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How Energy Transition Models Go Wrong

How Energy Transition Models Go Wrong

I have written many posts relating to the fact that we live in a finite world. At some point, our ability to extract resources becomes constrained. At the same time, population keeps increasing. The usual outcome when population is too high for resources is “overshoot and collapse.” But this is not a topic that the politicians or central bankers or oligarchs who attend the World Economic Forum dare to talk about.

Instead, world leaders find a different problem, namely climate change, to emphasize above other problems. Conveniently, climate change seems to have some of the same solutions as “running out of fossil fuels.” So, a person might think that an energy transition designed to try to fix climate change would work equally well to try to fix running out of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, this isn’t really the way it works.

In this post, I will lay out some of the issues involved.

[1] There are many different constraints that new energy sources need to conform to.

These are a few of the constraints I see:

  • Should be inexpensive to produce
  • Should work with the current portfolio of existing devices
  • Should be available in the quantities required, in the timeframe needed
  • Should not pollute the environment, either when created or at the end of their lifetimes
  • Should not add CO2 to the atmosphere
  • Should not distort ecosystems
  • Should be easily stored, or should be easily ramped up and down to precisely match energy timing needs
  • Cannot overuse fresh water or scarce minerals
  • Cannot require a new infrastructure of its own, unless the huge cost in terms of delayed timing and greater materials use is considered.

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Community-County Collaboration for Neighborhood Preparedness

Community-County Collaboration for Neighborhood Preparedness

Port Townsend’s unique county-community neighborhood preparedness project, NPREP, grew from a big-hearted sister-city project that took volunteers from a coastal town in Washington State to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi (pop 9,260). That isolated community had been hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. Federal aid dollars poured into nearby New Orleans, while Bay St. Louis struggled to recover.

Judy Alexander was one of the Katrina sister city project organizers. “When we came back, we recognized the similarities between our communities, and we thought about the exposure we had to earthquake risk.”  After hearing Judy’s stories, Deborah Stinson reflected that, “We could be in the same situation, but would have no advanced warning. We knew we had to do something to make ourselves more resilient.”

The Katrina volunteers met with folks from Local 20/20, a newly formed sustainability and resilience group.  Local 20/20 got on board with starting an Action Group to increase community preparedness.

Judy and Deborah began by surveying the community to see who else was working on this issue. “We did a little gap analysis, but mostly we were mapping assets,” Deborah said.

That’s when they invited Bob Hamlin, Director of Jefferson County’s Department of Emergency Management (DEM),  over to Judy’s house for lunch.

“We were fascinated with Bob and the impressive network of resources and connections he’d established over the years,” Deborah said. “Together, we recognized that DEM’s biggest challenge would be incorporating engaged residents into that network. In the spirit of partnership, we said, ‘We have the capacity to organize neighborhoods and if we can connect with your officialdom, we can expand your capacity to respond to emergencies.’ He was receptive, fascinated, and a bit dumbfounded.”

Now they needed to show him that their fledgling group could deliver.

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Nafeez Ahmed – Taking a Step Back to Move Forward in Times of Transition

Nafeez Ahmed – Taking a Step Back to Move Forward in Times of Transition

Systems journalist Nafeez Ahmed joins us to discuss why it is so important to draw on systems thinking to understand global politics.

Nafeez Ahmed guides us through the intricacies of systems thinking from within and outside the IR Academy, throwing light on the scale of the governance challenge which complex global problems such as the climate crisis pose, the inevitable demise of current systems, and what a new emerging paradigm might look like, one in which we find ways to live together in our diversity and thrive within planetary boundaries.

Nafeez Ahmed

Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, founding editor and chief writer for INSURGE intelligence, and ‘System Shift’ columnist at VICE’s science magazine Motherboard. He is developing a unique form of what he calls “systems journalism” and in the conversation also explore what it means to be a journalists in an age of media hyper-partisanship. He holds a DPhil in International Relations from the University of Sussex and is the author of a number of books, including Failing StatesCollapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence and A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization, which has also been turned into a documentary.

