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Possible Future Trends of CO2 Concentration and Global Temperature

Possible Future Trends of CO2 Concentration and Global Temperature

Wildfire smoke and power line, northern California. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Carbon dioxide gas (CO2) has been accumulating in the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution (~1750), because increasingly voluminous fluxes of that gas have been exhausted from the lands and the oceans, and are beyond the capacity of natural CO2 sinks to absorb completely.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, carbon would cycle through a variety of processes that sustained the continuation of life, death, evolution and rebirth, and that all meshed into one grand balance. That balance is called the Carbon Cycle.

The explosive growth of human activity, numbers, exosomatic power, economic wealth, military overkill, and hubristic political pretensions, all spring from the access to and profligate use of heat-energy liberated from fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is the exhaust fume from our Promethean exertions for greater conquests — and wealth.

The carbon dioxide exhausted by our civilization’s generation of heat-energy, and from our massive exploitation of once virgin land areas, is an increasingly destabilizing perturbation of the Carbon Cycle. This perturbation is called Anthropogenic Emissions.

The imbalance of the Carbon Cycle reverberates through the natural world in many ways that are increasingly harmful and dangerous to Planet Earth’s habitability for ourselves and for many other animal and plant species. The central reality of this complex of growing threats to the viability of the Biosphere is called Global Warming.

Carbon dioxide gas traps heat radiated towards space, as infrared radiation from the surface of Planet Earth, reducing our planet’s ability to regulate its temperature by cooling to compensate for the influx of solar light that is absorbed by the lands and the oceans, and stored by them as heat.

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Book review of Wrigley’s “Energy and the English Industrial revolution”

Book review of Wrigley’s “Energy and the English Industrial revolution”

Preface. I’ve made a strong case in my book “When trucks stop running” and this energyskeptic website that we will eventually return to wood and a 14th century lifestyle after fossil fuels are depleted.

So if you’re curious about what that lifestyle will be like, and how coal changed everything, this is the book for you.

One point stressed several times is that in all organic economies a steady state exists.  Or as economists put it, that there were just three “components essential in all material production; capital, labor, and land. The first two could be expanded as necessary to match increased demand, but the third could not, and rising pressure on this inflexible resource arrested growth and depressed the return to capital and the reward of labor.”

Then along came coal (and today oil and natural gas), which for a few centuries removed land as a limiting factor (though we’re awfully close the Malthusian limits as well, population is growing, cropland is shrinking as development builds over the best farm land near cities, which exist where they do because that was good crop land).

In today’s world, energy set the limits to growth, but in the future land once again will.  So will the quality of roads, how many forests exist whose wood can be gotten to towns and cities, and so on.  So if you’re in a transition town group or in other ways trying to make the future better, perhaps this book will give you some ideas.

If this world is too painful to contemplate, read some books about the Amish, which would be an ideal society for me minus the religious side of it.


A. Wrigley. 2010. Energy and the English Industrial revolution. Cambridge University Press.

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Is The Evidence of Global Warming Too Scary For Humans To Cope With?

Is The Evidence of Global Warming Too Scary For Humans To Cope With?

I appreciate the numerous emails thanking me for providing an understandable explanation of the global warming scenario. The book, Unprecedented Crime, about which I reported, caused me to start thinking more seriously about man-made global warming. I already was thinking about it, because capitalism owes its profits to the costs that it imposes on the environment, costs that are external to the capitalist entity. I have been thinking about this since I addressed “external costs” in my 2013 book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism. I am thinking that if man-made global warming is indeed in the cards, as the current evidence supports, the external costs of capitalism will far exceed the total value of all the goods produced over the course of the industrial revolution. Past material comforts will be paid for by future curtailment of life on Earth. Greed, gluttony, envy, lust, and pride will have proven to be the five of the seven deadly sins that were deadly for planet Earth.

I hope I can find the time and energy to get around to a book on the subject. For now, like you, I am learning. It struck me, as it strikes many of you, how a one or two degree rise in temperature can cause ice caps, glaciers, and the Greenland ice shelf to melt. We don’t think of the Artic or glaciers hovering on the temperature border of frozen and melting. It is not intuitive that small changes can make such large differences.

Like you, I also found it puzzling that as carbon dioxide is only a small part of the atmosphere, how its increase can have such dangerous effects.

While struggling to put what I learned into understandable language, I thankfully came across this explanation in Scientific American:

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The curse of Thomas Malthus

The curse of Thomas Malthus

Running through some notes from last year, I came across an article by Dietrich Vollrath published in 2017 that I’d printed out to give it proper consideration. It’s called, “Who are you calling Malthusian?”, and it addresses that interesting futures question of why calling someone “Malthusian” is such an effective form of ad hominem attack that it closes down any possible argument.

