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Getting Real About Green Energy: An honest analysis of what it CAN’T promise

Getting Real About Green Energy: An honest analysis of what it CAN’T promise

I want to be optimistic about the future. I really do.

But there’s virtually no chance of the world transitioning gently to an alternative energy-powered future.

These Are The ‘Good Old Days’

I’m often asked where I stand on wind, solar and other alternative energy sources.

My answer is: I love them. But they’re incapable of enabling our society to smoothly slip over to powering itself by other means.

They’re not going to “save us”.

Some people are convinced otherwise. If we can just fight off the evil oil companies, get our act together, and install a national alternative energy system infrastructure, we’ll be just fine.  Meaning that we”ll be able to continue to live as we do today, but powered fully by clean renewable energy.

That’s just not going to happen. At least, not without a lot of painful disruption and sacrifice.

The top three reasons why are:

  1. Math
  2. Human behavior
  3. Time, scale, & cost

I walk through the detail below. I’m doing so to debunk the magical thinking behind the current “Green Revolution” because I fear it offers a false promise.

Look, I’m a huge fan of renewable energy. And I’m 1,000% in favor of weaning the world off of its toxic addiction to fossil fuels.

But we have to be eyes wide open about our future prospects. Deluding ourselves with “feel good” but unrealistic expectations about green energy will result in the same sort of poor decisions, malinvestment, and crushed dreams as fossil-based system has.

As we constantly repeat here at Peak Prosperity: Energy is everything.  

Without as much available, the future is going to be exceptionally difficult compared to the present. Which is why I call the time we’re living in now The Good Old Days.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Living With Integrity

Living With Integrity

It’s time to choose a new direction.

Every so often, our work in the premium side of PeakProsperity.com is deemed so important that our paying subscribers request we share it with the general public. Last week’s ‘Off The Cuff’ podcast received so many of these requests that we are releasing it to all here.

In last week’s Off The Cuff podcast, Chris delivered a very personal message about how we each decide to live our lives.

A growing number of people are watching the “prosperity” around them — record high asset prices, record-low unemployment, new technologies, etc — and yet feeling that we’re making the wrong trade-offs as a society. All that wealth is flowing into fewer and fewer pockets, ecosystems are faltering and an alarming number of species are dying off, depression rates (especially among the youth) are skyrocketing.

In short: there’s more money flowing around than ever, and yet we and the planet are becoming sicker and unhappier.

Why?

From Chris’ point of view, it comes down integrity. The modern human way of life lacks integrity as a guiding principle. For those of us who desire a better future, brining our actions into better alignment with our integrity is the path to true prosperity.

My ultimate diagnosis of what’s going on in the United States culture and a lot of Europe culture — probably in other cultures, but I can’t speak to them as well – it’s that they lack integrity. Now, integrity isn’t simply “Oh, I don’t lie”. Integrity means that your actions are for the greater good. Sometimes there are acts of integrity which actually are not optimal for you; they’re optimal for the larger society around you.

Integrity is thinking out seven generations. Integrity is saying that beauty matters in our life, and that when we take out a species, we’re taking away something extraordinarily beautiful.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Communism, Fascism and Green Shaming

Communism, Fascism and Green Shaming

In the United States, for over a hundred years, the ruling interests tirelessly propagated anticommunism among the populace, until it became more like a religious orthodoxy than a political analysis.”

– Michael Parenti (Blackshirts and Red)

“…the totality of which the psyche is a part becomes to an increasing extent less ‘society’ than ‘politics’ . . . society has fallen prey to and become identified with domination.”

– Herbert Marcuse (Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics and Utopia)

“By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy … Yet, the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements … Any talk of climate change which does not include the military is nothing but hot air, according to Sara Flounders. It’s a loophole [in the Kyoto Convention on Climate Change] big enough to drive a tank through, according to the report A Climate of War.”

– H. Patricia Hynes (Climate and Capitalism, Feb 2015)

I am sensing — at least in the U.S., a migration of the liberal policing of thought into green movements. A guy ( a writer in fact, one published on several left sites including this one) arguing about plane travel. And this seems to be a thing. The problem of individual travel on jet airplanes is, of course, dwarfed by military pollution of all kinds, including massive nearly incomprehensible jet fuel usage, corporate air travel, and the world of private jets altogether. In other words there is a qualitative distinction. And I’m quite sure most people getting a short break from their miserable day job appreciate the shaming and hectoring of this polyanna bullshit. I’d be happy to travel by train, but since that’s not possible much anymore, nor is sea travel unless you own a sailboat, the point is to change a system of inequality, which would by itself radically reduce the pollution of jet engines.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

U.S. government embraces climate catastrophe, but is it a ‘crisis’?

