back in time to a Rooseveltian utopia with strong labor unions and a chicken in every pot. Actually, a-chicken-in-every-pot was the 1928 campaign slogan of Herbert Hoover, a Republican president who presided over the Crash of ‘29. Hoover advocated "kinder, gentler" capitalism. He said, "We want to see a nation built of homeowners and farm owners. We want to see more and more of them insured against death and accident, unemployment and old age." It would become the mantra of future candidates of both parties, a code for enslaving the working class through health and home insurance, college and mortgage loans while feathering the nest of banks and insurance companies.


This is oddly where we find the United Nations now, making impossible promises to lure the gullible while holding a finger on the scales of justice.

Like a military bureaucracy busily arming with the obsolete weapons of the last war, the United Nations is stuck in the past century, driving a pink Cadillac to the Mall. Here, for instance, is a chart of its projections for world population, which it derives from fertility, life expectancy and demographic trends over the past decades:

Those dash-dotted blue lines at the margins are the range that would be accomplished if there were half-a-child more or fewer births per woman than at present. Half-a-child smaller families is all it would take to move planetary stress out of the red zone.

Another way would be for the entire globe to follow the example of Greece and depopulate immediately, just by starving pensioners and slashing budgets for hospitals, fire departments and other vital services.

One problem is that projecting the past into the future is always a fool's errand. Consider the UN's projections for low-lying island nations:


By 2100, if not 2050, most of these low-lying chains will be under the ocean. Are these projected people, still worth counting, presumed to be in refugee camps, waiting at border crossings in places like Calais, or in submarine cities?

Which brings us back to stranded expectations.

Our friend Joe Brewer, a linguist who, with George Lakoff and others developed the concept of "framing," wrote a thoughtful piece on the language of the UN's sustainable development goals, now scheduled for ratification in September. Just take a moment, though, to consider the embodied ignorance of a term like "sustainable development."

What is it, exactly, that we wish to sustain? Development? What kind? Do we want Donald Trump to build condos for billionaires in Namibia? Or maybe we want more jobs for Namibians assembling smart phones in Chinese factories while former Chinese factory slaves spend their renminbi vacationing in Dubai?

Last month the long laboring UN Open Working Group announced it had formalized 17 Sustainable Development Goals with 169 associated targets and deemed them “integrated and indivisible.” It submitted a lengthy report for ratification by the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly in September. Beaming with pride at its accomplishment, it bragged:

Never before have world leaders pledged common action and endeavour across such a broad and universal policy agenda. We are setting out together on the path towards sustainable development, devoting ourselves collectively to the pursuit of global development and of “win-win” cooperation which can bring huge gains to all countries and all parts of the world.

And then, in the next breath, it snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

We reiterate that every state has, and shall freely exercise, full permanent sovereignty over its wealth and natural resources.

We will implement the Agenda for the full benefit of all, for today’s generation and for future generations. In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to international law and emphasize that the Agenda is to be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of states under international law, taking into account different national circumstances, capacities and priorities.


With these caveats, the UN essentially emasculated its own achievement. It was kind of like saying, “From now on, no-one shall be allowed to shoot heroin or smoke crack. We will accomplish this through voluntary self-regulation by all would-be addicts.”

The simile is not that far-fetched. Neurobiologists and psychologists that have studied the problem of addiction have a much more nuanced picture of crime and punishment than do lawmakers or the public. They know what can reduce addiction — supportive community ties and self-respect, among other factors — and what elevates it — punishment, isolation and disgrace – but they have been unable to make that scientific case in public debate without getting shouted down, and so the criminal justice system stereotypes and victimizes addicts.

How the UN plans to discipline unfettered growth addicts is by loving them. Not tough love. Friendly advice kind of love. A forgive but not forget kind of love.

The UN plan continues:

The new Goals and targets will come into effect on 1 January 2016 and will guide the decisions we take over the next fifteen years. All of us will work to implement the Agenda within our own countries and at the regional and global levels. We will at the same time take into account different national realities, including capacities and levels of development, and culture. We will respect national policies and priorities and policy space for economic growth, in particular for developing states, while remaining consistent with relevant international rules and commitments. We acknowledge also the importance of the regional and sub-regional dimensions, regional economic integration and interconnectivity in sustainable development. Regional and sub-regional frameworks can facilitate the effective translation of sustainable development policies into concrete action at national level.

Brewer says:

The frame of national sovereignty conceals the much more nuanced picture of networked financial assets that are coordinated through a nested shell system of corporate structures—enabling things like the tax haven system and cross-cultural propaganda efforts that shape social norms at scales of regional markets.

The Committee on Sustainable Development:

We are committed to ending poverty in all its forms,including extreme poverty, by 2030. All people must enjoy a basic standard of living, including through social protection systems. We are also determined to end hunger and malnutrition and to achieve food security as a matter of priority. We will devote resources to developing rural areas and supporting small farmers, especially women farmers, herders and fishers.

We will seek to build strong economic foundations for all our countries. Sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth is essential for prosperity. This will only be possible if wealth is shared and income inequality is addressed. We will work to build dynamic, sustainable, innovative and people-centred economies, promoting youth employment and women’s economic empowerment, in particular,and decent work for all. We will eradicate forced labour and human trafficking and eliminate all the worst forms of child labour. All countries stand to benefit from having a healthy and well-educated workforce with the knowledge and skills needed for productive and fulfilling work and full participation in society. We will adopt policies which increase productive capacities, productivity and productive employment; financial inclusion; sustainable agriculture, pastoralist and fisheries development; sustainable industrial development; universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy services; sustainable transport systems; and resilient infrastructure.

Lately we have been trying to purge our vocabulary of the word "sustainable" (as offensive to polar bears) in much the way we purged our vocabulary of "rule of thumb" 20 years ago (as offensive to women, even though the origin was a parody, not an actual law, that husbands could beat wives with canes no wider than a thumb).

What we must ask is what we intend to sustain when we speak of sustainability? Is it, as Iowa Congressman Paul Simon famously proclaimed, our God-given right to the American way of life? Is it exponential growth of resource consumption on a finite planet? Is it a sustained rate of whale kill, coal burning, or forest-clearing? What are we talking about sustaining once fossil fuels no longer can give us all those billions of energy slaves?

As one commenter on our post last week said:

The Hansen approach – concentrating on CC [carbon capture] from a 'we obviously want to continue western civilisation, that's not the question' perspective, can be seen as a form of denial.

Joe Brewer, looking at the Sustainable Development Goals, unpacked four foundational weaknesses revealed by their language:

Insight #1: The entire effort rests on a mis-framing of poverty. The SDG documents consistently frame poverty as a disease, which, in contrast to their own promise to eradicate it by 2030, evokes the logic that it should be expected and managed, but cannot go away. When they conceptualize poverty this way, they misunderstand what it is and overlook the essential list of structural causes that must be addressed for any transition to a sustainable world. They fail to say how poverty is created. 

Insight #2: The language obscures “development as usual”. It ignores this topic entirely and fails to articulate that it is based on a particular, specifically neoliberal and corporatist conception of how the world economy does and should work. Also noteworthy, there is no reference to corporations—the most powerful institutions on the planet, whose influence in development spaces has been growing considerably in recent years, including via this process—an omission that prompts suspicion that an unpopular agenda may sneak through under the radar. This has the effect of neutralizing analysis on the core elements of the development model, and any consideration for the role of power politics or financial influence in development outcomes.

Insight #3: The poison pill is growth; specifically undifferentiated, perpetual growth as represented by GDP as a measure of progress. An awareness is acknowledged of the deep problems and contradictions when relying on GDP growth to tackle poverty. It is then deliberately kicked into the long grass and left as the prime operative of economic development. Indeed, the only thing the SDG framework has to offer on this is that it has nothing meaningful to offer; instead it passes this challenge to future generations.

Insight #4: The language is self-contradictory and conflicted on the relationship between nature and the economy. There is a clear and laudable intent to connect development and the environment—indeed, calling themselves the Sustainable Development Goals they could not make a bigger signal about needing development to be sustainable—but then the logic repeatedly demonstrates a confused and contradictory understanding of whether the economy is something linked with or separate from nature; there to dominate or work within. No credible use of the word sustainable would perform this way.

These insights lead to a simple antidote that can heal the SDG process and move us closer to real sustainability—tell the story of poverty creation that reveals systemic and structural causes of “development as usual.”

Brewer’s key point is that poverty is not a disease, something you catch by being born in the wrong place or choosing to be a slacker. Poverty is institutionally created.

The rules of the system are set up to extract wealth from the economy and hoard it in the hands of the few who control the money supply. This is done through unfair trade agreements, regressive tax structures and tax evasion, structural debt relations, land grabs, privatization of public utilities, and other widely used business practices. When the SDG framework conceptualizes poverty as a disease, it misunderstands what it is and overlooks this essential list of structural causes that must be addressed for any transition to a sustainable world.

Part of the problem, Brewer suspects, is that we like to break large, unmanageable problems down into smaller, more manageable pieces. In this case, the UN is putting different issues — rights of women and children, indigenous peoples, unsustainable agriculture, deforestation and desertification, energy costs and climate change — into issue silos, rather than treating them as part of a larger pattern of our human relationship to nature. Brewer says the two competing systems — environment and development –

“are treated as separate and distinct, which artificially divides humans from nature—an untenable position that ignores the foundational knowledge of physics and biology for living systems.”

He points out that mischaracterizing poverty as a disease leads to a complete disconnect when wealthy countries are confronted with the need to scale back or pay reparations –

Those countries that are “less developed” could be reframed as “more pillaged” and those that are “more developed” are countries that have “reaped the benefits of pillage.” – and also when under developing countries are told they should no longer try to imitate the West and think that some day they will be able to consume and hoard on a comparable scale.

What enabled the wealthy nations to pillage was the presence of natural wealth – human, plant and mineral – that could be brought under the sword or cross and systematically extracted. Where now do emerging economies like China, Brazil, India and South Korea turn to find such wealth? How does the aristocracy of the overdeveloped world keep its high-entropy investments secure without finding somewhere new to recharge them?

The UN working group is silent on these points because it has accepted without challenge a Neoliberal world view and ignored the over-consumption, financial destabilization, and enlarging inequality that demands.

Australian rancher Darren Doherty is fond of saying that sustainability is a weak ambition to begin with. “You are treading water. Is that all you want to do, tread water?”

Regeneration is a much more hopeful and ambitious term: Civilization 2.0. The goal is not to sustain high entropy habitation and extend it to 7 billlion or 12 billion people, but to redesign habitation to be low-entropy and biodiverse, letting nature heal, and to gradually bring human numbers down to something that is more (watch out, almost said sustainable) manageable within ecosystemic limits.

A couple years ago the UN Commission on Human Rights issued a report to address the subject of whether provision of minimum food support is a human right. The only practical way that could be achieved without overexploiting all the available arable land, the report said, was by transition to what they termed "eco-agriculture" but was really permaculture – primarily tree-crops and perennial grasses with some aquaculture. As we described here last week, this approach is also much more adaptive and mitigating in the climate change context, as our ancestors discovered several thousand years ago.

We are training ourselves to use "resilience" and "regenerative" in place of "sustainable" wherever possible. We particularly loathe "sustainable living" which always brings images of zombies to our mind. Ultimately nothing sustains, and any attempt to attain that end will fail. If sustainability is treading water, resilience is swimming forward against the current. And actually, once you get the hang of it, the current shifts and flows with you. 

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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"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.  

Detailing the Causes of Overshoot

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Limits on June 26, 2015

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Discuss this article at the Population Overshoot Table inside the Diner

The causes of overshoot finally explained in detail

– The more I cut, the more the GdP goes up.

– I say: jobs, not branches!!

 – I can't stop cutting, but I can capture sawdust and sequester it into the tree hollow.

 – Do you really believe in this story of 'gravity'? I am not convinced at all.

 – Such a small cut in this big branch, why should I be worried?

– I am not a woodsman, but I can say that, if this branch was supposed to fall, why do we see so many branches, up there?

– I have been cutting this branch for quite a while and nothing has happened. Why should anything happen?

