Last week, after a great deal of debate, the passengers aboard the Titanic voted to impose modest limits sometime soon on the rate at which water is pouring into the doomed ship’s hull. Despite the torrents of self-congratulatory rhetoric currently flooding into the media from the White House and an assortment of groups on the domesticated end of the environmental movement, that’s the sum of what happened at the COP-21 conference in Paris. It’s a spectacle worth observing, and not only for those of us who are connoisseurs of irony; the factors that drove COP-21 to the latest round of nonsolutions are among the most potent forces shoving industrial civilization on its one-way trip to history’s compost bin.
The core issues up for debate at the Paris meeting were the same that have been rehashed endlessly at previous climate conferences. The consequences of continuing to treat the atmosphere as a gaseous sewer for humanity’s pollutants are becoming increasingly hard to ignore, but nearly everything that defines a modern industrial economy as “modern” and “industrial” produces greenhouse gases, and the continued growth of the world’s modern industrial economies remains the keystone of economic policy around the world. The goal pursued by negotiators at this and previous climate conferences, then, is to find some way to do something about anthropogenic global warming that won’t place any kind of restrictions on economic growth.
What that means in practice is that the world’s nations have more or less committed themselves to limit the rate at which the dumping of greenhouse gases will increase over the next fifteen years. I’d encourage those of my readers who think anything important was accomplished at the Paris conference to read that sentence again, and think about what it implies. The agreement that came out of COP-21 doesn’t commit anybody to stop dumping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, now or at any point in the future. It doesn’t even commit anybody to set a fixed annual output that will not be exceeded. It simply commits the world’s nations to slow down the rate at which they’re increasing their dumping of greenhouse gases. If this doesn’t sound to you like a recipe for saving the world, let’s just say you’re not alone.
It wasn’t exactly encouraging that the immediate aftermath of the COP-21 agreement was a feeding frenzy among those industries most likely to profit from modest cuts in greenhouse gas consumption—yes, those would be the renewable-energy and nuclear industries, with some efforts to get scraps from the table by proponents of “clean coal,” geoengineering, fusion-power research, and a few other subsidy dumpsters of the same sort. Naomi Oreskes, a writer for whom I used to have a certain degree of respect, published a crassly manipulative screed insisting that anybody who questioned the claim that renewable-energy technologies could keep industrial society powered forever was engaged in, ahem, “a new form of climate denialism.” She was more than matched, to be fair, by a chorus of meretricious shills for the nuclear industry, who were just as quick to insist that renewables couldn’t be scaled up fast enough and nuclear power was the only alternative.
The shills in question are quite correct, as it happens, that renewable energy can’t be scaled up fast enough to replace fossil fuels; they could have said with equal truth that renewable energy can’t be scaled up far enough to accomplish that daunting task. The little detail they’re evading is that nuclear power can’t be scaled up far enough or fast enough, either. What’s more, however great they look on paper or PowerPoint, neither nuclear power nor grid-scale renewable power are economically viable in the real world. The evidence for this is as simple as it is conclusive: no nation anywhere on the planet has managed either one without vast and continuing government subsidies. Lacking those, neither one makes enough economic sense to be worth building, because neither one can provide the kind of cheap abundant electrical power that makes a modern industrial society possible.
Say this in the kind of company that takes global climate change seriously, of course, and if you aren’t simply shouted down by those present—and of course this is the most common response—you can expect to hear someone say, “Well, something has to do it.” Right there you can see the lethal blindness that pervades nearly all contemporary debates about the future, because it’s simply not true that something has to do it. No divine providence nor any law of nature guarantees that human beings must have access to as much cheap abundant electricity as they happen to want.
Stated thus baldly, that may seem like common sense, but that sort of sense is far from common these days, even—or especially—among those people who think they’re grappling with the hard realities of the future. Here’s a useful example. One of this blog’s readers—tip of the archdruidical hat to Antroposcen—made an elegant short film that was shown at a climate-themed film festival in Paris while the COP-21 meeting was slouching toward its pointless end. The film is titled A Message from the Past, and as the title suggests, it portrays an incident from a future on the far side of global climate change. I encourage my readers to click through and watch it now; it’s only a few minutes long, and its point will be perfectly clear to any regular reader of this blog.
The audience at the film festival, though, found it incomprehensible. The nearest they came to making sense of it was to guess that, despite the title, it was about a message from our time that had somehow found its way to the distant past. The thought that the future on the far side of global climate change might have some resemblance to the preindustrial past—that people in that future, in the wake of the immense collective catastrophes our actions are busy creating for them, might wear handmade clothing of primitive cut and find surviving scraps of our technologies baffling relics of a bygone time—seems to have been wholly beyond the grasp of their imaginations.
Two factors make this blindness to an entire spectrum of probable futures astonishing. The first is that not that long ago, plenty of people in the climate change activism scene were talking openly about the possibility that uncontrolled climate change could stomp industrial society with the inevitability of a boot descending on an eggshell. I’m thinking here, among other examples, of the much-repeated claim by James Lovelock a few years back that the likely outcome of global climate change, if nothing was done, was heat so severe that the only human survivors a few centuries from now would be “a few hundred breeding pairs” huddled around the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
It used to be all the rage in climate change literature to go on at length about the ghastly future that would be ours if global temperatures warmed far enough to trigger serious methane releases from northern permafrost, tip one or more of the planet’s remaining ice sheets into rapid collapse, and send sea water rising to drown low-lying regions. Lurid scenarios of civilizational collapse and mass dieoff appeared in book after lavishly marketed book. Of late, though, that entire theme seems to have dropped out of the collective imagination of the activist community, to be replaced by strident claims that everything will be just fine if we ignore the hard lessons of the last thirty years of attempted renewable-energy buildouts and fling every available dollar, euro, yuan, etc. into subsidies for an even more grandiose wave of uneconomical renewable-energy powerplants.
The second factor is even more remarkable, and it’s the existence of that first factor that makes it so. Those methane releases, rising seas, and collapsing ice sheets? They’re no longer confined to the pages of remaindered global warming books. They’re happening in the real world, right now.
Methane releases? Check out the massive craters blown out of Siberian permafrost in the last few years by huge methane burps, or the way the Arctic Ocean fizzes every summer like a freshly poured soda as underwater methane deposits get destabilized by rising temperatures. Methane isn’t the world-wrecking ultrapollutant that a certain class of apocalyptic fantasy likes to imagine, mostly because it doesn’t last long in the atmosphere—the average lifespan of a methane molecule once it seeps out of the permafrost is about ten years—but while it’s there, it traps heat much more effectively than carbon dioxide. The Arctic is already warming far more drastically than any other region of the planet, and the nice thick blanket of methane with which it’s wrapped itself is an important part of the reason why.
Those methane releases make a great example of the sudden stop that overtook discussions of the harsh future ahead of us, once that future started to arrive. Before they began to occur, methane releases played a huge role in climate change literature—Mark Lynas’ colorful and heavily marketed book Six Degrees is only one of many examples. Once the methane releases actually got under way, as I noted in a post here some years ago, most activists abruptly stopped talking about it, and references to methane on the doomward end of the blogosphere started fielding dismissive comments by climate-change mavens insisting that methane doesn’t matter and carbon dioxide is the thing to watch.
Rising seas? You can watch that in action in low-lying coastal regions anywhere in the world, but for a convenient close-up, pay a visit to Miami Beach, Florida. You’ll want to do that quickly, though, while it’s still there. Sea levels off Florida have been rising about an inch a year, and southern Florida, Miami Beach included, is built on porous limestone. These days, as a result, whenever an unusually high tide combines with a strong onshore wind, salt water comes bubbling up from the storm sewers and seeping right out of the ground, and the streets of Miami Beach end up hubcap-deep in it. Further inland, seawater is infiltrating the aquifer from which southern Florida gets drinking water, and killing plants in low-lying areas near the coast.
The situation in southern Florida gets some press, but I suspect this is because Florida is a red state and the state government’s frantic denial that global warming is happening makes an easy target for humor. The same phenomenon is happening at varying paces elsewhere in the world, as a combination of thermal expansion of warming seawater, runoff from melting glaciers, and a grab-bag of local and regional oceanographic phenomena boosts sea level well above its historic place. Nothing significant is being done about it—to be fair, it’s unlikely that anything significant can be done about it at this point, short of a total moratorium on greenhouse gas generation, and the COP-21 talks made it painfully clear that that’s not going to happen.
Instead, southern Florida faces a fate that’s going to be all too familiar to many millions of people elsewhere in the world over the years ahead. As fresh water runs short and farm and orchard crops die from salt poisoning, mass migration will be the order of the day. Over the short term, southern Florida will gradually turn into salt marsh; look further into the future, and you can see Florida’s ultimate destiny, as a region of shoals, reefs, and islets extending well out into the Gulf of Mexico, with the corroded ruins of skyscrapers rising from the sea here and there as a reminder of the fading past.
Does this sound like science fiction? It’s the inescapable consequence of changes that are already under way. Even if COP-21 had produced an agreement that mattered—say, a binding commitment on the part of all the world’s nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions immediately and lower them to zero by 2030—southern Florida would still be doomed. The processes that are driving sea levels up can’t turn on a dime; just as it took more than a century of unrestricted atmospheric pollution to begin the flooding of southern Florida, it would take a long time and a great deal of hard work to reverse that, even if the political will was available. As it is, the agreement signed in Paris simply means that the flooding will continue unchecked.
A far more dramatic series of events, meanwhile, is getting under way far north of Florida. Yes, that’s the breakup of the Greenland ice sheet. During the last few summers, as unprecedented warmth gripped the Arctic, rivers of meltwater have begun flowing across Greenland’s glacial surface, plunging into a growing network of chasms and tunnels that riddle the ice sheet like the holes in Swiss cheese. This is new; discussions of Greenland’s ice sheet from as little as five years ago didn’t mention the meltwater rivers at all, much less the hollowing out of the ice. Equally new is the fact that the vast majority of that meltwater isn’t flowing into the ocean—scientists have checked that, using every tool at their disposal up to and including legions of yellow rubber ducks tossed into meltwater streams.
What all this means is that in the decades immediately ahead of us, in all likelihood, we’ll get to see a spectacle no human being has seen since the end of the last ice age: the catastrophic breakup of a major ice sheet. If you got taught in school, as so many American schoolchildren were, that the great glacial sheets of the ice age melted at an imperceptible pace, think again; glaciologists disproved that decades ago. What happens, instead, is a series of sudden collapses that kick the pace of melting into overdrive at unpredictable intervals. What paleoclimatologists call global meltwater pulses—sudden surges of ice and water from collapsing ice sheets—send sea levels soaring by several meters, drowning large tracts of land in an impressively short time.
Ice sheet collapses happen in a variety of ways, and Greenland is very well positioned to enact one of the better documented processes. The vast weight of all that ice pressing down on the crust through the millennia has turned the land beneath the ice into a shallow bowl surrounded by mountains—and that shallow bowl is where all the meltwater is going. Eventually the water will rise high enough to find an outlet to the sea, and when it does, it will begin to flow out—and it will take much of the ice with it.
As that happens, seismographs across the North Atlantic basin will go crazy as Greenland’s ice sheet, tormented beyond endurance by the conflict between gravity and buoyancy, begins to break apart. A first great meltwater surged will vomit anything up to thousands of cubic miles of ice into the ocean. Huge icebergs will drift east and then south on the currents, and release more water as they melt. After that, summer after summer, the process will repeat itself, until some fraction of Greenland’s total ice sheet has been dumped into the ocean. How large a fraction? That’s impossible to know in advance, but all other things being equal, the more greenhouse gases get dumped into the atmosphere, the faster and more complete Greenland’s breakup will be.
Oh, and did I mention that the West Antarctic ice sheet is beginning to break up as well?
The thing to keep in mind here is that the coming global meltwater pulse will have consequences all over the world. Once it happens—and again, the processes that will lead to that event are already well under way, and nothing the world’s industrial nations are willing to do can stop it—it will simply be a matter of time before the statistically inevitable combination of high tides and stormwinds sends sea water flooding into New York City’s subway system and the vast network of underground tunnels that houses much of the city’s infrastructure. Every other coastal city in the world will wait for its own number to come up. No doubt we’ll hear plenty of talk about building vast new flood defenses to keep back the rising waters, but let us please be real; any such project would require years of lead time and almost unimaginable amounts of money, and no nation anywhere in the world is showing the least interest in doing the thing now, when it might still be an option.
There’s a profound irony, in other words, in all the rhetoric from Paris about balancing concerns about the climate with the supposed need for perpetual economic growth. Imagine for a moment just how the coming global meltwater pulse will impact the world economy. Countless trillions of dollars in coastal infrastructure around the world will become “sunk costs” in more than a metaphorical sense; millions of people in low-lying areas such as southern Florida will have to relocate as their homes become uninhabitable, and trillions of dollars of real estate will have its value drop to zero. A galaxy of costs for which nobody is planning will have to be met out of government and business revenue streams that have been hammered by the direct and indirect effects of worldwide coastal flooding.
What’s more, it won’t be a single event, over and done with in a few weeks or months or years. Every year for decades or centuries to come, more ice and meltwater will go sluicing into the oceans, more coastal cities and regions will face that one seawater surge too many, more costs will have to be met out of what’s left of a global economy that’s running out of functioning deepwater ports among many other things. The result, as I’ve noted in previous posts here, will be the disintegration of everything that counts as business as usual, and the opening phases of the bleak new reality that Frank Landis has sketched out in his harrowing new book Hot Earth Dreams—the best currently available book on what the world will look like in the wake of severe climate change, and thus inevitably ignored by everyone in the current environmental mainstream.(You can read the first five chapters of Landis' book here.)
Cleveland, Ohio: There is NO meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 this week.
We apologize for the inconvenience.
Splendorem Lucis Viridis!
12/23/15, 6:18 PM
Cathy McGuire said...
12/23/15, 6:29 PM
12/23/15, 6:38 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Cathy, I did enjoy the day. One of the lessons of the winter solstice in the Druid tradition is that the first stirrings of the light come long before winter's end. The winter of industrial civilization is going to be long and bitter, but I think it's not impossible to spot the first distant shimmer in the eastern sky...
Jean-Vivien, sure, and flatulent unicorns from Aldebaran would help, too. A happy solstice to you and yours!
12/23/15, 7:15 PM
However you can't write off renewables so easily. Renewables will not replace fossil fuels completely and even with increased efficiencies we can't afford our current industrial standard of living without oil. However technology is not going away. Electrified cities and transport systems will still be feasible with renewables. Many cities are currently powered by dams. Maybe the internet will not be salvagable, but some form of computing and messaging will still exist.
The need is to transition to renewables early. The technologies will become cheaper as more become available and more is deployed. Whether we go right back to the 19th century or can salvage enough to manage a 20th century life-style depends on how well we manage the transition.
I am not confident in humanity's ability to agree and legislate for common sense. We are not going to stop using fossil fuels while we can afford them. Which means that renewables will have to be cheaper to get widespread usage. That is why the current rock-bottom oil prices are a disaster. Renewables my be cheaper eventually but delaying deployment will make it harder to get there.
12/23/15, 7:21 PM
Peter VE said...
Winter is here, to use a reference from a parallel tale.
12/23/15, 7:30 PM
I want to wish all the other fellow readers here a merry Christmas and a happy new year, or whatever holiday you hold dear.
12/23/15, 7:50 PM
Eric Backos said...
12/23/15, 7:51 PM
Mark Rice said...
Suppose both Rupert Murdoch and the evillest of the Koch brothers both had a white light spiritual awakening at the same time. They come to the realisation that we are in deep dodo and need a radical change in direction. They get together to make this happen.
Fox news starts pushing for a big reduction in fossil fuel usage. Plutocrats stop funding climate denying politicians. The political will to do what needs to be done happens. People are willing to make sacrifices.
COP22 makes provisions for both carbon taxes and carbon tariffs. The long term externalities get accounted for with taxes on extracting and burning carbon in the present. Countries can and do apply steep tariffs to products from countries lacking externality taxes. This is a radical change to the tax system.
Now the price of carbon power is much higher. Power from intermittent renewables is cost competitive without the subsidies. Power is more expensive and people learn how to make due with less.
So far so good. This give a big reduction is not all the way to zero.
And then the fossil fuel product that really makes the world population possible goes way up in price. This is fertilizer. Food goes up in price. People starve and die. We are faced with a moral dilemma here. Do we allow untaxed fossil fuel for food production?
With extreme action such as a big carbon tax, we will still be burning fossil fuels. 1/2 the rate or 1/4 the rate is still enough to keep global warming going. For a long long long time.
Even the best case scenario is not enough.
12/23/15, 7:55 PM
Howard Skillington said...
Consider the amount of material in a high rise building that should not be permitted to seep into our ocean waters: household chemicals, insecticides, detergents, not to mention the toxic byproducts that will leach out of solid waste materials as they dissolve into the salty brine.
Needless to say, these structures are not built to withstand ocean waves lapping at their foundations. Thousands of buildings will turn into a slurry of rubble, broken glass, abandoned personal effects – all sloshing along the estuarine coastlines that naturally serve as nurseries for innumerable forms of life, both terrestrial and aquatic.
Does that sound like a Hell of a mess? Yes, pretty much.
12/23/15, 7:56 PM
It had been red hot for a few years and has notably slowed the last half of this year but it isn't honest to say if this is anything more than a normal cycle. If I were younger and of a mind I would keep records of the price trend.
I am a believer in the idea most associated with The Automatic Earth that it is the financial world which will be the very first thing to dislocate for the simple reason that it is a pure abstraction. It's a fascinating example of human nature that abstractions can be more powerful than observed reality. Salt water rising in the streets of inland Miami is no match for the market which has the prices of real estate on those streets rising. It's as if the market was saying, who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes. To which the answer is a resounding, you Mr Market.
12/23/15, 8:01 PM
William Lehan said...
12/23/15, 8:05 PM
It shows how scientists have been able to reconstruct the history of the Greenland ice sheet. During the Eemian Interglacial, where average global temperatures were slightly higher than they are today, the Greenland ice sheet collapsed. A small portion remained, inside the bowl in the center of Greenland. But more than 95 percent disintegrated and as a result, sea levels were 6 to 9 meters higher than they are today.
12/23/15, 8:36 PM
I think the real problem is the Wall Street "I'll be gone, you'll be gone" mentality. It's the same thought process that lead to underfunding public pensions: by the time it's a problem, it'll be someone else's problem.
As Bender from Futurama would say: "We're boned."
12/23/15, 8:43 PM
Overall I cannot disagree with what I feel is the overall message of this week's essay. While I still hold out hope that humanity will have a 'hundredth monkey' epiphany and that we'll start making much larger changes than we have to date, all of my personal work will continue to involve collecting knowledge and tools necessary for the future we appear to be heading towards. While that future isn't guaranteed any more than the arrival of alien unicorns carrying cold fusion reactors that can be made from chewing gun and tooth picks, odds aren't in the unicorn's favor...
If I may step into and out of a couple of boxes for a minute or two... I don't blame Dr. Oreskes as she's a historian and the future of renewables in the Western world hasn't yet been written. I do agree with what I think is the main message from the piece you linked, however, as the area she's pushing-back on is the standard propaganda from the political right and fossil fuel universe - the myth that 'intermittent' renewables cannot provide all of our energy. There are examples of peer-reviewed science that shows that it's technically possible with today's tech to use wind, wave, solar (PV and thermal), and biomass (all in a sustainable way) to provide power for today's world without fossil fuel or nuclear back-up, and without massive battery banks. Beyond that, there are the usual problems of will, money, time and raw materials (not enough)...and that leads to the next box...
12/23/15, 8:48 PM
I don't think it's fair to suggest that the existence of subsidies for renewables is proof that they're not up to the task. As an old-school conservative, I do grok the sentiment, but when we examine the playing field on which wind and solar are being deployed, it's clear that the subsidies they receive are tiny compared with the subsidies 'we' give to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.  While (as a taxpayer and veteran with friends still in various 'sand boxes') I'd love to see all of those zeroed-out in the next Federal budget I don't expect subsidies to stop unless/until the bills are delivered to a President's desk via the fusion unicorns noted above. Utility scale wind and solar projects are being done because they've reached grid-parity and are less expensive than some fossil fuels and nuclear generation in the current world of unbalanced subsidies. They're a slam dunk on a level playing field and don't spew greenhouse gases...we have to field them as quickly as possible if we want a 'gradual descent' rather than jumping over a cliff...which brings up the next and last box...
Economics (and our fractional reserve banking system) assumes and requires constant growth on an infinite planet. Some schools of economics are beginning to change paradigms a bit (as you know from a recent speaking engagement?), but not quickly enough. That's the way they see the world, those are the rules of the games they're playing. We're not likely to change them either.
So...considering the social/geopolitical world in which we live - one where use of "shall" means that a climate-denying Congress can keep us (the US – the polluters in chief for the planet) from making any progress - leaving COP21 without "legally binding" language is better than the alternative  At least now we have most of the world moving in the same direction, and have bought a bit of time to do better at the next meetings.
Out of the boxes now... No...there's no way to jump back to 1958  but we are where we are and it's probably better to celebrate the little victories just to keep from crying.
May the new light from the sun/Son bring us all better vision.
12/23/15, 8:48 PM
Cherokee Organics said...
