The UFO has landed…….

18 03 2018

Mon Abri Mk II has often been described as, due to its unusual footprint, something that could fly, and then on the slab day my mate Phil called it a UFO, so I think that will sort of stick now…

Pouring the slab has been twelve months in the making, with humungous earthworks and footings that ensure this house will never move even in an earthquake, it’s been a real labour of love. Well, lots of labour anyway. I never thought it would take this long, but here I’m at the mercy of the weather and Tasmanian laid back attitudes….  I now go with the flow, I’m too old to start fights!


My daughter Claire’s been here for well over a week, and we prepared for the epic pour by first cleaning off all the mud and organic matter and other crap that since the footings were done was blown into the area by the frequent windy weather. Lots of pressure cleaning, and then wet vacuuming all the mud out, in some attempt at ensuring the new concrete would stick to the old. Two days work there, and I don’t even know if it was actually necessary, but it made me feel better, and I needed that to destress…. that little job took 1200 litres of water (from the dam) and was entirely powered from the power station that worked like a charm…..  I could not be more pleased with my off grid system.

It might have been an omen, but the pour day didn’t exactly start as planned. Since my first winter here, when the temperature outside my bedroom can often go down to zero or less, I’ve been using a bucket full of sawdust to pee in so that I don’t have to get all dressed up and go outside. This works great, doesn’t smell, and makes great additions to my compost system. Until that is, the handle rusts off the bucket at 4:45AM , and it all gets spilled on the bloody carpet! Fortunately for Claire, she had woken up herself for a toilet break, because I had no other option than to use up the next half hour sucking it all up with the vacuum cleaner luckily still in wet mode. Needless to say, I wasn’t going back to sleep, which was just as well, because the pump turned up half an hour early, in the pitch dark….. Panic station started early.


Pouring at dawn was a new experience

All my helpers weren’t due to arrive until 7AM, and the concrete fifteen minutes later. We started with the pointy bit that sticks into the hillside, because I knew it was the hardest part, and once done we would have the opportunity to screed from edge to edge


That last missing bit……

on the skinny part of the house. The trouble was of course that my crew were completely inexperienced, and as soon as Robbie Page who owned the pump realised what was going on, he expressed his utter dismay that I had not accepted his [unaffordable] quote to do the job…… once the first truckload of 7m³ was disgorged from the pump, his offsider thankfully stepped in and gave the guys a quick lesson on how to screed…. which they fortunately quickly picked up. Screeding this job was easier than any I’d done before (because I didn’t do any!) as it was all pumped and vibrated, something I now really wish we’d done in Qld. Regardless, screeding was still necessary, and the two young guys at the ends of the tool did a sterling job under the circumstances…….

All went basically well, until right at the end when we were just short of finishing. The deal struck with the concrete suppliers was that I ordered 24m³ plus. Which means that after the 24m³ are poured, a quick evaluation is made of how much more is needed, and the last truck is sent from the depot. The missing bit in the photo was guesstimated by Robbie (who is very experienced) and I at roughly 0.4m³, and we thought ‘order 0.6, just in case’, which we IMG_20180317_130227did. While waiting for this last truckload, I began ‘helicoptering’ the slab in an attempt to get it as smooth as possible; and frankly, I’m quite pleased with the result, it’s ‘good enough’.

Except that the missing bit immediately turned into a problem; Duggan’s sent me a load of shit concrete that started going off right in front of our eyes, and there wasn’t enough….. no way did 0.6m³ come out of that truck, and nor was it fresh. When I dropped the vibrator into it, it hardly slumped at all, and while I was still floating water off concrete laid an hour earlier, I was unable to float this at all…….

The boys screeded it as fast as possible before it went rock hard and there were ravines in the surface that looked impossible to fill by moving what should normally have been workable material into them to fill them up……  I was beside myself, and really really pissed off.

With the local hardware store now no longer opening on weekends, I was faced with a desperate and frantic 50km return drive to Huonville to buy premixed-just add water concrete in bags in an attempt to salvage the situation. One hour later, on my return, I was amazed to discover that Claire – who obviously has a vested interest in this project – had whipped the crew into frantic labour to save the surface of our bedroom floor. I honestly don’t know how they managed it. It was bordering on a miracle, and it was just as well they did manage it, because the one bag I mixed in the wheelbarrow could not be pressed into the last bit in the corner, so hard had it already set. The resulting surface is worse than what a total novice would achieve.

All I can say is that it’s lucky that pointy bit will only be turned into a storage cupboard, because I would never live it down had this load of crap ended up in the middle of our bedroom. You can rest assured there will be a very stern complaint call to the supplier first thing tomorrow morning……  you’d think afer spending over $6000 on the day (and a similar amount on past pours) they would look after me…. I’ll probably get over it, but honestly……


All done. Everyone’s left, and all the beer’s been drunk!

