Ugo Bardi

Collapsing Civilization and its Blogging Discontents

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on August 14, 2016

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For those of you with some passing knowledge of "Great Works" of literature, non-fiction and history, you will no doubt recognize that the title of this blog is a play on the title of a book published in 1929 by Sigmund Freud (yes, that Freud), Civilization and its Discontents.  It's one of those "must read" books they pitch out at you in college courses that track the history and development of Western Civilization.  There are many others in this list of "must reads", The Prince by Nicoli Machiavelli, City of God by St. Augustine and Adam Smith's On the Wealth of Nations to name a few.  You can get all these books in nicely bound leather volumes now published by Harvard Classics for the low, low price every day on Ebay of anywhere from around $50 for a full 23 Volume set ($2.50 a book including shipping!) on up into the hundreds, depending how good an Online Shopper you are.  If you are really clever you can get all of those and thousands more as e-books for even less money or even for free.  I love freebies on the net! 🙂

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Many if not most of these books were written in the 16th-19th Century, although the examples I gave like Freud's tome came in the early 1900s and Augustine's take on civilization came in the 5th century, around the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire.  All taken together though, they pretty much represent the way Western thought evolved after the Romans lost their hold on the world and as a new civilization in the west rose to replace it over the course of a full millenia of time.

In Freud's book, he postulates that general "unhappiness" that many people immersed in a "civilized" society comes from conflicts between the needs & desires of the individual, which get restricted and legislated by the competing needs and organization of the society as a whole.  Being more or less obsessed with sexual issues, Freud focuses down on the insatiable desire for sexual gratification Homo Saps appears to have, versus all the laws, taboos and restrictions societies generate to keep this bizness under control.  Since Freud himself was immersed in the western culture of the time, his viewpoint is obviously skewed by this, but there is still a lot of validity to the observations anyhow.  They also do generalize to other areas BESIDES sex, like money, wealth, fame etc, but since Freud was so sexually obsessed himself, it permeates his writing and you just can't get away from it.  Once you get past his sexual obsessions though, Freud has a lot of interesting observations on society, civilization and the individual.  Carl Jung had similar sexual obsession issues, but Carl was a bit more cagey about it than Siggy was in his writings. lol. This seems to be a ubiquitous problem amongst people who gravitate toward Psycholgy as a profession.  I don't think I ever talked with any psychologist who was not absolutely consumed with sex as a motivator.

OK, so that gives us a little history and background to get started with this discussion, which is focused on a more narrow slice of the civilzation pie through history, specifically what is going on RIGHT NOW in the world at large and then also in our own little slice of a slice of history, the collapse blogosphere.  By no means of course am I Sigmund Freud, and by no means do I expect this blog to make it onto the Harvard Classics reading list, but on the upside here it is all available for FREE on the internet! So, since nobody except me has to pay for this, let me get rolling here!

On the gross scale of society in general, discontent is manifest all over the place these days.  Terrorists are obviously not very content people and neither are crazed Psychos and Lone Shooters hitting various Malls, Bars, Restaurants and College Campuses either.  There simply is NO WAY blowing away dozens or hundreds of innocent people demonstrates much contentment, if anyone can make a case for that one I am all ears.  The Black Underclass is none too content these days in the FSoA, despite the fact they mostly are still getting fed on the SNAP Card program issued by JP Morgan Chase. See Ferguson, see Baltimore, see BLM for a snaphot of the discontent in this group.   The Muslim underclass in Europe is none too happy either, nor are the longer term paleface residents of this neighborhood getting inundated each day with still more "rapefugees".  Muslim women in France are discontented because "Burqinis" have been outlawed on the beaches of Cannes.

Burqini                      vs                            Bikini

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You may indicate your preference on Female Beachwear in the comments

Our POTUS Candidates here in the FSoA don't seem too content with ANYTHING, even though they have absolutely ZERO in the way of reasonable ideas that could do a damn thing to assuage this discontent.  Julian Assange obviously is not very content trapped inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the last 4 years, although granted this is likely a much better prison to be caged in than GITMO.  About the only people I can think of who might be somewhat content these days are folks like Lloyd Blankfein, doing God's Work as he runs Goldman Sachs or Elon Musk as he borrows endless amounts of funny money on the taxpayer dime to build space rocket toys and gigafactories in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Discontent is also on display every day in the collapse blogosphere as factions fight it out, Extinction vs Renewables, Economic vs Climate Collapse, Hyperinflation vs Deflation, Nuke Pro vs Con, Rich vs Poor…there's no shortage of disagreements.  There is however a serious shortage of workable solutions to all these problems, thus the discontent.

On top of this problem is that by now everyone who writes on these topics has carved out his or her own space and acquired his or her ow commentariat, which tends to be a reflection of whatever the spin of the main blogger is for the site.  Fed up with contrarians and trolls taking opposing viewpoints on their websites, these viewpoints are simply disappeared by the site owner, and eventually all opposing viewpoints are squashed out as these folks quit in frustration or just get outright banned.

By no means is the Diner immune to the problem here either.  I've had at least a half dozen Diners quit over the years because they were discontent that their spin was not well received, and about 4 I have had to silence because of the constant stream of insults and ad hom argument coming off their keyboards.  At a certain point "Free Speech" gets squashed simply because people can't be polite to each other when they are so discontented.  They don't feel other people are paying enough attention to their spin on the "truth", and so they begin to lash out and good clean debate gets flushed down the toilet.

If it weren't for the fact I run the Doomstead Diner, I would be effectively cut off from just about every major blog commentariat concerned with issues of collapse.  Dmitry Orlov, Guy McPherson, Gail Tverberg, John Michael Greer & Jim Kunstler all eliminate my posting nowadays.  Ugo Bardi still approves my posts, but it's not a very active commentariat over there on Cassandra's Legacy.  I can still post on r/collapse, but that is more of a news ticker than a blog.

My discontent with this situation is that the whole collapse blogosphere has become extremely polarized.  When I originally began the Diner my hope was to unify all the people writing about collapse, so that together we might have a stronger voice and get more attention than by each of us playing in our own little sandboxes.  The eact opposite has occured, and now each little sandbox has its own insular Group Think and the divisions between them greater than ever. I doubt you could bring Dmitry Orlov and Guy McPherson to the same conference and not have a fistfight break out. lol.

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The biggest problem is with the blogs pitching the spin that the situation is Hopeless, both the ecosphere and the Human Race are irrevocably Doomed.  First off, this provides a fabulous excuse for inaction which then turns the idea into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The second major problem is the commentariat of these blogs provides a home for fanatics who reinforce each other, while at the same time flaming anyone who does not toe the party line.  You see this most clearly on Nature Bats Last and Our Finite World.  Forget about participating in those commentariats, I don't even bother reading them anymore because you know precisely what everyone is going to say in every thread.

So, in ths Sea of Discontent what is the future?  It looks like a One-to-the-Many break up, much like we see Europe breaking up these days on the geopolitical level.  The heyday of what cooperation there was between the collapse bloggers probably came somewhere between 2006 and 2014 or so, and we have now passed Peak Cooperation and are moving toward Peak Isolation.  Everyone has their own part of the Collapse Elephant they are examining and coming up with different descriptions of what the Elephant actually looks like.  About the best the reader can do is surf between the sites and try to put together his or her own composite picture of the Elephant.  If you are the chatty type, pick your favorite site with the spin most closely matching your own, believe whatever it is that makes you happy, and chat with other True Believers rather than be discontented all the time.

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Overly Simple Energy-Economy Models Give Misleading Answers

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Published on the Our Finite World on July 25, 2016

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Does it make a difference if our models of energy and the economy are overly simple? I would argue that it depends on what we plan to use the models for. If all we want to do is determine approximately how many years in the future energy supplies will turn down, then a simple model is perfectly sufficient. But if we want to determine how we might change the current economy to make it hold up better against the forces it is facing, we need a more complex model that explains the economy’s real problems as we reach limits. We need a model that tells the correct shape of the curve, as well as the approximate timing. I suggest reading my recent post regarding complexity and its effects as background for this post.

The common lay interpretation of simple models is that running out of energy supplies can be expected to be our overwhelming problem in the future. A more complete model suggests that our problems as we approach limits are likely to be quite different: growing wealth disparity, inability to maintain complex infrastructure, and growing debt problems. Energy supplies that look easy to extract will not, in fact, be available because prices will not rise high enough. These problems can be expected to change the shape of the curve of future energy consumption to one with a fairly fast decline, such as the Seneca Cliff.

Figure 5. Seneca Cliff by Ugo Bardi

 

 

Figure 1. Seneca Cliff by Ugo Bardi. This curve is based on writings in the 1st century C.E. by Lucius Anneaus Seneca, “It would be of some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”

It is not intuitive, but complexity-related issues create a situation in which economies need to grow, or they will collapse. See my post, The Physics of Energy and the Economy. The popular idea that we extract 50% of a resource before peak, and 50% after peak will be found not to be true–much of the second 50% will stay in the ground.

Some readers may be interested in a new article that I assisted in writing, relating to the role that price plays in the quantity of oil extracted. The article is called, “An oil production forecast for China considering economic limits.”  This article has been published by the academic journal Energy, and is available as a free download for 50 days.

A Simple Model Works If All We Are Trying to Do Is Make a Rough Estimate of the Date of the Downturn

Are we like the team that Dennis Meadows headed up in the early 1970s, simply trying to make a ballpark estimate of when natural resource limits are going to become a severe problem? (This analysis is the basis of the 1972 book, Limits to Growth.) Or are we like M. King Hubbert, back in 1956, trying to warn citizens about energy problems in the fairly distant future? In the case of Hubbert and Meadows, all that was needed was a fairly simple model, telling roughly when the problem might hit, but not necessarily in what way.

