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Facing the Anthropocene: An Update

Facing the Anthropocene: An Update

Recent scientific work strengthens and extends the arguments in Ian Angus’s pathbreaking book on fossil capitalism and the crisis of the Earth System

I’ve been pleased and deeply honored by the international response to my book Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and  the Crisis of the Earth System (Monthly Review Press, 2016). Now in its fourth printing in the US, it has also been published in India by Aakar Books, in French by Éditions Écosociété, in Italian by Asterios Editore, and in German by Unrast Verlag.

I wrote this Update for the German edition, which was published in August. An article adapted from it appears in the November issue of Monthly Review.


Canada, April 2020

I wrote this book to help bridge the gap between Earth System science and ecosocialism — to show socialists why they must understand the Anthropocene, and to show Earth System scientists why they must understand ecological Marxism. I am honored that Unrast Verlag is making it available in German, and I hope it will expand dialogue at the intersections of science and socialism.

When Facing the Anthropocene was published in 2016, it reflected, to the best of my ability, the state of scientific knowledge and debate at the time. But the world does not stand still, so it may be helpful to outline some important recent developments in Anthropocene science in the two main fields involved: geology, which has mainly been concerned with formally defining the new epoch; and Earth System science, which studies the global biological, chemical and physical changes that are reshaping the conditions of life on this planet.

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

Surveying archaeologists across the globe reveals deeper and more widespread roots of the human age, the Anthropocene

Surveying archaeologists across the globe reveals deeper and more widespread roots of the human age, the Anthropocene

Examples of how human societies are changing the planet abound – from building roads and houses, clearing forests for agriculture and digging train tunnels, to shrinking the ozone layer, driving species extinct, changing the climate and acidifying the oceans. Human impacts are everywhere. Our societies have changed Earth so much that it’s impossible to reverse many of these effects

Nuclear bomb testing left its mark in the geologic record. National Nuclear Security Administration/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY

Some researchers believe these changes are so big that they mark the beginning of a new “human age” of Earth history, the Anthropocene epoch. A committee of geologists has now proposed to mark the start of the Anthropocene in the mid-20th century, based on a striking indicator: the widely scattered radioactive dust from nuclear bomb tests in the early 1950s.

But this is not the final word.

Not everyone is sure that today’s industrialized, globalized societies will be around long enough to define a new geological epoch. Perhaps we are just a flash in the pan – an event – rather than a long, enduring epoch. 

Others debate the utility of picking a single thin line in Earth’s geological record to mark the start of human impacts in the geological record. Maybe the Anthropocene began at different times in different parts of the world. For example, the first instances of agriculture emerged at different places at different times, and resulted in huge impacts on the environment, through land clearing, habitat losses, extinctions, erosion and carbon emissions, forever changing the global climate.

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

Batteries, mine production, lithium and the “cobalt crunch”

Batteries, mine production, lithium and the “cobalt crunch”

Growth in Li-ion batteries depends on a number of imponderables, such as how rapidly the world converts to electric vehicles, how quickly battery manufacturing capacity can be ramped up and where the electricity to power millions of EVs will come from. This post ignores these issues, concentrating instead on the question of whether the mining sector can increase production of the metals and minerals needed to support a high-battery-growth scenario without running out of reserves. The data are not good enough to reach a firm conclusion, but the main uncertainty seems to be whether cobalt production from the Congo, which presently supplies over half of global demand, can be relied on. Lithium and cobalt reserves will not be exhausted in the time frame considered (out to 2030) but will be close to it if no additional reserves are discovered. (Inset, lithium mine in Chile).

Unless otherwise specified the data used in this post are from the following three sources:

The 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, which provides annual production and price data for lithium, cobalt, graphite and rare earths since 1995 but reserve data for 2017 only.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) annual Mineral Commodity Surveys, which provide annual production and reserve data for cobalt since 1990 but incomplete data for lithium (US production is excluded) and no price data.

The British Geological Survey (BGS), which provides annual production data for all metals since 1970 but no data on reserves or prices.

Opinion is pretty much unanimous in projecting rapid growth in Li-ion batteries in coming years:

The Apricum Group predicts a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22% through 2025: Global battery demand will increase fivefold from ~100 GWh today to ~500 GWh by 2025.

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

The Geological Society of London’s Statement on Climate Change

The Geological Society of London’s Statement on Climate Change

A group of geologists have drawn my attention to the 2010/2013 Geological Society of London‘s statement on climate change and asked if I could arrange an on-line discussion about it. The lead author of the statements is Dr Colin Summerhayes who has participated as guest blogger and commenter on Energy Matters before. And so I asked if I could reproduce the statements on these pages and invite informed commentary. This modus operandi was approved by Dr Summerhayes’ co-authors and the committee of the Geological Society of London.