– Branches fall all the time; it is a natural phenomenon.

– It is just an engineering problem. They'll find something to keep the branch up.

– If we stop cutting. it will cost us more than the hospital bill for the fractures caused by the fall.

Twenty-Three Geniuses

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation June 1, 2015
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If there is a Pulitzer Booby Prize for stupidity, waste no time in awarding it to The New York Times’ Monday feature, The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion. The former “newspaper of record” wants us to assume now that the sky’s the limit for human activity on the planet earth. Problemo cancelled. The article and accompanying video was actually prepared by a staff of 23 journalists. Give the Times another award for rounding up so many credentialed idiots for one job.

 

Apart from just dumping on Stanford U. biologist Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb (1968), this foolish “crisis report” strenuously overlooks virtually every blossoming fiasco around the world. This must be what comes of viewing the world through your cell phone.

One main contention in the story is that the problem of feeding an exponentially growing population was already solved by the plant scientist Norman Borlaug’s “Green Revolution,” which gave the world hybridized high-yielding grain crops. Wrong. The “Green Revolution” was much more about converting fossil fuels into food. What happens to the hypothetically even larger world population when that’s not possible anymore? And did any of the 23 journalists notice that the world now has enormous additional problems with water depletion and soil degradation? Or that reckless genetic modification is now required to keep the grain production stats up?

No, they didn’t notice because the Times is firmly in the camp of techno-narcissism, the belief that the diminishing returns, unanticipated consequences, and over-investments in technology can be “solved” by layering on more technology — an idea whose first cousin is the wish to solve global over-indebtedness by generating more debt. Anyone seeking to understand why the public conversation about our pressing problems is so dumb, seek no further than this article, which explains it all.

Climate change, for instance, is only mentioned once in passing, as though it was just another trashy celebrity sighted at a “hot” new restaurant in the Meatpacking District. Also left out of the picture are the particulars of peak oil (laughed at regularly by the Times, which proclaimed the US “Saudi America” some time back), degradation of the ocean and the stock of creatures that live there, loss of forests, the political instability of whole regions that can’t support exploded populations, and the desperate migrations of people fleeing these desolate zones.

As averred to above, the Times also has no idea about the relation of finance to resources. The banking problems we see all over the world are a direct expression of the limits to growth, specifically the limits to debt creation. We can’t continue to borrow from the future to pay for our comforts and conveniences today because we have no real conviction that these debts can ever be repaid. We certainly wish we could, and the central bankers running the money system would like to pretend that we could by making negligible the cost of borrowing money and engaging in pervasive accounting fraud. But that has only served to cripple the operation of markets and pervert the meaning of interest rates — and, really, as a final result, to destroy any sense of consequence among the people running things everywhere.

The crackup of that financial system will be the signal failure of the collapse of the current economic regime. The financial system is the most fragile of all the systems we depend on (though the others do not lack fragility). This is the reason, by the way, that oil prices are so low, despite the fact that the cost of producing oil has never been higher. The oil customers are going broke even faster than the oil producers. Does anybody doubt that the standard of living in the USA is falling, despite all our cell phone apps?

The basic fact of the matter is that the energy bonanza of the past 200-odd years produced a matrix of complex systems, as well as a hypertrophy in human population. These complex systems — banking, agri-biz, hop-scotching industrialization, global commerce, Eds & Meds, Happy Motoring, commercial aviation, suburbia — have all reached their limits to growth, and those limits are expressing themselves in growing global disorder and universal bankruptcy. Do the authors of The New York Times report think that the oil distribution situation is stable?

There were two terror bombings in Saudi Arabia the past two weeks. Did anyone notice the significance of that? Or that the May 29th incident was against a Shiite mosque, or that the Shia population of Saudi Arabia is concentrated in the eastern province of the kingdom where nearly all of the oil production is concentrated? (Or that the newly failed state of neighboring Yemen is about 40 percent Shiite?) Have any of the 23 genius-level reporters at The New York Times tried to calculate what it would mean to the humming global economy if Arabian oil came off the market for only a few weeks?

Paul Ehrlich was right, just a little off in his timing and in explicating with precision the unanticipated consequences of limitless growth. But isn’t it in the nature of things unanticipated that they generally are not?

 

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

As Night Closes In

Off the keyboard of John Michael Greer

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Published on The Archdruid Report on February 4, 2015

Overshoot

Discuss this article at the Overshoot Table inside the Diner

http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/images/9780252009884.jpgI was saddened to learn a few days ago, via a phone call from a fellow author, that William R. Catton Jr. died early last month, just short of his 89th birthday. Some of my readers will have no idea who he was; others may dimly recall that I’ve mentioned him and his most important book, Overshoot, repeatedly in these essays. Those who’ve taken the time to read the book just named may be wondering why none of the sites in the peak oil blogosphere has put up an obituary, or even noted the man’s passing. I don’t happen to know the answer to that last question, though I have my suspicions.

I encountered Overshoot for the first time in a college bookstore in Bellingham, Washington in 1983. Red letters on a stark yellow spine spelled out the title, a word I already knew from my classes in ecology and systems theory; I pulled it off the shelf, and found the future staring me in the face. This is what’s on the front cover below the title:

carrying capacity: maximum permanently supportable load.

cornucopian myth: euphoric belief in limitless resources.

drawdown: stealing resources from the future.

cargoism: delusion that technology will always save us from

overshoot: growth beyond an area’s carrying capacity, leading to

crash: die-off.

If you want to know where I got the core ideas I’ve been exploring in these essays for the last eight-going-on-nine years, in other words, now you know. I still have that copy of Overshoot; it’s sitting on the desk in front of me right now, reminding me yet again just how many chances we had to turn away from the bleak future that’s closing in around us now, like the night at the end of a long day.

Plenty of books in the 1970s and early 1980s applied the lessons of ecology to the future of industrial civilization and picked up at least part of the bad news that results. Overshoot was arguably the best of the lot, but it was pretty much guaranteed to land even deeper in the memory hole than the others. The difficulty was that Catton’s book didn’t pander to the standard mythologies that still beset any attempt to make sense of the predicament we’ve made for ourselves; it provided no encouragement to what he called cargoism, the claim that technological progress will inevitably allow us to have our planet and eat it too, without falling off the other side of the balance into the sort of apocalyptic daydreams that Hollywood loves to make into bad movies. Instead, in calm, crisp, thoughtful prose, he explained how industrial civilization was cutting its own throat, how far past the point of no return we’d already gone, and what had to be done in order to salvage anything from the approaching wreck.

As I noted in a post here in 2011, I had the chance to meet Catton at an ASPO conference, and tried to give him some idea of how much his book had meant to me. I did my best not to act like a fourteen-year-old fan meeting a rock star, but I’m by no means sure that I succeeded. We talked for fifteen minutes over dinner; he was very gracious; then things moved on, each of us left the conference to carry on with our lives, and now he’s gone. As the old song says, that’s the way it goes.

There’s much more that could be said about William Catton, but that task should probably be left for someone who knew the man as a teacher, a scholar, and a human being. I didn’t; except for that one fifteen-minute conversation, I knew him solely as the mind behind one of the books that helped me make sense of the world, and then kept me going on the long desert journey through the Reagan era, when most of those who claimed to be environmentalists over the previous decade cashed in their ideals and waved around the cornucopian myth as their excuse for that act. Thus I’m simply going to urge all of my readers who haven’t yet read Overshoot to do so as soon as possible, even if they have to crawl on their bare hands and knees over abandoned fracking equipment to get a copy. Having said that, I’d like to go on to the sort of tribute I think he would have appreciated most: an attempt to take certain of his ideas a little further than he did.

The core of Overshoot, which is also the core of the entire world of appropriate technology and green alternatives that got shot through the head and shoved into an unmarked grave in the Reagan years, is the recognition that the principles of ecology apply to industrial society just as much as they do to other communities of living things. It’s odd, all things considered, that this is such a controversial proposal. Most of us have no trouble grasping the fact that the law of gravity affects human beings the same way it affects rocks; most of us understand that other laws of nature really do apply to us; but quite a few of us seem to be incapable of extending that same sensible reasoning to one particular set of laws, the ones that govern how communities of living things relate to their environments.

If people treated gravity the way they treat ecology, you could visit a news website any day of the week and read someone insisting with a straight face that while it’s true that rocks fall down when dropped, human beings don’t—no, no, they fall straight up into the sky, and anyone who thinks otherwise is so obviously wrong that there’s no point even discussing the matter. That degree of absurdity appears every single day in the American media, and in ordinary conversations as well, whenever ecological issues come up. Suggest that a finite planet must by definition contain a finite amount of fossil fuels, that dumping billions of tons of gaseous trash into the air every single year for centuries might change the way that the atmosphere retains heat, or that the law of diminishing returns might apply to technology the way it applies to everything else, and you can pretty much count on being shouted down by those who, for all practical purposes, might as well believe that the world is flat.

Still, as part of the ongoing voyage into the unspeakable in which this blog is currently engaged, I’d like to propose that, in fact, human societies are as subject to the laws of ecology as they are to every other dimension of natural law. That act of intellectual heresy implies certain conclusions that are acutely unwelcome in most circles just now; still, as my regular readers will have noticed long since, that’s just one of the services this blog offers.

Let’s start with the basics. Every ecosystem, in thermodynamic terms, is a process by which relatively concentrated energy is dispersed into diffuse background heat. Here on Earth, at least, the concentrated energy mostly comes from the Sun, in the form of solar radiation—there are a few ecosystems, in deep oceans and underground, that get their energy from chemical reactions driven by the Earth’s internal heat instead. Ilya Prigogine showed some decades back that the flow of energy through a system of this sort tends to increase the complexity of the system; Jeremy England, a MIT physicist, has recently shown that the same process accounts neatly for the origin of life itself. The steady flow of energy from source to sink is the foundation on which everything else rests.

The complexity of the system, in turn, is limited by the rate at which energy flows through the system, and this in turn depends on the difference in concentration between the energy that enters the system, on the one hand, and the background into which waste heat diffuses when it leaves the system, on the other. That shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp. Not only is it basic thermodynamics, it’s basic physics—it’s precisely equivalent, in fact, to pointing out that the rate at which water flows through any section of a stream depends on the difference in height between the place where the water flows into that section and the place where it flows out.

Simple as it is, it’s a point that an astonishing number of people—including some who are scientifically literate—routinely miss. A while back on this blog, for example, I noted that one of the core reasons you can’t power a modern industrial civilization on solar energy is that sunlight is relatively diffuse as an energy source, compared to the extremely concentrated energy we get from fossil fuels. I still field rants from people insisting that this is utter hogwash, since photons have exactly the same amount of energy they did when they left the Sun, and so the energy they carry is just as concentrated as it was when it left the Sun. You’ll notice, though, that if this was the only variable that mattered, Neptune would be just as warm as Mercury, since each of the photons hitting the one planet pack on average the same energetic punch as those that hit the other.

It’s hard to think of a better example of the blindness to whole systems that’s pandemic in today’s geek culture. Obviously, the difference between the temperatures of Neptune and Mercury isn’t a function of the energy of individual photons hitting the two worlds; it’s a function of differing concentrations of photons—the number of them, let’s say, hitting a square meter of each planet’s surface. This is also one of the two figures that matter when we’re talking about solar energy here on Earth. The other? That’s the background heat into which waste energy disperses when the system, eco- or solar, is done with it. On the broadest scale, that’s deep space, but ecosystems don’t funnel their waste heat straight into orbit, you know. Rather, they diffuse it into the ambient temperature at whatever height above or below sea level, and whatever latitude closer or further from the equator, they happen to be—and since that’s heated by the Sun, too, the difference between input and output concentrations isn’t very substantial.

Nature has done astonishing things with that very modest difference in concentration. People who insist that photosynthesis is horribly inefficient, and of course we can improve its efficiency, are missing a crucial point: something like half the energy that reaches the leaves of a green plant from the Sun is put to work lifting water up from the roots by an ingenious form of evaporative pumping, in which water sucked out through the leaf pores as vapor draws up more water through a network of tiny tubes in the plant’s stems. Another few per cent goes into the manufacture of sugars by photosynthesis, and a variety of minor processes, such as the chemical reactions that ripen fruit, also depend to some extent on light or heat from the Sun; all told, a green plant is probably about as efficient in its total use of solar energy as the laws of thermodynamics will permit.