I have criticized Hubbert’s model for being deficient in some major respects: leaving out complexity, leaving out entropy, and assuming a nearly unlimited supply of an alternate fuel. Perhaps these issues were not important, however, if all he was trying to do was warn people of a distant future issue.

Slide 29 from my complexity presentation at the Biophysical Economics Conference. Hubbert's model omitted complexity, entropy.

 

 

Figure 2. Slide 29 from my complexity presentation at the 2016 Biophysical Economics Conference. Hubbert’s model omitted complexity, entropy.

The model underlying the 1972 book, Limits to Growth, was also quite simple. Ugo Bardi has used this image by Magne Myrtveit to represent how the 1972 Limits to Growth model worked. It does not include a financial system or debt.

Figure 2. Image by Magne Myrtveit to summarize the main elements of the world model for Limits to Growth.

 

 

Figure 3. Image by Magne Myrtveit to summarize the main elements of the world model for Limits to Growth.

As such, this model does not reflect the major elements of complexity, which I summarized as follows in a recent post:

Figure 3. Slide 7 from my recent complexity presentation. Basic Elements of Complexity

 

 

Figure 4. Slide 7 from my recent complexity presentation. Basic Elements of Complexity

Thus, the model does not forecast the problems that can be expected to occur with increasingly hierarchical behavior, including the problems that people who are at the bottom of the hierarchy can be expected to have getting enough resources for basic functions of life. These issues are important, because people at the bottom of the hierarchy are very numerous. They need to be fed, clothed, housed, and have transportation to work. All of these things take natural resources, including energy products. If the benefit of available natural resources doesn’t make it all of the way down to the bottom of the hierarchy, death rates spike. This is one of the forces that can be expected to change the shape of the curve.

Slide 17. People at the bottom of a hierarchy are most vulnerable.

 

 

Figure 5. Slide 17 from my complexity presentation. People at the bottom of a hierarchy are most vulnerable.

Dennis Meadows does not claim that the model that his group put together will show anything useful about the “shape” of the collapse. In fact, in an article about a year ago, I cut off part of the well-known Limits to Growth forecast to eliminate the part that is likely not particularly helpful–it just shows what their simple model indicates.

Figure 4. Limits to Growth forecast, truncated shortly after production turns down, since modeled amounts are unreliable after that date.

 

 

Figure 6. Limits to Growth forecast, truncated shortly after production turns down, since modeled amounts are unreliable after that date.

Anthropologist Joseph Tainter’s View of Collapse

If we read what anthropologist Joseph Tainter says in his book, the Collapse of Complex Societies, we find that he doesn’t consider “running out” to be the cause of collapse. Instead, he sees growing complexity to be what leads an economy to collapse. These are two of the points Tainter makes regarding complexity:

  • Increased complexity carries with it increased energy costs per capita. In other words, increased complexity is itself a user of energy, and thus tends to drain away energy availability from other uses. Thus, in my opinion, complexity will make the system fail more quickly than the Hubbert model would suggest–the complexity part of the system will use part of the energy that the Hubbert model assumes will be available to fund the slow down slope of the economy.
  • Increased investment in complexity tends to reach declining marginal returns. For example, the first expressway added to a highway system adds more value than the 1000th one. Eventually, if countries are trying to create economic growth where little exists, governments may use debt to fund the building of expressways with practically no expected users, simply to add job opportunities.

Ugo Bardi quotes Joseph Tainter as saying,

“In ancient societies that I studied, for example the Roman Empire, the great problem that these economies faced was that they eventually would incur very high costs just to maintain the status quo. They would need to invest very high amounts to solve problems that didn’t yield a net positive return; instead these investments simply allowed the economies to maintain the level that they were at. This increasing cost of maintaining the status quo decreased the net benefit of being a complex society.” 

View of Collapse Based on a Modeling Approach 

In the book Secular Cycles, Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedov approach the problem of what causes civilizations to collapse using a modeling approach. According to their analysis, the kinds of things that caused civilizations to collapse very much corresponded to the symptoms of increasing complexity:

  • Problems tended to develop when the population in an area outgrew its resource base–either the population rose too high, or the resources become degraded, or both. The leaders would adopt a plan, which we might consider adding “complexity,” to solve the problems. Such a plan might include raising taxes to be able to afford a bigger army, and using that army to invade another territory. Or it might involve a plan to build irrigation, so that the current land becomes more productive. A modern approach might be to increase tourism, so that the wealth obtained from tourists can be traded for needed resources such as food.
  • According to Turchin and Nefedov, one problem that arises with the adoption of the new plan is increased wealth disparity. More leaders are needed for the new complex solutions. At the same time, it becomes more difficult for those at the bottom of the hierarchy (such as new workers) to obtain adequate wages. Part of the problem is the underlying problem of too many people for the resources. Thus, for example, there is little need for new farmers, because there are already as many farmers as the land can accommodate. Another part of the problem is that an increasing share of the output of the economy is taken by people in the upper levels of the hierarchy, leaving little for low-ranking workers.
  • Food and other commodity prices may temporarily spike, but there is a limit to what workers can pay. Workers can only afford more, if they take on more debt.
  • Debt levels tend to rise, both because of the failing ability of workers to pay for their basic needs, and because governments need funding for their major projects.
  • Systems tend to collapse because governments cannot tax the workers sufficiently to meet their expanded needs. Also, low-ranking workers become susceptible to epidemics because they cannot obtain adequate nutrition with low wages and high taxes.

How Do We Fix an Overly Simple Model? 

The image shown in Figure 3 in some sense shows only one “layer” of our problem. There is also a financial layer to the system, which includes both debt levels and price levels. There are also some refinements needed to the system regarding who gets the benefit of energy products: Is it the elite of the system, or is it the non-elite workers? If the economy is not growing very quickly, one major problem is that the workers at the bottom of the hierarchy tend to get squeezed out.

Figure 7. Authors' depiction of changes to workers share of output of economy, as costs keep rising for other portions of the economy keep rising.

 

 

Figure 7. Author’s depiction of changes to non-elite workers’ share of the output of economy, as costs for other portions of the economy keep rising. The relative sizes of the various elements may not be correct; the purpose of this chart is to show a general idea, not actual amounts.

Briefly, we have several dynamics at work, pushing the economy toward collapse, rather than the resources simply “running out”:

  1. Debt tends to rise much faster than GDP, especially as increasing quantities of capital goods are added. Added debt tends to reach diminishing returns. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult to repay debt with interest, creating a major problem for the financial system.
  2. The cost of resource extraction tends to rise because of diminishing returns. Wages, especially of non-elite workers, do not rise nearly as quickly. These workers cannot afford to buy nearly as many homes, cars, motorcycles, and other consumer goods. Without this demand for consumer goods made with natural resources, prices of many commodities are likely to fall below the cost of production. Or prices may rise, and then fall back, causing serious debt default problems for commodity producers.
  3. Because of growing complexity of the system, the “overhead” of the system (including educational costs, medical costs, the wages of managers, the cost of government programs, and the cost of resource extraction) tends to increase, leaving less for wages for the many non-elite workers of the world. With lower wages, the non-elite workers can afford less. This dynamic tends to push the system toward collapse as well.

The following is a list of variables that might be added to the overly simple model.

  • Debt. As capital goods are added to work around resource shortages, debt levels will tend to rise quickly, because workers need to be paid before the benefit of capital goods can be obtained. Debt levels also rise for other reasons, such as government spending without corresponding tax revenue, and funding of purchases deemed to have lasting value, such as college educations and investments in research and development.
  • Interest rates are the major approach that politicians have at their disposal to try to influence debt levels. In general, the lower the interest rate, the cheaper it is to buy cars, homes, and factories on credit. Thus, the amount of debt can be expected to rise as politicians lower interest rates.
  • Wages of non-elite workers. Non-elite workers play a dual role: (a) they are the primary creators of the goods and services of the system, and (b) they are the primary buyers of the goods that are made using commodities, such as food, clothing, homes, and transportation services. Thus, their wages tend to determine whether the economy can grow. In general, we would expect wages of workers to rise, if their wages are being supplemented by more and more fossil fuel energy in the form of bigger and better machinery to help the workers produce more goods and services. If the wages of non-elite workers fall too low, we would expect the economy to slow, and commodity prices to fall. To some extent, rising debt (through manipulation of interest rates, or through government spending in excess of tax revenue) can be used to supplement the wages of non-elite workers to allow the economy to continue to grow, even if wages are stagnating.
  • The affordable price level for commodities in the aggregate depends primarily on the wage level of non-elite workers and debt levels. A particular commodity may increase in price, but in the aggregate, the total “package” of costs represented by commodity prices must remain affordable, considering wage and debt levels of workers. If wage levels of non-elite workers are rising, the overall affordable price level of commodities will tend to rise. But if wage levels of non-elite workers are falling, or if debt levels are falling, affordable price levels are likely to fall.
  • The required price level for commodity production in the aggregate to continue to grow at the previous rate. This required price level will depend on many considerations, including: (a) the rising cost of extraction, considering the impacts of depletion, (b) wage levels, (c) tax requirements, and (d) other needs, including payment of interest and dividends, and required funding for new development. Clearly, if the affordable price level falls below the required price level for very long, we can eventually expect total commodity production to start falling, and the economy to contract.
  • The energy needs of the “overhead” of the system. Increasing complexity tends to make the overhead of the system grow much faster than the system as a whole. Energy products of various kinds are needed to support this growing overhead, leaving less for other purposes, such as to increasingly leverage the labor of human workers. Some examples of growing overhead of the system include energy needed (a) to maintain the electric grid, internet, roads, and pipeline systems; (b) to fight growing pollution problems; (c) to support education, healthcare, and financial systems needed to maintain an increasingly complex society; (d) to meet government promises for pensions and unemployment insurance; and (e) to cover the rising energy cost of extracting energy products, water, and metals.
  • Available energy supply based on momentum and previous price levels. A few examples explain this issue. If a large oil project was started ten years ago, it likely will be completed, whether or not the oil is needed now. Oil exporters will continue to pump oil, as long as the price available in the marketplace is above their cost of production, because their governments need at least some tax revenue to keep their economies from collapsing. Wind turbines and solar panels that have been built will continue to produce electricity at irregular intervals, whether or not the electric grid actually needs this electricity. Renewable energy mandates will continue to add more wind turbines and solar panels to the electric grid, whether or not this electricity is needed.
  • Energy that can actually be added to the system, based on what workers can afford, considering wages and debt levels [demand based energy]. Because matching of supply and demand takes place on a short-term basis (minute by minute for electricity), in theory we need a matrix of quantities of commodities of various types that can be purchased at various price levels for short time-periods, given actual wage and debt levels. For example, if more electricity is dumped on the electric grid than is needed, how much impact will a drop in prices have on the quantity of electricity that consumers are willing to buy? The intersections of supply and demand “curves” will determine both the price and quantity of energy added to the system.