U.S. government embraces climate catastrophe, but is it a ‘crisis’?

The United States government has now officially embraced climate change as a catastrophe in the making. Only it contends that the catastrophe is now inevitable no matter what humans do…and so, we should do nothing at all since whatever we do won’t matter much.

That, at least, was the justification offered for freezing fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles after 2020. For the National Transportation Safety Board which issued a report containing the justification, the phrase “Every little bit helps” has morph into “Every little bit won’t matter.”

The problem, of course, is that if this becomes the attitude of everyone trying to mitigate climate change, almost nothing will get done.

But the report does highlight one very important problem for those who desperately want to address climate change: Climate change is no longer a “crisis.”  As French thinker Bruno Latour reminds us in his book Facing Gaia, climate change is not really a “crisis,” at least not anymore. A crisis comes and goes. Climate change isn’t going anywhere except toward a place which is much worse. It isn’t going to pass. It is going to endure.

That is the hard part about it. Addressing climate change does not mean taking temporary emergency measures which can be relaxed after the crisis has passed. Addressing climate change means making profound and permanent changes in the way we live. That is, of course, why doing much of anything is opposed vehemently by interests dependent on fossil fuels for their livelihoods such as the auto industry and, of course, the oil industry. There’s no going back to the way things were after the crisis passes because it’s not going to pass.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Colorado’s oil and gas industry goes after reporters and signature gatherers in new fracking fight

Colorado’s oil and gas industry goes after reporters and signature gatherers in new fracking fight

With large oil and gas reserves, Colorado often is at the center of the nation’s fossil fuel wars.

An oil derrick sits inside a housing development  in Dacono, Colorado. CREDIT: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images
AN OIL DERRICK SITS INSIDE A HOUSING DEVELOPMENT IN DACONO, COLORADO. CREDIT: HELEN H. RICHARDSON/THE DENVER POST VIA GETTY IMAGES

As Colorado gears up for another fight over oil and gas drilling near homes and schools, this time the fossil fuel industry is reportedly doing whatever it takes to win.

In the latest flare-up, the oil and gas industry used a website to single out individual journalists for criticism. At the same time, pro-industry protesters were reportedly shadowing canvassers who were gathering signatures to get a measure — Initiative 97 — on the November ballot that would increase the distance between drilling sites and homes.

Colorado Rising, the anti-fracking group behind the ballot initiative, issued a statement last week claiming “harassers were paid to intimidate petition circulators and discourage voters from signing” the petition to get the initiative on the ballot.

Anne Lee Foster, a Colorado Rising volunteer, told Colorado Public Radio that an anonymous employee at Anadarko Petroleum shared an internal document that appeared to ask employees to report when they see Initiative 97 canvassers. The letter includes an email address and a text message hotline, Foster said.

Anadarko had not returned a request for comment from ThinkProgress at the time this article was published.

With huge reserves of oil and gas and an active environmental and clean energy movement, the state often finds itself at the center of the nation’s fossil fuel wars. Oil and gas companies have increasingly been moving into suburban and urban areas of Colorado in search of new drilling opportunities; at the same time, suburban sprawl is colliding with oil and gas fields as housing developers build new communities north of Denver.

Crime of the 21st Century

Crime of the 21st Century

Perpetrators of Apocalypse, or, The Seven Circles of Hell

Gustave Doré

Time to have a talk / it will not be fun / buckle up. Feel free to skip to the end at any point for pleasant pictures of adorable animals.

You and I are witnessing the twenty-first century’s great crime: a global holocaust whose first victims have already perished. And I mean holocaust, from Greek holókaustos, translated as “whole” and “burnt” – the whole enormity of life daily sacrificed to flames. That is not hyperbole. Driving this crime is the collapse of the world’s stable climatic and atmospheric systems. Fossil energy economies are doing this. They transform the world into a deathly, suffocating hothouse sabotaging the climate and atmosphere. That’s what they do.

Carbon energy kills 3.5 to 6 million people per year through air pollution alone. Beyond that, this crime is also killing people via extreme hurricanes, wildfires, floods, droughts, and heat waves, expanding the range of deadly diseases like malaria and Lyme, famines, and conflicts like the Syrian civil war. There is good reason to believe these disasters will destabilizegeopolitical relationships and lead to world war. Every one of these types of disasters will continue to intensify—that is inevitable at this point.

