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The Renewables Farce

The Renewables Farce

The renewals transition is a lie. Here’s why.

The Renewables Farce
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP / Unsplash
Let me say this loud for the people in the back:


Sure, wind, solar or geothermal energy might reduce carbon intensity per unit of output. Indeed, an EV, for example, emits less carbon than an ICE vehicle.

Unfortunately, it’s more complicated. It always is.

Let me stop right here for a second. I am no fossil fuels apologist. And I’m not trying to thwart the efforts to improve the planet. However, I am a realist and observer of human and political behavior. In this article, I describe what will likely happen, as opposed to what I wish would happen.

First, renewables must be evaluated from a birth-to-death perspective. This includes the manufacturing processes, inputs and raw materials extraction. Accounting for these, the tradeoff is less black-and-white and often highly influenced by the longevity of the renewable alternative.

Break-even estimates vary wildly, and are highly dependent on what you’re measuring – e.g. financial cost or carbon emissions. I think it’s fair to say any renewable used to replace fossil fuels must have a lifespan across decades to be a viable alternative.

Studies show conflicting information – potentially influenced by inherent biases – with one recent study suggesting the breakeven between EVs and ICE vehicles is beyond normal usage.

Other studies show carbon parity can occur much earlier, depending on the underlying energy source.

My point is there are hidden complexities beneath the renewables transition, which has been misused as a soundbite to appease the citizenry.

Looking longer-term, those hidden complexities worsen. Transitioning to alternative energy sources requires massive consumption of copper, nickel, lithium and other metals. Research by Simon Michaux, Associate Professor at Geological Survey of Finland, suggests at current production rates there simply won’t be enough raw materials to feed the transition.

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

Visualizing The Copper Investment Opportunity In One Chart

Visualizing The Copper Investment Opportunity In One Chart

Copper is essential for clean energy applications such as solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles (EVs), as well as for expanding electrical grids.

The surge in demand for the metal, driven by the growing adoption of these technologies, presents a unique investment opportunity for early investors in copper mining companies.

Visual Capitalist’s Bruno Venditti introduces this chart by Sprott exploring the growing gap between copper supply and demand until 2050, based on projections from BloombergNEF’s Transition Metals Outlook 2023.

Projected Copper Supply vs. Demand

Copper is naturally abundant on Earth, but extracting the metal at the pace necessary for an electrified economy could be a challenge. The timeline for bringing a copper mine from discovery to production is lengthy, averaging over 16 years.

Top producers like Chile and Peru are facing strikes and protests, along with declining ore grades. Russia, ranked seventh in copper production, faces an expected decline in production due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the increasing adoption of carbon-free technology only highlights copper’s significance.

High Demand for Transport and Electricity Grid

The demand for copper in the transport sector is projected to increase by 11.1 times by 2050, from 2022. EVs, for example, can contain more than a mile of copper wiring.

Additionally, the demand for copper needed to expand the global electricity grid is projected to increase by 4.8 times by 2050, from 2022.

By 2030, the copper supply gap is projected to approach 10 million metric tons, with both copper prices and copper mining stocks potentially set to benefit.

As the world embraces clean technologies, the search for and expansion of copper mines will be essential. Early investors who gain exposure to copper miners may benefit from the rapidly increasing demand.

Sprott offers convenient exchange-traded alternatives for investors seeking exposure to copper miners.


The Cold Hard Truth About Renewable Energy Adoption

The Cold Hard Truth About Renewable Energy Adoption

  • The energy transition is essential but complex and challenging.
  • The pace of the transition and the balance between future and current energy security are key issues.
  • Economic and logistical barriers, as well as geopolitical and environmental concerns, need to be addressed for a successful transition.
Renewable Energy Adoption

The future of the global energy sector is caught up in a messy and misleading ideological debate. Depending on which politically informed echo chamber one inevitably finds themself confined to on social media, they are either told that the energy transition is a dangerous myth that will end in economic disaster and permanent rolling blackouts, or that clean energy is going to save the world overnight – as soon as conservatives get out of the way. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between.

The energy transition is strictly necessary. But it’s going to be very, very hard. It’s damaging to deny that there will almost certainly be shocks, missteps, and setbacks as we undergo one of the most disruptive chapters in industrial history. In large part we’re relying on untested and in many cases as-yet unproven technologies to emerge in the nick of time.

There’s a temptation to sugar-coat the scale of the imperative to make the energy transition more palatable and less daunting. But there’s no denying it – it’s a very uncomfortable, and even frightening, petition to be in. And there will be winners and losers as economic priorities shift – the energy transition is good for humanity as a whole, but it certainly isn’t good for everyone. Acknowledging these difficult truths is essential to properly planning for and managing humanity’s greatest cooperative project.

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXV–Energy Future, Part 1

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXV

December 21, 2022 (original posting date)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico. (1986) Photo by author.

Energy Future, Part 1

A short introductory contemplation to a multipart one on our energy future[1].

It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.
-various attributions (e.g., Niels Bohr, Yogi Berra, Mark Twain)

Energy[2]. It is the fundamental component necessary for all physical, chemical, and biological processes. So life…hell, the universe appears impossible without it[3].

While all forms of energy are ultimately important to human life, it is the bioenergetic and food energy aspects that are perhaps most salient[4]. For human complex societies that require energy inputs to ‘power’/support the organisational structures that help to create and sustain our varied and numerous complexities, it is the transformation of various energy sources into ‘usable’ forms that is vital[5].

As Vaclav Smil writes at the beginning of his 2017 text, Energy and Civilization: A History:

“Energy is the only universal currency: one of its many forms must be transformed to get anything done. Universal manifestations of these transformations range from the enormous rotations of galaxies to thermo- nuclear reactions in stars. On Earth they range from the terra-forming forces of plate tectonics that part ocean floors and raise new mountain ranges to the cumulative erosive impacts of tiny raindrops (as the Romans knew, gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed saepe cadendo — A drop of water hollows a stone not by force but by continually dripping). Life on Earth — despite decades of attempts to catch a meaningful extraterrestrial signal, still the only life in the universe we know of — would be impossible without the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into phytomass (plant biomass). Humans depend on this transformation for their survival, and on many more energy flows for their civilized existence. As Richard Adams (1982, 27) put it,

We can think thoughts wildly, but if we do not have the wherewithal to convert them into action, they will remain thoughts. … History acts in unpredictable ways. Events in history, however, necessarily take on a structure or organization that must accord with their energetic components.

The evolution of human societies has resulted in larger populations, a growing complexity of social and productive arrangements, and a higher quality of life for a growing number of people. From a fundamental biophysical perspective, both prehistoric human evolution and the course of history can be seen as the quest for controlling greater stores and flows of more concentrated and more versatile forms of energy and converting them, in more affordable ways at lower costs and with higher efficiencies, into heat, light, and motion.”

In this energy-transforming quest, fossil fuels have become the most critical and fundamental energy source to our modern, industrialised and exceedingly complex global society. As can be seen in the graph below, it is estimated that fossil fuel-based energy (i.e., coal, oil, and natural gas) is responsible for 80+% of our current energy needs that support our many varied complexities from transportation and food production to industrial production and communications.

Evidence suggests there is no current substitute — at density or scale — for the energy provided by fossil fuels[6]. We continue to be exposed to countless promises and potential technological ‘breakthroughs’ to replace them (especially when it comes to ‘clean/green’ energy sources, or should I say non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies), but the cold hard fact is that our dependence upon fossil fuels continues and is actually increasing, even when one zooms in on the past twenty years when ‘renewables’ have been pursued with ‘gusto’ as shown in the following graph (although not as much fervor as some would like and argue for — ignoring/rationalising away the ecological systems destruction that would accompany such a ‘war effort-like’ push).

All of the ‘renewables’ we have adopted have been additive to our fossil fuel dependency. They have not supplanted any — or at least minimally — fossil fuel extraction or use[7]. In fact, it could be argued that they have increased it due to their dependency upon fossil fuel-based industrial processes[8].

Add to this that there is convincing evidence that we have encountered significant diminishing returns in our extraction of fossil fuels[9]. This can be seen in our need to increase continually the energy and resource inputs towards accessing and extracting these fuels (e.g., deep sea drilling, hydraulic fracturing, bitumen refinement).

This necessity necessarily has an impact on the net energy that we have for supporting our complexities. We are increasingly having to put more and more energy/resources into fossil fuel extraction and refinement resulting in less and less energy/resources leftover to maintain our complex systems, let alone have any leftover to pursue growth as we have the past century or more[10].

So, we have a finite resource that is requiring greater energy/resource inputs to access and retrieve but that we depend significantly upon with no comparable replacement — to say little about the ecological systems destruction accompanying all of this (‘renewables’ and fossil fuels alike).

This is an obvious conundrum. Where do we go from here is what a number of people want to know…and I will explore this further in Part 2.

