Sunday, October 22, 2017

One pill
 makes  you small
     -Jefferson Airplane

We've been so busy, keeping up with the Jones's
Four car garage and were still building on
  -Waylon Jennings (Luckenbach Texas)


       I always enjoy reading Eric Lindberg.  He is what i would call a thoughtful, hopefull, realist.  He's been doing a series of pieces about the Transition Movement, trying to come up with a model that has real staying power,  rather than some effort to deal with this or that crisis .   His latest is to use a sort of Earth Religion model, noting that churches, like political parties (and corporations) have long lives. And if the associated humans are inspired by the philosophies, they will be willing to work for long term goals , which may never be achieved during their lifetimes .  See. Here

       One part of that struck me was his description of the the appropriate  long term goal.  Is it "green growth", or "sustainable growth"?   It is not.  In fact, Lindberg says,  only radical simplicity can deal with the damage that has been done and continues to be done.  Green growth provides only "improved means towards an unimproved end"

"To put it a bit too glibly, Transition says that since the only way to keep your Netflix up-and-running is, in fact, to blow the tops of mountains, create underground earthquakes and poison our groundwater, or cover every acre of the Earth’s surface with wind turbines and solar panels, then we’d better re-evaluate our values and choose a way of life that allows us to live safely within the Earth’s biological and ecological limits, even if that means we end up living a lot more like Ecuadorian peasants or the Amish than middle-class Americans who manage global complexity from our glimmering offices.  If we have to relinquish our Netflix and smart phones, our European vacations and air-conditioned homes, so be it.  Humanity has managed just fine without any of these throughout most of its history, a history we are taught to view with dismay and pity according to an educational perspective that is aimed at maintaining the beliefs and practices necessary for industrial progress and expansion.

He goes to explain in more detail.

"The goal of environmentalism is of course to “save the Earth” or “save Humanity.”  These are not bad goals, per se, but in the hands of liberal environmentalists they are misguided in a number of ways.  The most critical error is the almost-never-questioned belief that saving humanity or the Earth actually means preserving our high-energy way of life, hopefully without destroying our common home’s current ecological balance in the process.  This will be done, we are told, by trading in our coal-powered electrical generation for wind and solar, while swapping-out our internal combustion engines for the electric ones we might plug into our new carbon-free energy system.  Add in some Silicon Valley wizardry, and (so the story goes) we can make this all operate at a level of efficiency that will presumably also help us manage forests, stop soil erosion, preserve biodiversity and habitat, while we continue to grow the economy so that free-market democracy (one without any rationing or reinstitution of virtues such as temperance or moderation) can continue on its merry way, offering us a future that looks like the present, only in real-time higher resolution.
'I can’t help but wonder whether I should laugh or cry when I hear or read about the so-called people’s climate march or about most[ii] environmental protesters in general — the sort who might follow the increasingly misguided (and misleading) false prophecy of the likes of Bill McKibben, Al Gore, or Leonardo Di Caprio.  For at root, they are in effect protesting one form of energy collection and delivery in favor of a different one.  It is presented as a great struggle over values and vision, though it is not.  If there is faith at stake in the prevailing struggle (and I believe there is) it is a fully shared faith in progress struggling only over esoteric theological details, practical differences between fossil fuels and renewable energy notwithstanding.  True each side draws upon differing versions of capitalism and Liberal democracy and some (not entirely unimportant) symbolic and aesthetic differences. And it is also true that many environmentalists love and cherish nature in some way or another and would like to see it preserved.  But unquestioned in mainstream environmental movements are the more fundamental values surrounding the quest for mastery and domination over the Earth’s natural systems; the pursuit of comfort, entertainment, and novelty; the securing of safety and convenience in the face of all the ravages of time and, ultimately, death.  All we see are slightly differing versions of salvation through conquest and mastery.