What’s more, the Earth’s ecosystems take the energy that flows through the green engines of plant life and put it to work in an extraordinary diversity of ways. The water pumped into the sky by what botanists call evapotranspiration—that’s the evaporative pumping I mentioned a moment ago—plays critical roles in local, regional, and global water cycles. The production of sugars to store solar energy in chemical form kicks off an even more intricate set of changes, as the plant’s cells are eaten by something, which is eaten by something, and so on through the lively but precise dance of the food web. Eventually all the energy the original plant scooped up from the Sun turns into diffuse waste heat and permeates slowly up through the atmosphere to its ultimate destiny warming some corner of deep space a bit above absolute zero, but by the time it gets there, it’s usually had quite a ride.

That said, there are hard upper limits to the complexity of the ecosystem that these intricate processes can support. You can see that clearly enough by comparing a tropical rain forest to a polar tundra. The two environments may have approximately equal amounts of precipitation over the course of a year; they may have an equally rich or poor supply of nutrients in the soil; even so, the tropical rain forest can easily support fifteen or twenty thousand species of plants and animals, and the tundra will be lucky to support a few hundred. Why? The same reason Mercury is warmer than Neptune: the rate at which photons from the sun arrive in each place per square meter of surface.

Near the equator, the sun’s rays fall almost vertically. Close to the poles, since the Earth is round, the Sun’s rays come in at a sharp angle, and thus are spread out over more surface area. The ambient temperature’s quite a bit warmer in the rain forest than it is on the tundra, but because the vast heat engine we call the atmosphere pumps heat from the equator to the poles, the difference in ambient temperature is not as great as the difference in solar input per cubic meter. Thus ecosystems near the equator have a greater difference in energy concentration between input and output than those near the poles, and the complexity of the two systems varies accordingly.

All this should be common knowledge. Of course it isn’t, because the industrial world’s notions of education consistently ignore what William Catton called “the processes that matter”—that is, the fundamental laws of ecology that frame our existence on this planet—and approach a great many of those subjects that do make it into the curriculum in ways that encourage the most embarrassing sort of ignorance about the natural processes that keep us all alive. Down the road a bit, we’ll be discussing that in much more detail. For now, though, I want to take the points just made and apply them systematically, in much the way Catton did, to the predicament of industrial civilization.

A human society is an ecosystem. Like any other ecosystem, it depends for its existence on flows of energy, and as with any other ecosystem, the upper limit on its complexity depends ultimately on the difference in concentration between the energy that enters it and the background into which its waste heat disperses. (This last point is a corollary of White’s Law, one of the fundamental principles of human ecology, which holds that a society’s economic development is directly proportional to its consumption of energy per capita.) Until the beginning of the industrial revolution, that upper limit was not much higher than the upper limit of complexity in other ecosystems, since human ecosystems drew most of their energy from the same source as nonhuman ones: sunlight falling on green plants. As human societies figured out how to tap other flows of solar energy—windpower to drive windmills and send ships coursing over the seas, water power to turn mills, and so on—that upper limit crept higher, but not dramatically so.

The discoveries that made it possible to turn fossil fuels into mechanical energy transformed that equation completely. The geological processes that stockpiled half a billion years of sunlight into coal, oil, and natural gas boosted the concentration of the energy inputs available to industrial societies by an almost unimaginable factor, without warming the ambient temperature of the planet more than a few degrees, and the huge differentials in energy concentration that resulted drove an equally unimaginable increase in complexity. Choose any measure of complexity you wish—number of discrete occupational categories, average number of human beings involved in the production, distribution, and consumption of any given good or service, or what have you—and in the wake of the industrial revolution, it soared right off the charts. Thermodynamically, that’s exactly what you’d expect.

The difference in energy concentration between input and output, it bears repeating, defines the upper limit of complexity. Other variables determine whether or not the system in question will achieve that upper limit. In the ecosystems we call human societies, knowledge is one of those other variables. If you have a highly concentrated energy source and don’t yet know how to use it efficiently, your society isn’t going to become as complex as it otherwise could. Over the three centuries of industrialization, as a result, the production of useful knowledge was a winning strategy, since it allowed industrial societies to rise steadily toward the upper limit of complexity defined by the concentration differential. The limit was never reached—the law of diminishing returns saw to that—and so, inevitably, industrial societies ended up believing that knowledge all by itself was capable of increasing the complexity of the human ecosystem. Since there’s no upper limit to knowledge, in turn, that belief system drove what Catton called the cornucopian myth, the delusion that there would always be enough resources if only the stock of knowledge increased quickly enough.

That belief only seemed to work, though, as long as the concentration differential between energy inputs and the background remained very high. Once easily accessible fossil fuels started to become scarce, and more and more energy and other resources had to be invested in the extraction of what remained, problems started to crop up. Tar sands and oil shales in their natural form are not as concentrated an energy source as light sweet crude—once they’re refined, sure, the differences are minimal, but a whole system analysis of energy concentration has to start at the moment each energy source enters the system. Take a cubic yard of tar sand fresh from the pit mine, with the sand still in it, or a cubic yard of oil shale with the oil still trapped in the rock, and you’ve simply got less energy per unit volume than you do if you’ve got a cubic yard of light sweet crude fresh from the well, or even a cubic yard of good permeable sandstone with light sweet crude oozing out of every pore.

It’s an article of faith in contemporary culture that such differences don’t matter, but that’s just another aspect of our cornucopian myth. The energy needed to get the sand out of the tar sands or the oil out of the shale oil has to come from somewhere, and that energy, in turn, is not available for other uses. The result, however you slice it conceptually, is that the upper limit of complexity begins moving down. That sounds abstract, but it adds up to a great deal of very concrete misery, because as already noted, the complexity of a society determines such things as the number of different occupational specialties it can support, the number of employees who are involved in the production and distribution of a given good or service, and so on. There’s a useful phrase for a sustained contraction in the usual measures of complexity in a human ecosystem: “economic depression.”

The economic troubles that are shaking the industrial world more and more often these days, in other words, are symptoms of a disastrous mismatch between the level of complexity that our remaining concentration differential can support, and the level of complexity that our preferred ideologies insist we ought to have. As those two things collide, there’s no question which of them is going to win. Adding to our total stock of knowledge won’t change that result, since knowledge is a necessary condition for economic expansion but not a sufficient one: if the upper limit of complexity set by the laws of thermodynamics drops below the level that your knowledge base would otherwise support, further additions to the knowledge base simply mean that there will be a growing number of things that people know how to do in theory, but that nobody has the resources to do in practice.

Knowledge, in other words, is not a magic wand, a surrogate messiah, or a source of miracles. It can open the way to exploiting energy more efficiently than otherwise, and it can figure out how to use energy resources that were not previously being used at all, but it can’t conjure energy out of thin air. Even if the energy resources are there, for that matter, if other factors prevent them from being used, the knowledge of how they might be used offers no consolation—quite the contrary.

That latter point, I think, sums up the tragedy of William Catton’s career. He knew, and could explain with great clarity, why industrialism would bring about its own downfall, and what could be done to salvage something from its wreck. That knowledge, however, was not enough to make things happen; only a few people ever listened, most of them promptly plugged their ears and started chanting “La, la, la, I can’t hear you” once Reagan made that fashionable, and the actions that might have spared all of us a vast amount of misery never happened. When I spoke to him in 2011, he was perfectly aware that his life’s work had done essentially nothing to turn industrial society aside from its rush toward the abyss. That’s got to be a bitter thing to contemplate in your final hours, and I hope his thoughts were on something else last month as the night closed in at last.

Of Fossil Fuels and Human Destiny

Off the keyboard of Ron Patterson

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Published on Peak Oil Barrel on May 7, 2014

Some New Year’s Observations

Off the keyboard of George Mobus

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Published on Question Everything on January 1, 2014

multigraph

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

You Are Here

It’s that time of year again for reflections on the past year, assessment of our current situation, and projections into the new year.

The truth is I’ve grown weary of writing the same thing over and over again. Last year saw further declines in the natural environment, increases in extreme weather events, increases in conflict in the MENA region (and others to boot), more rapid depletion of fossil fuels, greater disparity between the top 1% and the poor, and on and on. The political and governance systems continued their disintegration. Corporations continued to make profits by replacing workers with automation. And the bankers and brokers continued to amass fortunes by swindling the rest of the world, and with the assistance of governments as well. In spite of the accumulation of evidence of decline, almost nobody is paying attention.

Today almost everybody still believes that economic growth is the great salvation of humanity. If we could just get back on track with growth everything would work out.

There are only a handful of people in this world, who like me, have thought through the consequences of this logic. I think a proportion of that handful are reading this blog! This group constitutes a vanishingly small percentage of the world population. Either we are complete fools or there is mass delusion at work. I will unashamedly declare I am no fool. Yet I see no way to combat the delusion. The promise of endlessly increasing wealth is just too seductive for people. They are either too stupid, or too ignorant of how the universe works to work out the results. They are blind to the reality of overshoot and assured collapse for the simple reason that those are scary thoughts whereas growth of the economy promises comfort and a good life.

My claim about stupidity rests on evidence, at least from the United States, in several critical situations. Consider that according to a recent Pew Research poll, one in three Americans believe in special creation of humans. Of the two thirds who acknowledge the theory of evolution, about half of them believe that evolution has been guided by a god so as to produce humans. Of the final third (according to a different survey) more than two thirds of them believe humans are special, exceptional, and not subject to the same laws of nature as animals in general. I suspect that a large measure of these “beliefs” is grounded in pure ignorance. The vast majority of people have a cartoonish version of evolution knocking around in their brains. They really don’t grasp the process so much as have a vision of an old phylogenetic tree from a 1960’s textbook representing the emergences of clades from a common source. They have very little grasp over the ins-and-outs of genetics (and epigenetics), development, phenotype variations, or natural selection. They may know some of the terms, but have no idea at all what they mean, or how it all fits together. They are stupid because it seems to never occur to them that science has made some progress over the last fifty years and there is quite a lot of information available to them if they would simply take a look.

As another example of the stupidity/ignorance factors bollixing up the works, consider the governance of countries and states. Since the US is such a prominent player on the world stage I will use it as an example.

Perhaps a good starting point is the increasing polarity between the two major ideologies motivating the political process. The differences between the two major parties have never been more stark or more damaging. The conservatives (and I lump in libertarians in this bundle) are bent on the extremes of austerity and will do anything to push their agenda (the “Tea Party” being the most extreme). Ironically they are playing into the hands of the real powers in the conservative pole, the wealthy who see government intrusion and taxes as robbing them of their ill-begotten fortunes. Selfishness and greed have taken over at that end and if anybody can be blamed for forcing a class war it should be them.

Progressives are no better in the sense that they are motivated by a blind belief in progress of the human condition and equate that with economic (materialist) growth. They too are greedy but have some sense that the increases in wealth should be shared equitably somehow. You might consider that they have the moral high ground, but that would be mistaken. In their efforts to force progressive policies, e.g. government expansion ala John Maynard Keynes’ liberalism, they continue to clamor for more. But you see, they have no way to pay back the debt. Their steadfast belief in economic growth is based on that being the only long-term remedy for short-term debt financing. And they are totally ignorant of the biophysical reality of economics being based, ultimately, on energy flow. They are just as wrong headed and dangerous in their own way, as are the conservatives.

The political process has become frenetic, and attracts some of the most dangerous thinking people imaginable. Their extreme views attract a “base” of voters who are themselves feeling threatened by forces they cannot possibly understand but who are willing to believe it is the other side. Then there are those who are willing to believe that the American way of life is being threatened by forces both without and within. They see “their” America changing in ways they cannot comprehend. So they vote for extremists on either side.

And when those people get to Congress they do the only thing they know how to do — make stupid noises. This has been the least “productive” congress in history. Given what an aggregate of fools we’ve sent to congress, perhaps it is just as well that they haven’t produced a raft of legislation we’d all regret.

