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The End of Oil is Near, or Maybe Not

The cover of the September/October 2020 issue of Sierra magazine states “The End of Oil is Near”.  The corresponding story “The End of Oil?” was paralleled with a recent segment on Democracy Now.  I think that is wishful thinking.  To the extent that oil demand goes down in the future, it will go down because people can’t afford oil distillates at the price producers need to produce the corresponding oil.

The “The End of Oil?” article describes weak oil demand in recent years although it should be stated that global oil consumption increased over 5 million barrels/day from 2015 to 2019.  A major factor for weak oil demand growth in recent years is the increasing level of inequality in the U.S. and world.  There is an increasing population that can’t afford to buy oil distillates, or the devices that use them.  Oil distillates offer the ability to avoid manual physical effort which people tend to select when they can afford to.

“The End of Oil?” article emphasized the increase in global oil production in recent years.  Most of that production increase was associated with unconventional oil resources such as shale oil in the U.S. and oil sands in Canada.  The problem with those unconventional oil resources is that they are considerably more expensive to produce compared to conventional oil.  Conventional oil production is declining over much of the globe which has forced oil companies to move to unconventional resources.

The author describes oil majors, like ExxonMobil and Chevron, as getting into the shale oil business in recent years.  That is not a wise business decision but due to the lack of new conventional resources to exploit.

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

 

A letter to real power: a letter to us

When I heard that Culture Declares Emergency was organizing a series of ‘Letters to Power’, I thought to myself: “Rupert, you should probably write one”. You see, I have spent much of my life attempting to talk to, persuade, even beg those with power – our elected leaders, heads of banks and businesses, big organisations or media companies, for example. I have written many, many letters to power before.

Though to be frank, it’s been largely pointless; while some appear to listen, most fail to hear and even more refuse to act.

Trying once again felt a bit like bashing my head against a brick wall. I felt my enthusiasm for the project draining away.

But then I stopped for a minute and really thought about power. Especially in the context of these last three tumultuous years.

I started to re-assess my assumption about who this letter would be directed to. When I looked up the dictionary definition – “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events” – and I recalled the way the world has changed since 2018, it became clearer where the power really is.

With us, the people.

We were the ones who, earlier this year, initiated precautionary action when, at least in the UK, our government was clearly going down a different, deadly, route of (non-) response to the Covid crisis.

We were the ones who supported our family, friends and neighbours with countless good deeds during lockdown, and who stood in public solidarity with the NHS and key workers.

We were the ones who questioned, and continue to question, the motives of our rudderless governments in their stance on coronavirus.

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

Could Cover Crops Help Fight Global Food Insecurity?

Could Cover Crops Help Fight Global Food Insecurity?

Cover crops are grown to benefit the soil, not for harvest. Examples of cover crops can include peas, winter rye, sorghum and barley. The use of cover crops allows farmers to protect their soil before and after they harvest annual crops so that the ground is always covered. Cover crops are a sustainable technique, as they build healthy soil and conserve water, but could they help fight food insecurity?

According to experts, 26.4 percent of the world’s population faces moderate to severe levels of food insecurity, a percentage that amounts to 2 billion people. Global food insecurity is largely concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the rates are determined by factors such as income inequality, food prices and food distribution. Many food-insecure places are affected by droughts and dry seasons. The utilization of cover crops in food-insecure areas may help mitigate the effects of climate change, such as drought and extended dry seasons.

Environmental Protection

Building up organic matter in the soil is an integral part of protecting waterways since nitrogen and phosphorus runoff is the main contributor to water pollution and algal blooms. Utilizing cover crops can provide agricultural communities with long-term protection, building up healthy soil that is more resilient in the future. Additionally, certain types of cover crops do not require tillage, helping keep carbon in the ground. In some climates, farmers may also harvest cover crops without removing the roots, diversifying their operation while also protecting the ecosystem.

Current environmental disasters in food-insecure countries, such as the desert locust in West Africa and parts of India, are a result of climate change. Extractive farming methods, like tilling, only exacerbate the effects of climate change. Many farming methods rely on fossil fuels and technology to operate, a luxury that many communities do not have, and one that is not a sustainable solution. Cover cropping offers significant environmental protection, without reliance on external inputs.

