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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…

Will Civilization’s Response to COVID-19 Lead to a More Sustainable, Equitable World?

Will Civilization’s Response to COVID-19 Lead to a More Sustainable, Equitable World?

What better time to shift our thinking and actions away from a hyperconsumptive, inequality-widening, environmentally-detrimental era than the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Having been shaken to our collective core by the COVID19 pandemic, can we muster the will to make major changes in how we rebuild our systems, to truly transform how we function as a society for the betterment of Earth and her inhabitants? What cause is more just, fair, and wise? And what time is better to shift our thinking away from a hyperconsumptive, inequality-widening, environmentally-detrimental era in which we find ourselves – the Anthropocene – than the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the 22nd of April 2020?

A proposition has been coalescing in my mind for years, but drew strength from recent essays by notable thinkers, which I’ll briefly mention for context.

Humanizing Capitalism

Meghan Kallman pleads that “Crises require a radical form of solidarity.” as she questions whether a capitalist system can address the looming threats of climate change, and more importantly prioritize social relationships above the search for wealth. Her perspectives on how these relationships germinate best at the community level are encouraging.

Darren Walker summarizes the August 2019 statement emanating from 181 CEOs of the Business Roundtable:  “…leading the way toward a more equitable, humane, and democratic economic system…” (because in the U.S.) “…the three richest Americans collectively own about as much as the bottom half of the population combined…” This group is attempting to redefine the purpose of a corporation, committing to “…lead[ing] their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders.”

Nate Hagens writes that COVID-19 “exposes economic, cultural, environmental fallacies” of our existence, suggesting we all become more compassionate in our work, play, and interactions. I applaud his many suggestions for individual action.

Reallocating Resources

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

False Solutions to Climate Change: Part 1, Electricity

False Solutions to Climate Change: Part 1, Electricity

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. There is no time left for barking up one wrong tree after another; no time to waste in false solutions. Hence this series pointing out the fallacies behind such proposals as electrifying everything, carbon trading, geoengineering or switching to “gas—the clean energy fuel!”

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

The Bizarre Blindspot in “Planet of the Humans”

The Bizarre Blindspot in “Planet of the Humans”

So, was the film “Planet of the Humans” a hit job on the environmental movement disguised by the filmmakers’ phony claim to care about Mother Earth?  Or was it an honest, get real, exposé of its assertion that, “The takeover of the environmental movement by capitalism is now complete”?

There are two things to consider when considering this question.  What were the filmmakers’ motivations and intentions?  And what was the film’s actual impact on this movement and the planet the filmmakers claim to care about?

The fact that most large environmental organizations are attacking the new film “Planet of the Humans” as a hit job is understandable.  It has the potential to hit them where it hurts—funding, membership, and public support.  That’s why their conservative enemies are gleefully praising and touting the film.

Groups like the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, and the Natural Resources Defense Council depend on wealthy corporate and foundation donors for much of their operating funds.  The rest comes from concerned citizen supporters who really want to believe that they can partake in “green capitalism” and save the planet by sending in their membership dues and buying “sustainable” products, without fundamentally altering their middle class lifestyle.

This leaves these mainstream environmental groups in a double bind.  Neither their members nor their corporate funders want to admit that industrial capitalism is as deadly as a cancerous tumor and many green technologies are little more than deceptive placebos.

The film highlights the way major corporations have passed themselves off as “sustainable” by promoting fake-green technologies like biomass, or by falsely claiming that they run on 100% renewable energy.  Worse yet they have promoted the lie that “renewable” energy technologies, like solar panels and wind farms, are not heavily dependent on fossil fuels and rare minerals. 

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

Banana Town: Where Michael Moore Is Censored by the Left and Promoted by the Right (Episode 24 of Crazy Town)

Banana Town: Where Michael Moore Is Censored by the Left and Promoted by the Right (Episode 24 of Crazy Town)

Paying attention to the buzz around Planet of the Humans, the new film by Michael Moore, is like standing in the middle of a three-ring circus. In ring #1 are the filmmakers, who raise critical questions about how renewable sources can power industrial society, but do so with questionable facts and mean-spirited attacks. In ring #2 are the left-wing enviros, who are barfing out lazy accusations of ecofascism and doing all they can to avoid addressing the film’s legitimate questions about population and consumption. In ring #3 are the oil-soaked, right-wing libertarians who think this film will help them keep earning and burning their way to the bank at the end of Armageddon Road. Asher, Rob, and Jason grapple with the cacophony, hash out the good and bad of the film and the response to it, and argue for an honest, messy-middle approach to the transition away from fossil fuels. For episode notes and more information, please visit our website and sign up for our newsletter.