Unfortunately Congress is not the only dysfunctional branch of the federal government. I’ve made no bones about my deep disappointment in Barrack Obama. His apparent beholdeness to the financial powers on Wall Street has made him a dupe of the very forces that are destroying the country through complete ignorance of what makes wealth in the first place. The Jamie Dimonds of this world have gone into complete la-la land where you can create wealth (paper) out of nothing more than speculation; and you pay yourself a hefty bonus for getting those numbers captured on the balance sheet! The pity is that Obama, a lawyer, has not got the slightest understanding of how the world actually works (and I mean in the physical sense, of course). His beliefs about what should be done come from a dangerous theory about how humans are exceptional and we can create whatever reality we want if we simply can agree on how to do it. Talk about delusions.

And then look at the Supreme Court. When judgments are based on ideology (especially when those ideologies are dangerous) what do you get? Justice? The judgment on the Citizens United case, and the subsequent increase in the corporate oligarchy, is a clear case in point. This is stupidity incarnate.

And it isn’t just the federal government that is broken. Ideological polarization has infected state politics as well (see: Dan Balz’s article in the Washington Post). The phenomenon is a trend toward greater polarization without any seeming counter force in the wings to bring some kind of balance back into politics and governance. The bottom line is that we the people have screwed ourselves. We were stupid enough to send stupid people into government and we are getting stupid behavior from them. Think about it. Shutting down the federal government as a ploy to get rid of Obamacare! It doesn’t get any dumber than that.

As a final example of stupidity all across the board, consider the continuing debate over the reality of global warming and climate change. Why, indeed, is there a debate at all. If those who acknowledge the anthropogenic warming are serious why haven’t they taken substantive action rather than concern themselves with convincing the other side or shuffling their feet at conferences where they waste time discussing the problem. Those that don’t acknowledge it have shown themselves to be terribly stupid and ignorant. Rejecting the science just because it shows that their deeply held ideology is flawed rather than changing their minds about that ideology is typical of foolishness. A quick glance at comments made on the HuffingtonPost about this article shows that stupidity still abounds. Throughout the last several years the reports have been demonstrating that the situation is worse than the first models had suggested. The positive feedback loops involving methane emissions due to warming ocean and tundra promise to produce catastrophic warming. Now, it seems, we might also see lessened cloud cover that will further reduce the albedo of the planet, leading to more penetration of light and more warming. Yet, the governments can only talk about baby steps toward reducing carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. They can’t even speak to the real dangers that are now looking inevitable. They are powerless to act. They don’t know what to do so they remain silent except for the minor lip service they pay to “green”.

Where We Came From

Once, long ago, it seemed there was an abundance of energy and physical resources for all of humanity. We were learning how to invent new ways to extract resources, to mold them to our liking, and to trade our goods and services with one another so as to enjoy many amenities of modern life. Adam Smith’s invisible hand worked miracles. And it all seemed so right given that we recognized ourselves as a very special kind of creature on this planet. It was our god-given right to exploit anything and everything for our benefit.

In some ways, of course, this was true. No other beast could do what we could do. And there really was an abundance of natural resources for the taking. The water and air were pure. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer is unfettered growth; of population and resource consumption through increasing technological skills. In our ignorant enthusiasm and blind faith in our own cleverness we simply didn’t know when to put the brakes on so as to achieve a stable steady state interaction with our Ecos. We learned to be greedy and thought nothing of it because it never occurred to us that there might be a limit. And speaking of limits, even when earnest scientists pointed out the limits back in the 1970s (or go back further to Malthus) no one wanted to listen. It is simply too much fun to get richer and have lots more toys, bigger houses, etc.

In a way, though, it is hard to blame us in the sense of our being willfully destructive. For starters we did come from complete ignorance about how the biophysical world works. And the building up of sufficient knowledge to begin to understand the problems associated with unfettered growth took time. In a way, even though the “knowledge” exists today, it is broken up into discrete disciplinary packages and distributed over multiple disciplines, many of whom don’t talk to one another. It is hard to get an integrated view when you are highly knowledgeable about one small corner of reality but ignorant of so much else. Thank our educational system and its subservience to progress and profits for that. Many more people COULD understand more about the integrated nature of the world than actually do today but for how we “train” people to think in narrow (and non-inquisitive) ways.

Evolutionarily humans passed a threshold of consciousness that gave us language, complex tool making, and general ability to manipulate abstract representations in our minds and in artifactual form. That crossing of the mental Rubicon set us on a conquest of our environment — changing it to fit our desires. Unfortunately it was just a first tentative step in the direction of higher sentience. Part of that crossing involved a larger, stronger role for intuition-based guidance of decisions being processed by somewhat more rational intelligence. Apes in general had evolved a capacity to work out complex relations in their heads. Our brand of intelligence was not much more than just an elaboration of that in both the social and technological realms. But what didn’t get very far was the evolution of the basis for intuitive thinking, what I have called “sapience.” Sapience is grounded in brain circuits in the prefrontal cortex that greatly elaborate the planning and strategic control of our thinking (the activities in the rest of the brain). In its role of expanding the brain capacity for acquiring and managing tacit, veridical knowledge it is the basis of what we call wisdom. Simply put, wisdom is the capacity to not think foolishly, to proceed with caution in new territory, to grasp the moral aspects of sociality. Homo sapiens got just enough sapience to be able to recognize it, but not enough to fully appreciate its purpose. Hence we foolishly raced into technological advancements that had complex and too often harmful consequences.

Ignorance and lack of adequate sapience coupled with cleverness and unfettered greed (the pathological increase in desire to acquire resources to support biological purposes) is basically what has brought us to this situation we are in. The new year is not so much a transition from running up to falling down — I think we are already in the fall, but just haven’t broadly recognized it yet. Nevertheless, we can view the coming year as prelude to the future of humanity. I expect there to be many more signposts along the way to, first, collapse of global civilization, and then to the evolutionary bottleneck event I be live, strongly, will follow.

Where Do We Go From Here?

As the old saying goes: to hell conveyed in a handbasket.

In spite of the US and other government claims that economies are on the mend, the data being cited is suspicious at best and downright problematic. The new jobless claims rate has been falling! Hooray! Its just as well to get those long-term unemployed folk off the rolls by them giving up looking for work. Corporations are reporting reasonable profits. Hooray! When you don’t have to pay workers what they were demanding in order to live the American dream, your costs go down. The stock market is up. Hooray! When the Fed pours faux money into the markets and keeps interest rates at or near zero, the investor class has to do something with their gift wealth.

Meanwhile the income disparity data tell a completely different story for the majority of Americans (and the same trends are developing in other OECD countries). The reason a local-scale “sharing” economy is starting to take shape is very simple. People have much less and have much lower incomes. They are re-learning how to cooperate with neighbors to produce value that they cannot acquire simply from having an income and buying it.

Over the last years we have been pummeled by news of an energy revolution in the US. Unconventional sources of oil and natural gas (shale deposits from which oil and gas can be extracted using rock fracturing technology) have been exploited and the first production volumes made it look as if America would have bountiful oil and gas for the next century at least. There is just one hitch. It turns out that the production rates initially reported have been unsustainable. The number of exploitable sites (sweet spots) appears far fewer than original reserve estimates had given. The clothes have come off the emperor but the general public, and the government officials still believe the emperor still wears magical clothing. They want to believe. They have to believe.

The reports I have been following suggest that 2014 will be the year that a lot more people are going to see the emperor is naked. There will still be heavy production simply because of the number of wells that have been drilled. We will still get a fair amount of oil from Canadian tar sands as long as the price of oil stays about roughly $90 a barrel. But the profit margins on fracked oil and gas are coming down fast. Both industries are now relying of increasing debt financing to keep operations going and that is going to run out soon. At what point will they simply pull out of production? Econ 101 teaches us that lower production will interact with demand to drive prices up. Then at what price will people still be able to function in daily life? Several economists have already pointed out that the run up of energy prices historically have been the prime triggers causing recessions. The 2009 recession is one of the best examples. People stop buying stuff when they are squeezed in terms of basic costs of living (food, energy, clothing, housing) all of which have been on a steady rise (ignoring the government’s “core inflation rate” numbers which actually ignore true CORE costs!) Consumers don’t buy goods and services – Economy goes down; pretty simple actually.

This year is likely to see continuing squeezes on energy costs for everyone. As I have pointed out on several past blogs, energy costs percolate through everything in the economy. Energy requirements start at raw material extraction and run through to even the energy needed by household just to CONSUME products! Energy is the only real currency of the economy. Start lowering the energy flow and you start contracting the economy. And all of this talk about decoupling the economy from energy (lowering so-called energy intensity) is plain nonsense. Talk of an information or service economy not needing the same amount of energy is just stupid wishing. You can’t eat information. You can’t live in a service. Sometimes I wonder what people (economists and politicians) have to tell themselves to make them believe this kind of hogwash. Denial and self-deceit are the predominating psychology of our times.

The obvious end, collapse recognized by the masses, will not likely come in 2014, at least in the OECD countries. I think it is already in progress in the MENA region and extends into mid Africa. We will likely see more deterioration in Russia and the former Soviet countries. The PIIGS are in a temporary stasis thanks to the EU’s largesse, but when they fail to pay back their debts again, that will fall apart rapidly. Brazil is a case study for the western hemisphere – Mexico and other Latin American countries to follow.

Collapse won’t come everywhere at once. It will be sporadic, episodic, and chaotic. You will recognize it if you are in it and cannot figure out where to get food or how to pay your heating bills. You will not recognize it if you continue to assume that is just some temporary phenomenon happening to a non-exceptional part of the world. But it is underway globally nevertheless. Without a massive, and I do mean spectacularly massive, infusion of energy resources there is simply no other conclusion. What will make this collapse so painful is the confounding effects of climate change and continuing, worsening extreme weather events all over the world. It takes considerable energy to construct adaptations to climate change. We don’t got it!

The Politics and Governance of 2014

In the United States we are already gearing up for the presidential elections of 2016! We still have the Nov. 2014 congressional elections to get through. The political turmoil at the end of 2013 is unprecedented. Money has already been flowing to influence elections. Are enough people in the electorate so disgusted with the Tea Party wing’s absolutely stupid tactics (non-strategic, just reactive) so that they kick some of them out? Will the Democrats take a majority in the House, or will the Republicans capture the Senate? Everything is up for grabs. And nobody is stepping up to provide meaningful leadership. Has Obama positioned the Democrats who have supported Obamacare for defeat? The Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times,” comes to mind when I contemplate the idiocy we are about to witness in American politics.

Given the current attitudes and moods of those in government (executive, legislative, and judicial branches all) for both federal and state, I think we will see a steady decline in rationality in governance in 2014. Greater polarization is just about guaranteed. And that means more gridlock in legislation. It will be interesting to see if Obama carries through with his promise to use the EPA to regulate CO2 emissions what the House Republicans will do. &ldqou;We’ll show him. We’ll shut down the government again!”

The state of affairs in the US have gotten really unbelievably bad over the last several decades. But they are equally bad or worse in so many other countries around the world. Where is the world are things going right? There still seems to be some stability in Northern European countries, but there is a specter over the land there as well. Unfettered immigration, especially from the MENA region, is starting to tear the seams of societies there. I look for more signs of destabilization, especially with the increasing costs of heating fuels next winter.

More Arab springs? Oh right, those are now being recognized as resource restriction-based revolutions. People don’t care what their governing ideology might be as long as they have access to affordable food, water, shelter, and energy. Drive those prices up further and see how long the Egyptian military stays in power without a major and bloody revolution. But then I suspect revolutions of that sort are going become commonplace over the next several years. Regardless of the stated motivation (democracy or the adoption of Sharia law) the underlying cause will be the same; people are getting poorer and are suffering while a few oligarchs are living high on the hog. That is an ages-old formula for revolution. You would think the elites would learn something from history. And, by the way, Jamie Dimon, et al, don’t be thinking it can’t happen here. Your federal government is becoming so ineffectual that they will not be there to protect you for long. And you have pissed off an awful lot of people. I’m not threatening you, I’m simply reminding you of history.