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

Twenty Questions that Will Make you Rethink Trade

Twenty Questions that Will Make you Rethink Trade

We live in the age of trade. Trade, supported by an infrastructure of criss-crossing cargo ships, mega-ports, and an endless armada of trains and trucks plying the railways and highways, has become the foundation of the modern global economy. (And let’s not even talk about the virtual infrastructure of banking and finance that undergirds all this real-world activity.) In fact, we’ve taken trade so far that the actual transactions are routinely irrational from an ecological or an energetic perspective, let alone a common-sense perspective. For example, consider the 10,000-mile cod. Scottish fishermen catch cod in the North Atlantic. Now, the fish could be consumed fresh in Scotland, but no… First, the poor piscine provisions are deep-frozen into codsicles, which are then shipped to China, thawed, filleted, packaged, re-frozen, and shipped back to Scotland for eventual consumption. The energy balance for codsicle processing is indefensible, as the calories spent to run the fish through this globalized Rube Goldberg machine immeasurably outstrip the calories gained from eating them.

OK, let’s pull back from the criticism for a moment. Trade isn’t all bad. Any college economics student can regurgitate a neoliberal rehashing of David Ricardo’s early-19th-century treatise of comparative advantage—trade can create benefits for a person or nation willing to engage in it. Researchers even hypothesize that trade was an advancement unique to Homo sapiens that allowed us to outcompete the Neanderthals. The thinking is that, through trade, we developed both specialization of labor and new technologies, while Neanderthals (who apparently were reluctant to trade) failed to develop either. But something’s gone awry with the idea of exchanging goods and services.

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

Doom or denial: Is there another path?

Doom or denial: Is there another path?

I was recently asked to comment on a dustup between some members of Extinction Rebellion (see Thomas Nicholas, Galen Hall, and Colleen Schmidt, “The Faulty Science, Doomism, and Flawed Conclusions of Deep Adaptation”) and Jem Bendell, founder of Deep Adaptation (see his “Letter to Deep Adaptation Advocate Volunteers about Misrepresentations of the Agenda and Movement”). Since the issues raised in this controversy seem relevant to readers of Resilience.org, I thought it might be worthwhile to accept the invitation and weigh in.

For those not familiar, Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation (DA) takes as its starting point the judgment that, because of unfolding human-induced climate impacts, the near-term utter collapse of society is nearly inevitable. Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an activist movement that uses civil disobedience to compel government action to avoid climate tipping points that would lock in trends leading ultimately to ecological and social collapse. In simplistic terms, you could say that Deep Adaptation is about accepting and coping with the reality of climate-driven collapse while Extinction Rebellion is about acting to prevent it.

The nub of the controversy is this: some folks involved in Extinction Rebellion think that Bendell is being too fatalistic, thereby discouraging his followers from taking actions that might still save civilization and global ecosystems. Bendell, in his response, accuses his critics of ignoring evidence and misrepresenting his views.

I don’t propose to plunge into the weeds, adjudicating each point raised in each essay. Instead, I prefer to step back and offer my own interpretation of the evidence, and then discuss the subtext of the dispute.

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

Should No-Till Farming Be Adopted by All to Help the Earth?

Should No-Till Farming Be Adopted by All to Help the Earth?

Farmers around the world are looking for innovative methods to save water, reduce costs and produce higher yields. No-till farming is a popular practice to improve soil quality and reduce soil erosion. Instead of using a plow to disturb soil before planning, it employs a drill or alternative equipment to grow crops without breaking the ground.

Is no-till growing as great as it’s made out to be? Should it be adopted by all to help the Earth? The answer is yes and no. What it really comes down to is the type of no-till farming, and whether it is being used in collaboration with other environmental conservation practices.

In the United States, most no-till cultivation is conventional and uses a drill to plant monocultures like corn and soybeans. This method actually requires more herbicides than regular tillage.

However, there is another type of no-till farming that depends more on supporting the natural ecosystem and minimizing disruption to the soil. Regenerative agriculture is all about returning carbon to the ground instead of farming it out.

Excessive tilling harms soil and causes all sorts of issues, including waterway pollution, nutrient loss and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. If more farmers instituted no-till growing in conjunction with other erosion control methods, the environmental impact of agriculture would be much less.

What Is Tillage?

In conventional agriculture, farmers use a plow to break up soil 8-12 inches down to prepare the land for planting. If you compare this practice to how you ready raised beds for a garden, you might think breaking up the soil would make it easier to plant crops, including vegetables and grains. However, this releases large amounts of carbon, disrupts vital microorganisms in the ground and causes soil erosion.

