Wednesday, August 3, 2016

They didn't see the stop sign
took a turn for the worse
  -The Eagles (Life in the Fats Lane)
Don't you think you'd better stop?
Well maybe
    -Pearl Jam  (All Those Yesterdays)
       Here's hoping you are having a "resilient"  summer.  Hopefully you've had a chance "put up" some of your bounty.  Hard to believe, but it's time to start planting those fall crops.    And maybe finish chopping that firewood.  Yikes!   The days are getting shorter! 
      Richard Heinberg has a nice succinct analysis of our current situation in his latest piece "You Can't Handle the Truth".   Where he provides a nice sketch of the truth we'd rather avoid looking at.

"But here’s the real deal: a few generations ago we started using fossil fuels for energy; the result was an explosion of production and consumption, which (as a byproduct) enabled enormous and rapid increase in human population. Burning all that coal, oil, and natural gas made a few people very rich and enabled a lot more people to enjoy middle-class lifestyles. But it also polluted air, water, and soil, and released so much carbon dioxide that the planet’s climate is now going haywire. Due to large-scale industrial agriculture, topsoil is disappearing at a rate of 25 billion tons a year; at the same time, expanded population and land use is driving thousands, maybe millions of species of plants and animals to extinction.
 We extracted non-renewable fossil fuels using the low-hanging fruit principle, so that just about all the affordable petroleum (which is the basis for nearly all transport) has already been found and most of has already been burned. Since we can’t afford most of the oil that’s left (either in terms of the required financial investment or the energy required to extract and refine it), the petroleum industry is in the process of going bankrupt. There are alternative energy sources, but transitioning to them will require not just building an enormous number of wind turbines and solar panels, but replacing most of the world’s energy-using infrastructure.
 We have overshot human population levels that are supportable long-term. Yet we have come to rely on continual expansion of population and consumption in order to generate economic growth—which we see as the solution to all problems. Our medicine is our poison.

And most recently, as a way of keeping the party roaring, we have run up history’s biggest debt bubble—and we doubled down on it in response to the 2008 global financial crisis.
       Its no secret that climate -wise,   the chickens are coming home to roost. See e.g. Scorching global temps astound climate scientists; 1000 year flood in Maryland;  Alaska highway melting    Anthrax spewing zombie deer 

"Conditions that are melting Arctic permafrost there recently thawed the carcasses of deer felled by anthrax some 75 years ago, when World War II raged. Warmer temperatures then reactivated the infectious disease, which can survive in hibernation for decades. More than three dozen people have been hospitalised, half of them children, though with no confirmed cases. Making matters worse, a heatwave combined with the anthrax outbreak may have killed more than 1200 deer. New ones.
As apocalyptic as this development may seem, it's perhaps the least worrisome byproduct of warming near the top of the Earth, which is heating up the fastest. Retreating ice and softening permafrost both in the Arctic and elsewhere have already begun to yield other curiosities and dangers, some of which can do a lot more damage than a pile of dead deer:
        We've no option but to adapt, so it's probably a good idea to look at this analysis by the World Resource Institute, which points out how rainfall is movinging away from the equator and towards the poles

" Now a new study in the journal Nature provides some of the first evidence that this widely-predicted phenomenon – the movement of clouds and rainfall from the mid-latitudes towards the North and South poles -- is already taking place. Just like the retreat of glaciers and polar sea ice, now clouds and rain are retreating poleward.
 This will have huge implications for agricultural production, industrial and energy output, and municipal water provisioning. Many irrigated agricultural areas are already facing water stress. The climate-driven shift of clouds and rain – known as Hadley Cell expansion – will put those areas under even greater stress in the future. Rain-fed agriculture, which many poor people depend upon, will also suffer as a result of reduced rainfall in the mid-latitude regions.
         And of course this is likely to inspire migrants to make their way north.   This is most obvious in North Africa, and Europe, but here is an interesting report from the University of Portland,  suggesting that Oregon would do well do plan for a surge of migrants  - before they come.   