The output of the model would be three different estimates of whether we are reaching collapse:

  1. An analysis of whether repayment of debt with interest is reaching limits.
  2. An analysis of whether affordable commodity prices are falling below the level needed for commodity consumption to grow, likely leading to falling future commodity production.
  3. An analysis of whether net energy per capita is falling. This would reflect a calculation of the following amount over time: Net energy per capita calculationIf net energy per capita is falling, the ability to leverage human labor is falling as well. Thus productivity of human workers is likely to stop growing, or perhaps decline. The total amount of goods and services produced is likely to plateau or fall, leading to stagnating or declining economic growth.

The important thing about the added pieces to this model is that they emphasize the one-way nature of the system. The economy needs to grow, or it collapses. The price of energy products cannot rise much at all, because wages of workers don’t rise correspondingly. This means that any energy substitute must be very cheap. The system needs to keep adding debt, especially when capital goods are added. The benefit of this debt reaches diminishing returns. The combination of these diminishing returns with respect to investments made with debt, and the interest that needs to be paid on debt, means that it is very difficult for energy products based on capital goods to “save” the system.

Complexity Adds Unforeseen Problems

One issue that people working solely in the energy sector may not notice is that our current system for setting market-based electricity prices is not working very well, with the addition of feed-in tariffs and other subsidy programs. There is evidence that subsidizing renewable electricity tends to lead to falling wholesale electricity prices. In a sense, if we subsidize electricity prices for one type of electricity producer, we find it also necessary to subsidize electricity prices for other types of electricity producers. (Also in California.)

Figure 8. Residential Electricity Prices in Europe, together with Germany spot wholesale price, from http://pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/references/pfb_towards_50_pct_wind_in_denmark_2016_03_30.pdf

 

 

Figure 8. Residential Electricity Prices in Europe, together with Germany spot wholesale price, from http://pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/references/pfb_towards_50_pct_wind_in_denmark_2016_03_30.pdf

Inadequate prices for electricity producers and a need for ever-rising subsidies for electricity production could, by themselves, cause the system to fail. In a sense, this pricing problem is a complexity-related outcome that economists have overlooked. Their models are also too simple!

Conclusion

It is easy to rely on too-simple models. Perhaps the biggest issue that is missed is that energy prices can’t rise endlessly. Because of this, a large share of natural resources, including oil and other energy products, will be left in the ground. Furthermore, because prices do not rise very high, energy products that are expensive to produce can’t be expected to work, either, no matter how they are disguised. Substitutes that cannot be inexpensively integrated into the electric grid are not likely to work either.

I talked about low-ranking workers being a vulnerable part of the system. It is clear from Joseph Tainter’s comments that another vulnerable part of our current system is the various “connectors” that allow us to have our modern economy. These include the electric grid, roads and bridges, the pipeline systems, the water and sewer systems, the internet, the financial system, and the international trade system. Even government organizations such as the Eurozone might be considered vulnerable connecting systems. The energy cost of maintaining these systems can be expected to continue to rise. Rising costs for these systems are part of what makes it difficult to maintain our current economic system.

The focus on “running out” has led to a focus on finding ways to extend our energy supply with small quantities of high-priced alternatives. This approach doesn’t really get us very far. What we need to keep the economy from collapsing is a growing supply of cheap-to-produce energy and other natural resources. Ideally, these new resources should require little debt, and not cause pollution problems. These requirements are exceedingly difficult to meet in a finite world.

The Next 10 Billion Years: Part II

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

Published on Cassandra’s Legacy on September 14, 2013

red-giant-sun

Discuss at the Collapse Cafe Table inside the Diner

Thou must now at last perceive of what universe thou art a part, and of what administrator of the universe thy existence is an efflux, and that a limit of time is fixed for thee, which if thou dost not use for clearing away the clouds from thy mind, it will go and thou wilt go, and it will never return. (Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations”)

 

You can’t understand a man’s actions if you don’t take into account that what he does on a specific day is the result of events that took place during his whole lifetime and that will result in more events in the future. It is the same for a whole planet, although the lifespan of the Earth is much longer than that of a single human being. If we want to understand what’s happening today on our planet, we must try to understand how it has changed over the eons to become what it his now and what it may become in the future.

That of looking at the whole span of the history of a whole planet or even of the whole universe has a special flavor; even though none of us will ever witness the ultimate end of our biosphere, still the idea that we can imagine it is a source of great fascination. And it is not something new: it is a whole field of human thought that we can call “eschatology”, from the Greek world “eskhatos”, meaning “the last”.

In the history of people musing on the ultimate end of everything, we can see two lines of thought that we might dub, purely for convenience, the “Western” and the “Eastern” views. The Western view sees the universe, humans and everything, as having a finite and limited lifespan, the Eastern view sees the same concepts as an infinite series of cycles. The single cycle view is typical of thinkers steeped in the Greek-Latin tradition and of the monotheistic religions that arose around the Mediterranean area. In its basic form, the idea is that God created the world and that the world will have an end (apocalypse, from a Greek world meaning “revelation”). Human beings are supposed to live a one-time trial. You succeed or you don’t, but God doesn’t give you another chance. East-Asian thought seems to have been based on a different viewpoint: Buddhism sees the soul as forever reincarnating in new bodies. There is no end and no beginning to this endless cyucle that the wise may, however, be able to interrupt.

It is hard to say what factors created these two different schools of thought. One thing we know, however, is that today Western science can be seen as continuing the ancient tradition, that of the single cycle. For what we know, the universe appeared in a specific event called the “Big Bang” and it is destined to end, according to the most recent data, as a cold and dreary place made out of matter scattered over an immensely large volume. Back in  1956, Isaac Asimov was reasoning within this tradition when he wrote a story titled “The Last Question”, where he imagined humankind engaged in a forever quest for how to reverse the cycle and rejuvenate the universe. But Asimov was also thinking outside the Western box when he proposed at the end that the question could be answered, although not by humans themselves but by the computer they had created. As there is nobody to tell the answer to, the computer proceeds to carry on the answer in practice by creating light and restarting the universe.

I must have read this old story by Isaac Asimov when I was, maybe, 15 years old and it inspired a post that I wrote on “Cassandra’s Legacy” with the title “The Next Ten Billion Years” for which I borrowed from Asimov the same finale. This post of mine had a certain success and, recently, John Michael Greer (“The Archdruid”) commented on it and produced his own version of the next ten billion years as he sees them. It is by all means a fascinating piece but different from mine in a deep philosophical sense. True to his role of druid, Greer explicitly rejects the Christian “one-cycle” tradition and leans on the multiple cycle view of the universe, for instance saying that, ten million years from now,

No fewer than 8,639 global civilizations have risen and fallen over the last ten million years, each with its own unique sciences, technologies, arts, literatures, philosophies, and ways of thinking about the cosmos.

and then he goes on to describe several non-human civilizations arising and disappearing in the span of several hundred million years, including one derived from raccoons, one from ravens, and one from freshwater clams. There is no evidence in Greer’s vision of the entropy caused winding down of the universe. The atoms that once formed the Earth and its inhabitants are flung away in space by the last convulsion of the Sun and end up forming another star and a number of planets. The cycle restarts.

As I said, we are discussing philosophical matters and we’ll never find an agreement on what the Earth will look like – say – ten million years from now. So, I’ll just comment here on how science gives us very strong evidence for a “one-cycle” Earth. With that, I don’t mean just an apocalyptic end of our planet when it will be finally consumed by an expanding Sun. No, the Earth has changed all the time over its four billion years of existence, it keeps changing, and the changes are profound and irreversible.