We eventually broke the beer open, and celebrated a job well done under difficult circumstances. We did our best, and that’s all you can do. I reckon I’ve saved twenty grand by doing it this way, and that’s money I just don’t have to throw away – especially now I’ve spent most of it!

I can’t thank the crew enough….. Phil, who kept morale up among the youngsters, and Claire tells me, was largely responsible for repairing the bedroom floor while I was gone, Caleb, Martin, and of course my daughter Claire. Jack from Page’s concreting gets a deserved mention for screeding the hard bit for us. I won’t mention Duggan’s……..

Since pouring the concrete, it’s been raining for three days…. which is great for the still curing concrete. It’s a big step getting out of the ground, but really, all the hard work starts now. Watch this space.


I told you so………

15 03 2018

At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system

Here are the real reasons we’re not building clean energy anywhere near fast enough.

“Is it possible to accelerate by a factor of 20?” he asks. “Yeah, but I don’t think people understand what that is, in terms of steel and glass and cement.” 

by James Temple  Originally published at Technology Review


Fifteen years ago, Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution, calculated that the world would need to add about a nuclear power plant’s worth of clean-energy capacity every day between 2000 and 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change. Recently, he did a quick calculation to see how we’re doing.

Not well. Instead of the roughly 1,100 megawatts of carbon-free energy per day likely needed to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 ˚C, as the 2003 Science paper by Caldeira and his colleagues found, we are adding around 151 megawatts. That’s only enough to power roughly 125,000 homes.

At that rate, substantially transforming the energy system would take, not the next three decades, but nearly the next four centuries. In the meantime, temperatures would soar, melting ice caps, sinking cities, and unleashing devastating heat waves around the globe (see “The year climate change began to spin out of control”).

Caldeira stresses that other factors are likely to significantly shorten that time frame (in particular, electrifying heat production, which accounts for a more than half of global energy consumption, will significantly alter demand). But he says it’s clear we’re overhauling the energy system about an order of magnitude too slowly, underscoring a point that few truly appreciate: It’s not that we aren’t building clean energy fast enough to address the challenge of climate change. It’s that—even after decades of warnings, policy debates, and clean-energy campaigns—the world has barely even begun to confront the problem.

The UN’s climate change body asserts that the world needs to cut as much as 70 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions by midcentury to have any chance of avoiding 2 ˚C of warming. But carbon pollution has continued to rise, ticking up 2 percent last year.

So what’s the holdup?

Beyond the vexing combination of economic, political, and technical challenges is the basic problem of overwhelming scale. There is a massive amount that needs to be built, which will suck up an immense quantity of manpower, money, and materials.

For starters, global energy consumption is likely to soar by around 30 percent in the next few decades as developing economies expand. (China alone needs to add the equivalent of the entire US power sector by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency.) To cut emissions fast enough and keep up with growth, the world will need to develop 10 to 30 terawatts of clean-energy capacity by 2050. On the high end that would mean constructing the equivalent of around 30,000 nuclear power plants—or producing and installing 120 billion 250-watt solar panels.

Energy overhaul
What we should be doing* What we’re actually doing
Megawatts per day 1,100 151
Megawatts per year 401,500 55,115
Megawatts in fifty years 20,075,000 2,755,750
Years to add 20 Terrawatts 50 363
Sources: Carnegie Institution, Science, BP *If we had started at this rate in 2000 Actual average rate of carbon-free added per day from 2006-2015

There’s simply little financial incentive for the energy industry to build at that scale and speed while it has tens of trillions of dollars of sunk costs in the existing system.

“If you pay a billion dollars for a gigawatt of coal, you’re not going to be happy if you have to retire it in 10 years,” says Steven Davis, an associate professor in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine.

It’s somewhere between difficult and impossible to see how any of that will change until there are strong enough government policies or big enough technology breakthroughs to override the economics.

A quantum leap

In late February, I sat in Daniel Schrag’s office at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. His big yellow Chinook, Mickey, lay down next to my feet.

Schrag was one of President Barack Obama’s top climate advisors. As a geologist who has closely studied climate variability and warming periods in the ancient past, he has a special appreciation for how dramatically things can change.

Sitting next to me with his laptop, he opened a report he had recently coauthored assessing the risks of climate change. It highlights the many technical strides that will be required to overhaul the energy system, including better carbon capture, biofuels, and storage.

The study also notes that the United States adds roughly 10 gigawatts of new energy generation capacity per year. That includes all types, natural gas as well as solar and wind. But even at that rate, it would take more than 100 years to rebuild the existing electricity grid, to say nothing of the far larger one required in the decades to come.

“Is it possible to accelerate by a factor of 20?” he asks. “Yeah, but I don’t think people understand what that is, in terms of steel and glass and cement.”