How No-Till Works

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

The Cultural Preparation for Crisis

The Cultural Preparation for Crisis

Coronavirus is a foretaste of the future challenges to come. We have been offered a wake-up call with supermarkets having empty shelves and being forced to change the routine. We will need more resourcefulness, capacity for divergent thinking, and self-initiative in future events related to climate change and economic slowdown.

As it is too late to sign insurance once you had an accident, similarly, culture is something that we need to hone well in advance before we realize that we need it urgently.

What is culture? It is this invisible force in our heads. We do not see it but we see the results of it. And people from outside see it more clearly then the ones inhabited by it. The culture makes us interpret events in certain way and choose certain solutions. It makes us prioritize some activities over others. It influences our ideas about what to pursue to be happy even though it may lure us into wrong directions. It decides how we shape human relations. It makes us more prone to have certain ideas rather than others. For example, the focus on progress and technology rather than preventive health is part of the current culture.

We are shaped by the economic system we are part of. It generates and reinforces a culture that is adapted to its functioning.

In the times of new challenges, we need to develop a new culture to be able to survive. This is what Rebecca Solnit has observed about catastrophes such as a hurricane. Their way of being adapts spontaneously to the situation. We have it in our instincts.

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

Avalanche

Avalanche

How bad could it get? For the United States, it seems there is no bottom.

Back in March, I wrote that the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic would likely shape its economic, political, and geopolitical fortunes for years or decades to come. Four months later, it’s time for a check-in. How’s that pandemic response going?

Not so well, it seems. The US has the world’s highest number of cases and deaths overall. And of the world’s 25 worst hotspots for transmission, in terms of new cases per day per million of population, 15 are US states.

Early success at “flattening the curve” of the graph of new cases reported daily was followed by a re-opening of the economy that was premature (i.e., before sufficient capacity for testing and contact tracing had been put in place), resulting in a surge of new cases.

Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/

The only good news the Trump administration can point to is a fairly stable and low death rate as compared to the number of new cases. This “low” death rate (hundreds are still dying each day) is attributable to improving treatment methods for patients who have been infected, a lower average age of those infected, and an understandable lag between the infection trend and the deaths trend. If the last of these factors is significant, then the number of daily deaths will start climbing soon—as the last few days’ numbers already seem to indicate.

In addition, the United States is one of the countries hardest hit economically by the pandemic. Its latest unemployment rate stands at 11.1 percent (which doesn’t include discouraged workers), as compared to Germany’s 5.5 percent, Japan’s 2.6 percent, and the UK’s 4 percent.

As bad as they are, these statistics don’t fully capture the situation. If the US federal government had a long-range plan for weathering the pandemic, perhaps the death and suffering would be justifiable. But evidently there is no realistic plan.

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

How Waste Due to the Coronavirus Is Hurting Our Oceans

How Waste Due to the Coronavirus Is Hurting Our Oceans

In an attempt to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus, millions of people are donning plastic masks, gloves and other types of personal protective equipment. From restaurant staff to medical personnel, workers and the general public are using and discarding thousands of single-use plastic PPE every day. Often, these items end up in parks and parking lots and on front lawns and sidewalks. They’re also making their way into our oceans.

Whether the wind blows them into waterways or beachgoers carelessly toss them in the sand, masks, gloves, empty hand sanitizer bottles and other plastics are beginning to appear on the water’s surface, beaches and along the ocean floor. Conservationists have even found hundreds of masks on the uninhabited Soko Islands off the coast of Hong Kong. This new addition to the waste already littering our seas spells even more trouble for marine life and the health of ocean ecosystems.

Waste Management Dilemmas

On top of public carelessness, the vulnerable state of many waste-management systems is also adding to the dilemma. In the informal economy, waste pickers collect millions of tonnes of plastic waste each year. However, since many don’t have job security or health benefits, they’re beginning to succumb to the virus or refraining from work altogether. Subsequently, more plastic PPE is remaining in garbage dumps, increasing the likelihood of them blowing away and ending up in waterways or oceans.

Cynical Opportunism

Of course, the plastic industry isn’t helping the matter, either. Instead of encouraging people to protect themselves with washable masks and other reusable PPE, the industry has insisted that these are unsanitary. Although this statement has no medical evidence to support it, you might have listened to them out of fear for your own safety, opting to buy disposable PPE over making your own.