The Energy Transition: Who has the right to speak?

The Energy Transition: Who has the right to speak?

Italy is not a windy country and it relies mainly on the sun for its renewable energy. Nevertheless, some spots of the Appennini mountains are swept by enough wind to make it possible to build wind plants. In the picture, you see the wind farm of Montemignaio, not far from Florence, where one of the first large wind plants in Italy was built, already in 2001. It has been working beautifully for nearly 20 years. Other wind plants are planned in Italy, but a strong local opposition and a lack of long-term vision at the national level make their construction difficult and slow.

While the ecosystem starts showing signs of collapse, we desperately need to do something to promote the renewable energy transition. But we seem to be stuck: blocked by science denial, political polarization, sheer ignorance, and slick propaganda. Mostly, what we need seems to be a new way of seeing priorities in a world dominated by financial profits only. But, as the situation becomes worse, we seem to be retreating more and more into obsolete views where everyone sees nothing but their personal short-term interests. In the text below, you can find the transcription of a speech given by Professor Andrea Pase of the University of Padua in an ongoing debate on the advisability of building a wind power plant on the Apennines, in Italy. Pase masterfully identified a key element in the question: scale, both spatial and temporal. The same concept applies to many other public utilities. Who has the right to speak about a new, planned infrastructure? It often happens that the inhabitants of the affected territories engage in defending what they see as “their” land.

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How to Get Off Fossil Fuels Quickly—and Fairly

How to Get Off Fossil Fuels Quickly—and Fairly

Researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) discuss panel orientation and spacing for a project on simultaneously growing crops under PV Arrays while producing electricity from the panels in South Dearfield, Massachusetts. The project is part of the DOE InSPIRE project seeking to improve the environmental compatibility and mutual benefits of solar development with agriculture and native landscapes.PHOTO FROM SCIENCE IN HD/UNSPLASH Climate experts share a range of ideas and strategies for envisioning a better future.

When it comes to a just transition, it’s going to take a radical reimaging not only of our economy but also of our culture and the shape of our social structures. YES! co-hosted a conversation with experts from the nonprofit The Land Institute to discuss policy proposals and new ways to rebuild our sense of self and community from the bottom up.

The discussion was prompted by a new book, The Green New Deal and Beyond, by Stan Cox, the Land Institute’s lead scientist for perennial crops. He was joined by his colleagues, Director of Ecosphere Studies Aubrey Streit Krug, and President Emeritus Wes Jackson. The event was moderated by YES! contributing editor Robert Jensen.

Together they share a range of ideas and strategies for envisioning a better future.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

ROBERT JENSEN: I would propose that the most important word in the title of your book, Stan, is “beyond.” We know the Green New Deal is not a fully fleshed out political program yet, but why do we need to go beyond it?

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Building Community Resilience: Before, During, and After COVID-19

Building Community Resilience: Before, During, and After COVID-19

Growing Seeds

Dear friends and fellow Transitioners,

So much has changed in so short a time: tens of thousands of people are now testing positive for the coronavirus daily in the US, most of the world is self-isolating at home, large sectors of our economy have ground to a halt, and politicians are currently debating how best to spend trillions of dollars to combat the global pandemic. We are definitely riding the exponential growth curve, and there’s no end yet in sight.

Both strangely and predictably enough, this crisis has presented a massive opportunity for those of us who have been or are currently engaged in building local community resilience. Our job is now, as it has been in the past, to offer relevant and practical solutions that meet real needs. In fact, many groups all over this country have already been taking inspiring and meaningful actions to counter the economic, social, and health impacts of COVID-19: scaling up efforts to teach people how to grow their own foodbanding together to provide local investment for struggling local businessesorganizing mutual aid networks, and advocating for a “green stimulus.” These efforts should be celebrated, supported, and replicated throughout the US. Many more should be developed to help meet skyrocketing needs.