Yeah, it is a bit of a bummer. Perhaps as a useful suggestion, Naomi Oreskes could spend an exciting week or two down here during the depths of winter pondering such mind bogglingly basically incorrect and easy to disprove claims about renewable energy. I do tire when I hear those claims: "that something must save us". The universe is under no obligation to save us, especially if we can't display a modicum of good sense and attempt to save ourselves.
Does this make me a "climate denialist"? Hardly, this summer has shown me just how sharp the pointy end of climate can be. And there are parts of this continent doing it harder than here too. On a bright note, given her age, I might be able to put Naomi to work hauling firewood, but from the Internet images, she doesn't look to me like she would be up for too much hard work. On a serious note, a couple of hours a week in a gym will never provide the sort of physical and mental endurance a person needs to accomplish hard physical labour and still be fit and well enough to get up and do it again the next day and the day after that too. And then there is knowing when to stop and take a break and when not to work at all. I wouldn't be betting the farm on the chances of renewable energies being able to save industrial civilisation - especially when you add in the complexities of an increasingly hostile and uncaring climate.
That lack of common sense is what motivates my actions here. That's why despite the fact that today is 33'C (91.4'F) in the shade in a few hours’ time, I'm going out in that hot sun to move another cubic metre (a bit over a cubic yard) of manure. Because people talk so much rubbish about the future that to me that talk doesn't stand much close scrutiny. I hate to use the mental image of the lifeboat, but I was on that metaphorical ship and it wasn't going anywhere good and I jumped ship as soon as I understood the risk. Maybe jumping ship may land me in even more troubled waters - at even greater risk, but it sure as heck is better than sitting around and waiting for the inevitable which is that the Titanic will (and did) sink taking most hands down with it.
I read that James Lovelock book. He didn't seem like the sort of guy to muck around. But I recall - and someone please correct me if I am wrong - that he may have been overly troubled - even possibly despondent - by his own experiences at the hands of nature in a rural area.
Thanks for the link to the methane crater. Wow. Not good. What interested me about that was that they only found water in the crater at about 70m below the surface level which may indicate that the area - if warmed up significantly - may actually be quite arid. Just sayin. Anyway, I'm surprised the author didn't suggest an immediate drilling program to capture the methane so that it could be burnt for scientific purposes. ;-)!
12/23/15, 8:53 PM
Cherokee Organics said...
I have to maintain a certain level of humour about this stuff, because down here we are already generally 3'C over the long term average. Last year and the year before were generally 2'C above the long term average. There's a bit of fat for further temperature rises, but it gets harder here every single year – but I do learn and adapt.
The other thing that worries me particularly is that very few people - outside of a small fringe element - are considering agricultural techniques that can adapt to more challenging climactic conditions. The simple answer lies in the fact that these adaptions are much lower yielding than our present industrial agricultural methods. It is no different than the solar PV energy in that nature provides much lower energy than what we have become accustomed to from fossil fuels.
Down here the aftermath of bush fires driven by hotter, drier, wetter and windier weather conditions is that one day pretty much everyone in this corner of the continent outside of the inner urban areas can look forward to the prospect of living in what looks to me like a war zone. And oh yeah, the outer suburbs (and perhaps middle suburbs as well) are toast. Seriously – they don’t stand a chance from bush fires. If anyone doesn’t believe that claim have a look at the Canberra 2003 bush fires – and Canberra is our national capital city.
Quote: "balancing concerns about the climate with the supposed need for perpetual economic growth" - well those are contradictory outcomes and it was never possible to achieve both. As to perpetual economic growth - that concept is insane.
Thanks for writing this essay.
PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Bikram Ultimate Fighting Kangaroos. Bikram is a form of yoga practiced at what seems to me to be crazy hot temperatures. There is actually a link to a video I made of two young buck kangaroos fighting in the orchard in the past few days. Oh yeah, there was a serious heatwave last week, a big bush fire kicked off and I had front row seats (not that I wanted or need to see that). I helped a hot and distressed Koala Bear cross the road and climb into the shade of a tree. The bees are hot, I'm hot, the world is hot down here. But I also show how I'm adapting to this new normal. I also show how the garden is adapting to this heat. There are lots of yummy berries to eat still and there was a brief rainfall. Lots of hot photos (that sounds a bit dodgy doesn't it?) and interesting stories.
12/23/15, 8:53 PM
And I wish you all a Joyous Advent, everyone, and may you all enjoy your holidays as you see fit!
12/23/15, 9:00 PM
I can usually do better than such sarcasm (however supportive) but that's about the best I can manage right now. No peaceful reflective solstice for me, amid the demanding tumult of family holiday gathering. And unseasonably warm weather during cold seasons has always put me on edge, from childhood on. Back then, it was because I figured warm winter days would have to be "paid for" by equally unseasonably cold ones later. Now I wish that were so, but the cost of these warm days we're currently experiencing in the eastern U.S. is of course much higher than that.
Your reply above to Cathy is perfectly timed for me. Something to contemplate as I go to sleep and prepare for the next few days of "festivities." Thank you for that.
12/23/15, 9:03 PM
Shane W said...
12/23/15, 9:17 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Peter, my house is about 250 meters above sea level, and there's a mountain range between me and the ocean, so we're pretty much set. I don't know that I'd want to live anywhere near the sea, all things considered.
Marcu, the only changes I'd make in my recommendations have to do with the hard fact that there isn't anything like as much time to prepare now as there was when I started this blog. If you're going to collapse now and avoid the rush, you'd better get a move on, because the rush is on its way.
Eric, I know. I've seen exactly the same thing happen more times than I can count.
Mark, exactly. At this point we have a choice: we can shut down industrial society, and a lot of people will die, or we can keep it running until it slams face first into the brick wall of the future, and a lot of people will die. Take your pick!
Howard, yep. The one upside is that evolution works fast in harsh circumstances, and new species that can handle the poisons will emerge in due time.
Rapier, I wonder if there's any way we can talk climate-change deniers into investing heavily in Miami Beach real estate as a way to show the rest of us how wrong we are? Seeing their investments underwater in the literal sense would be some consolation...
William, I was figuring, given the European flavor, that it was set in northern Scandinavia or Siberia. For what it's worth, the biosphere has shrugged off drastic climate changes plenty of times in the past, and I expect it to rebound fairly well once the initial shocks are over.
Blueback, I hadn't seen the documentary, but I'm familiar with the research. That seems like a good rough estimate for our future.
RepubAnon, I'm sure that's definitely a part of it. As usual for people with the Wall Street mentality, though, they've overstayed the market...
12/23/15, 9:23 PM
jessi thompson said...
12/23/15, 9:25 PM
My Father in Law's elderly cousin died a month back, and my wife helped clean and clothe the corpse. After we were done with the last turkey today she said: "I'm done with death for the year". It is the cold dark season. We have meat in the freezer. And it will be another 10 months before I have to look a gentle bird in the eye and behead it. I do thank them; at the time, and at each meal.
in the Bramblepatch
12/23/15, 9:32 PM
Shane W said...
totally agree with your post. You aren't really conscious of your energy use till you live off grid and have to depend on what you produce--and that's with solar panels, which aren't sustainable long term! It gave me a great appreciation for energy demands of a typical lifestyle, as well as how well one can live with less energy.
There's something rewarding about shoveling manure (or cleaning out a chicken coop), or doing anything real. It can be meditative. "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun." Maybe you could ditch the English tradition, take a midday siesta, and work midday to sundown instead? LOL
12/23/15, 9:44 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Cherokee, I've noticed consistently that those people who insist airily that of course we can maintain a modern industrial lifestyle on renewable resources have never tried to live that way themselves, and I appreciate the regular feedback from you and others who do rely on sun and wind for power -- it's a badly needed reality check. Your comment about people not preparing for agriculture in a changed climate can be extended much further -- very few people seem to be willing to make any preparations at all for the future that's bearing down on us.
HalFiore, nah, Peak Bran was chronicled in the Mabinogion. ;-)
Myriad, sarcasm isn't a bad response. I consider myself very fortunate to be facing a very quiet solstice season. Wasn't it George Burns who said that it's very important to have a close, loving family...at least three states away?
Shane, it is indeed. Good for you, for reading Schumacher.
Jessi, funny. Yeah, that's about it.
Glenn, good. To my mind, if you're going to eat meat, you need to be willing to do the deed yourself. (I say this as an omnivore who, yes, has killed and butchered his own dinner on more than one occasion.)
12/23/15, 9:53 PM
Greetings from outside (and more importantly, well above) Boston, where it's likely to hit 70º tomorrow. Perhaps we'll start planting oranges. Someone needs to step into Florida's shoes, after all. Have a sunny solstice!
12/23/15, 9:56 PM
12/23/15, 9:59 PM
At some point, I'm hoping that circumstances will make people stand up and take notice of the world around them. Waiting for governments to solve problems that we need to tackle ourselves is a non-response. Recently one of the major rivers bordering between India and Bangladesh has been catching fire:
Government officials were contacted, they assessed the situation and they are 'monitoring it'. Clearly a non-response. Once things get this bad it is too late.
Fiddling while the planet burns clearly isn't an action plan either. Hope for the best and plan for the worst is also self defeating.
It comes back to your 'Ocean city' post, where the sea and the cool wind will still be here in five thousand years, whereas industrial civilization will be long since gone. Hard to figure out life, is everything just loss??
12/23/15, 10:10 PM
If that first hominid firemaker had instead invented a solar cooker then things might have turned out differently, but he or she made the easy choice and sealed our fate.
12/23/15, 10:58 PM
Cherokee Organics said...
Thank you for the feedback about the reality check. Believe me, it was a shock to me initially too. Seriously, I had delusions and daydreams about the solar power system and reality quickly gave me a solid thump on the backside! However, I learned and adapted and can now live within the strict limitations imposed on my energy use by nature – whilst trying not to stress the system which will shorten its lifespan. The thing that worries me about the: "there just must be some way" brigade is that they'll place even more burdens on the biosphere at some point in the future instead of knuckling down and getting on with the gritty realities.
As to the second point that you raised, yeah, I worry about that too. However, I reckon that it won’t be until the waves are lapping over the shop fronts consistently that adaption gets discussed by the pundits.
Well it is pretty hot here today and I was intending to work in the old chicken enclosure and recycle some of the upright pine posts. The heat kept me inside instead. That was lucky for me that I wasn't actually working there, because a huge branch dropped from a great height and fell onto that area. When the trees here get heat and water stressed they sometimes adapt by dropping limbs as this huge tree did this afternoon. Oh my - that was close.
On a more positive note, this heat brings out the insects and I just spotted a huge diversity of butterflies and native wasps cruising around and enjoying the flower gardens.
How is your winter going, did you have snowfall for the solstice?
Thanks very much for your comment last week. I see the stresses down here too as well as the additional stress of trying to maintain a facade of normalcy.
Yeah, being disconnected from the mains grid certainly teaches one the real limitations of renewable supplies. The funny thing is that I heard a podcast from the Extraenvironmentalist (Justin and Seth do a great job - respect dudes!) and they were talking to a NZ dude (Stephen Baumer?) and another lady (Nicole Foss) who were saying solar electricity is really expensive. But I was thinking to myself it all really depends on how much you expect out of your system. A system for a couple of lights, a pump, fridge and a radio. No problems - cheap as.
Enjoy your manure too and it is rewarding isn't it? And I avoid the midday sun and go off and do other things. For example it is easier for me to reply over summer than winter because of the break in the middle of the day. Winter, my free time is much shorter as I can work so much longer outside - even when it is only a couple of degrees Celsius just past freezing.
12/23/15, 11:28 PM
Martin B said...
Some realistic figures on renewable energy: According to our national utility Eskom, renewables supply 3% of the energy and 16% of the cost.
To be fair, the latest bids for renewable energy projects are cheaper than the earlier ones tendered a couple of years ago.
To also be fair, our one nuclear power station, Koeberg, is the most reliable plant in the fleet and supplies the cheapest energy, having been paid off years ago. (Most of our power is from coal-fired power stations.) Touch wood it doesn't do a Fukushima. It's on the coast not far from me.
12/23/15, 11:48 PM
Stuart Jeffery said...
You are spot on with the appalling outcome, both in practical and rhetoric terms, of COP21. One further 'commitment' was for carbon neutrality by 2050, i.e. they plan for carbon dioxide levels to continue to rise for the next 35 years. As this autumn was 1.4 degrees C hotter than 100 years ago, the time for action to prevent the cataclysm is long past.
You stated that renewables rely on subsidies. Here in the UK, fossil fuel subsidies are 7 times higher than renewable ones and nuclear is also subsidised heavily. Personally, I see no issue with government investment, which is a far nicer word than subsidy, especially if the money is going to something positive!
One thing you didn't mention about nuclear is that the plants tend to be built next to the sea (or large bodies of water I assume). As Japan discovered the natural water coolant effect that will take over from the internal cooling systems in a couple of decades may be hard to cope with.
12/24/15, 12:09 AM
- yes, I see the irony in expelling so much carbon to visit a beach house. Google image search 'wooli' to see just how bad it will be (but oh so nice to visit right now)!
-try doing that trip without fossil fuels (with favorable winds maybe a week in a fast yacht?) Yet it is considered mundane, or perhaps even a right, to travel so flippantly and cheaply.
- the drive South from Brisbane includes some very shiny new sections of 4 lane freeway. It is an ongoing project by the federal and state government to upgrade 1000km of highway between Brisbane and Sydney to dual carriage way. Complete with tunnels, overpasses and bypasses so cars and trucks can stay at 110kph the entire journey. They have been going for nearly 20 years now, spending countless billions. Meanwhile the only rail link between two cities with a combined population exceeding 6 million is a single track to serve all passenger and freight traffic. The mind boggles.
-I sometimes wonder if I should feel bad at such prolific consumption? At home I homebrew, run chooks, grow vege's and buy used goods but it is all for nothing the second I board a plane (which is usually twice a year). If this is the titanic, perhaps I am the guy hanging at the bar while the music plays. Bottoms up! How do other ADR readers feel about this sort of thing? Is serious energy conservation even worth it? Enjoy the cheap travel or stay at home? Personally I have made my own decision (obviously), but am interested in the thoughts of others who ponder an energy constrained future.
I hope everyone gets to spend the next few days with friends, or at least family and the tables are straining with food.
12/24/15, 12:52 AM
12/24/15, 12:57 AM
Here in southern New England we have had the warmest winter solstice ever--temperatures ranging 40 F to 60 F (I guess that would be about 10 C to 20 C) and not just for a single day, either!
It is supposed to continue right through Christmas. :/
Most people seem to be loving it.
12/24/15, 1:11 AM
My house is at 375m asl, the sea level would need to be 200m asl (current)ti fulfil the vision. If that happened the entire coast of Tasmania and some 90% of its infrastructure would be screwed.
12/24/15, 1:46 AM
I wouldn't take too much comfort in living at high elevation. Storm effects like flash flooding and mudslides can be deadly, too.
12/24/15, 1:53 AM
"It wasn't that they didn't take an interest in the world around them. On the contrary, they had a deep, personal and passionate involvement in it, but instead of asking, 'Why are we here?' they asked, 'Is it going to rain before the harvest?'
A philosopher might have deplored this lack of mental ambition, but only if he was Really Certain about where his next meal was coming from."
Clearly the rules of our world's current game are being written by those who are quite certain where their next meal is coming from...
12/24/15, 2:07 AM
As for the impact on the banking scam as countless loans go under water along with the properties they were secured against, I suspect that might give a few politicians sleepless nights
And then there the propensity to the rich folks to live on the beaches while the poor ones like me live back in the banjo country. Could be a reversal of fortune coming around the corner, perhaps?
12/24/15, 2:13 AM
ed boyle said...
12/24/15, 2:16 AM
Sven Eriksen said...
12/24/15, 2:30 AM
Ursachi Alexandru said...
Wishing you and everyone a happy Solstice/merry Christmas (or whatever else is to celebrate at this time of year) from sunny Romania, where December now feels more like late October-early November.
12/24/15, 2:56 AM
They surely could not be serious about climate change unless COP21 had of been held in Adelaide Australia in summer ...
12/24/15, 3:16 AM
I do think you're onto something with those flatulent unicorns, though. Maybe some bright geek from my former home of Silicon Valley can put together a VC-funded startup to promote the manufacture of said unicorns, and thus save the world.
12/24/15, 4:00 AM
I weep for my fruit trees which won't get enough chill hours to bloom in spring.
12/24/15, 4:30 AM
Damaris Zehner said...
RepubAnon, I think the phrase you want is "Apres moi, le deluge." It's becoming not just metaphorically but literally appropriate these days.
12/24/15, 5:00 AM
Phil Harris said...
Nice one! (sorry ... Ancient British catch-phrase betrays my age)
FWIW I think we will defend London for the first one metre - after that, no.
A quote from a line I wrote a while ago:
"The suddenness sometimes of normality"
All is not well in Britland http://www.coppolacomment.com/ “The road to the workhouse” …
but ... the year has turned - the moon was up all last night working the fields and trees and we are in bright sunlight this noon despite much News.
All the very best to all
12/24/15, 5:21 AM
Mark Hines said...
Another example that just recently brought this to my mind was that Brazilian authorities are advising couples not to get pregnant because there has been a drastic increase in a virus that is causing large numbers of birth defects.
Nature always has the last say, and the population will seem to be reduced when overshoot has been reached.
12/24/15, 5:25 AM
Lou Nelms said...
So, yeah, Paris represents this forward, with it faith. It is a lie that civilization at this stage has to tell itself. The lie that continued economic growth is our all purpose cure. That the world will grow in prosperity to pull this rabbit out its rear. That a world that can't now get its political act together will become more politically stable in the future as events unravel at an accelerating pace. That high tech agriculture based on oil will be able to feed another few billion. That somehow with our fossil based infrastructure falling apart, we can afford to maintain it while building out rapidly on renewable energy, which as you repeatedly state, is only doable on a continuing investment in fossils.
Question the track and why we would want to stay on it for no other reason than to sustain this aberrant path.
12/24/15, 5:27 AM
What I'm getting at is: people are noticing. That percolation of awareness is itself too little, too late: to extend your metaphor, those of the passengers voting for evacuation of the ship will continue to be shouted down until there's no chance of anything but a panicked scramble; and noticing that there are gaping holes in the current narrative doesn't mean people immediately see through them to the truth. All the same, I'm stumbling across more and more commentary by people in surprisingly mainstream locations - though of course this is relative, but encompassing spheres of thought and activism beyond the usual environmental/de-industrial/peak oil crowd - who've either read your blog or come to some of the same conclusions on their own. Giles Fraser ("Magical thinking about progress won't save planet Earth") and Charlotte Du Cann ("Paris: the untold story") come to mind. (Yes, the writers are part of the typical crowd - but they were published in a mainstream newspaper and a Scottish independence website, which is less so.)
Meanwhile, it could well be the hottest December on record, but of course global warming isn't real because there was a temperature peak in '48. (Or thereabouts - I'll admit I'd retreated into the familiar "You're never going to understand this, are you?" despair and wasn't paying complete attention.) My own coastal city is rather less vulnerable to sea level rise than some, but we'll still be underwater if/when the Greenland sheet goes… Ah, well. I'll be moving away as soon as I can figure out how.
12/24/15, 5:37 AM
Seriously, I remember the apocalyptic take of the Green movement a few years ago: "Earth will become like Venus", etc. If they are backtracking now, many people will draw the conclusion that the climate change denialists were right, and that the situation isn´t that grave.
Perhaps some people really will invest in south Florida real estate - but unfortunately, ordinary people who will be conned to part with their life savings...
12/24/15, 5:38 AM
12/24/15, 5:47 AM
An additional dimension to the problem of rising ocean levels in places like South Florida that concerns me is this: no one is going to make property owners remove their buildings before they flee for higher ground elsewhere. They will simply abandon what are, in effect, hazardous waste receptacles."
And even after the chemicals have been dissolved to oblivion in the ocean the buildings will still be there, each skycrapper a graveyard for future sailors. The best course would be to blow up the building, either with controlled demolition or artillery shells and salvage as much metal and legacy tech as possible. That would save sailor`s lives in the decades and centuries ahead.
12/24/15, 5:51 AM
Even many of those who are "aware" fail to grasp the one simple truth, that might help somewhat; scaledown drastically.
All those wonderfully thought up renewable, technical and nuclear solutions exclude the one that might do the trick; stop using energy on the scale we do, right now. Ask a crack addict to stop getting his fix... And face it, if anyone wants to somehow be an acceptable part of what we call society today, he/she simply can not!
Paris was doomed from the very beginning and those that were murdered to create, among other things, an excuse to silence the mounting waves of protests before it, will only skip seeing the ugly scenes we and our children will be facing.
On another note, I read somewhere that all that meltwater might actually trigger another series of events. It might disrupt the oceanic currents, not only robbing my part of the world from the temperate climate we have and creating a significant cool down of the region (northern Europe and Scandinavia), but maybe even stopping altogether, turning the oceans into vast stagnant pools. If I read correctly, that happened before and the vast majority of life perished, because those stagnant waters started emitting hydrogen sulfide into the atmosphere on vast scales.
So... take your pick; massive floods and irratic extreme weatherpatterns, creating mass migration and thus massconflict, a new iceage or asphyxiation... Truly interesting times for us and our offspring ahead...
And yet I suffer from denialism too, because I refuse to accept that future, where we are all wiped out, as a given fact and I still do hope that some of us or our offspring can and will make it somehow and that their lives will not be the miserable hell I sometimes envision.