What we call the “biosphere” has been part of this great, long lasting cycle. As all things that are born and are destined to die, the biosphere must peak and decline. Actually, it has peaked and it is declining. The biosphere productivity over the past 3.5 billion years looks a little like a gigantic Hubbert peak according to a paper by Franck, Bounama and Von Bloh,

In a previous post, I wrote about this graph that:

As you see, the Earth’s biosphere, Gaia, peaked with the start of the Phanerozoic age, about 500 million years ago. Afterwards, it declined. Of course, there is plenty of uncertainty in this kind of studies, but they are based on known facts about planetary homeostasis. We know that the sun’s irradiation keeps increasing with time at a rate of around 1% every 100 million years. That should have resulted in the planet warming up, gradually, but the homeostatic mechanisms of the ecosphere have maintained approximately constant temperatures by gradually lowering the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. However, there is a limit: the CO2 concentration cannot go below the minimum level that makes photosynthesis possible; otherwise Gaia “dies”.

So, at some moment in the future, planetary homeostasis will cease to be able to stabilize temperatures. When we reach that point, temperatures will start rising and, eventually, the earth will be sterilized. According to Franck et al., in about 600 million years from now the earth will have become too hot for multicellular creatures to exist.

Of course, the extinction of the biosphere is not for tomorrow or, at least, the calculations say so. But it is like estimating one’s lifespan from statistical data. Theoretically, the homeostatic mechanisms that operate your body could keep you alive until reach a respectable age; sure, but homoeostasis is never perfect. For instance, there are mechanisms in your body designed to reverse the effects of traumas. You may expect these mechanisms to work well if you are young but, if you are hit by a truck at full speed, well, you end up on the wrong side of the life expectancy statistics.

Similar considerations apply to Gaia. Theoretically, the planetary homeostatic mechanisms should keep Gaia alive for hundreds of millions of years, but what about major perturbations, some planetary equivalent of being hit by a truck? Would Gaia be able to recover from a human caused runaway greenhouse catastrophe?

We cannot say for sure. What we can say is that we are living in a period called the “sixth extinction,” similar to other major past extinctions. In most cases, these extinctions appear to have been caused by an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The sixth extinction, too, is taking place in correspondence to a rise of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that may never have happened so fast in the history of the planet. This rapid rise is also taking place under a solar irradiation that has never been so high as it is today. We can’t rule out that the sixth extinction will be the last one.

So, as I said at the beginning, the present and the future of a single person can be understood from his or her past, and it is the same for the Earth (aka, “Gaia”). Science is telling us very, very strongly that the present moment is unique in the history of the planet: the future will not be like the past. It is true that, if we fail to survive as a civilization, there will be probably space for more human civilizations. And, if we go extinct, there may be space for the evolution of new sentient species. But all that will happen in different conditions and along a downward slope.

New human civilizations developing within the few hundred thousand years will not have the coal and the fossil hydrocarbons that we have consumed today. In a few hundred million years from now, new sentient species might find oil that has reformed in shallow anoxic seas – but they won’t have coal, the result of very special conditions occurring only once (for what we know) on this planet. And they will live in a planet with a much reduced biological productivity in comparison to ours. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to develop spaceflight – the future is full of opportunities, but it is never like the past.

In the end, these considerations give us just a hint of the sheer immensity of the future and of how difficult is the human attempt to conceive it. For what we know, we are a small ripple on the top of a gigantic tsunami wave that’s crashing on some remote shore. As a ripple disappears, new ones appear, but the wave keeps rolling onward to its inevitable end. And yet, we know so little: there may be other shores, other waves, the universal sea may never stop to roll, and light and darkness may exchange places in a never ending dance. So, just as Asimov concluded his story, someday, the words “Let there be light” may be said again. And there will be light again.

all-pervading,
ever moving.
So it can act as the mother
of all things.
Not knowing its real name
we only call it the Way

If it must be named, 
let its name be Great.
Greatness means going on,
going on means going far,
and going far means turning back

(Tao Te King, as reported by Ursula K. Le Guin)

Collapse Cafe Vidcast: 10 Billion Year Scenario Discussion

Off the cameras and microphones of Ugo Bardi and RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on September 11, 2013

red-giant-sun

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In the first “Official” Vidcast of the Collapse Cafe today on the Doomstead Diner, Ugo Bardi and I got together to discuss some of the issues brought up originally in an article he wrote on his blog Cassandra’s Legacy last year, and which John Michael Greer of The Archdruid Report added his own thoughts and scenarios for in his blog last week.  I looked at the ideas both authors put forth in the last Sunday Brunch article on the Diner The Next 10 Billion Years, which brought up many issues worth discussing in greater detail.

We did air one Test Vidcast before this basically to get familiar with the Google Hangouts software so that we can do a decent job with the production, which is not so easy really.  You are subject to problems along the way since these things consume gobs of bandwidth, so you have to have a very strong and consistent net connection to keep them running.  Midway through this Vidcast with Ugo, we experienced an outtage, but fortunately the connection was reestablished before I stopped the recording, and we were able to complete the vidcast otherwise free of technical gliches, except for Ugo’s Dog.  LOL.

The Vidcasting has some advantages over a straight Podcast of just Audio, it is more Information Rich in the sense you can see facial expression and body language, which communicates quite a bit beyond just the words.  It is also possible to drop on other visual material while recording, though we did not try that in this Vidcast.  It also is a better format for several people to be chatting at once, since you don’t get confused as to who is speaking.  The main limitations are first that you can’t stop and start it and editing it would be difficult.  So you pretty much have to do it “live”.  The Audio Quality also is not as good as a podcast.  So one does not replace the other, you merely use them for different things.

Far as the content of the Vidcast is concerned, many unanswered questions remained from both Ugo’s original blog and JMG’s more recent one, in particular the question of just what motivates a person to write a scenario for such a long timeline?  We have plenty of problems to solve just in the next decade and century which MAYBE we can have some effect on, why concern yourself with Millenia and Billenia length issues we cannot affect, and moreover are pretty much inescapable due to constraints of Astrophysics?

Then there are questions of the accuracy of the Science involved, even in a Science Fiction/Fantasy treatment of such ideas to make them plausible they need to at least pay passing attention to known Scientific principals and limitations.  Is it reasonable to believe that the Earth can duplicate the conditions which allowed for millions of years of energy collection in microorganisms to replenish fossil fuel stores over the next 100-200M years?  Is it reasonable to believe Sentience will recur in another Species after Homo Sapiens goes the way of the Dinosaur?  Is it reasonable to expect we can recreate another Agricultural Civilization of Homo Sapiens after this one crashes?

These are a few of the questions raised in John Michael Greer’s and Ugo’s scenarios we look at in this Vidcast.  Does it make any real difference as far as the near term problems we face?  Probably not.  Still, there are philosophical questions of Existence and its Meaning which occupy the mind of the Doomer that are always out there, and for Ugo and myself, it is something worth chatting about.  Maybe it will be worth listening to for you.

RE

The Next 10 Billion Years

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on September 8, 2013

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This week on his Blog The Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer took a look at the REAL long term outcomes of Collapse, on a 10 Billion Year long scale for Homo Sapiens, which basically takes us right to the end of the Working Lifespan of the Sun, the main source of Energy driving forward all life on Earth, not just Humanity.

This is not the first set of such speculations, in fact it is a direct response to a similarly titled article by Ugo Bardi on his Blog Cassandra’s Legacy last year.  Ugo in fact did a bit more in his treatment of the issue, first he chronicled the LAST 10B years up to today, and then presented 2 possible long term scenarios, one more upbeat and hopeful, the other a bit more doomy and gloomy.

The question is, WHY are both these Collapse Bloggers concerning themselves with such long term outcomes anyhow?  Generally speaking at best most people are only concerned with what will occur to them in what remains of their lifetimes, perhaps at most extending into the lifetime of their Children &  Grandchildren.  After that, what does it really MATTER how long Homo Sapiens survives here?  EVENTUALLY we will die out under almost any scenario you care to dream up.  So how different is it for YOU if Extinction comes in 100, 1000 or 1,000,000 Years? Unless you believe in Reincarnation and that said Reincarnation can only occur on THIS planet, in THIS corner of the Universe, it doesn’t matter at all when Homo Sapiens goes the way of the Dinosaur here.

http://spiff.rit.edu/classes/phys240/lectures/future/redgiant.jpg

The lengths of time being bandied about in both Ugo and JMGs posts are quite enormous, Geological Time Scales really.  In fact we have nowhere near 10B years possible for continuation of Homo Sapiens on this Planet, the Sun goes Red Giant and consumes the Earth long before that, and even long before THAT as the Sun burns up its fuel supply of Hydrogen and starts burning more Helium, it will get hot enough to boil off all the oceans on the planet and make it quite unlivable for ALL carbon based life forms we know, INCLUDING my favorite Extremophiles, the Tardigrades.

The Main Sequence
The Sun, like most stars in the Universe, is on the main sequence stage of life. Every second, 600 million tons of hydrogen are converted into helium in the Sun’s core, generating 4 x 1027 Watts of energy. For the Sun, this process got going 4.6 billion years ago, and it has been generating energy this way every since. But there isn’t an unlimited amount of hydrogen in the core of the Sun. In fact, it’s only got another 7 billion years worth of fuel left.

As the Sun creates more helium at its core, the Sun burns a little more hydrogen. This causes the output of the Sun to go up. You won’t notice it now, but in about a billion years, the output from the Sun will have increased by 10%.

A more luminous Sun is bad news for Earth.

In 1.1 billion years from now, the Sun will be 10% brighter than it is today. This extra energy will cause a moist greenhouse effect in the beginning, similar to the runaway warming on Venus. But then the Earth’s atmosphere will dry out as the water vapor is lost to space, never to return.

