Monday, February 1, 2016

Teach your children well

But let us not talk falsely now
the hour is getting late
-Bob Dylan
You say you've got  real solution
we' d all like to see the plan
-The Beatles


       I just saw a new presentation by Nate Hagens.   It's short version of a course he taught at the University of Minnesota called  Reality 101.    Got me thinking.   Suppose you were going to give some 18 year-olds an idea of what's in store for them.  What would you say?
          Strangely enough he never mentions Overshoot,  or Footprint.  But he does give an overview of the economy, energy, climate, extinctions  and the crowding out of wildlife.   He calls it The Great Acceleration, and displays a vary of graphic indicators noting that there are "hockey sticks everywhere".  He suggests we will be seeing things never seen before.  And  of course this is already happening.  Things  like a 50 degree temperature spike at the North Pole.  Things like climate change as a "disease muliplier", such as the Zika virus
As of today, authorities in Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador and Venezuela were urging women to avoid getting pregnant… It is unthinkable. Or rather, it is something out of a science fiction story, the absolute core of a dystopian future. — Bill McKibben in a recent statement on global warming and the now pandemic Zika virus. 
        As for the the economy, he believes we are near the end of growth, and the beginning of a deflationary depression.  He points out that in the US , growth has been over for the bottom 95% of us since 2000, when the median household income peaked.  He expects more poverty, noting that even now, most (63%) Americans don't have enough emergency saving to handle s $500 car repair bill, or $1000 medical emergency.   So, his advice is to prepare for LESS:   Less Energy, Stuff and Stimulation, and recommends focusing on more important things, like nature, friends and family.
        He expects the cost of energy to rise significantly,  He doesn't accept the mainstream view, which is that we can continue to live our high energy lifestyle based on renewable power.   Hagens says, of course build as much renewable power as you can, but recognize that wind and solar are not a panacea.  Even with the incredible growth , wind and solar are not replacing fossil fuels, but are merely increasing total energy consumption.  And despite their growth, they still only represent around 3% of total world energy use  And wind and solar only impact the electricity market, which is less than 20% of our energy use.  He says "no combination of  fossil fuels and renewable energy will maintain economic growth.".  Eventually,of course, we will be forced to move to a system of all or nearly all renewable power, but he estimates we'll have only 1/3 to 1/2  the power we have now.   Have to learn to "cook when the sun shines".  
       This view is echoed by Richard Heinberg, (see Can we have our climate and eat it too?, who notes that any attempt to transition to renewable power will result in much less available energy, especially if we attempt the transition called for to keep temperature growth near 2 degrees.
"It is unclear how much energy will be available to society at the end of the transition: there are many variables (including rates of investment and the capabilities of renewable energy technology without fossil fuels to back them up and to power their manufacture, at least in the early stages). Nevertheless, given all the challenges involved, it would be prudent to assume that people in wealthy industrialized countries will have less energy (even taking into account efficiencies in power generation and energy usage) than they would otherwise have, assuming a continuation of historic growth trends.
This conclusion is hard to avoid when considering the speed and scale of reduction in emissions actually required to avert climate catastrophe. As climate scientist Kevin Anderson points out in a recent Nature Geoscience paper:
According to the IPCC’s Synthesis Report, no more than 1,000 billion tonnes (1,000 Gt) of CO2 can be emitted between 2011 and 2100 for a 66% chance (or better) of remaining below 2 °C of warming (over preindustrial times)… However, between 2011 and 2014 CO2 emissions from energy production alone amounted to about 140 Gt of CO2… [Subtracting realistic emissions budgets for deforestation and cement production,] …the remaining budget for energy-only emissions over the period 2015–2100, for a ‘likely’ chance of staying below 2 °C, is about 650 Gt of CO2.
That 650 gigatons of carbon amounts to less than 19 years of continued business-as-usual emissions from global fossil energy use. The notion that the world could make a complete transition to alternative energy sources, using only that six-year fossil energy budget, and without significant reduction in overall energy use, might be characterized as optimism on a scale that stretches credulity."
   And even if we could,  what would be the environmental effect?
Heinberg says:
"According to the Global Footprint Network’s Living Planet Report 2014, the amount of productive land and sea available to each person on Earth in order to live in a way that’s ecologically sustainable is 1.7 global hectares. The current per capita ecological footprint in the United States is 6.8 global hectares. Asking whether renewable energy could enable Americans to maintain their current lifestyle is therefore equivalent to asking whether renewable energy can keep us living unsustainably. The clear answer is: only temporarily, if at all . . . so why attempt the impossible? We should aim for a sustainable level of energy and material consumption, which on average is significantly lower than at present.
Efforts to pre-adapt to shrinking energy supplies have understandably gotten a lot less attention from activists than campaigns to leave fossil fuels in the ground, or to promote renewable energy projects. But if we don’t give equal thought to this bundle of problems, we will eventually be caught short and there will be significant economic and political fallout."
       Is this the "reality" which most young people are expecting?  Probably not. Because,  most people they tune out such information.  Hagens also addresses this "cognitive dissonance",  which he defines as "believing something that is totally contrary to reality".  He explains that it is a well known  in psychology as way of reducing stress.     
       He devotes  some time to similar "biases" which have been useful through out our evolutionary history, but which are now making it difficult to see objectively.     So we we see the world through tinted glasses.  In that sense we are all "delusional".     That we are easily influenced by authority, by charismatic people, by peer pressure,and  by our own bias towards optimism  (all the children are above average).  We are driven to "keep up with the Joneses"  These biases are built in "features",  that by virtue of our new situation, they have become "bugs".
      So, if you've got an 18 year old around the house, you may want to watch this video together, and talk it over.  Then, take a walk in the woods, you'll both feel better

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