Climate observers and commentators have used various historical parallels to illustrate the scale of the task, including the Manhattan Project and the moon mission. But for Schrag, the analogy that really speaks to the dimensions and urgency of the problem is World War II, when the United States nationalized parts of the steel, coal, and railroad industries. The government forced automakers to halt car production in order to churn out airplanes, tanks, and jeeps.

The good news here is that if you direct an entire economy at a task, big things can happen fast. But how do you inspire a war mentality in peacetime, when the enemy is invisible and moving in slow motion?

“It’s a quantum leap from where we are today,” Schrag says.

The time delay

The fact that the really devastating consequences of climate change won’t come for decades complicates the issue in important ways. Even for people who care about the problem in the abstract, it doesn’t rate high among their immediate concerns. As a consequence, they aren’t inclined to pay much, or change their lifestyle, to actually address it. In recent years, Americans were willing to increase their electricity bill by a median amount of only $5 a month even if that “solved,” not eased, global warming, down from $10 15 years earlier, according to a series of surveys by MIT and Harvard.

It’s conceivable that climate change will someday alter that mind-set as the mounting toll of wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, extinctions, and sea-level rise finally forces the world to grapple with the problem.

But that will be too late. Carbon dioxide works on a time delay. It takes about 10 years to achieve its full warming effect, and it stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years. After we’ve tipped into the danger zone, eliminating carbon dioxide emissions doesn’t decrease the effects; it can only prevent them from getting worse. Whatever level of climate change we allow to unfold is locked in for millennia, unless we develop technologies to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere on a massive scale (or try our luck with geoengineering).

This also means there’s likely to be a huge trade-off between what we would have to pay to fix the energy system and what it would cost to deal with the resulting disasters if we don’t. Various estimates find that cutting emissions will shrink the global economy by a few percentage points a year, but unmitigated warming could slash worldwide GDP more than 20 percent by the end of the century, if not far more.

In the money

Arguably the most crucial step to accelerate energy development is enacting strong government policies. Many economists believe the most powerful tool would be a price on carbon, imposed through either a direct tax or a cap-and-trade program. As the price of producing energy from fossil fuels grows, this would create bigger incentives to replace those plants with clean energy (see “Surge of carbon pricing proposals coming in the new year”).

“If we’re going to make any progress on greenhouse gases, we’ll have to either pay the implicit or explicit costs of carbon,” says Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

But it has to be a big price, far higher than the $15 per ton it cost to acquire allowances in California’s cap-and-trade program late last year. Borenstein says a carbon fee approaching $40 a ton “just blows coal out of the market entirely and starts to put wind and solar very much into the money,” at least when you average costs across the lifetime of the plants.

Others think the price should be higher still. But it’s very hard to see how any tax even approaching that figure could pass in the United States, or many other nations, anytime soon.

The other major policy option would be caps that force utilities and companies to keep greenhouse emissions below a certain level, ideally one that decreases over time. This regulations-based approach is not considered as economically efficient as a carbon price, but it has the benefit of being much more politically palatable. American voters hate taxes but are perfectly comfortable with air pollution rules, says Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University.

Fundamental technical limitations will also increase the cost and complexity of shifting to clean energy. Our fastest-growing carbon-free sources, solar and wind farms, don’t supply power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. So as they provide a larger portion of the grid’s electricity, we’ll also need long-range transmission lines that can balance out peaks and valleys across states, or massive amounts of very expensive energy storage, or both (see “Relying on renewables alone significantly inflates the cost of overhauling energy”).

Million tonnes oil equivalentA renewables revolution?Despite the wide optimism surrounding renewables like wind and solar, they still only represent atiny and slow growing fraction of global energy.NuclearHydroAll RenewablesCoalNatural GasOil2000200120022003200420052006200720082009201020112012201320142015201605k10k15kSource: World consumption of primary energy consumption by source. BP

The upshot is that we’re eventually going to need to either supplement wind and solar with many more nuclear reactors, fossil-fuel plants with carbon capture and other low-emissions sources, or pay far more to build out a much larger system of transmission, storage and renewable generation, says Jesse Jenkins, a researcher with the MIT Energy Initiative. In all cases, we’re still likely to need significant technical advances that drive down costs.

All of this, by the way, only addresses the challenge of overhauling the electricity sector, which currently represents less than 20 percent of total energy consumption. It will provide a far greater portion as we electrify things like vehicles and heating, which means we’ll eventually need to develop an electrical system several times larger than today’s.

But that still leaves the “really difficult parts of the global energy system” to deal with, says Davis of UC Irvine. That includes aviation, long-distance hauling, and the cement and steel industries, which produce carbon dioxide in the manufacturing process itself. To clean up these huge sectors of the economy, we’re going to need better carbon capture and storage tools, as well as cheaper biofuels or energy storage, he says.