Poor old Malthus. He has had a bad reputation ever since he predicted, towards the end of the 18th century, that over-population would lead to famine and then to social collapse. It didn’t turn out like that, largely because we stumbled across a one-off supply of cheap energy, and because of the Industrial Revolution. And, because he turned out to be wrong, that means that if you mention Malthus these days you are instantly labelled as a crank.

So Vollrath does us a service in his long post in two ways. First, he tries to create Malthus’ argument in its original context, and second he goes back to the relationships that sit behind Malthus’ model of the world.

Malthusian relationships

The relationships are simple.

One: living standards are negatively related to the size of population. This is because at time of writing the major factor of production was land, whose supply is largely fixed. Vollrath shares a diagram, originally from Greg Clark’s work, which demonstrates this. Peter Turchin’s model in Secular Cycles effectively has this relationship at its core.

Clark UK population and real wages Malthus

Two: population growth is positively correlated with living standards. As Vollrath notes

“This may be because kids are a normal good, and so fertility rises when people have higher incomes. Or it may be because health is a normal good, so people take better care of themselves (and their kids) when they have higher income.”

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How to Run the Economy on the Weather

How to Run the Economy on the Weather

Stoneferry detail

Before the Industrial Revolution, people adjusted their energy demand to a variable energy supply. Our global trade and transport system — which relied on sail boats — operated only when the wind blew, as did the mills that supplied our food and powered many manufacturing processes.

The same approach could be very useful today, especially when improved by modern technology. In particular, factories and cargo transportation — such as ships and even trains — could be operated only when renewable energy is available. Adjusting energy demand to supply would make switching to renewable energy much more realistic than it is today.

Renewable Energy in Pre-Industrial Times

Before the Industrial Revolution, both industry and transportation were largely dependent on intermittent renewable energy sources. Water mills, windmills and sailing boats have been in use since Antiquity, but the Europeans brought these technologies to full development from the 1400s onwards.

At their peak, right before the Industrial Revolution took off, there were an estimated 200,000 wind powered mills and 500,000 water powered mills in Europe. Initially, water mills and windmills were mainly used for grinding grain, a laborious task that had been done by hand for many centuries, first with the aid of stones and later with a rotary hand mill.


“Een zomers landschap” (“A summer landscape”), a painting by Jan van Os.

However, soon water and wind powered mills were adapted to industrial processes like sawing wood, polishing glass, making paper, boring pipes, cutting marble, slitting metal, sharpening knives, crushing chalk, grinding mortar, making gunpowder, minting coins, and so on. [1-3] Wind- and water mills also processed a host of agricultural products. They were pressing olives, hulling barley and rice, grinding spices and tobacco, and crushing linseed, rapeseed and hempseed for cooking and lighting.

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We Need A Social Revolution


We Need A Social Revolution

Our future depends on our willingness to fight for it

In the conventional view, there are two kinds of revolutions: political and technological. Political revolutions may be peaceful or violent, and technological revolutions may transform civilizations gradually or rather abruptly—for example, revolutionary advances in the technology of warfare.

In this view, the engines of revolution are the state—government in all its layers and manifestations—and the corporate economy.

In a political revolution, a new political party or faction gains converts to its narrative, and this new force replaces the existing political order, either via peaceful means or violent revolution.

Technological revolutions arise from many sources but end up being managed by the state and private sector, which each influence and control the other in varying degrees.

Conventional history focuses on top-down political revolutions of the violent “regime change” variety: the American Revolution (1776), the French Revolution (1789), the Russian Revolution (1917), the Chinese Revolution (1949), and so on.

Technology has its own revolutionary hierarchy; the advances of the Industrial Revolutions I, II, III and now IV, have typically originated with inventors and proto-industrialists who relied on private capital and banking to fund large-scale buildouts of new industries: rail, steel manufacturing, shipbuilding, the Internet, etc.

The state may direct and fund technological revolutions as politically motivated projects, for example the Manhattan project to develop nuclear weapons and the Space race to the Moon in the 1960s.

These revolutions share a similar structure: a small cadre leads a large-scale project based on a strict hierarchy in which the revolution is pushed down the social pyramid by the few at the top to the many below.  Even when political and industrial advances are accepted voluntarily by the masses, the leadership and structure of the controlling mechanisms are hierarchical: political power, elected or not, is concentrated in the hands of a few at the top.

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Earth Overshoot: How Sustainable is Population Growth?

Earth Overshoot: How Sustainable is Population Growth?

For decades people have been predicting overpopulation would wipe out energy resources if not the entire planet. Every year the population bomb and peak oil crowd have been proven wrong. But how long can the status quo of generating growth by population explosion last?

Every year the population bomb and peak oil crowd have been proven wrong. But how long can the status quo of generating growth by population explosion last?

Reader Rick Mills at Ahead of the Herd addresses the subject in a guest blog that first appeared on his blog as Earth Overshoot Day.