[1] Please note that I am not an ‘expert/academic/researcher/etc.’ in the topics discussed but an avid ‘student’ of them as I try to make sense of how and why events are unfolding the way they are. This is why I have included quite a number of references (to those who may be considered ‘experts) to my thoughts. Declaring this, I am also wary of the term ‘expert’ in light of criticisms such as those expressed by Philip Tetlock, Nicholas Nassim Taleb, and others: see this, this, this, this, and/or this. The views expressed, therefore, are part of my personal journey of understanding; they could be accurate but they might not be…in the end, I believe we all believe what we want to believe.

[2] See this.

[3] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[4] See this and this.

[5] See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[6] See this, this, this, and/or this.

[7] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[8] See this, this, and/or this.

[9] See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[10] See this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXVIII–Personal Experience With ‘Renewables’

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXVIII

November 20, 2022 (original posting date)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico. (1986) Photo by author.

Personal Experience With ‘Renewables’

Let me begin this contemplation by stating that I do not hate ‘renewables’ nor am I a fossil fuel industry shill (the two common accusations lobbed at me whenever I criticise the notion of a ‘green/clean’ energy future). I have constructed my family’s 3.35 kW solar photovoltaic system from the ground up.

It consists of a variety of 100 and 150 watt panels placed upon our deck gazebo and two-car garage, lots of copper connectors, numerous charge controllers and deep cycle batteries (whose efficiency suffers in our Canadian winters due to their storage in our garage that despite being insulated is not heated and can get quite cold), and several inverters. What I am, I like to believe, is a realist that recognises this system’s limitations and implications for our world but especially for those colder-climate regions.

Here are a couple of recent pictures of part of our system, taken this past summer followed by one during the previous winter (those are 100 watt panels in the photo; there are 15 more panels on the garage directly behind the gazebo — 11 x 100 watt and 5 x 150 watt — and another 5 x 100 watt panels on the gazebo roof’s other side to capture late evening rays during our summers):

Here are my pre-gazebo versions that allowed me to periodically alter the angle of numerous smaller panels (40 watt) to better capture direct light:

Let me be frank, I truly believe that ‘clean/green’ energy is a misnomer; in fact, it’s a significant distortion of language that has been employed as a marketing scheme to sell products and a virtue-signalling myth to keep these products flowing to consumers. Not only does no such animal exist, but the complex narratives we’ve weaved about it are rife with the cognitive distortions of denial and bargaining, and heavily influenced by Big Money propaganda.

These stories we are told about a ‘clean/green’ energy future completely overlook a number of inconvenient facts.

First, the dominant narrative rarely if ever discusses all the fossil fuels that would be required to build out the non-renewable renewable energy-harvesting technologies’ infrastructure and its products. Yes, there are arguments that ‘renewables’ can supply the energy required to replace these fossil fuel inputs. But this bargaining strategy ignores that almost all evidence/data supporting this perspective is dependent upon small-scale pilot projects that have not been and very likely will never be scaled up due to both technological and economic impediments. The tale is merely one of theoretical ‘possibilities’, predicated upon many as-yet-to-be-hatched chickens.

It’s also likely no coincidence that much (most?) of the capital funding going into ‘renewables’ and its widespread marketing campaign is being supplied by the corporate energy interests of Big Oil[1] and Wall Street Banks (who also fund Big Oil)[2].

The more damning issue, at least from a non-economic perspective (but has gargantuan economic implications if we were ever to deal with it properly — which we don’t), is the significant ecological systems destruction that would result from such a massive undertaking — to say little of the sociological/cultural implications for many of the regions home to the mineral extraction sites. Not only is there ample bargaining in this story as well — we can develop ‘cleaner’ means of doing business and ones that will benefit impacted peoples — but A LOT of denial regarding the significant environmental impacts (that mostly happen in faraway places that are out of sight — and therefore out of mind — and that can sometimes take years to manifest themselves).

The ‘green/clean’ energy-based, utopian future appears increasingly to have become a grand and extremely attractive narrative which its adherents have argued is the ONLY means of ‘solving’ our fossil fuel addiction. It reduces significantly the anxiety-provoking thoughts that accompany a realisation that humanity have severely overshot the natural carrying capacity of the planet, destroying it and untold numbers of other species, and faces a less than utopian future — to say the least. And it avoids, through the use of a tight Overton Window, the much more difficult option of a gargantuan ‘powering down’ our so-called ‘advanced’ economies and mitigating our overshoot in ways that most people (particularly in these ‘advanced’ economies) would not readily accept.”

But it also happens to bring with it a system of industrial production that sustains the status quo power and wealth structures. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the ruling caste of our planet is increasingly throwing its support behind this ‘solution’ to our energy ‘problem’. And, unfortunately, it seems a lot of very well-intentioned people and groups are being swayed by the widespread propaganda because after all who doesn’t want to avoid huge sacrifices and disruptions to the energy slaves and technological conveniences that provide our ‘advanced’ status.

As I argued in a previous contemplation:

“Keeping at the forefront of one’s thinking the fact that the future is unknowable, unpredictable, and full of unknown unknowns, anything is possible. But I would argue we do ourselves no favours in participating in and believing without full skepticism our various narratives about endless growth and technological ingenuity as the saviours that will make our utopian dreams/wishes of a ‘clean/green’ future come true.

Such magical thinking keeps us on a trajectory that increasingly is looking to be suicidal in nature, or, at the most promising, deeply ‘disappointing’ and broadly chaotic/catastrophic.”


The solar photovoltaic system I have constructed for many thousands of dollars (Canadian) supplies very little in the way of sustained power for our household. I mainly rely upon it as a marginal emergency backup system during our periodic power grid losses. It was capable of running a refrigerator/freezer in our garage for about 3 days during a blackout we experienced due to a devastating derecho that hit most of Ontario, Canada this past spring, before the battery system was drained and required several days to recharge. We have come to rely far more on the gas/propane generators we have. With no other source of home heating as this time, I hate to think of what we would do if our natural gas heating system was down during one of our long, Canadian winters. I know that our solar-based system would not be of much use in that situation.

[1] See this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[2] See this, this, this, and/or this.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXVI–Roadblocks To Our ‘Renewable’ Energy Transition: Debt, Resource Constraints, and Diminishing Returns

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXVI

November 12, 2022 (original posting date)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico. (1986) Photo by author.

Roadblocks To Our ‘Renewable’ Energy Transition: Debt, Resource Constraints, and Diminishing Returns

Today’s contemplation is a quick rundown of three of the roadblocks I see preventing us from achieving the utopian dream of a seamless ‘clean’ energy transition from dirty fossil fuels, or at least one as marketed by the ruling caste and leveraged by many (most?) businesses to sell their products/services (and virtue-signal their ‘progressive’ nature).

These few items have been percolating in my mind this past week or so with a number of articles I’ve perused during my morning coffee. If readers can add to these in the comments (with appropriate supportive links), I will begin to create a more comprehensive list to share periodically down the road…

Here, in no particular order, are three of the issues I’ve been pondering:

2.5 quadrillion in debt/credit[1]

For all intents and purposes, and by most observable accounts, our financial/monetary/economic systems are Ponzi-type systems requiring constant expansion/growth to keep from collapsing[2]. Many lay the beginnings of this treacherous trend upon Richard Nixon’s abrogation of the Bretton Woods Agreement that hammered the final nail in the coffin of a precious metals-based monetary system[3]. Others point to the introduction of fiat money/currencies as the initiation point, when the ‘constraint’ of physical commodities was removed from money and government/ruling elite solidified their monopoly of its creation/distribution. If one looks back even before modern fiat currencies, however, there is much written about how the Roman ruling elite were engaged in such manipulation of their money[4].

The Ponzi nature of these systems requires that perpetual growth be pursued. That such a pursuit is impossible on a finite planet should be self-evident but as I have highlighted previously we walking, talking apes are story tellers whose imaginations are creative at weaving tales to reduce anxiety-provoking thoughts — such as our ingenuity and technological prowess allows us to ignore/deny/rationalise away physical laws and biological principles and pursue infinite growth despite any bio- and geo-physical limitations.

That we have created and depend significantly upon such increasingly complex and fragile systems should give us pause, but this is rare and typically frowned upon. There seems only three basic means of dealing with such a situation: 1) inflate away the problem[5]; 2) debt jubilees[6]; 3) growth[7]. All of these approaches seem to have been used individually or in combination in history, and yet the endgame tends to be the same every time certain tipping points are reached: rejection of the monetary system of the time.

There’s been a boatload of analyses on what such a repudiation of a society’s currency system means to a people and their society[8]. While a currency ‘collapse’ does not necessarily lead to societal ‘collapse’, it does appear to throw economic systems into chaos for some time and destroy much in the way of societal ‘wealth’ and thus investment capital; and contributes to the eventual fall of a society — especially if there’s no lender-of-last-resort to ride to the rescue.

Such a situation would seem to negate the possibility of achieving the dream of transitioning to some ‘clean/green’ energy-based society given the magnitude of the debt that is currently present, the ‘wealth’ this represents, and the huge investments that would be necessary for a shift from our primary source of energy (fossil fuels).