12/24/15, 5:54 AM
Art Deco said...
Both the Paris non event and the endless war in Syria show that the odds of the RebupliCrats actually accomplishing anything varies from slim to none. This might be a good year for a third party candidate to run. Which could be frightening, judging by the European third parties this year.
But as Cathy pointed out above, there is still much good in this world, and still much to look forward to that will outlast us.
Wishing all of you whatever greetings don't offend you this year.
12/24/15, 6:21 AM
Renaissance Man said...
(He said 'everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it.')
12/24/15, 6:23 AM
12/24/15, 6:32 AM
I planned to spend the solstice in meditation, setting intentions. Instead, my shortest day of the year started right around midnight when I was awakened by a yippping coyote pack in my pasture. The day was further darkened by the clouds, fog and rain, but mostly by half the catfood uneaten and their hay nest not slept in. That led to a very long, very dark night as I worried about the younger, more fragile of my cats. But a glimmer of light the morning after -- all food gone and 2 clear flattened side-by-side patches where they sleep.
And now I see my break has gone a bit over, so I'm off to the list of chores that only seems to grow...Cheers all, Happy Solstice
12/24/15, 6:59 AM
12/24/15, 7:00 AM
Mr. Bystander said...
In your series of postings about the different "Eras" earlier this year the content was mostly based on the economy. If you transpose those ideas onto climate change then you can probably say with almost certainty that we're living in the Era of Impact. I can't think of any climate event in recent memory that compares to COP 21 in scale. The fact that it received more media attention than a scrolling headline under a talking head speaks volumes. However with all the great ideas and good intentions that came out of the meetings, almost nothing is being done in response.
I think you said it best back in May...
"...it’s inconceivable to most people in these two eras [Pretense and Impact] that the existing order of things is itself the source of society’s problems, and has to be changed in some way that goes beyond the cosmetic dimension. When the inconceivable becomes inescapable, in turn, the second phase gives way to the third, and the era of response has arrived. "
I fear we may have to see some coastal cities demolished by rising seas to get a more meaningful response.
12/24/15, 7:16 AM
Brian Kaller said...
As I noted in a "Restoring Mayberry" blog post recently -- and in my column for the newspaper here -- awareness of climate change goes back a long way.
I have on my shelf a 1955 popular science book called "The World We Live In," written to promote science among young Americans in an age when both Life and science education were commonplace and uncontroversial. It casually states that pollution from cars and factories had boosted CO2 levels by 10 per cent -- those were the days! -- and that the world would get much hotter in the years ahead. At the time, saying that humans would someday walk on the moon would have been more contentious. The first, admittedly passing and oblique, reference to climate change in a presidential speech was by Lyndon Johnson in 1965.
Do you think the ebb and flow of climate attitudes is related to climate summits? In other words, is it possible that pessimism increases in the disappointment following a climate conference such as this, and then decreases as everyone's hopes rise about the next conference?
12/24/15, 7:48 AM
Jay Moses said...
of all the "spacebat" ideas floating around these issues the scariest to me are geoengineering schemes such as putting reflective material into the atmosphere and seeding the oceans with iron. not a good time to misplace a decimal point. cheers upon the season to all and sundry.
12/24/15, 8:08 AM
Gabriela Augusto said...
Did you know that by 1100 AD, henna, now cultivated in Moroco, grown near Toledo? That a frost in May in the Iberian Peninsula ruined the vineyards around the same time and was such an exceptional event that was registered as "the year of the frost" in monasteries of Galicia and Leon? Frosts as such, now occur every other year. There are maps of walking tracks across the Alps draft as late as the XIII century AD, that are now impracticable because of glaciers that sprawl after that!
Climate change is undeniable, but climate as always changed! It is very likely that some of that change might be due to industry metabolismo, but I do sometimes wonder if this whole theory of the global warming doesn’t participate of the delusion of self-importance we like to attribute to ourselves that lead us treat as insignificant all natural creatures without direct and clear purpose to be of service to ourselves.
At he end of the day though, the industrial civilization and capitalism will not be able to cope with climate change, guess what: nature has no capital in SP500 neither in CAC40...
12/24/15, 8:09 AM
John Crawford said...
Very well done.
Telling it as it is.
Need I say more?
12/24/15, 8:16 AM
Dorda Giovex said...
I have 2 observations:
1- while it is true that currently methane is quickly degraded in atmosphere (and a generally accepted fact in climate science) I think that this is not necessarily true in the future: methane is degraded primarily by reaction with oxydrile ions generated, if i am not wrong, by lightning. If for any reason the oxydrile production falls then methane permanence will increase dramatically. I can see 3 reasons for methane permanence to become longer :a-saturation of oxydrile (i.e more methane is released than oxydrile is generated) b-drought reduces lightning and oxydrile generation in some areas c-huge methane releases could drastically reduce oxygen concentrations in air as during the permian extinction and consequently reduce oxidryl generation.
2-this deal sounds exactly like the transition from the denial to the bargaining phase of trauma.. it is still totally unreasonable of course but it is already positive imo.
12/24/15, 8:19 AM
Brother Guthlac said...
Oil prices are even weirder than predicted.
But at least Ebola did not follow "worst case" projections.
12/24/15, 9:04 AM
Moshe Braner said...
12/24/15, 9:12 AM
Moshe Braner said...
It is 65 degrees F (18C) right now in Vermont. This very spookily warm fall/early winter in the NE USA (and beyond) should be a major wake-up call, but no. Even the deadly tornadoes in the SE USA yesterday will be ignored, as were Katrina and Sandy and Irene, the drought in California, and the flooded streets of Miami.
12/24/15, 9:23 AM
Ed Ryan, CPA said...
12/24/15, 9:24 AM
12/24/15, 9:27 AM
Human nature being what it is, I would expect a panic and rush for the exits when S Fla real estate investors collectively see the writing on the wall. Much of the big money is coming from Brazil and other collapsing South American economies as the rich seek to protect their wealth. China also to some extent, altho they're focused mostly on San Francisco. I'm selling soon.
Finding a new home for my family is a top concern. Outside the US seems fraught with danger as US persons may be targeted and vilified. The US West is out with probable arid conditions (despite Lake Mead's recent ballyhooed 1.92 inches in new rain--inches, not feet LOL). You didn't mention the potential ice age caused by a freshwater-induced stoppage of the Thermohaline circulation. It may get very cold in Maryland.
Also, the migrant crisis in the EU is probably a tidbit sampler of the migration to come. Fighting and war seems inevitable--maybe with nukes. A planet with a 21st century 7.2B population (and rising to 9B) cannot be sustained by a 19th century economy.
Where to go? Western NC is my guess.
12/24/15, 9:33 AM
Humans may be wiped out like cockroaches at some point in the future. And I don't think there are any of us with children that don't fear for their future, fear what horrors they may have to face, or we ourselves in the decades to come, but there is this: we can see what has happened and why: we have forgotten the foundations on which our lives are built, the life that we share with microbe, bee, flower, tree, and fellow beasts.
We measure our progress in dead things that are built upon destruction, instead of the flourishing of life; in entertainment and distraction from "reality" instead of caring stewardship of the places where we live. Preaching to the choir, I know. Anyway, the world is still waiting for us in all its ardent beauty and I wish everyone - JMG and the community of thinkers here - joy in the season of renewal.
12/24/15, 9:35 AM
Wolfgang Brinck said...
As for preparing for an altered planet with a radically altered climate, my personal choice is to stay mobile rather than digging in. I currently live on a small island in San Francisco Bay. Sea level rise will probably impact the city within the next two decades given that about half of the land is landfilled salt marsh mere feet above the current high-tide mark.
But who knows, if the California drought persists, we should have climate refugees from the drought before sea level rise impacts us.
Besides staying mobile, trying to get our lifestyle down as close to third world levels as possible is a priority. It's hard to do of course when you still have social ties to people invested in an industrial future. Cutting ties with these people and building relationships with like-minded people who understand that the future is one of material poverty is something we have to work on.
12/24/15, 9:47 AM
Greg Burton said...
And that means, for us here in the Golden Caliphate I-mean-state, that San Francisco Bay is going to about double in area, inundating a huge chunk of the Central Valley and turning Tracy into a seaport. (My one quibble with Retrotopia is that Cali is likely to have more than a civil war to deal with - and substantially less potable water and agricultural land.)
It also means that the current estuarial biomes are toast, regardless of conservation efforts. Soil remediation, on the other hand, is increasingly critical. The over-fertilization of Central Valley soils means that there is a huge stock of nitrates and nitrites just waiting to get leached by rising water. Meaning our Emergent Bay will be a dead zone unless something is done about that. Not to mention the heavy metals and the refinery site....
The levee system - currently in need of around a billion dollars worth of renovation and repair - can be abandoned. The current levees will be underwater - simply repairing them will be throwing money and effort away. A Big Quake that knocked them down would only be speeding up the process by a decade or two.
Real estate, as I understand it, operates on a 15-30 year depreciation cycle. Therefore, I would expect to see real estate demand begin to drop in vulnerable areas, with an accelerating long-term trend downward as greater-fool theory runs out of fools. Those trends are more likely to be signaled by flood insurance rates than by listing prices.
Those rates, in turn, will be affected by climate models of rainfall and runoff. Look for changing definitions of "100 year storm" for gross changes in the models - if you are curious enough and have access, look for changes in storm intensity profile for the same volume of precipitation.
I'm in the process of creating a non-profit to model sea-level rise and generate alternative real-world scenarios. While we *do* have access to the tremendous modeling power of the information age, we should be using it to prepare for a future when we won't.
12/24/15, 9:54 AM
Shane W said...
12/24/15, 10:16 AM
12/24/15, 10:22 AM
Direct and eloquent as ever, John. I have had many a conversation (physical and cyber) with various folks across the entire spectrum ('from it ain't happening/it ain't us' to 'technology will fix everything'), none of whom seem to grasp my unwillingness to engage emotionally while disagreeing with them. I have accepted the fact that I am a late fourth (or more likely, early fifth) century Roman and that I simply have to deal with what is occurring.
The fact that Christmas Eve Day (today) here in Wisconsin reminds me of Christmases I grew up with in South Carolina does rather indicate that something is amiss...
On a side note, I ran across an article:
which evoked that idea of the empire-of-the-mind which I'd mentioned in a previous comment. While the article itself refers to liberating the minds and lands of Africa, it seems to me that the concept of decolonialization is a useful framing tool for deconstructing that imperial framework lodged in our own consciousness. I plan on exploring this further in my own journaling, but it seemed worth mentioning here as well.
Finally, on a side, side note, I'd like to report that I have collected ~85% of the signatures required to qualify for the ballot for city council in my small town. There seems to be a lot of interest this year (which is good from a public participation standpoint) and there may have to be a February primary to narrow the field for the April election.
Best wishes for a happy solstice (belated), Yuletide, Christmas, and New Year to everyone.
12/24/15, 10:36 AM
do you have a reference for the Florida sea rise figure? According to other articles you link to, and inch in a year would be equivalent to some of the major changes at the end of the ice age, and I haven't seen figures like it anywhere else.
12/24/15, 10:40 AM
12/24/15, 10:47 AM
The tax credits for fossil fuels are permanent. We're paying more than $7 billion per year in corporate welfare to incentivize emitting fossil carbon into the atmosphere. Renewables receive less than 1/4 of that rate and none of those incentives are permanent - and that continues to result in 'stop/start' ripples through the entire renewable industry. Unfortunately, when it comes to subsidies for renewables, they're neither "large" nor "ongoing". :(
In spite of this, grid-scale renewables are not only competing with but they're slaughtering even coal in some markets - like Texas.
(from the video interviews with Austin, TX Electric Utility Commissioner Michael Osborne)
Austin, TX - utility scale PV is less than $0.04/kWh. Coal is $0.04-$0.045 per kWh; nuclear is $0.04-$0.045, natural gas $0.06-$0.09 (with some peakers to $0.16) per kWh. Austin Energy says on-shore wind costs between $0.028-$0.038 per kWh.
I agree that we can't build enough solar panels and wind turbines quickly enough to get our energy-pig of a country off fossils in time though, so I guess further policy discussions are moot. Bring on the unicorns...and the Green Wizards.
12/24/15, 10:52 AM
Thanks for the great post. Sobering. Today we have a 16' tide. "Our river" is rising accordingly, with low flows due to the snow and cold here on northern Vancouver Island. Hmmmm, my house is maybe 5 metres above high tide water, but in flood, well that's another story. Luckily, the other bank and valley floor is lower than our side.
I have thought of this membership often as I continue my preps. This winter's list includes rebuilding our chiken pens, coops, and security systems to deal with predators. Which means tearing out everything and starting over. Concrete floors, new posts, new wire fencing, wire covers, solar powered motion lights and live trap platforms are almost finished!!. New compost bins as well!!
I urge readers to make time for serious planning and preparations.
Regards and all the best.
12/24/15, 11:30 AM
At home, my wife and I harbor no illusions about the viability of our current civilization. We are busy implementing various green wizard-type projects and processes, preparing for multiple future scenarios, as we have no idea of what might actually happen. Being located about 90 meters above current sea level helps.
This is a good time of year for reflection.
12/24/15, 11:30 AM
Our home is at 375' elevation, on a hillock with a spring fed creek feeding a pond. 75% of the land is virgin and the remaining 25% greenhouses and fields, with solar aquaponics and solar fans for cooling in summer. Heating is wood stove. Alternate 12VDC LED lighting/solar is used for now in the event power goes. Well is a windmill from 1938 and the new stone house is going up in 2016 - western construction doesn't last - where are the ruins here in North America?
There is NO reason to think this will be avoided by future generations. In the event that climate warming does not offset the solar minimum we are diving into, we are still at the end of and interglacial period - so what is next is already well documented. Simple math delivers the inevitability of fossil fuels, and the technology they support becomes unsupportable due to costs or even availability.
It's not going to be abrupt - if it were, then people could see it in their minds. It will be creeping, fits and starts, temporary lockups and grudging admissions of failure. But there is a wealth of information that will be lost when computer tech finally goes - the amount is immense. Just trying to decide what to buy in print for your progeny is a daunting task.
I don't dwell on it - it just is, and doing the best for your offspring ought to be front and center anyway. The doings are what must change, and some thinking involved. Westerners need to actually DO - move out of harms way and into elsewhere; buy or make things of value and drop the desposable and "buy another at Walmart" memes; understand the priorities are water-food-shelter and the rest is optional.
Aaahhh - so many talk it but so few do - it gets discouraging. So many deny reality, and the internet/smartphone tech allows droves of people to live in a separate reality. Millions will be bulldozed by the future due to this, and so much lost due to short term advances in tech.
I've been reading your stuff JMG, and I find it interesting and very optimistic. It would be quite nice to see it, but I think it may be a less peaceful world of resource wars trying to hang onto tech.
12/24/15, 11:45 AM
12/24/15, 11:50 AM
The Mud Report said...
When looking at why, our governments and media refuse to look at any solutions that don't genuflect to the delusion of endless growth it's clear that to do so would be career suicide. Both governments and the mainstream media [MSM] are captured by the corporations both through their 'donations' to parties that don't seriously rock the capitalist boat and through the fear of a barrage of negative advertising by those corporate powers if they did actually say anything meaningful about the inevitable collapse our current gluttony will result in.
Furthermore the govts and MSM are also captured by their middle class's [every country has a group of powerful interests who benefit in the short term at least from business as usual] unreal expectations of endless more and the refusal of almost everyone to even consider wanting less. The fact is that the scope of change necessary to reverse the environmental calamity our consumer culture has created would crash capitalism and along with it all market based imaginary wealth.
In his essay Greer invokes the Titanic metaphor saying in comparison with COP21: "...after a great deal of debate, the passengers aboard the Titanic voted to impose modest limits sometime soon on the rate at which water is pouring into the doomed ship’s hull." But IMO, as seen in the picture above, the Titanic metaphor more aptly applies to the implications of class division.
On the actual Titanic the leadership made sure the band playing kept playing lest the passengers think something was REALLY wrong. So too on our metaphoric Titanic our elites understand that no good can come from standing up and saying it's all over thereby causing a global panic. Instead our elites, like the real Titanic's 1st Class passengers, are quietly climbing into their lifeboats while the band plays on. i agree with Greer that it's too late and expensive at this point for anything meaningful to be done about environmental collapse that dwells within the realm of the capitalist myth. We're not teetering on the brink of disaster, we're well over it, the band kept playing on the Titanic, even as it sank, so no one would panic, especially not those passengers, who like us, locked into steerage.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the real world elites are buying time and making arrangements including locking us in steerage so as to insure we go down with the ship while they - the wealthy and their ilk - take the few available lifeboat seats - private islands, mountaintop retreats, lavish bunkers or maybe on Mars - that might be able to grow food in the future and are currently being stocked up while we debate and their storm troopers protect them.
The modern tune has verses about how 100% renewables will save us, how nuclear energy will save us, how divestment from fossil fuels will save us or how "God" will save us and how unenforceable promises will save us. They are all crap designed to hypnotize us into voluntarily assuming our places in steerage.
12/24/15, 11:58 AM
Marian Veverka said...
12/24/15, 12:48 PM
Ironically, the search engine I use has some kind of personalized ad system based on my previous browsing at various book-selling sites, so one of the ads that come up next to this article is...wait for it...an ad for "After Progress" by a certain John Michael Greer! :D
I admit that I haven´t read "After Progress". Hmmm...perhaps I should?
12/24/15, 2:11 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Dagnarus, that's certainly my take on it. The Abrahamic religions don't have to be interpreted in an anthropocentric manner, but they generally have been, and that sort of attitude is suicidal when it's combined with technological hubris.
Repent, well, that was certainly the Buddha's take on things, you know.
Robo, I think it's a little much to blame our current mistakes on Homo erectus. We're the ones who chose to ignore half a century of warnings and go pedal to the metal, burning every scrap of fossil fuel we could get.
Cherokee, glad to hear you dodged the falling limb! In the Puget Sound country where I grew up those are called widowmakers, for unpleasantly obvious reasons. Today's temperature topped out at 68 degrees F., and it'll get down to 48 tonight; it's going to be a damp gray Christmas tomorrow, rather like the ones I recall from childhood in Seattle. I used to sing:
"I'm dreaming of a gray Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know,
Where the rain drops dismal
From skies abysmal,
And kids say, 'Daddy, what is snow?'"
Martin, granted, but it doesn't make quite so neat a pun!
Stuart, do you happen to know whether anybody has done the math to determine whether any of today's energy resources would be economically viable without subsidies? It occurs to me that at this point, with net energy declining steadily, industrial society as a whole may be a shell game in which the illusion of viability is being propped up by shoving as many liabilities as possible off book into the category of "externalities"!
Damo, there I can't help you. I gave up such trips a long time ago -- granted, there were (and are) reasons for that besides the energy cost.
Visionary, I know -- I was there at the time. As for fusion progressing, by the way, it was progressing before I was born, and it will still be progressing when you die, without ever getting any closer to its goal...
Gaianne, good -- they'd better get used to it.
Unknown Tasmanian, the highest sea level rise I've seen predicted -- if every bit of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps melts -- is around 60 meters asl, so I think you're good and safe.
Donalfagan, sure, but once you get above the likely future sea level you can pick and choose to find a location that's not vulnerable to mudslides and flooding. Below the likely future sea level, location doesn't matter at all.
12/24/15, 4:57 PM
Dan Mollo said...
12/24/15, 5:09 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Unknown Eagle, true enough.
Ed, I hope your home is well above sea level...
Sven, I'd encourage you to consider planting some trees of varieties that normally grow a few hundred miles south of you, so that if your pines succumb to heat stress, there'll be something to take their place.
Ursachi, yes, I laughed at that. A merry seasonal holiday of your choice to you and yours!
Yif, if they held it in Adelaide, you can be sure it would be in a massively air-conditioned facility.
Mark, given the kind of nonsense that attracts venture funding these days, that's probably a great idea!
Grandmom, you may want to plant a warm-weather fruit tree or two this spring!
Damaris, that's a great story -- thank you. The same attitude is driving a lot of current handwaving about the future.
Phil, did you ever read Richard Jefferies' After London -- to the best of my knowledge, the first novel of deindustrial SF ever written? He imagines London as a vast toxic lake full of bubbling horrors. The guy may have been on to something...
Mark, exactly. I've written here before about what happens when the fantasy of Man the Conqueror of Nature has to deal with the real world.
Lou, that's a hugely important question. What we call "progress" is leading straight to places where no sane person would want to go; everyone complains about the rapidly multiplying downsides -- and yet if you suggest doing anything other than trudging along the same misbegotten path toward the same goal, people stare at you as though you've sprouted an extra head and then start coming up with reasons why they have to keep on trudging along toward a goal they hope they never reach. It really is weird.
Chloe, I hope you're right. If the sheer emptiness and pointlessness of this latest round of climate conferences sinks in, people might finally get around to asking what they themselves can do -- and then maybe a few of them will notice that if they want to leave the carbon in the ground, that means that they, personally, need to stop burning so much of it.
Tidlösa, not at all. Christmas is the story of a child who was born in poverty, lost his father at an early age, grew up in a nation under the brutal rule of a foreign despot, was homeless as an adult, was betrayed by people he loved and trusted, and suffered a cruel, painful, and humiliating death -- and rose above all of it. (In any sense you chooose, theological or otherwise.) That story seems noticeably relevant just now.