At the end of a missive of horror, one is expected to exhort all to change their ways to avoid the calamity. Or one is expected to offer a ray of hope. But I will fail those expectations. There is no hope for salvation for civilization. Collapse has to happen. We absolutely need to reset the system (go back to DOS let alone Windows 3.1!) to a simpler and paradoxically a more humanistic social arrangement (for new readers my past blogs explain this at length).

So in spite of the media hype you may be hearing right now about how the economy is improving, look for 2014 to bring yet more misery to millions more. Expect turmoil to gain momentum globally. And expect strife to overtake governments in all regions of the globe. Look for signs of true increases in net energy flow. You’ll be disappointed. Look instead for sudden realization that the oil boom in North Dakota (for example) is a sham and that the money to keep it going is coming from an elaborate Ponzi scheme. You’ll see the truth.

Other than that, have a happy new year.

Suicidal Growth

Off the keyboard of Ray Jason

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Published on The Sea Gypsy Philosopher on December 10, 2013

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Sailing down the decades, my sweet little boat and I have witnessed some amazing meteor showers while alone at sea. During those nights I always listen to Debussy’s lyrical masterpiece “Reverie,” while lying on my back and marveling at the falling stars. And what makes it even more sublime is being the only human presence in that sector of the planet. It reminds me of how utterly tiny Homo Sapiens is in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, back on land the dominant perspective is just the opposite. Humanity considers itself the Grand Actor in the center of the cosmic stage, and Nature is merely the backdrop.

But my almost visceral understanding of just how miniscule our species is, inspires me to view our human project in a radically different manner. Spend as much time alone at sea as I have, and you too might find yourself transformed from being an Accepter to a Questioner. In this essay I will discuss a topic that is almost universally embraced and yet never challenged. That subject is Growth. How can somebody argue against Growth you might wonder? Well, hopefully I can do so calmly and convincingly.

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Even a sixth grader understands that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. This is not an “economic issue” to be debated. It is an ecological fact that must be addressed. Our planet has limited resources and our survival hinges upon our ability to allocate and preserve them. The two great enemies of sustainability on Earth are Runaway Population Growth and Conspicuous Consumption Growth. Together they are a recipe for biological botulism.

http://isiria.files.wordpress.com/2008/07/overpopulation.jpgPopulation overshoot has been fervently debated ever since Thomas Malthus first introduced it back in 1798. In the 1960s, Paul and Anne Ehrlich reignited the discussion with their cautionary book, THE POPULATION BOMB. The timeline of their predictions did not come true, because they had not foreseen the Green Revolution that massively expanded industrial agriculture. But now food output HAS peaked while population expansion continues to accelerate. So a significant population decrease is essential.

But there is a huge force in the world which will not allow this to happen. That obstacle is Big Religion. The major monotheistic churches want their membership to grow as enormously and rapidly as possible. But they never admit to such selfish motives. Instead, they claim that they are merely following god’s edict that birth control shall be forbidden and that the flock shall go forth and multiply.

If you doubt the truth of this indictment, consider this. If the Catholic Church injunction against birth control is not just designed to increase their enrollment, then they will not object to this suggestion: Let every other child that is born to a Catholic parent be raised as a Muslim. Observe how the church fathers respond to that recommendation, and you will quickly understand that their birth tyranny edicts are not about god’s will, but are instead about increasing their membership and their power.

Another more subtle impact of Big Religion’s dictatorial population stance is how it affects education. There is a direct link between a higher level of education and a lower birth rate. The least educated segments of society tend to be the most religious. And so women who are forbidden by the church to use birth control devices soon become birth increase devices. Since they are burdened with almost constant childbirth, they have little time for education or for the widening of their personal horizons and opportunities. They become slaves to reproduction and to Big Religion.

Besides the bishops and mullahs and rabbis, there are other factors contributing to out of control population growth, and I will deal with them thoroughly in a future essay. But one thing that I can’t emphasize enough is the fact that this issue does not even get discussed in any meaningful way. If you think that bringing up politics and religion is a sure way to derail a conversation in polite company, just interject the issue of population control and notice how almost everyone considers it a taboo subject. And yet overpopulation is a major element – if not THE major factor – in the history of every single civilization that has collapsed.

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The second type of growth that is so hazardous to our planet and all of its creatures is our lust for stuff. Although the USA is largely innocent when it comes to causing population problems, it is unmistakably guilty when it comes to promoting rampant consumerism. The American Way of Life is worshipped and imitated around the globe. Through its movies and television and product saturation, the American Empire spreads its own religion with missionary zeal – The Church of the Mall. The message of that gospel is that happiness is achieved by owning things. The corollary to this is that more stuff equals more fulfillment. Embracing such a vapid worldview has dire consequences for the Individual, the Society and the Planet.

For people, it means that values such as the affection of friends, the solidarity of community, the appreciation of beauty are all subordinate to the less meaningful and often endless craving for more stuff. I contend that the world is not better off with cars that talk to us or 671 types of “yogurt products” or phones so expensive that one has to take out a loan to purchase them.

http://www.photosensitive.com/imgs/native-children-happy.jpgMany of my sea gypsy years have been spent in Third World countries. I have carefully observed that there is a direct correlation between personal happiness and owning a lot of things. But it is an inverse relationship. Only 30 yards from where I am now typing, I will often marvel at Indio children playing joyously for hours with just a coconut and a stick. And yet just down the dock, first world kids will be miserable because their electronic game console is not the latest version.

http://www.tophostgames.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/kids-playing-violent-video-gamesdo-bad-grades---violent-video-games---violent-kids--greater-good-irfohlij.jpgAside from the damage that insatiable consumption inflicts on the individual, it also has extremely harmful consequences for the larger society. When a person fixates on buying more things and interfacing with more machines, they forget to exercise their power of critical thinking. They are so mesmerized and distracted by the latest iEverything, that they don’t even notice their slide into consumer slavery. A society with a colossal wealth discrepancy between the rich and the poor, with meaningless work that is numbing and degrading and with a tyrannical police/surveillance grid should be cause for code-red alarm. But instead, most people barely notice it because there is an enormous plasma TV in the way.

But our addiction to more and more stuff is not just harmful to individuals and to societies. It is utterly catastrophic to our one and only life-supporting planet. Our constant-growth consumerism pollutes the air, decimates the ocean fish stocks, poisons the rivers and blows away the topsoil.

*******

This combo platter of increasing population growth and unceasing consumer growth is a recipe for societal suicide. Too many people and too much stuff are ravaging all of the support systems that keep us alive. We need breathable air, clean drinkable water, fertile land, plus renewable and non-renewable resources. But we are decreasing all of these vital necessities and at the same time we are increasing all of the waste products that our excesses are generating. This cannot end well! But it CAN end horribly!

 

P.S. For excellent information on how to steadily decrease population without coercion, visit Bill Ryerson’s site www.populationmedia.org. He has nobly dedicated 40 years of his life to this unpopular cause.

 

Why I Don’t Believe Randers’ Limits to Growth Forecast to 2052

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on September 25, 2013

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Jorgen Randers published a book in 2012 called 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next 40 Years. A note on the front says, “A report to the Club of Rome, Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of The Limits to Growth.”

If we compare the new book to the book from 40 years ago, we see some surprising differences. In 1972, the analysis suggested that serious resource depletion issues would occur about now–the first part of the 21st century. In comparison, current indications look much better. According to Randers’ current analysis, world GDP growth will continue to rise through 2050, and energy consumption will continue to grow until 2040. While a decline in oil supply will take place, it will not occur until 2025. When it does happen, it will occur sufficiently slowly and incrementally that other fuels can replace its loss, apparently without disruption. Renewables will ramp up far more rapidly in the future than to date.

Figure 1. Comparison of oil and renewables forecast in 2052, based on spreadsheet from www.2052.info.

A person reading the front cover of 2052 might think that the model is quite close to the model used in the original The Limits to Growth analysis. My review indicates that the current model is fairly different. The book talks very little about the workings of the model, so doesn’t let us know what changes have been made.

It is possible to do some detective work regarding how the current model is constructed. Dolores “Doly” Garcia, who worked on the model, wrote three posts published on TheOilDrum.com explaining the model.  There is also a website (www.2052.info) provided by Randers giving the numerical output of the model in spreadsheet form.  Together, these point to a methodology which assumes that if world oil supply declines, the decline will be slow and will be quickly offset by a rise in the use of renewables, coal, and natural gas. Changes in the model, which I will describe further in another section, are the first reason I don’t believe Randers’ Limits to Growth forecast.

A second reason why I don’t believe Randers’ forecast has to do with limitations of the original forecast. These limitations did not make much difference back in 1972, when researchers were trying to estimate approximate impacts 40 or 50 years later, but they do now, when resources are becoming more depleted. One issue omitted is from the model is a price mechanism. A related issue is that there is no true calculation of demand, based on what consumers can afford. The model also omits debt, and the role debt plays, both for investment purposes and in order for consumers to afford products made with oil and other energy products. Research regarding past collapses indicates they were financial in nature–the model should not overlook this important issue.

A third reason why I don’t believe the forecast in 2052 is because a model of this nature necessarily cannot model events that are important to ultimate collapse, but which happen on a smaller scale, and trigger cascading failures. An example might be oil depletion in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen. All of these countries were at one point oil exporters. They each now have substantial financial problems because of the loss of oil exports. The population of each of these countries has now grown, so there are now many more mouths to feed. Unfortunately, without oil exports, the financial situation is such that it is not possible to provide the level of food subsidies and other benefits that an oil exporter can provide. The result seems to be serious civil disorder that threatens to spread beyond the these countries own borders. See my post Oil and Gas Limits Underlie Syria’s Conflict. The 1972 Limits to Growth book warned readers that the report likely missed issues of this nature. The current book lacks such caveats.

A fourth issue is that the 2052 report is very much the work of a single individual, Jorgen Randers, while the earlier report was a committee report. Randers makes statements in the book that make it sound like he already knows the answer before he does the modeling. On page 61 he says,

I basically believe that we will see the same rate of technological and societal change over the next forty years as we have seen over the last forty years. That is because the drivers will be the same and the organization of global society is unlikely to change discontinuously.

Thus, Randers tells us he believes that he already knows that no swift change will take place. That is fine–unless the belief is based on a misunderstanding of real relationships.

On page 56, in a section called “The Deterministic Backbone,” Randers explains that some variables including population, industrial infrastructure, energy consumption, and GDP growth change very slowly, over periods of decades. With this view, methods are chosen so that none of these can change very quickly.

Oil Drum Posts by Dolores “Doly” Garcia

Dolores “Doly” Garcia published three posts on The Oil Drum related to versions of the model she was working on that ultimately was used in 2052. These posts are

A New World Model Including Energy and Climate Change Data (April 3, 2009)

New World Model – EROEI issues (Aug. 24, 2009)

An alternative version for three of the “key graphs” in IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook (July 7, 2011)

In these posts, especially in  New World Model – EROEI issues, Garcia explains why world energy supply now falls much more slowly than in the 1972 Limits to Growth scenarios. In her words, these are the three reasons:

  1. Renewable energy sources
  2. The decline of non-renewable energy sources follows a logistic curve. The exact equation is:Increase in production = 0.2*(fraction of fossil fuel remaining-0.5)*current production. .  . .
  3. Switching from some energy sources to others makes for a gentler, staged decline.

EROEI has only an effect on this last point, in that it’s the cause that drives the switching from one energy source to another.

What Doly Garcia is writing about is not exactly the model that is used in 2052–in fact she gives a range of outputs. But looking at the data from the spreadsheet associated with 2052, it is clear that some approach similar to this is being used. Using the revised approach, oil supply now declines relatively slowly, from an assumed peak in 2025 (Figure 1 and 2) and other fuels (coal, natural gas, renewables) rise in consumption relatively more quickly than in reports published by other forecasters (IEA World Energy Outlook, BP Energy Outlook, Exxon Mobil- A view to 2040). As noted in Figure 1 above, renewables ramp up very quickly.

Figure 2. Energy Consumption to 2050, based on spreadsheet data from www.2052.info.