What is not inevitable is degree of intensity. Quantity of death can still be curtailed; we can prevent billions of deaths, even forestall human extinction. But the tragic fact is that some immense minimum of murder is certain. The body count will exceed those of any crimes that have come before. Monarchs and dictators designed the twentieth century’s vast death; this new crime is perpetrated by a global oligarchy – a hereditary aristocracy – a network of governments ruled by a super-wealthy elite. The most culpable among this elite are members of the oil, gas, and coal industries.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why The Coming Oil Crunch Will Shock The World

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock

Why The Coming Oil Crunch Will Shock The World

And why we need a new energy strategy — fast.

My years working in corporate strategy taught me that every strategic framework, no matter how complex (some I worked on were hundreds of pages long), boils down to just two things:

  1. Where do you want to go? (Vision)
  2. How are you going to get there? (Resources)

Vision is the easier one by far. You just dream up a grand idea about where you want the company to be at some target future date, Yes, there’s work in assuring that everybody on the management team truly shares and believes in the vision, but that’s a pretty stratightforward sales job for the CEO.

By the way, this same process applies at the individual level, too, for anyone who wants to achieve a major goal by some point in the future. The easy part of the strategy is deciding you want to be thinner, healthier, richer, or more famous.

But the much harder part, for companies and individuals alike, is figuring out ‘How to get there’. There are always fewer resources than one would prefer.

Corporate strategists always wish for more employees to implement the vision, with better training with better skills. Budgets and useful data are always scarcer than desired, as well.

Similar constraints apply to us individuals. Who couldn’t use more motivation, time and money to pursue their goals?

Put together, the right Vision coupled to a reasonably mapped set of Resources can deliver amazing results. Think of the Apollo Moon missions. You have to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there to succeed. That’s pretty straightforward, right?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The View from Les Houches: The Seneca Collapse

The View from Les Houches: The Seneca Collapse

I gave a presentation focused on the Seneca Effect at the School of Physics in Les Houches this March. Here I show various concepts associated with overshoot and collapse with the help of “Amelie the Amoeba” (This picture was not taken in Les Houches, but in an earlier presentation in Florence).

Here are some commented slides from my presentation. First of all, the title:

And here is an image I often use in order to illustrate the plight of humankind, apparently engaged in the task of covering the whole planet Earth with a uniform layer of cement, transforming it into Trantor, the capital of the Galactic Empire of Asimov’s series “Foundation”

I moved on to illustrate the “new paradigm” of resource exploitation: the idea that mineral resources never “run out”, but simply become more and more expensive, until they become too expensive.

It is not a new idea, it goes back to Stanley Jevons in mid 19th century, but for some reason it is incredibly difficult to make it understandable to decision makers:

Then, I spoke about the Seneca effect, there is a lot to say about that, but let me just show to you one of the slides I showed during the talk: the Seneca Cliff does exist!

Fisheries are an especially good example of overexploitation (or perhaps a bad example, there is nothing good about destroying all the fish in the sea. And this leads to a rather sad observation:

I also showed how the Seneca Effect can be used for good purposes, that is to get rid of things we need to get rid of. This is an image from a paper that we (Sgouris Sgouridis, Denes Csala, and myself) published in 2016.

You see the Seneca cliff for the fossils, the violet part of the curve. It is what we want to happen and it would be possible to make it happen if we were willing to invest more, much more, in renewable energy. But, apparently, there is no such idea on the table, so the future doesn’t look so good.

But never mind. We keep going and, eventually, we’ll arrive somewhere. In the meantime:

BP solar chief forecasts global clean energy renaissance

BP solar chief forecasts global clean energy renaissance

A new paradigm of ‘planetary ecology’ might emerge after 2050

Published as part of the launch of the new beta platform for INSURGE intelligence, a crowdfunded journalism platform for people and planet

A new book put together by the Chairman of the philanthropic arm of Europe’s largest solar company, Lightsource BP, throws light on how the world will be permanently transformed by an energy revolution in coming decades.

The study’s key finding is that the widespread adoption of renewable energy technologies could usher in a new electricity paradigm associated with a more advanced clean, industrial economy. The core ingredients for this paradigm will take off rapidly after 2050, it says.

On the other hand, the study warns that renewable energy, if implemented within the same ‘old’ geopolitical paradigm of the fossil fuel era, might not avoid a further deterioration of environmental stability and international security.

The new book is edited by Vicente Lopez Ibor Mayor, former Chairman of Lightsource Renewable Energy, which merged with the leading British oil firm, BP, at the end of last year.

BP invested $200m in the merger, equivalent to a 43 percent stake in what is now Lightsource BP. Under the deal, Mayor became Chairman of the Lightsource Foundation, Lightsource BP’s charitable division.