The Recent History of GDP Growth, CO2 Emissions, and Climate Policy Paralysis, All in One Table-Runner

The Recent History of GDP Growth, CO2 Emissions, and Climate Policy Paralysis, All in One Table-Runner

Note: I began designing this table-runner just before the COVID-19 pandemic blew up in the United States. In the time I have been embroidering it, rates of death and misery have soared while wealth generation and carbon emissions (the two subjects of this work) have ended their decades-long rise and have plummeted. A deadly virus is a terrible means of slowing greenhouse warming. Whenever we come out the other side of the pandemic, we must pursue a rapid, humane, ecologically sound, and guaranteed-effective course of action to drive greenhouse emissions down to zero. Here’s how— P.G.C.

tablerunner

The color of money is the color of calamity

This table-runner illustrates, from left to right, the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from 1946 to the present. Each year is represented by two adjacent stripes: one in gradually deepening shades of green representing that year’s U.S. gross domestic product (adjusted for inflation) and one in increasingly intense shades of yellow-orange-red, representing CO2 concentration.

There are nine shades for GDP and eleven for CO2, with shades indicating roughly equal intervals of increase in each. The shades of both types of stripes darken as the years go by, in accordance with the increases that occurred in both GDP and CO2. (For hi-res, zoomed-in images of the table-runner, see here.)

The shades of yellow-orange-red in the table-runner darken more and more rapidly as the years pass, illustrating how emissions of CO2 accelerated as industrial output and fossil-fuel use rose more rapidly throughout the world. The concentration of COrose at an annual rate of about 0.8 ppm from 1945 to 1980; 1.5 ppm from 1980 to 1995; and 2.1 ppm from 1995 to 2019. (The United States accounted for almost 20 percent of the rise in atmospheric CO2 during those years.)

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

Review: Planet of the Humans

Review: Planet of the Humans

A few days ago, Emily Atkin posted a reaction to Michael Moore’s latest film, Planet of the Humans (directed and narrated by Jeff Gibbs), in which she began by admitting that she hadn’t seen the film yet. When writers take that approach, you know there’s already blood in the water. (She has since watched the film and written an actual review. Full disclosure: I’m in the film, included as one of the “good guys.” But I don’t intend to let that fact distort my comments in this review.)

The film is controversial because it makes two big claims: first, that renewable energy is a sham; second, that big environmental organizations—by promoting solar and wind power—have sold their souls to billionaire investors.

I feel fairly confident commenting on the first of these claims, regarding renewable energy, having spent a year working with David Fridley of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to assess the prospects for a complete transition to solar and wind power.

We found that the transition to renewables is going far too slowly to make much of a difference during the crucial next couple of decades, and would be gobsmackingly expensive if we were to try replacing all fossil fuel use with solar and wind. We also found, as the film underscores again and again, that the intermittency of sunshine and wind is a real problem—one that can only be solved with energy storage (batteries, pumped hydro, or compressed air, all of which are costly in money and energy terms); or with source redundancy (building way more generation capacity than you’re likely to need at any one time, and connecting far-flung generators on a super-grid); or demand management (which entails adapting our behavior to using energy only when it’s available).

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

Pandemic Armchair Philosophy Blog 04-15-2020

Pandemic Armchair Philosophy Blog 04-15-2020

First, a recap.  The Pandemic Armchair Philosophy Blog was born in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, and is designed to demonstrate philosophy’s practical side in these challenging times. It encourages readers–and not just professional philosophers–to utilize the hard-wired human propensities to think, imagine and create. It’s of the armchair variety because we are urged to stay inside these days, and because philosophizing can be done while sitting down.

I am a professional philosopher who has spent more than three decades in the American academy, nearly all of it introducing “the craft of thinking”[1] to pre-professional college students studying engineering, business and the sciences. I have benefitted as much from their practicality as I hope they have from my heartfelt insistence that philosophy’s craft matters for its own sake, as well as for its everyday applications regardless of occupation.

A viral pandemic shifts our sense of space and time. Hard-wrought plans and journeys that made such good sense just a few months ago are now open to uncertainty. Paths are detoured or blocked for who-knows how-long. What better time to step back and consider alternatives, to review those hidden assumptions about success, happiness and work-life balance, and to do some of the deep thinking that philosophy is famously known and occasionally ridiculed[2] for?

But how quickly have our lives and inboxes filled up! Video calls consume us from morning till night, punctuated by a bombardment of poems, podcasts, grocery-washing advice and funny clips from well-meaning friends and colleagues; not to mention the 24 hour news cycle. We shouldn’t begrudge the craving for social connections in times like these. Neither should we forget the importance of self-reflection. Philosophy helps us to step back and see the questions now lying all around in plain view.

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

What Might We Learn from COVID-19?

What Might We Learn from COVID-19?

COVID-19 has much to teach us about compassion, caring, gratitude, cooperation and truth. We need to thank our news media for keeping us informed, especially at this particular moment when falsity and division abound. Leaders supporting “fake news” and “alternative facts” have failed to address a pandemic in time to save lives. But there are few rewards in politics to avert danger ahead of full crisis, so to attenuate risk and defuse trouble before it explodes. Remedial structures set by Obama were removed by Trump, and we are paying a deadly price for his folly. The shortsightedness shown by our leadership boggles the mind at times. This problem of myopic decisions is what I propose to address.

I am an economist who has spent many years asking why economics has failed us so badly in social systems design. The matter reveals some very hard truths about how we see the world, and the behavior reinforced by our institutional system. Questions are more important than answers. Sanders says socialism may help; Biden disagrees. These are not the right questions. We need a larger view.

