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If this blog goes dark…

A good friend and I are departing tomorrow on an epic 6-8 day hike in Strathcona Park to celebrate turning 60 this year.

The two of us began hiking this beautiful park located in the center of Vancouver Island in 1976, as this picture of me on a peak proves.

N950-127A

 

Our path, with 60+ pound packs, begins at Arnica Lake and ends at the Elk River, with side trips to Marble Meadows and the Golden Hinde, which is the highest peak on Vancouver Island.

BRMB MapA

If this blog goes dark you will have observed another excellent example of denial.

In this case, 60 year olds who deny they are too old for grueling adventures.

Wish us luck and don’t worry because I can’t think of a better way to go.

By Bodhi Paul Chefurka: I’d rather light a candle than curse the darkness

Approaching the Limits to Growth

 

Paul Chefurka was an early thinker about overshoot and has a large body of excellent work.

He’s also an inspiration for many people wondering how to live with their knowledge of reality.

This 2013 Facebook post by Chefurka provides a nice summary of his journey.

https://www.facebook.com/Bodhisantra

The last six months have seen the most wrenching shift for me since the day I discovered the potential for collapse lurking behind Peak Oil. Moving from a profoundly humanist perspective to a deeply impersonal thermodynamic understanding of the world and its creatures has completely upended my philosophical applecart.

I’ve been steeped for my whole life in the traditions of the Age of Enlightenment, complete with the notions of human agency, reason, free will, morality and the perfectibility of man. My political background was the 1960’s socialist, social-justice movement where concepts of fairness and equality reigned supreme. All that has now crumbled to dust.

My journey to this strange new land began with a simple question. I wanted to know why we couldn’t seem to do anything to stop climate change despite everything we know about its causes and effects.

I first looked outward – “Who is to blame?” Then I looked inward – “What is it that makes us so eager to accept activities that many of us know are dangerous and wrong-headed?”

In the search for answers I kept pulling on the various threads I found, then going over to whatever wiggled in response, finding the threads connected to that, and pulling them in turn.

When the fabric finally unraveled I found myself staring at the Second Law of Thermodynamics, with nobody to blame and precious little to be done about our predicament.

In a way I feel betrayed. Everything I’ve been told about how the world works appears to be wrong. The traditional explanations don’t truly explain what I see happening in either the outer or the inner world. Very few people realize that our precious “Story of the People” – our scientifically derived, culturally grounded, explanatory narrative of the world and our place in it – is little but a comforting, self-deluding fabrication. It’s a fantasy borne more out of wish fulfillment than out of any realistic assessment of what’s actually going on. It may be the greatest piece of confirmation bias that we have ever perpetrated on ourselves.

I feel betrayed by the scientists, the politicians, the activists, the philosophers and engineers. It’s enormously frustrating to have come to this realization about the world, in my limited capacity as a single private citizen. It feels incredibly disempowering, which is not surprising – the very concept of “power” has always been defined by those same scientists, politicians, activists etc. As that worldview falls away I even have to realign my inner definitions of power and relationship.

But while I feel a huge rupture of dislocation, I also feel a soaring sense of freedom and liberation. No longer shackled to shame, blame and guilt, I can see people and events through a less reactive, emotionally filtered eye. The world seems clearer. What people do and why they do it is suddenly obvious. What’s going on in the world has begun to make sense for the first time in my 62 years.

For me the trade-off between clarity and comfort has been worthwhile. As difficult as this journey has become, I’d rather light a candle than curse the darkness.

By Richard Nolthenius: Will the End of Growth Tame Climate Change?

Angry Tiger

Dr. Richard Nolthenius is a climate scientist that I respect. I have previously posted some of his excellent work here and here.

Nolthenius stopped by today to leave a comment. This gave me an opportunity to ask a climate expert a question that I have wanted to ask for a long time:

Do you think the end of economic growth (which will probably occur soon due to low-cost oil depletion) will be enough to prevent a climate incompatible with civilization?

Here is his answer:

No, not at this point.

The old IPCC carbon budgets are woefully politically manipulated and wrong, missing key physics and assuming massive carbon capture and sequestration later this century to boot.