Main sources:

Climate change: evidence from the geological record
A statement from the Geological Society of London November 2010

An addendum to the Statement on Climate Change: Evidence from the Geological Record
December 2013

The addendum is arranged such that some sections are unchanged from the original. For other sections additional information is provided, but this is not merged with the original content. Its is therefore not possible to read a single updated report. What I have provided below is the full text of the original 2010 statement which is ~ 3000 words long and a copy of the 2013 Addendum summary. Those who want to read the full addendum should simply use the link provided above.

The Discussion in comments

What I am soliciting in primary comments is informed opinion driven mainly by what data tells us, backed up by references to data sources. Primary comments may also take the form of questions.

What I am not going to permit is social commentary and chit chat. Comments will be strictly moderated.

What I am aiming for is to assemble information in one place that either supports or refutes the position of The Geological Society.

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

The Geological Society of London’s Statement on Climate Change

The Geological Society of London’s Statement on Climate Change

A group of geologists have drawn my attention to the 2010/2013 Geological Society of London‘s statement on climate change and asked if I could arrange an on-line discussion about it. The lead author of the statements is Dr Colin Summerhayes who has participated as guest blogger and commenter on Energy Matters before. And so I asked if I could reproduce the statements on these pages and invite informed commentary. This modus operandi was approved by Dr Summerhayes’ co-authors and the committee of the Geological Society of London.

Main sources:

Climate change: evidence from the geological record
A statement from the Geological Society of London November 2010

An addendum to the Statement on Climate Change: Evidence from the Geological Record
December 2013

The addendum is arranged such that some sections are unchanged from the original. For other sections additional information is provided, but this is not merged with the original content. Its is therefore not possible to read a single updated report. What I have provided below is the full text of the original 2010 statement which is ~ 3000 words long and a copy of the 2013 Addendum summary. Those who want to read the full addendum should simply use the link provided above.

The Discussion in comments

What I am soliciting in primary comments is informed opinion driven mainly by what data tells us, backed up by references to data sources. Primary comments may also take the form of questions.

What I am not going to permit is social commentary and chit chat. Comments will be strictly moderated.

What I am aiming for is to assemble information in one place that either supports or refutes the position of The Geological Society.

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

Alternative Geologies: Trump’s “America First Energy Plan”

Alternative Geologies: Trump’s “America First Energy Plan”

While many of the Trump administration’s “alternative facts” have been roundly and rightly ridiculed, the myths in the America First Energy Plan are still widely accepted and promoted by mainstream media.

The dream of a great America which is energy independent, an America in which oil companies make money and pay taxes, and an America in which gas is still cheap, is fondly nurtured by the major business media and by many politicians of both parties.

The America First Energy Plan expresses this dream clearly:

The Trump Administration is committed to energy policies that lower costs for hardworking Americans and maximize the use of American resources, freeing us from dependence on foreign oil.

And further:

Sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America. The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans. … We will use the revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure. Less expensive energy will be a big boost to American agriculture, as well.
– www.whitehouse.gov/america-first-energy

This dream harkens back to a time when fossil fuel energy was indeed plentiful and cheap, when profitable oil companies did pay taxes to fund public infrastructure, and the US was energy independent – that is, when Donald Trump was still a boy who had not yet managed a single company into bankruptcy.

To add to the “flashback to the ’50s” mood, Trump’s plan doesn’t mention renewable energy, solar power, and wind turbines – it’s all fossil fuel all the way.

Nostalgia for energy independence

 

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

Can Geology Tell Us What is Warming the Climate?

Can Geology Tell Us What is Warming the Climate?

Here are some of the highlights from Dr Summerhayes’ CV:

  • April 2010: Emeritus Associate, Scott Polar Research Institute
  • January 1 2004 part time, and full time from April 1 2004- April 9 2010: Executive Director, International Council for Science’s Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR)
  • 1997-2004: Director Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) Project Office; UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Paris
  • 1995-1997: Southampton Oceanography Centre; Deputy Director, and Head of Seafloor Processes Division.
  • 1988-1995: Director, Natural Environmental Research Council’s Institute of Oceanographic Sciences Deacon Laboratory, Wormley, Surrey.
  • 1982-1988: BP Research Centre. (A) 1982-1985: Research Associate; (B) 1985-88: Senior Research Associate and Manager, Stratigraphy Branch.
  • 1976-1982: Research Associate and Project Leader; Petroleum Geochemistry Branch, Exxon Production Research Co, Houston, Texas.

Comments will be strictly moderated. Additional commenting guidelines are given at the end of the post.

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Despite the world’s politicians finally agreeing, in Paris in December 2015, on what to do about global warming, many scientists still reject the evidence for it being caused by humans, or question that it is a significant problem.

For example, Dr Lindzen (2016) agrees that although carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas, which absorbs and re-emits infrared radiation from the Earth’s surface, the increase in its concentration in the atmosphere is not important because its climate sensitivity (the amount by which temperature will rise for a doubling of CO2) is low.