        This view is supported by this piece by Jason Hickel, which I think lays out the problem with the green growth argument  in the context of climate change   Those who support green growth argue that the trick is to reduce "carbon intensity ", that is the a mount of carbon per unit of GDP.  And carbon intensity has and will go down as we use more efficient devices, such as EVS , and more low carbon energy sources.  Carbon intensity is falling, at a rate 1.9%.    When you compare this rate with the over all growth rate of 3%, you can see that it is swimming against the tide (although estimated carbon emission numbers are flat ).   More importantly though, even if even if carbon intensity were equal to GDP growth, there is no actual reduction in carbon.  Compare it to the reductions needed of 8-10%, it barely moves the needle .  Se also Carbon intensity needs to fall at 6% each yr (Vox).  Although Hickel doesn't speak in terms of returning to a peasant lifestyle, he admits that the no growth option is a "hard pill to swallow"  He argues that maybe we won't have to actually get rid of stuff, just stop buying more.
        Of course it is important to remember that  climate change isn't the only concern .  It is merely one symptom.   Here's an interesting column from Geoge Monbiot, who argues that climate change is not the worlds most most pressing environmental problem.  Its only number 3. He ranks first , the "systematic ecological collapse" caused by industrial fishing.  Second , he puts the erasure of non-human life on land due to industrial farming.   For instance the drop in insect populations..     see Here   (H/t Sara D).

"The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

"Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

           see also this recent UN report on pollinators.

         For the bigger picture, its useful to turn to Elizabeth Kolbert who wrote the book, The sixth Extinction which won the 2015 Pulizer Prize.   Here is her presentation at the Johnathon Schell memorial lecture.  (described by Dave Roberts as  "bracing and free of false-hope homilies".     Here is an interesting interview she did with Dave Roberts.   Its a free ranging discussion going from science to ethics.

  Will humans also, go extinct?  She's not sure.

 "But while we’ve increased our numbers, it has been at the expense of other things. We are simply consuming other species. We are consuming a tremendous amount of the primary productivity of the oceans, for example, just emptying them out.
And so there’s two questions really, it seems to me. One is will humanity make it through this basically unrestrained growth, both in terms of numbers and in how much we as individuals consume? And meanwhile, what happens to everything else?
The answer is not necessarily the same. I mean, humanity has found that it can reproduce and consume at a very rapid rate and, depending on how you look at it, the world continues apace — though obviously many people are not doing well, many people are.
But most other species are not doing too well.

She concludes the interview in this way.

David Roberts

One thing I always appreciated about your writing is your tragic imagination. I feel like lots of folks in the climate discussion lack that. [When author David Wallace-Wells wrote a story on the tragic potential of climate change, he was roundly scolded by the climate positivity police.]

Elizabeth Kolbert

I really appreciate that. Thank you.

David Roberts

American culture, in particular, lacks a tragic imagination — an ability to imagine that things can go horribly wrong.

Elizabeth Kolbert

I completely agree with you. That’s the only way we can explain what’s going on right now.
A couple years ago, we lived in Rome for a year. In Rome, you are surrounded by the ruins of a civilization. You don’t have the same our-best-days-are-ahead-of-us nonsense.
                So, we can only hope that some sort of Earth religion, or new philosophy will become dominant, before things get too bad.   Others argue that such a philosophy may occur, but only after  some sort of economic crash.  For an interesting "post crash" approach,, em-phasizing a sort of "gift economy", I would recommend a look at Lean Logic -A Dictionary of the Future and How to survive it.  Or the shorter and more readable Surviving the Future.

             In the shorter term,  it appears that simplicity is the only way out, as this piece by Ted trainer explains

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

People get ready

Freddy get ready
Rock Steady
      -Warren Zevon

Get busy child
      - Moby

         I like to think that things are getting better.  After all solar installations are increasing past expectations Wind costs are dropping.  The Chinese have announced they are working on timetable to end the sale of IC vehicles.  Co2 emissions have stopped growing and have been flat for the last 3 years

          So, we are winning,  right?    Yes, but slowly.