We are crossing the permafrost thaw tipping point right now – since Vaks et al 2013 showed that +1.5C was the tipping point, and we’re arriving there right now, as of the end of 2016 +1.48C if you use the new Schurer, Mann et al 2017 work on what is the more reliable measure of “pre-industrial” temperature. We’re passing the West Antarctic melt tipping point too, and even at today’s temperatures the Arctic Ocean is soon to be free of summer ice.

It’s too late for merely ending growth (as if “merely” were easy or going to happen !).  We’ll need active human-effort’ed atmospheric CO2 removal and sequestration. AFTER ending growth, AFTER ending all current CO2 and GHG emissions.

Also, merely ending growth doesn’t stop energy generation. We still need to support all past growth. Even getting to the point we can do that with renewables entirely, still means we need much more CO2 emissions from factories etc just to build the infrastructure to put in place an entirely new grid and energy system. 81% of primary energy consumption in the world today is still fossil fuels and that hasn’t budged for the entire century we’re in. I’m reading 2% growth in emissions in 2017, and predicted 2% more in ’18 and another 2% in ’19. While renewables has a good % growth rate, it’s on such a tiny base that fossil fuels even at only 2% are easily able to keep the same percentage of total energy.

The only solutions at this point are going to be EXPENSIVE, as in maybe 5-10% of GDP for a very long time, to do the transition and take Earth to the Urgent Care ER. And we as a global society only do “expensive” when we get short-term bling out of it.

No; we have to grow up, spiritually and emotionally, in a huge hurry, and so far I see none of that, but instead I see more fear-induced wall building, demagogues, and violence.

As scarcity increases, I expect to see more of it, not a “come let us love together” transformation, I’m sorry to say.

 

 

 

On Oil

Oil

JTRoberts recently made an important and insightful observation which I paraphrase and elaborate here.

Oil is a non-renewable resource that we extract from the earth. Oil companies are motivated by profit so they start with low-cost reservoirs and as those deplete they move to increasingly higher cost sources like water injection, offshore, tar sands, and fracking.

All economic activity depends on energy, as the laws of thermodynamics explain, and as the near perfect correlation between wealth and energy consumption confirms.

Oil is the keystone energy because oil is required to extract or capture all other forms of energy including food, coal, natural gas, wood, solar, wind, nuclear, and hydroelectric energy.

The cost of oil can be viewed as a tax on economic activity. Our economy is configured to operate profitably on about $20 per barrel oil. We have already captured most feasible energy efficiency gains making it difficult for our economy to operate profitably on oil over $20.

Thus, as the cost of extraction due to depletion of low-cost reserves pushes the price of oil above $20, the difference must be made up with debt.

At today’s $70 oil, which we burn about 96 million barrels per day, that works out to 96 * 365 * ($70-$20) = $1.8 trillion, which as predicted, is about the rate that global debt is increasing.

If you believe we have many years of oil left, then you must also believe that debt can increase exponentially for many years without consequence on the value of money.

Money has value because we have confidence that the debt which creates our money will be repaid with interest, which can only occur when the economy grows, which can only occur when the quantity of energy we burn grows, which due to continually increasing extraction costs, can only occur when debt grows faster than the economy, which at some point will erode our confidence, which will reduce the value of money, which will reduce the amount of energy we can afford to burn, which will reduce economic activity, which will further erode our confidence in the value of money.

Do you see our energy and climate predicament?

Do you see why our leaders deny we have a problem?

Do you see why the longer we deny the problem the worse the outcome will be?

Additional Thoughts (30-Jul-2018)

Most people do not think we have an imminent oil problem because they’ve read in the news that there is 50 years or more of unconventional oil left to extract. While probably true, this fact is misleading.

What does it mean to say oil is depleted?

Depleted does not mean that all the oil is gone. Depleted means that all the oil we can afford to extract and purchase is gone. Big difference.

To be a little more precise, depleted is the point at which the cost to extract oil exceeds the price that our economy can pay and still grow.

Today we are paying the price and achieving a little growth, but it is taking a lot of debt at a very low interest rate to do so, and each year it takes more debt.

The ability of our global debt-backed fractional reserve monetary system to function (i.e. not collapse), and the high standard of living we enjoy, and the high capital things we invest in like modern infrastructure and technology, all fundamentally depend on economic growth. If growth stops our system will collapse, and our monetary system will have to be replaced with a different design, such as an asset-backed full reserve system, which will mean much lower standards of living, and much less availability of many things we currently take for granted.