Assuming that oil supply will follow the logistic curve on the down-slope, as well as assuming easy switching among fuels and a rapid ramp-up of renewables is basically assuming a best-possible outcome. It is basically assuming that a shortfall of oil won’t be a problem, because there will be a way around it–substitution and new fuel sources, until investment capital runs short.

I wrote a post recently called Stumbling Blocks to Figuring Out the Real Oil Limits Story, in which I talked about the common (incorrect) belief of many that M. King Hubbert  claimed the downslope of world oil supply would follow a slow curve, such as the logistic. As far as I know, he claimed no such thing. When population has risen because of the use of these resources, even a slowdown in supply is a huge problem, as we recently witnessed with the Great Recession that accompanied the 2008 run-up in oil prices.

There are some situations where such a logistic curve might be appropriate, for example, if we can make electric-plug in cars as cheaply as oil powered cars, and we don’t need to change over to plug-in electric cars until the oil-powered cars wear out, so we don’t have extra costs. But in general, there is no reason to expect a logistic curve on the decline. What I said in the post linked above is

If there is not a perfect substitute for oil or fossil fuels, the situation is vastly different from what Hubbert pictured. If oil supply drops (perhaps in response to a drop in oil prices), the world economy must quickly adjust to a lower energy supply, disrupting systems of every type. The drop-off in oil as well as other fossil fuels is likely to be much faster than the symmetric Hubbert curve would suggest.

In the above discussion, Doly Garcia mentions that the distribution of energy is determined based upon Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI). These are values calculated by Dr. Charles Hall and various others with respect to the amount of energy needed to create new energy, with the idea that the types of fuels that need relatively less energy for new production will be exploited first.

The danger in using this approach is that a person can push off assumptions into variables in models without any real analysis as to whether such increases make sense in the real world. For example, hydroelectric is mostly built out in the US, and it is our largest source of renewable energy. Unless analysis is done using disaggregated data, with some tests for reasonableness, one can get very much overstated renewable energy estimates.

Financial Issues that the Model Misses

The model, when it was originally constructed in 1972, was mostly a model of amounts of industrial production and amounts of pollution, and numbers of population. It did not include much of an analysis of the economy, other than investment and depreciation, and these may have in fact been in units of production, rather than as monetary amounts. The new model has something called GDP (which Doly Garcia says she added), and something which is called “demand,” based on an estimate of the quantity of energy products which people might use, but which does not correspond to what people can actually pay for (which is likely quite different).

Recent research (Secular Cycles, by Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedof) suggests that when civilizations collapsed in the past, it was generally for financial reasons. A shortage of resources per capita led to increasing wage disparity, with falling wages for the common worker. The government was called upon to provide more and more services (such as bigger armies), leading to a need for higher taxes. The increasingly impoverished workers could not pay these higher taxes, and it was this clash between needed taxes and ability to pay these taxes that brought about the collapse. In such a situation, there was more of a tendency toward resource wars and revolutions, leading to deaths  of workers. Workers weakened by poor nutrition because of inability to afford adequate food also had higher death rates from disease.

The fact that we seem to be reaching very similar symptoms gives a hint that resource depletion may, in fact, already be playing a role in the economic problems we are seeing today. Perhaps analyses today should be examining the financial health of countries–the ability of countries to find enough jobs for potential workers, and the ability of these workers to earn adequate wages.

Labor Productivity

Randers assumes that Labor Productivity will continue to grow in the future, but that it will grow at a slower and slower rate, following a linear pattern. It seems to me that this linear pattern in optimistic, once oil starts reaching limits. Human productivity reflects a combination of  (a) human effort, (b) the amount of capital equipment people have to work with, and (c) the amount of energy products at the disposal of humans. If there is a shortfall at all in the energy products, we could see a big cutback in labor productivity. Already, countries with intermittent electricity are finding that their production drops as electricity availability drops.

Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

A strong case can be made that a shortage of one energy product will have cascading effects throughout the economy, which is closer to what the original Limits to Growth model assumed. We often talk about Liebig’s Law of the Minimum being a problem. This law says that if a particular process is missing some essential ingredient, it won’t happen. Thus, if delivery trucks don’t have oil, the effects will cascade throughout the system, causing what will look like a major recession. All types of fuel uses will drop simultaneously.

The effect of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum is difficult to model. The existence of this issue is a major reason why models assuming rapid substitutability are likely optimistic.

Conclusion

When reasonable forecasts don’t look good, it is hard to publish anything. A person doesn’t want to scare everyone to death.

We don’t know exactly what thought process went through Jorgen Randers’ head in putting together this projection. Is this truly Randers’ best estimate, based on an optimistic view of substitutability, rapid ramp up of renewables, and assumption that no unforeseen problems will come along? Or did he not understand how optimistic the forecast was, perhaps because he was unaware that one cannot count on energy declines following a logistic curve? Ugo Bardi instead talks about the Seneca Cliff, a far steeper curve.

Or did Randers pick his estimate from a range of estimates, knowing full well that it is optimistic, but feeling that this is all the American public can be told? Stranger things have happened in the past.

Club of Rome Conference 2013

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Cassandra’s Legacy on September 19-22, 2013

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Plundering the planet: an update

This is a written version of a talk I gave at the meeting of the club of Rome, in Ottawa, on Sep 19 2013.

Ladies and gentlemen, in this short talk I’ll see to give to you an update of the status of the “Plundering the Planet” book,  which, as you know, is a report for the Club of Rome. And, as many of you know, the German version of the book was published in June of this year, so that I am in the interesting situation of having published a book that I can’t read! But we are working at the English version, which should come out early next year.

Now, let me summarize for you the situation that “Plundering the Planet” describes. You surely have noticed that the title doesn’t say “developing the planet” or “improving the planet”. No, it says “plundering”, which means exactly that: We are extracting mineral resources as if we were pirates plundering the coffers of a just stormed galleon.

So, where do we stand with mining? Well, it is a long story. I can tell you that the United States Geological Survey, the USGS, lists 88 mineral commodities and that’s already a very respectable number. But it doesn’t include, for instance, fossil fuels in their several varieties (gas, coal, oil, tar sands, shales, and the like). Then, every commodity has different sources, different areas of exploitation, different grades of products; as I said it is not easy to extricate oneself out of the mass of data available.

Anyway, I can tell you that we are in what looks like a situation of stability in the sense that the production of some commodities is growing, while for others is declining but, on the average, we don’t see dramatic changes. I can tell you that right now the largest volumes produced is for construction materials: sand, cement, rock and the like. That’s also the fastest growing mineral commodity in terms of production. It is growing exponentially, showing no signs of decline. It escapes me why we are working so hard to transform this planet into a sort of spherical highway, but this is the way things stand. Among metals, let me give you a couple of examples: copper production is growing, while that of gold is declining – in general we don’t see dramatic changes for this category. If, then, we look at fossil fuels, the production of liquids (oil and other fuels), gaseous and solid (coal) fuels is weakly increasing on the average. But, of course, I have no intention to go through all the 88 commodities one by one. Let’s say, as I was noting before, that we seem to be in a relatively stable situation – no decline on the average, but no rapid growth either.

The sensation, however, is also that we stand on the edge of a cliff and there are several factors that provide you with that sensation. The first one is prices. You see, there was a trend of price reduction that had been going on for at least a decade and everyone had noticed that: prices are going down, therefore there is no depletion problem. And then, starting with 2004: bang! We hit a vertical wall; prices have gone up and show no sign of going down. On the average, the price of such commodities as metals, has increased of a factor of three and that’s not a negligible amount. Depletion does play a role in this, because it forces us to extract from lower grade resources.

If we then look at fossil fuels, you know the trend for the most important one: oil. Prices have increased of a factor of 5 in comparison to what we had about ten years ago. We are now consistently floating over 100 dollars per barrel. If you had said ten years ago that we would arrive to these levels, they you would have been considered a total madman (I remember that I said something like that at that time, but let me not go into the details.)

High prices are not the only problem with fossil fuels. There is the problem that we are succeeding in keeping production constant or increasing by means of the addition of liquids, such as biofuels, that contain less energy per unit volume than conventional oil. So, what we call “a barrel of oil” in 2013 contains less energy, on the average, than it used to contain ten years ago. And then there is the problem of net energy: depletion is forcing us to use more and more difficult resources and we need to use more energy to produce the same amount of energy. So, we are left with less energy that we can use for other purposes. And, finally, we have the fact that the economies of producing countries are growing and they tend to consume more for their internal market and export less. So, there is less oil available for non producing countries, which includes many Western countries.

So, you see, the situation can be described as very difficult. It is true that we can fight depletion and we have been doing that successfully, up to now. But it is a battle that we have won at a very high price (and only for a limited period of time). Apparently, however, we are willing to pay any price for oil, even at the cost of renouncing to a number of things that, once, were taken for granted, such as public health care, social security, public transportation, and the like.

It is a choice that we made and that we may well regret in the near future because we are not only beggaring ourselves but creating a much worse problem: a true climatic disaster. As depletion is forcing us to consume more energy in order to produce energy, the final result is that emissions are growing and they show no sign of abating.

Up to a few years ago there was a debate on whether peak oil would have saved us from ourselves. That is, if the “natural” decline of the production of fossil fuels could have caused a reduction in emissions and that would have solved the climate change problem. That debate is by now over: peak oil is not going to save us. It is arriving, but too late to stop catastrophic climate change.

In the end, the world’s economy has been following quite closely the basic scenario that “The Limits to Growth” had outlined already in 1972. In a way, it is a triumph for the Club of Rome which had sponsored a study able to predict the future with such an accuracy. And, in the same sense, it is a monumental failure because we haven’t been able to do anything to avoid the dire future we ourselves had been predicting. You know, it is like one of those nightmares where you are chased by a monster. You see the monster, you want to run away, but you can’t.

Yet, the first step to solving a problem is to understand it and the “Limits” study gave us the tools we need. And not just that: it gives us the tools needed to actually solve the problem. You see, what are trying to influence is a complex system: the world’s economy. Complex systems have ways to oppose changes: it is the result of internal feedbacks that tend to stunt attempts from outside to budge the system from its stable condition (intended in a dynamic sense). So, attempts to change the system by brute force either don’t work or they succeed in wrecking the system, which of course we don’t want.

The way to steer complex systems is to identify their “leverage points” or “critical points”: intervening on these levers it is possible to change things, it is a concept that arrives to us from Jay Forrester and Donella Meadows, respectively the originator and one of the authors of the “Limits” study. If we examine our present situation, it is clear that the leverage point, the critical point, is one: it is fossil fuels. We need fossil fuels, otherwise it wouldn’t be possible to keep alive seven billion people on this planet, but unfortunately it is also true that we are wrecking the planet by burning fossil fuels. So we need to burn fossil fuels but we cannot burn them: it would seem to be a classic “no-win” situation.

The point is, however, that we don’t need fossil fuels. What we need is something that fossil fuels provide: it is energy. And energy doesn’t necessarily need to be produced using fossil fuels. So, the way of pushing the lever in the right direction is clear: if we can’t stop and at the same time we can’t continue, we need to use fossil fuels to replace fossil fuels,

That is, we need to use fossil fuels to produce the renewable plants that will replace fossil fuels (it may also be said about nuclear energy, although of course there are big problems with that). If we decide to do that, then there is a chance to solve the problem before it is too late. With a sufficient amount of clean energy we can keep our infrastructures functioning, keep alive seven billion people, and we can also keep mining; at reduced rates, of course, because depletion remains a problem. And we can’t hope to continue our wasteful habits as we have been accustomed to, up to now; We’ll need big changes in the way we do things: we’ll have to be more efficient and way smarter. But with clean energy we can still supply the industrial system with minerals for many years and gradually adapt to a future less commodity-hungry industrial system. But we must do that fast and decisively: otherwise it will be too late.

So, this is the way I see the situation and I’d like to close this short presentation with a quote from William Stanley Jevons, who can well be said to have been the precursor of “The Limits to Growth” study. Already in his times, mid 19th century, and even before computers, he had very clear in his mind the dynamic factors of the problem and the crucial need for energy. So, here it is – he was actually speaking about coal, but I replaced the term “coal” with energy – Jevons would surely understand if he were with us today. For the problems we are facing, there are no miracles, no tricks, and no shortcuts: what we need is clean and abundant energy.