The difference is now that we have the wind at our backs. Through these projects and others, we can reach out further to unprecedented numbers of people who are just now waking up to a more acute sense of their own vulnerability, interconnectedness, and responsibility for the well-being of others. We can share our visions with them and encourage them to develop their own, invite them to step into a leadership role or join a local community that’s already working on something they’re passionate about.

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10 Stories of Transition in the US: The Evolution of Transition Town Media

10 Stories of Transition in the US: The Evolution of Transition Town Media

The following story is the fourth installment in a new series we’re calling “10 Stories of Transition in the US.” Throughout 2018, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Transition Movement here in the United States, we will explore 10 diverse and resilient Transition projects from all over the country, in the hope that they will inspire you to take similar actions in your local community.

For more information about Transition, please visit www.TransitionUS.org/Transition-101Click here to view other stories in this series that have already been published, and here to subscribe to the Transition US newsletter if you’d like to be notified of additional stories as they become available.

FreeStore Sign

When Aleisa Myles attended a talk on permaculture in 2010, hosted by Transition Town Media, she immediately knew that she had found an initiative she could get behind. The discussion that followed that event helped her to understand how the principles of permaculture could be applied to local communities in order to build greater resilience and sustainability. Since then, Myles and her fellow Transition Town Media members have helped to make it one of the most robust and successful Transition Initiatives in the United States.

“There was, and has been, throughout Transition Town Media’s many events and projects, a sense of possibility and aliveness in people taking bold ideas and putting them into action right in our town for the benefit of all,” explains Myles. “I found that, early on, everyone was welcomed to step in and be a collaborator. No matter the size of the group in any meeting or event, the energy was infectious.”

Sari Steuber says she joined the initiative in 2008 because it appealed to her desire to find like-minded people with whom she could work on a big, all-encompassing cause. Recently retired, the articles she was reading about fossil fuel depletion, climate change, and economic instability left her feeling thoroughly depressed, scared, and hopeless.

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10 Stories of Transition in the US: The Spread of Repair Cafes

10 Stories of Transition in the US: The Spread of Repair Cafes

Rob Hopkins at Transition Pasadena's Repair Cafe

In the midst of America’s Great Depression, merchants and manufacturers were looking for ways to quickly reboot the national economy. To get more people working and factories operating again, so the story goes, two main things needed to happen:

First, people had to replace what that they already owned. Through a process that real estate broker Bernard London called “planned obsolescence,” products began to be designed so they would soon fail. Second, the American people, and eventually the rest of the world, would need to shift from being the thrifty citizens that were so celebrated towards the end of World War I to the voracious consumers we are today.

While this extreme wastefulness was once seen as our civic duty, there is now a growing movement of people throughout the United States and all over the world who are finding better ways to strengthen their local economies while helping to heal the planet. One of the most exciting new strategies for doing this is a repair cafe.

Even a few decades ago, shops that fixed shoes, televisions, and a number of other everyday products were still commonplace, but these institutions have been nearly wiped out in recent years. In their place, repair cafes are now providing people with opportunities to breathe new life into broken things while cultivating community at the same time.

The modern repair cafe movement was born in the Netherlands in 2009, and it is now estimated that there are more than 1,300 such cafes operating in over 30 countries.

When Therese Brummel of the Arroyo S.E.C.O. Network of Time Banks and Transition Pasadena first read about the concept in the New York Times in 2012, she saw it as an opportunity: “The idea of keeping stuff out of our landfills and raising awareness about decreasing consumerism was something that deeply appealed to us.”

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

Talking climate, taking action – a quest for belonging

This is the final post in a series of blogs from our Guest Editor Kate Heath, an ex-humanitarian worker now based in Paris – exploring how to have constructive conversations about climate change.