These kinds of big technical achievements tend to require significant and sustained government support. But much like carbon taxes or emissions caps, a huge increase in federal research and development funding is highly unlikely in the current political climate.

Give up?

So should we just give up?

There is no magic bullet or obvious path here. All we can do is pull hard on the levers that seem to work best.

Environmental and clean-energy interest groups need to make climate change a higher priority, tying it to practical issues that citizens and politicians do care about, like clean air, security, and jobs. Investors or philanthropists need to be willing to make longer-term bets on early-stage energy technologies. Scientists and technologists need to focus their efforts on the most badly needed tools. And lawmakers need to push through policy changes to provide incentives, or mandates, for energy companies to change.

The hard reality, however, is that the world very likely won’t be able to accomplish what’s called for by midcentury. Schrag says that keeping temperature increases below 2 ˚C is already “a pipe dream,” adding that we’ll be lucky to prevent 4 ˚C of warming this century.

That means we’re likely to pay a very steep toll in lost lives, suffering, and environmental devastation (see “Hot and violent”).

But the imperative doesn’t end if warming tips past 2 ˚C. It only makes it more urgent to do everything we can to contain the looming threats, limit the damage, and shift to a sustainable system as fast as possible.

“If you miss 2050,” Schrag says, “you still have 2060, 2070, and 2080.”

Damnthematrix is ten years old……..

14 03 2018

I’ve been so busy preparing for the momentous house slab pouring next Saturday, that the also momentous tenth anniversary of this humble blog passed almost un-noticed. And that would be a shame really.

In February 2008, I started Damthematrix with an opening salvo I had published in our local rag back in Cooran. It contained this graphic:

Anyone following this blog will instantly know what it means, and nothing has changed. Mind you, nothing has happened either. Back then, I was thoroughly convinced that by now the world would be a very different place, and it is, just not the kind of different I then believed in.

Of course, my own personal situation is entirely different. I can tell you that ten years ago, me living in Tasmania was not on the radar. The Hinterland Voice is long gone, its editor now lives in England. But while I was predicting collapse would have started by now, the powers that be have gone to lengths I could neve have predicted back then to paper over all the cracks, making them almost invisible to most people, especially if they read mainstream media.

I was basically asked in a recent comment “why do I bother?” To be honest, I also ask myself this question. Ten years ago, I had zero followers; at last count, I have 754. Have I even changed 754 people’s attitudes? Does it make any difference if I have? Does anything make a difference? In a recent podcast, I heard John Michael Greer rightfully boast that when he closed The Archdruid Report, he had a readership of close to a third of a million. Did that make a difference? In 2014, Chris Martenson’s Peak Prosperity website had 10,000 twitter followers. Does he make a difference?

Is blogging about making any difference?


The price of infamy…

Lots of questions there; I will admit to an obsession with collapse…… may you live in interesting times and all that. Anyone would have to admit it’s a thoroughly fascinating subject matter. plus I love an argument! It even encourages some people with more time on their hands than me to make cartoons of me! Is anyone here responsible for this hilarious image?

Nothing I write, nor any of the abovementioned much more famous bloggers do, will change the course of history. We are the victims of collective insanity, and nothing short of collective awakening – and I mean billions – will avoid the worst of what’s coming. Every human on this planet is looking after his/her best interest, and that of his close intimate circle. Let’s face it, even I am doing that….! on top of this, the average human’s grasp of physics and mathematics is literally non-existent, and they vote. And keep having babies. This insanity was very apparent in last Monday’s Four Corners about the Big Australia. It was all about more, not less. More roads, more public transport, more houses, more schools, more hospitals, more pensioners……. not even a nano second spent on limits to growth. I’ve contacted Four Corners about doing a story on Limits to Growth, but that won’t make any difference either, whether they actually do it or not.

Therefore, as long as nobody minds, I’ll keep plodding along making no difference. The best I can do is affect enough smart people to think about what they are doing, and create the foundation for a future sane community of people who care, and know what to do when collapse becomes the norm or maybe just no longer possible to ignore.

Good luck, and keep on making soil…..  you’re going to need both!


We Need Courage, Not Hope, to Face Climate Change

11 03 2018

Originally posted at onbeing…… I hope this article rhymes with you as well as it did for me.


Kate MarvelAs a climate scientist, I am often asked to talk about hope. Particularly in the current political climate, audiences want to be told that everything will be all right in the end. And, unfortunately, I have a deep-seated need to be liked and a natural tendency to optimism that leads me to accept more speaking invitations than is good for me. Climate change is bleak, the organizers always say. Tell us a happy story. Give us hope. The problem is, I don’t have any.

I used to believe there was hope in science. The fact that we know anything at all is a miracle. For some reason, the whole world is hung on a skeleton made of physics. I found comfort in this structure, in the knowledge that buried under layers of greenery and dirt lies something universal. It is something to know how to cut away the flesh of existence and see the clean white bones underneath. All of us obey the same laws, whether we know them or not.

