Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Day dream believer

I am telling you my dear
that it can't happen here
    -Frank Zappa
Only trouble is
Gee wiz
I'm dreaming my life away
     - The Everly Brothers
       Anyone catch the OPB show, "Unprepared"?  (stream it here )     Definitely worth watching.  Kind of spooky to see how far Oregon is behind Washington and California.   Just for fun put your address in here, and see how long  you'll go without electricity, sewer and water.  And medical care.    Pretty eye opening.  Maybe its time to check out the old Coleman camping stove - (or solar cooker) .  See if it's still in working order.   How about that backpacking water filter?  Where the heck is that thing?
       The difference between the preparations on the US and Japan are particularly striking.  The Japanese have had a long history with earthquakes ad tsunamis, so they know that it is real.  Here on the west coast, the last one was in 1750 or so, so people aren't so sure.  The geologists are sure, but not all the citizens..  
       They say you learn from experience, and the Japanese have definitely learned.  Their infrastructure is built to take it.  Ours is not.    So, the question is, can you learn , without having the experience?  This is probably the big question of our time.  Can we prepare for something we haven't seen?.  Things like Climate Change, and Resource Limits?
      So far the Oregon experience isn't too hopeful.  "Unprepared"  shows the response of two communities , Gold Beach, and Seaside.  Both are now aware of the facts.  Its not a question of "whether", but of "when".  So , recently Gold Beach decided to build a new hospital.  Should they build it where the old hospital was, in the tsunami zone, or move it to higher ground?   They chose the tsunami zone..  Seaside proposed to move its schools out of the tsunami zone.  The voters wouldn't authorize the costs.
        This all reminds my of a nice piece by Alice Friedman, on her energy skeptic blog.  "Why do political, economic, and scientific leaders deny Peak Oil and Climate Change?"     They, too ,ignore things they haven't seen before
        She runs through a variety of explanations - both psychological,and  political.  Of course, there are always a variety of flavors of denial  - "It won't happen" , to "It won't be so bad", or, "They'll think of something".  Most of these ideas are designed to soothe the mind, and provide some basis for avoiding necessary change, so we can continue to do what we've grown accustomed to doing.   ("Driving around and buying sh*t" - DD).
      Alice recounts her personal experience in attempting to deal with our situation from a reality based perspective.
     The best, yet least “successful” group (in terms of numbers of members) I ever participated in was the first peak oil group in America. It was started by David Room in 2004 via meetup.com.  David did a fantastic job of bringing in parallel groups from across the San Francisco Bay Area to form coalitions with — local food, bicycle, simple living, organic farming, permaculture, alternate currency, scientists at the University of California (Berkeley) and LBL, climate change and national organizations like Post Carbon and ASPO.  These groups often shared our goal of reducing consumption. San Francisco and Oakland were among the first cities in the United States to form peak oil task forces.
But except for Post Carbon, these groups all thought we could replace fossil fuels with alternative energy (and even Post Carbon has to give some lip service to alternative energy to widen membership).  Climate change groups especially hate peak fossil fuels,  because it means peak oil is a more important issue to focus on near-term, and probably means that the lowest 4 IPCC projections are closest to reality (and therefore human extinction much less likely), and that makes them unreasonably fear people will  stop worrying about climate change.
Hundreds of people came to the East Bay / sfbayoil group over the next 6 years, but few returned, because we were not offering techno-optimist solutions.  We educated people about the limited EROEI of solar, wind, and other reasons why oil was impossible to replace (97% of transportation, takes 40-50 years before peak but we’re at peak oil since 2005), infrastructure built when EROEI was 100:1.  Several of us were very involved with debunking biofuels and the harm they caused to the environment (Tad Patzek at the University of California, David Fridley at LBL, and I — see “Peak Soil“).  We discussed how we were going back to the age of wood, the need for birth control and less immigration — which are terribly politically incorrect.  Despite how dismal sounding this is, we had fun — solar cooking picnics, great parties and food, many of us went to national and international ASPO meetings, and more.  But we lost members because you can not tell people the truth and give them hope.  You can’t grow an ecological organization if you can't educate people about carrying capacity, exponential growth, and other basic ecological principles."

        Only the techno optimist "solution"  gives people what they want - Business as Usual.   "There must be a way!"   And of course we have seen a number of versions of this.  The current front runner is the carbon sucking technology - which will allow us to burn whatever we want while carbon in the air is reduced.  (But probably not)  But next in line is the view that renewable energy devices and EV machines will solve both climate change and peak oil, without affecting our lavish lifestyles.

      This is a lovely story, and in some ways I wish it were true.  I am generally in favor of renewables, and EVs, and they will probably be helpful in ameliorating the problems ahead. But I think is is way too late to believe that they will avoid these problems.  

       While there are many questions about these technologies, such as EROIintermittentcybatteries, and rare materials, but let's assume those things can all be fixed.  There still remains the  major problem  of scale.   Currently fossil fuels account for 87% of energy use     We need to stop using them right now, or very soon to avoid "dangerous climate change"  Odds are, our carbon budget is very low or non-existant. .     And how fast could we build out the necessary infrastructure, and renewable devices?   As Tom Murphy shows in his "Energy Trap" essay, the faster we build out, the bigger the carbon "burp", we make .  The carbon associated with renewables is all "front loaded" - and if we build it now it will be made with our existing energy infrastructure which is 87% carbon based.  (For an interesting analysis of a potential build out approach see here - suggesting that  the first 10 years of the build out will result in more CO2 emissions than BAU)

      Electric vehicles run into a similar problem.  An electric vehicle has many advantages over an ICE.  It is much simpler, less moving parts, very efficient, and has a clean tail pipe.  It also uses no gasoline.  As soon as we reach the point of "peak affordable oil"  we will need to begin reducing our use.  Experts vary on how fast the supply of oil will be reduced.  Estimates vary (large fields average 6.5%).  Lets use 1%.    If we could replace 1% of our ICE vehicles with an EV, that would also reduce the demand for gasoline by 1%.  Our problem would be solved. For simplicity sake lets assume that there are 200 million vehicles on the road in the US. (245 million registered) 1% of 200 million, is 2 million.  So we only need 2 million Evs.  When could we expect to see sales at this level?    Well, in 2014, sales of all plug in cars (including both EVs and dual fuel hybrids) was 123,000.   (In 2013 - 98,00, In 2012 53,000).   It may be a while before EVs make a dent in gasoline use!

      Perhaps this isn't solely a problem of wishful thinking.  Scientific and mathematical illiteracy probably plays a role.  See e.g. Why Johnny can't understand climate: functional illiteracy and the rise of "unpropaganda".  see also  ACT test: 31% of seniors ready for college.  This is particularly true among our leaders.  As the NYT reports.   "Among the 435 members of the House, for example, there are one physicist, one chemist, one microbiologist, six engineers and nearly two dozen representatives with medical training. "

      So, what does this mean?  It means that we won't be able to just "plug and play" renewables and EVs and go on about our business as usual.   We will also need to change the way we act.   Climate change and peak oil are very much like "The Big One".  We can pretend its not coming or we can prepare.  

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