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The gritty reality of solar power

 Time is fast running out. The world’s affluent nations, with their abundant greenhouse emissions, have to finally drag themselves across the starting line and begin phasing out fossil fuels at the accelerated pace that the climate emergency demands. And if they can manage to do that, they clearly will need to quickly build up wind and solar electric capacity to partially compensate for the shrinkage of oil, gas, and coal supplies while addressing the prospect of energy shortages by securing production of essential goods and services for everyone.

Unfortunately, mainstream climate visions have strayed far from confronting the existential necessity to banish fossil fuels. They simply assume that the buildup of renewable energy will automatically chase fossil fuels out of our lives and fully replace them, watt for watt and Btu for Btu. These visions hold out the promise of a world in which a pristine, Sun-powered economy fulfills any and all of our material desires far into the future—a delicious, guilt-free cornucopia. But the green-growth promise is a mirage, and the realities of a high-production, wind- and solar-powered world will be much less tasty.

Any industrial installation, including solar and wind farms, profoundly disrupts the landscape on which it sits. If it were possible to fully satisfy the bloated energy appetites of affluent nation by covering hundreds of millions or billions of acres of the Earth’s surface with power-harvesting hardware, the result would be irreparable ecological damage.

Meanwhile, the manufacturing booms to supply such a sprawling proliferation of solar arrays, wind power plants, battery-backed electric grids, electric-vehicle fleets, and other hardware would require outrageously large inputs of metals such as lithium, cobalt, silver, copper, aluminum, nickel, iron, and a host of exotic rare earth elements..

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

Standing Rock is Everywhere: The Indigenous Heart of the Climate Change Fight

This is a story of victory for the earth and of the end of the Keystone XL pipeline. It also involves the Dakota Access pipeline and the Standing Rock Lakota reservation, indeed the entire world, all of which is threatened by our desperate last burst of fossil fuel exploitation. It is a story of what the dogged persistence and creativity of indigenous people and their allies can do against the kind of power we’ve been told is impossible to resist. But it’s a story without a guaranteed ending. The ending depends on us.

In 2004, small indigenous nations living near the Alberta Tar Sands project, the largest unconventional oil extraction effort in the world, began reaching out for help. Not only was the project interfering with their water, fishing, and hunting infrastructure, but rare and unusual cancers were appearing. They contacted policy experts at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, D.C., who met with them in 2005 and saw photographic documentation of the devastation. These experts began to gather data and to raise awareness in the United States, on whose special refineries the project relied. Experts focused on the unique risks posed by tar sands at every stage of production, including extraction, transportation, and refinement. It wasn’t enough, but without the testimony and photographs supplied by indigenous people, experts would not have noticed for some time.

In 2008, approximately two dozen people from indigenous nations and environmental activist groups met to develop an overall strategy. The groups decided that the most promising activist target was the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline, proposed by the giant TransCanada (now TC Energy) corporation to move the tar sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. Stopping the pipeline would rob the Tar Sands project of financial justification…

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

This ship is sinking

Is there time to rearrange the deck chairs as in the Paris Agreement, or should we just start passing out lifejackets? Many people still hope we’ll make a manageable transition to a low-impact economy. I’ve pretty much lost hope for that outcome, primarily because two factors now must be included in a realistic forecast—currently discernible collective human will, and already-appearing climate impacts.

  1. Currently discernible collective human will

Oil companies have known of the link between their products and climate change since 1965. The news media was told about it when James Hansen testified before Congress in 1988. By 2000 environmentalists were beginning to educate the public and elected officials, testing terminology to find words that would capture attention and motivate action. “Should we say ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change?‘ ‘Greenhouse gases’ or ‘climate pollution?’” For at least two decades there has been steady and often brilliant effort by scientists, climate activists, and energy experts to show both the perils we face and the possible solutions.

We know the results. Major emitters have clung to fossil fuels and used their clout to obfuscate the issue rather than change direction. Emissions are rebounding post-pandemic, and 2023 is predicted to see the highest levels of CO2 emissions in human history. At this point it is probably a fact that the desire not to exceed 1.5oC is just a wish and not a fully inhabited intention for most of those who have the power to make it happen.