Ibor Mayor’s book, Clean Energy Law and Regulation: Climate Change, Energy Union and International Governance, also published at the end of last year, brings together expert contributions from senior EU officials, energy analysts, diplomats, legal scholars and technology experts. Their contributions scope how energy regulation is rapidly changing to keep up with the emergence of a new electricity and energy paradigm driven by the rise of renewables.

This new renewables-driven paradigm, Mayor concludes, will emerge inevitably in the latter half of the twenty-first century — but its nature, positive or negative, is not set in stone.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Trump and Berlusconi: harbinger of the coming Seneca Cliff

Trump and Berlusconi: harbinger of the coming Seneca Cliff

Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi have many similarities as country leaders. I argue here that they are the symptom of a giant political transition which is reversing the trends that started more than two centuries ago with the French revolution.  Human rights have a cost and this cost has been paid, so far, by fossil fuels (our “energy slaves“). Now that our dark slaves are leaving us, who will pay? Not a small problem and the result seems to be an ongoing “Seneca Transition” catapulting us to a new and different world. 

After one year of Trump presidency, America looks more and more the same as Italy was when Berlusconi ruled it. I am not going to list the similarities between Berlusconi and Trump: it has already been done and everyone knows about the sex scandals, the outrageous behavior, the offensive way of speaking, all that.

For Silvio Berlusconi, this kind of behavior led him to be prime minister for a total of 9 years, over more than 20 years in which he strongly influenced Italian politics. Today, it looks perfectly possible that, at 81, he may become prime minister again with the coming national elections, in March, replacing the fading star of his heir, Matteo Renzi (aka “Berlusconi 2.0”).

Donald Trump uses the same methods developed by Berlusconi and he seems to be attaining a remarkable political staying power. Fighting him, the American Left is making the same mistakes that the Italian left made with Berlusconi: demonizing him while aping his political choices. Actually, the American Left is doing even worse: at least the Italian Left never accused voters to be so dumb that they could be easily swayed by the propaganda tricks of a foreign power. A surefire way to win the next elections: first you tell them they are idiots, nay, traitors, then you ask for their vote.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Glut Fears Spike As Europe Runs Out Of On-Land Oil Storage

Glut Fears Spike As Europe Runs Out Of On-Land Oil Storage

Tanker

Oil has been called names (“dirty fossil fuel!”). The cartels use it as a weapon to thwart their rivals. ISIS steals it and pimps it out on some sketchy black market. Swaths of it are set on fire and used as a shield. The pipelines through which it travels to and fro are bombed or protested—nearly daily. Sometimes unscrupulous babysitters let it loose to drown in an ocean or float carelessly down the river, never to be recovered. And now, oil, at least that destined for Europe, is homeless and is not being allowed to disembark after shipment.

Oil majors in northwest Europe have booked tankers to store 9 million barrels of oil as the international supply glut grows in size, according to a ship-operator who spoke to Bloomberg.

The companies have resorted to using tankers as storage as signs emerge that onshore storage is filling up on the land-starved continent.

Next month, Northwest Europe, which includes mega-producer Norway as well as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and others, expects to load the highest number of shipments in 4.5 years.

Somewhere in between 14 to 16 medium-sized Aframax tankers have lined the ports, according to Jonathan Lee, the CEO of Tankers International. Lee, whose firm operates the biggest pool of supertankers in the world, confirmed that the lack of land space to store fuel is the likely cause of the tanker buildup.

Reuters reported on Friday that the rate to book an Aframax tanker has almost doubled from the July figure, partially due to the widespread use of ships as floating storage units.

North Sea producers have upped production as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) prepares to finalize the term of an output freeze by the end of this month.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

The Sower’s way: the path for the future

The Sower’s way: the path for the future

Our paper on “The Sower’s Way” has been published in the IOP Environmental Research Letters journal. It is an attempt to quantify the physical limits of the energy transition from fossils to renewables.

The title of the article takes inspiration from a strategy well known to ancient farmers, the fact that they had to save something from their current harvest for the next one; it is the origin of the common saying “don’t eat your seed corn!”

Starting from this ancient wisdom, we performed a quantitative calculation of how much “seed” we need in the form of fossil fuels in order to have enough energy to build a new “harvest” of renewable energy that can replace the old one. All that without emitting so much CO2 that we would go over the 2°C limit and without anyone being left out. 

Of course, it is a calculation that depends on a lot of debatable parameters, but we did our best to remain within realistic consideration, without asking for technological miracles or drastic reductions in the human population. We just assumed current technologies and that the population curve would follow the UN projections. At the same time, we recognize that perpetual growth is a dream that only madmen or economists can think as possible. We assumed that humankind would gradually move toward a stabilization of the economy and of the population on a level of per capita energy sufficient to survive. 

