Home » Posts tagged 'richard heinberg'

Tag Archives: richard heinberg

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

Post Archives by Category

MuseLetter #349

MuseLetter #349

Dear subscriber,
This month has seen the start of a historic and tragic invasion. In this month’s Museletter I’ve examined some of the Ukraine war’s likely implications for energy, economy, and geopolitics. Meanwhile, in a second piece Museletter maintains its gaze on an even bigger picture–what we humans are doing to the planet and how we might best shift our policies even at this late date to preserve a livable climate.
Best wishes to you, and peace to us all.
Richard

After the Ukraine Invasion: Sobering New Global Energy-Economic-Political Terrain

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the West’s response, are ushering the world into a new energy, economic, and political era. In broad outline, this new era will have less-globally-integrated energy markets, and less-secure supplies of fossil fuels. Since energy is the irreducible basis of all economic activity, this translates to a precarious global economy and a likely reordering of national alliances. We are, in short, living through a moment that may be as politically and economically transformative as the World Wars of the 20th century, though with little likelihood of an outcome anywhere near as desirable as the boom decades of the 1920s or 1950s.

Energy
We begin with energy, since all else flows from it. The following would seem to be a small news item in comparison with other events and risks detailed further below, but it’s emblematic of the new era we’re entering.

Major oil companies, including ExxonMobilShell, and BP, have announced that they will cease collaborating with the Russian petroleum industry, which includes state-owned energy giants Lukoil and Gazprom…

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

The 1970s Again?

For the United States and much of the rest of the world, the 1970s were a time of high oil prices, surging inflation, stock market swoons, political upheaval, and geopolitical tension. Add pandemic and climate change to the list, and it also sounds like a fair description of the world today, a half-century later.Psychoanalyst Theodor Reik once wrote, “It has been said that history repeats itself. This is perhaps not quite correct; it merely rhymes.” So, just how much do the 1970s and the 2020s rhyme?

Quick Takeaway: Some Similarities, Big Differences

Many commentators have based “1970s redux” analyses primarily on what was then called “stagflation”—inflation in the context of a stagnant economy. After World War II, the US economic growth rate achieved sustained, unprecedented highs. But then, in the 1970s, growth stalled. That’s partly because energy production also stalled (energy is, after all, the irreducible basis of all economic activity). US oil extraction rates started a long decline, the economic effects of which were greatly amplified by the Arab embargo of 1972 and the 1979 Iranian revolution, which sent oil prices soaring. Inflation surged. Averaged economic growth rates fell by half for the decades after 1980 compared to the two decades before, and interest rates topped out at nearly 17 percent in 1981.

But much is different now. Today’s global energy crisis is actually much worse, affecting not just oil but gas and electricity as well. As in the ’70s, high fuel prices are due both to resource depletion (then, declining US oil production; today, declining global production of conventional oil) and to geopolitical events (then, events in the Middle East; now, the Russia-Ukraine war). The ’70s energy crisis was eventually defused by increased petroleum production in places like the North Sea, Alaska, Mexico, and China….

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

The Failure of Global Elites

In the 1970s, global political and corporate elites had all the information they needed to put the world on a path toward long-term stability. Systems science was sufficiently advanced that a team of its practitioners organized a scenario study to see how trends in industrial production, population, food, pollution, and resource usage might interact over the next few decades; the study showed that continued growth in population and industrial production would prove unsustainable. Political scientists were beginning to sort demographic, economic, and historical social data for clues to understanding why societies sometimes descend into internal violence; data seemed to show that there was a rough correlation between rising economic inequality and declining social stability. Also, the science of ecology was revealing that forest, ocean, desert, freshwater, and soil ecosystems are inherently complex and resilient, but that they are subject to catastrophic tipping points when subjected to high enough levels of pollution or loss of habitable space. It was clear what should be done in order to put society on a sound footing: discourage population growth, cap the scale of industrial production, reduce economic inequality, clean up past pollution, reduce current and future pollution, and leave plenty of space for nature to regenerate.

Elites didn’t do those things. Initially, during the Nixon and Carter years, US politicians enacted some thoughtful, far-reaching policies. Then, increasingly, and regardless of the party in power, they simply found excuses to stop pressing ahead or to backtrack. They set their pet economists to work writing books and reports insisting that growth is always good; that economic inequality is excusable because eventually the wealth of the few will surely “trickle down” as benefits to the many; and that, in President Ronald Reagan’s feel-good but tragically misleading words, “There are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits to the human capacity for intelligence, imagination, and wonder.”