Earth Overshoot Day

The second half of the 20th century saw the biggest increase in the world’s population in human history. Our population surged because of:

  • Medical advances lessened the mortality rate in many countries
  • Massive increases in agricultural productivity caused by the “Green Revolution”

The global death rate has dropped almost continuously since the start of the industrial revolution – personal hygiene, improved methods of sanitation and the development of antibiotics all played a major role.

Green Revolution

The term Green Revolution refers to a series of research, development, and technology transfers that happened between the 1940s and the late 1970s.

The initiatives involved:

  • Development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains
  • Expansion of irrigation infrastructure
  • Modernization of management techniques
  • Mechanization
  • Distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers

Tractors with gasoline powered internal combustion engines (versus steam) became the norm in the 1920s after Henry Ford developed his Fordson in 1917 – the first mass-produced tractor. This new technology was available only to relatively affluent farmers and it was not until the 1940s tractor use became widespread.

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Beyond the Footprint

Beyond the Footprint

Ed. note: This piece is an excerpt from the new e-book entitled:Ecological Handprints: Breakthrough Innovations in the Developing World

A farmer charges his cell phone with solar panels in the Aravilli hills, Udaipur District, India.   |  Credit: Mark Katzman

The great challenge of the twenty-first century is to raise people everywhere to a decent standard of living while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible.— E.O. Wilson

We are living in an era that Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen has labeled the “Anthropocene” — a new geologic epoch defined by our own massive impact on the planet. The path of the Anthropocene has been paved in large part by resource-intensive, fossil fuel-dominated, and highly polluting patterns of consumption. It has risen steeply and rapidly from the time of the industrial revolution to the present day, at least for those of us in highly developed economies. Today, however, this old path — based on false assumptions of cheap energy and unlimited nature — ultimately leads us all to a dead end of greater human suffering and conflict, along with further weakening and depletion of the natural systems that support all life on the planet.

Now we face the daunting task of successfully navigating the rest of the Anthropocene. The journey will require a fresh perspective, with a high level of innovation, commitment and creativity. In the days ahead, as billions continue struggling to meet basic human needs, we must look beyond merely lowering our Ecological Footprint to create a richer, deeper, and more relevant paradigm that brings people not only closer to the planet, but also closer to each other.

What is an Ecological Footprint? The Ecological Footprint is a measurement of human demands upon nature, and as such it represents an essential accounting of our escalating impacts on local and global ecosystems.

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Growing intolerance

Growing intolerance

Bread has always been at the heart of human history – we’ve been baking it for the best part of 10,000 years. But over the past decade there has been an explosion of people reporting problems with eating it. How could wheat, a staple food that has sustained humanity for so long, have suddenly become a threat to our health? What’s happened to wheat that is causing the increase in digestive disorders? And can we get back to the bread we ate for millennia without becoming wheat intolerant?*

The story that lies behind our problem with bread is a sad one. In the space of one century we abandoned both the flavour and nutrition of our most basic food in favour of producing vast amounts of cheap industrial loaves.

The impact of the Industrial Revolution

Bread remained almost unchanged for thousands of years. Then, from the late 1850s to the 1960s, every aspect of it changed. We didn’t just change the way we made it – we altered it to the point that our bodies no longer recognised the ingredients. A combination of the Industrial Revolution and the hybridisation of wheat fundamentally changed the nature of the flour we use for baking.

The problems we now face can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century, when Gregor Mendel developed what are now known as the laws of biological inheritance, or hybridisation. This revolutionary technique was quickly applied to wheat, but the grain was hybridised and developed not for its flavour, but for increased yields and levels of gluten. In doing so, we lost both taste and nutrition in our flour at an incredible speed. In just a few decades the gene pool was narrowed from thousands of varieties of to less than a hundred. It was the start of a monoculture.

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Visualizing Peak Popopulation | Zero Hedge

Visualizing Peak Popopulation | Zero Hedge.

Even with having existed for millions of years, the process for humans to reach 1 billion in population was long and arduous. It is only about 12,000 years ago that humans started engaging in sedentary agriculture. This allowed humans to settle and consistently produce food, rather than hunt and gather throughout.

However, it is with the Industrial Revolution that the means for exponential human population increases was created. New technology, boosts in productivity, and the use of energy allowed for a new frontier in increasing health, sanitation, and standard of living. It is also around this time – in 1804 to be exact – that the earth’s population hit 1 billion people.

Fast forward two hundred years, and the impact of the Industrial Revolution is loud and clear. Now with over 7 billion people, global population has risen so fast that by one estimate, 14% of all human beings that have ever existed are alive today.

Based on a recent UN study, by 2100, our global population is predicted to be between 9.6 and 12.3 billion people. The world will be much different than we know it today in the future.

For starters, the vast majority of growth will happen in the less developed regions of the world. As an example, Nigeria’s population will increase five-fold, from around 174 million today to almost a billion people. It will likely be the 3rd most populous country behind India and China in 2100. Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole could hold up to almost half of the world’s population in the future.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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