I wrote an essay on economic growth which I recommend you read because many people think they know why we want economic growth but in fact don’t know the main and much more important reason.

So what evidence exists that oil is getting close to being depleted?

  1. Our economy in aggregate is losing money. Debt is growing much faster than the economy. It now takes over $3 of debt to generate $1 of growth. This is not sustainable. A sustainable economy invests $1 of debt to create more than $1 of growth, as we did prior to 1970.  It’s important to note that this state of affairs exists despite the interest rate (i.e. the cost of money) being historically low (in some cases zero). It’s also important to note that this is a global phenomenon. So we can’t blame bad leaders, or the political system, or the culture. Every country in the world is growing their debt in an unsustainable manner, or wants to. The common denominator is energy which is the most important thing that drives every economy in the world. And the price of energy has been trending up for 5 decades simultaneous with our debt.
  2. The US central bank is starting to increase interest rates for their money that the world uses to trade oil. There are many different ways to interpret this action. My own speculation is they are worried about confidence in their money and want to maintain or strengthen its purchasing power for oil.
  3. Most companies that extract high-cost oil are struggling. For example, the majority of US fracking companies are losing money.
  4. Countries that are highly dependent on profits from their high-cost oil reserves are struggling. For example, Venezuela with the largest unconventional oil reserves in the word seems to be collapsing.
  5. Countries with large low-cost reserves are behaving oddly for countries that used to be fantastically wealthy. For example, Saudi Arabia has implemented aggressive austerity and wanted to sell a portion of their state oil company to raise money. They’ve recently backed off from this sale, possibly because it would have required them to submit to an independent audit of their remaining reserves, which some smart people speculate are much lower than stated.
  6. War-like behavior is increasing towards countries that have large low-cost oil reserves and that are not viewed as close friends. For example, Russia and Iran.
  7. Weak countries that lack the ability to borrow US$ needed to buy oil are struggling.
  8. Our central banks, economists, and politicians appear to have no clue about what is causing our persistent global economic problems. I speculate this is a combination of the fact that they’ve never needed to understand thermodynamics until now, and the fact that they deny unpleasant realities as explained by Varki’s MORT theory. I do find it very telling that not one senior leader anywhere in the world has spoken publicly about this issue. A few must understand our predicament and they must be terrified.

 

Reunion Faux Pas

Carihi Class of 76

I’m the handsome guy circled in red wearing a green polyester suit.

Born at the peak of what may be possible in the universe, we enjoyed amazing lives made possible by a one-time windfall of abundant cheap fossil energy.

Since graduating in 1976 we chose to celebrate our good fortune like yeast in sugar by doubling our population from 4 to 8 billion and increasing our total consumption and excretions by over 500%.

To our grandchildren we will leave depleted oil wells, mines, aquifers, and soils, a dangerous climate, forests displaced by agriculture and sickened by ozone, many fewer species, oceans filled with plastic instead of fish, epidemics of opioids and obesity, and over $300,000,000,000,000 of debt not counting unfunded liabilities like pensions.

1976 graduation motto: “You are a child of the universe.”

2018 reunion motto: “Mission accomplished: We had a great time and left nothing of value for future generations.”

Some old friends from my high school class of ’76 are having a reunion to celebrate turning 60 this year.

I offered to give a talk at the dinner party on how climate change is spinning out of control and may kill our grandchildren, but my offer was not warmly received.

I clearly made a faux pas because climate change has become a little too sensitive to discuss in polite company given how obvious the trends are.

In hindsight, I should have offered to speak on our denial of the collapse of civilization that is underway due to human overshoot and fossil energy depletion, and how our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities is intimately linked to our uniquely powerful brain, and its wacky belief in gods and life after death.

That would have been a much more interesting after-dinner topic that most people haven’t seen in the news, and I could imagine a lively Q&A when I explained that the only “solution” is a global one-child policy, severe government austerity, and a forced contraction of the economy.

Despite the depressing subject, I’m sure there would have been some genuine happiness in the room as old girlfriends breathed a sigh of relief that they didn’t marry me.

Rob Mielcarski

On Sexual Selection and Extinction

Peacock

Here is a very interesting interview of biologist and Pulitzer Prize finalist Richard Prum by Rob Reid on sexual selection and the evolution of beauty.