12/24/15, 5:57 PM
Enjoyed the post. Thanks for recommending the book Hot Earth Dreams. I read the sample chapters on his web site, the book has a pleasant easy to read tone so I ordered a copy.
All the best in 2016.
12/24/15, 6:10 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Ron, I'm not too worried about the survival of our species. Human beings are among nature's supreme generalists, right up there with rats and cockroaches; for megafauna, we're remarkably difficult to kill. It's entirely possible that we'll get an oceanic anoxic event -- that's the situation where the deep marine circulation shuts down, and everything below about 200 meters dies; that's one of the normal ways that the Earth deals with excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Still, those happen fairly often in planetary history, and don't produce the apocalyptic consequences that the far end of the climate change lobby likes to insist.
Art, no holiday greeting you care to offer will offend me!
Mary, glad to hear that you told your former employers to get lost. That sort of thing is embarrassingly common these days! It's also good to hear that you've managed to surf the wave of change without too much trouble. A happy solstice to you and yours -- particularly the cats!
Mr. B, I suspect it's going to take more than a few flooded cities. I honestly expect that when southern Florida becomes an uninhabited salt marsh and Manhattan has to be abandoned to the homeless because the subways and utility tunnels are full of seawater, the media will be babbling about how everything will be fixed soon and Goldman Sachs is relocating to Omaha because the bankers prefer the climate there...
Brian, I have that book! It's been a long time since I read it, and I'll have to revisit its discussion of global warming. As for climate summits, nah, I see them as pure froth. Only a few activists pay attention to them once they're off the front pages.
Jay, I'll give him a look. Thanks!
Gabriela, yes, it was called the early medieval warm period, and was followed by the Little Ice Age. Of course climate changes on its own -- which is all the more reason not to mess with it by treating the atmosphere as a sewer! The fact that a grizzly bear might have its own reasons for bashing your head in is not a good reason to poke it with a stick...
John, thank you.
Dorda, if I recall correctly, ultraviolet light also breaks down methane into carbon dioxide and water. Nor do lightning storms seem to be getting any less frequent -- check out the latest storms in the US southeast, which until recently didn't usually get cataclysmic thunderstorms complete with tornadoes in December...
Brother G., yes, we dodged that bullet. Here comes the next one.
Moshe, I think people have their eyes scrunched shut, their fingers in their ears, and are shouting "La, la, la, I can't hear you" at the top of their lungs, because they know what's happening and can't deal with it.
12/24/15, 6:20 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Darren, I tend to stay clear of the conspiracy-theory community for a variety of reasons. As for geoengineering, until human beings are smart enough to solve the three-body problem, we have zero business thinking that we can manage something as overwhelmingly complex as planetary climate.
Tye, anywhere on the western slopes of the Appalachians might be worth trying; we're far enough east not to get the droughts, and underpopulated enough that land and housing is cheap.
Mgalimba, maybe so, but it's a sermon worth hearing.
Wolfgang, better you than me. In your place I'd be leaving California as fast as humanly possible.
Greg, if you think calling the COP-21 conference a useless farce is being too kind to it, I raise my hat to a master of invective! As for California in 2065, though, the civil war is just what's on the front pages of Atlantic Republic news websites that year. The killing droughts, the drowning of Sacramento beneath rising seas, and all the other crises are old hat, no more newsworthy than another third world famine, by the time Carr gets on the train to Toledo.
Zaphod, you're welcome.
Buddha, congrats! I wish you a happy holiday and a successful career in local politics.
Matt, it was in one of the Florida articles I linked to. The slowing of the Gulf Stream and certain other local factors are boosting sea level off Florida much faster than elsewhere, iirc.
Maddy, you'll find exactly such a list in my book Green Wizardry.
Andy, did you notice that you sidestepped the other points I referenced, in order to fixate on the subsidies issue? I certainly did.
Paulo, in your case I'd still be looking at moving to higher ground...
12/24/15, 6:33 PM
Howard Skillington said...
I doubt that anyone in government has the foresight to anticipate this problem, so I thought I’d have a go at it.
First, the notion that an individual, no matter how rich, can “own” a portion of the edge of a great ocean has always been absurd. Preexisting ownership of oceanfront property will be grandfathered; otherwise, no new rights to such claims will be created.
Second, that polluting the ocean is a serious crime for which those who abandon properties will be held accountable, but with options and incentives to make that responsibility manageable.
Objective criteria should be established for declaring an oceanfront property condemned well ahead of the actual fact of it being washed into the sea. At the point of condemnation the owner has options: retain full ownership of the territory between defined coordinates which will soon be underwater, and become responsible for the property’s complete removal before that eventuality; or relinquish any claim to ownership and at the same time be absolved of any responsibility for what happens to it thereafter.
The state would them have a sort of reverse auction for the property’s salvage rights. If ownership is retained, the title holder has first refusal for salvage rights; if ownership is relinquished, any qualified salvage operation could compete for the job. The bidder that accepted the lowest state subsidy for the salvage operation would win the job, with the additional incentive of being awarded an easement for controlling ocean access at that spot until such time as the next property inland is overtaken by the rising ocean level and is condemned in turn. In some cases that temporary easement and the value of salvageable materials on the property could be hoped to substantially offset the cost of the salvage subsidy to the state.
This proposal would evoke howls of outrage from conservatives and libertarians who regard property rights as a sort of religion. It would also be enormously expensive to the state. The alternative is to lose the oceans. Does anyone have a better idea?
12/24/15, 8:21 PM
John Michael Greer said...
234567, did you read the sequence of posts about dark age America last year? I thought I gave quite a bit of attention to the warlords and violence of our deindustrial future.
Jean-Vivien, I'd encourage people to get working on those now.
Report, I'm far from sure that the elites are as clear-headed as all that. My take on them is that they resemble nothing so much as the French aristocracy on the eve of the Revolution -- totally convinced of their own omnipotence and invulnerability, when the basis for their power is actually crumbling away beneath their feet.
Marian, what could they do? What could we do? Ahem: CHANGE OUR LIFESTYLES TO BURN LESS CARBON. It really is as simple as that. The 10% of humanity who have modern industrial lifestyles produce 50% of the carbon dioxide that's flooding into the atmosphere; if we -- you and I -- ditch the carbon-intensive lifestyles, we deal with the cause of global climate change.
Tidlösa, why, yes, you should certainly read After Progress! ;-)
Dan, I bet. Ever since Energy Bulletin changed its name to Resilience.org, they've been increasingly short on useful articles and increasingly packed with the kind of vapid and anecdotal feel-good cheerleading that makes Yes! Magazine one of my least favorite periodicals. (I was once asked to write an article for said magazine, and politely declined. The sort of magazine I'd write for would be titled Not Hardly: A Magazine of Realistic Futures.) Between the people who are frantic to be told that renewable resources will let them keep their middle class lifestyles, and the people who are hoping that renewables will get the kind of subsidies and capital lavished in recent years on ethanol and fracking, I'd expect the sort of shouting-down reaction I mentioned in the post.
Trmist, glad to hear it. I should have mentioned, btw, that the first five chapters of the book can be read here.
Howard, it's a sensible proposal, and thus not likely to get far unless the political climate changes very, very quickly. Still, here's hoping.
12/24/15, 8:53 PM
Probably the most emphatic and statement about climate change: "In both the short and even more the long term, any economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment".
Sir Crispin Tickell, director of the Policy Foresight Programme, James Martin Institute at Oxford University and chancellor of the University of Kent at Canterbury, England.
This quote comes from his book published in 1977 - Climate Change and World Affairs and his Wiki entry suggests this has been known and accepted by UK governments for a long time.
12/24/15, 9:23 PM
"Andy: that "thesolutionsproject" site is a hoot. Wishful thinking at its best...And the sun will still not shine on winter nights. Hydropower has its limits, and in some parts of the world is facing catastrophe due to climate-change-induced droughts. Yes, renewables can be helpful - in the context of a radical reduction in total energy use."
Moshe, I don’t disagree with you (or JMG!) in most areas – that’s why I posed my earlier exploration in terms of jumping into and out of boxes (paradigms, worldviews, sets of assumptions, etc.). The point is that "solutions" is one way to replace all fossil fuel today with a 100% renewable grid without any new tech or unicorns. Renewable doesn’t just mean wind or PV, though – there’s much more available than just those options. Affordability is surely a factor, collapse is a factor. But we’re going to spend the money one way or another regardless - what's the best way to spend the cash? From a grid perspective I’ll give you the point for afternoon peak – for today. But fossil energy continues to increase in price and cost while renewable generation prices and costs are decreasing much faster. By the way, the sun is always shining somewhere and we have plenty of sustainable ways to store energy for later use – even at night.
I agree with you overall about the very likely reduction in hydro generation on a warming/drying planet – yet climate change is really climate disruption – and that means disruption of the hydrologic cycle – and that means some places will get much more water. To use a turn of phrase I really hate in this context, some areas will be hydro “winners” while most areas lose. Look at Jacobson's plans - each state includes capability for that state. Geothermal generation is available for some; tidal for others. I strongly recommend that you read Jacobson’s papers and check his assumptions and his math. Then become familiar with the Third Industrial Revolution plan being implemented in the entire EU, China, and other areas. Then hit RMI’s Reinventing Fire plan. Each of those is designed to remove all fossil and nuclear generation (RMI’s plan keeps a bit of natural gas for peaking) within 30 years while costing the same or less than we’re already going to spend.
12/24/15, 9:41 PM
For the past 12 or so years, I’ve been re-working my life to eliminate as much of everything with a fossil fuel tail that I can. I don’t have a TV or use social media. Lights are LED or a few remaining CFL. I relied on my feet and a bicycle while living without a car in this town with very poor mass transit (and now drive a small EV as this disabled veteran’s body isn’t working like it did when I was 30). I’ve made my own ethanol and biodiesel fuel, composted with worms and black soldier flies, used aquaponics and raised chickens. I’ve got solar thermal equipment, a complete PV system, rainwater harvesting/filtration equipment, and parts for a biomethane digester in preparation for a move to a small piece of property that’ll become a permaculture farm with a passive solar house (in the form of an Earthship). I know exactly how many kWh I use and exactly how it’s used. To show the benefit of passive solar and appropriate design, both the apartment I’m renting now and the planned Earthship have the same floor space and I assume all that I’ve pared my life down to here will transfer there (including the solar oven, Kitchen Aid mixer and bread machine). The Earthship will be powered with 2200W of PV, one 4x8’ solar thermal panel, and fuel from a 3 cu m biomethane reactor for cooking and back-up hot water generation. The ‘ship will also collect all my water and reprocess grey water for re-use while providing some food. Construction is carbon negative right from the start. My current quarters are 100% -I’d need more than 10 times the PV on this building for an annual net-zero electricity balance.
The ability to cut 90% of electricity use relative to an average American is not a pipe dream or a paper exercise – it’s been done all over the US and Canada for the 40+ years Reynolds has been building Earthships. I’ve already linked info from the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in NE Missouri that’s also cut 90% off their per capita energy consumption. I can’t say that any of these plans or combinations of plans guarantees climate success, but I’m certain that doing nothing guarantees failure. Put another way – don’t tell me what won’t work – I want to know what will.
12/24/15, 9:42 PM
Yessir I did. I'm really trying to honor the 'concise' and 'long screeds' requests but it's not working very well. ;)
12/24/15, 9:45 PM
Kyle Schuant said...
I think of this sort of thing whenever I read Long Descent or this blog. Makes me wish I'd not closed down my own "green with a gun." Ah well.
12/24/15, 10:07 PM
Kyle Schuant said...
Likewise, back in the old days of TheOilDrum.com, many of the most strident collapsniks were outright climate change denialists.
We see of course the same with various social issues. It's strange, as though people can only believe in the existence of one problem at a time.
12/24/15, 10:12 PM
Stuart Jeffery said...
In answer to your question on whether I know whether anybody has done the maths to determine whether any of today's energy resources would be economically viable without subsidies, my short answer is no.
If you are asking what the impact of removing subsidies on energy would be then there are plenty of studies broadly outlining economic decline and significant difficulties for people on low and medium incomes, however the studies I've seen don't specifically look at the impact of subsidy withdrawal on the industries although this can be inferred as a counterfactual as there are studies that discuss the opposite, i.e. investment.
I suspect the question that needs to be asked is what energy can be produced viably and how. If almost all current energy sources require economic intervention either for viability or for the greater good of the people then it would seem reasonable to assume that energy produced at scale needs a collective approach rather than free market. It would also seem reasonable to assume that any viable energy source would need to be able to produce enough energy to repair and replace itself ad infinitum plus energy to cover externalities before there is energy for consumption.
I think your point on externalities being off balance sheet has been covered by yourself many times but examples are becoming clearer each day, e.g. the hottest global temperatures in the past couple of months.
12/25/15, 12:59 AM
Shawn Sincoski said...
Regarding queries for location: perhaps consider something near the C&O canal. Your decendants might thank you for your foresight.
12/25/15, 2:07 AM
Phil Harris said...
Have I read Richard Jefferies’ 'After London'? Yes I must have read it because I remember the Great Lake where much of Southern England is now. But I do not have a copy in the house.
We grew up with Jefferies writing, almost by accident from our omnivorous reading. We recognised from his description of the sound of a water meadow singing at midsummer our own remnant meadow beside what was by our time an anoxic stream (creek), when our sharp ears were applied to the deep warm grass and we listened to the dense forest of creatures. What was later astonishing was to find that it actually was our stream he was writing about from the same bridge (we had a concrete replacement) when he leaned over to look into a then pristine chalk-water heaven.
London? Yes, the underground will be full of the whisper of salt water, as I wrote after a brief ‘vision’ given to me back in the 70s. Not so sure about quantifying toxic pollution – that was something we focussed on in the 80s. Ask Bill, but I remember that bio-accumulation was the killer – you know strontium in the growing bone or heavy metals or organochlorine pesticides in the ocean food chains or lead (Pb) or chromium that make soils deadly forever or until the good earth buries them deep enough. We and other species are very lucky that dioxins seem not to accumulate in food chains; otherwise the post-war chemists really would have poisoned the lot of us and it would have been too late. But the Thames mud will generate mercury compounds as gases from the anoxic bacterial depths to re-enter the world food chains for a long time to come.
Jefferies was horrified by tar used for paving. It was clearly full of biocide but I am impressed how quickly nature breaks down most petrochemicals. (There are some exceptions; WW2 USAF air strips across flat low lying East Anglia still leak solvents into the groundwater from old spillage.)
Biodegradables in sufficient quantity from ‘half-baked’ (?) technology sewage treatment plants (i.e. those serving the modern suburb we lived in when children) still make streams anoxic. I remember we children watched the industrious water voles (‘Ratty’) who being herbivores survived in their galleries along our smelly stream among the roots of the grey willows grown old, which were full of nests of small birds. Sadly ‘they’ canalised our stream for much of its length just about the time I was growing up.
Yes, Jefferies has something; he always did!
12/25/15, 5:57 AM
Luddene Perry said...
12/25/15, 6:40 AM
Moshe Braner said...
- not good for the oceans, but let's not fall for the apocalyptic side of a false duality. It'll be another increment on top of many. Massive amounts of pollutants are constantly flowing into the oceans through the rivers of industrialized countries, and settling from the atmosphere. The tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima reactors, adding huge amounts of radioactive materials to the oceans, also swept away the contents of thousands of coastal buildings - some remnants are still washing up on the West coast of the US. Not good, but ocean life did not come to an end.
12/25/15, 6:55 AM
Shane W said...
It's interesting that I'm reading the same arguments regarding energy on the yellowed pages of a paperback that was published the year I was born (Small is Beautiful). (I like getting older/original editions, because it reinforces that these ideas are not "new" at all) Some things never change, including nuclear cheerleading, denial of limits to growth, and peak oil denial, and the false arguments are as old as the hills.
12/25/15, 7:37 AM
But as you point out it may be already too late. However, by the same logic so would the long drawn process of dismantling and replacing capitalism (with what?) be closing the proverbial stable door. So what most concerns me most about the COP[out]-21 conference is that while vague pledges about reducing global greenhouse gases have been agreed no national limits have been defined - let alone given legal bindings. So all the while each country is free to pollute and emit greenhouse gases as much as they like with no possibility of facing any sanctions.
So business as usual...
12/25/15, 8:35 AM
Sudden collapse has occurred in the past
12/25/15, 8:36 AM
I'm just curious, will you change the blog's name now that you are no longer the archdruid?
12/25/15, 9:05 AM
Adam Dresser said...
Thank you so much for your weekly posts of sanity in the insane world. We've been having some real winter weather here in northwestern California this December (just like it used to be twenty years ago). I was reading the local news blog, looking for comments about the condition of local highways when the deniers showed up with their "Climate is always changing" and "Humans are too puny to affect such a huge system as the climate of a planet". When I got to the "Actually, it's been cooling lately", I was feeling very despondent and like I was suffocating under water. Where can I go to cleanse my mind of these morons? Is there anywhere intelligent people talk like adults about things that matter? And then I remembered your site. I usually save it for lunch on Thursdays, but I had to come over right away. And it worked. I feel much better now. Thank you ever so much.
Happy Solstice. Best wishes in the New Year!
12/25/15, 10:44 AM
12/25/15, 11:20 AM
Moshe Braner said...
12/25/15, 1:19 PM
Ezra Buonopane said...
12/25/15, 2:04 PM
Or is that just ramming the First Point of Aries somewhere the Sun doesn't shine?
12/25/15, 2:35 PM
Iuval Clejan said...
12/25/15, 2:41 PM
Sean Adam Boucher said...
Anyway, I wanted to ask you about something else. I'm sure you've seen this before, but I just read an interesting article from 2011 by Yves Cochet on institutmomentum.org concerning your model of catabolic collapse, in distinction to a model that favors catastrophic collapse. I wasn't really expecting the author to come down so firmly on the side of the catastrophic model, but they did. I wouldn't necessarily have a problem with that if I understood why. I found their explanation a little curt, though, and I was wondering if you might know what they mean, and what your thoughts are on this assessment generally.
The line that sums up their position is "My hypothesis is that the speed of collapse is a function of integration, coupling and connectivity." But I don't really understand this triumvirate of terms, being still fairly new to the field of collapse study.
Here's a link: http://www.institutmomentum.org/the-collapse-catabolic-or-catastrophic/
If you could shed any light, it would be much appreciated. Thanks a lot for your time. Apologies if this is the 2,000th time you've discussed this article.
PS - I just bought Star's Reach for my Dad, and I'm hoping he'll enjoy it as much as I've been!
12/25/15, 3:12 PM
Some weeks back I mentioned that the new president of my undergraduate college claims that we are now in the Creative Economy, and I wondered in my comment that week what he meant by that. Earlier this week I received the latest issue of the alumni magazine, featuring his inauguration in October, which helped to answer that question. Here's the quote, from his inaugural speech:
"Our liberal arts students are preparing for leadership roles within the new Creative Economy, where a fusing of left and right brains, the rational and the creative, the mind and the soul, are essential to success. ... For this new generation of leaders, the most important skills are integrative and creative thinking, spanning multiple domains of knowledge and frameworks, including the arts, humanities, social sciences, and the natural sciences, all coupled with the ability to formulate cogent arguments and to communicate clearly and powerfully. These are the very skills our students are learning here today at [...]. By blending art and science, today's [...] students are forging the new talents that will provide the superstructure for the future."
For anyone who thinks that "the elite" know what is happening and are secretly preparing their bug-out sites, read this quote again and again. This institution considers itself to be one of the elite, preparing the next generation of folks to step into the roles of the elite. In the alumni magazine, they are speaking to their fellow elites, attempting to solicit the funds to keep themselves among the elite. We can tell a lot about how they see the world from what they write to each other. From this quote, it's clear they remain committed to the Religion of Progress, thinking their grads will be building the future along the lines of the present, only more so. But any realistic look at the future along the lines of what you've been presenting, JMG, will have those who enter college during the new president's decade or so term much more likely to spend their post-college lives salvaging from the superstructure of the past than building the superstructure of the future.
12/25/15, 3:17 PM
It's sad to hear of anything he government taking away anyone's chickens.... If anything this kind of oppression should be good training. You could keep guinea pigs and learn a little Peruvian cuisine. In Peru they are often raised under peoples beds, in apartments. If you can, try raising carp or tilapia. Maybe you could join your local racing pigeon association and raise a few racers and a few more of what are called utility pigeons, and develop a taste for squab.
I myself am becoming concerned with how high on the food chain I'm eating. Many of the fish I like are the equivalent of eating a wolf or a hawk. Bio accumulation becomes a real factor. Tilapia and sardines, small shrimp, are less of a concern, although many of those are fed fish meal with lots of bio accumulation. Wild caught or raised yourself is best.
I live in a very small space and am seriously considering raising mealworms. The first step is to stop by the pet store and buy some and try them. Bugs are about the most earth friendly, efficient, and reportedly delicious livestock. I share the Western taboo against eating bugs, but I can testify that flour beetles are delicious, and I think I ate the occasional mealworm as a kid.
Don't let The Man keep you from raising your own food!
12/25/15, 3:24 PM
Greenpeace Co-Founders Warns of Global Climate Change Scam / Global Warming: https://youtu.be/dIvLEwGS-70
Collapse now. Intellectually, much of your society already has.
12/25/15, 3:45 PM
To all those who have not tried it seriously, its really hard. As in its fatiguing, repetitive and takes lots of time to get to a balanced place.