In this, my final reflections on the value, science and art of talking climate change and energy issues, I lift this to you: do this together. Do this in community. Traverse the valleys, the slopes, the bogs and the boulderfields, the heights of this quest in company – and then share the stories that roll from it.

Those of you involved in Transition are in a particularly unique and rich position from which to start conversations, given your involvement already in an active community of belonging. Human connections rally people like no other factor. Tales of action, from a trusted space warm with relationships, where the whole emotional shebang can be explored – anxieties and doubts alongside hopes and plans – is one of the best starting points for talking about climate change. We as people love to tell and hear stories of how ‘we all came together…’ in the face of adversity; we make decisions based massively on whether enacting them will increase our sense of belonging; and regarding climate change issues specifically, people really like it when we talk in terms of ‘we’re all in this together, everyone doing their bit’. Before Christmas, I asked my Grandma what some of her favourite winter memories were. We reminisced about the depth that snowdrifts used to reach, and the story she chose to tell was my great-aunt Vera sledging off to ensure my grandfather’s produce got delivered to everyone when their village got cut off in the 50’s. Everyone doing their bit.

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Transition in the Age of Denial

Transition in the Age of Denial

There’s only one way to avoid climate catastrophe: ‘de-growing’ our economy

What’s most disturbing about this litany of pain is that it’s only going to get worse. A recent paper in the journal Nature estimates that our chances of keeping global warming below the danger threshold of 2 degrees is now vanishingly small: only about 5 per cent. It’s more likely that we’re headed for around 3.2 degrees of warming, and possibly as much as 4.9 degrees. If scientists are clear about anything, it’s that this level of climate change will be nothing short of catastrophic. Indeed, there’s a good chance that it would render large-scale civilization impossible.

If scientists are clear about anything, it’s that this level of climate change will be nothing short of catastrophic

Why are our prospects so bleak? According to the paper’s authors, it’s because the cuts we’re making to greenhouse gas emissions are being more than cancelled out by economic growth. In the coming decades, we’ll be able to reduce the carbon intensity (CO2 per unit of GDP) of the global economy by about 1.9 per cent per year, they say, if we make heavy investments in clean energy and efficient technology. That’s a lot. But as long as the economy keeps growing by more than that, total emissions are still going to rise.

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Want to Change the System? ‘Become the System’

How do you define transition?

A transition is a radical, revolutionary, and long-term change. The transition from dictatorship to democracy, from mobility from horse and carriage to car, from small-scale decentralized energy system to central fossil energy system, from small-scale agriculture to industrial agriculture — these are very big changes that are technological but also social, institutional, economic.Many developments occur simultaneously, but not everything changes from one day to another, sometimes it takes decades. The great revolutions in history, the political or industrial revolutions, can thus be understood as a transition.

According to the conceptual framework you use, at some point in history an entire system — politics, economics, technology, and everything related — gets stuck and shifts to new system with completely new rules?

Systems have a dynamic equilibrium, in which many small and gradual changes occur. There are dominant values ​​and structures that give a lot of stability, it is something that cannot be changed easily. Yet, at some point, the system itself gets under pressure to change, and the system itself resists against these changes. This means that the pressure becomes so high that at a certain moment the whole system transitions to a different phase, a completely new kind of equilibrium. This transition process is not gradual. A slow change is followed by a chaotic period of severe changes when different processes reinforce each other, until slow adjustments finally occur in a new stable phase.

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New Stock Market Crash Inevitable

New Stock Market Crash Inevitable

Every production phase or society or other human invention goes through a so-called transformation process. Transitions are social transformation processes that cover at least one generation. In this article I will use one such transition to demonstrate the position of our present civilization and and that a new stock market crash is inevitable.

When we consider the characteristics of the phases of a social transformation we may find ourselves at the end of what might be called the third industrial revolution. Transitions are social transformation processes that cover at least one generation (= 25 years). A transition has the following characteristics:

  • it involves a structural change of civilization or a complex subsystem of our civilization
  • it shows technological, economical, ecological, socio cultural and institutional changes at different levels that influence and enhance each other
  • it is the result of slow changes (changes in supplies) and fast dynamics (flows)

A transition process is not fixed from the start because during the transition processes will adapt to the new situation. A transition is not dogmatic.