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

New Zealand Deprioritizes Growth, Improves Health and Wellbeing

New Zealand Deprioritizes Growth, Improves Health and Wellbeing

Last May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern released a budget to improve the “wellbeing” of its citizens rather than focusing on productivity and GDP growth. And not so coincidentally, New Zealand has one of the best coronavirus outcomes of any democracy in the world. Perhaps this provides a model for the world to make economic health cohere with health for all life.

To improve wellbeing, Ardern emphasized goals that focus on care for people and planet. Goals included community and cultural connection as well as intergenerational equity. Under the policy, new spending had to focus on one of five priorities: improving mental health, reducing child poverty, addressing inequalities of Indigenous peoples, thriving in a digital age, and transitioning to a low-emission economy.

While New Zealand isn’t the only country to float the idea of wellbeing over income, it is the first country to make it a reality. Guided by this philosophy, New Zealand is not in a rush to open its economy even as headlines swirl decrying a “stock market crash,” or a “recession worse than 2008-09.” Is Ardern’s example wise? Can we build upon it to further improve life after COVID?

Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has deprioritized “growth” as an economic goal in favour of improving wellbeing. Her compatriots seem to like it: her personal approval rating is 65%. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Health and the economy

In the postwar capitalist framework, economic “health” became equated to income growth, price stability and full employment. There are increasingly serious pitfalls to thinking of “health” as a capitalist metaphor rather than a desirable end goal. Using GDP and stock market values as measures of overall economic health made sense in the postwar era, when growth was necessary to improve human wellbeing by raising material living standards.

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

Review of Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System

Review of Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System

Facing the Anthropocene

Introduction

This review is a critique of Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System by Ian Angus. The review adopted a multi-theoretical framework that combines insights from socio-cognitive terminology theory (STT), legitimation code theory (LCT) and critical discourse analysis (CDA) to respond to some claims and a proposal discussed in the book. The review further appraises two essays in the appendix of the book that clarify some misconceptions and confusions on anthropocene discourse, particularly on whether the choice of the term anthropocene is appropriate. The review concludes with an analysis of the terms (climate change) and (global warming) with a view to show that: (a) the terminology of climate change discourse is also prone to variation and (b) the use of the terms (climate change) and (global warming) interchangeably in the book is indexical of growth in disciplinarity.

Background                                                                                             

Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System describes a new geological epoch (the anthropocene) and its impacts on the earth system. The book further identifies the possible cause of the present crisis of the earth system (fossil capitalism) and discusses the effects of fossil capitalism on the earth system (environmental degradation, climate change). The book concludes with a proposal on what needs to be done (eco-civilization and solidarity) to address the environmental crisis caused by exploration of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) for economic gains. The book is a critique of fossil fuel economy that is underpinned with Marxist Ecological Thinking and backed with epistemic inputs from cutting edge research in the sciences (Chemistry, Geology, Atmospheric Science, Geophysics, Hydrology, Marine, Meteorology and Cosmology) and the social sciences (Neo-classical Economics, Geography).

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

False Solutions to Climate Change: Real Solutions

False Solutions to Climate Change: Real Solutions

Editorial Note: This is Part 6 of Mary Wildfire’s series on false solutions to climate change. You can read Part 1 on Electricity here, Part 2 on Transportation here, Part 3 on Agriculture here, Part 4 on Buildings here. and Part 5 on Geoengineering here.

It’s become increasingly clear that climate change is not only real but beginning to bite. Now that much of the population is finally feeling the urgency—and during a time when COVID19  has much of our frenetic commerce on hold, giving us a space for thinking and discussion–what can we do to protect the only planet we’ve got? Unfortunately a good many of the solutions on offer seem designed to quiet the increasing concern, the impetus to do something, without challenging the status quo.

Can we get real solutions and still maintain economic growth, population growth, and the growth of inequality? Are we entitled to an ever-rising standard of living? I believe the answer is no; we need some profound transformations if we are to leave our grandchildren a planet that resembles the one we grew up on, rather than a dystopian Hell world.  This is the basic theme of the controversial Michael Moore produced film Planet of the Humans. I see that film as seriously flawed, but agree with its basic message—that it’s time for humanity to grow up and accept limits, get over what I call human exceptionalism, or androtheism—the notion that man is God.

A veritable cornucopia of false solutions is being pushed these days, not only by corporations and think tanks but by the UN’s IPCC, the international body responsible for research and action on climate.  We could have made a gentle transition if we had begun when we first became aware of this problem decades ago, but for various reasons we did not.

