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Alien Planet Earth

Alien Planet Earth

The world of just a few lifetimes ago

Watching the climate change is like waiting for your hair to grow. You know it’s happening, but you can’t really tell from day to day. However, from a greater chronological distance, the damage humanity is inflicting on our planet is clear.

Where I live, bats have disappeared over the past couple decades. I remember watching them swoop at the evening insects, a couple even finding their way into my house. Now I never see them.

Others speak about fireflies that no longer dance at night. Or windshields bare of insect residue.

While insects are still a significant portion of global biomass, we’ve increasingly become a planet of humans, human food and anthropogenic mass.

We’ve terraformed the planet to feed our insatiable needs, at nature’s expense. This myopic stewardship pushes the planet to the edge. Robust systems are diverse and redundant. Ours is monolithic and fragile.

Source: Global human-made mass exceeds all living biomass

Wild animals are vanishing because humans are pushing them out and replacing them with domesticated animals. Today, it’s difficult to imagine what the world looked like hundreds of years ago, before we chopped down the old growth trees and overfished the oceans. Luckily, we have documented evidence from centuries past.

The photo below illustrates the sheer destruction humans can inflict.

“At the close of the 18th century, there were between 30 and 60 million bison on the continent. By the time of this photograph, that population was reduced to only 456 wild bison.” Source: The Conversation

Michigan Carbon Works in Rougeville, Mich., in 1892.

I recently found several accounts from the first Europeans that explored and settled in the Chesapeake bay area. There were more fish to catch than could be preserved.

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

The Renewables Farce

The Renewables Farce

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living with/in Fear

Living with/in Fear

There are more like you than you think.

Living with/in Fear
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor / Unsplash

“I think 3C is being hopeful and conservative.”
– Ruth Cerezo-Mota an expert in climate modelling at the National Autonomous University of Mexico

A recent survey of 380 leading climate scientists conducted by The Guardian has revealed the profound unease these experts feel as they examine the ongoing damage humanity has inflicted on the natural world.

One prominent voice in the survey, Ruth Cerezo-Mota, a climate modeling expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, expressed her deep despair:

“Sometimes, it feels almost impossible not to feel hopeless and broken. After witnessing the flooding, fires, and droughts around the world—all consequences of climate change—and experiencing the fury of Hurricane Otis in my own country, I was hopeful that governments would start heeding scientific advice for the benefit of the people.”

“The turning point for me was a meeting in Singapore—it was then that everything made sense, but it plunged me into deep depression. It was a very dark period in my life where I was just surviving.”

“We continue our work because it’s necessary. It prevents those in power from claiming ignorance. They might say they don’t care, but they can’t deny they didn’t know.”

“I believe projecting a 3°C increase is both hopeful and conservative. A 1.5°C rise is already serious, and frankly, I see no clear commitment from any government to stay below this threshold.”

She is not alone. 77% of surveyed climate scientists believe we are on a path to at least 2.5°C warming this century.

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

10 Premises Behind Collapse 2050

10 Premises Behind Collapse 2050

What does “collapse” mean? What will the downfall of civilization look like? What am I suggesting people do? What if I’m wrong?

10 Premises Behind Collapse 2050
Photo by Yaoqi / Unsplash
People look at my username on Twitter or title of this website and jump to conclusions about the way I think. Some ‘get’ me straight away, while others formulate their own incorrect narratives.

What does “collapse” mean? What will the downfall of civilization look like? What am I suggesting people do? What if I’m wrong?

To better understand my thinking on collapse, read my 10 premises below and share your own in the comments.

Premise 1: Existential risks are converging

This is not just about rising CO2. There are converging crises driving collapse. The combination of climate change, ecological destruction, declining EROEI and AI will overwhelm civilization at some point.

Regardless of the cause, our fate ultimately comes down to our ability to grow food – something we have done for about 12,000 years under a stable climate. Agriculture requires predictability. Modern agriculture requires energy (transportation, mechanization, fertilizer). The poly-crisis is straining our ability to produce enough food to feed 8+ billion people.

AI is the wildcard, but it is emerging at such a speed that the risk of unpredictable damage is growing rapidly.

Note how I didn’t mention nuclear war or civil strife. While I believe these become more probable as the poly-crisis emerges, these are symptoms and not causes.

