Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What I am Reading - The Water Knife

Climate Change is an unknown.  No human has experienced a climate like we are in the process of  setting up.  Ever.   I just read a new book by Paolo Bacigalupi that tries real hard to imagine what some of the consequences of this new world might be.  His new book The Water Knife delves into the politics of several U. S. Southwestern States, in the near future, fighting for a very limited supply of a very necessary, and therefore precious, resource - water. The central figure of the novel is an undercover operative for the Nevada water authority and is on assignment in bordering states, covertly trying to gain access to an ancient Native American water treaty while officially grappling with competing water officials and sabotaging water projects unhelpful to the Nevada plan.  In the meantime he comes in contact with an assortment of seamy characters and destitute local citizens trying to make a life in a very degraded environment.  This is the third book I have read of Mr. Bacigalupi's and I have enjoyed them all.  He incorporates a lot of well thought out technical detail and cultural subtleties in his story line.  It is not a pretty world he writes about but he has a way of making it seem possible.  I recommend it to anyone who is interested in thinking about all of the possibilities our new world might bring to the table.

The difficulty with keeping it simple.

Global annual fossil fuel carbon dioxide emiss...
Global annual fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions through year 2007, in million metric tons of carbon, as reported by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am still here, folks.  Not active on this site, obviously, but still watching, waiting and learning.  I now believe that the main dilemma we are facing has become less a problem to solve than a forgone conclusion that we must find a way to accept.  We are clearly unwilling, as a species, to restrain our prodigious consumptive habits.  We will not limit our population.  We will not reduce our dependence on hydro-carbons.  We will not throttle our resource-gorging lifestyles.  If we cannot, or will not, do any of these things then the carbon dioxide load of the atmosphere will continue to climb into uncharted territory and the planet will slowly evolve into an unlivable habitat for all life, including humans.

We are fooling ourselves if we think that there is a way to continue our exorbitant lifestyle and, at the same time, find a way to stave off the rapid deterioration of our planet's living environment.  It is really very simple.  Everything we do, or have, in today's consumer society is produced by burning hydro-carbons.  Our food, our utilities, our stuff, medicine, transportation, the internet, even mining hydrocarbons is not possible without using more hydrocarbons.  Burning hydrocarbons, in turn, produce carbon dioxide gases that migrate into the atmosphere (staying there for a very, very long time by the way) which causes heat to be trapped on the earths surface.  If you are still with me here, it follows that virtually everything that is consumed contributes to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and  the resultant Climate Change.

Climate Change, therefore is all up to you (and me too of course).  The more you consume the more you contribute to climate change.  When you consume something, everything that is consumed to produce, distribute, sell and recycle it are part of your consumption as well.  And, don't forget the other part of the equation,  everything your children consume (and their children) is also part of your consumption.  It really is that simple.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The more things change...

Global annual fossil fuel carbon dioxide emiss...
Global annual fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions through year 2007, in million metric tons of carbon, as reported by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It has been a long time since I have posted to this blog.  Once again the world has shifted while I was away.  I originally started this blog when I became convinced that we were in the grips of "Peak Oil," and eventually "Peak Everything." Depletion of critical resources was going to topple the Capitalist model and we would all suffer the consequences. This is still a certainty and its damage is probably working its way through our economy as we speak, but as important as this concept is to our civilization, I fear it has moved down in the list of horrors.  In fact, it might have been a cure for our real problem if it had indeed happened sooner, as many projected a few years ago.

Carbon dioxide variations over the last 400,00...
Carbon dioxide variations over the last 400,000 years, showing a rise since the industrial revolution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
And what is that real problem you ask.  Climate Change I answer.  By finding ways to prolong our prodigious use of hydrocarbons we have jacked up the probability that the climate will instead be our downfall, probably sooner than most can imagine.  The climate people on the dystopian fringes, clearly not yet the center, are beginning to point out dire clues that the earth has had enough and will now begin its ancient warming tasks in earnest, protected by a newly formed atmosphere fully fortified with a new supply of CO2.  I am told that there is now more CO2 in the atmosphere than any time in man's history, probably for millions of years.  We are in completely new territory here folks.  I am going to stay tuned to this channel and I may bring some of what I find to this blog.  If what I am reading now, however, has any validity whatsoever we are all going to have to tune in soon.
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Saturday, August 04, 2012

Recent Reflections

I haven't posted for awhile.  It isn't because the problems of resource depletion have gone away, however.  I just lost faith in the power of logic and rational discussion to overcome the insurmountable optimism emanating from the exponents of capitalism and technology.  Uncontrolled resource consumption, and its unavoidable side-effects, resource depletion, climate change and over-population, is not just a consequence of our lifestyle it has become a primary goal for the planet.  There will be no logical stepping away from our idiocy.  There evidently will be no further discussion, period.