In 3.5 billion years from now, the Sun will be 40% brighter than it is today. It will be so hot that the oceans will boil and that water vapor will be lost to space as well. The ice caps will permanently melt, and snow will be ancient history; life will be unable to survive anywhere on the surface of the Earth. The Earth will resemble dry hot Venus.

http://www.viceland.com/viceblog/34954711tardigrb.jpgSo really, you are talking MAX about 1B years from today for life to exist on earth in any form at all, because once the water boils off, life of any sort we are familiar with cannot exist.  Indeed, Tardigrades can remain Viable near Absolute Zero and throughly dehydrated and Pop Back to Life once back in an environment with liquid water around, but they don’t “live” while they are dehydrated in the near absolute zero temps of space.  Liquid Water is ESSENTIAL for life as we know it, all the chemistry which life is organized around occurs in Aqueous Solution of one sort or another.

When you consider this fact of life (sic), its actually probably long before all the Water actually Boils Off the surface of the Earth that life disappears in 1-3B years, it really just has to get hot enough that most of the water is Vapor and whatever tough little Tardigrades remain can’t cool themselves enough and end up dehydrating.  So maybe good Outside Possibility for some higher plant & animal life forms is another 500M years.  When you look at how long it took Dinosaurs and other Vertebrates to develop originally, this timescale is on the order of 100sM of years.

File:Geologic Clock with events and periods.svg

http://chinafossils.nhm.org/graphics/time%20scale.jpg

http://ber.parawag.net/images/Aloha_ocean_pH_calculated_by_HOT.jpgAs you can see, this whole Biz began back there in the Pre-Cambrian period around 600M years ago, culminating in anatomically modern Homo Sapiens only in the last 100K years or so, though Proto-Homos existed a good deal earlier than that going back maybe 2M years.  So what do you think the odds are that say our good friends and co-inhabitants of the Earth right now, the Tardigrades who are capable of handling a good deal tougher environmental situation than we can will have enough TIME and good fortune to evolve toward Sentience before the planet becomes uninhabitable even for THEM?  IMHO, the likelihood is quite small.  JMG does overcome this barrier by starting with Raccoons and Crows as the progenitors of sentient species, but based on the current spin out it seems unlikely that any higher organisms have a real good chance of survival when multiple Nuke reactors go super-critical and/or there is a phytoplankton collapse due to ocean acidification.

John Michael Greer thinks at least SOME Homo Sapiens will last a good deal longer than Nature Bats Last’s Guy McPherson’s mid-21st Century prediction for Near Term Human Extinction, he’s projecting out numerous Civilizations of Homo Sapiens rising and falling here over the next bundle of Millenia before finally sputtering out a million or so years down the line.

A hundred thousand years from now:
Carbon dioxide levels drop below preindustrial levels as the oceanic anoxic event finishes its work, and the complex feedback loops that govern Earth’s climate shift again: the thermohaline circulation restarts, triggering another round of climatic changes. Humanity’s seventy-ninth global civilization flourishes and begins its slow decline as the disruptions set in motion by a long-forgotten industrial age are drowned out by an older climatic cycle. The scholars of that civilization are thrilled by the notions of fusion power, artificial intelligence, and interstellar migration; they have no idea that we dreamed the same dreams before them, being further in our future than the Neanderthals are in our past, but they will have no more luck achieving those dreams than we did.
A million years from now:
The Earth is in an ice age; great ice sheets cover much of the northern hemisphere and spread from mountain ranges all over the world, and sea level is 150 meters lower than today. To the people living at this time, who have never known anything else, this seems perfectly normal. Metals have become rare geological specimens—for millennia now, most human societies have used renewable ceramic-bioplastic composites instead—and the very existence of fossil fuels has long since been forgotten. The 664th global human civilization is at its peak, lofting aerostat towns into the skies and building great floating cities on the seas; its long afternoon will eventually draw to an end after scores of generations, and when it falls, other civilizations will rise in its place.
We are a tough bunch of Survivors JMG prognosticates, hammering it out for the next Million Years before finally succumbing to environmental stressors that wipe us out!  Ugo also projects manifest toughness and adaptability for Homo Sapiens in his more Positive Scenario.  While we do suffer a massive Population Knockdown in the Ugo+ Scenario, the Survivors do real well colonizing the Solar System here:
1000 years from now. In the year 3000 A.D. the ecosystems of the planet have completely recovered from the damage done by human activities during the second millennium. A sophisticated planetary control system manages solar irradiation by means of space mirrors and the concentration of greenhouse gases by means of CO2 absorbing/desorbing plants. The planet is managed as a giant garden, optimizing its biological productivity. The Sahara desert is now a forest and the thermohaline currents pump oxygen in the northern regions, full of life of all kinds. The solar and wind plants used during the previous millennium have been mostly dismantled, although some are still kept as a memory of the old times. Most of the energy used by humankind is now generated by space stations which capture solar energy and beam it to the ground in forms easily usable by humans. Research in controlled fusion energy continues with the hope that it will produce usable energy in 500 years. Humans are now less than one billion, they have optimized both their numbers and their energy use and they need enormously less than they had needed in the more turbulent ages of one thousand years before. The development of artificial intelligence is in full swing and practically all tasks that once had been in the hands of humans is now in the “hands” of sophisticated robotic systems. These robots have colonized the solar system and humans now live in underground cities on the Moon. The new planetary intelligence starts considering the idea of terraforming Mars and Venus. The first antimatter powered interstellar spaceships have started their travel to far away stars.10.000 years from now. There are now less than a billion human beings on Earth who live in splendid cities immersed in the lush forest that the planet has become. Some of them work as a hobby on controlled nuclear fusion which they hope will produce usable energy in a few thousand years. The New Intelligence has now started terraforming Mars. It involves similar methods as those used for controlling the Earth’s climate: giant mirrors and CO2 producing plants that control the Martian atmosphere, increasing its pressure and temperature. The terraforming of Venus has also started with similar methods: giant screens that lower the planetary temperatures and immense flying plants that transform CO2 into oxygen and solid carbon. That will take a lot of time, but the New Intelligence is patient. It is also creating new races of solid state beings living on the asteroids and orbiting around the Sun. The exploration of the galaxy is in progress, with spaceships from the solar system now reaching a “sphere” of about a thousand light years from the sun.
Of these two Sci-Fi scenarios, Ugo’s is slightly more grounded in real science with a better grasp of the numbers and timelines involve, but really in both cases the speculation out there past 1000 years is just an exercise in creative imagination.  Obviously none of us will be around to verify if either of them even came CLOSE to the truth, at least not from this side of the Great Divide anyhow.
So what is the underlying motivation for making these WAG projections?  I think it stems from the fact both authors have no real solution to the near term problems we face and so speculate on these long term outcomes, which all eventually end up in Extinction, except for a few REALLY WAGs which have Homo Sapiens leaving earth to go Star Trekking in one way or another.  Going back a few months here, I actually wrote a short such positive outcome in a thread run by Diner Dirdy Birdy:

My best case scenario:The monetary system crashes and Da Goobermint organizes quickly to keep food production and distribution going.  Shortages of fuel take all private carz off the road and people adapt utilizing more bicycles and walking, along with various public transport systems that are kept running a while with the diminished fuel supply.  JIT Trucking is also kept running by conserving fuel, long enough for transition to be made to local production.

A huge Public Works Project is undertaken with people educated in permaculture and small scale renewable energy construction, and a Land Reform Act is passed with Groups of People issued Land Grants all over the country.  Groups can either self-organize or a computer program puts people together based on a questionnaire they fill out about their belief system.  The Land Grants are issued in a Random Order via Lottery, and you get to pick your spot when your number comes up.  The size of the Land Grant depends on the current resources available where it is located in terms of Water and Soil Fertility.  The size is calculated to support the Group size +20% (to allow for fluctuation in reproduction).

Metal Tools and Farm Implements are produced and distributed out as long as possible, and die off is gradual and organic mostly from Old Age as the population returns to the land.

The other part of the Public Works Project involves decommissioning and removing the spent fuel from Nuke Plants.  The fuel si all collected, vitrified and shipped to the Marianna Trench where it is sunk in a subduction zone at the ocean floor.  Specialized Boring Capsules are designed which gather speed during the fall to the ocean floor and begin to spin rapidly.  When they hit bottom, they bore into the crust at the subduction zone.

Industrial plants are shut down and cleaned up also as small scale cottage industries take hold around the country.  Mother Nature does her part also, gradually degrading and rinsing out pollutants.  Ecosystems recover, and carbon content in the atmosphere begins to fall.  Extreme Weather events begin to lessen in frequency.

A century from now, a remaining 1B or so people on the planet live in Harmony with Nature, maintaining a relatively steady state of human biomass.  Story Tellers travel around the country on Horseback and around the World by Sailboat, and information is passed on verbally throughout the world.  Memory spans are vastly increased, and Wisdom is selected for naturally, and Homo Sapiens evolves to Homo Superioris, eventually gaining paranormal abilities with the ability to leave the body at will and travel the cosmos as a Quantum Flux able to instaneously appear anywhere in the Universe, visiting other planets with the ability to Incarnate in a symbiotic fashion with other life forms on these planets.

Human Sentience persists for Eternity, as the Quantum Flux can also jump from Universe to Universe in the Multiverse, once this Universe either cools to Absolute Zero in perpetual expansion, or Collapses back on itself for another Big Bang.