         But, as Bill McKibben  says. " Winning slowly is just a different way of losing."

           Its a useful idea.   To deal with climate change it isn't enough to take a "step in the right direction ".    At some point its "game over".  It's probably 3 degrees - then the feed backs take over and humans loose control.     The climate campaign is different than, say,  the civil rights struggle, which has been going on (slowly) for at least 150 years.  We don't have 150 years.   Its not clear how many years we have.

         Why not?  Human emissions aren't the only factor at play .   We have already triggered other systems.  And those other systems have the potential to warm the planet more than we do.  For instance  even at 1 degree we are replacing ice with  "blue water" which  is already warming the planet .   

         Consider this article from Yale 360.  

"When covered almost entirely by ice in summer — which the Arctic was for tens of thousands of years — water temperatures there didn’t generally rise above freezing. Now, as the open Arctic Ocean absorbs huge amounts of solar radiation in summer, water temperatures are climbing by several degrees Fahrenheit, with some areas showing increases of 7 degrees F above the long-term average. 

Such changes mean that a system that was once a vast air conditioner has started to  turn into a heater. Just how much extra heat are the dark waters of Arctic Ocean in summer adding to the planet? One recent study estimates that it’s equivalent to adding another 25 percent to global greenhouse emissions. "

           McKibben suggests that the situation is analogous  to a person with with an unhealthy diet, and heart trouble, who is already experiencing symptoms.  We are already sick, but we won't change our ways.  Why not?

       It goes against the way we would like to see ourselves - rational actors, who respond to information by taking appropriate action.    Perhaps that isn't really who we are?

           There are lots of theories .   Perhaps most of us really are rational, but the capitalists, or capitalism, is distorting things.  Thus Naomi Klein,says 

"In short, climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests. To admit that the climate crisis is real is to admit the end of their political and economic project. That’s why the right is in rebellion against the physical world (which is what prompted hundreds of thousands of scientists around the world to participate in the March for Science in April 2017, collectively defending a principle that really shouldn’t need defending: that knowing as much as possible about our world is a good thing). Yet there is a logical reason why science has become such a battle zone: because it is revealing again and again that pro-corporate business as usual leads to a species-threatening catastrophe.

And this isn’t only about the right — it’s also about the center. What mainstream liberals have been saying about climate change for decades is that we simply need to tweak the existing system here and there and everything will be fine. You can have Goldman Sachs capitalism plus solar panels. But at this stage, the challenge we are up against is much deeper than that.
     In one sense, i tend to agree, that the "denial" is not limited to the right wing.  There is more than one type of denial.   The hard denial of the right denies the evidence,  but there is also the "soft denial"  which denies that the solution would require significant lifestyle changes..  Unfortuneately its not clear to me that a socialist system would be willing to forgo growth, and that's what it would take
Another theory is suggested by Jorgen Randers, one of the authors of the Limits to Growth study.  
"Jorgen Randers' speech at the Summer School at the Club of Rome has been dramatically different from the standard speech dealing with sustainability. Randers defined himself as a "depressed man with a smiling face" and he summarized his 47 years of work to promote sustainability as an utter failure. "We are worse off now," he said, "than we were 50 years ago. 

What went wrong? Randers asked to the audience to propose reasons. He got more than a dozen, from the financial system to greed. But he said that none of these is the real reason. It is not a fault of the government, it is not a fault of corporations, it is not a fault of banks. It is, simply, the fault of people. According to Randers, people are simply unable to postpone their immediate satisfaction for a better future. And that's the problem today as it was 50 years ago.

Who is he talking about?  Perhaps the 10 percenters  who are just doing what seems "normal"

"A couple of long-haul flights a year, daily car usage, regular shopping sprees and a meaty diet—lifestyle habits that can appear so commonplace in the western world—and even you, well-meaning reader of this article, can realise that you are part of the exclusive club of those responsible for the lion’s share of ecological destruction.