Look closely, however, and the structure of physics dissolves into uncertainty. We live in a statistical world, in a limit where we experience only one of many possible outcomes. Our clumsy senses perceive only gross aggregates, blind to the roiling chaos underneath. We are limited in our ability to see the underlying stimuli that, en masse, create an event. Temperature, for example, is a state created by the random motions of millions of tiny molecules. We feel heat or cold, not the motion of any individual molecule. When something is heated up, its tiny constituent parts move faster, increasing its internal energy. They do not move at the same speed; some are quick, others slow. But there are billions of them, and in the aggregate their speed dictates their temperature.

The internal energy of molecule motion is turned outward in the form of electromagnetic radiation. Light comes in different flavors. The stuff we see occupies only a tiny portion of a vast electromagnetic spectrum. What we see occupies a tiny portion of a vast electromagnetic spectrum. Light is a wave, of sorts, and the distance between its peaks and troughs determines the energy it carries. Cold, low-energy objects emit stretched waves with long, lazy intervals between peaks. Hot objects radiate at shorter wavelengths.

To have a temperature is to shed light into your surroundings. You have one. The light you give off is invisible to the naked eye. You are shining all the same, incandescent with the power of a hundred-watt bulb. The planet on which you live is illuminated by the visible light of the sun and radiates infrared light to the blackness of space. There is nothing that does not have a temperature. Cold space itself is illuminated by the afterglow of the Big Bang. Even black holes radiate, lit by the strangeness of quantum mechanics. There is nowhere from which light cannot escape.

The same laws that flood the world with light dictate the behavior of a carbon dioxide molecule in the atmosphere. CO2 is transparent to the Sun’s rays. But the planet’s infrared outflow hits a molecule in just such as way as to set it in motion. Carbon dioxide dances when hit by a quantum of such light, arresting the light on its path to space. When the dance stops, the quantum is released back to the atmosphere from which it came. No one feels the consequences of this individual catch-and-release, but the net result of many little dances is an increase in the temperature of the planet. More CO2 molecules mean a warmer atmosphere and a warmer planet. Warm seas fuel hurricanes, warm air bloats with water vapor, the rising sea encroaches on the land. The consequences of tiny random acts echo throughout the world.

I understand the physical world because, at some level, I understand the behavior of every small thing. I know how to assemble a coarse aggregate from the sum of multiple tiny motions. Individual molecules, water droplets, parcels of air, quanta of light: their random movements merge to yield a predictable and understandable whole. But physics is unable to explain the whole of the world in which I live. The planet teems with other people: seven billion fellow damaged creatures. We come together and break apart, seldom adding up to an coherent, predictable whole.

I have lived a fortunate, charmed, loved life. This means I have infinite, gullible faith in the goodness of the individual. But I have none whatsoever in the collective. How else can it be that the sum total of so many tiny acts of kindness is a world incapable of stopping something so eminently stoppable? California burns. Islands and coastlines are smashed by hurricanes. At night the stars are washed out by city lights and the world is illuminated by the flickering ugliness of reality television. We burn coal and oil and gas, heedless of the consequences.

Our laws are changeable and shifting; the laws of physics are fixed. Change is already underway; individual worries and sacrifices have not slowed it. Hope is a creature of privilege: we know that things will be lost, but it is comforting to believe that others will bear the brunt of it.

We are the lucky ones who suffer little tragedies unmoored from the brutality of history. Our loved ones are taken from us one by one through accident or illness, not wholesale by war or natural disaster. But the scale of climate change engulfs even the most fortunate. There is now no weather we haven’t touched, no wilderness immune from our encroaching pressure. The world we once knew is never coming back.

I have no hope that these changes can be reversed. We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet. But the opposite of hope is not despair. It is grief. Even while resolving to limit the damage, we can mourn. And here, the sheer scale of the problem provides a perverse comfort: we are in this together. The swiftness of the change, its scale and inevitability, binds us into one, broken hearts trapped together under a warming atmosphere.

We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending. Little molecules, random in their movement, add together to a coherent whole. Little lives do not. But here we are, together on a planet radiating ever more into space where there is no darkness, only light we cannot see.

The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it

21 02 2018

File 20170507 19145 8n95t4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt University

After 200,000 years of modern humans on a 4.5 billion-year-old Earth, we have arrived at new point in history: the Anthropocene. The change has come upon us with disorienting speed. It is the kind of shift that typically takes two or three or four generations to sink in.

Our best scientists tell us insistently that a calamity is unfolding, that the life-support systems of the Earth are being damaged in ways that threaten our survival. Yet in the face of these facts we carry on as usual.