This particular scenario makes just about everybody HAPPY, including George Mobus of Question Everything since Homo Stupidus finally does achieve Wisdom in the end.  LOL.  It resolves the Die Off problem without resorting to Violence or explicit Eugenics making the Peaceniks Happy, and GAIA returns to a lush Green Garden of Eden making all the Tree Huggers very Happy too!  If I wrote more shit like this, I would be a WAY more popular Blogger!  LOL.  Of course, at the end of this exercise in Fantasy Thinking, I ranked the Probability of this outcome around .00000000001% or so.
The theme in JMGs article right from the beginning though is to Poke Holes in Peak Oil theory; the general idea is to demonstrate that we aren’t going to have a massive FAST Collapse, but rather a long Slow Catabolic Collapse where our lives will change only incrementally; and beyond that to express the Belief that Homo Sapiens will NOT go Extinct in the Near Term per Guy McPherson, but rather will persist a good long while Walking the Earth, and in fact have something of a Resurgence before finally giving up the ghost and making way for a New and Still BETTER Sentient Species which will last a whole lot longer before itself going extinct.
http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/17xkn88nxpn1bjpg/ku-xlarge.jpg
If you notice also, JMGs Sci-Fi fantasy also has archetypes in it that make HIM happy, there are future Historians and Anthropologists amongst the Corvins who go out and discover remnants of Human Civilization on the Moon, so the Knowledge of the Ages never gets Lost long as there are SOME Sentient beings around.  For JMG, the WORST possible outcome is not the Extinction of the Human Race, but the idea that all that Knowledge, all those years of tedious research in the Card Catalogues and Stacks of University Libraries would be LOST FOREVER!  Accckkkkk!  In the end, Sentience & Ingenuity Wins the Day in JMGs story, as it does in Ugo’s Positive Scenario also.  JMGs story of Sentience on Earth does come to a close finally, but not until after a real long run through many more Homo Sapiens Civilizations, then Raccoon and Crow Civilizations.  This puts off the inevitable “End of History” (and Historians! lol) for a mighty long time.  He also pops in a nice Upbeat Ending with some other NEW Sentient Species popping up spontaneously on some other planet floating around there out in the Universe, before IT either cools to Absolute Zero in perpetual expansion or Implodes on itself in another Big Bang.
What is noticeably speculative in JMGs post is where the Corvins get their Energy to run a Complex Society, he’s got sufficient Oil reserves rebuilding here inside 100M years to get the Corvins to the Moon and Back, sans any speculative energy technology of the future.  The problem here is that the Oil supply we got to burn up over the last 200 or so years if created in the typically accepted biotic origination goes back right to the beginning of the pre-Cambrian Era, and took a good 700M years to collect up all the Solar Energy and store it in all the dead life forms that existed over this time period.  Generating up the same amount of Oil over 100M years would require 6-7X as many life forms to be born and die over 100M years, and that is not inside the energetic parameters of what the Sun would provide over that time period.  Not to mention the problems of environmental degradation for producing more biomass, already evident.
http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20100629151438/memoryalpha/en/images/a/af/Integrator.jpgUgo relies on the old Star Trek meme of Matter-Antimatter Engines to drive this type of society Star Trekking in the long distant future, glossing over the small problem of precisely where we will get hold of the copious amounts of Antimatter necessary to annihiliate Matter in the Perfect Matter-to-Energy Transform.  Dilithium Crystals aren’t Ubiquitous on Earth, not even at Chinese Strip Mining Operations for Rare Earth Minerals.  LOL. Here on Earth Ugo does come up with the slightly more plausible idea of huge space based solar collectors,  however exactly how we will jack that much hardware up into space over the next century or two with depleting fossil fuel supplies is left unexplained.
Assuming Homo Sapiens did die out in a Million Years or so, rebuilding Fossil Fuel resource would take the same 100s of Millions of years it took on the first go-round, bringing you right up to the time the Sun is Vaporizing the Water on the Planet.  Unless you buy into an a-biotic theory of Oil and project a slow refill of the near surface reservoirs, you just won’t have this type of resource around for the next sentient species to exploit, no matter how smart they are.  Even if Infants are capable of solving Fermat’s Last Theorem, without the massive energy necessary to get stuff up OFF the surface of the Earth into Orbit, and then further to power said Starships in the vast and cold interstellar void, no sentient life of any sort is ever leaving this Solar System.  Projecting such on outcome is simply an exercise in HOPIUM for people concerned that in the end all the knowledge disappears, and so the whole exercise of Evolution over lo these long Eons has no real purpose to it at all.
Religions circumvent this problem in all sorts of ways, the most popular being to postulate some type of Afterlife, and/or the existence of some sort of disembodied Soul which can exist and persist in the absence of a corporeal host.  I am OK with this kind of belief structure, in fact I buy into it myself these days in my own idiosyncratic sort of way.  Imagining the Universe to be Purposeless doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and beyond that the Random beginning for Life without some sort of Intelligent Design also seems highly unlikely.  However, you most certainly cannot PROVE anything beyond what can be sensed and perceived, so whatever it is you do believe about this it is in the end just a Belief System which makes sense to you.
http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Overshoot_2.jpgReturning from the world of Sci-Fi and fantasy thinking to the REAL WORLD of Collapsing Economic Structures, Depleting Resources and Population Overshoot, the real questions worth pondering on are not 10B Year Long Timelines for Universal Existence, but much shorter timelines in the lengths of Years, Decades, Centuries and maybe as far out as Millenia, but further than that is really a moot point, since the eventual Extinction of Homo Sapiens is a virtual Lock.  If you can answer the question of what the World will be like in YOUR neighborhood in a Decade’s time, this knowledge people living now can actually USE to better prepare for the world to come for them.  The outcomes won’t be precisely the same everywhere, there are different parameters in different locations clearly.  So being able to make a fairly decent prediction on this timeline also allows people to make better choices in Migration, if they indeed even have the ability and economic resources to migrate at all, which most really do not.  I mean really, if you currently are living on $2/day in a Mumbai Slum, you’re not going to be buying a Plane Ticket to New Zealand to find a better life.  Most people are pretty well stuck where they are, at least on the nation-state level.
http://indiawires.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/mumbai-slums.jpg
A good understanding of the possible Century Long Timeline outcomes is also quite important in the Real Sense, because if these outcomes can be generally distributed and understood, it is possible still that Homo Sapiens could make some better choices now that would lead to better outcomes later.  So it is my belief that it is these timelines we need to focus on, not the long term existential ones.  I would look forward to articles from both JMG and Ugo Bardi which make some informed Projections on these timelines.  In both their 10B Year articles, they do cover the nearer term decades and centuries long outcomes, but they are of necessity Brief in this sort of treatment and not very well fleshed out.  You can make the fairly obvious predictions of lots of Wars taking place, but what will be the political and ecological outcomes of those wars?  What are the best means & method to be one of the SURVIVORS of those Wars?
I will look at some of these questions myself in a follow-up article to this, though next week’s Sunday Brunch article will be about a more current issue, the Submergent Economies of the BRICS nations, currently having some extraordinary currency collapse issues ongoing.  In the intervening time though, I look forward to chatting with Ugo and perhaps JMG on the Collapse Cafe about the various possible long term outcomes on the 10 Billion Year timescale.
RE

Dead Cat Bouncing

Podcast off the microphones of Ugo Bardi, RE & Monsta
Article off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

Podcast Aired on the Doomstead Diner on August 10, 2013
Article Published on Cassandra’s Legacy on August 9, 2013

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Discussion at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

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Result of a “google trends” search of the terms “Rossi” and “e-cat”

I said in a previous post that I have lost all interest in the “E-Cat”, purported desktop nuclear device invented by Mr. Anrea Rossi. Although initially I had found it intriguing, and even fun (also here), it had become a never ending story, eventually boring.

However, if the e-cat is not interesting as an energy producing device, it is still an interesting case-study of information diffusion over the web. In the figure above, you see the results given by a “google trends” search that measures the number of times that a certain term is typed in the Google search engine. Looking for the “e-cat”, together with “Rossi” the result is that many people agree with me: the e-cat story was interesting at the beginning, now not so much any more.

Note, indeed, how the recent attempts by Andrea Rossi and his followers to revive interest in the device have had little success. The most recent interest peak is related to the so called “hot cat” that was supposed to be an improved version of the old ones. It did produce a little “bump” in the curve, but nothing more. The cat still bounces a little, but it is basically dead.

Of course, the fact that people are losing interest in the e-cat device doesn’t necessarily mean that the device doesn’t work. However, if we compare with a device that really works, we see the difference. See, for instance, a comparison of the search volume for the e-cat and the ipad (the ipad is the red line)

As you see, the difference is gigantic. The ipad works and can be bought, so lots of people are looking for the term. Instead, there is no evidence that the e-cat works and surely it cannot be bought anywhere. Hence, it is is popular only with a tiny group of believers and, it appears, with a just as tiny group of unbelievers who still find the story interesting.

But who is interested in the e-cat? Google trends is a fascinating site because it also provides you with geographical information.

By far, the E-Cat is an Italian phenomenon, although, for some reason, it has followers also in the Czech Republic. Sweden comes third, mainly because some faculty members of the University of Uppsala had the misfortune of getting involved in this story. But the E-Cat is not just nationally localized. It is also city localized and Google Trends can tell you that the highest search volume in the world is in Bologna, where another university had the misfortune of getting involved with this story.