Perhaps the most significant impediment going forward from a currency collapse would be the general lack of trust in government and financial institutions. And it is ‘trust/confidence’ that keeps these fragile systems from being totally abandoned; when it is lost, there’s no telling how quickly more widespread ‘collapse’ may occur. As archaeologist Joseph Tainter argues, it is when the economic benefits of participating in a complex society fall below the costs incurred that a populace begins to abandon its support of the various systems and ‘collapse’ can soon follow[9].

Mineral/resource constraints

That we exist upon a finite planet should also give pause to those cheerleading a ‘renewable’ energy transition in that geophysical realities limit what we can physically accomplish in terms of resource extraction and use.

Simon Michaux, Associate Professor Mineral Processing and Geometallurgy at the Geological Survey of Finland, has for some time been highlighting the impossibility of replacing our fossil fuel-based systems with non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies (NRREHT)[10].

The main hyped-up narrative surrounding the utopian future we are constantly promised by our societal leadership (both political and corporate) is that of a clean-energy future that not only sustains our present-day energetic conveniences, but allows continual expansion, technological progress, and prosperity. Dr. Michaux asserts that this is a pipe-dream because there do not exist the needed minerals to carry out such a transition from fossil fuels. Not even enough to replace and thus sustain the current level of energetic needs, let alone continuing to pursue growth.

Advocates dismiss this inconvenient reality — to say little about the environmental/ecological system damage that would result from the mining and processing of all the minerals and products required — by suggesting this can be overcome by reducing our energetic consumption/needs to a far lower level such that the finite materials can meet our needs, or developing many as-yet-to-be-hatched energy-production chickens. They also raise the arguments that recycling will guarantee perpetual resource requirements failing to understand that this is a very energy-intensive process and not as effective in reducing energy-use and pollutants as marketed[11] and are even being abandoned in many regions due to increasing costs[12].

Diminishing Returns

The human tendency in addressing resource requirements (in fact, to solve most problems) is to utilise the easiest-to-access and cheapest-to-extract ones first, leaving the more expensive and difficult ones to a later time. This, of course, means we must invest greater and greater amounts of labour/energy into extraction and processing as time passes, even to simply maintain current levels. In economic parlance, this reality has become referred to as the law of diminishing returns/productivity.

In energy circles, this tendency has been used to develop the concept of energy-return-on-energy-invested (EROEI)[13]. Basically, this is the ‘net’ energy that one derives from energy production. The greater the EROEI, the greater the amount of energy that can be used for purposes other than accessing/extracting/producing the energy in the first place. But as EROEI falls, there is less and less energy available for non-energy extraction/production systems.

We have witnessed a significant and precipitous drop in EROEI for fossil fuels[14], and the EROEI for NRREHTs is quite a bit lower than the legacy oil/gas fields that our globalised industrial world has used to grow to its present complexity; in fact, some argue that the EROEI of NRREHT is so low as to be incapable of supporting today’s globalised civilisation at anywhere near the current level of complexities[15].

A Few Other Hurdles to Our ‘Renewable-Energy’ Utopia

Here are a few additional issues that would seem to make the dream of a ‘clean’ energy future anything but doable, especially to the degree some (many? most?) imagine.

1. Current advanced-economy lifestyles require more energy than can be provided by ‘renewables’[16].
2. ‘Renewables’ require significant fossil fuel inputs[17].
3. Significant industrial processes cannot be carried out via ‘renewable’ energies[18].
4. And, perhaps most importantly, both the upstream and downstream industrial processes necessary to create, maintain, and reclaim/dispose of ‘renewables’ wreak havoc on our environment and ecological systems[19].

I could write much more on each of these roadblocks to the idea of our complex global society transitioning to NNREHT. Whether one accepts these as insurmountable or not depends very much on one’s interpretation of the data/evidence — and probably to a greater extent on one’s hopes/wishes (i.e., personal biases).

Keeping at the forefront of one’s thinking the fact that the future is unknowable, unpredictable, and full of unknown unknowns, anything is possible. But I would argue we do ourselves no favours in participating in and believing without full skepticism our various narratives about endless growth and technological ingenuity as the saviours that will make our utopian dreams/wishes of a ‘clean/green’ future come true.

Such magical thinking keeps us on a trajectory that increasingly is looking to be suicidal in nature, or, at the most promising, deeply ‘disappointing’ and broadly chaotic/catastrophic.

Time, of course, will tell…

And please note, as I have had to emphasise with others whom I’ve disagreed with regarding this ‘clean’ energy transition and NRREHTs: “… it is not that I ‘hate’ renewables or am a shill for the fossil fuel industry (the two typical accusations lobbed at me); I simply recognise their limitations, negative impacts, and that they are no panacea.”

[1] See this, this, and/or this.

[2] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[3] See this and/or this.

[4] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[5] See this, this, and/or this.

[6] See this, this, and/or this.

[7] See this and/or this.

[8] See this, this, this, and/or this.

[9] See this.

[10] See this, this, and/or this.

[11] See this, this, this, and/or this.

[12] See this, this, and/or this.

[13] See this and/or this.

[14] See this and/or this.

[15] See this, this, and/or this.

[16] See this.

[17] See this and/or this.

[18] See this. It’s imperative to note here that all rationalisations of ‘clean’ industrial processes rely upon as-yet-to-be-hatched chickens such as Carbon Capture and Storage or untenable energy production such as that based upon the use of hydrogen.

[19] See this.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXII–Differing Opinions on ‘Renewables’

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXII

October 19, 2022 (original posting date)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico (1986). Photo by author.

Differing Opinions on ‘Renewables’

While I work on a longer (perhaps several part) contemplation regarding the myth of infinite growth on a finite planet that infiltrates and dominates many mainstream narratives — especially economic in nature — I thought I would share a back-and-forth conversation I’ve had with professor Ugo Bardi and another person on the Facebook group Dr. Bardi administers called The Seneca Effect regarding ‘renewables’.

It is a good example of the differing opinions regarding complex energy-harvesting technologies and their potential to offset the energy descent we seem to be experiencing.

First, I’d like to share an introductory statement from a relatively recent ‘essay’ by Megan Siebert and William Rees: “We begin with a reminder that humans are storytellers by nature. We socially construct complex sets of facts, beliefs, and values that guide how we operate in the world. Indeed, humans act out of their socially constructed narratives as if they were real. All political ideologies, religious doctrines, economic paradigms, cultural narratives — even scientific theories — are socially constructed “stories” that may or may not accurately reflect any aspect of reality they purport to represent. Once a particular construct has taken hold, its adherents are likely to treat it more seriously than opposing evidence from an alternate conceptual framework.”[1]

I am well aware that, for the most part, people believe what they want to believe. We defend our beliefs in various ways such as ignoring/denying opposing information, attacking the presenter of contrarian evidence, or confirming beliefs via selective interpretation of data/’facts’. And I am as guilty of such psychological mechanisms impacting my belief systems as the next person. We all fight hard to reduce the anxiety/stress created from the presence of cognitive dissonance and can be easily manipulated into believing certain narratives.

I have shared in previous contemplations my thoughts about non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies and my increasing belief that they are not the panacea they are being made out to be. You can read some of these here:

And my thoughts on how our beliefs are impacted by various psychological mechanisms:

The post in which the conversation took place shared a media publication[2] regarding a fusion reactor and its potential for providing unlimited, clean energy.


The presentation begins: “Imagine a world where energy was so clean and abundant that it was no longer a limiting factor in the growth of civilization.”

Infinite growth without a need to worry about what is ‘fuelling’ it or our ecological systems. What’s not to love?


My original comment on the link:

Steve Bull
Unlimited, ‘clean’ energy (an oxymoron) may address one ‘problem’ humanity faces (actually, a roadblock to continuation of our chasing of the perpetual growth chalice) , but it would exacerbate the various predicaments we have created — especially ecological overshoot.

Comment by another that kicked off the back-and-forth:

Breton Crellin
Yeah maybe for like a fraction of a second before they run out of fuel.
That’s the biggest hurdle at the moment.
Even if we can figure out how to keep it cool and controlled it still uses up an incredibly rare fuel incredibly fast.
Maybe one day.
But until then it’s a good thing we’ve got renewables.

Steve Bull
Breton Crellin
Despite narratives to the contrary, ‘renewables’ are a can-kicking endeavour. They rely upon finite resources in perpetuity, while that reliance draws those resources down more quickly and exacerbates our fundamental predicament of ecological overshoot.

Breton Crellin
Steve Bull
and how would you recommend we generate electricity without producing greenhouse gases?
Because ‘we can’t have clean energy since one day in the future we could run out of the resources we used to make it’ is a very poor argument that assumes we will use the same materials with no innovation until we run out and it ignores the damage burning fossil fuels is doing right now.
If we don’t stop burning also fuels we won’t be alive to see the end of any resources used to generate renewable electricity.