Although individuals belonging to the top 10 percent class can be found on all continents—often well isolated from the life experienced by most of their fellow citizens—they tend to be so widespread in North America and Europe that the characteristics of their lifestyle have come to define local cultures and are very rarely recognised as the idiosyncrasies they in fact are. Indeed, while only 7 percent of Latin Americans, 4 percent of Chinese and 1 percent of Indians and Africans belong to the top 10 percent of global emitters, as many as 60 percent of North Americans and 30 percent of Europeans are reported to emit more than 15 tons of CO2 a year—the threshold at which one begins to earn top-10-percent status.7 A couple of long-haul flights a year, daily car usage, regular shopping sprees and a meaty diet—lifestyle habits that can appear so commonplace in the western world—and even you, well-meaning reader of this article, can realise that you are part of the exclusive club of those responsible for the lion’s share of ecological destruction.

Meeting the incredibly strict deadline imposed by climate change will require nothing short of a dramatic shift in how we think the human experience, our measures of success and our idea of a life well lived. Holidays to far-away locations, luxurious possessions and ever so frequent splurges—the defining elements of ‘the good life’ as experienced by the 10 percent— are indefensible with a moral compass tuned in to the logic of climate change. On the other hand, earth-regenerative acts, conscious sobriety, community rekindling and active opposition to destructive forces can provide us with what the old world and its promises constantly failed to provide: a life mission, a sense of belonging, and a great source of fulfilment. If we are to collectively survive this century, we will have to embrace our identity as agents of change; as protectors and stewards; as champions of a humanity tuned in to its better nature

 So what can we expect?  It depends on a number of factors    If we continue on the current path, even if the Paris commitments are kept, we will achieve 3 degrees by 2100.  .   But there are many other possibilities.  Researchers at the Scripps Institute recently ran 1500 simulations,  to try to put some perspective on the risks and the probability..  Particularly concerning was a high risk, but lower probability result  - an increase of 3 degrees  C by 2050.  see here.  Full study here

The paper, published Thursday says, there is a one in 20 chance of catastrophic change by 2050, which would mean most people would have problems adapting to the change in climate. There is a smaller chance of an existential change, meaning it would wipe out humanity.
When we say 5 percent-probability high-impact event, people may dismiss it as small but it is equivalent to a one-in-20 chance the plane you are about to board will crash,” Veerabhadran Ramanathan, lead study author and a distinguished professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps said in a press release. “We would never get on that plane with a one-in-20 chance of it coming down but we are willing to send our children and grandchildren on that plane.”
       So, are our leaders making plans for such high risk futures?  Not really.  In fact they are treating the current manifestations - fire, droughts and floods, as temporary problems that can be safely ignored.  As Dave Roberts notes here  , the US has no system for dealing with the escalating climate damages.  
   Here's Neil De Grasse Tyson who suggests that the climate is changing too fast for us to address it. That 
"...climate change had become so severe that the country "might not be able to recover."
"I worry that we might not be able to recover from this because all our greatest cities are on the oceans and water's edges, historically for commerce and transportation," he said.
"And as storms kick in, as water levels rise, they are the first to go," he said. "And we don't have a system -- we don't have a civilization with the capacity to pick up a city and move it inland 20 miles. That's -- this is happening faster than our ability to respond. That could have huge economic consequences."

       Fast forward a few years.   Lets say its 2020.  The weather is a little more extreme.  FEMA is running from one end of the country to the other.  Some city is being evacuated thanks to flood or fire.  Now lets add a liquid fuel squeeze to spice it up.   There will be 1 million EV's on the road.   But everybody else will still be driving IC vehicles.   Every morning more than 100 million Americans drive to work.  So, any problems with the price or availability of oil, will be a problem.
     Why should there be a problem?  Its widely recognized that "conventional" oil peaked in 2005,  And "unconventional" may not be far behind.
Here's Richard Heinberg
"...oil will start to decline first (due to depletion), probably before 2020, and coal as well (due to policy), with natural gas growing until roughly 2020-2050, when it peaks globally from depletion. Without strong climate policy, coal peaks anyway (due to depletion) around 2025.  More detail here 
Are we ready for that? Whats an appropriate response?