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

After the Ukraine Invasion: Sobering New Global Energy-Economic-Political Terrain

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the West’s response, are ushering the world into a new energy, economic, and political era. In broad outline, this new era will have less-globally-integrated energy markets, and less-secure supplies of fossil fuels. Since energy is the irreducible basis of all economic activity, this translates to a precarious global economy and a likely reordering of national alliances. We are, in short, living through a moment that may be as politically and economically transformative as the World Wars of the 20th century, though with little likelihood of an outcome anywhere near as desirable as the boom decades of the 1920s or 1950s.

Energy

We begin with energy, since all else flows from it. The following would seem to be a small news item in comparison with other events and risks detailed further below, but it’s emblematic of the new era we’re entering.

Major oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP, have announced that they will cease collaborating with the Russian petroleum industry, which includes state-owned energy giants Lukoil and Gazprom. This will likely have implications more far-reaching and long-lasting than President Biden’s ban on imports of Russian oil and gas to the US. Russian oil and gas resources and production are enormous (the country supplies over a tenth of the world’s oil and 7 percent of the world’s gas), but many of the country’s oil and gas fields were initially developed decades ago and are no longer able to maintain former rates of flow. In 2021, the Russian Energy Ministry forecast that the nation was at peak petroleum production levels and would probably never exceed pre-Covid rates of output…

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

Dennis Meadows on the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Limits to Growth

Only rarely does a book truly change the world. In the nineteenth century, such a book was Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. For the twentieth century, it was The Limits to Growth. Not only did this best-selling 1972 publication help spur the environmental movement, but it showed that the underlying dynamics of the modern industrial world are unsustainable on the timescale of a couple of human lifetimes. This was profoundly important information, and it was delivered credibly and clearly, so that every policy maker could understand it. Sadly, the book was rejected by powerful people with vested interests in the Western growth-based economic model that was overtaking the rest of the world. Today we starting to see the results of that rejection.

Of the book’s four authors, only Dennis Meadows and Jørgen Randers are active (Donella Meadows died in 2001). I recently reached out to Dr. Meadows, whom I’ve gotten to know during the past few years, to see if he would be willing to engage in a short discussion, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Limits to Growth. He graciously agreed.

Richard Heinberg: Dennis, it is an honor to have this opportunity to interview you. Congratulations on having co-authored the most important book of the past century. I’m delighted that you’re willing to reply to a few questions.

First, how is reality tracking with the scenarios you and your colleagues generated 50 years ago?

Dennis L. Meadows: There have been several attempts, recently, to compare some of our scenarios with the way the global system has evolved over the past 50 years. That’s difficult. It’s, in a way, trying to confirm by looking through a microscope whether or not the data that you gathered through a telescope are accurate…

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

 Power: Introduction

This is an excerpt from Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival (2021) by Richard Heinberg; posted with permission from New Society PublishersRead more in this series.

One might think that everything that could possibly be written on the subject of power already has been. There are thousands of tomes that discuss subjects related to power in one or another of its many manifestations, and hundreds with the word power in their titles. But no book that I’m aware of has systematically examined the sundry forms of power, and investigated how they are related, how they arose, and what they mean for us today.

When I started the research that would culminate in this book, I wasn’t compelled by a burning interest in power per se; rather, I was driven to better understand the problems that imbalances and abuses of power have caused. I was determined to find answers to three survival-level questions:

  1. How has Homo sapiens, just one species out of millions, become so powerful as to bring the planet to the brink of climate chaos and a mass extinction event?
  1. Why have we developed so many ways of oppressing and exploiting one another?
  1. Is it possible to change our relationship with power so as to avert ecological catastrophe, while also dramatically reducing social inequality and the likelihood of political-economic collapse?

In their essence, these questions had dogged me my entire adult life, though it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to distil them down to these few words. As I pondered these questions, it became increasingly clear that reliable answers required a clearer understanding of power in and of itself, since it’s the thread tying together our critical human problems and their potential solutions.

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

Social Cohesion Is Vital, and We’re Losing It

american-ripped

An American flag in front of a damaged school area in Dayton, Ohio on May 28, 2019. (Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images)

Social Cohesion Is Vital, and We’re Losing It

As with climate change, inequality, and our other collective problems, solutions will entail confronting and reining in power—whether the power of wealth, of outsized political representation, or of social media companies.

The United States is tumbling toward socio-political crisis. Here are just a few of the distress signals recently visible:

  • The insurrection at the US Capitol building (January 6, 2021).
  • Rapidly increasing numbers of death threats against politicians—including threats from fellow politicians.
  • A majority of followers of one of the two main political parties telling pollsters that they would approve of violence as a means to political power (for the population as a whole, one in three now say that political violence can be justified, up from one in six in 2010).
  • A state governor planning to set up a militia, answerable only to himself.
  • Continual demonization by members of both major political parties of their opponents as “unamerican.”
  • US generals warning that disaffected military personnel may lead another insurrection in 2024.
  • Threats to “primary” elected leaders (i.e., to challenge them in primary elections with candidates more extreme and doctrinaire), leading to ever-further radicalization and polarization of the political positions of policy makers.
  • The proliferation of weapons (there are now 120.5 guns in the US for every 100 people).