Steve Bull
Breton Crellin
The laws of physics and biology care not one iota if our species survives. However, humanity survived for millennia without electricity. And, you can’t have non-renewable, renewable-energy harvesting technologies without fossil fuels — and A LOT of it to even come close to replacing what fossil fuels provide…to say little of their import to modern industrial agriculture that supplies our food. This is a predicament without a solution.

Breton Crellin
Steve Bull
Your solution is a non-solution.
I asked you how You would recommend producing clean electricity and your answers to not produce electricity?
You can’t have renewable energy without fossil fuels?
That talking point is straight out of the climate change denial handbook.
Yes I’m well aware that concrete and steel have a carbon footprint and engineers take a gas burning car to work.
But those emissions are only made once and after that it’s decades of clean electricity.
Besides using petroleum products is not the problem. It’s burning them for heat electricity and transportation that is accelerating I possible extinction level event.
A predicament without a solution hey?
Sounds more like a predicament you have where your logic has pushed you in a corner you can’t find your way out of.
Sorry I shouldn’t make this about you.
Seriously though if climate change is a predicament without a solution then what is the harm in using renewable energy if we won’t survive on this planet long enough to use up the materials?

Ugo Bardi
Breton Crellin There is nothing to do, Breton, for some people, denigrating renewable energy is a crusade.

Steve Bull
Ugo Bardi
You and I will have to agree to disagree regarding‘ renewables’. And as I have written before in responding to you: “… it is not that I ‘hate’ renewables or am a shill for the fossil fuel industry (the two typical accusations lobbed at me); I simply recognise their limitations, negative impacts, and that they are no panacea.”

Steve Bull
Breton Crellin
You need to recognize the difference between problems with solutions and predicaments without them. Not only is there increasing data/evidence to point out that there exists nowhere near the mineral/material resources to achieve the ‘transition’ many desire (see this: https://www.thegreatsimplification.com/…/19-simon-michaux), but that the ecological system and environmental fallout from pursuing such a shift would be catastrophic (see this: https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2022/09/a-climate-love-story/).

Steve Bull
Ugo Bardi
Breton Crellin As physics professor Tom Murphy concludes in the piece I link: “Let’s not engineer a nightmare for ourselves in the misguided attempt to realize a poorly considered dream. It starts by recognizing that the vision many hold as “the dream” is itself utterly unsustainable and thus may even accelerate failure, rather than avert it. The predicament has wide boundaries that reach deep foundations of our civilization’s structure. We only succeed by altering our mental models of how we live on this planet — not by finding “superior” substitutes for the very things that have put us in this precarious position — and thus will only dig our hole faster, better, and cheaper.”

Breton Crellin
Steve Bull
strongly disagree that using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels is a poorly realized dream.
And again to repeat myself those material estimations assume innovations or alternative materials between now and when we run out.
What are the timelines until we are expected to run out anyway?
Or do we have less than that?

Steve Bull
Breton Crellin
First, you cannot have ‘renewables’ without fossil fuels — from the mineral extraction and processing industries to their maintenance and reclamation/disposal, fossil fuels have no replacements for these industries at scale; plus you require fossil fuels to back up renewable systems because of their intermittency. Note that humanity’s energy demand (including that of fossil fuels) has only increased over the past several decades despite the introduction of ‘renewables’. Renewables are best seen as an extension of fossil fuels, not a replacement. As for the mineral limitation issue, I will defer to Simon Michaux as the geologist who has studied the issue extensively. We need to be powering down significantly (plus reducing our population dramatically), not attempting to replace what fuels our energy-intensive civilisation with complex technologies that require significant drawdown of finite minerals that have for some time been encountering problematic diminishing returns (to say little of the ecological damage such a pursuit entails). Our fundamental predicament is ecological overshoot and chasing replacements for fossil fuels does zero to address it; in fact, it makes it worse leading to an even more difficult reversion to the mean for humanity.

Ugo Bardi
You see? It is a crusade.

Steve Bull
Ugo Bardi I view my attempting to point out the deficiencies and issues with renewables no more a ‘crusade’ than yours to push these technologies (and their environmentally-destructive production) as a ‘solution’ to our inevitable energy descent. The repercussions for our planet (and all life) of our continued pursuit of complex technologies are not inconsequential.

Ugo Bardi
Yours is a faith, mine is a scientific investigation based on data

Steve Bull
Ugo Bardi Many would argue that the idea that ‘renewables’ are a ‘solution’ to our energy descent as ‘faith-based’. I guess you missed (purposely ignored?) the links I shared of physics professor Tom Murphy and geologist Simon Michaux? We must agree to disagree over this…

Ugo Bardi
Steve, how many papers on renewable energy did you publish in peer-reviewed journals? I published at least three (actually more) during the past few years. For this reason I say that my opinion on renewables is based on data and facts.

Steve Bull
Ugo Bardi
Yes, you are arguing based upon an appeal to ‘data’ and ‘facts’, as am I when I refer to the work of fellow academics and ‘experts’ in their fields. Simon Michaux, for example, is a geologist with the Geological Survey of Finland and has performed extensive work on the mineral requirement aspects for a transition to ‘renewables’. Tom Murphy is a practising physicist who looks deeply into the numbers and data. And then there are the countless ecologists who are witnessing horrific biodiversity loss and ecological system collapse from the continuing, and expanding, industrial processes required to pursue complex technologies. I am not basing my perspective on ‘faith’ as you have suggested. I am attempting to balance the ecological concerns (that are almost always ignored or rationalised away) with the human need for energy to sustain our current way of existence. The two seem quite incompatible.

I conclude with the notion that we all believe what we wish to believe; ‘facts’ make little to no difference to that human proclivity. And this is particularly so when one is ‘invested’ significantly in the belief. Dr. Bardi seems well invested in the concept of renewables being capable of replacing fossil fuels. Me…not so much.

Might my concerns for the environment and ecological systems because of our industrial processes and pursuit of increasingly complex technologies be overblown or misplaced? Perhaps. But if they’re not and we continue to chase them in our quest for some holy grail to sustain our current living arrangements, the reversion to the mean for humanity will not be very welcome. Not at all.

[1] https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/14/15/4508

[2] The media publisher is ‘Electric Future’ that offers the following information about itself on its YouTube channel: “Electric Future® is an independent media publisher that presents optimistic but realistic coverage of cutting edge sustainable technology… The operators of Electric Future may have material connection to organizations mentioned in video content.”

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXI–The Pursuit Of ‘Renewables’: Putting Us Further Into Ecological Overshoot

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXI

October 10, 2022 (original posting date)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico (1986). Photo by author.

The Pursuit Of ‘Renewables’: Putting Us Further Into Ecological Overshoot

Today’s very brief contemplation has been prompted by a couple of recent articles/posts (see links below) by thinkers/writers whose works/ideas I have followed for some time and respect greatly — but disagree with when it comes to non-renewable renewable-energy harvesting technologies.

I continue to be dismayed that many (most?) analyses of humanity’s predicament(s) seem devoid of the bio- and geo-physical constraints that exist on a finite planet and suggest quite strongly that the energy ‘transition’ argued for is, for all intents and purposes, dead on arrival — to say little about our fundamental predicament of ecological overshoot.

Not only is there increasing data/evidence to point out that there exists nowhere near the mineral/material resources to achieve the ‘transition’ many desire (see this: https://www.thegreatsimplification.com/episode/19-simon-michaux), but that the ecological system and environmental fallout from pursuing such a shift would be catastrophic (see this: https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2022/09/a-climate-love-story/).

And please note, it is not that I ‘hate’ renewables or am a shill for the fossil fuel industry (the two typical accusations lobbed at me); I simply recognise their limitations, negative impacts, and that they are no panacea.

Our pursuit and leveraging of complex technologies, amongst a few sociocultural practices, is what has led us into ecological overshoot. The evidence appears to be accumulating that they are not likely to help us out of this predicament and pursuing them to the degree their cheerleaders suggest (many of whom stand to profit handsomely from during such a shift) would compound significantly the negative consequences of their production and distribution.



Telling the Truth About Our Future

Energy Aware II

Renewable energy is a poor substitute for fossil fuels. That’s because renewables are a diffuse form of energy and produce power only about one-third of the time.

That doesn’t stop renewable energy true-believers from trying to bend the laws of physics to tell a story that’s not true. EROI** (energy returned on energy invested) was used in this way by Murphy et al in 2022 and more recently, by Delannoy et al in late 2023.

Louis Delannoy and twenty-one co-authors proclaimed the good news in November that there is now a consensus that renewable energy is cheaper and more efficient than fossil fuels.

“The EROI of fossil-fueled electricity at point of end use is often found to be lower than those of PV, wind and hydro electricity, even when the latter include the energy inputs for short-term storage technologies.”