     Dennis Meadows suggest we should focus on "resilience".  see here
You stress the need for resilience. What do you mean by this?
"Theoretically, resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb shocks and to continue functioning. Now, in practice, what does it mean? There is a fairly well-developed literature around the issue of psychological resilience. The medical community has tried to understand what can let somebody experience, for example, the loss of a loved one, a serious illness or the loss of a job and continue functioning. There is starting to be, particularly since Katrina, a field that looks at community resilience, or the capacity of a town or social community to absorb shocks and continue functioning to fulfill the needs of its members. I am talking about longer-term resilience. I am talking about coping with the permanent loss of cheap energy or the permanent change in our climate and what we can do at the individual, the household, the community and the national level to ensure that—although we don’t know exactly what is going to happen—we will be able to pass through that period still taking care of our basic needs.
Heinberg  (here) offers  a similar prognosis, suggesting a "crash" is inevitable. (Here is a recent interview of Heinberg on KBOO)
Are we doing enough? If “Enough” means “enough to avert a system crash,” then the answer is no: it’s unlikely that anyone can deliver that outcome now. The question should be, What can we do—not to save a way of life that is unsalvageable, but to make a difference to the people and other species in harm’s way?
 He outlines  a similar program, here
 "...two (not mutually exclusive) strategies have emerged.
The first strategy envisions convincing the managers and power holders of the world to invest in a no-regrets insurance plan. Some systems thinkers who understand our linked global crises are offering to come up with a back-pocket checklist for policy makers, for moments when financial or environmental crisis hits: how, under such circumstances, might the managerial elite be able to prevent, say, a stock market crash from triggering food, energy, and social crises as well? A set of back-up plans wouldn’t require detailed knowledge of when or how crisis will erupt. It wouldn’t even require much of a systemic understanding of global overshoot. It would simply require willingness on the part of societal power holders to agree that there are real or potential threats to global order, and to accept the offer of help. At the moment, those pursuing this strategy are working mostly covertly, for reasons that are not hard to discern.
The second strategy consists of working within communities to build more societal resilience from the ground up. It is easier to get traction with friends and neighbors than with global power holders, and it’s within communities that political decisions are made closest to where the impact is felt. My own organization, Post Carbon Institute, has chosen to pursue this strategy via a series of books, the Community Resilience Guides; the “Think Resilience” video series; and our forthcoming compendium, The Community Resilience Reader.  Rob Hopkins, who originated the Transition Towns movement, has been perhaps the most public, eloquent, and upbeat proponent of the local resilience strategy, but there are countless others scattered across the globe.
So, are we ready?  not quite

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

This is the story of The Hurricane

It's flooding down in Texas
   -Stevie Ray Vaughn

They're trying to wash us away 
    - Randy Newman


      Once again, the chickens are coming home to roost .   What to do?  Maybe the force?  "Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope".  I wonder what our only hope is now?

        I just ran across two articles that illustrate that we have a bit of a blind spit when it comes our "only hope " .