Four transition phases When we consider the characteristics of the phases of a social transformation we may find ourselves at the end of what might be called the third industrial revolution. The S curve of a transition

Figure: Four phases in a transition best visualized by means of an S – curve: Pre-development, Take off, Acceleration, Stabilization. 

In general, transitions can be seen to go through the S curve and we can distinguish four phases (see fig. 1):

  1. a pre-development phase of a dynamic balance in which the status does not visibly change
  2. a take-off phase in which the process of change starts because of changes in the system

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Book Review: ‘Everything Gardens’ by Luigi Russi.

Book Review: ‘Everything Gardens’ by Luigi Russi.

Academic work on Transition can often be infuriating rather than illuminating.  I was once asked to peer review a paper on Transition, a movement I was central in kickstarting and shaping, but I had to decline on the grounds that the paper was utterly incomprehensible.  While some research is excellent, and offers useful insights and meaningful data, there is also much that leaves me cold, or bewildered.  With this in mind, I picked up a copy of Luigi Russi’s ‘Everything Gardens and other stories: growing Transition Culture‘ with a certain trepidation.

Russi is a sociologist based at the University of Exeter, who set out to research Transition Town Totnes, not through a literature review or a few interviews, but by moving to the town, rolling his sleeves up, and getting involved.  In spite of my initial reticence, I actually loved ‘Everything Gardens’, and had a few ‘aha” moments as I went through.  Russi begins by questioning the usual approach that academic work on Transition tends to take, that of defining what it is (i.e. a response to peak oil and climate change etc), then to the model it proposes (still usually stuck on the 2008 model of ‘The 12 Steps’), which leads to an assessment of how well Transition is achieving its goals, how it is ‘performing’?  It’s an approach that treats Transition as though it were some sort of set of policies that can be evaluated.  As a result of this approach, much of the ensuing research bears little resemblance to what many Transitioners will be experiencing through their active participation in Transition.


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Beyond Extinction: Transition to post-capitalism is inevitable

Beyond Extinction: Transition to post-capitalism is inevitable

In Margaret Atwood’s powerful essay on the reality of climate change — and its implications for the future of oil-dependent industrial civilization — she tells two vastly distinct stories of our future.

The first is a tale of dystopia — a future so bleak, it would make Hollywood moguls looking for the next science fiction blockbuster of action-packed (post)apocalypse salivate with anticipation. Here, Atwood tells a story of human failure: of short-sighted choices based on fatal addiction to business-as-usual, and an egoistic hubris rooted in centuries of globalisation.

The post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max: Fury Road (credit: Warner)

In this scenario, we largely ignore the overwhelming evidence of climate change, and the result is that industrial civilization enters a period of protracted collapse, fuelled by accelerating war, famine, and natural disasters.

The second is a vision of utopia — a collectivist dream-world in which everybody works together, harnessing the best of human ingenuity across society, economics, politics and technology, to peacefully restructure the fundamentals of human existence. Here, Atwood tells a story of human success: of far-sighted decisions based on confronting the follies of business-as-usual, and by embracing our unity as a species.

Image of a future techno-utopia by Staszek Marek

In this scenario, we act on the overwhelming evidence of climate change, and the result is that industrial civilization enters a period of carefully calibrated transition to a techno-utopian post-capitalist, post-materialist infrastructure, avoiding the worst of today’s scientific warnings.


Of course, both these scenarios are extremes, but there is a purpose to such extremes. Atwood uses the power of story to help us awaken to the starkness — and gravity — of the choice we now face: a choice, effectively, between hell and heaven on earth.

And Atwood is spot on when she notes that this is not just about climate change.

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



Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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