We’ve all seen this basic movie plot before—in “failed states” in the modern world, and in declining civilizations throughout history—and it seldom ends well.

For a society to succeed, people must cooperate. They must trust government leaders, who in turn must work together, at least partly for the benefit of the society as a whole…

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

Richard Heinberg: Post-doom with Michael Dowd

Richard Heinberg: Post-doom with Michael Dowd

Introduction to Power by Richard Heinberg

old arrow heads made from shells

Richard Heinberg’s latest title, Power is an exploration of humanity’s power over nature and the power of some people over others. Power traces how four key elements developed to give humans extraordinary power: tool making ability, language, social complexity, and the ability to harness energy sources — most significantly, fossil fuels. Today, we take an excerpt from Power that explains how Richard started on the journey of writing this book.

Excerpted from the introduction to Power

Many people are searching for a magic formula to save the world from the converging crises of the 21st century. Climate change, economic inequality, air and water pollution, resource depletion, and the catastrophic disappearance of wildlife threaten to upend society while destabilizing our planet to such a degree that it may be impossible for future generations of humans to persist. What if we could solve all these problems with one simple trick?

Don’t hold your breath. A single solution doesn’t exist: it’s not socialism or capitalism, it’s not renewable energy or nuclear power, it’s not religion or atheism, and it’s not hemp. However, I believe there is a single causative agent in back of most of our troubles, the understanding of which could indeed help us emerge from the hole we’re rapidly digging for ourselves.

That causative agent is power—our pursuit of it, our overuse of it, and our abuse of it. In this book, I argue that all the problems mentioned above, and others as well, are problems of power. We humans are nature’s supreme power addicts. Power—the ability to do something, the ability to get someone else to do something, or the ability to prevent someone else from doing something—is everywhere in the human world…

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

Here’s the Fracking Truth About America’s Last Fossil-Fueled Hurrah

Here’s the Fracking Truth About America’s Last Fossil-Fueled Hurrah

In order to recover the abundance of these fuels that the EIA claims will be there for the taking, between now and 2050 the industry will need to drill something on the order of 700,000 new wells at a total cost of over $5 trillion.

As global leaders struggle to tackle the climate crisis, and as ordinary people worldwide are increasingly whiplashed by high fuel costs, the US government is promising policymakers, industrialists, and investors that there will be decades of growing supplies of fracked oil and natural gas. However, an independent earth scientist with 32 years of experience with the Geological Service of Canada is using the industry’s and government’s own data to show why that’s a dangerous fallacy.

Hughes has just issued his latest, Shale Reality Check 2021, and it provides an invaluable, comprehensive, yet detailed view of the past, present, and future of tight oil and shale gas.

During the past decade, Post Carbon Institute has published a series of reports by earth scientist J. David Hughes on the status of US shale gas and tight oil resources and production (i.e. natural gas and oil that are extracted using hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking). These reports are remarkable for their technical depth and thoroughness, and are frequently referenced by climate activists, energy investors, and industry insiders. Hughes has provided a necessary counter to the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) typically over-optimistic projections, which often echo hyperbolic claims by the industry. Indeed, Hughes’s reports, which address forecasts contained in the widely-cited EIA Annual Energy Outlook, may justify calling him “the people’s shadow EIA.” Hughes has just issued his latest, Shale Reality Check 2021, and it provides an invaluable, comprehensive, yet detailed view of the past, present, and future of tight oil and shale gas.

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

How Much of the Worsening Energy Crisis is Due to Depletion?

How Much of the Worsening Energy Crisis is Due to Depletion?

 

The End of Growth: ten years after

Fifty years ago the authors of the groundbreaking book The Limits to Growth showed that, in any of a series of computer-generated scenarios, world economic growth would end sometime during the 21st century. Using simple math and logic, they pointed out that growth in any material input or output cannot continue indefinitely within a finite system. Since the Earth is a finite system, the effort to perpetually grow human economies (which, by their very nature, extract resources and produce wastes) is doomed to eventual failure, leading to significant declines in resources, industrial output, food production, and population. Despite the fact that the book was a bestseller and its conclusions were well supported, world political and business leaders ignored it and persevered in their efforts to expand resource extraction, agriculture, and manufacturing.

Around the year 2010, it appeared to me that signs of growth’s slowing and approaching reversal were accumulating to the point that a new book on the subject might be timely and helpful. The End of Growth was published in 2011and attracted healthy sales but few reviews.

Today, indications of impending economic stagnation and retrenchment are arguably stronger still. There will be many articles this semicentennial anniversary year discussing the 1972 Limits to Growth study; I thought it might also be informative to look back at my book, reflecting on whether its message is useful today.