Emerging consensus on net energy paves the way for improved integrated assessment modeling

That’s not true. There is great uncertainty about EROI and a range of net energy values for every type of energy source. It’s a blunt instrument at best. It requires knowing an unknowable array of complex inputs and outputs to be anything more than a high-level guess.

First, let’s examine the easy part of their statement—“including storage technologies.” Lazard’s latest data shows that wind and solar are the most expensive forms of electric power once backup storage is included. Cost and EROI are not the same thing but they are related so it’s a red flag that Delannoy et al’s statement may be untrue.

The reference for their claim is a 2020 paper by one of the co-authors about modeling carbon emissions in California that included simulations for future solar PV EROI California is not the world, forward modeling is not historical data, and solar PV is not the renewable universe.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLVIII–We Are Not Prepared For Shutting Down the Fossil Fuel Industry

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLVIII

Monte Alban, Mexico (1988) Photo by author

We Are Not Prepared For Shutting Down the Fossil Fuel Industry

To be or not to be, that is the question…

Prince Hamlet’s well-known soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is apropos to a question I have been pondering: should we shut down immediately the world’s fossil fuel industries, as a seemingly increasing number of individuals and groups are advocating, or not?

Why have I been thinking about this? Mostly because I would argue it is suicide for our global, industrialised society and its vast array of complexities that the overwhelming majority of humans have come to depend upon, especially if it is without well-considered alternatives to support the loss of such an immense energy source.

In fact, without the energy provided by fossil fuels there would be no ‘transition’ to a ‘cleaner’ world that these same cheerleaders of fossil fuel’s immediate death suggest is ‘just around the corner’ — certainly, not a smooth and non-chaotic one. Without fossil fuels our various complexities that sustain us would collapse in short order and a massive die-off would occur[1]. Of this I have little doubt[2].

As far as a post-carbon transition based upon well-considered alternatives, I’m not speaking of so-called ‘green/clean’ energy substitutes for our fossil fuel-powered world in order to continue keeping on keeping on with our high energy-reliant complexities in some idealistic seamless shift. There is far too much evidence that that narrative is a lie and is being pushed by those that stand to profit from it and by well-intentioned but misguided others who believe the propaganda that such a shift is feasible and must be pursued with all haste[3]. Alternative energy-harvesting and -producing technologies are so dependent upon the fossil fuel platform that they cannot be constructed or sustained without significant fossil fuel inputs — to say little of the continued and significant environmental/ecological destruction necessary in both the upstream and downstream processes needed in their construction, maintenance, and after-life disposal/reclamation, and the lack of actual physical resources to build out a replacement for fossil fuels.

I’m speaking of a concerted ‘degrowth’ agenda that may need to be extremely radical in its undertaking if we are to minimise the most negative impacts of our ecological overshoot and perhaps ensure more of us are to make it out the other side of the ecological bottleneck we have created for our species (and many others)[4]. I have my own ideas about what this should and should not look like.

The very first order of business needs to be a discontinuation of the pursuit of the infinite growth chalice. This includes population growth but especially refers to economic growth, particularly for the so-called ‘advanced’ economies that are responsible for the lion’s share of resource use and abuse[5]. Without this our fundamental predicament of ecological overshoot simply grows in severity, leading to a more monumental collapse.

Given that the ruling class in particular but certainly a sizable portion of the citizens of advanced economies benefit immensely from the status quo systems and their continuation, I’m doubtful in the extreme that they would willingly admit and contemplate such a shift. As I expounded upon in my last contemplation, our ‘leaders’ are not in this for the masses as they pretend to be; they are in this for power and/or wealth[6]. As such, we will continue to be exposed to narratives that growth is not only beneficial for everyone but necessary to counteract the obvious dilemmas we are experiencing (but are, in fact, directly caused by our growth). Don’t, whatever you do, believe your lying eyes as the reality of resource shortages bite; continue to believe in human ingenuity and our technological prowess. Ignore the machinations going on behind that curtain over there.

Frankly, there are some difficult if not impossible decisions to be made that will and do challenge virtually everything the vast majority of us hold as near and dear to our hearts and our perception of what it means to be human; especially for those that live in ‘advanced’ economies where the transition necessarily puts everything on the table for discussion as to whether it can or should be maintained. Everything.

Many if not most of the cherished ideals that have been developed during a period of monumental surplus energy due to fossil fuel’s energy density, transportability, relative ease of extraction, and quantities are likely to be lost as our energy contraction speeds up. It may be exceedingly difficult if not impossible to maintain our ‘humanity’ in the face of this. Black Swan events, which is what this is going to be for the vast majority of people, have by far the largest impact on societies when they occur[7].

One of my ‘hopes’ as it were as we stumble into an unknown and unknowable future is that the dangerous complexities we have created (e.g., nuclear power plants, biosafety labs, chemical production and storage facilities) are dismantled and their dangers safely ‘contained/neutralised’ before we lose the energy capacity and related resources necessary to do this. I see zero progress currently on this front; in fact, there are increased demands to do the exact opposite.

And then there’s the whole economic-energy nexus where our monetary/financial systems are predicated upon credit/debt growth that is for all intents and purposes a potential claim on future energy and related resource use and its exponential growth[8]. If that energy is not there (and it’s not in a finite world), the entire Ponzi-like structure of these human-contrived systems collapses completely; and some argue this has actually already started and has been ‘papered’ over by manipulations that include accounting shenanigans and narrative control.

It is the glaring impediments (and the growing denial of these[9]) to the dreams of a ‘sustainable’ and ‘green/clean’ transition that increasingly lead me to conclude that we are totally and completely fubar. There is no saving our complexities that support our current ways. Does this necessitate losing ‘hope’? Well, hope as I’ve come to realise is a wish for something to happen over which we really have zero agency.

So, what do you have agency over? I would argue primarily one’s own actions, particularly at the local, community level[10].

Relocalising as much as possible now is paramount but especially in terms of potable water procurement, food production, and regional shelter needs. To do this an awful lot of learning and work needs to be accomplished, quickly. There is no time to waste when exponential factors are at play and a Seneca cliff of energy contraction just ahead[11].

Starting your journey to self-sufficiency yesterday would have been prudent but starting today is better than tomorrow. Do what you can, even if it seems minimal. Plants a few pots of beans or tomatoes. Read a book on composting or seed saving. Find some like-minded neighbours and begin a community garden.

I’ve been busy prepping our raised beds for the seedlings we started indoors a few weeks ago. One of our greenhouses is almost cleaned up and ready to host a few dozen grow bags for our potatoes (discovered they do better in a greenhouse than the mostly shaded backyard areas I’ve tried in previous years). Some seeds of cool-weather plants are already in — lettuce, kale, sugar peas. Half of our compliment of twenty, 200 litre rain barrels are hooked up[12]. The two-compartment, concrete-block compost bin I built last summer has been extended higher and better pest screening added[13]. Almost all the fruit trees have been pruned. Mature compost has begun to be added to the various rows of raspberry and blackberry canes. Been sidelined today because of a mid-April snowstorm but another few dozen chores await, especially the replacement of rotting garden ties, that were used a decade ago to create foundations for our three greenhouses and form terraces on our side hill, with concrete blocks.

I close by repeating what I argued in my last post: “don’t depend upon your government/ruling class for salvation from the coming collapse of current complexities. Such ‘faith’ is significantly misplaced and will be deeply disappointing if not disastrous for those that maintain it. It is personal, familial, and community resilience and preparedness that will ease the decline; pursue this rather than believing you have significant agency via the ballot box and who might hold the reins of sociopolitical power.”

Please consider visiting my website and supporting my continuation of it via a purchase of my ‘fictional’ novel trilogy.

[1] There are some that argue this is exactly what we should do to ensure the survival of other species and not worry too much about humans. That is not me; at least not yet.

[2] Do not mistake this perspective of mine as one of supporting the expansion of fossil fuel extraction or our myriad of systemic complexities (especially technological) that have ‘evolved’ as a result of the growth brought about by this extraction. It is what it is and we need to consider it in its historical context and the dependencies it has led to. Given I believe that our fundamental predicament is ecological overshoot brought about by our increasing use of technologies, especially those that allowed us to extract ever-increasing amounts of fossil energy, I am all for curtailing such use; but it needs to be done thoughtfully and with targeted precision as our energy use contracts significantly.

[3] See this: https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/14/15/4508/htm?fbclid=IwAR2ISt5shfV4wpFEc8jxbQnrrxyllyvZP-xDnoHhWrjGTQRIqUNfk3hOK1g

[4] An ecological/population bottleneck is where a significant majority of a species dies off due to a significant shift in environmental conditions. See William Catton Jr.’s Bottleneck: Humanity Impending Impasse.

[5] My current region has been on the forefront of both these growth frontiers within Ontario, Canada and as a result I have witnessed seemingly unending expansion of suburban residential housing at the expense of very limited arable land. The local politicians parrot the narrative that such growth is only beneficial and any seemingly negative consequences (most of which are dismissed/ignored) can be fully and completely mitigated. Apparently the supply chains that supply most of our food needs are guaranteed…forever and always, Amen.