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

False Solutions to Climate Change: Buildings

False Solutions to Climate Change: Buildings

Editorial Note: This is Part 4 of Mary Wildfire’s series on false solutions to climate change. You can read Part 1 on Electricity here, Part 2 on Transportation here, and Part 3 on Agriculture here.

Part 4: Buildings

Estimations for the percentage of greenhouse gases emitted by the buildings sector vary wildly. But any assessment should include both the embodied energy involved in constructing new buildings and the energy costs of heating, cooling and lighting buildings. Currently, many homes and other buildings require a great deal of electricity for lighting even in daytime, and fossil fuel is often burned for heat and cooling.

There are better ways. Designing a building so that natural daylight takes care of the lighting (in the daytime) simply makes sense. Nowadays there are also solar lighting tubes to convey sunlight into a home without the need for electricity. As for heating, proper design can allow the sun to provide a fair amount of the heat on sunny winter days. Facing the long side of the house toward the south or southeast and putting most of the windows there can enhance winter heating without adding heat in summer; arranging tall trees, or a hill or buildings to the west provides afternoon shade all summer. If the shade comes from deciduous trees or vines, it will open up to the sun in winter.

Passivhauses have become common in Germany, and there are a few even in this country. This is a building so efficient that it doesn’t require central heating—and thus it costs little more to construct than a conventional house, despite the fact that it involves essentially a second set of walls and roof.

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

Planet of the Humans: Reviewing the Film and its Reviews

Planet of the Humans: Reviewing the Film and its Reviews

If you haven’t seen the latest (and arguably the most contentious) documentary on renewable energy, be prepared for an aftertaste of mixed feelings.

Joining hands with the controversial Michael Moore, environmentalist and filmmaker Jeff Gibbs has sent an eerie message that is now somewhat dividing the climate movement—in many ways for the worse, but, in a few others, for the better.

So, at least, one could argue is the case of Planet of the Humans. After engaging briefly with some of the well-deserved criticisms the film has received thus far, there are nevertheless some important aspects brought to our attention by the movie.

Specifically, at one point in the documentary, Gibbs touches upon the religious and existential dimensions underlying our ecological hot waters—aspects that, for what it seems, many of his critics have left unaddressed. Hence the focus towards the end of this review will fall on the cosmic role of religion (or cosmology, if we will) in helping us engage with “the great scheme of things”, to use the phrase of one of the scholars interviewed in the documentary.

But first a sketch of the film and its criticism.

What is the Central Claim of Planet of the Humans?

Drawing implicitly on the legacy of renowned environmentalist Rachel Carson, in essence, Planet of the Humans calls into question the solutions proposed by so-called renewable technologies. Such solutions, Gibbs argues, are to a degree or another an extension-in-disguise of the same problems created by our technological society. For one, solar panels and wind towers still burn fuels to be produced; for another, they rely on copious amounts of minerals and rare earth metals. More worryingly, what Gibbs calls “the narrow solution of green technology” keeps feeding the pockets of a smaller few at the expense of the greater rest, leaving underlying societal problems unattended.

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

False Solutions to Climate Change: Agriculture

False Solutions to Climate Change: Agriculture

Editorial Note: This is Part 3 of Mary Wildfire’s series on false solutions to climate change. You can read Part 1 on Electricity here and Part 2 on Transportation here.

It’s become increasingly clear that climate change is not only real but beginning to bite. Now that much of the population is finally feeling the urgency—and during a time when COVID19  has much of our frenetic commerce on hold, giving us a space for thinking and discussion–what can we do to protect the only planet we’ve got? Unfortunately a good many of the solutions on offer seem designed to quiet the increasing concern, the impetus to do something, without challenging the status quo.

Can we get real solutions and still maintain economic growth, population growth, and the growth of inequality? Are we entitled to an ever-rising standard of living? I believe the answer is no; we need some profound transformations if we are to leave our grandchildren a planet that resembles the one we grew up on, rather than a dystopian Hell world.  This is the basic theme of the controversial Michael Moore produced film Planet of the Humans. I see that film as seriously flawed, but agree with its basic message—that it’s time for humanity to grow up and accept limits, get over what I call human exceptionalism, or androtheism—the notion that man is God.

A veritable cornucopia of false solutions is being pushed these days, not only by corporations and think tanks but by the UN’s IPCC, the international body responsible for research and action on climate.  We could have made a gentle transition if we had begun when we first became aware of this problem decades ago, but for various reasons we did not.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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