We live with a small solar system, can farm with horses, have grown veg for 15 years have plenty of skills and thought before living like this that we could transition easily. Let me tell you when you disconnect from the grid its a whole process of grief all over again. Maybe cherokee can resonate with this, but we are so used to instant power in our society that it is traumatic when you actually realise how little power a human produces and how much we rely on electric/fossil power for so much
Catton was so right in calling us 'homo collosus'
We have often joked off offering peak oil accomodation, here people can chop wood, carry water and use power while the sun is shining. Post peak oil lifestyle how popular would it be to go from abstraction to reality?
All this transitioning to renewables is more daydreaming, even our roads are made from oil, please get real folks.
12/25/15, 4:13 PM
Shane W said...
what, ecologically, accounts for the Americas' (and North America in particular) relatively sparse population and low population density? Why are the Americas (and North America in particular) relatively lightly populated in comparison to Old World countries of similar climate & biodiversity? I know the Americas were the last place humans settled, but I'd still think that there's enough time between settlement and today for humans to multiply to densities rivaling the Old World. Is it our relative geographic isolation that explains why we're not as densely populated as the Old World? Are we still recovering from the Columbian die off of natives and the relatively recent arrival of Old World peoples (Europeans, Africans, Asians)?
12/25/15, 4:35 PM
Cherokee Organics said...
Oh yeah, they call those trees widow-makers here too. It makes me wonder if the “Once a jolly swagman” guy of song would have considered camping in the shade of a Coolabah tree if he knew the likelihood of the tree dropping a giant branch onto his head. I have great respect for the trees here as they skip to their own beat. 20'C / 68'F would be a very warm winters day down here too and I see less snow down here with every passing year. Yesterday was feral hot down here 35'C / 95'F, but the ensuing water fight made it the best Christmas day that I can recall! It was good fun.
Thanks too for the song, that was very clever.
I've decided to do a brief wrap up of the weather here over Christmas day because some parts of the continent received 15 inches of rain (in one day) whilst just south of me was a bush fire which threatened a nearby the township of Sunbury. But the fire on the Great Ocean Road wiped out a confirmed 53 houses and it is still burning in steep country. The weather is feral down here.
Victorian bushfires: Great Ocean Road towns hit by fires
The fire just south of me was put out by a Christmas present of one and a quarter inches of rainfall over night which was excellent - but I doubt the Great Ocean Road will be so easy to put out in very steep and inaccessible country.
12/25/15, 6:07 PM
However, we got a $1000 incentive from the State of Maryland, a 30%-ish Federal income tax credit, another 30%-ish property tax credit is pending, and we have 5 Solar Renewable Energy Credits to sell in 2016. If they bring $160 each (which is plausible), then we have another $800 of (taxable) income, which would cover the cost of the natural gas that heats our house and bath-water.
12/25/15, 6:27 PM
This isn't directly related to rising sea levels and such, but it's more than an analogy. An elderly relative of mine moved from a townhouse to a retirement-community apartment, relying on my wife and me to sell the townhouse on his behalf. To make a long story short, it took a few months and price adjustments to find a buyer, and the buyers discovered signs of mold growing in remote corners of the lower level. It's cost us about $10,000 to remediate the mold and close the sale.
The moral of the story is that you might have noble intentions about minimizing your energy usage, but if by doing so you save a few hundred dollars per year, but create an environment conducive to mold, you're really doing no one a favor. Assuming that money is a plausible proxy for the energy content of building materials and contractor travel, any energy we saved by not dehumidifying the vacant property was entirely trivial compared to the energy spent to make the property once again fit for occupation.
I could make analogies: getting heat stroke in the garden and spending $hundreds at the hospital to save $dollars in the kitchen. Being run off the road while biking to save gasoline... Yes, we need to do what we can, but we also need to be wise about how we do it (which is not to say "moderate"). Good intentions are rarely enough.
12/25/15, 6:45 PM
Moshe – I appreciate you and our dialogue. I’m also not a fan of the way some use the “net zero” label to justify putting hundreds of kW of PV on the roof of their McMansion while smugly declaring their greenness either. I only used it as a tool to show the contrast between a typical ‘code compliant’ house and something actually designed for efficiency.
Something else that came to mind after I sent way too many words to our host last night is that in most areas of the USA it is illegal to have efficient housing. There’s a flat nine acre piece of ground about a mile from me – next to an area grocery store. It has perfect southern exposure for a passive solar house and enough ground for a useful Grow Biointensive market garden/mini-farm. It’s inside the city limits and surrounded by people that could benefit from the food. If we do the thought experiment and attempt to build a self-contained Earthship on the property, we’re in trouble right from the start. The non-traditional looking building dies before ground breaking as it doesn’t pass muster from the ‘architectural review committee’. If we find a way around that hurdle, we end up with a building that collects rainwater, cleans greywater while growing some food, provides electricity via PV, most hot water from a solar thermal panel, heating via passive solar collection, cooling via cooling tubes and the thermal siphon provided by the operable skylights in the greenhouse. Once we move in, we’ve violated a number of state and local codes by 1. not being connected to the power grid, 2. not being connected to the water grid, 3. not being connected to the sewer, and 4. not having a septic tank. As a final nail in the coffin, because a house not connected to ‘modern’ systems is deemed to be unsafe, as we’re being dragged off the property and jailed for negligence and child endangerment, child protective services takes our kids away. It’s insane.
Dylan said “All this transitioning to renewables is more daydreaming, even our roads are made from oil, please get real folks.” Not all of our roads are made from oil – but most importantly NONE of them have to be made from oil, and they don’t need to be maintained with fossil fuels. That’s really important! Additionally, many of the younger folks (at least in the US) aren’t buying cars, many aren’t getting driving licenses, and nearly all are driving much, much less than their elders. As things continue to collapse and more of ‘regular life’ is re-localized, more roads are transitioning from concrete or blacktop to gravel while others are being abandoned altogether. Don’t let a broad a brush get in the way of getting things done. ;)
Biofuels don’t seem popular here, yet they can be a very useful and very sustainable way to stop emitting fossil carbon. One example of how it's being done done is a co-op in SW Wisconsin started by Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm. They grow hazelnuts – some of which are pressed to produce oil and high-protein animal feed. The oil is sold to a local food processing company to cook food. The used oil is purchased by the co-op, filtered and de-watered, and used to run the diesel equipment on the co-op farms. His agroforestry methods return 3-7 times the energy per acre than conventional farming. Some here might enjoy his view of reality as I think it fits well with the messages from our favorite Druid – Shepard’s also a student of collapse research. ;)
Finally…thanks all for the recommendation – I just finished Star’s Reach and Green Wizardry and enjoyed both.
12/25/15, 11:48 PM
Crow Hill said...
I had the same impression about the vanity (in the archaic sense) of COP21, except it did elicit debates in the general public about our relationship to Earth.
Moshe Braner said : “The tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima reactors, adding huge amounts of radioactive materials to the oceans … but ocean life did not come to an end.”
Chernobyl is an interesting example: as is oft repeated it is being recolonized by wildlife, because humans have been excluded from the zone.
Where wildlife is concerned (at least in our human view) only the species matters. It doesn’t matter if the wolves or wild boar had many individuals in their litters that died deformed and never grew into adults or die of cancer etc, whereas for every individual human, it does matter. So, yes, life in general doesn’t so easily come to an end.
12/26/15, 12:09 AM
But you paint an ominous picture which perhaps appears to lead to the collapse of industrial society within decades (could it survive a sea level rise of even a metre, I wonder). That seems possible though not certain.
12/26/15, 2:04 AM
And here's a link to a site provided by the Danish government, which has a strong interest in Greenland. (They are kindly providing an English-language version, which this link goes to.)
Specifically, Greenland's ice mass can be found here (last update Aug 2015):
Interestingly, I keep hearing in US media that 2015 was the "fourth-lowest" in terms of summer arctic sea-ice extent, while the Danish researchers clearly show it was the third-lowest....
I usually answer people who say things like "the climate has always changed" with something like "Wow! I'll bet the scientists studying climate change don't know about the ice ages! You should write to them and tell them!" Snarky and conversation-ending, yes, but the conversation has usually proved pointless by that time anyway...
12/26/15, 5:18 AM
Damage to my carrots and lettuce, discovered yesterday when I went out for some fresh items for Christmas dinner, re-awakened my desire to put some venison on the table. It'll be some time, though, before shooting a deer in my suburban backyard will not attract unwanted law-enforcement attention.
I'm excited about the packet of red amaranth seeds that I got as a gift from my son yesterday. It's a native American grain, allegedly suitable for low-tech production, and also producing edible salad greens. If nothing else, it should help support local birds.
12/26/15, 5:35 AM
Yes, somebody has done the numbers on renewable energy.
Tom Murphy, physicist, at Do The Math.
And it doesn't look pretty.
About the "single problem" approach: that is the paradigm
scientists and engineers learned in school. It's hard
enough to get the natural world to become quantifiable
with one problem (takes loads of simplification).
For more than one problem, the mathematics quickly becomes
impossible. However, in the natural world, in our health,
in our societies, there is NEVER just one problem.
12/26/15, 6:35 AM
John Roth said...
To me, integration, coupling and connectivity are three terms that mean the same thing, or things that are so closely related that the differences aren’t significant. This comes from my background in software development, where the degree of coupling between components affects maintainability significantly. Less coupling, easier to fix or change.
Most of the “fast collapse” people see things as so tightly integrated that, if you push in the proper place, it all comes tumbling down like a house of cards. I seriously doubt that anyone has a comprehensive model that shows this; the situation is too complex to model with today’s understanding. It’s more a reflection of their personality type, I suspect, buttressed by plausible sounding arguments. But then, that’s all anyone in economics or politics really has at this time.
Let’s get realistic. There was zero chance of getting a treaty through the US Congress. None. Nada. Zilch. When pigs fly. Not even if all Hell freezes over. From what I’ve heard, the US delegates made sure that everyone knew that. Once that constraint got understood, I’m surprised they didn’t just throw in the towel and go home early. The positive outcomes aren’t in the papers. They’re in the delegates who heard that message loud and clear, and went home to try to get their governments to listen. Frankly, anyone who thought anything more would come of it was living in a dream world somewhere.
12/26/15, 7:29 AM
Shane W said...
12/26/15, 8:04 AM
sv koho said...
12/26/15, 9:21 AM
Erik Buitenhuis said...
Thanks for another important reality check.
I just want to mention that the way I understand the current science, the local methane emissions in the Arctic are not the reason the Arctic warms faster. The mixing time of the atmosphere is so fast (3 months within hemispheres, 1 year between hemispheres) relative to the ratio between fluxes and atmospheric concentrations that the atmosphere is to all intents and purposes homogeneous. Apparently, the Arctic is warming faster mostly because of a positive feedback between melting ice leading to a lower reflectance of sunlight back out to space (https://acespace.org/blog/ask-ace-why-does-warming-happen-faster-poles).
If you're not too busy, I'd be interested to hear your take on the fact that carbon emissions in 2014 were higher than they're projected to be for 2015. The Global Carbon Project thinks this is probably not peak emissions (http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/communication/news-archive/2015/global-carbon-budget-2015-video), but in the mainstream science hardly anybody is talking about the positive feedback between demand destruction and reduced exploration for fossil fuels (maybe that's too quick and dirty a summary, more generally said: the physical science projections based on given emissions are much better understood than changes in the economy and/or people's behaviour). So I'm not convinced that scientists opinion on this question is particularly authoritative, so I'm asking for yours.
12/26/15, 9:21 AM
Very thought provoking post. And since I have been posting my muses on COP21 also, on how the whole bloomin' thing is a fraud, I've decided to guest post your article on my blog, Fin des Voies Rapides, with the following comment:
And he doesn't beat around the bush. The COP 21 conference didn't deal with the necessity to rapidly zeroing out fossil fuels as soon as possible -- mainly because to accomplish that we'd probably have to cut back our energy consumption by some-odd 90%. Such a low energy demand will certainly not support our current automobile-centric way of life and such a drop in energy consumption en masse will really throw a monkey wrench into the domestic economy as well as the global one, Not to mention that individuals who would do such a cutback in consumption would not be able to get along in today's culture, and would be the objects of near universal opprobrium, to boot. Even amongst the greenies, many of whom think driving an SUV is okay, so long as it's a hybrid, and lighting your house up like a shopping mall at night is okay, so long as you use low-energy bulbs.
So we have too much, too little, too late: too much carbon still being burnt as well as left to remain in the air, too little action planned in response to predicted climate change, and too late to stop dangerous climate change anyway.
12/26/15, 9:47 AM
It feels like a novena of sorts, inviting us to be, to see, to hear and to shed tears of joy. Mostly, to show up and be with what is.
“The center cannot hold”…yet there is so very much to appreciate and love.
12/26/15, 10:34 AM
Shane W said...
12/26/15, 11:41 AM
12/26/15, 12:59 PM
Ed Prell said...
Alerted to the possibility that the Big Comeuppance may be on its way, I have since gravitated toward seeking out the views of those who take a wide-angle lens to survey the prognosis for H. Sapiens. Bucky Fuller taught me about Synergy (that 1+1 can become more than two), that there is no such thing as infinity, and that life is the anti-entropic agent in the universe (by assembling an exquisitely ordered being from random building materials). Ken Wilber clarified the dualism of the objective/subjective universe and the folly of war between science and religion, and pointed out that evolution was a key feature of both faces of this universe. E. O. Wilson reminded me that our social behaviors are strongly hardwired, although not to the degree of specificity as in an anthill or a beehive; and that the teamwork gene which persuades our tribe to be cohesive is in eternal tension with the bellicose gene that enables the clobbering of the rival tribe. Now that we are morphing into one planetary tribe, how can we deselect the bellicose genotype?
Now you have appeared, demystifying the dismal science of economics, broadening the scope and reach of religion to include a civil branch, and pleading your case for fossil energy (and the side-effects of its misuse) as the decisive lane restriction blocking our “progress”. Your case has threatened my assumption (civil religion?) of Humanity’s ascendance to the next level. Thus I need to pass it through its hurdles. Your claim that alternative energy cannot save the day (or make it a lot more bearable) needs a few numbers to supplement the verbs and adjectives. It also requires a thoroughgoing negation of the possibility of workarounds and tunneling, while complying with Carnot and Rankine, could pull us through. Perhaps you’ve served up some of that, and I haven’t run across it?
Thank you for opening my eyes a lot wider. Have a bountiful new year.
12/26/15, 1:31 PM
My two cents on COP-21. On the surface, it reminded me of arms limitation conferences between the world wars. However, before the conference started I had heard TV commentary to the point John Roth makes. Kyoto and other previous conferences were torpedoed by American foot dragging. This time, the US delegates made it clear in advance that getting a treaty through Congress was hopeless, and the conference should not waste any time on agreements that require implementation or enforcement through treaties. That is reality (just as Germany's determination to rearm was reality). The delegates took the advice and didn't waste their time on any of that.
I agree with Mr. Roth that if COP-21 has any positive results they are beneath the surface. I think a possible useful result is that the framework they set up (and perhaps the personal connections made at the conference) may make it quicker for organizations which are disposed to take action to slow climate change to coordinate their efforts. There are such governments and organizations, and making it simpler for them to say, "We'll do this if you do that," is worth something.
Concerted action (as opposed to talk) to slow down climate change has merit. If the Titanic had sunk more slowly, other ships besides the Carpathia might have arrived in time to rescue passengers.
12/26/15, 2:39 PM
Phil Harris said...
Comments have been made on role of methane emissions and the (more) rapid rise in Arctic temperatures.
Basis facts are:
1) As JMG points out; methane decays in the atmosphere so the average life of emissions is about 10 years. Thus any further substantial increase in atmospheric methane concentrations would need regular ‘new’ very large out-gassing. (Note that decay is due to photo oxidation, so there is little decay during the arctic winter. But of course there is lttle sun energy to be trapped at that time!)
2) Methane is a trace gas like CO2 but is measured in parts per billion, not as parts per million for CO2. It’s much greater heat-trapping potency per molecule is somewhat offset by its much lower concentrations.
3) Global methane concentrations are however more than x3 higher than they were in the pre-industrial past. (CO2 on the other hand is currently on its way to doubling but is currently 400 ppm c.f. 275 ppm in 1750)
4) There appears to be a feedback correlation between arctic wetland methane emission and the reduction of sea-ice cover during the summer due to arctic warming. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2015GL065013/full More research is suggested!
5) Climate models have correctly assumed since ‘day one’ that the arctic would warm faster than in temperate or tropical latitudes. As somebody suggests; check out changes in northern latitude ‘albedo’ in particular.
I go along with JMG. Positive feed-back is nasty when it comes to climate change and significantly raises the possibility of very rapid sea level rise.
12/26/15, 2:57 PM
Apparently, the Arctic is warming faster mostly because of a positive feedback between melting ice leading to a lower reflectance of sunlight back out to space (https://acespace.org/blog/ask-ace-why-does-warming-happen-faster-poles)."
My final tour in the Coast Guard was three years of carrying climate scientists to the North Pole and Antarctica (USCGC HEALY, WAGB 20, June 2000-MAY 2003). There's a simpler reason the Arctic and Antarctic are heating faster than the rest of the globe (Global warming is not evenly distributed). Most of the earth's solar gain is in the tropics and mid-latitudes, where the incoming angle of the sun is closest to vertical and cuts through less atmosphere (which is thickest at the equator, but the difference between a perpendicular angle and a tangent angle is a greater effect). Most of the heat loss is at the poles, where regardless of albedo, the angle of the sun is so low that most of the energy is reflected anyway; albeit snow and ice do this better than open water, which is why the Arctic is warming faster than the Antarctic. The flow of heat from the equatorial regions, where it comes in, to the Polar regions, where it leaves, is via the Hadley, Ferrel and Polar cells, which are large convection cells in the atmosphere. Essentially, a heat pump, moving heat to the poles. So, greenhouse gases, regardless of origin, insulate the poles and reduce heat loss. Presumably, at some point, the heat differential may get low enough to slow this down, which would result in more even global heating. But for the foreseeable future, the poles, especially the Arctic, will warm considerably faster than other regions. Also, water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas in it's own right, and global warming causes higher evaporation rates, resulting in a more humid atmosphere; positive feedback there.
"If you're not too busy, I'd be interested to hear your take on the fact that carbon emissions in 2014 were higher than they're projected to be for 2015."
Pretty simple, China finished their build-out, or can't afford it any more. In either case, they're simply not burning as much coal to make concrete and steel. As a bonus, they're not buying up commodities, and having overbuilt their industrial capacity, are dumping steel, copper, etc. on the international market. If you've got any projects lined up, the next few years might be a good time to buy materials.
in the Bramblepatch
12/26/15, 3:23 PM
Shane W said...
I was thinking about what you said about how blue collar, working class conservative people are more receptive to your message than well-to-do, middle class, green "progressives". I was perusing a prepper site, and the energy/oil discussions were thoughtful and seemed to grasp the issue, and advocated conservation...
12/26/15, 3:32 PM
The other Tom said...
According to Wikipedia, the population density of North America in 2013 was 57 per square mile. For Europe it was 188 per square mile, including Russia. I've been gazing at the maps on my wall and thinking about terrain and climate. It appears that North America has a much greater portion of its area that is very cold, very hot, or lacking water, compared to Europe. I'm expecting these places to be tough to live in, once the cheap energy is gone. I wouldn't want to be in Arizona without air conditioning, or the northern plains without fossil fuel heat. If you spend a large part of your time and energy either keeping warm or avoiding the heat it is that much harder to get other things done. In the 19th century the western plains were known as the Great American Desert, and most Canadians have always lived along the southern 100 miles or so of the country.
The areas of North America more easily lived in are already densely populated, such as the coasts or the Great Lakes area, although with changing climate patterns other places may beckon. If the melting icecap of Greenland alters the Gulf Stream, as some have suggested, all bets are off for Europe. There is mass migration of climate refugees to consider, and the resulting disruption all over the world. I am already seeing ecosystem change here in New England, as plant and animal species migrate north.
So although I also think a lot about where it is practical to live there are so many moving parts/unpredictable changes coming, perhaps it makes sense to include one's personal aesthetic and cultural preferences, and make the best of wherever we are attracted to, as well as practical considerations.
No matter where we live, it is always possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, like the folks in eastern Europe for much of the 20th century. (I didn't mean that to sound as negative as it probably did.)
12/26/15, 4:21 PM
Bear in mind that city sanitation services have been installed to support public health in the strictest sense: you don't have to get sick because of someone else's filthy negligence. We need to live with one foot in the energy-rich past, as well as one in the energy-poor future.
By the way, I just installed some LED-based replacements for 48" fluorescent light tubes over my workbench and machinery. No mercury to leak, no glass to break, no ballast transformer (etc.), just 16W each (substituting for 40W tubes), and I expect them not to fade gradually over time as fluorescent bulbs do, nor flicker when cold (rated for operation down to 0F). They don't flicker, the way some LED decorative lights do, which is important for lighting rotating machinery. Home Depot is stocking them. Take small steps when you can.
