On Free Will and the Great Barrier Reef

By Dahr Jamail – Great Barrier Reef Reaches “Terminal Stage” as CO2 Levels Rise at Record Rate

Dahr Jamail reports on the dying Great Barrier Reef and other recent casualties of climate change.

He concludes the article by blaming the denial of Trump and other leaders.

Jamail does not mention his own denial demonstrated by flying long distances to report on climate change.

Everyone, myself included, has a justification for their lifestyle.

Genes have evolved over billions of years to compete for finite energy so they can survive to replicate.

There are 7.5 billion humans in severe overshoot because their genes out-competed the genes of all other life by learning to dig up and burn ancient solar energy.

Having genes that make us smart enough to understand our mortality and the implications of our genes’ ability to exploit fossil energy requires genes that cause us to deny reality to avoid depression and a consequent decrease in reproductive fitness.

Our genes are in charge.

Free will is an illusion.

Enabled by denial of reality.

How could it be otherwise?

7.5 billion and rising

The world’s population just passed 7.5 billion.

http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

Canada’s population has grown 19% since 2000.

http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/canada-population/

An informed aware optimist believes the planet can sustain up to 2 billion people when affordable fossil energy is gone around 2040.

An informed aware pessimist believes the planet can sustain up to 1 billion people when affordable fossil energy is gone around 2025.

Both understand that the maximum possible population will be much lower if we assume a current North American standard of living.

Both understand that the maximum possible population will decrease as each decade passes for the next several thousand years due to climate change impacts on human habitat and food production.

The vast majority of people, on the other hand, are uninformed and in denial, and either don’t believe 7.5 billion people, fossil energy depletion, and climate change are problems, or do not think about the issues.

It’s no surprise that not one of the three parties competing in BC’s election have population reduction as a priority.

Nor mitigation plans for fossil energy depletion.

Nor an honest discussion of what 410 ppm CO2 means.

Denial on. Party on.

By Art Berman: Oil Prices Lower Forever? Hard Times In a Failing Global Economy

Art Berman is an oil industry expert worth listening to. I missed this Forbes article he published in July 2016. Thanks to Alice Friedemann for reviving it.

This is one of the better summaries I’ve read on the history of, and relationship between, energy and the economy.

Economic growth, without unsustainable and dangerous debt, is no longer possible. I explored the implications of no growth in this essay.

Berman wisely concludes by saying our best course of action is to face the beast.

Facing the beast would require us to break through our inherited denial of reality.

I wish but I do not expect.

http://energyskeptic.com/2017/art-berman-oil-prices-lower-forever-hard-times-in-a-failing-global-economy/

oil-prices-in-2016-dollars-1950-2016-1024x694

Energy is the economy. Energy resources are the reserve account behind currency. The economy can grow as long as there is surplus affordable energy in that account. The economy stops growing when the cost of energy production becomes unaffordable. It is irrelevant that oil companies can make a profit at unaffordable prices.

Energy underlies and connects everything. We need energy to make things, transport and sell things and to transport ourselves so that we can work and spend. We need it to run our computers, our homes and our businesses. It takes energy to heat, cool, cook and communicate. In fact, it is impossible to think of anything in our lives that does not rely on energy.

When energy costs are low, the costs of doing business are correspondingly low. When energy prices are high, it is difficult to make a profit because the underlying costs of manufacture and distribution are high. This is particularly true in a global economy that requires substantial transport of raw materials, goods and services.

And this is precisely the problem with the almost universally held belief that technology will make all things possible, including making a finite resource like oil infinite. Technology has a cost that its evangelists forget to mention.

The reality is that technology allows us to extract tight oil from non-reservoir rock at almost 3 times the cost of high-quality reservoirs in the past. The truth is that we have no high-quality reservoirs left with sufficient reserves to move the needle on the high global appetite for oil. The consequence is that to keep consuming and producing as we always have will inevitably cost a lot more money. This is basic thermodynamics and not a pessimistic opinion about technology.

Renewable energy will be increasingly part of the landscape but its enthusiasts are also magical thinkers.

In 2015, renewables accounted for only 3% of U.S. primary energy consumption. No matter the costs nor determination to convert from fossil to renewable energy, a transition of this magnitude is unlikely in less than decades.

Solar PV and wind provide much lower net energy than fossil fuels and have limited application for transport–the primary use of energy– without lengthy and costly equipment replacement. The daunting investment cost becomes critically problematic in a deteriorating economy.  Although proponents of renewable energy point to falling costs, more than half of all solar panels used in the U.S. are from China where cheap manufacturing is financed by unsustainable debt.

The future for oil prices and the global economy is frightening. I don’t know what beast slouches toward Bethlehem but I am willing to bet that it does not include growth.The best path forward is to face the beast. Acknowledge the problem, stop looking for improbable solutions that allow us live like energy is still cheap, and find ways to live better with less.

By Tim Morgan: The Prosperity Equation

Tim Morgan offers another fresh and intelligent insight into world affairs.

It seems a modest decrease in prosperity of about 6% may explain much of the political chaos in the world.