I’ve been surprised by the inertia, but I shouldn’t have been. The climate crisis may be seen as the logical result of cumulative actions that go back thousands of years. The agricultural revolution seems to have encouraged top-down social and economic systems, and perhaps the subjugation of nature and of humans lower in the hierarchy encouraged the development in the human population of what I will call insensitivity…

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

The Climate Crisis: Interview with Social Psychologist Kelly Fielding

Kelly Fielding is a social and environmental psychologist and Professor in the School of Communication and Arts at The University of Queensland, Australia. Her research has included a focus on trying to understand climate change beliefs and identifying ways to address climate change skepticism and inaction. The interview took place 7 July, 2021.

AA: What are your thoughts and feelings about the climate crisis?

KF: I feel a lot of despair. Part of me thinks I’m not supposed to feel that, because I have PhD students working in this area, for example I’ve got a PhD student working on eco-anxiety. Probably like most people who work in this space and really care about this issue, I experience a range of feelings. Those range from, yes we will make it happen to wanting to throw up my hands in the air. A lot of the research on emotions and climate change has focused on the role of hope and the role of fear, and anger and despair and frustration. I feel all of these things in relation to climate change. You know, one of my PhD students did a meta-analysis of all the recent media articles on eco-anxiety. It was interesting that the media articles mainly focus on children and young people. I think that’s because, as an adult, you’re probably better at compartmentalizing. You say to yourself, there is a scary thing over here, climate change, but meanwhile I need to get on with these other things.

AA: You have done much to characterize the underlying attitudes, vested interests and ideologies that relate to skepticism about human-caused climate change. Is that work complete, or is there more to understand? 

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

The Future Is Not a Spectator Sport

Like all self-organized, adaptive systems, society moves in nonlinear ways. Even as our civilization unravels, a new ecological worldview is spreading globally. Will it become powerful enough to avert a cataclysm? None of us knows. Perhaps the Great Transition to an ecological civilization is already under way, but we can’t see it because we’re in the middle of it. We are all co-creating the future as part of the interconnected web of collective choices each of us makes: what to ignore, what to notice, and what to do about it

Excerpted from The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe (published in June in the UK, and available July 13 in the US)

The nonlinearity of history

There are many good reasons to watch the unfolding catastrophe of our civilization’s accelerating drive to the precipice and believe it’s already too late. The unremitting increase in carbon emissions, the ceaseless devastation of the living Earth, the hypocrisy and corruption of our political leaders, and our corporate-owned media’s strategy of ignoring the topics that matter most to humanity’s future—all these factors come together like a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut driving our society toward breaking point. As a result, an increasing number of people are beginning to reconcile themselves to a terminal diagnosis for civilization. In the assessment of sustainability leader Jem Bendell, founder of the growing Deep Adaptation movement, we should wake up to the reality that “we face inevitable near-term societal collapse.”

Our civilization certainly appears to be undergoing profound transition. But it remains uncertain what that transition will look like, and even more obscure what new societal paradigm will re-emerge once the smoke clears. A cataclysmic collapse leaving the few survivors in a grim dark age?…

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

Jem Bendell on Deep Adaptation to climate chaos

Interview with Professor Jem Bendell on Deep Adaptation to climate chaos, by Facing Future TV.

In 2018, a climate paper by Jem Bendell went viral, being downloaded over a million times. It helped to launch a worldwide movement of people seeking to reduce harm in the face of societal disruption and collapse. In this interview for Facing Future TV, Jem explains the concept of Deep Adaptation, how he developed the idea, what it means in practice, what he says to critics, and what his new book on the topic is about.

FF: Who are you and how would you describe yourself?

I am a middle-aged British man who has been an environment and development scholar, activist and consultant for over a quarter of a century. I’ve lived much of my life outside the UK, worked around the world, with a lot of the time in the Global South. In that time I’ve been driven by the idea that getting smarter about the problems we face will help to reduce them. And I still suffer from that story. Hence all the writing and teaching, and the new book.

FF: What is Deep Adaptation?

Deep Adaptation has become an umbrella term for an ethos, a framework, a community and a movement.

The ethos is essentially a commitment to working together to do what’s helpful during the disruption and collapse of societies because of the direct and indirect impacts of environmental breakdown including climate change. It’s an ethos of being engaged, open-hearted and open-minded about how to be and how to respond.

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

Climate change, domination and the temporality of direct democracy

[Being masters or possesors of nature] has no meaning – except to enslave society to an absurd project and to the structures of domination embodying that project.~Cornelius Castoriadis[1]

The debates surrounding climate change almost always contain a certain urgency, and, it couldn’t be otherwise as it is an issue that, if left unattended, will develop into a catastrophe with existential consequences for humanity. So, of course, there is need for a well-coordinated action on a global scale so as to avoid the grimmest of projections.