Italy seems to be especially interested in dubious nuclear devices. Let’s give a look to another term, “Keshe“, the name of an Iranian gentleman who claims to have developed remarkable technologies able to provide solutions for climate change, many kinds of diseases, space travel and mass transport employing Magnetic and Gravitational interacting fields.

Let’s see first the geographical distribution of the interest for the keyword “keshe”:

The result is that Mr. Keshe is way more popular in Bulgaria than in his country of origin, Iran. But, again, Italy shows a remarkably high interest in pseudo-scientific miracle devices, coming second.

Finally, let’s compare the two terms: “keshe” and “e-cat” (e-cat is red, keshe is blue)

It seems that, for a brief moment, the Keshe device was more popular than the e-cat. But the public seems to be rapidly losing interest in both. The interest, however, is not going to zero or, at least, not so rapidly. Apparently, there exists a “pool” of people who are especially interested in these matters and they are mainly located in Italy, possibly as a legacy of Mr. Rossi’s work (and also, for truly unfathomable reasons, in Bulgaria and in the Czech Republic).

Let me repeat that the result of this search provides no direct indication of whether these devices are doing anything like what they are said to be doing by their inventors. It is, however, an interesting example of how information diffuses over the web and how the public tends to lose interest in claims that are not later substantiated by proof or that lead to something worth of more interest.

The Punctuated Collapse of the Roman Empire

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

Published on Cassandra’s Legacy on July 15, 2013

I defined as the “Seneca Cliff” the tendency of some systems to collapse after having peaked. Here I start from some considerations about whether the collapse could be smooth or an uneven process that we could define as “punctuated.” I am taking the Roman Empire as an example and showing that it did decline much faster than it grew. But the decline was surely far from smooth.
Discuss this article in the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

The idea of an impending collapse of our civilization is already bad enough in itself, but it has this little extra-twist that collapse may be given more speed by what I called the “Seneca Cliff,” from the words of the Roman Philosopher who had noted first that, “Fortune is slow, but ruin is rapid“. The concept of the Seneca Cliff seems to have gained some traction over the Web and many people have been discussing it. Recently, I found an interesting comment on this point by Jason Heppenstall on his blog “22 billion energy slaves”. He summarizes the debate as:

“In the fast-collapse camp are the likes of Dmitry Orlov (who bases his assessment on his experience of seeing the USSR implode) and Ugo Bardi, who expects a ‘Seneca’s Cliff’ dropoff. James Kunstler, Michael Ruppert and any number of others can probably also be added to the fast-collapse camp.

By comparison, the likes of John Michael Greer reckon we are in for a drawn-out era of terminal decline punctuated by serious crises which, at the time, will seem rather severe to all involved but which will give way to plateaux of relative stability, albeit at a lower level of energy throughput.”

Actually, the two camps may not be in such a radical disagreement with each other as they are described. The idea of the fast (or Seneca-like) collapse does not necessarily mean that collapse will be continuous or smooth. The model that describes the Seneca effect does give that kind of output, but models are – as usual – just approximations. The real world may follow the curve in a series of “bumps” that will give an impression of recovery to the people who will experience the painful descent period.

So, collapse may very well be “punctuated: a series of periods of temporary stability, separated by severe crashes. But it may still be much faster than the previous growth had been. I discussed this point already in my first post on the Seneca Effect, but let me return on this subject and let me consider one of the best known cases of societal collapse: that of the Roman Empire.

First of all: some qualitative considerations. Rome’s foundation goes back to 753 BC; the end of the Western Empire is usually taken as 476 AD, with the dethroning of the last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustus. Now, in between these two dates, a time span of more than 1200 years, the Empire peaked. When was that?

The answer depends on which parameter we are considering but it seems clear that, whatever choice we make, the peak was not midway – it was much later. The Empire was still strong and powerful during the 2nd century AD and we might take the age of Emperor Trajan as the peak (he died in 117 AD) as “peak empire.” We may also note that up to the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (who died in 180 AD), the empire didn’t show evident signs of weakness, so we could take the peak as occurring in mid or late 2nd century AD. In the end, the exact date doesn’t matter: the Empire took around 900 years to go from the foundation of Rome to the 2nd century peak. Then, it took just 400 years – probably less than that – for the Empire to wither and disappear. An asymmetric, Seneca-like collapse, indeed.

We also have some quantitative data on the Empire’s cycle. For instance, look at this image from Wikipedia.

It shows the size of the Roman military over the Empire’s span of existence. WIth all the uncertainties involved, also this image shows a typical “Seneca” shape for both the Western and the Eastern parts of the Empire. Decline is faster than growth, indeed.

There are other indicators that we can consider about the collapse of the Roman Empire. In many cases, we don’t have sufficient data to say much, but in some, we can say that collapse was, indeed, abrupt. For instance, you can give a look to a well known image taken from Joseph Tainter’s book “The Collapse of Complex Societies

The figure shows the content of silver in the Roman “denarius” which by the 3rd century AD, had become pure copper. Note how the decline starts slow, but then goes on faster and faster. Seneca himself would have understood this phenomenon very well.

 So, the Roman Empire seems to have been hit by a “Seneca collapse” and that tells us that the occurrence of this kind of rapid decline may be commonplace for the entities we call “civilizations” or “empires”.

It is also true, however, that the Roman collapse was far from being smooth. It went through periods of apparent stability, interrupted by periods of extremely fast descent. The chroniclers of the time described these periods of crisis, but none of them seem to have connected the dots: they never saw that each crisis was linked to the preceding one and leading to the next one. Punctuated collapse seemed to be invisible to the ancient Romans, just as it is for us, today.

Ugo Bardi and the Seneca Cliff

Off the keyboard of A. G, Gelbert

Published on the Doomstead Diner on May 25, 2013

senecacliff
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This essay is a response to the article entitled, Leverage points in energy storage. by Ugo Bardi.

http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/energy-storage-and-capitalism.html
To summarise the article, Ugo makes a case against too much storage capacity in an energy infrastructure. He unfortunately does not differentiate the supply and demand dynamics of fossil fuel driven power grids from those of renewable energy driven power grids. His arguments seem well suited for fossil fuel driven infrastructure but, in my opinion, do not apply to renewable energy infrastructure even though I can see his basic assertions are well meaning given the environmental harm the excess use of fossil fuels cause, as highlighted here:

Ugo Bardi wrote:

… natural resources are limited, so that we should strive to consume less resources, not more. 

The premise that natural resources are limited is accurate ONLY if the definition of natural resources excludes renewable energy directly or indirectly obtained for the sun, which considering we still have around another 5 billion years of sunlight must be considered a source of abundant energy. Therefore his premise CANNOT apply to solar energy because he bases his conclusion on scarcity, not a 5 billion year supply of abundant energy from the sun. More on this later.

This is not to say he is wrong in advocating LESS consumption. I agree with him. I just base a maximum consumption quota on the demands of the biosphere living systems that humanity depends on for a healthy environment and can be harmed by our excess consumption, not on excess storage capacity creating system instability.

Ugo proceeds from this conclusion of excessive storage to suggest we must consume less explaining in some technical jargon, how having energy storage capacity at various levels from very low to very high affects consumption in a capitalist economy. He goes into this concept further discussing the various business models, thermodynamic effects and other effects like the Seneca Effect that occurs both in politics and in energy systems.

In these systems and effects he shows a clear correlation between high storage capacity and exponentially increasing consumption which leads to a Seneca Effect cliff collapse. In other words, greater storage capacity feeds system INSECURITY and INSTABILITY, the exact opposite of the motive for installing higher storage capacity in the first place.

NOTE:He has some drawings of valves, available resources, and demand use and so on. You can look them over in the link if you like. I have not included them here because of my disagreement with the author’s assumption that just because you have some “use it or lose it” energy, you MUST lower the price so you won’t “lose” it.

He argues that at low levels of storage capacity, adding more improves system stability but once a certain threshold is reached increasing storage capacity further creates a phenomenon called a “leverage point”. This leverage point tips the system in the wrong way with too much storage capacity and starts a runaway increase in consumption. The metaphor for the leverage point is a valve that can open the right way or the wrong way.

Ugo gets into the leverage points with the valves demonstrating how the levers that open the valves can work in the wrong direction. Even with fossil fuels being the natural resource, I have some problems with his logic. The pressure to consume more in his model is NOT coming from the consumer!

In the capitalist model, he assumes that it is prudent, profitable and just good business practice to drastically lower the kWh price when you have some excess in the system that you wouldn’t make a nickel on if you didn’t lower the price. If the purpose of the power utility is MAINLY to make a profit and NOT to provide sufficient energy to run civilization, then his logic would be applicable; immoral, but still, in the predatory capitalist view, logical.

My view is that a power utility’s MAIN purpose is to provide power at the amounts the government approves along with a government approved profit margin. Ugo thinks a kWh is just another capitalist widget sold by the power utility and the more “widgets” it sells the better. It is disturbing to me that he sees no other option for the power utility but to maximize the use of any and all kWh laying around due to excess storage capacity as an unavoidable path to a Seneca Effect type collapse. That’s bad logic because there ARE other options. However, he NEEDS that flawed assumption to reach his final conclusion.

His final conclusion is that, in order to avoid system instability, storage capacity must be limited and kwh power be demand priced so poorer consumers are forced to reduce consumption due lack of ability to pay for power. Those who can pay the higher rates will guarantee a nice profit to the power utility so said power utility won’t feel “tempted” to increase storage capacity for increased revenue and profits. A nice fat, happy and profitable utility with a stable power grid results (supposedly). Through this “business model”, the leverage point that flips the “valve” the wrong way towards an exponential increase in consumption and, after increased instability, a Seneca Effect type collapse, will never be reached.