One of the fundamental reasons birds are so beautiful is that most of them do not have penises and this creates an opportunity for female freedom of choice.

After-On Podcast Episode 33: Richard Prum – The Evolution of Beauty

Bird of Paradise

Sexual selection is not a form of natural selection as most biologists currently believe.

Sexual selection and natural selection are distinct evolutionary forces, as originally envisioned by Charles Darwin.

It’s possible for sexual selection to work in the opposite direction of natural selection which can lead to the extinction of a species. Some interesting examples are given for birds.

I’m thinking about how human females tend to be indifferent to male IQ, but strongly prefer high status males that contribute the most to overshoot and CO2 via mansions, yachts, long distance vacations, and Veblan goods.

Human male preferences tend to be benign as it’s unlikely extinction will be caused by big boobs, which Prum points out, are not an honest signal of fertility.

Donald and Melania Trump

I Remember…

Orcas

This article on the decline of Orcas is close to home and painful.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/09/science/orcas-whales-endangered.html

Orcas of the Pacific Northwest Are Starving and Disappearing

For the last three years, not one calf has been born to the dwindling pods of black-and-white killer whales spouting geysers of mist off the coast in the Pacific Northwest.

Normally four or five calves would be born each year among this fairly unique urban population of whales — pods named J, K and L. But most recently, the number of orcas here has dwindled to just 75, a 30-year-low in what seems to be an inexorable, perplexing decline.

The biggest contributing factor may be the disappearance of big king salmon — fish more than 40 inches long. “They are Chinook salmon specialists,” said Brad Hanson, team leader for research at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center here, part of NOAA. “If they could, they would eat Chinook salmon 24/7.” Orcas gobble 30 a day. Hunting enough smaller prey requires a lot more energy.

 

I live on a beach with a reef at Kye Bay on the east coast of Vancouver Island. I began regular visits here as a child in 1960 and have witnessed a steady decline of its ecosystem.

I remember abundant kelp, seagrass, barnacles, oysters, clams, geoducks, dungeness crabs, kelp crabs, hermit crabs, shore crabs, shrimp, sand dollars, sand collars, snails, starfish, flatfish, bullheads, dogfish, and more. Every single species on that list is mostly gone. Like a desert, sand and rocks remain.

I remember many small fish and crabs being trapped in pools waiting for the tide to come back in. Now there is only sand.

I remember after a summer storm seaweed and kelp would wash in and fill the bay to a depth of several feet, then rot and stink keeping the damn tourists away for a few weeks. Now it is uncommon to see a few inches of seaweed washing in.

I remember picking oysters from the reef with everyone else which no doubt contributed to their decline.

I remember large flocks of shorebirds. For several years I assisted someone who has conducted shorebird counts here for over 40 years. She showed me her notebooks with clear evidence that almost every species of shorebird is in severe decline.

I remember sitting out at dusk and watching the bats fly overhead. The bats are gone.

I remember abundant grasshoppers, June beetles, butterflies, moths, sand wasps, and other insects. Most are gone.

I remember when the dwellings that line the bay were small summer cabins set in amongst large fir trees. Now most of the trees have been felled and the cabins razed to build large year-round homes.

I remember my hometown Campbell River 50km north of here being called the salmon capital of the world because anyone with a boat could easily catch their limit of salmon. And they did until they couldn’t. Now fisherman must drive 2 hours and boat another 1 hour to the west coast of Vancouver Island for fishing that is still decent but in rapid decline.

I remember when fish were bigger. Much bigger.

I remember when dogfish were treated like a pest species. Now you never see them.

I remember when it was common to have a killer whale surface next to the boat you were fishing in.

I remember abundant sea lions on the rocks of the west coast. The sea lions are mostly gone now because fisherman shoot them because they compete for dwindling salmon stocks.

I remember political parties that promised to close the fish farming industry because of harm they do to wild fish stocks and when elected change their mind because the economy is more important than ecology.

I remember being optimistic. I visited the local fisheries office to ask if there was anything residents could do to restore the keystone kelp beds. They were not helpful and more or less said it was a waste of time because human pressure and climate change will continue to degrade ocean health.

I remember when we used to discuss over-population. The population of this valley has grown by more than 3 times (300%) since we had those conversations.

I remember being in denial like most people.