This is where things get complicated: there are several approaches to thinking how such much needed steps towards tackling climate change can be initiated. The sense of urgency that surrounds this issue plays a crucial role in the framing of our thinking about the issue.

There is a certain danger that arises when translating this urgency into political projects, because it can easily be equated with the temporality of domination. The temporality of centralized and bureaucratic structures is supposedly the one of quick decision-making, unburdened by mass deliberation, that, according to some, is what we need in such dire situations.

The Temporality of Domination and Bureaucracy

We can already see proposals in this line of thought surfacing in the debate around climate change. Anatol Lieven, in his book “Climate Change and the Nation State” advocates that the drastic action required to resolve this crisis can best be carried through the current governmental, fiscal and military structures[2]. French climatologist François-Marie Bréon goes even further by suggesting that the fight against climate change goes contrary to individual freedoms and democracy[3], leaving us with no other option but some sort of “green” authoritarianism.

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

The promise of restoration lives within us

“Today let’s start a new decade, one in which we finally make peace with nature and secure a better future for all” declared António Gutteres, the UN Secretary General, on June 5 during the virtual opening event of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. With environmental degradation already affecting almost half of humanity, and with every major scientific body declaring the next 10 years are critical to confront the climate crises, the urgency to restore the health of our landscapes has never been greater. Having worked professionally as an ecological restoration planner in my home state of New Mexico for 13 years, I sat eagerly at the edge of my seat to learn from my global community of practice.We learned about restoration efforts around the world that involved massive community efforts, such as the million-tree initiative in Pakistan and the ambitious project called Green Wall of Africa. Touted as the “largest human-made living “structure” on earth”, this ecofriendly wall, we are told, will contain the sand dunes of the Sahara and support local livelihoods. Although containing the Sahara desert with any wall seems questionable, or that building another wall, even the green kind, seems like the last thing us humans need to do, at least there is a clear mandate that restoration has to collaborate with and support the local indigenous communities.

Several weeks after the UN event, on June 21st, Dr. Robin Kimmerer, the well-known Potawatomi restoration ecologist, gave a deeper perspective on this mandate to work with indigenous communities during the opening plenary talk of the 9th World Conference of the Society of Ecological Restoration: “This idea of mutual healing, of cultures and land, is the practice under the really big idea of how do we enact land justice…

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

 Local Food Saves the Day (Again)

The flaws of an industrialized food system have, yet again, been exposed—this time through a cyberattack.  On May 30, 2021, a cyberattack caused JBS, the world’s largest meat processing plant, to close nine meat processing plants in the United States.  Although the shutdown lasted for only a day, analysts report that even short stoppages impact meat prices. Disruptions like the cyberattack highlight the problems with an industrialized food system and the need for policies that support local food systems.

A more pronounced disruption occurred over a year ago when Covid outbreaks forced many meatpacking plants, food processing plants, and farms to close for several weeks and months.  The Food and Environment Reporting Network reports that as of June 21, 2021, at least 91,140 workers have tested positive for Covid-19; at least 464 workers have died.  In addition to these tragedies, the pandemic forced farmers to euthanize animals and dump milk because while production continued, meat and milk processing did not.

The meat industry, like other agricultural sectors, has become increasingly consolidated over the past four decades.  Four giant companies, including JBS, control more than 80% of the U.S. beef supply.  Poultry, pork,  dairy, and field crop operations have experienced similar consolidation.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that there were 2.02 million U.S. farms in 2020, down from 2.20 million in 2007, and 6.8 million farms in 1935, with the largest farms accounting for more than 70% of the cropland in the United States.  The number of Black farmers has decreased to just under 50,000 in 2017 from its peak of 1 million in 1920.

Industrialized farming operations grew out of a need to accommodate these large-scale corporate processors.  Bolstered by discriminatory USDA programs, monoculture farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have displaced traditional farming operations.  Prioritizing productivity and profits, these industrialized operations use techniques that harm farmworkers, impact public health, degrade the environment, and perpetuate inequality.

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

Introduction to The Web of Meaning

Web of meaning coverEd. note: This excerpt from the Web of Meaning is published with the permission of the author.

As our civilization careens toward a precipice of climate breakdown, ecological destruction, and gaping inequality, people are losing their existential moorings. Our dominant worldview has passed its expiration date: it’s based on a series of flawed assumptions that have been superseded by modern scientific findings.