Most citizens ignore or downplay the warnings; many of our intellectuals indulge in wishful thinking; and some influential voices declare that nothing at all is happening, that the scientists are deceiving us. Yet the evidence tells us that so powerful have humans become that we have entered this new and dangerous geological epoch, which is defined by the fact that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.

This bizarre situation, in which we have become potent enough to change the course of the Earth yet seem unable to regulate ourselves, contradicts every modern belief about the kind of creature the human being is. So for some it is absurd to suggest that humankind could break out of the boundaries of history and inscribe itself as a geological force in deep time. Humans are too puny to change the climate, they insist, so it is outlandish to suggest we could change the geological time scale. Others assign the Earth and its evolution to the divine realm, so that it is not merely impertinence to suggest that humans can overrule the almighty, but blasphemy.

Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please.

The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.
It is true that grasping the scale of what is happening requires not only breaking the bubble but also making the cognitive leap to “Earth system thinking” – that is, conceiving of the Earth as a single, complex, dynamic system. It is one thing to accept that human influence has spread across the landscape, the oceans and the atmosphere, but quite another to make the jump to understanding that human activities are disrupting the functioning of the Earth as a complex, dynamic, ever-evolving totality comprised of myriad interlocking processes.

But consider this astounding fact: with knowledge of the cycles that govern Earth’s rotation, including its tilt and wobble, paleo-climatologists are able to predict with reasonable certainty that the next ice age is due in 50,000 years’ time. Yet because carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for millennia, global warming from human activity in the 20th and 21st centuries is expected to suppress that ice age and quite possibly the following one, expected in 130,000 years.

If human activity occurring over a century or two can irreversibly transform the global climate for tens of thousands of years, we are prompted to rethink history and social analysis as a purely intra-human affair.

How should we understand the disquieting fact that a mass of scientific evidence about the Anthropocene, an unfolding event of colossal proportions, has been insufficient to induce a reasoned and fitting response?

For many, the accumulation of facts about ecological disruption seems to have a narcotising effect, all too apparent in popular attitudes to the crisis of the Earth system, and especially among opinion-makers and political leaders. A few have opened themselves to the full meaning of the Anthropocene, crossing a threshold by way of a gradual but ever-more disturbing process of evidence assimilation or, in some cases, after a realisation that breaks over them suddenly and with great force in response to an event or piece of information in itself quite small.

Beyond the science, the few alert to the plight of the Earth sense that something unfathomably great is taking place, conscious that we face a struggle between ruin and the possibility of some kind of salvation.

So today the greatest tragedy is the absence of a sense of the tragedy. The indifference of most to the Earth system’s disturbance may be attributed to a failure of reason or psychological weaknesses; but these seem inadequate to explain why we find ourselves on the edge of the abyss.

How can we understand the miserable failure of contemporary thinking to come to grips with what now confronts us? A few years after the second atomic bomb was dropped, Kazuo Ishiguro wrote a novel about the people of Nagasaki, a novel in which the bomb is never mentioned yet whose shadow falls over everyone. The Anthropocene’s shadow too falls over all of us.

Yet the bookshops are regularly replenished with tomes about world futures from our leading intellectuals of left and right in which the ecological crisis is barely mentioned. They write about the rise of China, clashing civilizations and machines that take over the world, composed and put forward as if climate scientists do not exist. They prognosticate about a future from which the dominant facts have been expunged, futurologists trapped in an obsolete past. It is the great silence.

I heard of a dinner party during which one of Europe’s most eminent psychoanalysts held forth ardently on every topic but fell mute when climate change was raised. He had nothing to say. For most of the intelligentsia, it is as if the projections of Earth scientists are so preposterous they can safely be ignored.

Perhaps the intellectual surrender is so complete because the forces we hoped would make the world a more civilised place – personal freedoms, democracy, material advance, technological power – are in truth paving the way to its destruction. The powers we most trusted have betrayed us; that which we believed would save us now threatens to devour us.

For some, the tension is resolved by rejecting the evidence, which is to say, by discarding the Enlightenment. For others, the response is to denigrate calls to heed the danger as a loss of faith in humanity, as if anguish for the Earth were a romantic illusion or superstitious regression.

Yet the Earth scientists continue to haunt us, following us around like wailing apparitions while we hurry on with our lives, turning around occasionally with irritation to hold up the crucifix of Progress. 

The Conversation(This is an edited extract from Clive Hamilton’s Defiant Earth: The fate of humans in the Anthropocene, published last week. The extract was first published in the Guardian. )

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


On falling on my feet….

21 02 2018

The formwork for the slab is finished, and I frankly can’t believe it….. sometimes the way things turn out has me baffled, even when things go all wrong…..