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

 

Peak Oil: One-Sentence Problem-Solving

As is still the case—unfortunately, for all of us—there remains a sizeable number of individuals, organizations, and other associations determined at all costs [literally] to preserve the primacy of fossil fuels to power us into the future. Facts: good when they can be massaged to fit the partial-truth narrative required to breathe life into an industry unwilling to bend to the realities of geology, economics, and … well, reality. Facts: not good when they address the broad range of issues and concerns best left neglected to further that Abundance-No Worries narrative. 

One-sentence talking points seem to be the ideal. No concerns about having to delve into the complexities of ideologically-troublesome issues, for one thing. Summary statements suggest there are no worries, for another.

As for the harm caused by failing to properly inform those relying upon the assessments of those others presumed to know? Who has the time to explain all those facts and details and what-nots?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 1998, when the article was written, global oil production was 75.7 million bbl/day.  In 2014 it was 93.2, and our problem is too much oil.
It’s useful to remember such things when the ‘experts’ grandly tell us what’s going to happen. [1]

With the world awash in oil and prices falling toward $26 a barrel, Iran is set to add to the oversupply now that international sanctions have been eased.
It’s as if the whole world were conspiring to bury the tattered remains of the ‘peak oil’ thesis, so popular a few years ago. [2]

Economics and I have a gentlemen’s agreement: the less I discuss, the better. Notwithstanding, I do understand that when prices are as other-worldly low as they are now, few in the oil industry are eager to venture out and invest in production efforts they can ill-afford.

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

The Anthropocene and Ozymandias

The Anthropocene and Ozymandias

HABITUS 8 med

Much has been made lately of the so-called Anthropocene — the idea that Homo sapiens has so taken over and modified Earth that we need a new name for our geological age instead of the outmoded Holocene. One remorseless Anthropoceniac writes, ‘Nature is gone… You are living on a used planet. If this bothers you, get over it. We now live in the Anthropocene — a geological era in which Earth’s atmosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere are shaped primarily by human forces.’

One of the reasons given today for renaming the Anthropocene is that we have so impacted all ecosystems on Earth that there is no ‘wilderness’ left. Insofar as I know, other than babbling about ‘pristine’, ‘untouched’, and so forth, none of the Anthropoceniacs ever define what they mean by wilderness, which is not surprising in that none of them give a hint of having been in a Wilderness Area or having studied the citizen wilderness preservation movement.

Moreover, they behave as though their claim about wilderness being snuffed is a new insight of their own. In truth, we wilderness conservationists have been speaking out about how Homo sapiens has been wrecking wilderness worldwide for one hundred years. Bob Marshall, a founder of the Wilderness Society, warned eighty years ago that the last wilderness of the Rocky Mountains was ‘disappearing like a snowbank on a south-facing slope on a warm June day.’ Congress said in the 1964 Wilderness Act that the country had to act then due to ‘increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization’ or we would leave no lands in a natural condition for future generations. My book Rewilding North America documents in gut-wrenching detail how Man has been wreaking a mass extinction for the last 50,000 years or so.

 

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

Peak Oil

Peak Oil

Peak Oil comic by Stuart McMillen. Title page. Rollercoaster by Red House Painters. Black and white drawing of roller coaster car at abandoned amusement park.
Cartoon drawing of M. King Hubbert speaking at conference. Hand gripping lectern illustration. M. King Hubbert looked into the crowd and began to speak. The 500 petroleum geologists hushed as Hubbert predicted the looming decline of their industry.

 

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

Revisiting the Shale Oil Hype: Technology versus Geology

Revisiting the Shale Oil Hype: Technology versus Geology

The press has been all abuzz the past few weeks speculating on what the drop in oil prices will mean for U.S. shale oil (tight oil) production. Pundits have been falling over themselves quoting various estimates of the breakeven cost of production in this play or that, and rushing to be the first to declare a peak in the Bakken, Eagle Ford, Niobrara or wherever.  The Baker-Hughes rig count, which comes out every Friday, has become a must-read for people who probably had never heard of it a few months ago. Even the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), based on estimates, suggests production is declining in three big shale oil plays.

The industry, on the other hand, has been more circumspect. They point to productivity gains being made in drilling and completion technology that lower costs, and suggest they are developing a backlog (aka “fracklog”) of wells that have been drilled but not completed, hanging in abeyance for the inevitable oil price rise (half or more of the cost of completing a well is the fracking). Keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of harsh pricing realities, many companies are telling investors that despite slashing capital expenditures on drilling and exploration (in some cases by more than 40%), production will be maintained and even rise. Others, such as Whiting, are putting themselves up for sale or, in the case of Quicksilver, declaring bankruptcy.

In my Drilling Deeper report published last October I stuck my neck out and made projections of future production by play based on drilling rates and well quality, not price, although price and drilling rates are closely linked. This was based on an analysis of all well production data by play which showed:

 

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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