In particular, I can see no one in a position of power in our society making a case for reduction in consumption of hydrocarbons.  The discussion is all about more digging (in whatever form that takes with today's extraction technology), energy company tax breaks and removing whatever constraints might be in place to protect our environment from the consequences of this activity.  Politicians are pointing to all of the jobs that are generated producing "harder to extract" oil.  No one has pointed out that all of those new jobs and industrial activity is what is making oil more expensive.  We are locked into this mode of thinking and I really do not think it will ever change in time to provide any sort of relief from resource depletion's worst case scenario.

Time is not on our side.  If we wait until it hurts, there will be no relief.  The crazy weather has already begun.  Probably most of the political unrest in the Middle East and economic upheaval going on in Europe today is related to our unrestrained  consumption.  A few years ago when I became aware of the resource depletion issue and the Peak Oil/Climate Change dilemma,  I was convinced we would recognize the dangers and modify our behavior towards its moderation.  I am no longer so convinced.  There is no real pathway to that outcome.  Any discussion towards that end should probably be categorized as fiction or maybe even fantasy.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

What I'm Reading - Windup Girl

If you are reading this blog you have already figured out that I am a peak oil advocate.  I'm not a fanatic, you understand, but I have come to the conclusion that we are going to reach a point of diminishing returns with our hydrocarbon supply very soon and we are going to have to learn to live on much less of everything than we have now.  I have talked about this before.  I am not going to hammer on it right now.

I've just read a book, however, that has jostled my pat little peak oil view a little.  The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is a science fiction book.  It is the first book that I have read that takes a serious, new look at society's possibilities after the loss of hydrocarbon energy.  It takes place after the Industrial Expansion, even after the inevitable contraction, in a world where industry has still found a way to survive.  Methane from recycling is there, in a limited supply, and electrical power for small devices is generated using springs, hand cranks and the like (think treadle-computers).  Even a few pre-contraction tools of destruction are still laying around to be used by those in power when needed.  It is a unfamiliar and frightening world he puts together but it is believable.

Mr. Bacigalupi is not predicting, he is conjecturing. Like all good Sci-fi authors should be doing.  The genius of this particular piece of work is that he has arrived at a place that I had never been able to get to in my contemplations of the peak oil problem.  When I think about the problems that society would face following  a loss of hydrocarbon energy, I always end up assuming the end of industry, and most of the population, because of the extreme dependence that industry (including food production) has on hydrocarbon power.  My vision has always been sort of a return to pre-hydrocarbon times circa 1700.  Not Mr. Bacigalupi.  He has conjured up a society every bit as technical and power hungry as our own but based on bio-engineered beasts of burden, laborers and foodstuffs.  It is going to take me awhile to digest all of this new insight.  It might end up changing the way I think about the future.  In the mean time it was an amazing read. 

Monday, February 07, 2011

Unconventional Wisdom - An FP Special Report | Foreign Policy

As a statement of society’s plight at this time in history, this article is about as succinct as you can get.  Damned if you do and damned if you don’t (squared).  I believe the human race will survive this dilemma but I don’t think we will solve it.  The trajectory of human society has reached its apex and we should all now relax and enjoy the ride down to the third act which, I fear, will be very much like the first.

Unconventional Wisdom - An FP Special Report | Foreign Policy

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Diet for a Hot Planet

"Diet for a Hot Planet:  The climate crisis at the end of your fork and what you can do about it," by Anna Lappe, is a shot across the bow of the industrial farming interests that currently control, not only almost all of today's food production but, all of the dialogue we hear regarding food production.  In this highly researched book Ms. Lappe pits the large industrial farms against todays emerging organic farming community and comes up with some surprising conclusions that go against the prevailing ideas we hold about our present first world farming system.

According to Ms. Lappe the organic farmers can match crop yields for most crops and do so sustainably and in a climate friendly way.  Along the way she suggests many ways we can make changes to our lifestyle to minimize the climate threat.  For instance, she strongly suggests that we need to get rid of our need for meat as it is a primary source of methane, one of the worst chemicals in the climate change battle, and a very inefficient use of our arable land.  I was looking for a bit of a warning about the need for organic farming in a world of reduced availability of hydrocarbons.  There wasn't that kind of a message but it was clear that organic farming is a much lower consumer of hydrocarbons and therefore should be better positioned to weather the peak-oil storm.

Ms. Lappe is clearly a strong advocate for the organic farming revolution.  I hope that she is successful in her quest.  I am pessimistic, however, as I think there are far too many corporate, big money interests in play for this kind of effort to take place peacefully.  Eventually, all farming will be organic, there is no other long term option.  But until we have run up against the wall of hydrocarbon scarcity, we will be stuck with the system that is preferred by the power brokers.