It is possible, here are the main results from the paper

You can see how we assume a rapid growth of renewable energy, built up in the beginning using fossil energy but, in the later stages of the transition relying on renewable energy to continue the process, while phasing out the fossil fuels which are completely abandoned by around 2060. In this scenario, emissions do not go over the COP21 limit.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Some Thoughts on Systems Change

There is an ongoing litany of alarming and depressing news regarding climate change and the growing gap between our aspirations for addressing it and reality (and climate change is only one of the nine planetary boundaries). There is similarly grim news about exponentially increasing levels of inequality, conflict — including in what Naomi Klein calls fossil fuel sacrifice zones — and the emergence of a nation of refugees.

Pondering appropriate responses to our increasingly chaotic and unstable global context has led me to identify a few central issues. First is the high degree of interconnection between the problems that we face. I would argue that proportionate reactions to climate change, for example, demand exploration of how energy is used — which in turn demands not just an understanding of the role of energy in our economies, but a preparedness to move away from relying on economic growth as the primary aim of economic policy. Generally we shy away from questioning the fundamentals of our economic system: if they come into conflict with the major issues we face, we somehow manage simply to ignore such conflict. See, by way of example, the EU’s (secret, internal) position during COP21 that nothing could be agreed which might jeopardise TTIP and similar agreements.

Continuing on the theme of connection, or the lack of it, I’m also struck by how little connection there is, generally, between top down responses to global issues and the bottom up movements also seeking to act on those issues.  Again using climate change as example, the chair of IPCC working group 2, Debra Roberts, commented on the general lack of access to high level processes and agreements:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Our Fossil-Fuel Economy Destroys the Earth and Exploits Humanity – Here’s the Shift We Need to Be Sustainable

Communities around the world are rewriting the rules of their economies and building something beautiful.

plant in hands – grass background
Photo Credit: Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock

I am a Mexican immigrant and a senior at Columbia University who’s been organizing around fossil fuel divestment since freshman year. Two years ago, I had a bit of a crisis. I suddenly felt disillusioned with the movement—not with the tactic of divestment, but rather with the fact that national campaigns were solely focused on taking down the fossil fuel behemoth. Don’t get me wrong; it’s extremely satisfying to hear of another divestment win, to see the fossil fuel industry take a hit. But I began to realize that while we need people to fight the bad in this world, we also need people creating the society we do want to live in. I want to be one of those people.

That summer, as a 350.org Fossil Free Fellow, I was introduced to the reinvestment campaign. I learned about a way that we, as students, can build off the successes of the divestment movement to fight for what we want. This campaign is one tactic we can use to facilitate the transition out of our current economy into a regenerative economy. But before we talk about where we want to go, let’s talk about where we are now.

Jihan Gearon, Black Mesa Water Coalition; Deirdre Smith, 350.org; Ed Whitfield, Fund for Democratic Communities; and Gopal Dayaneni, Movement Generation discuss reinvestment at the Richmond Our Power National Convening, August 2014 (photo credit: Reinvest in Our Power Network)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

UK Govt Report: Oil Companies Drilling in the Arctic Will Find It’s Unprofitable

Major oil companies from the US, UK, Norway, Sweden, and Russia are all set to drill in the Arctic, but a report from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) suggests they may be setting themselves up for failure.

Drilling in the Arctic is “economically prohibitive,” according to the report, which was commissioned by the Swedish Armed Forces and finalized in January 2016.

In other words: The companies seeking riches from Arctic’s vast untapped oil and gas wealth are going to be disappointed.

“…It is becoming increasingly likely that low oil prices, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels, will mean that extracting much of the oil in the Arctic will be economically prohibitive,” the report says. “The strategic importance of these resources may well have been overplayed.”

If this analysis is accurate, then the Arctic scramble is doomed to backfire on the oil industry.

The report’s authors conclude that by 2035, fossil fuel extraction will be largely unprofitable

According to another MoD report published by the DCDC in December 2015, over the next 20 years, oil majors will be driven to explore expensive resources in search of new profits as reserves become more scarce, but will face increasingly prohibitive costs in extracting those resources.

By 2035, the report says, the world may face a situation of dramatic “fossil fuel scarcity” due to rising demand and production costs.

Titled Future Operating Environment 2035, the report does not represent official government policy, but will “inform UK defence and security policy makers and our armed forces more broadly.”

The report acknowledges input from US, Australian, Swedish and New Zealand defense agencies, as well as UK government departments, major defense contractors like Boeing and BAE Systems, and oil giant Shell.

Demand for a range of natural resources is likely to increase over the next two decades, the report says.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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