The Poly-Crisis
I’m afraid the best we can hope for now is to delay the inevitable and mitigate the consequences.

Premise 2: Collapse is a mathematical certainty

Collapse – however you define it – is almost a mathematical certainty at this point. The economic system, regulatory capture and individual behaviors are baked into the maintenance of civilization. Stepping back requires a decline in living standards, so few will voluntarily do so.

Importantly, the ‘math’ suggests a discontinuous change in the future, not the past. Those relying on civilization’s record of success – built on a temporary influx of high EROEI energy, no less – will miss the left turn as it approaches.

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

Daily “Once in a Century” Floods

Daily “Once in a Century” Floods

Mother Nature’s revenge: Over the last month alone, all corners of the world were hit by major floods. While this is anecdotal, does it not feel like we’re witnessing a new natural disaster each day?

Daily "Once in a Century" Floods
Photo by Chris Gallagher / Unsplash
Picture this:

You come home to find one of your windows broken. It costs $500 to fix so you call someone to get it done.

The next week you come home and the same window is smashed. You chalk it up to bad luck and begrudgingly fork out another $500 to have it fixed.

The next week you come home and are shocked to discover 5 of your windows are smashed. Do you have $2500 to fix them? You find the money, but cut back on eating out for dinner.

The next week those same 5 windows are smashed again. Yet another $2500.

You’ve already cut unnecessary expenses and soon face a tough decision: do you fix the windows or stop contributing to your child’s education fund? Do you fix the windows or make your mortgage payment?

Now imagine every person on your block also had their windows broken, forcing them to cut the same expenses and make the same impossible choices.

This is how climate change erodes civilization. A relentless onslaught of expensive disasters, draining energy and resources from what makes life livable.

Disaster relief or social programs? Reconstruction or eldercare? Rescue efforts or defense?

There comes a day when you can’t have it all. Then, slowly but surely society is bled dry by a thousand cuts. Mother Nature wins.

It’s already happening.

Over the last month alone, all corners of the world were hit by major floods. While this is anecdotal, does it not feel like we’re witnessing a new natural disaster each day?

We may face the impossible choices sooner than expected.

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

How to Collapse: Hyperinflationary Depression

How to Collapse: Hyperinflationary Depression

How crop failure leading to a 20% caloric deficit might cause a financial crisis.

It’s Wednesday. You wake up, let the dog out for a piss, shower and drag yourself to work. Eight to ten hours of pointless grin-fucking pass by and you’re ready to collapse on your sofa with a mind-bending substance to stare at the idiot box for the rest of the night.

If you’re lucky, you have a companion with whom to share your misery.

The joy you once had for life has turned to drudgery and you wonder where you went wrong. The thing is, for most of us this is life now.

The weekly jaunts to a family restaurant: gone. Too expensive.

The desire to achieve greatness at work: that died with your youthful vigor.

Extended family: torn apart by tribalism.

A home to call your own: Only for the rich. 80% of Canadians believe ownership is now only for the wealth.

It wasn’t always like this. I can’t pinpoint when this all began, but it feels like everything started deteriorating at the turn of the century.

There are many causes and symptoms, but two deeply scarring events helped tip the West into decline. September 11th, 2001 cracked the veneer of trust within America. Enabled by new technologies, governments salivated at the ability to wrest control in the name of security. The surveillance state reached maturity.

The global financial crisis also gave us a peak behind the curtain of capitalism. It demonstrated how the winners and losers of capitalism were demarcated, with captains of industry bailed out while individuals were held to account. Wealth and power became inseparable, forging an impenetrable barrier beyond which most will never reach. The wealthy – still unhealthily revered by most – gained more control and extended the moat between them and the unwashed masses.

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

0.04%: Small Does Not = Immaterial

0.04%: Small Does Not = Immaterial

Think CO2 Concentration at 0.04% is Low? These 10 Toxins are Deadly at Far Lower Concentrations.

0.04%: Small Does Not = Immaterial
Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash
If you follow me on Twitter , you’re probably familiar with the onslaught of nonsense from the anti-science crowd.

I’m fine with respectful, reasoned responses, but many of the arguments are insulting, childish or conspiratorial.

I know, if I were trying to win these people over I shouldn’t belittle them. But I’m not trying to win them over. There’s plenty of objective data showing why they’re wrong, but they choose to believe their feelings and political loudmouths instead of science. Nothing I do will change their minds. So I continue to make my observations about the world – take it or leave it.