It’s pretty clear from the outset that Ugo’s heart is with the power company, not with the needs of society while he pretends to be concerned about environment damaging excess consumption. That is the pretence he uses because what he wants to prevent is power grid price volatility, energy instability and grid collapse, not environmental collapse.

First, as I said earlier, he mixes the oil type energy with renewable type energy in regard to storage. Big problem there. I’ll get to that. Second, he mentions the “need” to dispense with excess solar or wind energy quickly because it can’t be stored causing kwh rates to wildly fluctuating contingent on the sun or wind being there or not (feast or famine). Thirdly, he goes to the other extreme where the storage capacity is maxed out with still more power is coming in so they really have to go nuts lowering the price during said periods (glut).

Finally he uses this logical construct and justifies a happy medium of storage capacity. He didn’t talk about the power mix we have now where base load is the “always on” with coal and nuclear power and the “get it quick” power spikes come from natural gas, hydro and even battery banks. This is important because the storage regimen is radically different in a fossil fuel energy grid. You ALWAYS need to go fight wars someplace or get those resources stored in a tank. They just aren’t there on site except for hydro.

The reason that you have cheap and expensive kWh rates with fossil coal and nuclear are inflexible due to the fact they are hard to instantly power down or up. It’s a function of the fuel they use and how the power plants run, not the storage capacity.

The leverage points certainly would apply to the fossil fuel natural gas with its instant on or off power availability but that is why natural gas power plants are not used for base load at the moment. The natural gas is not free nor is the coal or the uranium fuel rods so they do not want those things putting out energy when it can’t be sold.

The economics and thermodynamics of solar and wind are a different ball game. Wind and solar are, for all practical purposes, going to have a guaranteed availability during, to be extremely conservative,  one day out of every four or five days for as long as the sun exists (another 5 billion years or so). If the sun stops cold we turn into a dead ball of ice so it is unthinkable to exclude the sun from our energy calculus. So, in the ACTUAL Earth weather system, we already have a gigantic “storage capacity” of future solar and wind to draw on without worrying about running out.
Take this paragraph:

Ugo Bardi wrote:

If we want to reduce price volatility we should do exactly the opposite; we should reduce storage instead of increasing it. Of course, don’t make me say that we don’t need storage at all. We do need energy on demand for many practical purposes and for essential services, say for hospitals and the like. We need to be able to turn lights on even in a windless night. What we don’t really need is a system that aims to provide energy at any moment, at constant prices. It would be atrociously expensive and we would have big troubles in keeping it stable.

Yes, IF and when you turn on your power plant, it is using fuel that you mined for or drilled for and refined because you want a certain amount of money for every pound of coal, uranium, gallon of oil or cubic centimeter of natural gas.

His premise logically leads him to this conclusion:

Ugo Bardi wrote:

Instead, the best compromise in terms of cost would be a system with limited storage that uses prices as a way to manage demand. With such a system you can have as much energy as you want, at any moment, but you must be prepared to pay for it. That may be seen as a problem, but also as an opportunity. You may have to pay a lot for energy at some moments, but you may also have it very cheap in other periods – that’s an opportunity if you can be flexible.

It is certainly possible to set it up that way but I certainly don’t agree that it MUST be that way simply because of the way renewables function as opposed to fossil fuel run power plants. I also hate the idea of using price to manage demand because the poor will get the short end of the stick. You would then have to introduce subsidies for poor people through some kind of means testing bureaucratic nightmare. I’m against that. I favor one price for all and make it reasonable without encouraging overuse (possibly a quota system or smart grid control of excesses).

The economy run on fossil fuel creates the consumerist problem he mentions here:

Ugo Bardi wrote:

We can see the economy as a machine that stores energy in the form of “capital” and gradually releases it in the form of waste (or “pollution” if you like). The interesting point is that here, too, Forrester’s law applies; that is, we tend to pull the levers in the wrong direction. One of these wrong ways would be opening up too much the valve that connects the capital stock to the waste stock. It is what we call “consumerism.” Of course, consuming something means to destroy it and I have this feeling that maybe we are doing that really too fast, don’t you agree with me?

Sure we have to consume less energy but the point is not to base the decision on storage and leverage points but on biosphere bio-mimicry. Renewables have a built in rapid switch off capability for both wind and solar. Just because the wind IS blowing and the sun IS shining does not mean you HAVE to sell that energy. You turn it off or use it to pump water into a dam. The sun and wind aren’t going away. Fossil fuels ARE going away.

As long as you’ve got enough storage to tide you over for 4 days MAX, that is all you need as long as the sun exists. It’s a whole different ball game than worrying about where you are going to get your oil from tomorrow.

To show you how radically different the energy storage picture is with fossil fuels, how long do you think that “strategic national oil reserve” we have would last if the oil stopped? A year? I doubt it. That’s NOT a lot of Capital preservation or accumulation in my book compared to solar and wind renewable.

Ugo Bardi wrote:

The other possible way to operate the valve in the wrong way is that sometimes we accumulate so much capital – that is, so much potential – that we lose control of how it is dissipated. We may pass some threshold that makes dissipation very fast, actually disastrously fast. We call this kind of phenomenon “war,” which is, by the way, another example of how politics normally manages so often to take the wrong decisions.

That’s fear based and scarcity based pseudo capital accumulation. If you fight a war it’s because you think you don’t have enough, not because you’ve got too much. Some will say, NO, the big bully will beat up on the little guys but that has nothing to do with thermodynamics or energy storage; that’s empire politics and is a separate issue.

This quote from a peer reviewed scholarly book makes it crystal clear what the MAIN driver of fossil fuel costs is:

Dilworth (2010-03-12). Too Smart for our Own Good (page 399-400). Cambridge University Press – Kindle Edition:

“As suggested earlier, war, for example, which represents a cost for society, is a source of profit to capitalists. In this way we can partly understand e.g. the American military expenditures in the Persian Gulf area. Already before the first Gulf War, i.e. in 1985, the United States spent $47 billion projecting power into the region. If seen as being spent to obtain Gulf oil, It AMOUNTED TO $468 PER BARREL, or 18 TIMES the $27 or so that at that time was paid for the oil itself.

In fact, if Americans had spent as much to make buildings heat-tight as they spent in ONE YEAR at the end of the 1980s on the military forces meant to protect the Middle Eastern oil fields, THEY COULD HAVE ELIMINATED THE NEED TO IMPORT OIL from the Middle East.

So why have they not done so? Because, while the $468 per barrel may be seen as being a cost the American taxpayers had to bear, and a negative social effect those living in the Gulf area had to bear, it meant only profits for American capitalists. “

Mind you, the above referenced war was short, unlike the ruinously expensive post 911 Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I shudder to think what the trillion or so dollars spent on those wars (FOR OIL) did to the actual price of oil per barrel now.

Ugo claims we have a high “accumulation of capital” when we have high fossil fuel reserves and that will tempt us to go to war to get more in an endless Seneca Effect cycle to perpetually increase our reserves. We ARE NOT “accumulating” capital because the power plants that put out electrical energy always need more and more fossil fuel. We have to project power to get those resources which in no way can be considered capital preservation or energy storage. Excess storage capacity is a joke in fossil fuels because they are finite, not to mention that they are poisonous to the environment.

Ugo Bardi wrote:

So, you see that there is something as too much storage and I think that you are gaining some idea of how system dynamics coupled with thermodynamics gives to you a wide ranging view of many kinds of phenomena; most of them very relevant for our life.

I certainly agree that you can have too much storage but the criterion for renewables, as opposed to fossil fuelled machinery, is not based on avoiding uneconomical price fluctuations. The proper criterion is a hard look at base load (what you want 24/7). THEN you say: we need X for the noon spike or the 5 P.M. spike when people are cooking at home or the summer months 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. air conditioning spike, etc.

You look at what you can count on from the sun and wind (studies in Spain have proven the energy is FAR more reliable than the naysayers had predicted) and you build your storage capacity from giant batteries, hydro, geothermal or some other renewable technology. You use a smart grid in case a super spike goes above capacity to prioritize the shutdown of nonessential power demands.

The bottom line is that WE CANNOT POLLUTE, PERIOD! Everything HAS to go full circle. THAT is the leverage point we passed in the WRONG direction when we went for fossil fuels. Capital? Is this guy kidding? WE are in debt up to our Global climate change ears and the bill with raging storms and seas is heading our way. I am quite willing to have the power turned off 12 hours a day RIGHT NOW so we can go 100% renewable and everybody get rationed the max kWh per person that any family can have. But that’s just me. Most people can’t handle that.

In summary, we have a lot of “valves” in our economic system already open in the wrong direction because we use polluting fuels. When we finally “get it” that we cannot afford to consume more energy than we can generate in an absolutely clean way, the least of our worries will be too much storage.

I do agree that, in the future, the use of renewable energy infrastructure that could destroy some biome or habitat just to get more energy may certainly become an issue. But the urgency now is to stop using fossil fuel of any kind and get ALL our hydrocarbons, be they fuels, oils and lubricants from biofuels or algae.

Our electrical grid should be designed to use renewable energy exclusively. That is the only prudent course of action! 

But don’t worry; the weather will do wonders to get the politicians to FINALLY begin to deal seriously with this problem within three or four years. The weather is going to get really bad and we should prepare as best we can. But when it comes, it will be a pleasure to see the fatheads in governments all over the globe get with the 100% renewables program.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

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