In the book, I argued that modern economic growth is largely attributable to fossil fuels. Energy is essential to all activity, and the availability of vast amounts of energy from tens of millions of years’ worth of ancient sunlight, captured and transformed by natural processes into portable and storable fuels, has made it possible to speed up and expand nearly every human enterprise…

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

How Much of the Worsening Energy Crisis Is Due to Depletion?

How Much of the Worsening Energy Crisis Is Due to Depletion?

If society attempts to maintain current levels of energy services throughout the transition, the result will be a spike in both energy usage and carbon emissions.

Coal and natural gas spot prices have recently soared to record levels internationally, while oil is trading at over $80 a barrel—the highest price in seven years. Newspaper columnists are asking whether people in Europe and Asia who can’t afford high fuel and electricity prices might freeze this winter. High natural gas prices are causing fertilizer prices to spike, which will inevitably raise costs to farmers, with eventual catastrophic impact on people who already have trouble paying for food.

The real energy transition will almost certainly be a shift from using a lot to using a lot less.

Political commentators are naturally searching for culprits (or scapegoats). For those on the business-friendly political right, the usual target is green energy policies that discourage fossil fuel investment. For those on the left, the culprit is insufficient investment in renewable energy.

But there’s another explanation for the high prices: depletion. I’m not suggesting we’re about to completely run out of coal, oil, or gas; there’s no immediate danger of that. However, the energy industry has historically targeted the highest-quality and easiest-accessed of these resources, which means that what’s left, in most cases, are fuels that will be costlier to extract and process—and also more polluting. The proximate causes of current price spikes may be transient market conditions (the see-sawing pandemic, Britain’s decision to leave the European Internal Energy Market, Russia’s reluctance to provide more gas to European buyers until a new pipeline is given final approval, and China’s choice to reduce coal imports from Australia). But behind the energy headlines is persistent, accelerating depletion.

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

Evolution and Climate Change Through the Lens of Power

During the last century, evolutionary biologists developed the idea that power (defined as the rate of energy transfer) is key to the survival and success of species. This notion was formalized as the maximum power principle, which biologist John DeLong has explained as follows:

“biological systems organize to increase power whenever the system constraints allow. . . . With greater power, there is greater opportunity to allocate energy to reproduction and survival, and therefore an organism that captures and utilizes more energy than another organism in a population will have a fitness advantage.”[1]

The 20th century seemed a propitious time for such an idea to arise, as one species—ours—was in the process of gaining unprecedented power by harnessing the energy of fossil fuels. Coal, oil, and natural gas constitute tens of millions of years’ worth of stored ancient sunlight—energy that’s vastly greater in quantity than any energy sources humans had harnessed previously.

Constraints on all sorts of human activities were suddenly lifted. Soon we were out-competing all other organisms and, in effect, taking over the world. During the last two centuries, human per capita energy usage grew eight-fold—while the number of “capitas” also doubled three times over. All this newly available energy found uses in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, transportation, and warfare. Today, just through mining, we displace far more of the planet’s crust each year than do all of nature’s processes (wind, rain, and earthquakes) combined. Human-made stuff now outweighs all of Earth’s biomass. It’s been the biggest power grab on this little planet of ours in tens or hundreds of millions of years…

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

Richard Heinberg’s POWER: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival

If you know Richard Heinberg for his many previous writings on energy, you may initially assume that the title of his latest book refers to power strictly in its physics sense. But as you begin reading, it becomes apparent that he’s using a vastly broader definition of the term. For him, power is “the ability to do something, the ability to get someone else to do something, or the ability to prevent someone else from doing something.” A brilliant and searching probe into power in all its forms, this book shows how our species’ pursuit, overuse and abuse of power is plunging us ever deeper into existential crisis.

Heinberg begins his inquiry into the nature of power by tracing humanity’s present planetary dominance back to its origins. His opening chapter deals with power in nature, from the biochemical processes of individual cells to emotion, intelligence and the use of deception by animals and plants. He goes over the respective powers of physical size, muscles, neurons, warm blood, motion, perception, communication, cooperation and exclusion, among many other things. His summary of the science is engaging, accessible and filled with fascinating Heinbergian asides. (For example, he reveals that organisms have thousands of times as much power as the Sun on a gram-for-gram basis, and muses on what the evolution of eukaryotic cells–i.e., those that make up plants, animals, fungi and protists–on Earth might say about the likelihood of complex life elsewhere.)

A Political Novel

Speaking of asides, the entire book is sprinkled with wonderfully informative sidebars. One of my favorites is titled “The Original Sins of Mainstream Economists.” It describes some of the chief blind spots of orthodox neoliberal economic theory that have led mainstream economists to absurd conclusions…

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Click on image to purchase @ FriesenPress