(from “The Coal Question”, by William Stanley Jevons 1866)

Energy in truth stands not beside but entirely above all other  commodities. It is the material energy of the country — the universal aid — the factor in everything we do. With energy almost any feat is possible or easy; without it we are thrown back into the laborious poverty of early times.

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Decoupling: where’s the cake?

This is an expanded version of a short talk that I gave on Sep 21 2013 at the meeting of the Club of Rome in Ottawa. I added some figures and links, as well as the citation from Herman Daly.
If we want a bigger cake, the cook simply stirs faster in a bigger bowl and cooks the empty bowl into a larger oven that, somehow, heats itself – Herman Daly

Ladies and gentlemen, we are discussing now the question of “decoupling. So, first of all, what do we mean with this term? Well, decoupling is a concept based on the definition of “energy intensity” or “efficiency;” the ratio of the total energy consumption of a country to its gross domestic product, GDP.  It has often been observed that this ratio tends to go down for many countries. In this case, more GDP is generated for a unit of energy consumed and this is supposed to mean that people are learning to be smarter and more efficient in doing their jobs. In other words, it appears that we can “decouple “our ability of producing wealth from the need of consuming energy.

This idea reminds me a lot of something that Herman Daly, the economist, said some time ago. He compared the economy to making a cake. Your efficiency as a cook is how much flour (the energy) you need to make the cake divided by the size of the cake (the GDP). Some economists, Daly said, seem to think that you can make a cake without flour, just by stirring faster – that’s “decoupling”. Without needing to arrive to this rather extreme interpretation, the idea of “energy intensity” is that you are a good cook if you can keep making bigger and bigger cakes without the need of a proportional increase in the amount of flour.

It might work that way, although I have some doubts about this definition of efficiency. But let me tell you some data about Italy that may help you understand how these concepts may be applied to a practical case. Here are the latest data for energy intensity for Italy (from knoema):

So, it seems that Italy has shown a trend of improving efficiency; we could say it has been “decoupling”. The trend seems to be slowing down, but it is still there today. So, this should be a good thing, but there is a problem. Let me show you Italy’s GDP (again from Knoema)

And you see that Italy’s GDP never recovered from the crisis of 2008. I could show you data for energy consumption in Italy but let me skip that: let me just say that it peaked in 2004 and it has been going down ever since. So, the energy intensity has been decreasing not because the GDP was growing, but because energy consumption was declining faster.

So, you see, maybe in Italy we should be happy because we are becoming more efficient but, as you surely understand, living in a country with a declining GDP is nothing to be happy about. Industries are closing, people are losing their jobs, there is no more money for things that once were taken for granted: social security, public health, public transportation and all that.

I was mentioning yesterday that the problem with Italy’s economy is linked to the increasing costs of mineral commodities. I can cite from memory that in 2012 Italy imported 66 billion euros of fossil fuels and the net balance of imports or mineral commodities was negative for around 110 billion euros. That’s surely not negligible in comparison to Italy’s GDP which is around 1500 billion euros, especially if we consider that, not many years ago, the cost for imports was much smaller. We have today an additional burden on the economy that I estimate as around 70 billion euros in comparison with 10 years ago. It is money that must come from somewhere and it can only come from the pockets of Italian citizens. We are simply becoming poorer.

There is no evidence that the increasing prices of energy have caused the Italian economy to become more efficient. I can tell you that from my personal experience. You see, as university researchers, we are supposed to help companies to become more efficient, and we try to do our best. There are many ways of doing that: renewable energy, leaner manufacturing methods, better technologies, and more. I have been working on that for a long time; at least 20 years.

The problem is that, nowadays, when I tell to the managers of a company that they should be more efficient, they ask when they’ll recover their investment. In the best cases, I can tell them that it could be  – say – in 3-4 years. Then they answer me that they can’t say for sure if they’ll still be open and producing next month; so they can’t even dream of asking money to a bank (and paying a stiff interest on it) for becoming more efficient. They won’t do anything unless the government pays, but the government doesn’t have any more that kind of money.

So, you see, this is the situation in Italy – but I think it is a very general problem for many countries that have stopped growing. We are not becoming more efficient, we are not “decoupling.” To do that, we would need resources – energy and minerals – but those resources are becoming more and more expensive. So, investing in efficiency is becoming expensive and we can’t afford it.

In the end, we are back to Herman Daly’s metaphor of the cake.  If you are a good cook you can make a big cake even with small amounts of flour. The problem is when the lack of flour forces you to make a smaller and smaller cake. Then, it is little consolation to note that you are an efficient cook; the problem is that people are asking “where’s my cake?” and they are not happy at not having it. But there is no way out: in order to make a cake you need flour and in order to keep an economy functioning you need energy. In my view,  renewable energy is a prerequisite for decoupling – if we have clean energy, we can truly decouple and we’ll even be forced to do it because not even cheap energy can re-create the minerals ores that we have destroyed. But, without energy, there will be just less and less cake for everybody.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

The shale gas bubble: burning your home in order to save it

This is a written version of a comment that I made during the discussion at the last reunion of the Club of Rome in Ottawa.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me comment on a point of this interesting discussion. We have been told, correctly, that the production of shale gas in North America is booming and also that prices are now very low; around 2 dollars per million cubic feet. It is, actually, somewhat more than that but it is still a low price in comparison to what it was some years ago; before the shale gas “revolution”

On the other hand, producing shale gas is expensive. “Fracking” is a technology that was developed long ago, but it was never used on a large scale because it was too expensive in comparison to conventional gas production. And that’s reasonable: for fracking you need sophisticated equipment, chemicals, and more. In addition, a shale gas well is rapidly exhausted, so that you must go on drilling in order to keep producing. Indeed, mining technology has this characteristic: it can be used to mobilize more resources, but it can rarely make them cheap.

So, there is a contradiction here: we are using a more expensive technology to produce a commodity whose prices, however, went down considerably. What’s happening?

I think the explanation, here, lies in financial factors. What we are seeing, indeed, is mainly a financial bubble in which investors are led to pour money into a market with the hope to make a lot of money. That’s a hope, obviously, for the future because, right now, I am sure that nobody can make a lot of money with such low gas prices – actually I think a lot of people are losing money. But this is the magic of the financial market: if everyone believes that a certain commodity will have a large value in the future, then they invest in it, and the result is overproduction.

So, we are talking of a financial bubble and we can compare the gas bubble with the housing bubble, the one that exploded in 2008. There is a difference, though: as the respective bubbles grew, home prices went up while gas prices went down. Well, there is a logic: we have very limited capability of storing the overproduction of gas – so we must burn it. In a way, we are burning gas in order to keep the gas market alive. That’s not the case with overproduction of homes: you don’t need to burn your home in order to save it; at least not so far (although sometimes rather drastic measures are needed) (*).

So, all that overproduced gas had to be sold on the market and that led to prices going down. It is what we are seeing. Now, the point is for how long the market will be willing to finance the production of something that is generating such small returns (if it is at all). Consider also that in the process we are also destroying water sources and polluting vast areas; to say nothing of the methane leaks resulting from drilling. All these are costs, too – someone will have to pay for them, sooner or later. So, I think we’ll see prices going up – it is unavoidable. But that may cut the demand and may cause also production to go down. We seem to be seeing both effects ongoing, right now: lower production and higher prices. It is still too early to see a robust trend, here; but I think this is unavoidable – the shale gas revolution may be already over.

See also this article on shale gas by Ugo Bardi

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(*) An apartment building in Italy, near Ugo Bardi’s home. Here, the owners couldn’t rent the apartments at a price that they judged good enough, so they preferred to keep them vacant. To make sure that squatters won’t come inside, they even walled up all doors and windows. They are waiting for the market to miraculously return to the high prices of once. Good luck!

Age of Limits 2013

Off the keyboard of RE

Published on the Doomstead Diner May 23, 2013

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Discuss this article at the Age of Limits Table inside the Diner

This Memorial Day Weekend, the 2nd year of the Age of Limits Conference will be held again at the 4 Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary in the Appalachian Mountains.  A couple of Diners attended last year’s conference, but since the Diner was barely out of the Womb at the time we could not organize to cover it.  Not so this year, the Diner has grown Exponentially in the intervening time, and we will have one of our most prolific Diners, Haniel, on site to cover the conference in full Diner Fashion, with Pictures, Videos and Podcast Interviews with the main speakers as well as anyone who seems somewhat interesting to Haniel.  Haniel BTW is really Harry J. Lerwill, an IT Manager currently plying his trade in Sunny California, originally from Wales in the U.K.  Here’s a short Biography for Haniel (Harry):

Harry J. Lerwill was raised in a poor mining village in the South Wales Valleys, where family values, the joys of home-grown and home-cooked meals, and a deep community spirit far outweighed the bleak prospects of life with collapsed fos-sil fuel industry: coal mining. Three decades later, he is an I.T. Manager in California, choosing to walk, rather than fall, down the far side of Hubbert’s peak, and looking forward to those same benefits as we rediscover the joys of a slower lifestyle. His first short story, “Caravan of Hopes” is published in the anthology, “After Oil: SF Visions Of A Post Petroleum Future”.

You can find Haniel’s Blog at Post Peak Local Search, though these days he is whacking the keyboard a good deal more on the Diner than on his own Blog. LOL.  For this reason also his Byline here on the Diner Blog will be Haniel rather than Harry, to match up with his posting inside the Diner.

Several of the Age of Limits presenters this year including Gail Tverberg of Our Finite World, John Michael Greer of The Archdruid Report and Guy McPherson of Nature Bats Last who we Cross Post on the Diner periodically have agreed to do Interviews and Podcasts with Haniel, which we will get up basically as quickly as Haniel can manage to find time at the conference to chat with these folks and he can manage to find a working cell phone signal to upload from that neighborhood, which overall has pretty pathetic coverage as I understand.  Because Diners are well spread out across the Globe and we work in different Time Zones, it should be possible for us to get his files and have them prepped and ready for Publication on the Diner within hours of when he uploads them.  I am on the Last Great Frontier of Alaska, so the material arrives in my email before my Bedtime.  Monsta is in Jolly Old England, so he receives it shortly before he wakes up in the morning, though knowing Monsta as I do he probably will set a wake up call early enough so he sees it close to immediately.

Marvelous Technology the Internet is, and for so long as it lasts you can’t beat it for Spreading the Word as best you can about the Oncoming Collapse of Industrialization.  Here on the Diner, the Techies and Geeks involved in this project will use every trick we know to get this information out and present it in a way that is accessible to as many folks as possible, even those who don’t like READING so much as listening to Podcasts or watching Videos.  Since we GOT this technology and it still works, might as well put it to good use, right?

This is an experiment for all of us here on the Diner, and hopefully we will get it running with few Tech glitches, but if they do occur I hope you will be patient with it.  Assuming we pull it off, next year perhaps we will try to Live Stream the conference.  At the worst here, I can transcribe and put to print what comes across in the MP3s, though I hope not to have to do that.  As EVERYBODY KNOWS, I keyboard FAST! LOL. (BTW, my FAVORITE video to use with this from Pump Up the Volume has now been BLOCKED  by the Copyright Police and I can’t use it anymore.)

So, for all of you Kollapsniks out there who like me for one reason or another could not make it to the Age of Limits Conference 2013, you can keep track of the goings on there here on the Doomstead Diner this Memorial Day weekend.  We will present some of the Interviews and Videos on the Blog, others will be presented inside the Diner on a Special Board dedicated to the conference, which I still gotta set up on the SMF software.  Should have that ready by the time Haniel’s first missives from the Front Lines of Collapse come through though.

For anyone interested in the Oncoming & Ongoing Collapse of Industrial Civilization, the Doomstead Diner is the PLACE TO BE this Memorial Day Weekend, if you cannot get your ass to the Appalachian Mountains.  Join with us here, and present your own Questions, Haniel will receive them and he can put them to the Presenters and Attendees at the conference for you.

This is the POWER of the Internet.  For so long as it lasts, let us try to use it for Good Purpose, and not let the Propagandists overwhelm us.