Imagine what may happen when our global debt bubble bursts and we have a significant drop in prosperity.

https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/93-the-prosperity-equation/

Fig. 1: Prosperity per capita, 2016 vs 2006

prosperityjpg_page1

This gets us to a definition of prosperity, something mentioned here before but so important that it bears repetition. Prosperity is “discretionary” income.

Surplus energy economics provides unique insights into prosperity because the trend cost of energy is the principle driver of non-discretionary costs. The cost of essentials is massively linked to the cost of energy. Fuel, power and light are themselves significant components of the non-discretionary spend. But energy also drives the cost of water, minerals, food and the various manufactured goods which need to be acquired and replaced over time.

 

That the average Chinese person saw his prosperity increase by “only” 58% over a decade remains pretty impressive. But the same adjustments, when applied to less vibrant economies, have some very adverse implications for prosperity.

In the United States, growth of 14.6% in GDP translates into a decrease of 7.0% in prosperity, which might go a long way to help explain why Donald Trump was able to wrest the White House out of the clutches of the political establishment.

In Britain, GDP growth of 12.2% translates into a slump of 13.8% in prosperity, which might likewise help explain “Brexit”. Italian prosperity fell by 9.7% between 2006 and 2016 – a worse fall than any other country except Britain – which no doubt influenced the resounding voter rejection of Matteo Renzi’s reform proposals.

More positively, personal prosperity over that decade increased by 48% in India, 18% in Russia and 12% in Poland.

It’s impossible to say whether the 6.6% ten-year deterioration in French prosperity will be enough to oust the establishment from power – but a not-dissimilar deterioration (of 7%) was followed by the election of Mr Trump, whilst Italy’s 9.7% decline was more than enough to see off Mr Renzi.

If France does elect Ms Le Pen or Mr Mélenchon, the consequences could be drastic – and not just for France herself.

By Ted Trainer: Your Oil Wake Up Call

A very nice summary of our predicament, and what should but won’t be done, because of denial.

https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2017/04/08/your-oil-wake-up-call/

ALMOST NO ONE has the slightest grasp of the oil crunch that will hit them, probably within a decade. When it does it will literally mean the end of the world as we know it. Here is an outline of what recent publications are telling us. Nobody will, of course, take any notice.

 

There is now considerable effort going into working out the relationships between these factors, ie. deteriorating energy EROI, economic stagnation, and debt. The situation is not at all clear. Some see EROI as already being the direct and major cause of a terminal economic breakdown, others think at present more important causal factors are increasing inequality, ecological costs, aging populations and slowing productivity.

Whatever the actual causal mix is, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that within at best a decade deteriorating EROI is going to be a major cause of enormous disruption.

 

So, the noose tightens around the brainless, taken for granted ideology that drives consumer-capitalist society and that cannot be even thought about, let alone dealt with.

We are far beyond the levels of production and consumption that can be sustained or that all people could ever rise to. We haven’t noticed because the grossly unjust global economy delivers most of the world’s dwindling resource wealth to the few who live in rich countries. Well, the party is now getting close to being over.

You don’t much like this message? Have a go at proving that it’s mistaken. Nar, better to just ignore it as before.

 

If the foregoing account is more or less right, then there is only one conceivable way out. That is to face up to transition to lifestyles and systems that enable a good quality of life for all on extremely low per capita resource use rates, with no interest in getting richer or pursuing economic growth.

There is no other way to defuse the problems now threatening to eliminate us, the resource depletion, the ecological destruction, the deprivation of several billion in the Third World, the resource wars and the deterioration in our quality of life.

By Gail Tverberg: Why Energy-Economy Models Produce Overly Optimistic Indications

Gail Tverberg’s essay today provides an excellent summary of why collapse of civilization is inevitable and not too far in the future.

I remain fascinated by how almost all experts, leaders, and citizens deny what is going on.

https://ourfiniteworld.com/2017/03/29/why-energy-economy-models-produce-overly-optimistic-indications

Here are a few key ideas from the essay:

Producers and consumers of energy products are both important

  • Energy prices can be too high for consumers
  • Energy prices can be too low for producers

Both problems are equally important

  • World economy cannot operate without both being satisfied
  • Either a too low or a too high price is a problem

4-price-problem-only-appears-near-limit

We often hear about “Supply and Demand.” A better name for “demand” might be “amount affordable.”

The situation we have now is very much like a Ponzi Scheme. We need to keep adding more debt to keep wages and commodity prices high enough. At the same time, interest rates need to stay very low, to keep payments manageable, and keep the whole system from collapsing.

The balance sheets of insurance companies, banks, and pension plans include much debt. If these institutions are to make good on their promises to those with bank accounts, insurance policies, and pension plans, it is necessary for this debt to be repaid with interest. Back many years ago, debt jubilees were often given to selected debtors. These are out of the question now, because banks, insurance companies, and pension plans depend upon the future payments that this debt represents.