Many economists sidestep uncertainty by assuming complete knowledge, at the expense of understanding how we might deal with doubt in the face of everyday issues of risk, trust, opportunism, myopia, and disease. Economists’ preoccupation with certainty blinds us to our rational limits: I propose a notion of planning horizons as an alternative frame.

We make decisions, not on known outcomes but on imagined projections standing on theories of how things work. These projections have an ethical range called the ‘planning horizon.’ The better we understand the world the broader the reach of our anticipations. Conscience serves to measure how well we encompass social effects.

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

Energy Slaves: every American has somewhere between 200 and 8,000 energy slaves

Energy Slaves: every American has somewhere between 200 and 8,000 energy slaves

Source: https://www.homesthatfit.com/how-precious-is-energy-ask-your-slaves/

Preface.  To give you an idea of what energy slaves are, consider what it would take to use human power to provide these:

How much energy does it take to toast a single slice of Bread? Olympic Cyclist Vs. Toaster: Can He Power It?

Human Power Shower – Bang goes the theory – BBC One

And as the article below points out, if you tried to bicycle to power your TV,  that free electricity is not free at all. Since food costs money it may even end up being more expensive produced by cycling than from the grid — you’ll end up paying for it all the same, just not in utility bills, but in food.

Slav, I. 2019. Why Powering A City With Bicycles Is Impossible. oiprice.com

Many people have taken a crack at estimating how much muscle power the energy contained within oil represents.  Although there are different results, they all show how powerful oil is and how angry our descendants will be that we wasted it driving around in 4,000 pound cars for pleasure as they’re sawing wood and heaving hundred-pound sacks of grain onto horse-drawn wagons.

As I was writing my book “When Trucks Stop Running”, I came up with this (but didn’t include it since there are too many numbers):   A class 8 truck can carry 50,000 pounds of goods 500 miles in one day. This would take 1,250 people carrying 40-pound backpacks walking 16 miles a day for 31 days. If the people ate 2,000 kcal of raw food a day, they’d burn 77.5 million kcal (and even more energy if the food is cooked). The truck needs 31 times less energy: at 7 mpg, that’s 71 gallons of diesel containing 35,000 kcal per gallon. Trucks carried over 13.182 billion tons of goods, equal to 329 million people each carrying 40 pound packs.

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

Nafeez Ahmed on Synchronous Failure and Post-Pandemic Systems Change

Nafeez Ahmed on Synchronous Failure and Post-Pandemic Systems Change

As the pandemic grows, governments and communities are not only struggling to minimize loss of life and protect our fragile healthcare and economic systems, they are wrestling with questions about how we can recover when this storm eventually passes.

But how many people are thinking about the larger context of this crisis? How many recognize that this pandemic—or some other shock to our interconnected and brittle global systems—could trigger a massive “phase change,” and utterly remake the world as we know it?

I spoke with investigative journalist and systems thinker Nafeez Ahmed about these critical questions.

Nafeez and I discuss frameworks for understanding how the pandemic relates to the larger, systemic environmental, energy, economic, and political challenges we face—including Thomas Homer-Dixon’s concept of “Synchronous Failure,” Joseph Tainter’s “Collapse of Complex Societies,” C.S. Holling’s “Adaptive Life Cycle,” and Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine.” But far from being an abstract, academic exploration, Nafeez and I explore the real-world implications of these forces at play, and provide a call-to-action when we re-enter a world that has been transformed by COVID-19.

Please give it a watch or if you’d rather give it a listen on your favorite podcasting app, we’ve also released the interview on Crazy Town. Oh, and share with your friends and loved ones if you find it worth a listen.

The Pandemic Armchair Philosophy Blog, 03.26.2020

The Pandemic Armchair Philosophy Blog, 03.26.2020

It may sound paradoxical, but philosophers have proved useful in times of collapse and rebuilding. Some of the greatest works in philosophy–at least in terms of their longevity and influence–were written in and during such times.1 (More on this below.) Alfred North Whitehead, one of those philosophers writing in the early 20th century, put it this way:

Systems, scientific and philosophic, come and go. Each method of understanding is at length exhausted. In its prime each system is success: in its decay it is an obstructive nuisance. The transitions to new fruitfulness of understanding are achieved by recurrence to the utmost depths of intuition for the refreshment of imagination. In the end–though there is no end–what is being achieved, is width of view, issuing in greater opportunities. (Adventures in Ideas, 1933, pg. 159)

The creation of this “width of view”–thanks to our Homo sapiens hardware–is open to most of us. The paragraphs below were written in response to a colleague’s question about how the COVID-19 pandemic helps us better understand climate change and the many other ongoing, cascading, planet-sized crises. I offer them, in part, because I don’t know what else to do in this Moment (as opposed to this moment), and because I wrote them while sitting in a chair. More importantly, they issue mostly from my experiences and observations, not from a particular method of analysis or formal system of logic. And it is my hope that they will inspire others with Whitehead’s optimism that the work of the imagination can issue-in greater opportunities.


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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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