Lately, I’ve had cumulative problems that inevitably consist of spending money I had not planned to spend; although in the process I managed to get bargains. Like my Makita cordless drill blowing up. I thought it was out of warranty, but it turns out these things have two years warranty, not one…. which I discovered after replacing it with a better (brushless) unit for 60 to 80 dollars less than the shops sell them for, on eBay. Not only that, at the time of this purchase, I discovered you could buy (aftermarket) 6mAh batteries for less than half the price of a genuine Makita 3mAh battery. So I spent the dough…..

Then Ute II started overheating on me, driving back from Hobart with 1.3 m³ of compost in the back. I quickly established that it was all down to the thermostat, so I replaced that; only to discover that half the radiator was blocked as well! I don’t know why I even thought of looking on eBay, but I did, and there I found a brand new radiator for $130 delivered. I could have spent the money better, but the car is fixed. I still can’t believe how cheap it was.


The dilemma…..  the bottom of each board had to be cut to conform to the profile of now hard concrete footings.

But the real corker was the arrival of my four Danish wwoofers. They’d booked ages ago, last year in fact, and because I’ve had an unbelievable number of requests so far this year, the old brain got a bit confused. I was expecting four young whipper snappers (as usual) arriving in a camper van. Instead I got four middle class grey nomads in a hired posh Commodore Station Wagon! Luckily, Matt next door came to the rescue again, and let me have his wwoofer caravan for three days…..

Talk about an interesting bunch though……  it turns out one couple were permies who live on an island in the Baltic Sea, and the other basically city slickers (my assessment…) this was even evident from their luggage……  two suitcases, and two back packs!

The really important part of this story is that the two men were very experienced,


Kurt and Jens, problem solving…

cunning, and capable carpenters, and they saved my bacon. Because you see, when Caleb and I poured the house footings way back in June last year (already…..?), I forgot to engage my brain, and they were not even close to level or flat making the construction of the formwork, errrrr…..  difficult!

To cut to the chase, Kurt and Jens were shown the predicament I was in, and after much hahing and harring in Danish – making me concerned they thought the whole job could not be done I add – they got stuck in, and in their first afternoon had two boards up.

While they were doing that, their two wives assisted me in moving loads of long dead Macrocarpa branches cut two years ago to the market garden where more biochar was made. They all seemed to really enjoy themselves I might add……

By mid afternoon the next day, all the necessary formwork boards were up……  all scribed and cut millimetre perfect. I was truly gobsmacked at how clever and efficient these two oldies were (I can even call them that, because at least one was older than me it turned out….!)

Because the memory card in my phone must have got dislodged somehow, none of the photos bar one that I took of all this ended up being stored, and even then I only have it because I sent to Glenda as a MMS…. A real pity too.

The following day, the two city slickers went sightseeing, while the permies insisted they’d rather do manual labour……  can you believe it?


The three of us moved I don’t know how many ute loads of branches, and now the entire western side of the market garden has been biocharred. And the huge pile of dead branches has been reduced to a mere quarter of its original size, which means I’ll now just burn what’s left in situ once the bushfire season is over.

The good news is that I inspired Kurt and Dora to have a go at biochar on their own farm in Denmark, and that makes me most pleased.


On their last day, I treated them to roast leg of lamb and veggies, all from the farm….terrible picture I know, but it’s the only memory I have of them unfortunately

Then yesterday, Caleb was back, and we straightened all the bowing boards and pinned them into place, making a 32m long dead straight, dead level, and dead plumb formwork ready for pouring in a couple of weeks once I’ve organised everything that that job entails. With any luck, I’ll have a slab for my birthday……. and it’s all down to Kurt and Jens, to whom I will be forever grateful….  I cannot thank them enough.


Finished, ready for pouring……

The Bumpy Road Down, Part 5: More Trends in Collapse

21 02 2018

IrvMillsIrv Mills has published the fifth and last part of his 5 part series called ‘The Bumpy Road Down’, previous instalments being available here.





In my last post I started talking about some of the changes that will happen along the bumpy road down and the forces and trends that will lead to them. (The bumpy road down being the cyclic pattern of crash and partial recovery that I believe will characterize the rest of the age of scarcity). These changes will be forced on us by circumstances and are not necessarily how I’d like to see things turn out.

The trends I covered last time were:

  • our continued reliance on fossil fuels
  • the continuing decline in availability, and surplus energy content, of fossil fuels
  • the damage the FIRE industries (finance, insurance and real estate) will suffer in the next crash, and the effects this will have
  • the increase in authoritarianism, as governments attempt to optimize critical systems and relief efforts during and after the crash

Oscillating overshoot with declining carrying capacity

I’ve once again included the stepped or “oscillating” decline diagram from previous posts here to make it easier to visualize what I’m talking about. This diagram isn’t meant to be precise, certainly not when it comes to the magnitude and duration of the oscillations, which in any case will vary from one part of the world to the next.

The trends I want to talk about today are all interconnected. You can hardly discuss one without referring to the others, and so it is difficult to know where to start. But having touched briefly on a trend toward increased authoritarianism at the end of my last post, I guess I should continue trends in politics.


