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Italy Becoming Poor — Becoming Poor in Italy. The Effects of the Twilight of the Age of Oil

Italy Becoming Poor — Becoming Poor in Italy. The Effects of the Twilight of the Age of Oil

The living room of the house that my parents built in 1965. An American style suburban home, a true mansion in the hills. I lived there for more than 50 years but now I have to give up: I can’t afford it anymore. 

Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not poor. As a middle class, state employee in Italy, I am probably richer than some 90% of the people living on this planet. But wealth and poverty are mainly relative perceptions and the feeling I have is that I am becoming poorer every year, just like the majority of Italians, nowadays.

I know that the various economic indexes say that we are not becoming poorer and that, worldwide, the GDP keeps growing, even in Italy it sort of restarted growing after a period of decline. But something must be wrong with those indexes because we are becoming poorer. It is unmistakable, GDP or not. To explain that, let me tell you the story of the house that my father and my mother built in the 1960s and how I am now forced to leave it because I can’t just afford it anymore.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Italy was going through what was called the “Economic Miracle” at the time. After the disaster of the war, the age of cheap oil had created a booming economy everywhere in the world. In Italy, people enjoyed a wealth that never ever had been seen or even imagined before. Private cars, health care for everybody, vacations at the seaside, the real possibility for most Italians to own a house, and more.

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The Air-Conditioning Debate Isn’t Really About Air-Conditioning

The Air-Conditioning Debate Isn’t Really About Air-Conditioning

Jacobin recently published an article calling for a national and worldwide expansion of air-conditioning usage. In it the writer, Leigh Phillips, used the suffering of economically and ecologically stressed people and communities during heat waves as a rationale for doubling down on a technology that, at the same time it’s cooling the indoors today, is heating up the outdoors of tomorrow. So to assuage such climate concerns, he went on to call for a far-reaching expansion of nuclear power. I suggest that we go back and try to follow this trail of illogic.

Vulnerability can’t be fixed with technology

In the piece, Phillips acknowledges the long-observed fact that people die during heat waves primarily because they live alone and/or suffer from a chronic physical or mental illness and/or are poor and/or are very old or very young. Heat victims also tend to live in inadequate housing in economically forgotten, concrete-rich, vegetation-free neighborhoods of urban heat islands.

Given that, and given that heat waves are going to become even more frequent and intense, the need for universal free health care, economic democracy and guaranteed basic income, good affordable housing, high-quality care for children and the elderly, greening of cities, and greater social cohesion will become more and more urgent.

Further declaring, as Phillips suggests, a “right to air-conditioning” would also contribute to life and health preservation during heat waves, but it would not address the root causes and consequences of poverty and exclusion that lead to deaths every day—not just when it’s hot outside.

Consider the horrific 1995 heat emergency in Chicago that killed more than 550 people despite the wide availability of air-conditioning. Longer, more intense heat waves had struck the city in 1931 and 1936, but the number of deaths per 100,000 population was higher in 1995 than it was during those two heat waves of the pre-AC era.

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Energy guzzling NSW had to import up to 1,700 MW on 7 Jan 2018

Energy guzzling NSW had to import up to 1,700 MW on 7 Jan 2018

On the first really hot day in 2018 Sydney experienced temperatures above 45 degrees.

2018010720180107.hresFig 1: BOM Temperature map for NSW on 7 Jan 2018

These were the temperatures in Sydney’s suburbs:

Sydney_temps_7Jan2018Fig 2: Maximum temperatures on 7th January 2018 in the Sydney Metropolitan area

Energy guzzling NSW had to import 1,659 MW on Jan 7th 2018 at 16:40 NEM time. This was a Sunday during summer holidays with a comparatively low demand.

NSW_generation_imports-7Jan2018Fig 3: NEM generation, imports and demand during the afternoon

Note that solar is not included in the definition of “generation” but sits on top of the NEM demand curve. It lowers the grid supply peak as described in this graph of the Australia Institute

AEMO Dashboard

The generation and import data are from AEMO’s dashboard (NEM Dispatch Overview tab)


Fig 4: Screen shot of AEMO’s NEM dispatch tab on 7/1/2018 13:30 NEM time (14:30 AEST)

We can see that in NSW at 14:30 EAST demand of 11,608 MW was higher than generation 9,987 + 486 = 10,473 MW, a deficit of 1,135 MW.

AEMO’s dashboard also shows demand curves and electricity spot prices in a moving window of 2 days, separate for each State:

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Earth Tubes: A Natural Way to Air Condition Your Home


There is nothing nicer than coming inside on a hot, muggy summer day to feel the freshness of an air-conditioned home. Traditional air conditioners, however, are one of the most energy-intensive appliances in our homes. Only a couple feet underneath where you are standing, however, the air is always a comfortable 55 degrees Fahrenheit. If only it were possible to get that cool air from underneath your feet into your blistering hot home. Earth tubes offer a natural, ecologically sound air conditioning option to keep your home cool on even the hottest summer days.


As with a number of aspects of our modern-day industrial civilization, we simply don´t know or understand the ecological costs associated with the comforts we have come to depend on. In many ways, ignorance is bliss and it is comforting to naively believe that a cool home on a hot summer day is a normal part of the landscape.

The distance between consumer, the origins of his or her consumption and the end place of his or her wastes facilitates this obliviousness to the true effects that our industrial lifestyles perpetuate. Unless you live near a coal burning plant in Kentucky or have nuclear waste buried beside the gravesites of your ancestors in Arizona, you probably have little actual connection to how the electricity your home uses is supplied or the end product of that energy.

The cool air that dries the sweat from our foreheads, however, is far from inoffensive. While some small, window-based air conditioners consume up to 500 watts, a large central air conditioning unit that many large homes and almost all businesses have is easily a 3500-watt appliance.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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