On the resources side, it is widely recognized that we are seeing the end of cheap oil.  There are many theories about this and its likely effects.  Here is a particularity interesting one from an economist with the IMF   see study here.   Although this is likely to result in higher prices over the longer term   (see The Coming Moonshot in Oil Prices), over the shorter term,  prices are fluctuating wildly.   Currently oil process are quite low.  Too low for many US producers to turn a a profit.    In this article Art Berman provides a useful overview of the oil situation in historical context.     Based on his review, one might divide the last 75 years into three categories:  The Golden Age, the age of debt, and the age of consequences
 "The United States experienced a golden age of economic growth and prosperity during the 25 years following World War II. This period forms the basis for U.S. and indeed global expectations that growth is the norm and that recessions and slow growth are aberrations that result from mis-management of the economy. This is the America that today’s populists want to return to.
The Golden Age, however, was a singular phenomenon that is unlikely to recur. After 1945, the economies and militaries of Europe and Japan were in ruins. The U.S. was the only major power that survived the war intact.  Having no competition is a huge competitive advantage.
The U.S. was the first country to fully convert to petroleum, another competitive advantage. A barrel of oil contains about the same amount of energy as a human would expend in calories in 11 years of manual labor.  Crude oil contains more than twice as much energy as coal and two-and-a-half times more than wood. And it’s a liquid that can be moved easily around the world and put in vehicles for transport.
 In 1950, the U.S. produced 52% of the crude oil in the world and was largely self-sufficient. Texas was the largest U.S. producing state and the Texas Railroad Commission (TXRRC) controlled the world price of oil through a system of allowable production that also ensured spare capacity.
     The age of debt started after the oil shocks in the 1970's
   "The U.S. put economic growth on a credit card that it never planned to pay off. Public debt increased almost 6-fold from the beginning of Reagan’s administration ($1 trillion) in 1981 to the end of Clinton’s ($6 trillion) in 2000 (Figure 5). By the end of Bush’s presidency in 2008, debt had reached $10 trillion. It is now more than $18 trillion.
 The 1990s were the longest period of economic growth in American history. There are, of course, limits to growth based on debt but the new economy seemed to be working as long as oil prices stayed low. 
It seems that the economy can grow given either a) low oil prices or b) the ability to absorb more debt.  Now  debt is astronomical, and even low oil prices cannot seem to do their magic.   We still feeling the effects of the recent surge in prices

"The oil-price collapse that began in July 2014 followed the longest period of unaffordable oil prices in history. Monthly oil prices (in 2016 dollars) were above $90 per barrel for 48 months from November 2010 through September 2014 ."
Berman puts it simply ; The economy is exhausted.  This intuition is confirmed by the fact that between 2005 and 2014, incomes were either stagnant or fell for 65-70% of the population in developed countries .   This was a big change, as in the periods before 2005, the figure was 2%. see here
Heinberg suggest the real underlying cause - we have just reached the limits to growth:
" In reality, these are all symptoms of an entirely foreseeable systemic crisis. The basic outlines of that crisis were traced over 40 years ago in a book titled The Limits to Growth. Today we are hitting the limits of net energy, environmental pollution, and debt, and the experience is uncomfortable for just about everyone. The solution that’s being proposed by our political leaders? Find someone to blame.

He suggest that neither party is willing to recognize this, and therefore they offer nothing to adress it
"The Republicans really do seem to get the apocalyptic tenor of the moment: their convention was all about dread, doom, and rage. But they don’t have the foggiest understanding of the actual causes and dynamics of what’s making them angry, and just about everything they propose doing will make matters worse. Call them the party of fear and fury.
 The Democrats are more idealistic: if we just distribute wealth more fairly, rein in the greedy banks, and respect everyone’s differences, we can all return to the 1990s when the economy was humming and there were jobs for everyone. No, we can do even better than that, with universal health care and free college tuition. Call the Democrats the party of hope.
In the end, Heinberg suggests that the most effective response is to work locally - on our own, and on our community's resilience
 "Given the absence of helpful leadership at the national level, our main opportunity for effective preparation and response to the wolf at our doorstep appears to lie in local community resilience building.
 It’s the truth. Can you handle it?

So, what to do?  Here's an interesting idea Conviviality

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