       First Robert Scribbler had a long response in comment section of his blog.   He argues against the necessity for "degrowth",  ( It was  somewhat of a straw man argument argument as it is phrased arguments gains "degrowth alone".)    He argues that wind and solar are making great strides in the field of electric  generation,  and that great leaps can be expected in transportation and industrial use a well.     But hidden away in the technical argument is the political reality. -that a world without growth is inconceivable .     In other words a technological solution must exist, because degrowth is not politically acceptable .  Here is what he says:

"But degrowth in energy consumption without renewable alternatives that are capable of filling in the economic activity gap more efficiently would crush the very economic engines that are now capable of performing a complete transformation of the energy system in ever-shrinking time horizons. To be clear, radical de-growth philosophy is little more than an argument for enforced economic austerity at a scale that we have never before seen in the 20th or 21st centuries. And politically, this philosophy would fail as soon as it got out of the gate. A fact that even proponents, if they think for just one second, would realize.
Overall, increases in societal efficiency (as a pure metric) are certainly desirable and attainable — but only on longer time scales unless your ultimate aim is to destroy economies wholesale rather than to transform them. And from the perspective of climate change, there is no way to deal with the problem effectively without a massive renewable energy build out now. For degrowth alone does not remove the very sources of carbon emission — fossil fuels — that are causing the problem.

        Similarly, Dave Roberts argues for a different technological solution,  suggests that it's time to start talking about negative emissions
Roberts seems to recognize that no amount of solar panel and electric cars can get us to two degrees, and that it would also take a additional significant "degrowth " to actually reduce emissions by the amounts needed. 

In fact the needed decline rate is so steep Roberts calls that path "ludicrous".  

"If we do not allow negative emissions into the models, they show that to hit our target, emissions have to decline at an absolutely ludicrous rate:
1.5 scenarios
"Absent a meteor wiping out advanced civilization, that’s not going to happen. So, negative emissions it is!"
       So, he favors a  slightly more leisurely approach, which admittedly busts the carbon budget.  But then, technology steps in and saves the day .  We have to have "negative emissions", which means pulling carbon out of the air. .   The favorite idea is called. Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Sequestrstion.  Or BECCS

 " The idea is that as plants grow, they absorb carbon from the air. When biomass is burned for energy, that carbon is released. If you can capture that released carbon and bury it, you have a net carbon negative process — carbon is removed from the atmosphere.
To bury enough carbon to put the 2C target in reach, BECCS will have to be massively scaled up, requiring biomass planted and harvested over an area as large as India, or larger. (One reason many scientists, including Kevin Anderson, think it will never happen.) It is a truly gargantuan undertaking."

He points to a nice article by Brad Plummer, which describes how it might work in theory, but notes. 
The sober news is that this technology is still in its infancy, far from commercialization, and expected to be quite expensive.

       Another view, taken by Richard Heinberg, is that we are not going to voluntarily degrow, and that technology is not going to save the day. His most recent article is called " Why Climate Change is not our biggest environmental problem, and why technology isn't going to save us"
"Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue. Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing, and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution, and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity. The human system expanded dramatically, overshooting Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for humans while upsetting the ecological systems we depend on for our survival. Until we understand and address this systemic imbalance, symptomatic treatment (doing what we can to reverse pollution dilemmas like climate change, trying to save threatened species, and hoping to feed a burgeoning population with genetically modified crops) will constitute an endlessly frustrating round of stopgap measures that are ultimately destined to fail."

          I've been reading a new book on evolutionary psychology and meditation, which argues that our perceptions are often skewed, due to the way our brains were formed during our evolution.  And that we therefore have many fixed ideas that may have been useful for the survival of the species, in an environment totally different than this one.  For instance,  our love of junk food and drugs, our inclination toward tribalism, and "justified rage", and our  delusions about our own abilities, (we all think we are "above average")  and actions (we act rationally) .
        This got me thinking about how we look at all the coming "hurricanes" , and our faith in our technological salvation.  We all seem to share the illusion of agency - i.e.that we are in control.   Which reminded me of piece by Eric Lindberg from a few years ago.   He was discussing  The difference between the peak oil and climate change "narrative" 
"The limits of agency in peak oil narratives becomes more visible when compared to mainstream liberal environmentalism, for instance.  The latter is likely to believe that human ingenuity and innovation, along with our technical prowess provide limitless choices and opportunities to maintain our pre-peak trajectory of growing material prosperity.  American ingenuity and our spirit of freedom, they will suggest, allow us to make history as we please, especially when confronted with great challenges.  
 Peak oilers see this view as hopelessly naïve, an expression of ideological false consciousness: it fails to understand that all the technical prowess that most people believe are a result of our ingeniousness or a free society actually have more to do with our plentiful and growing supply of oil and other natural resources.  These techno-optimists don’t, to borrow David Holmgren’s  metaphor, understand that wealth comes from holes in the ground—and worse that these same holes in the ground have made possible our freedoms, our privileges, and everything else that they value. They fail to understand that energy is the true mover of history.
Peak oil narratives are brutally aware of the limits on human agency.  What little agency humans might have can only be achieved by understanding the underlying logic of history and by accepting the limits that logic imposes.  When we realize this, we won’t try to grow the economy, develop the “developing world,” depend on genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers, look for a new source of fuel on Mars, and so on.  Instead we will accept the coming contractions and adapt to them as best we can.