12/26/15, 5:39 PM
Thanks for writing that question and link. I followed it and read the piece as well. I am also interested to hear JMG's take on it. Don't know if I'm close or far, but my interpretation is this:
The Roman Empire experienced slow catabolic collapse because they were not the only civilization in the ancient world. They had expanded their reach, trade and connectivity well beyond the normal borders that provided them with their essentials - When things got scarce, they could still find food, cotton linen, water, etc. to struggle along, further afield, could trade with or raid other civilizations or groups of people not in their control. There were civilizations and places for their refugees or migrants to go, so they went, which would lessen the burden on the 'center'. The decline of Rome was the beginning of a great migration. Person by person, family by family, precipitating a slow but sure decline and lessening burden on that center, the Roman empire.
The Moai of Easter Island had no where to go, no outside resources to draw upon. The Mayans, as far as my reading and understanding goes, were consistently at war with any small hunter-gatherer tribes outside of their center - fewer possibilities for any Mayan refugees, although I'm sure there must have been some. Their collapse came from exhaustion of arable land and potable water. They had nothing to alleviate the strain, without any knowledge of other ways to get enough food and water, and as with our own society, had expanded crowded and decayed enough to have lost any thought or ingenuity to 'find another way'. They had no 'plan-B', no knowledge any more of hunting and gathering, could think of no way out.
Our industrial civilization is in the same predicament in terms of facing the loss of our energy source. EVERYTHING we do/have/use/need is the product of this energy source, (fossil fuels). There is nothing to replace it that is abundant and easy enough for us to stair-step down. At the same time, like the Mayans, our population and our needs have risen up, up up. Our resilience, experience and knowledge of survival sans fossils has diminished and atrophied. There is no civilized outland that would proffer easy adaptation, as the whole globe is in this mess. We have no connectivity to any 'other' place or group of people that can help us get through this in an easier stair-step-down fashion.
*Well, actually, In a way, we do, and we can, the help is on this blog, and in underdeveloped pockets of the world and our own communities. Whoever thought massive global wealth inequality would have a silver lining, eh!? There are still people out there who know how to live without the benefits we 1st-worlders have taken for granted since birth.
I recall JMG in a previous essay describing his estimation of it as a 'fractal collapse', imagine a glass castle with many features and turrets, or a craggy Antarctic ice sheet. One small piece falls off the top, nothing happens to the rest of it, some bits fall off one side, everything on top of those bits fall off. A wide chunk of the base at the back melts and drifts away, and a massive section that that base was holding up crashes spectacularly. The whole thing doesn't all happen at once. Some lucky pieces get to drop a bit at a time, but some do crash horribly, en masse. The overall collapse is uneven and unfair. I think this is the most probable. Future historians may look back and say overall that our Industrial Age collapse was fast or slow, but for us individually, it won't matter because for us individually, it will be one or the other and we'll have to deal with that. Adapt to far LESS quickly or die.
12/26/15, 5:50 PM
Moshe Braner said...
12/26/15, 6:21 PM
Carl Dolphin said...
12/26/15, 8:09 PM
Hubertus Hauger said...
Also for instance in the US there is that growing isolationism rethoric.
Last I watched a film, documentary actually, where I found it funny, as there people tried just doing this. Being american around christmas. I can tell you this, there were some difficulties attached to this experiment. Funny to me is the pathetic (solemn) rethoric getting rather pathetic (ridicoulous), while the people tried being american around christmas.
You can watch it here:
12/27/15, 1:02 AM
Crow Hill said...
Have we hit "the end of the fossil fuel era"? Not even close.
“… It will mean shifting our cars and trucks to clean electricity, overcoming the intermittency problems with renewables, radically increasing energy efficiency, finding new ways to fuel our ships and airplanes (hydrogen? biofuels?) and steel and cement production.”
Plus ça change...
12/27/15, 1:29 AM
Cherokee Organics said...
The weather Gods smiled on me because on Boxing Day the farm received 35mm (1.4 inches) of much needed rainfall and the air has now cooled again - until the next shocker day which isn't too far away.
Spare a thought for the poor people of Wye River down along the coast here: Great Ocean Road fire: Residents begin to return home to assess damage from Christmas Day fire. 116 houses are now confirmed destroyed, and the destruction to the forest and wildlife will take a very long time to recover from. The fire is still burning and I believe the southerly winds are blowing it back inland into the forest and the topography of that mountain range is very steep and inaccessible. It is a big call to put the fire out but I hope they do soon.
The photos here tell the sad tale: Great Ocean Road fire: The devastation in pictures.
Has your record breaking warm spell run its course? I sometimes wonder if people in your part of the world say to themselves: That was nice that little bit of extra warmth. Without understanding that at the other end of the season i.e. Summer there'll come a time to pay for that winter warmth? Dunno, but there always seems to be a cost to things. All I know is that as the years go on here I hear less and less people proclaiming their love of summer - and when they do, I always ask them how they feel about the 40'C+ (104'F+) days and whether they have air conditioning in their houses.
Good for you, that sounds like excellent work. Respect. I wasn't very traumatised because when I lived in the inner city I was only using 3kWh/day anyway - instead I felt a level of frustration and the dawning of an inescapable realisation that this solar PV stuff was good, but during 3 weeks either side of the winter solstice it was not much good for more than 1 peak solar hour per day on average. That was a real eye opener. My wife and I, once we worked past that frustration, got on with adjusting the system to increase the output during that time, whilst at the same time we adjusted our expectations to meet the output of the solar system. Once the generation and usage met, I added in a bit of extra generation capacity so that there was a bit of fat for the eventual errors and mistakes that would occur (and oh yeah they do!) and it's been all good. But I'm at 37.5'S latitude in the Southern hemisphere I can't even imagine how much harder again it gets further south than here (and conversely north in the Northern hemisphere). Oh well.
Thank you for sharing your story.
12/27/15, 3:55 AM
John Roth said...
On the projection for level or reduced carbon emissions in the US for 2015 over 2014. Technically, that’s due to the progressive replacement of coal by natural gas for electrical power generation, plus greater fuel economy in new cars. Countering that is the oil glut: gas prices here in Albuquerque have been under $2.00 a gallon for a while, so people are buying cars and driving more, but the new cars are contributing less CO2 per mile than the older ones.
As far as I can tell, there isn’t a direct relationship between demand destruction and reduced exploration for fossil fuels at the present time. The reduced drilling and exploration is because of the glut: at the current price it’s not economic to drill more wells and explore in higher-cost areas. One of the things contributing to the glut is that most of the small oil companies have to keep producing to pay the people they borrowed money from for the drilling in the first place. Many of them are doing the intelligent thing: they’re cutting back production to where they are doing just enough to pay their finance charges; this will let them get more out of the wells long term. As long as the Saudis keep flooding the market hoping to drive the US fracking industry out of business, and new sources (read: Iran) are coming online, the glut will continue.
Once the glut ends, prices will go back up and you’ll see more demand destruction.
12/27/15, 6:24 AM
But issues of sustainability – resource depletion, environmental degradation, economic instability and inequality, and overpopulation are already poised to bring down "business as usual" and Climate Change makes all of the above WORSE with likely accelerating catastrophic outcomes. Given that the United States, with our refined political dysfunction and societal privilege, has been the only nation on earth that has chosen to view Climate Change as a political issue, rather than a scientific issue, through our position of economic and military leadersh– ... um... sorry, dominance, has set the tone for all debate on this civilization ending threat.
So I did not have much in the way of expectations for COP21. I was actually impressed that there was this much agreement hammered together. But that consensus seems to be based on the stripping out of the proposed resolutions anything binding, actual accountability, any kind of enforcement, or any responsibility of either developed or rapidly developing nations for the plght of the planet. So even though it is significant that there was an agreement at all, it amounts to "it would be nice if we did something about this." The fact that heads are not exploding on the Right wing in American politics - of course they oppose it - as they do all the President's efforts on any topic. The going-thought-the-motions level of the opposition suggests that they are well aware the agreement is pretty empty, as there are no real political consequences to utterly ignoring it's mild and modest provisions. People with more of a basis in reality have been shouting "bulls**t" but the media is largely glossing them over with coverage of ministers and their media flacks congratulating each other.
Our Right wing politics still are treating Climate Chnage as a Left wing hoax. But all else being equal, I will take the word of the scientists, despite issues in the scientific community, generally have a disposition to pursue the truth and ferret out how things actually work, over that of politicians, where lying, manipulation, misrepresentation, disssemblange, and distortion are desirable and required job skills.
12/27/15, 7:45 AM
This anecdote is less than ideal but has a point...
About a month ago, I bought a silver plated trivet at the thrift store. I'm a Steampunk so this wasn't an act of pretension, rather a new toy to feather my Victorian nest. Hot mats are necessary after all and when you can get a silver one second hand (recycled!) for $3, why not? Anyway, after I explained to the young woman who sold it to me what it was (she asked), she dubbed it "very fancy" and after a short conversation, decided that I was fancy, too. In spite of her admiration of the trivet, it was clear that she would not have bought it for herself because she did not consider herself to be Fancy.
Americans (people?) adopt identities and build walls around themselves. I suppose, in her case, it was a defense against social aspirations that might seem unobtainable but other people have other motives. The point is that before you can scare people with dire predictions, demand great sacrifice, or even entice them with presumed advantages, you must figure out some way to give them a new identity. One that they can believe is not a step down from "who they are," or beyond their belief in who they can be. Fresh vegetables grown in your own yard taste better, are ecologically responsible, give a satisfaction of accomplishment. You might even convince people that the hard work necessary is health exercise. It all means nothing to the vast number of Americans whose identity includes "I can't cook." All the education about why personal cars are unsustainable does nothing to address the collective perception of "the kind of people who ride a bike in the rain to work."
Perhaps the next conference should focus less on target carbon emissions and more on a new identity for Western Civilization that will happen to be sustainable. One that somehow has as many carrots as sticks and as much inspiration as fear.
12/27/15, 10:34 AM
Shane W said...
I was looking at Old vs. New World as a whole, not just Europe, with particular emphasis on North America. Our deserts, while unsustainably populated, don't rival the overcrowded Middle East or North Africa (nor are they, for the time being, as harsh or dry). Likewise, our temperate areas don't seem as populated as similar temperate areas in Asia or Europe, and I don't even think our tropics in Latin America are as populated as Africa or Asia. Seems like I read where the only area in North America that rivaled Old World concentration was the Bos-Wash corridor, but even that area doesn't seem as concentrated. I must acknowledge that I've never been outside the Americas. There's still lots of wide open spaces in the South, Midwest, and even parts of the eastern Seaboard away from the coasts--look at the whole of Appalachia. As for refugees, I'm thinking our geographic isolation will be to our advantage in trying to defend against Old World refugees. The Americas seem more defensible, especially in a deindustrializing world.
12/27/15, 11:00 AM
"Andy said: "in most areas of the USA it is illegal to have efficient housing". That's stretching it a bit, but some things are outlawed, and many things are discouraged. In my case, when I had a large window installed on the south side, I had to pay extra and special-order the HIGH solar heat gain type glass, since everybody wants the opposite."
I only wish my comment was stretching anything, Moshe. While wrapped in a thought experiment, all the pieces are real and are happening. Please understand, however, that you and I are not talking about the same thing. Your project was starting with a conventional building and doing something to make it a bit more efficient. I'm at the other side of the ruler talking about energy-positive, carbon-positive, yet low-tech buildings that are as efficient as we know how to build today. Like this one in Freeville, NY (great name, BTW!): http://freevilleearthship.blogspot.com/
12/27/15, 12:04 PM
The problem with this is that these are fossil fuel dependent and completely unsustainable systems that act like an intensive care plumbing network for buildings that can't stand on their own. Yes, that might seem to be an extreme view, but it's unfortunately accurate. These types of codes and laws were designed in days past when substandard behavior required 'incentives' ;) to bring them up. Today they've become a tight noose keeping us from doing what we need to do as quickly as we need to do evolve.
latheChuck said... "I've shoveled enough hot steaming manure (fresh, and composting) to be unafraid of my own waste, MOST of the time. But every few years I find myself playing host to some bug that upsets my personal microbiome, and at that point, flushing everything down and out for professional treatment seems like a great idea. A member of my household has been taking serious medication, and I'm happy to see the platinum-laced metabolites become somebody else's problem. (I don't think they'd be good for the gardens.)"
Use a separate compost pile and use the result for trees - even fruit trees. You might enjoy Jenkin's Humanure Handbook - the science is referenced. The problem with the sewer network is that it requires that we believe in the mythical land of "away" where our feces can't hurt anyone and that place doesn't exist. Our sewage treatment system can't transform meds or other industrial chemicals - they're just passed into the environment 'somewhere else.' http://humanurehandbook.com/
"We need to live with one foot in the energy-rich past, as well as one in the energy-poor future." I'll respectfully agree to disagree. The Titanic's sinking. Anyone that keeps a leg wrapped around the handrail is going down with coal, not moving into the Lakeland Republic. Sorry.
Happy New Year,
12/27/15, 12:25 PM
John Roth said...
12/27/15, 12:39 PM
Per your request, sir...
JMG: “Far more crucial is the direct and indirect dependence of most renewable technologies on fossil fuels…”
Every single part of our ‘modern society’ is dependent on fossil fuels. I suspect that removing the fossil tail is the ultimate goal of moving to renewable energy sources. How should we apply our remaining fossil carbon budget?
JMG: “…and real-world studies of the actual performance of large-scale solar and wind installations (as distinct from on-paper determinations of "grid-parity") show the yawning chasm between the rhetoric and the reality.”
I’d be interested in reading some of the real-world studies of which you speak. Thanks in advance. The ones I’ve seen so far from the ‘real world’ reflect a fossil grid with a bit of renewables shoehorned in, rather than a view toward the latter stages of an energy transition. I mentioned grid-parity in terms of price per delivered kWh. I already showed prices for on-shore wind and PV in Texas. For another example: due to the high cost of shipping oil to Hawaii, PV-derived electricity is less expensive than electrons motivated by their fossil-fueled generators. The price of energy though is completely free from the price and costs of fossil carbon, cancer and deaths in the wake of uranium mining or storage of spent fuel rods (or disasters like Fukushima), of the loss of clean water and ecosystems downstream of coal ash spills, and all the other ‘’externalized’ costs economists ignore. With a full carbon and energy payback in less than four years in the US, PV seems to be a slam-dunk by comparison – even if production is powered only from coal. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35489.pdf http://info.cat.org.uk/questions/pv/what-energy-and-carbon-payback-time-pv-panels-uk http://mediamatters.org/research/2013/01/24/myths-and-facts-about-solar-energy/192364 (sorry, I don’t have a good data source for cradle to grave/lifecycle info for wind or other renewable energy sources.)
Besides, the price of air-conditioned greenhouses the size of Iowa to keep us in corn will likely be much, much more expensive than what we’d pay for wind turbines and building efficiency. (We eat seeds. Each 1°C temp rise reduces seed production about 10% - until it’s too hot to set seed then productivity drops to zero. Lots of hungry people tend to be cranky. Moving the fields to Canada is not an option.) From the viewpoint of economics and ‘the markets’ extinction probably pencils-out better than solar panels, so we have that option as well…
If it were up to me, we’d stop burning fossil fuels yesterday, stop all subsidies to all fossils and nukes at the same time, and use the money and oil we have left to build as many wind turbines, PV and solar-thermal panels, geothermal wells, concentrating solar towers, biomethane digesters, while also completely redefining building efficiency, as humanly possible with what we have left. Not with the goal of ‘sustaining progress’ but to ease the descent. And maybe so that our kids have something to salvage and haul to the Lakeland Republic after 2065.
12/27/15, 1:22 PM
Jules Colding said...
If this plays out as expected - eventual collapse of the industrial civilisation - one may speculate on the root course of our predicament. For some time, I was convinced that agriculture was the root cause. Cultivating our food locally, and trading for "stuff" that couldn't be acquired locally, was a more effective way of ensure population growth than hunting and gathering. Therefore, it seemed logical to me that the invention of agriculture was the root cause of overpopulation, and thereby the current problems of industrial society.
Also, being non-migratory would enable the eventual invention of industrial production.
But, now I've read about a study, which claims to prove that the population growth of hunter-gatherers and early farming societies, was the same - roughly 0.04% per year. It only changed some 200 years ago.
So, if we choose to see the coming chaos as a chance for a fresh re-start, would it be wise to build the society (assuming we have a choice) as a hunter gatherer society or a farmer society?
Or is agriculture a red herring? Does it all hinge on the population being migratory or settled?
Anyways, I think I've formed my own opinion, but I would appreciate any input.
Best of wishes,
12/27/15, 1:36 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Kyle, I could see Bagucigalpi's future as a transitional stage. I don't see it as anything that can last long -- in any such situation, the renewable energy infrastructure would be the perfect target for groups outside the elite that wanted to take over, and the usual dynamics of warband formation would spawn an endless stream of young men used to violence, ready to follow any charismatic leader who can offer them the hope of plunder. One by one, the elite bastions would be taken out -- do you by any chance know Jack vance's The Last Castle? Interesting parallels.
As for Single Problem Syndrome, though, there you're square on target. That's a useful concept, and I'll cite you as its source when I use it in an upcoming post.
Stuart, I'm really starting to wonder if there's something very important hidden under the flurry of subsidies. Look at the way that industrial societies are catabolizing their own infrastructure, sacrificing their own working classes and industrial plant, engaging in increasingly risky political and military gambles -- why? Could it be that with soaring extraction costs, the fossil fuel economy no longer pays for itself?
Shawn, the western end of the C&O canal is visible from the window next to me, so I'm inclined to agree!
Phil, I probably ought to read more Jefferies. After London is the only thing of his I've actually read. Definitely an interesting thinker.
Luddene, if by "done" you mean done in an organized fashion by the current leadership of the world's present-day nations, I won't argue at all.
Shane, I'll have to toss that to any of my readers who happen to know about the way buildings decay in salt water. I'd be interested in hearing about that topic also, for what it's worth.
Robert, undefined "breakthroughs" aren't going to be able to change the laws of thermodynamics, and that's what it would take to allow the diffuse, intermittent energy that can be gotten from renewable sources to power a grid designed to use highly concentrated energy sources that can be burnt at will to match demand. I'm also far from sure that what you're calling "consumerist capitalism" and I've called abundance industrialism is long for this world. Still, we'll see.
Ceworthe, many thanks for this! The Salish peoples around Puget Sound still recall the flooding of the Sound and the collapse of the peak of Storm King Mountain, both of which happened toward the end of the last ice age, so I'm not in the least surprised that First Nations on this side of the continent have equally long memories.
Tim, no, I've gone from being Grand Archdruid to being an archdruid emeritus -- note the persistence of the title. ;-)
Adam, you're welcome and thank you! Unfortunately "the people of the land" are all too common these days.
12/27/15, 2:26 PM
John Michael Greer said...
MawKernewek, funny. I have this great plan for attaching a rope to the Moon, hitching it to a wheel at the North Pole, and using rubber belts and pulleys to transmit energy from there all over the world...
Iuval, er, have you noticed that fossil fuels have been declining steadily in price for years now? I should probably do a post about that, as it's been a while since I've talked about the way that economic externalities are used to hide the real cost of fossil fuel extraction, and are circling around to crash demand ahead of supply.
Sean, I haven't discussed that article before, but the hypothesis it's presenting has been hashed and rehashed endlessly in the doomosphere over the last ten years or so, and was already being proposed in the 1970s -- Roberto Vacca's The Coming Dark Age insisted that industrial society would collapse in the 1980s as a result of that same proposed effect. The central flaw in the hypothesis is that integration, coupling and connectivity, while they amplify crises, also make it easier and more effective for decision makers to respond to those crises; these two effects cancel each other out. The same lesson can be learnt from history -- civilizations take roughly the same amount of time to collapse (around 150 years on average) whether or not they're politically and economically centralized. The cultural fixation on narratives of fast collapse is so emotionally powerful that people have been dredging up the same excuses over and over again to push the same claim; meanwhile, we're already well into the trajectory of fractal catabolic collapse, and things are proceeding along that trajectory at their usual pace.
SLClaire, as I'm sure you know, "the creative economy" has been being announced in such glamorous and fact-free terms since the 1960s. It really doesn't seem to sink in, at least to the privileged, that such unglamorous, uncreative material products as food, water, shelter, and fuel still have to be provided somehow...
Alex, by all means enjoy those mealworms!
12/27/15, 2:48 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Dylan, it's more than twenty; I've talked to enough people who read this blog and are making real changes to be sure of that. Still, you're right that it's not a majority.
Shane, the relatively low population density of North America is a function of the fact that its previous inhabitants were all but exterminated, and the European settlements embraced (and wrote into law) an extravagant style of land use that largely excludes Old World population densities. Give us another millennium, and things will have balanced out.
Cherokee, you might be amused to know that we sang that song in elementary school. That and "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" accounted for most of my exposure to Australian culture in childhood. Stay hydrated!
LatheChuck, so here again, the reason why your rooftop array makes any kind of financial sense at all is government subsidies. Thank you.
Crow Hill, exactly. I would expect also to see Darwinian selection foster the emergence of animal and plant varieties that are less vulnerable to harm from radiation, as those will tend to prosper in exclusion zones.
Mike, you can find a map of Greenland without the ice here. The links on methane release were cited in one of the linked posts here.
Mirela, that's a nice useful snark. I tend to use the grizzly bear metaphor in the same context; it gets uncomfortable looks and a change of subject.
Shane, and some people who stay put will be fine. Others will drown, or starve, or suffer one of the other common fates -- and of course some of the people who relocate won't make it, either. It really is something of a crapshoot.
SV Koho, John Denver gave some very good advice!