The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe (published this week in the UKnext month in the US), offers a coherent and intellectually solid foundation for an alternative worldview based on deep interconnectedness, showing how modern scientific knowledge echoes the ancient wisdom of earlier cultures.

Here is the Introduction.

Tea with Uncle Bob

We could call it The Speech. You’ve probably heard it many times. Maybe you’ve even given it. Every day around the world, innumerable versions of it are delivered by Someone Who Seems to Know what they’re talking about.

It doesn’t seem like much. Just another part of life’s daily conversations. But every Speech, linked together, helps to lock our entire society up in a mental cage. It might occur anywhere in the world, from a construction site in Kansas to a market stall in Delhi. It can be given by anyone old enough to have learned a thing or two about how it all works. But it’s usually delivered by someone who feels they’ve been around the block a few times and they want to give you the benefit of their wisdom.

Because I grew up in London, I’ll zoom in there to a particular version of The Speech that reverberates with me. It’s an occasional family gathering—one of those events where toddlers take center stage and aunties serve second helpings of cake…

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

 Net Energy and Sustainability, or… the Story of the Overstuffed Strongman (Episode 44 of Crazy Town)

All of humanity’s feats, whether a record-setting deadlift by the world’s strongest man or the construction of a gleaming city by a technologically advanced economy, originate from a single hidden source: positive net energy. Having surplus energy in the form of thirteen pounds of food per day enables a very big man, Hafthor Bjornsson, to lift very big objects. Similarly, having surplus energy in the form of fossil fuel enables very big societies to build and trade very big piles of stuff. Maybe Hafthor has a rock-solid plan for keeping his dinner plate well stocked, but no society seems ready to have a mature conversation about how our sprawling cities and nations will manage as net energy declines. Calling our conversation “mature” might be a stretch, but at least we’re willing to address climate change, sustainability, and the rest of the net energy conundrum head on. Alice Friedemann, author of Life after Fossil Fuels, joins the conversation. For episode notes and more information, please visit our website.

Transcript

Jason Bradford

Hi, I’m Jason Bradford.

Rob Dietz

I’m Rob Dietz,

Asher Miller

and I’m Asher Miller. Welcome to Crazy Town, where residents are feeling nostalgic about 1950s era fallout shelters.

Rob Dietz

The topic of today’s episode is net energy. And please stay tuned for an insightful interview with Alice Friedemann.

Rob Dietz

Hey, Asher, Jason, welcome to another fine episode of Crazy Town. I would like one of you to volunteer to answer a question. Who’s it going to be?

Jason Bradford

Wanna roshambo for that?

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

 

 Too Much Power

If we modern humans are, in effect, addicted to power, perhaps we need something like a collective twelve-step program.

This article, the third in a series, is based on the author’s forthcoming book, POWER: LIMITS AND PROSPECTS FOR HUMAN SURVIVAL. You can read the first article in the series here, and the second here. For information about the book and how to join a pre-release reading and discussion group, please go to postcarbon.org/power.

Do some people have too much power over others? Do we humans have too much power over the natural world? These questions get to the heart of our biggest global problems. They also force us to think critically about the way society is organized, and about our own behavior. We often tend to give knee-jerk answers, but too much is at stake for that. We need to think critically and contextually.

First, what do we mean by power? While the word is used many ways, there are primarily just two kinds of power: physical power and social power. Physical power can be defined as the rate of energy transfer, or as the use of energy to do something; social power is the ability of one person or a group to influence the thoughts and behavior of others.

Nature provides examples of excessive physical power. The wildfires in Sonoma County, California, where I live, can burn with many gigawatts of power. A gigawatt of electrical power that’s controlled via power lines, transformers, and circuits can supply light, heat, and internet connections to a small-to-medium-sized city. A gigawatt of radiative power unleashed in a firestorm can torch that same community in just a few hours. We humans can likewise physically overpower our surroundings by using the concentrated energy of fossil fuels to over-harvest natural resources, or by dumping wastes in quantities that nature can’t harmlessly absorb.