Growing debt is one of the waste outputs. Since we voluntarily seek out debt, we think of debt as an input. But if we think about the situation, debt is really is an adverse output. Required interest payments tend to pull funds out of the system that could otherwise be used to pay workers. Also, the rising use of debt tends to concentrate the ownership of “tools” among the already wealthy. Debt can grow for a while, but it has limits, because of the adverse impacts it creates for the economy.

Growing wage disparity occurs because of the increased specialization required by ever-rising use of tools and technology. Some people receive the benefit of advanced education and learning to use tools such as computers; others receive much less benefit. As a result, their wages lag behind. Wage disparity is another limit of the system. If a large share of the workers cannot afford to buy the output of the economy, “demand” falls too low, and commodity prices tend to fall.

Trying to run the economy on solar electricity alone (or solar plus wind plus water) is a futile exercise. One reason is that it would require massive changes to allow long-haul trucks and airplanes to operate on electricity.

Also, electricity is a high-cost energy product. Today, our economy operates on a mix of high and low cost energy products, with low cost energy products keeping the average cost down. Trying to run the economy on electricity alone is a bit like trying to run the economy using only PhDs. In theory it could be done, but it would be expensive to have PhDs waiting on tables in restaurants and delivering mail.

There is a different kind of EROEI that seems to me to be at least as likely, or more likely, to be the first limit that we will reach. That is the return that workers who are selling their labor simply as labor (without advanced education or supervisory responsibility) obtain. If these workers find that their wages drop too low, this will be a limit on the operation of the economy. Low wages will prevent these workers from buying houses and cars. If the wages of the large number of non-elite workers fall too low, commodity prices will tend to fall, and the system will tend to collapse because producers cannot make a profit at such a low price.

Biologists have been studying the return on the labor of animals for many years, because their populations tend to collapse, when animals are forced to expend too much labor in finding food. EROEI based on wages of non-elite workers would seem to be a closer parallel to the animal return on labor than fossil fuel EROEI.

We have multiple problems:

Problem 1. No dissipative structure can last forever.

Problem 2. As a dissipative structure, our economy seems to be reaching its end.

  • Partly because of slowing growth in energy consumption
  • Partly because of growing wage disparity.

Problem 3. We have ramped up recycling of debt as assets to an amazing level.

  • This debt recycling prevents debt jubilees
  • Leads to the likelihood that insurance companies, banks, and pension plans will fail, if the economy fails

Problems appear to be not far in the future:

Financial system is likely to be center of the storm

  • Most EROEI analysts miss this point

Economy cannot shrink without debt defaults

Economy doesn’t have the ability to go backward

  • Transition to using horses for transportation would be difficult

Theory says that new somewhat similar dissipative structures are likely to eventually form

  • Depends on how many can survive the coming contraction
  • Also, how depleted resources are
  • If contraction too severe, no new economy may be possible

On the Tragedy of Trends

Tim Garrett, the world’s most under appreciated scientist, makes a persuasive case that wealth is proportional to energy consumption. More specifically, US$1 (1990) = 10 mW. This makes intuitive sense because energy is required to make and/or maintain everything that we assign a monetary value to.

Yesterday the Visual Capitalist published some charts showing energy consumption trends for the US.

http://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-americas-changing-energy-mix-1970-2030/

chart-energy-mix-usa-2030

In the following discussion I deliberately ignore the chart’s forecast for the future because it comes from the deeply in denial Energy Information Administration (EIA), which bases its forecasts on expected demand rather than geologic and thermodynamic reality. In other words, the EIA makes forecasts based on what we will likely desire, rather than what is likely to be available, or what we will likely be able to afford.

I also ignore changes in energy efficiency because I think we have already harvested all of the low hanging fruit and recent efficiency gains are in the noise.

By applying Garrett’s theory we can draw some illuminating conclusions:

  1. The total wealth of the US peaked around 2000 and has been in slow decline since.
  2. The wealth of individuals peaked around 2000 after 3 decades of little growth, has been in steep decline since, and today is about 15% lower on average than 1970.
  3. The contribution of renewable energy to our wealth has been and remains insignificant. Doubly so if you consider the fossil energy required to manufacture, install, and maintain renewable energy equipment.

The actual decline in wealth for the majority of citizens will be larger than these charts suggest because of the widening wealth gap, which has resulted from the low interest rates employed to offset declining net energy. Low interest rates increase the opportunity for the rich to profit from the bubbles created by low interest rates.

I expect trends in other industrialized countries will mirror those of the US, and in many cases will be worse because the US is so well-endowed with natural resources and its reserve currency.

It is clear why social unrest is increasing in most countries.

No one is to blame for these trends. They are simply a consequence of the scientific laws of geology and thermodynamics. It is true however that low and middle income citizens are carrying a disproportionate share of the impact because governments did not implement tax policies to prevent a predictable wealth gap increase caused by low interest rates.

Our inherited denial of reality prevents most people from understanding what is going on, and thus most people seek someone to blame.

Awareness and understanding could lead to cooperation and voluntary lifestyle changes.

Denial and blame will likely lead to tragedy.