Erik, maybe so, but since the bulk of arctic heating happens over a fairly brief period in summer, any methane venting that happens during that same period will tend to have a disproportionate effect. As for declining fossil fuel consumption, of course! The price of all three fossil fuels is dropping, too. The reason? Externalized costs for fossil fuel extraction from increasingly difficult and expensive reserves (tar sands, fracking, ultra-deepwater wells, etc.) have hit the global economy hard, producing sharp contraction in the real economy (masked on paper by the production of hallucinatory "wealth" in the financial sphere) and thus causing demand destruction that drives down consumption of all kinds. This is going to get a detailed post of its own sometime soon.
12/27/15, 3:16 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Peacegarden, very true. We all have to learn to reverence what is even while letting it go -- our mortality requires that of us, if nothing else.
Farmer, "much shorter" is a matter of degree. The figures I've seen suggest maybe five or ten thousand years of extreme high temperatures, followed by a hundred thousand years or so in the ice age deep freeze. Even five thousand years of jungle-planet temperatures, with all ice caps melting and climate bands skidding around like drops of water on a hot griddle, is more than enough to squash industrial civilization and drop the human population globally to a few per cent of what it is today.
Ed, I've written at great length about the problems with the notion that renewable energy will allow us to keep something like today's industrial civilization running indefinitely. As I've also written at some length, that doesn't make renewables useless -- it just means that today's industrial civilization is a temporary, self-terminating phenomenon, which will be replaced in due time (and after the usual dark age) by less wasteful and extravagant forms of technic society. As for "ascending to the next level," why, yes, that's exactly what I was talking about when I wrote about the civil religion of progress -- a faith-based linear model that maps the imagery of ascent onto the complex, grubby, nonlinear realities of our existence on that planet -- but I think you knew that already.
Unknown Deborah, I certainly agree that any action that might slow down global warming would be a good thing. I simply don't think that the COP(out)-21 agreement can be described in those terms -- and if the groups attempting to slow global warming had to wait for that media extravaganza to sit down and have quiet conversations of their own, I have to wonder what they've been doing all this while.
Phil, exactly. Large-scale methane outgassing at a time when the Greenland ice cap is rapidly destabilizing already is not a good sign!
Shane, I've been pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of preppers are very receptive to what I'm trying to communicate. I suspect that once you grasp the idea that nobody else is going to save you, and personal action is the only option you've got, a lot of blinders fall off your eyes in a hurry.
Carl, I have indeed. I'm just glad that nobody seems to have set a match to the thing...
Hubertus, I managed to get through solstice just fine without buying or being given anything from China, but then I'm not into what passes for holiday culture these days!
Crow Hill, well, that's par for the course.
Cherokee, glad to hear you got some rain! We're getting heavy rain today, the cutting edge of the storms that have caused so much devastation further west; the high temperature today was 73 degrees F., which isn't exactly normal for late December. Once the big storm blows through, in theory, we should get temperatures close to freezing, but it's still nothing like normal weather.
Samurai, as usual, we've got Democrats who want to make cosmetic gestures in the direction of global warming and Republicans who find even that intolerable. No, it's not a recipe for a pretty future.
12/27/15, 3:37 PM
John Michael Greer said...
John, Richard Heinberg put it best: we're at Peak Everything.
Andy, you might try this one for starters. (You're welcome.) As for "full carbon and energy payback," I have yet to see anybody make this claim who's factored in the entire carbon and energy cost from raw materials through manufacture and installation to disposal; if you leave that out, sure, anything -- even nuclear -- looks viable. It's all very well to engage in handwaving about what the world would look like on the far end of an energy transition, but the extremely low net energy of renewables, their dependence on fossil fuel inputs at a galaxy of points along the entire trajectory from mining the raw materials to disposing of the wreckage (many of which are hugely costly in energy and resource terms to substitute with any less concentrated resources), and the simple fact that we no longer have the time or resources left for a renewable buildout of any size -- not with climate catastrophes already happening around us, and catabolic collapse shifting into gear as well -- means that the only "transition" that's going to happen is the time-honored one called decline and fall.
Please note that I'm actually quite bullish on the future of renewables. Given a little hard work now, such sustainable renewable-energy technologies as solar water heating, sail transport, and wind turbines can get through the bottleneck of the end of the industrial age and make human societies more sustainable into the far future. It's the fantasy that today's lifestyles can be supported indefinitely on renewable energy sources that I'm trying to combat here. We need to get over the notion that our current lifestyles are anything but the product of an age of wretched excess and absurd extravagance, and recalibrate our expectations to levels that the planet can actually support. Yes, I'm aware that this is a daunting prospect, but it's not as though we have a choice: you and I and everyone else, including our descendants into the far future, are going to have to get used to much less lavish habits, because the cheap abundant energy that powers today's habits is going away, and nothing will bring it back.
12/27/15, 4:01 PM
How to weigh the "energy cost" of skilled labor has been weighing on me. It's one thing to look at the EROEI for panel manufacturing; more difficult for the labor part. I'd hate to think that my electrician would, oh, take a vacation in Hawaii!
By the way, I elected NOT to accept the option of China-made solar panels. IIRC, the silicon was processed in Japan, and the panels assembled in Mexico. 100% US-made was not an option offered by our program.
12/27/15, 4:25 PM
Dennis D said...
12/27/15, 4:53 PM
12/27/15, 5:07 PM
This almost squares with my experience, since *I* was "converted" to the peak oil "position" not by reading green-ecologist books, but by reading the arguments from the opposite side of the fence - while not AGW denialist per se, the pro-growth books I´ve read argued very forcefully that fossil fuels and nuclear can´t be replaced by "alternative" energy, and even if they could, an energy transition would take 50 years anyway. (The "transition" they had in mind would be from oil to gas and even more nuclear.)
Since fossil fuels (or uranium deposits) obviously aren´t eternal, well...put the two and two together and down you go!
I suppose I should thank author Robert Bryce (who works for the Saudi oil lobby!) for inadvertently pointing out the problems of industrial society to me...
12/27/15, 5:59 PM
Varun Bhaskar said...
Not to be too crude, but frack those pansies. Frack the so called world leaders, who are too afraid of losing power and too blind to see where they're leading us. Frack the environmentalists who care more about how they look, than actually getting something done.
Frack (verb) - to burden the future, either by wilful ignorance, avarice, or pride, with a great burden.
12/27/15, 6:06 PM
August Johnson said...
Here's an example similar to the type that Cherokee Chris uses but with a much smaller system and smaller numbers. I'm working with the local Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) group to get Packet Radio communications into the medical clinic here in our local town down in a valley. Since I'm located up on a ridge overlooking the town, I put up a digipeater on our hilltop and have it running on PV and battery. This system uses only about 5-6 watts average 24 hours a day. The battery that is running it will store about 1200 watt/hours and weighs 65 pounds. With the cloudy Oregon winter weather, I need to have two 200 watt PV panels to make sure that the battery doesn't get discharged too much! All for a system that draws 4-5 watts. On a dark, cloudy day these two 200 watt panels put out a whole 15-25 watts. Somewhat more on lighter days. I'm doing it with PV for the reliability during an emergency, nothing else.
All this for a 5 watt load! How in the world do people think that this will scale up to power our terawatt industrial monstrosity????!!!
12/27/15, 7:43 PM
JMG Said: "It's the fantasy that today's lifestyles can be supported indefinitely on renewable energy sources that I'm trying to combat here."
Then we're not at war. Here's another bandolier of 30 cal - carry on. :)
12/27/15, 8:58 PM
I did learn yesterday that pumpkin in Thai is "f*ck-torn" and that in the right hands it makes a curry to die for.
12/27/15, 9:23 PM
Donald Hargraves said...
Look at the latest brokered peace deal with Iran. Thirty-Five years plus of war by various means against the people of Iran, and NOW we've made some peace deals with them? Evidently the Permian Basin is now too expensive to drill in without destroying the nation (and we're about to embrace that, telling from the laws passed) so "time to make nice with Iran."
12/27/15, 10:18 PM
Here's the problem I have with his number: Most of the energy hit comes from trenches, distribution cabling, and high-tension distribution hardware to move the electrons from the centralized farms to individual houses - and then he appears to have spent some quality time at a Colorado dispensary before adding more lines to his spreadsheet! The EROEI of the actual panels and inverters is lost in that mess. http://www.wire1002.ch/fileadmin/user_upload/Documents/Reports/110403_How_much_net_energy_does_the_Spain_s_Solar_PV_program_deliver.pdf
To the point: When used in an efficient off grid building, we need to re-work Hall's EROEI calcs by removing at least "access, foundations, canalizations, and perimeter fences, electrical network/power lines restructuring, security and surveillance, communications and remote control and management; fairs, exhibitions, promotions, conferences, etc. (are you KIDDING ME here?!); consultants, notary public, public register, civil servants/public officers, etc; cost of land rent, or long term ownership, energy investments of evacuation lines and rights of way, pre-inscription, inscription registration bonds and fees; associated energy costs to injection of intermittent loads, pump up costs and/or other massive storage systems;insurances, administration expenses, force majeure acts of God and others (didn't we already list insurance?), etc. etc." Per Hall himself, that leaves us with an EROEI of more than 8 - and that's well, well above fracked gas/oil and tarsands (under 3).
And finally, none of this matters. We'll be able to use a full range of alternate and appropriate energies to run our full economy not because fusion-powered unicorns will arrive with a magic bottomless PV factory, but because our economy will continue to shrink to fit the energy available. One way or another...
12/27/15, 11:41 PM
Lou Nelms said...
At the same time much of this growth is further undermining natural environmental services requiring the substitution of energy hungry technological services (jobs!). And the further encroachment into natural ecosystems, once self sustaining, but now requiring more levers of human management and, yes, applications of energy (jobs!). Most often fossil energy. Not to mention all the energy and resources that will be required to mitigate the impacts of a changing climate. Where there will actually be the capital to do so. Oh, yeah, the coming "peaceful" conflicts over the application of capital which, you know, is so equally distributed.
All the while denying the world is already overdeveloped, over populated, and is on the fatal branch of overshoot. Merely challenges and opportunity for business growth -- markets! Challenges for an expanding population of clever beings with high tech, energy consuming tools. Jobs for heroic people holding it all together, techno celebrities deserving of a bigger share of the take.
All adding to the illusions which got us on this path from the get go. A real world of Babel, a mixed bag of denial from all sides, all held together by the imperative for growth. And the denial that a reckoning with growth will ever come. That we are exempted by our smarts and our smart technologies from the fate of past civilizations.
12/28/15, 5:56 AM
12/28/15, 7:00 AM
Iuval Clejan said...
I'll email JMG as well in case you don't see this or want to communicate further. Besides ic.org (where different communities, some as small as a couple of people) are at various stages of detachment,there are two resources I mentioned before, one already going, and one mostly in the planning stage. The Possibility Alliance is a network of communities, families and individuals centered geographically around La Plata Missouri (they are about 5 miles from the small town). They have mostly Amish neighbors, which provides a rudimentary infrastructure for things like horse and bicycle transport, wood stove production and repair and various food production. They use almost no electricity--recently they made a compromise and bought electric cattle fencing run by a small solar panel. They make their own candles from a neighbor's beeswax, and they have a landline phone. They use all hand tools and have built some beautiful, sturdy and cheap structures. They have cows, goats, chickens and horses. They grow their own vegetables but have not made much progress towards grains and beans Their non-amish collaborator neighbors are at various levels of detachment--some have solar panels and cars, some work in town, some even have internet and sell blacksmithing crafts on Etsy *I don't think anyone went as low as getting a TV)... They mostly create their own culture, with music, dance, readings, games, religious meetings of all sorts (I do believe there are some pagans there too) and working together or exchanging goods and services. Their general philosophy is Gandhian, which means much more than non-violence. Tgere are any number of religious affiliations and I think Mr. Carr would not feel the discomfort he felt in a religious commune.
The other detachment effort is my own idea, the Luddite Manhattan Project, or the Monastic Order of Luddite Scholars. As this is not a place for self-promotion, you can google or contact me about this. I hope to pursue it soon near the Possibility Alliance in MO.
12/28/15, 7:01 AM
In the meantime, I continue the small changes that I can to my lifestyle to reduce energy consumption where I can. The usage tracking project remains in progress, with some results showing as I keep inching closer to a 12-month rolling average of 200 KWh/mo.
And doing what I can to steer my local community to a more resilient path. Incremental steps and dogged persistence are the keys here, I suspect.
12/28/15, 8:08 AM
Shane W said...
PV, to Chris & others out there living off grid, how much does providing 110-120V (for most of the Americas) or 220-240V (for the rest of the world) add to the complexing of your system? How much easier/less complex would your system be if it weren't serving outlets @ these voltages? Is that why they require all the batteries/etc, to ramp up the electrical pressure to 110-120 or 220-240? Of course, I realize that we live in a system that provides electrical appliances that run @ either 110-120 or 220-240, and you'd be limiting yourself severely providing other voltages, but I do wonder just how much high voltage adds to the complexity of the system.
12/28/15, 8:30 AM
Bill Pulliam said...
12/28/15, 9:20 AM
John Michael Greer said...
Dennis, again, granted -- though in that case you might be better off with a 12V system that isn't tied to the grid.
LatheChuck, by all means post what you can find!
Tidlösa, well, yes. The pro-nuclear types insist that renewables can't be scaled up far or fast enough to matter; the pro-renewable types insist that nuclear is in the same boat; my take is that they're both right, and since fossil fuels are going away, the answer is hard to evade.
Varun, now, now. I have pansies growing in my garden, and I think they'd be horribly upset to see themselves compared with the abject excuses for leadership who were parading their lack of courage in Paris the other week. ;-)
August, thank you. It's always refreshing to hear a real-world example, as a useful counterpoint to all the abstract handwaving that besets these questions!
Andy, these days I'm glad to see fisheries biologists crunching numbers in energy science -- graft and corruption in the scientific field, especially when there's money and politics involved, have become so common that when someone employed in a given field expresses an opinion about it, my first question is who's paying his research grants.
Pat, delighted to hear it. Plans to issue the Archdruid Report as a twice-monthly zine are well under way, so a less electromagnetic way to get these posts will be available shortly!
Donald, that's a valid point, though it deals mostly with the abject failure of the "fracking revolution." What I'm wondering now is whether the entire fossil fuel industry -- coal, oil, natural gas -- is dropping below the cost-versus-benefit level needed to pay for its own operations, without subsidies padding the process.
Andy, but I'm not talking about efficient off-grid buildings. The specific point I'm trying to address is whether the electrical grid -- and the modern industrial society that depends on it -- can be maintained in something like its present form on renewable energy. The study discussed in that post is very relevant to that, because most if not all of the additional costs have to be there in order to use PV as a source of grid power.
If you want to talk about efficient off-grid buildings, that's a different matter entirely -- there, unless you're just talking about your own home, all you have to address is, first, the cost of getting any appreciable fraction of people into energy-efficient housing, and second, whether the industrial infrastructure needed to produce PV systems (including everything from the mines for raw materials on up) can be maintained in the absence of cheap abundant fossil fuels. Mind you, those are far from minor issues in their own right, but they're part of a different discussion.
12/28/15, 11:22 AM
John Michael Greer said...
I'm far from sure that motor vehicles worldwide will double by 2030 -- no doubt the auto industry would love that to happen, and has been promoting the concept, but as the economic consequences of climate change and resource depletion continue to accelerate, I think it's far more likely that we'll see fewer cars on the roads, fewer roads in drivable condition, and a great many other statistics of the same kind firmly in the red by 2030.
Nastarana, granted. That's one of the reasons why the cutting edge of the future isn't going to consist of middle class people buying off-grid homes with high-end PV systems and the like. It's going to consist -- in fact, it already consists -- of squatters in abandoned housing, camps of homeless people in odd corners of the national forest system, and others who live under the official radar, and so can get away with choices that make sense in a deindustrial environment.
Bill, no argument there. I suspect the only thing that will make them well pleased with us at this point is a mighty sacrifice of SUVs and energy-intensive lifestyles, and I see no hope that that's in the offing...
12/28/15, 11:31 AM
Well, they'll have to legalize hemp if we're to get enough rope.
12/28/15, 12:38 PM
Anthony Romano said...
I have to echo your thoughts here. Reading this blog over the past several years has made me question a great many things about my lifestyle, and I struggle to make the "right" choices that are more sustainable and sane. However, travel is one that I have struggled with the most.
Out of all the technologies our society has access to, cheap and fast travel is the one that I think is the most valuable. This may seem counter-intuitive, but without that cheap travel, I probably wouldn't care about the environment at all. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, the only nature around was mowed ball fields. Urban development is totally complete in that part of the world. If my dad hadn't driven me to Canada every summer for a fishing trip during my youth, if my Uncle hadn't flown me out to California for my 18th birthday and taken me backpacking in the mountains, I probably would have majored in business and be an accountant right now instead of studying ecology and working in conservation and botany.
But I still take those energy intensive trips. Its a soul tonic, time spent in wild spaces is important to me. I struggle with the issue of having to drive, sometimes hours, to get to a wild place. Fortunately I finally found work in Denver and moved to Colorado, so wild places are a bit closer to home. I don't feel good about the gas I use to take these trips, but I'm not sure how I could give up on regularly pitching my tent near an alpine lake, drinking straight from a spring, botanizing, fishing, stumbling into elk and black bear, watching the alpenglow turn the rocks rose and gold, and so on.
So while I understand the regular attacks of others on SUV driving and jet-setting environmentalists, I'm not sure travel is an issue that can so easily be classified as crass consumerism. Considering transportation accounts for only 14% of global carbon dioxide emissions, I feel there are a lot bigger fish to fry. If all this makes me an evil, unrepentant hypocrite, then so be it.
In other words, at the very least, the people loading up the SUV to go skiing this winter are doing something outside and in the real world, using their bodies, feeling the wind, sun, and cold in a semi-wild place. It took experiencing what is at stake to make me care. The more people stay in cities, playing in virtual simulations of mountain ranges and forests the less likely we are to care what is happening.
An old neighbor of mine is a semi-professional mountaineer. He lives in a small cabin outside of Boulder. He grows a big garden, set up a rainwater catchment system, turned off the gas heater and uses just the fire place to keep the house warm (all the wood comes from his day job working for an arborist company), he rides his bike to work to and from town even in the winter. Yet once or twice a year he flies to Patagonia of the Himalaya to practice his craft in the high mountains.
Are we really ready to judge people like him so harshly?
I don't expect JMG to agree, I just would like to see a more nuanced conservation on this particular issue, often I get the sense that many of the commentators enjoy piling on with their noses turned up.
12/28/15, 12:53 PM
If you want to talk about efficient off-grid buildings, that's a different matter entirely -- there, unless you're just talking about your own home, all you have to address is, first......but they're part of a different discussion."
- Building efficiency is critical, however.
-- (Here's a rough house comparison: https://www.dropbox.com/s/e7jth24f8su67aj/houseenergy.jpg?dl=0
--- I added the notes. Chart's from an American of German descent building passive houses in central Alaska. http://www.reina-llc.com/)
- I don't know anyone in the group of folks working to solve our current energy/resource/climate crisis by only selecting one tool - like PV - to do the job.
- When I suggested folks might enjoy reading Jacobson's papers (the underpinnings of The Solutions Project), the Rocky Mountain Institute's Reinventing Fire project, and the Third Industrial Revolution and massive energy transition being used in a big way in the EU, I did so because they each address exactly how to solve the problem of powering our modern industrial society as it is today with tech, money, and infrastructure available today. RMI shows the money math - we have more than we need and it's already baked into required power generation upgrades - it's cheaper to move to efficiency and renewables than to keep doing what we're doing - even when we disregard externalities and extinction. It appears from their calcs that we have the money, factory space, and materials required.
Looking into Germany's transition, one can see that they need electricity, hot water, space heating and cooling, transportation, and industrial heat/energy. They need it when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow. And the German people made clear by putting their bodies on the line that they didn't want fossil or nuclear power in the mix. On a macro scale, they are converting excess energy to hydrogen and also pulling CO2 from the air to synthesize methane. Both can be stored in the existing national natural gas grid. They have enough storage available to provide more than six months of power to cover all energy consumers even if all of their renewables drop offline entirely. On a micro level, individual towns are planting a couple of wind turbines, covering a couple of barn roofs with PV, and installing biomethane digesters (all owned collectively, most being used in place of retirement investments in the stock markets, and all returning much better profits than 'conventional' investments). Towns are able to provide all their building heating (most is radiant, and supplied from a central boiler fired from their methane, from biomass, or from heat recovered from the diesel generators converted to run methane), all their hot water, and more than twice the electricity they need - which is exported on the power grid. They can do this because a standard German house uses about 1/3 the energy of a similar house in the US, and their push to retrofit to PassivHaus standards cuts their energy use to about 10% of our average. They started with efficiency and by re-arranging and re-combining the puzzle pieces to re-define the problem.
I think we have enough time available so that we can get completely off fossil fuels in about 25 years, but don't think Americans have the will, unfortunately. Yes, that hurts to write. The part I don't know about is whether we still have the physical resources available to complete any of the transitions as they're written and I haven't yet found that info.
Thanks for the time, space, and ideas.
12/28/15, 2:07 PM
Shane W said...
12/28/15, 4:31 PM
Ray Wharton said...