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

 Runaway Money and Overconsumption, or… the Story of Monetary Mischief in Madagascar (Episode 42 of Crazy Town)

Way back when money consisted of iron pieces, if you wanted to buy a horse or some spices to season your horse meat, you practically had to carry an olympic weightlifting set with you. Early bankers figured out how to clear that obstacle (and prevent a lot of hernias and back injuries) when they invented paper money. Over time all-too-clever financiers cleared more and more obstacles that kept people from accessing and spending money. Today’s world of online purchases, easy credit, and cryptocurrency represents a huge ramp-up in the speed and ease of economic transactions. Yes, some of the inconveniences of yesteryear are gone, but this ramp-up is partly to blame for our problems with overconsumption, climate change, and habitat loss. Join the Crazy Townies as they swap stories around the virtual fire about spending virtual money in the virtual world. And  get advice on how to do the opposite from Nate Hagens, expert on energy, ecological economics, and finance. For episode notes and more information, please visit our website.

Transcript

Jason Bradford

Hi, I’m Jason Bradford.

Rob Dietz

I’m Rob Dietz

Asher Miller

and I’m Asher Miller. Welcome to Crazy Town, where the sanist guy around is protesting the local gas station in a Santa suit.

Rob Dietz

The topic of today’s episode is runaway money. And please stay tuned for an interview with Nate Hagens.

Asher Miller

Did I ever tell you about the time where I had to spend five nights sharing a bed with a 6’9” guy?

Rob Dietz

No, I thought that was Jason’s story.

Asher Miller

No, Jason’s story if I recall correctly is he was up on top of a mountain and he was spooning with two guys.

Jason Bradford

Yeah.

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

The Most Colossal Planning Failure in Human History

A couple of days ago I happened to pick up an old book gathering dust on one of my office shelves—Palmer Putnam’s Energy in the Futurepublished in 1953. Here was a time capsule of energy concerns from nearly a lifetime ago—and it got me to thinking along the lines of Howard Baker’s famous question during the Watergate hearings: “What did [w]e know, and when did [w]e know it?”  That is, what did we know back then about the climate and energy conundrum that threatens to undermine civilization today?

The fossil fuel age had begun over a century prior to 1953, and it was known by then that coal, oil, and natural gas represent millions of years’ worth of stored ancient sunlight. At the start, these fuels had appeared capable of supplying useful energy to society in seemingly endless quantities. Since everything we do depends on energy, having much more of it meant we could do far more farming, mining, fishing, manufacturing, and transporting than was previously possible. The result was an economic miracle. Between 1820 and today, human population has grown eight-fold, while per-capita energy usage has also grown eight-fold. We went from horse-drawn carts to jetliners in just a few generations.

But there were a couple of snags. One was that, though initially abundant, fossil fuels are nonrenewable and therefore subject to depletion. The second was that extracting and burning these fuels pollutes air and water, subtly but surely changing the chemistry of our planet’s atmosphere and oceans. Neither issue seemed compelling to the majority of people who first benefitted from coal, oil, and gas.

So, back to Putnam’s book. This thick tome wasn’t a best seller, but it was considered authoritative, and it found a place on the desks of serious policy makers…

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

 Is Earth’s climate about to pass the tipping point?

Ferran Puig Vilar. CEDIDA POR EL ENTREVISTADOEd. note: This article first appeared in Spanish here. This is an interview with an expert (Ferran Puig Vilar) and award-winning author of a climate blog on tipping points. Photo credit: Ferran Puig Vilar. CEDIDA POR EL ENTREVISTADO

The straw that breaks the camel’s back. The last time the axe hits the tree before it falls. The last profitable barrel to be extracted from an oil well. There are many examples of Tipping points (TP). Although tipping points and points of no return are the buzzwords of our times, we should probably be using them more than we are.

A range of studies have long indicated that attention should be paid to the effects of climate change on subsystems such as the Amazon, Greenland ice or permafrost. These effects have been debated for more than 20 years. Since then, thousands of pages have been written describing their interrelationships, warning of a coming disaster. As in this article published in Nature by key figures in climate science, or this article published in National Geographic. However, despite the seriousness of the issue, mainstream media silence remains thunderous. We can even hear climate change deniers on prime time TV.

We ask engineer and climate journalist Ferran Puig Vilar, who is publishing a special report on tipping points, and has been doing amazing work on climate education in his prestigious, prize-winning blog for more than a decade:

What is a climate tipping point?

It is an inflection point in the equilibrium of a significant element or subsystem (permafrost, Amazon, thermohaline current, Greenland) whose overshoot destabilizes it and generates a phase change, bringing the system to a new state that may – or may not – be one of equilibrium. There are 15 specified, 9 of which are in the degradation phase or have already been passed. They interrelate with each other causing knock-on effects.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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