[6] This may not be so for very small, local governments (and I mean very small, where ‘leaders’ socialise regularly with their constituents as neighbour, friend, or acquaintance) but it is increasingly so as governments get larger and the ‘leadership’ is removed from ‘normal’ societal participation and interactions, tending to fraternise within very closed peer groups that have little in common with the ‘average’ citizen.

[7] See Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

[8] And we’re not talking small numbers here. We are looking at hundreds of trillions of U.S. dollars in global debt. See: https://blogs.imf.org/2021/12/15/global-debt-reaches-a-record-226-trillion/. This doesn’t even account for unfunded liabilities (e.g., pension plans) that would put the ‘true’ level multiple times higher.

[9] Refer to Erik Micheal’s Problems, Predicaments, and Technology site for more on this.

[10] To be honest, I am finding this difficult as well due to the widespread belief that growth only has beneficial aspects and a local town council that pushes this narrative at every opportunity.

[11] See: https://peakoil.com/generalideas/the-seneca-cliff-how-the-concept-evolved.

[12] We live on a hill with a basement walkout so I’ve utilised the grade to connect 15 of our rain barrels with each higher one feeding into the next lower one, and because of our very cold winters I unhook them all and flip them over every fall to prevent damage to the hoses and taps

[13] Damned chipmunks chewed through the metal insect screening I had wrapped around the outside and began pulling un-composted matter into the yard — concrete blocks are on their sides so the openings allow air into the pile to help with the decomposition of organic matter.

COP(out) is Dead

COP(out) is Dead

I took a few minutes to dig into the text coming out of COP(out)28 this morning.

While 70,000 delegates depart Dubai in their private jets congratulating themselves for a job well done, the rest of us are flabbergasted by the failure.

Yet again, the planet has been let down. Anyone paying attention didn’t have high hopes in the first place. COP has been co-opted by the oil industry and is now basically a fossil fuels conference. COP29 is being held in oil-rich Azerbaijan.

This morning, the COP28 final announcement (including recommendations) was released. It is weak and full of loopholes. It’s rhetorical fluff.

COP is dead. Governments and their corporate overlords have abandoned us.

After 28 years of chances, the announcement coming out of COP28 proves we’re on our own.

To demonstrate how weak the recommendations are, I picked apart the announcement. Below I’ve copied the relevant COP suggestions and added my comments underneath.

Further recognizes the need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5 °C pathways and calls on Parties to contribute to the following global efforts, in a nationally determined manner, taking into account the Paris Agreement and their different national circumstances, pathways and approaches:

OK. Sounds interesting. Let’s look at those suggested approaches are…

(a) Tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030;

A good start. Tripling renewables capacity and doubling growth within 6 years could significantly shift the energy mix, all things equal. Of course, the language doesn’t speak to the mix directly so this is implied.

However, it is possible that non-renewables capacity grows at the same rate resulting in no change to the mix. Moreover, even if the mix shifts to overweight renewables, non-renewable capacity if left unchanged would still spew the same amount of GHG emissions as today.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXVIII–The Predicament of Ecological Overshoot Cannot Be ‘Solved’, Especially Via ‘Renewables’

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXVIII

August 10, 2021

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

The Predicament of Ecological Overshoot Cannot Be ‘Solved’, Especially Via ‘Renewables’

Today’s very brief ‘contemplation’ is a comment I penned on an article that discusses the limits to growth we have probably surpassed, Kuber-Ross’s stages of grief (especially denial and bargaining) that the world seems to be experiencing in the wake of increasing awareness of our existential dilemmas/predicaments, and a call for cooperation amongst the world’s people to address our plight.

I have repeatedly experienced the denial and anger that tends to arise when one challenges another’s personal beliefs. I should know better than to present countervailing evidence/narratives, especially given the defensive psychological mechanisms that arise to preserve such beliefs. We tend to look for confirmation of our strongly-held views by surrounding ourselves with like-minded voices, not disruptive narratives that can lead to cognitive dissonance. Such stories are denigrated and attacked (as the author of the article points out for the Limits to Growth authors).

I do believe, however, that the acceptance of our limits in many aspects leads to a conclusion that degrowth needs to be not only considered and discussed, but widely pursued if humanity is to have any hope of at least some of us transitioning through the self-made bottleneck that is directly ahead of us. Pursing the ‘wrong’ path will only make our predicament far, far more challenging and greatly reduce any opportunities for at least some of humanity to survive.

As I have come to understand our predicaments better (not perfectly of course, but better), I have reached the conclusion that the best way to mitigate our situation (or at least preserve some semblance of human society) is to pursue degrowth strategies. What I have encountered along the way is a very well-meaning but somewhat problematic counterproposal (that is very narrowly focused in my view) that the best way to confront our situation is to throw everything we have at transitioning us from fossil fuels to ‘renewables’ (I put this in quotes since their dependence on non-renewable, finite resources — including fossil fuels — suggests they are not truly ‘renewable’).

This approach appears to be the mainstream one and the one that seems to be getting the most support at this time probably because it is comforting in the sense that ‘others’ are responsible for seeing its funding, development, distribution, etc. and it offers a means of maintaining our complexities without much disruption; at least that is the narrative/perception (but also likely because there is much profit to be made in the attempts to completely replace the fossil fuel-dependent technologies currently employed).

Increasingly, however, this storyline is showing many plot holes: energy-return-on-energy-invested close to zero or even negative; non-renewable, finite resource limits; environmental/ecological destruction to procure needed resources; dependency upon the fossil fuel platform for the procurement and processing of necessary materials as well as the distribution, maintenance, and afterlife disposal/reclamation processes. As I attempt to point these roadblocks out to the advocates of ‘renewables’ and suggest degrowth is a more realistic path given the biophysical limits of living on a finite planet, I am quite chagrined with the variety of personal attacks I am subjected to. From being a climate change ‘denier’ to a shill for the fossil fuel industry, the anger/denial that is displayed is quite something.

So, if we are hoping for cooperation and discussion to help us confront our existential dilemmas, there is much, much work that has to be done. What I am experiencing is not unique to those who have accepted our limitations and predicaments. The ‘clean/green’ energy crowd seems unwilling to accept that their ‘solution’ and convictions may in fact expedite, or at least contribute to, the further degradation of the planet and result in the exact opposite of what they believe. I fail to see how this can be resolved in a timely manner when so much of the propaganda we are exposed to by our world ‘leaders’ cheerlead it as a means to continue expanding our growth and ensuring prosperity for all.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXVII–Ecological Overshoot, Hydrocarbon Energy, and Biophysical Reality

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXVII

July 24, 2021

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

Ecological Overshoot, Hydrocarbon Energy, and Biophysical Reality

Discussing ‘renewable’ energy and its shortcomings with those who hold on to the belief that they offer us a ‘solution’ to the predicaments humanity faces is always ‘challenging’. Today’s contemplation is based on a recent dialogue I have had with a few people who seek to hold on to the belief that we can completely abandon fossil fuels and simply shift support for society’s complexities over to ‘renewables, and my response to someone who complimented my viewpoint (an unusual occurrence on the pages of the online media site (The Tyee) I frequent, whose writers/editors/commenters mostly support ‘renewables’ and the promises the proponents of them make). The story is not so straightforward and most don’t want to hear that. You can check out the conversation here.

Thank you. The root cause of our problem appears to be ecological overshoot brought on, primarily, by our exploitation of a one-time energy cache (fossil fuels) that has helped to ‘power’ amazing technological tools and processes that, in turn, have allowed us to exploit the planet and its resources substantially. This has led to a number of positive feedback loops, particularly exponential increases in population, waste (including greenhouse gases), and the speed at which we use these finite resources.

The crowd that insists ‘renewable’ energy (and it’s not truly ‘renewable’ given its dependency on finite resources, and certainly not ‘green/clean’ based on the processes necessary to produce them) can ‘sustain’ our energy-intensive complexities tend to be willfully ignorant of their negative consequences and deficiencies. In fact, my guess is that many have little experience with or knowledge of them (see Alice Friedemann’s work at Energy Skeptic and especially her most recent Springer Energy Series publication, Life After Fossil Fuels) and are grasping for solutions to our predicaments.

The cost, components, capacity, and energy-return-on-energy-invested for ‘renewables’ is nowhere near what most imagine; and I’m thinking most hold on to the belief that governments will ‘pay’ for the massive systems that would be needed to support our complex societies (and there simply aren’t enough finite resources on this planet to do this; to say little about the massive debts already existing within our Ponzi-like financial/economic/monetary systems that themselves are on the verge of collapse and the struggles many people have in just affording day-to-day living expenses). I personally have installed a photovoltaic system as an emergency backup system for our home. I have spent well in excess of $10,000 putting up about 2.2 KwH of panels, connecting charge controllers, deep cycle batteries, and inverters. I am under no delusion that such a system can sustain our household, particularly in our Canadian winters. The power is intermittent. The batteries drain relatively quickly. And charging can take days/weeks when its cloudy and cold, and/or snow builds up on them.