        Luckily, we don't have very many hurricanes in Oregon.   my heart goes out to the folks who are going through Hurricane Harvey.  Here is a list of charities highly rated by Charity Navigator for your consideration.   Here in Oregon, our " hurricane" is more likely to be a wildfire.   the Chetko fire is about 5 miles from Brookings.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Free riders, death spirals, cabbages and kings

From all these mistakes
We must surely be learning

I don't need no sports car
I can walk anytime around the block
      -Bob Dylan


Is it overshoot day already?  How time flies.  Happy Overshoot Day

"This means that in seven months, we emitted more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb in a year, we caught more fish, felled more trees, harvested more, and consumed more water than the Earth was able to produce in the same period," World Wildlife Fund and Global Footprint Network said in a statement.
"The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident around the world," the groups added, "in the form of deforestation, drought, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."
Last year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 8, an indication that the world's population is accelerating the pace with which it blows through the planet's annual resource budget from year to year. 

          Just another reminder of the need to turn the "SS Industrial Economy" away from the iceberg, and quickly.  But just how quickly can we turn, and who's going to pay the bill?

          Let's take a look at utilities.  For years their mandate was to provide power reliably, and a low cost.  For their troubles, they we entitled to a reasonable profit, as determined by the PUC.  Large centralized coal and gas plants worked pretty well .  They lasted a long time, so construction costs were spread out, and a big chunk of the costs were fuel, which didn't have to be paid upfront. 

          But, times change .   Now people want clean energy.  Some people want to generate their own energy and use the utility as aback up.  Some people want to have their own back up.  Some want to walk away.     Now , with the advent of cheap rooftop solar, and cheaper batteries , it is much more feasible for customers to walk away, especially in sunny states .  For some customers, that is.  Customers who can afford the up front costs .  But once they have left, who will be left to pay for grid, and all the sunk costs that the utility has in large centralized plants?  The remaining ratepayers ?   The government ?
           Sound familiar?   Kind of like the medical insurance mess we are in.   Are we going to have a "hookup mandate", like the "medical insurance mandate"?

          In this post Dave Roberts explains the utilities (and our) conundrum.      And here he suggest ways to reorganize our relationship with electricity and the grid.  .

          There's a similar problem with transportation. Robert Scribbler has an enthusiastic piece about the Tesla, calling it a Beautiful Machine to Change the World   It is p[retty.  And it will go pretty fast  ( 140 mph, 0-60 in 5.5 secs)   He points to a study that says electric vehicles could reduce our CO2 emissions to  between 1/2 and 1/10th that of a fossil fuel vehicle including manufacturing.     But,  we have a huge investment in the current transportation system.  In order to move to an electricity based system we will need to scrap a lot of infrastructure  - like fueling stations , fuel trucks, tankers, tank farms, refineries,  and of course cars.