On the other hand the implication of climate change was all the more daunting. While following the sheep through their grazing wash I contemplated how the land would respond to rarer and more massive weather regime that is anticipated if climate change goes as current signs imply. Fewer larger storms would devastate the dry lands of the South West. I think that encouraging hyper drought tolerant trees like pinyon and juniper could mitigate it, also by slowing water where it enters the top of washes and draws might minimize the rapid erosion which otherwise would devastate the land. Still the work needed to be done is immense, even in more hospitable lands than the Black Mesa found in more temperate parts of the South West.
I don't know what can be done, one thing I will try doing is spreading basic mycology skills. It is a fairly water efficient way to produce protein rich foods from biomass that under current practices is currently burned. Also, it is clear from the history research done at Mesa Verde that deforstation is a major contributor to previous civilization collapse in the region. Using glass and metal, abundant in our era, solar thermal can decrease the per capita wood usage considerably, if certain techniques are disseminated. With the weather keeping my activities indoors I have been studying solar concentration and hope to implement some experiments on that front. Also dew harvesting of green house exhaust might be viable on properties with limited water rights. Small farmers need to be able to maximally use each drop of water, because out irrigation systems are likely to be major sources of conflict.
12/28/15, 5:50 PM
In my system, each panel puts out about 20-40V DC (under useful levels of sunshine). But "power" is voltage x current, and "energy" is the integral of power with respect to time. (If words like "integral" (and "derivative") aren't in your vocabulary, they should be, in order to understand systems of all kinds.) The more current that you try to draw, the lower the output voltage you see, so there's a trade-off. To get maximum power from the panels, the ideal load is one that adjusts its demand for current so as to track the peak-power point even as the intensity of the sunshine changes.
Just converting the raw DC to 115V AC (two-phase) is relatively easy and efficient with modern electronics. Converting it in a way that ensures that power flows out of my house to share with my neighbors takes some fancy control, but doesn't waste much power. Each of my panels, in fact, converts the raw DC to AC and then back to a standard DC voltage before it leaves the roof, so that the main grid-interface power inverter always has 600V DC to work with. The individual panel converters independently track the peak-power point for each panel (for example, one panel is shadowed by a vent stack part of the day, so we don't try to get power out of it then).
12/28/15, 6:28 PM
Some of this argument may be found as an addendum to the Prieto & Hall article linked above, in which Prieto says (I paraphrase) "I'm tired of arguing and just want to tend my organic farm." These authors, though, advocate "an extended summer workshop" to gather the various analysts from their institutions: S. Carolina, UK, NY, WA, Madrid, Berlin, and CA, so they can work it all out. They'll be traveling by solar-powered sail-boats, of course.
12/28/15, 6:44 PM
"In summation, as the Age of Fossil Fuels draws to a close, it appears that mankind may be facing an obligatory change to renewable fuel sources -- without having done due diligence to learn whether, as envisioned, those renewable sources can possibly suffice."
Well, at least the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is getting the word out to its members. You might know them. They're the "they" who are expected to "think of something".
12/28/15, 6:51 PM
All in all, I agree with your view on COP21 and Oreskes but I don't think the methane and meltwater hypotheses have enough evidence, yet, to support them. not that that gives me much solace. Currently, it almost seems like Gaia is fighting back with a vengance, with all the wild weather around the globe this Christmas.
12/28/15, 7:19 PM
Out of all the technologies our society has access to, cheap and fast travel is the one that I think is the most valuable.
Really? Of all the technologies? Including those of basic mass healthcare - vaccination, antibiotics, anaesthesia, reliable and relatively safe (and genuinely necessary) surgeries? [Bear in mind I write from the UK, where there remains, in theory, necessity-based criteria for our mostly-free healthcare].
No amount of "cheap and fast travel" would compensate for me those. Nor you neither, I think. Poor health is a bummer that you never get used to - most people could, I think, live very happily without cheap flights and cars.
12/29/15, 1:01 AM
Gah! Wretched internet. Turns even myself into a frothing grumpster. I apologise for "piling on" because your version of the argument was actually better and more temperate than many I've heard. And it actually contains something I'd agree with - that using a car to get out and do physically active things in the countryside is a much better use of fossil fuels than many others.
This area of what consitutes "green behaviour" is a complicated one - too complicated to fit into a bunch of blog comments. I'm currently writing something about it elsewhere.
12/29/15, 1:18 AM
Martin B said...
Imagine you own a widget factory. And you have a super-salesman who will sell any widget you produce, instantly. And doesn't complain if you have no widgets to sell. And not only does he sell them, he transports them from your factory door as well. He finds all the customers, and supplies their widgets from other sources when you haven't any, so they have no incentive to find an alternative to widgets.
How much are you willing to pay your super-salesman? I think a typical 10% commission is far too little. 20 or 30% seems more reasonable. And seeing as he can only get the wholesale price for widgets, the best you should expect is 70 to 80% of the wholesale price.
And sometimes when the wind blows and the sun shines and there is a surplus of widgets and the wholesale price becomes negative, you have to take that hit too. (I.e. be fined for producing unwanted electricity.)
12/29/15, 4:34 AM
12/29/15, 7:02 AM
It was truly bizarre with this short film competition about "Act on climate change" i participated in. It was sponsored by multinational french bank BNP Parisbas and as you who saw the film also noticed a lot of apple gizmo stuff. Most of my fellow directors from all over the world didn´t really have any clue about what climate change and the long term effects of it really have. The film that won the competition portrayed a french couple kissing on the beach who after their kiss had to put their gas masks back on....
However, this film festival is on every year and have different topics every time. Climate Change was just this years subject due to the climate summit. The people working with the festival are really nice film loving people who do what they have to to make the festival going! Make collaborations with multi national companies to pay for the whole lot. That´s how it works. I wrote a lot about the cynicism of the thing on my blog. But only in swedish I´m afraid.
Thank you JMG for sharing the link!
12/29/15, 7:32 AM
However, I estimate that it would take about 20 Wh to reheat refrigerated pre-cooked oatmeal for breakfast, which explains why I do not use AA batteries for cooking! (500g (two servings), from 4C to 38C)
On the other hand, if I can use free solar energy to heat a 10 lb. barbel plate to 100 deg. C, and keep it in a perfectly insulated box overnight, I'd have 37 Wh of heat to warm the oatmeal with in the morning. (allowed to cool from 100C to 40C while warming breakfast).
One response to the daily variation in energy availability from solar power is to arrange consumption to "make hay while the sun shines". Historically, time-sensitive pricing has been intended to steering industrial users away from peak consumption periods to match the level power output of coal and nuclear generators. In the future, we might see time-sensitive pricing steering heavy usage toward the sunny hours of sunny days, when power is (hypothetically) plentiful.
12/29/15, 11:19 AM
Carl Dolphin said...
12/29/15, 12:36 PM
Shane W said...
Well, I'm thinking of it from a class divide perspective. Many people are already collapsed, living in poverty or thereabouts, and can't afford jet travel, a car, or, if they do have a car, it's too old and unreliable to take on long road trips. So, it does seem extravagant to them. And considering JMG's admonition, "collapse now & avoid the rush", we'll all probably be in that boat sooner rather than later after the next series of crises washes over us. Besides, when you jet off to El Capitan or Denali or wherever, you're not enjoying your biome/nature, but someone else's. Seems like Adrian and others in the Chicago area have mentioned lots of natural treasures in their area and enjoy their biome. Not too mention the Great Lakes. I think it's a case of the "grass is always greener". I live near the Appalachian foothills, and you couldn't ask for a richer natural biome. Even in Central KY, there's the KY River palisades and numerous streams & waterways. Learning to relocalize and appreciate your own areas natural wealth & diversity is part of the process. My grandparents & great-grandparents did without frequent travel & lived locally, and I'm learning to do the same. Besides, there's always those trains JMG speaks of. I think JMG sets a great example by living carless in a poor community.
12/29/15, 2:17 PM
Anthony Romano said...
I'm glad that I managed to make at least some sense, and I'm glad you agree that it is a complicated topic. I'm clearly conflicted on it myself as an active "outdoors sports" enthusiast. I tend to go in mental circles.
In response to your first post, I should have chosen my words more carefully. Instead I would say that out of all the non-essential privileges that current technology grants us, cheap travel is among the most worthy. It certainly ranks ahead of hoverboards and ipads at any rate.
The trouble is no matter how I look at it, I know it is not sustainable. It is clearly a privileged activity. Yet I can't manage to quash my desire to explore the forests, mountains, grasslands, and deserts and see as much of this beautiful planet as I can. I'm also not sure how sustainable urban living is for the human animals emotional and physical needs.
I once tried to have a big adventure via alternative transit. Several years ago a friend and I took a train from Chicago to Sacramento. It took three days for that journey, another day of buses and trains to reach Yosemite Valley and start a three week hike on the John Muir Trail. It worked in the end, but it ate over a week of the trip just on trains/buses. With the income we lost from missing an extra week of work due to transit, it wound up much more expensive than flying despite the train tickets being dirt cheap.
So maybe it was more ecologically sustainable but it was also more economically difficult. Being cheap and fast, airplanes create economic parity for travelers. Access to travel for more classes of people beyond the elite is definitely a benefit of our crumbling modern age. There is also a big difference between a few hundred people flying coach together, and one person making the same flight on a private jet.
Beyond that I'm not sure what else to add, I've made about as much of an argument defending high-energy travel as I can. I'm fully aware I'm on shaky ground.
A last note. Sometimes I just want to absolve myself of any responsibility. Being part of the under thirty crowd of Archdruid fans, I have the distinct sense that this civilization played its hand before I was even born (Peak oil looming, climate change locked in, etc).
If my elders failed to act and build a sustainable world why should it be my responsibility? I know the only real answer to that is "Who else is gonna do it?" so I'm trying to see my way through these complicated topics as best I can.
12/29/15, 4:23 PM
"If my elders failed to act and build a sustainable world why should it be my responsibility? I know the only real answer to that is "Who else is gonna do it?" so I'm trying to see my way through these complicated topics as best I can."
First of all, many of your elders did try to build a more sane and sustainable world, and were impoverished, ridiculed if not persecuted for it. So please don't slip into the glib, facile generational blaming.
And no, the only answer isn't 'who else is going to do it'. Thought that's certainly a good part of it. But just as important is 'how am I going to look myself in the mirror every day and have some self respect, now that I know what's going on?'. And 'how am I going to sleep at night, pretending that I don't?'.
Your elders, and my elders (I'm 60), and their elders, etc. ad infinitum all failed to build sustainable systems. This has been coming on a long time. The political system handed the rudder over to the money power (capital) generations ago, and simply abdicated responsibility. We are all victims, and it's far from over yet.
So eat, drink, and be merry if you can. But you know what you know. You are no more a victim than I am...
12/29/15, 6:03 PM
A couple of historical notes about visitor access to wild lands in the United States. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most national parks in the western US as well as some regional parks had railroad service to the gates and in some cases to lodges in the interior. The railroads promoted ecotourism to the middle and upper classes as an alternative to European travel, and built many of the grand lodges in the parks, such as the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. The working class could not afford the time or the money for this kind of travel, but some middle class people could. Last year, there was a PBS series called Great Lodges of the National Parks or something like that, which covered the tie in between the railroads, the building of lodges in the parks, and the promotion of domestic travel to wilderness locations.
Local attractions like Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, CA were also served by passenger rail. All of this went away when the federal highway system was developed.
Something else that is nearly forgotten is a New Deal programs that established federally owned and operated campgrounds all over the United States. These were intended to make it possible for ordinary families to afford an inexpensive healthful vacation in the woods. Over the years, nearly all of these campgrounds were sold off or transferred to state control. One still in federal hands is Camp David, a vacation retreat for Presidents and their guests, to which the public has no access. Perhaps the last one still being operated as a campground is the Mendocino Woodlands, which is now a group camp owned by the State of California but managed by a consortium of non-profit clubs and organizations.
12/29/15, 7:04 PM
I just can't see my way clear to agreeing with you. Maybe because I'm 54, one of those dastardly oldsters who had the gall to be born 20-some odd years before you - because of that, I remember when cross-country or global travel was not a "non-essential", but could only be categorized as a luxury. I just can't bring myself to viewing it as anything other than a luxury - now or ever, no matter how cheap Jet-Blue appears to be to a first world middle class explorer. I think that's true whether your destination is a pristine wilderness, an urban historical/cultural site or trashy, glitzy trip to Vegas or Disneyland - they're all luxuries. In real terms - they cost a LOT!
I certainly hope you do not mean to imply you would have no concern for the fate of those pristine wildernesses unless you could personally enjoy them, (without missing out on too much work.) I would hope you'd agree that those pristine wildernesses are worth their existence with or without you gracing their presence. Since I was a child, two of the places I've really yearned to see with my very own eyes are the African Veldt and the Siberian forests. At this point it's really a given that I won't ever see them in person, but I still want them to exist, for the flora and fauna to thrive and continue. If my not flying, (or even caravanning) in to glimpse them personally adds a tiny bit to their prospects of continuance - I'm good with that.
As to your last question: "...Why should it be my responsibility?" I would again, quibble with your answer, only as being incomplete. My answer would be that whatever you decide to do or not do: 'You're in it. You have to live with it'. In the same way we all each individually have to live with and make the best of what we were handed, both good and bad.
There is no moral high or low ground here, so IMHO, any blame on prior or subsequent generations is self-gratifying wasted effort. I mean, if it motivates you or makes you feel better to blame the boomers, sure, go ahead, but it doesn't change anything. At 54 I just missed out on the best benefits of the 'boomers' - a tail-end baby boomer? A 'Silent Generational'? Meh, I coulda had it better. I'm sure those a bit older than myself could if they chose to - blame their own previous generation for the devastation of WW2? for inventing the bomb? We could all play this game.
As our esteemed host has explained a number of times, all civilizations follow a pattern - and we're following it. Blaming it on the baby boomers for not being far-sighted enough to forestall this collapse that they may or may not live through is IMHO, not only pointless(see above), but asking more than the average human has shown to have the capacity for. All of those preceding risen and collapsed civilizations attest to this. In their place - you would have done the same. It's just human nature. None of us are above it.
When a storm is coming - don't waste time shaking your fist at the sky or railing on your parents for having given birth to you without your consent. If you want to ride out that storm and live, you'd be best off just battening down the hatches.
12/29/15, 8:23 PM
So I have a question to British commenters: Is it as bad as the Daily/Sunday Express make it or are they exaggerating?
12/30/15, 1:50 AM
Ok, so. Early THIS MORNING (UTC) the above freezing temperature of 1.1°C was recorded at the North Pole! See update at the bottom of this post.
12/30/15, 2:34 AM
Cherokee Organics said...
Reading the comments this week has handed me the "barn-burner" letter to the editor that I've been looking for. You would think that it would be obvious to all that the sun does not shine at night, but alas - it must be me, for I am confused! :-)! Hehe! If only it wasn’t serious…
73'F would be hot for a late June day here, let alone up in your part of the world. The weather has been so extreme this year across much of the continent and also the elsewhere on this planet that I'm inclined to believe that things have gone awry with the climate and whilst it may possibly return to normal for a while, it probably won't stay normal and expected for very long before returning to even more extremes...
The funny thing about people throwing around terms like renewables and eco-houses is that I've given them a good go down here and they're not cheap and they're not easy and there is very little official support for such things. Plus it takes years of living with this stuff to understand all of the quirks and limitations of the systems. I reckon they fill the role of the thought stopper. I think future renewables will look more like bees wax candles whilst eco-houses will look more like one room timber log and bark shacks.
Rolf Harris who made famous "Tie me Kangaroo sport" is in disgrace too, and for good reason!
I know and totally 100% agree with you. I run a small 12V system with 200Ah battery (2.4kW) and a single 200W panel and it will run lights, garden lights, water pump, and radio but not much else as my experience with it is exactly the same as yours. It is good, in fact actually it is great, but it is not a fossil fuel generator. Not by a long shot. I do hope that no one is pinning their hopes on solar PV. I must sort out a second hand ham radio and license. So much to do...
Good for you for taking the initiative and seeing how this stuff works in the real world. Respect.
Honestly, I used to feel the same as you do about the service charges for utilities as I too was a very low user. Respect to you too for that. I changed my mind about this issue after I had provide, install and pay for all of the infrastructure that I now exist with – and not one of the systems supplies me with the volume of output that can occasionally be required in a connected home. I dream of access to town water supplies! And I can tell you this frightening truth – your regular connection service charges are very cheap indeed when compared to supplying your own infrastructure.
12/30/15, 2:56 AM
Max Osman said...
12/30/15, 3:13 AM
August Johnson said...
As soon as I hear about it, I'll be subscribing!
12/30/15, 6:49 AM
12/30/15, 7:39 AM
What about the eastern slopes of the Appalachians? I live in Western North Carolina.
12/30/15, 12:42 PM
Steve in Colorado said...
It is pretty clear that PV and Wind will not allow BAU to continue. At least as far as someone jumping into their SUV commuting 40 miles to work, stopping off for a quick latte on the way in, stopping at a store and picking up some fresh strawberries from half way around the world out of season on the way home, and doing it again day after day, by the millions. That sort of extravagant use of concentrated energy for mere convenience is going away. Maybe not tomorrow, but more and more so as time moves on.
That said, RE can and does provide a new source of concentrated energy without many of the problems of the old fossil and nuke sources. Not necessarily a drop in replacement with no other changes required, but a viable alternative for some (likely lower) level of concentrated energy.
It is important, as JMG has pointed out, not to fall into the trap of thinking of the future in extremes. Neither the continuation of BAU nor the apocalypse are the most likely outcomes. Change will happen, often at several levels of the system at the same time; this enables a much greater range of possible outcomes than the projections which analyze from a single (or no) variables changing.
Changes will happen. Some (many?) may have to be dragged kicking and screaming to those changes, but none the less they will occur. The future is not entirely bleak if some of those changes can be made in a timely manner. Whether they will or not is likely the big question we face.
12/30/15, 2:10 PM
You have expressed my thoughts pretty well. Like another poster, I think this topic is a bit hard to compress into a short comment. I am thinking of writing something longer and posting it here for others to judge and comment on.
12/30/15, 4:00 PM
Yvonne Rowse said...
The papers are not exaggerating about the floods in the UK. Many people have been evacuated. A number of those are not insured because their properties have been flooded before. It has been a miserable holiday for many in the northwest of England and in Scotland. The Environment Agency is saying that the flood defences have proved inadequate, in that they worked up to a certain level but were overtopped by more water than expected. George Monbiot has written about one of the reasons for the flooding: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/29/deluge-farmers-flood-grouse-moor-drain-land
although, obviously, the unusual weather systems are the immediate reason. Part of this at least means that it has not been bitingly cold at least with temperatures around 12C.
12/31/15, 2:17 AM
While we're not yet at the place to start raising food, vegetable and animal on land as we would like, or living in the manner we would like to, we're getting things in place so we can do that, and when we launch, to make it a good one. My wife and I were gifted with two workshops, one in round timber framing, and the other in how to make our own rocket stove with cob and plaster. We've been gardening for the last several years, and this next looks to be promising if last year's growth was any indication.
Home and hearth is the way forward for us, and the folks we are coming into alliance with to make all these things happen are likewise minded. Thank you for helping plant seeds that are starting to take root. Gods willing, we'll have something to show in a year or so.
12/31/15, 2:38 AM
12/31/15, 10:10 AM
This particular news was considered so profound that they made a press release on that.
As it is very unpleasant and important one to the theme, I am posting it here: http://badgersettresearch.blogspot.cz/2015/12/the-global-warming-grinch.html
By the way, we experienced extraordinary warm fall here too. Only this weekend it started to freeze, with spring daily temperatures even a week back (even yesterday I was tilling some beds). But almost no snow yet and soil water reserve is extraordinary low too - despite it rained quite a lot (more than average) in november and december (it is a deficit from last winter, when there was practically no snow, leading to quite severe drought in summer with lowered harvests; we are not used to such droughts). I plan improving water retention on my piece of land in various ways, but I am agro-beginner (5 years by now) and it really is a long run.
1/4/16, 12:54 AM
Erik Buitenhuis said...
I'm looking forward to it already. I'd be especially interested whether you think the promised "managed" INDCs are going to be exceeded by unmanaged declines in fossil fuel consumption from the above mechanism, and whether the INDCs might even have been promised because politicians know this.
1/5/16, 8:12 AM
Andrew Crews said...
"Stuart, I'm really starting to wonder if there's something very important hidden under the flurry of subsidies. Look at the way that industrial societies are catabolizing their own infrastructure, sacrificing their own working classes and industrial plant, engaging in increasingly risky political and military gambles -- why? Could it be that with soaring extraction costs, the fossil fuel economy no longer pays for itself? "
In the Special issue of Sustainability Journal on EROI, Charlie Hall, determined in one of the studies which I can't seem to locate the exact text for, that, US oil and Gas would reach a EROEI of 0 between 2020 and 2040.
In other news,
Carbon emissions fell globally in 2015. Since carbon dioxide is a well mixed gas,year on year emission is probably the most accurate indicator we have of total worldwide combustion growth. I think this is a sign we have reached peak combustion, which is peak net energy. I am sure you know what is in store economically.
In short, your right, the fossil fuel economy has recently stopped paying for itself and we get to live through the slow crunch, as humanity goes back to the bottom of an energetic canyon it will never escape again.
1/7/16, 2:31 AM
ivar laegreid said...
1/7/16, 4:37 PM