As for me, to date I still remain Anonymous, and still subscribe to the PRINCIPLES of Anonymous.

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RE

An Optimistic Energy/GDP Forecast to 2050, Based on Data since 1820

Off the Keyboard of Gail Tverberg
Posted originally on Our Finite World on July 26, 2012 by

We talk about the possibility of reducing fossil fuel use by 80% by 2050 and ramping up renewables at the same time, to help prevent climate change. If we did this, what would such a change mean for GDP, based on historical Energy and GDP relationships back to 1820?

Back in March, I showed you this graph in my post, World Energy Consumption since 1820 in Charts.

Figure 1. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects and together with BP Statistical Data on 1965 and subsequent. The biofuel category also includes wind, solar, and other new renewables.

Graphically, what an 80% reduction in fossil fuels would mean is shown in Figure 2, below. I have also assumed that  non-fossil fuels (some combination of wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, nuclear, and hydro) could be ramped up by 72%, so that total energy consumption “only” decreases by 50%.

Figure 2. Forecast of world energy consumption, assuming fossil fuel consumption decreases by 80% by 2050, and non fossil fuels increase so that total fuel consumption decreases by “only” 50%. Amounts before black line are actual; amounts after black lines are forecast in this scenario.

We can use actual historical population amounts plus the UN’s forecast of population growth to 2050 to convert these amounts to per capita energy equivalents, shown in Figure 3, below.

Figure 3. Forecast of per capita energy consumption, using the energy estimates in Figure 2 divided by world population estimates by the UN. Amounts before the black line are actual; after the black line are estimates.

In Figure 3, we see that per capita energy use has historically risen, or at least not declined. You may have heard about recent declines in energy consumption in Europe and the US, but these declines have been more than offset by increases in energy consumption in China, India, and the rest of the “developing” world.

With the assumptions chosen, the world per capita energy consumption in 2050 is about equal to the world per capita energy consumption in 1905.

I applied regression analysis to create what I would consider a best-case estimate of future GDP if a decrease in energy supply of the magnitude shown were to take place. The reason I consider it a best-case scenario is because it assumes that the patterns we saw on the up-slope will continue on the down-slope. For example, it assumes that financial systems will continue to operate as today, international trade will continue as in the past, and that there will not be major problems with overthrown governments or interruptions to electrical power. It also assumes that we will continue to transition to a service economy, and that there will be continued growth in energy efficiency.

Based on the regression analysis:

  • World economic growth would average a negative 0.59% per year between now and 2050, meaning that the world would be more or less in perpetual recession between now and 2050. Given past relationships, this would be especially the case for Europe and the United States.
  • Per capita GDP would drop by 42% for the world between 2010 and 2050, on average. The decrease would likely be greater in higher income countries, such as the United States and Europe, because a more equitable sharing of resources between rich and poor nations would be needed, if the poor nations are to have enough of the basics.

I personally think a voluntary worldwide reduction in fossil fuels is very unlikely, partly because voluntary changes of this sort are virtually impossible to achieve, and partly because I think we are headed toward a near-term financial crash, which is largely the result of high oil prices causing recession in oil importers (like the PIIGS).

The reason I am looking at this scenario is two-fold:

(1) Many people are talking about voluntary reduction of fossil fuels and ramping up renewables, so looking at a best case scenario (that is, major systems hold together and energy efficiency growth continues) for this plan is useful, and

(2) If  we encounter a financial crash in the near term, I expect that one result will be at least a 50% reduction in energy consumption by 2050 because of financial and trade difficulties, so this scenario in some ways gives an “upper bound” regarding the outcome of such a financial crash.

 

Close Connection Between Energy Growth, Population Growth, and Economic Growth

Historical estimates of energy consumption, population, and GDP are available for many years.  These estimates are not available for every year, but we have estimates for them for several dates going back through history. Here, I am relying primarily on population and GDP estimates of Angus Maddison, and energy estimates of Vaclav Smil, supplemented by more recent data (mostly for 2008 to 2010) by BP, the EIA, and USDA Economic Research Service.

If we compute average annual growth rates for various historical periods, we get the following indications:

Figure 4. Average annual growth rates during selected periods, selected based on data availability, for population growth, energy growth, and real GDP growth.

We can see from Figure 4 that energy growth and GDP growth seem to move in the same direction at the same time. Regression analysis (Figure 5, below) shows that they are highly correlated, with an r squared of 0.74.

Figure 5. Regression analysis of average annual percent change in world energy vs world GDP, with world energy percent change the independent variable.

Energy in some form is needed if movement is to take place, or if substances are to be heated. Since actions of these types are prerequisites for the kinds of activities that give rise to economic growth, it would seem as though the direction of causation would primarily be:

Energy growth gives rise to economic growth.

Rather than the reverse.

I used the regression equation in Figure 5 to compute how much yearly economic growth can be expected between 2010 and 2050, if energy consumption drops by 50%. (Calculation: On average, the decline is expected to be (50% ^(1/40)-1) = -1.72%. Plugging this value into the regression formula shown gives -0.59% per year, which is in the range of recession.) In the period 1820 to 2010, there has never been a data point this low, so it is not clear whether the regression line really makes sense applied to decreases in this manner.

In some sense, the difference between -1.72% and -0.59% per year (equal to 1.13%)  is the amount of gain in GDP that can be expected from increased energy efficiency and a continued switch to a service economy. While arguments can be made that we will redouble our efforts toward greater efficiency if we have less fuel, any transition to more fuel-efficient vehicles, or more efficient electricity generation, has a cost involved, and uses fuel, so may be less common, rather than more common in the future.

The issue of whether we can really continue transitioning to a service economy when much less fuel in total is available is also debatable. If people are poorer, they will cut back on discretionary items. Many goods are necessities: food, clothing, basic transportation. Services tend to be more optional–getting one’s hair cut more frequently, attending additional years at a university, or sending grandma to an Assisted Living Center. So the direction for the future may be toward a mix that includes fewer, rather than more, services, so will be more energy intensive. Thus, the 1.13% “gain” in GDP due to greater efficiency and greater use of “services” rather than “goods” may shrink or disappear altogether.

The time periods in the Figure 5 regression analysis are of different lengths, with the early periods much longer than the later ones. The effect of this is to give much greater weight to recent periods than to older periods. Also, the big savings in energy change relative to GDP change seems to come in the 1980 to 1990 and 1990 to 2000 periods, when we were aggressively moving into a service economy and were working hard to reduce oil consumption. If we exclude those time periods (Figure 6, below), the regression analysis shows a better fit (r squared = .82).

Figure 6. Regression analysis of average annual percent change in world energy vs world GDP excluding the periods 1980 to 1990 and 1990 to 2000, with world energy percent change the independent variable.

If we use the regression line in Figure 6 to estimate what the average annual growth rate would be with energy consumption contracting by -1.72% per year (on average) between 2010 and 2050, the corresponding average GDP change (on an inflation adjusted basis) would be contraction of -1.07% per year, rather than contraction of -0.59% per year, figured based on the regression analysis shown in Figure 5. Thus, the world economy would even to a greater extent be in “recession territory” between now and 2050.

Population Growth Estimates

In my calculation in the introduction, I used the UN’s projection of population of 9.3 billion people by 2050 worldwide, or an increase of 36.2% between 2010 and 2050, in reaching the estimated 42% decline in world per capita GDP by 2050. (Calculation: Forty years of GDP “growth” averaging minus 0.59% per year would produce total world GDP in 2050 of 79.0% of that in 2010. Per capita GDP is then (.790/ 1.362=.580) times 2010′s per capita income. I described this above as a 42% decline in per capita GDP, since (.580 – 1.000 = 42%).)

Population growth doesn’t look to be very great in Figure 4, since it shows annual averages, but we can see from Figure 7 (below) what a huge difference it really makes. Population now is almost seven times as large as in 1820.

Figure 7. World Population, based on Angus Maddison estimates, interpolated where necessary.

Since we have historical data, it is possible to calculate an estimate based on regression analysis of the expected population change between 2010 and 2050. If we look at population increases compared to energy growth by period (Figure 8), population growth is moderately correlated with energy growth, with an r squared of 0.55.

Figure 8. Regression analysis of population growth compared to energy growth, based on annual averages, with energy growth the independent variable.

One of the issues in forecasting population using regression analysis is that in the period since 1820, we don’t have any examples of negative energy growth for long enough periods that they actually appear in the averages used in this analysis. Even if this model fit very well (which it doesn’t), it still wouldn’t necessarily be predictive during periods of energy contraction. Using the regression equation shown in Figure 8, population growth would still be positive with an annual contraction of energy of 1.72% per year, but just barely. The indicated population growth rate would slow to 0.09% per year, or total growth of 3.8% over the 40 year period, bringing world population to 7.1 billion in 2050.

Energy per Capita

While I did not use Energy per Capita in this forecast, we can look at historical growth rates in Energy per Capita, compared to growth rates in total energy consumed by society. Here, we get a surprisingly stable relationship:

Figure 9. Comparison of average growth in total world energy consumed with the average amount consumed per person, for periods since 1820.

Figure 10 shows the corresponding regression analysis, with the highest correlation we have seen, an r squared equal to .87.

Figure 10. Regression analysis comparing total average increase in world energy with average increase in energy per capita, with average increase in world energy the independent variable.

It is interesting to note that this regression line seems to indicate that with flat (0.0% growth) in total energy, energy per capita would decrease by -0.59% per year. This seems to occur because population growth more than offsets efficiency growth, as women continue to give birth to more babies than required to survive to adulthood.

Can We Really Hold On to the Industrial Age, with Virtually No Fossil Fuel Use?

This is one of the big questions. “Renewable energy” was given the name it was, partly as a marketing tool. Nearly all of it is very dependent on the fossil fuel system. For example, wind turbines and solar PV panels require fossil fuels for their manufacture, transport, and maintenance. Even nuclear energy requires fossil fuels for its maintenance, and for decommissioning old power plants, as well as for mining, transporting, and processing uranium. Electric cars require fossil fuel inputs as well.

The renewable energy that is not fossil fuel dependent (mostly wood and other biomass that can be burned), is in danger of being used at faster than a sustainable rate, if fossil fuels are not available. There are few energy possibilities that are less fossil fuel dependent, such as solar thermal (hot water bottles left in the sun to warm) and biofuels made in small quantities for local use.  Better insulation is also a possibility. But it is doubtful these solutions can make up for the huge loss of fossil fuels.

We can talk about rationing fuel, but in practice, rationing is extremely difficult, once the amount of fuel becomes very low. How does one ration lubricating oil? Inputs for making medicines? To keep business processes working together, each part of every supply chain must have the fuel it needs. Even repairmen must have the fuel needed to get to work, for example. Trying to set up a rationing system that handles all of these issues would be nearly impossible.

GDP and Population History Back to 1 AD

Angus Maddison, in the same data set that I used back to 1820, also gives an estimate of population and GDP back to 1 AD. If we look at a history of average annual growth rates in world GDP (inflation adjusted) and in population growth, this is the pattern we see:

Figure 11. Average annual growth in GDP in energy and in population, for selected periods back to the year 1 AD.

Figure 11 shows that the use of fossil fuels since 1820 has allowed GDP to rise faster than population, for pretty much the first time. Prior to 1820, the vast majority of world GDP growth was absorbed by population growth.

If we compare the later time periods to the earlier ones, Figure 11 shows a pattern of increasing growth rates for both population and GDP.  We know that in the 1000 to 1500 and 1500 to 1820 time periods, early energy sources (peat moss, water power, wind power, animal labor) became more widespread. These changes no doubt contributed to the rising growth rates. The biggest change, however, came with the addition of fossil fuels, in the period after 1820.

Looking back, the question seems to become: How many people can the world support, at what standard of living, with a given quantity of fuel? If our per capita energy consumption drops to the level it was in 1905, can we realistically expect to have robust international trade, and will other systems hold together? While it is easy to make estimates that make the transition sound easy, when  a person looks at the historical data, making the transition to using less fuel looks quite difficult, even in a best-case scenario. One thing is clear: It is very difficult to keep up with rising world population.

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