The religious-like adherence to the belief that ‘renewables’ are part-and-parcel of a ‘solution’ to the negative consequences of fossil fuels leads many to ‘attack’ anyone who questions their ‘faith’ (see Mike Stasse’s Damn the Matrix). I have been accused numerous times of being a shill for the fossil fuel industry and even threatened because of this allegation; one person recently wished me the worst possible end I can imagine and then multiply it by 1000 because I questioned the entire ‘renewable’ mantra and didn’t by into his ‘solution’ for addressing the climate crisis.

I usually attribute this to the first few stages — denial, anger, bargaining — of Kubler-Ross’s model of grief, which people who come to realise our predicaments tend to travel through. It is also a result of believing that what we face is a problem that can be solved when in actuality it appears to be a predicament that we are going to have to face and attempt to ‘weather’ (see Erik Michaels’ Problems, Predicaments, and Technology). In fact, I would argue attempts to replace fossil fuel inputs with alternatives is a very misguided and potentially catastrophic path to take. The fossil fuel platform is significantly required for almost all the processes necessary to shift to alternatives. From steel and concrete manufacturing to the heavy machinery necessary in mining and transportation, large fossil fuel inputs are required.

Then there’s the fossil fuel inputs into modern industrial agriculture: the pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, heavy machinery, irrigation, and transportation that sustain food production in sufficient quantities and keep the just-in-time, long distance, supply chains functioning — to say little about the finiteness of the chemicals required for fertilizers or the drawing down of water aquifers. Food shortages would be guaranteed to be massive should fossil fuel inputs suddenly disappear without local, regenerative permaculture being ready to replace it; something we are woefully blind to. ‘Electrifying’ everything does little to address many of the negative consequences of our overshoot.

There are so many negative consequences to our overshoot that we are ignoring — in our zeal to sustain our complexities via ‘renewables’ — that would continue or expand by chasing such ‘solutions’ as widespread adoption of electric vehicles and solar/wind energy. In our rush to justify all the modern ‘conveniences’/‘energy slaves’ we have (especially in so-called ‘advanced’ economies) we are taking the world even further into overshoot which will lead to an even more catastrophic ‘collapse’ when it finally occurs.

We can accept that ‘collapse’ is imminent (and pre/history shows this occurs for every complex society that we have experimented with for the past 10,000+ years — see archaeologist Joseph Tainters’ text The Collapse of Complex Societies) and attempt to prepare for it, or continue the wishful thinking path that ‘this time is different’ and chase actions that will make the situation even more dire. I would prefer the former but my guess is we will attempt the latter for two main reasons.

First, we have been propagandised by what should be called ‘snake oil salesmen’ and their marketers who have taken advantage of our energy crisis. They have created a massive marketing campaign to sell their products and done so on our emotions, particularly fear and the need to have some ‘certainty’ about the future (refer to Dan Gardner’s Future Babble). The marketers have set fossil fuels up as the ‘problem’ and offered a ‘solution’ that just happens to enrich them. As with all such marketing, the negative consequences of their products have been left out of the narrative.

Second, having bought into the sales pitch, most people have created a set of beliefs that serve to help justify their living arrangements and avoid the difficulties that very likely lay ahead. Core beliefs are difficult to challenge. Questioning them creates cognitive dissonance in the adherent which can only be dissipated by clinging more strongly to the belief (usually by ignoring or attacking those challenging them) or reflecting on the beliefs and shifting them towards a more neutral or different stance. Most people tend to protect their core belief systems, regardless of the evidence/facts/data that would suggest they are misguided/misinformed; thus the ire/anger by some when the idea of ‘renewables’ being able to replace fossil fuels is confronted.

For the most part, the future is unwritten. We can accept the challenges of a world without all the energy slaves we have created with our ingenuity and tool-making acumen, and prepare for life with less, far less. Or, we can continue down the ‘business-as-usual’ path and attempt to sustain the unsustainable (see Meadows et al.’s Limits to Growth and its various updates), and that will likely result in far more chaos and difficulty as the bottleneck we have created closes around us (see William Catton Jr.’s book, Overshoot).

I’m increasingly chagrined to see us continue to chase the infinite growth chalice with a belief that this will all work out just fine, thank you, as long as we abandon fossil fuels and shift to ‘renewables’ with a religious-like fervour that completely ignores some harsh, biophysical realities. I am reminded of author Robert Heinlein’s observation that we are rationalising creatures, not rational ones, and we are leading ourselves into a very, very precarious and dangerous place.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXV–More Greenwashing: ‘Sustainable’ Development

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXV

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

More Greenwashing: ‘Sustainable’ Development

This contemplation was prompted by an article regarding an ‘independent’ think tank’s report that presented the argument that government funding of the oil and gas industry needed to be shifted towards ‘green/clean’ alternatives. I’ve included a few hyperlinks to sites that expand upon the concepts/issues discussed.

Context, it’s always important. This ‘independent’ think tank, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, is part and parcel of the corporate/business ‘greenwashing’ of our world and ‘solutions’ to its various dilemmas. It’s primary mission is ‘sustainable’ development/growth, a gargantuan oxymoron on a finite planet. Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, the perpetuation of this continued pursuit of perpetual growth is seen quite clearly in the absence of any discussion about curtailing our growth but rather finding ways to ‘sustain’ it, and the misuse of language (that has become endemic in the environmental movement) and the simplified ‘solution’ offered by arguing that government funds need to be directed away from the climate change-causing oil and gas industry and towards the ‘clean’ energy alternatives of ‘renewables’.

Left out of this discussion to shift funds to what the think tank argues is more ‘sustainable’ (and one has to wonder how much funding is derived for the think tank’s activities from individuals and businesses seeking to profit from increased funding for widespread adoption of alternative energy) is the increasing evidence that ‘green’ alternatives to fossil fuels are neither ‘green’ (because of their ongoing dependence on fossil fuels and environmentally-destructive upstream industrial processes and downstream waste disposal issues) nor actually ‘renewable’ (because of their ongoing dependence upon finite resources, especially fossil fuels and rare-earth minerals). These are, of course, quite inconvenient facts regarding all energy sources: they are ecologically destructive and depend upon finite resources. The only source that is truly ‘renewable’ is biomass but it would be required in such massive quantities for our current world population and global complexities that it must be considered finite and environmentally problematic.

Nowhere is the non-mainstream idea of degrowth proposed. Instead, we are led to believe that business as usual (continued growth) is entirely feasible and infinitely sustainable by adjusting where our resources in terms of money and labour are directed: away from the oil and gas industry and towards energy alternatives. Devastating climate change will then be averted (as well as all the other negative consequences of exploiting and using fossil fuels) and life can continue uninterrupted as we all live happily ever after.

Until and unless we confront the very idea of continued growth and, in almost all cases, reverse this trend there is zero chance of us stopping, let alone mitigating, the various existential dilemmas we have created as a consequence of our expansion and its concomitant exploitation of finite resources. I believe it’s fair to argue we have significantly overshot the planet’s natural environmental carrying capacity, have blown past several important biophysical limits that exist on a finite planet, and have just the collapse that always accompanies such situations to experience in the future.

Many will continue to deny this predicament we find ourselves in. They will firmly believe in the comforting and cognitive dissonance-reducing narratives that individuals and groups, like the International Institute for Sustainable Development, are leveraging to direct resources to particular industries. This is quite normal for anyone beginning to grieve a significant loss which is what we are facing: the imminent demise of our globalised, industrial world and its many complexities and conveniences. We (particularly those in so-called ‘advanced’ economies that consume the vast majority of finite resources and rely upon the exploitative industries that leverage these resources to create the many conveniences to feed and house us) would rather believe in fantasies, myths, and fairy tales than recognise and confront the impending challenges of a life without most (all?) of our complex and energy-intensive tools.

Life without these conveniences is fast approaching it would appear. We have encountered diminishing returns on our investments in such complexities. We have soiled vast regions of our planet with the waste products of our expansion and exploitive endeavours. We have very likely reached a peak in global complexity and will begin our reversion to the norm of much more simplified ways.

Some of the negative consequences of our expansion and increasing complexity have been acknowledged. Instead of slowing our march towards the cliff ahead, however, the vast majority (all?) of our ‘ruling class’ (whose primary motivation, I would argue, is the control and expansion of the wealth-generating systems that provide their revenue streams), as they so often (always?) do is leverage the increasingly obvious crises to enrich themselves. They use narrative control mechanisms (particularly their influence over the mainstream media and governments) to craft stories extolling solutions and salvation that not only preserve their revenue streams but expand them in a kind of final blow off top of resource extraction and use; ignoring, of course, the environmental fallout of this.