Frankly, I don’t understand how these people have the time to scour Twitter for posts outside their world view. This brigade of deniers with nothing better to do has clearly gone through the same training program. They make the same points and share the same charts. Often, their ‘rebuttal’ has nothing to do with the original tweet. It’s like they’re blindly copy-pasting from their “how to be a science-denier” guidebook.

I usually ignore (or block) these comments, but once in a while something drives me nuts.

One argument I’ve heard on repeat recently is that CO2 is only 0.04% of the atmosphere, therefore it cannot affect the climate.

I’m being kind when I say this is a simplistic argument.

Small does not = immaterial.

To prove my point, here are 10 things that are deadly at levels far below 0.04% concentration:

  1. Botulinum toxin: It can be lethal at about 1 nanogram per kilogram of body weight. This equates to incredibly minute concentrations, roughly 0.0000000001% in the body.
  2. Ricin: A dose of about 22 micrograms per kilogram of body weight can be lethal. This is also a very low concentration, about 0.0000022%.

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

EROEI and Civilization’s Forced Decline

EROEI and Civilization’s Forced Decline

EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) is possibly the most important ratio to human existence. This measure is foundational to our civilization, yet understood by few.

EROEI and Civilization's Forced Decline
Photo by NASA / Unsplash
EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) is possibly the most important ratio to human existence. This measure is foundational to our civilization, yet understood by few.

EROEI is why we’re able to support 8 billion humans, why atmospheric CO2 is 425ppm and also why human civilization will eventually collapse.

It’s an essential metric that explains why we have computers, retirement funds and air travel. It’s essential to our progress as a species. This has been true since the dawn of agriculture and is even more so in a post-industrialized world.

To help broaden understanding of this deceivingly simply measure, I’m writing the following primer on EROEI.

What is EROEI?

EROEI is a metric used to evaluate the efficiency of energy production systems. It measures the amount of energy obtained from a particular source compared to the amount of energy invested to harness that energy. The formula used is:

Rethinking Growth Part Two - Pure Advantage

Example of EROEI: Solar Panels

Consider a solar panel system:

  1. Energy Invested: This includes the energy used in manufacturing the solar panels, transporting them, installing them, and maintaining them over their lifespan.
  2. Energy Produced: This is the energy the solar panels generate during their operational lifetime.

If a solar panel system uses 1,000 units of energy for its entire process (from manufacturing to operation) and generates 10,000 units of energy in its lifetime, the EROEI would be 10. This means that for every unit of energy invested, ten units of energy are returned.

EROEI in Agriculture: An Example of Caloric Return Versus Energy Investment

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

What Farmers Say About Climate Change

What Farmers Say About Climate Change

This is probably the most honest assessment of the current state of farming and our future food supply.

What Farmers Say About Climate Change
Photo by Rob Mulder / Unsplash
People seem to misunderstand the connection between atmospheric CO2, climate predictability and industrialized agriculture. The number of times a “climate skeptic” has told me “plants love CO2”, like that fixes everything, is dumbfounding.

True: plants love CO2.

Also true: plants love warmth and water.

Also, also true: it’s not the CO2 (aka “plant food”) itself that’s the problem. It’s the resulting changes caused by rapidly rising atmospheric CO2 levels. Too much climate unpredictability, weather variability, heat, drought or water will destroy agriculture. That means shortages and famine.

Civilization is built off the back of agriculture. And agriculture requires a foundation of predictability and good soil. Without predictability, agriculture isn’t sustained and we once again become a species of hunters, foragers and nomads. While that worked 10,000+ years ago, the human population today is far too large and we would soon starve.

Climate change may push wild plants into areas in which they don’t currently flourish, but this has nothing to do with our ability to sustain an 8 billion population with industrialized agriculture. There is a reason why farming is concentrated in certain regions of the world: good climate and good soil.

The new areas in which plants may flourish aren’t necessarily ideal for growing fields of wheat, soy or corn. Even if they were ideal, it would take a significant amount of time to a) confidently identify these areas and b) build the necessary infrastructure.

If given a century or two, perhaps we could adapt to a changing environment. Unfortunately, the current pace of change risks multi-breadbasket failure in the near future.

r/MapPorn - World's Main Breadbasket Regions, from McKinsey & Company

…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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