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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thinking about Sustainable Behavior

I accept peak oil as a fact. Having done that, I am forced to concede many other consequences that must surely follow. One of those consequences is a future of significantly reduced consumption for everyone. That follows both because the production of consumer goods will be limited directly by energy constraints and also because we will be spending a greater share of our resources in acquiring the energy sources and thus will have less to direct towards the consumption of other things. Here in the U. S. that reality will be particularly jolting since our per capita level of consumption is so high compared to the average world consumption and is treated as a social entitlement.

No matter how much we grumble, however, as energy limits are reached we will be forced to retool our thinking and behavior with regard to consumption and sustainability. I have spent many an hour imagining how I personally, and we collectively, might approach this new reality. One of the realizations that I came to was that we have developed some pretty bizarre assumptions in our pursuit of profit in a world of “unlimited” resources (that itself, of course, is the most bizarre). One such example, is the notion of “planned obsolescence.” This, to me, is the bi-polar opposite of sustainable behavior. Intentionally designing a product to have a limited life cycle (presumably for the purpose of increasing production/sales/consumption of the product) screams out idiocy in a rational world of real world limits.

Overtly planned obsolescence is a particularly vile example but there are many, more subtle, examples of essentially the same idea. Consider the intent of fashion or style. Fads are the epitome of this construct. This is really planned obsolescence as well, however cleverly it is woven into the social fabric. Nothing should become “so last year” in just a year. Even the marketing concept of trading off quality for price (think of post-war Japanese fare) feeds this insidious cycle of consumption. If you really think it through, you realize that we have structured our entire economic existence on a doctrine of non-sustainable behavior. Harmless enough, and surely profitable, but only in a surreal world of limitless resources.

What would product design look like if we were really interested in sustainable behavior. Let’s try “planned permanence.” A truly sustainable world would use non-renewable resources as if they were precious artifacts. A product that was produced in such a world would be intended to last forever or for as long a possible. These products would be perfectly functional, durable, repairable, maintainable, upgradable and in the end completely recyclable. There would be no economics of scale. Only those that were needed would be made. Finally, when you obtained such a product you would expect to keep it for as long as you had a need for such a product. Imagine inheriting your grandfather’s toolkit and having the builder’s grandson tune it up for you. Until you can accept such a way of life you won’t be happy in a truly limited resource, recyclable world.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Oil Drum: Campfire | Population Growth Must Stop


Population, consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow until we either face up to the fact that there are limits on our finite Earth or we are confronted by a catastrophe large enough to turn us from our current course.

I have written about population before.  Most mainstream media sources still won’t touch the subject but it finally appears to be a subject worth approaching in some quarters.  I have a feeling the “population question” will become more loudly discussed in the future.

Most of us don’t want to worry about population.  If we can afford to raise a child, or many children, that should be the end of the discussion.  Why should anybody care?  I live in, and love, America.  In America we are free to make those kinds of personal decisions.  I don’t want to think that it is anybody else’s business either. 

But there are other concerns if we care to think about ourselves as members of the human race.  In fact, living in America means that our babies are going to be using up an enormous share of the resources available to all of mankind.  We like to think that we are free to do that too, if we can afford it.  If everyone in the world consumed as we do in the U. S., however, worldwide consumption would have to increase by nearly an order of magnitude.  It is somebody else’s business I’m afraid.

At some point the unbridled growth in population and the cultural need to consume ever more resources as a mark of the good life will run headlong into the absolute finiteness of our supply of resources.  At precisely that point we will have to answer the “population question” or we will be handed the default solution.  It would be nice to think that we might find a cultural or social way out of this dilemma.  I am not optimistic.

The Oil Drum: Campfire | Population Growth Must Stop