The more obvious ‘solution’ of reversing the growth imperative is avoided at all costs. Marketing ‘sustainable’ growth via ‘green/clean’ energy alternatives is preferred. Humanity cannot only have its cake and eat it, but it can do so in a vastly improved world of technological wizardry and infinite improvements. Ignore that pesky fact about living on a finite planet over there, it’s a distraction from our ingenuity and creativity. Do not raise skepticism about our ability to overcome challenges. Life is much more happily viewed from inside the Matrix.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XV–Finite Energy, ‘Renewables’, and the Ruling Elite

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XV

May 21, 2021

Rome, Italy (1984) Photo by author

Finite Energy, ‘Renewables’, and the Ruling Elite

Energy. It’s at the core of everything we do. Everything. Yet we take it for granted and rarely think about it and what the finiteness of our various energy sources means for us.

As Gail Tverberg of Our Finite World concludes in a recent thought-provoking article that should be read widely: “Needless to say, the powers that be do not want the general population to hear about issues of these kinds. We find ourselves with narrower and narrower news reports that provide only the version of the truth that politicians and news media want us to read.”

Instead of having a complex and very necessary discussion about the unsustainable path we are on (especially as it pertains to chasing the perpetual growth chalice) and attempting to mitigate the consequences of our choices, we are told all is well, that ‘science’, ‘human ingenuity’, and ‘technology’ will save the day, and we can maintain business-as-usual with just some minor ‘tweaks’ and/or a ‘green/clean’ energy transition. Pre/history, physics, and biology would suggest otherwise.

Here is my relatively long comment on a Tyee article discussing the International Energy Agency’s recent report that calls on all future fossil fuel projects to be abandoned and drastic reductions in demand in order to avoid irreparable climate change damage to our planet. The answer, however, will not be found in ‘renewable’ energy and related technologies as many contend because the underlying and fundamental issue of overshoot has been conveniently left out of the story.

Having followed the ‘energy’ dilemma for more than a decade I’ve come to better understand the complexities, nuances, and scheming that it entails; not all mind you, not by a long shot, but certainly better than the mainstream narratives provide. I have no incentive to cling to a particular storyline, none. I have discovered the following information through continued reading and questioning. My perspective on almost everything has shifted dramatically as a result — one cannot unlearn certain things once they’ve been exposed to them.

One has to ask oneself a few questions and keep in mind a number of facts when putting the puzzle together as to what exactly is going on; and energy applies to many, many issues in our world far, far beyond climate change because it is the fundamental basis of life and all this entails. I won’t/can’t post everything since it would involve a massive text, but here are a few pertinent issues to consider in the energy story and our fossil-fuel future.

First, fossil fuels are indeed a finite resource so their coming decline in use was inevitable. This is not only because they are finite but because of falling energy-return-on-energy-invested (EROEI). Given our tendency to exploit the low-hanging fruit first (use up the easy-to-access and cheapest-to-retrieve), the law of declining marginal utility (also known as diminishing returns) was destined to occur and our use of them diminish significantly. We now have to rely upon oil sands, tight oil, and deep-sea drilling to sustain or just barely improve extraction rates. This is not only not economical because of the complexities involved, but uses up increasing amounts of the energy extracted (to say little of the environmental impacts).

The energy industry and governments have known about this predicament for decades. It is not a surprise at all (several ‘research’ reports by government agencies/bureaucrats over the years are available that discuss the issue; to say little about the ‘academic’ discussions). Geophysicist Marion King Hubbert projected this situation while working for the Shell Oil Company in the mid-1900s and developed the Peak Oil Theory, which has more-or-less been quite accurate in its predictions, especially for conventional crude oil production. Given that the largest and most profitable conventional crude oil reserves have all been found and exploited, and the increasing costs and diminishing returns of alternative methods of extracting oil and gas, it’s really not surprising that the industry has greatly reduced capital expenditures in exploration and instead ventured into alternatives; there is little additional profit to be made in oil and gas — better to move to other energy sources and market them as a panacea that will not only address climate change but support our energy-intensive living standards. This dilemma is also outlined in the 1972 text Limits to Growth that used emerging computer simulations to explore various scenarios given the fact that we live on a planet with finite resources. Of the various models generated, we seem to be tracking most closely the Business-As-Usual one that projected problems arising for humanity as we entered this century (and peaking around 2050); problems/dilemmas due to a variety things, not least among them the consequences of population overshoot.

Second, transitioning to alternative sources of energy is not a simple nor straightforward shift; not even close. We have created a complex, interlinked world almost entirely dependent upon fossil fuels. This one-time, finite cache of energy reserves has underpinned virtually our entire ‘modern’ way of living. From the ability to create a complex energy-averaging system via globalised, long-distance trade routes to industrial agriculture that feeds our billions (some quite well, others not so much), oil and gas makes it possible. There are no alternatives that can replace fossil fuels for a number of reasons but mostly because many of our necessary industrial and extraction processes must use fossil fuels since alternatives are inadequate — and alternatives all rely upon these processes for their production, distribution, and maintenance. Rather than acknowledge this dilemma, we have crafted a narrative that such a transition is not only possible but will more or less be forced upon humanity for its own good (more on why I believe this is so below).

Much of our geopolitical and economic chaos over the past number of decades can be tied directly to our energy issues as well. Maneuvering by various nation states, in the Middle East especially, has a link to the massive fossil fuel reserves that have been discovered around the planet. Alliances with questionable governments and proxy wars with competing nations has been the storyline for some years now as access to and control of oil and gas reserves (among other important resources) has been paramount. The untethering of our currency to physical commodities (i.e., gold and silver) in the late 1960s and early 1970s (especially the abrogation of the Bretton Woods Agreement by the United States), and subsequent ever-increasing debasement of it, can be said to be one of the consequences of diminishing returns on our most important energy sources and attempts to counteract the energy decline — especially in the US where oil and gas production peaked about this time. Geopolitics is mostly if not always about control of resources, not about freeing a nation’s citizens from its tyrannical government and bringing ‘democracy’ to them — we chose which ‘tyrants’ we support and which we vilify (even within our own ‘democracies’).

Finally (although I could ramble on forever), the ruling class/oligarchs/elite (whatever you wish to term the power brokers and wealthy in society) have one primary motivation that drives them: the control/expansion of the wealth-generating systems that provide their revenue streams — this has been the story of the ruling classes throughout pre/history. All other concerns either serve this first one or are secondary/tertiary. Energy is one of the most profitable of the various wealth-generating systems (control of the creation and distribution of fiat currency perhaps the most; along with taxing powers). What better way to ensure continued wealth generation than convincing everyone that a shift to alternative energy sources is necessary to save ourselves and planet, even if such a shift is impossible and untenable.

We cannot mitigate, let alone solve, the issues at hand for humanity and the planet if we do not correctly identify the cause(s). Clinging to a narrative that is primarily marketing propaganda might help to reduce the cognitive dissonance created by holding two or more beliefs that conflict with each other, but it does zero in addressing our needs. Holding on to the hope that we can continue to live as we have because ‘someone’ will solve these conundrums is in my opinion misplaced faith.

Our major dilemma is overshoot, defined simply as the point where a species has placed more demand on its environment/ecology than that system can naturally regenerate and sustain the population. The one-time cache of fossil fuels has allowed our species to proliferate (and helped to provide amazing wonders) well beyond the natural carrying capacity of our planet. And now that it is in terminal decline nature is sure to bring our species’ population back into alignment. Those at the top of society’s power structures are well aware of these issues for they have driven most of their actions and policies for decades. It is far better for them, however, if the masses are focused elsewhere and their use of propaganda to do this has a long history as well. We are being sold a comforting narrative about ‘clean/green’ energy while the underlying reality of what is occurring is being purposely ignored or dismissed, often as conjecture or conspiracy. The idea that we need to reduce our fossil fuel use to save the planet is convenient cover for the truth that fossil fuels are becoming too expensive to retrieve because the cheap-to-access and easy-to-retrieve reserves are quickly running out.

I’m increasingly doubtful we are going to face the ultimately very difficult decisions that need to be made (in fact, needed to be made decades ago) and we will continue to stumble along hoping and praying that all will work out just fine, thank you. Only time will tell how this all plays out for none of us can accurately predict the future but the path of decline/collapse seems fairly certain. Every complex society that has existed up to this point in history has experienced it and we are not significantly different when push comes to shove. If archaeologist Joseph Tainter’s thesis in his monograph The Collapse of Complex Societies is accurate, complex societies ‘collapse’ due to the inability to deal with stress surges because they have been experiencing diminishing returns on their investments in complexity; and this is exactly the situation with humanity’s investments in fossil fuels.

This is what I have been able to cobble together in the couple of hours of a few household chores and while enjoying my morning coffee. Now I will prepare to spend my usual day out and about our yard enhancing our fruit/vegetable gardens, and attempting to make our household a tad more resilient in light of the decline that is most assuredly upon us. You may or may not agree with my interpretation of things but I would implore you to explore the issues and certainly step outside of your comfort zone and consider a different paradigm because the ones pushed by the ruling class are not in your best interest.

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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