           Let's look at cars.   The current fleet is overwhelmingly fossil based -  although there are 2 million EVS they only amount to .02% of the fleet..  Sales of EVS are growing rapidly,  but they have been unable to catch up to sales of regular IC vehicles.  In fact it may take more than a decade for the EV sales to stop the continuing growth in the total number of fossil fueled vehicles.  Here is an interesting article from Robert Rapier, where he points out that EVS are not substituting for IC sales, but are merely supplementing them. 

         Its a pretty straightforward arithmetic problem.  Every year a huge number of cars are sold.  Some are replacing cars that are junked.  Some are to meet the demand of new drivers.  Last year 88 million cars were sold,  up 4.8% from the previous year.  Less than 1 million were EVS .    That 4.8% growth represents the new demand.    So let's say car sales grow 3% next year.  So that's (88*.03) =2.64 million new cars added!  Let's say the EV growth rate is 25%,  so 950,000 units would be sold.   Still more IC than EV!   The next year its around 3 million and 1 million.  The tortoise and the hare.   At some point, the EV sales catch up, and then, hopefully, oil use begins to drop.    But, as  noted, that may be ten years from now.
           (I am going to ignore, for the time being that cars consume only 50% of the oil used , and that , so far, there is no mass producued electricity based, tractor trailer, , agricultural machinery, airplane, container ship etc) ,  

       And there is still a question of how much, and how soon,  the EV sales would reduce fossil fuel consumption.  See  this study which suggests that if 75% of the fleet were electric tomorrow, CO2 emissions would drop by less than 20%.    Why is that?  Well, the electrical system just isn't that clean yet..  

       Is the electric system likely to become clean quickly?   Not as quickly as we'd like to imagine.  The size of the investment is mind boggling.  See here

"...phasing out fossil fuels over 50 years – wind and solar plants need to be installed at eight to ten times current rates by 2035.
Financially, this corresponds with capital investment in wind and solar PV plants plus batteries of around US$3 trillion per year (in 2015 dollars) and average lifetime capital cost in the order of US$5 trillion to US$6 trillion per year.
This implies that total expenditure on energy supply will increase its share of world spending, reducing scope for other expenditure. "

       Here's an odd note-  even though renewables have been growing steadily, the percent of electric generation by fossil fuels has not changed in the last 10 years.

"...over the last decade (2005-2015) the share of renewables in our electricity mix has increased by approximately 5-6 percent. This is good news. However, over this same period, the share from nuclear production has decreased by almost exactly the same amount (5-6 percent)."

        So, are EV's the solution?   They might help, but not as much as we'd like to believe.  We actually need to get out of our cars altogether..   Here is a nice piece by George Monbiot  on our transportation system. His conclusion?

"Electric cars solve only part of the problem. They occupy less air, but just as much road and parking space. The resources required to manufacture them – and the volume of mines and ports and processing plants that wreck rare habitats around the world – might even intensify. While the total carbon emissions and air pollution caused by electric cars will be lower than those the fossil system produces, electricity use will have to rise. If you are among those who support electric cars but oppose nuclear power, you may have to reconsider one of your positions.
So let’s explore some pollution solutions that change this ridiculous system, rather than extending it indefinitely. Why not – through shifting road space from cars to bicycles in the form of safe cycle lanes – aim to make cycling the main form of urban transport? Why not launch a scrappage scheme that trades cars for public transport tokens

See also  this  suggesting that  we don't need "different" cars as much as we need "fewer cars"
"Oliver Hayes, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said: “Electric cars are critical in the fight against climate change and deadly air pollution, but they’re not a panacea. We must now build the infrastructure that reassures ordinary people that cycling and walking is safe, and invest in public transport that is consistently clean, cheap and reliable.”
   It seems the road between here and Our Renewable Future is filled with potholes.   We'd like to ride in style, and not have to give up any of our perks.  But if we don't change our ways, by  the time we get to that golden future, what do you suppose the world will look like?

         Here's one view from the IPPC.   On average its not so bad.  But there are winners and losers.  Some remain kings, some hope for cabbage.


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