Currently there seems to be a trend towards right wing politics in the developed world. I think anyone who extrapolates that out into the long run is making a basic mistake. Where right wing governments have been elected by those looking for change, they will soon prove to be very inept at ruling in an era of degrowth. Following that, there will likely be a swing in the other direction and left wing governments will get elected. Only to prove, in their turn, to be equally inept. Britain seems to be heading in this direction, and perhaps the U.S. as well.

Another trend is the sort of populism that uses other nations, and/or racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities at home as scapegoats for whatever problems the majority is facing. This strategy is and will continue to be used by clever politicians to gain support and deflect attention from their own shortcomings. Unfortunately, it leads nowhere since the people being blamed aren’t the source of the problem.

During the next crash and following recovery governments will continue to see growth as the best solution to whatever problems they face and will continue to be blind to the limits to growth. Farther down the bumpy road some governments may finally clue in about limits. Others won’t, and this will fuel continued growth followed by crashes until we learn to live within those limits.

One thing that seems clear is that eventually we’ll be living in smaller groups and the sort of political systems that work best will be very different from what we have now.

Many people who have thought about this assume that we’ll return to feudalism. I think that’s pretty unlikely. History may seem to repeat itself, but only in loose outline, not in the important details. New situations arise from different circumstances, and so are themselves different. Modern capitalists would never accept the obligations that the feudal aristocracy had to the peasantry. Indeed freeing themselves of those obligations had a lot to do with making capitalism work. And the “99%” (today’s peasantry) simply don’t accept that the upper classes have any right, divine or otherwise, to rule.

In small enough groups, with sufficient isolation between groups, people seem best suited to primitive communism, with essentially no hierarchy and decision making by consensus. I think many people will end up living in just such situations.

In the end though, there will still be a few areas with sufficient energy resources to support larger and more centralized concentrations of population. It will be interesting to see what new forms of political structure evolve in those situations.


For the last couple of decades declining surplus energy has caused contraction of the real economy. Large corporations have responded in various ways to maintain their profits: moving industrial operations to developing countries where wages are lower and regulations less troublesome, automating to reduce the amount of expensive labour required, moving to the financial and information sectors of the economy where energy decline has so far had less effect.

The remaining “good” industrial jobs in developed nations are less likely to be unionized, with longer hours, lower pay, decreased benefits, poorer working conditions and lower safety standards. The large number of people who can’t even get one of those jobs have had to move to precarious, part time, low paying jobs in the service industries. Unemployment has increased (despite what official statistics say) and the ranks of the homeless have swelled.

Since workers are also consumers, all this has led to further contraction of the consumer economy. We can certainly expect to see this trend continue and increase sharply during the next crash.

Our globally interconnected economy is a complex thing and that complexity is expensive to maintain. During the crash and the depression that follows it, we’ll see trends toward simplification in many different areas driven by a lack of resources to maintain the existing complex systems. I’ll be discussing those trends in a moment, but it is important to note that a lot of economic activity is involved in maintaining our current level of complexity and abandoning that complexity will mean even more economic contraction.

At the same time, small, simple communities will prove to have some advantages that aren’t currently obvious.


All this economic contraction means that almost all of us will be significantly poorer and we’ll have to learn to get by with less. As John Michael Greer says, “LESS: less energy, less stuff, less stimulation.” We’ll be forced to conserve and will struggle to get by with “just enough”. This will be a harshly unpleasant experience for most people.


For the last few decades globalization has been a popular trend, especially among the rich and powerful, who are quick to extol its many supposed advantages. And understandably so, since it has enabled them to maintain their accustomed high standard of living while the economy as a whole contracts.

On the other hand, as I was just saying, sending high paying jobs offshore is a pretty bad idea for consumer economies. And I suspect that in the long run we’ll see that it wasn’t really all that good for the countries where we sent the work, either.

During the crash we’ll see the breakdown of the financial and organizational mechanisms that support globalization and international trade. There will also be considerable problems with shipping, both due to disorganization and to unreliable the supplies of diesel fuel for trucks and bunker fuel for ships. I’m not predicting an absolute shortage of oil quite this soon, but rather financial and organizational problems with getting it out of the ground, refined and moved to where it is needed.

This will lead to the failure of many international supply chains and governments and industry will be forced to switch critical systems over to more local suppliers. This switchover will be part of what eventually drives a partial recovery of the economy in many localities.

In a contracting economy with collapsing globalization there would seem to be little future for multi-national corporations, and organizations like the World Bank and the IMF. While the crash may bring an end to the so called “development” of the “developing” nations, it will also bring an end to economic imperialism. At the same time, the general public in the developed world, many of whom are already questioning the wisdom of the “race to the bottom” that is globalization, will be even less likely to go along with it, especially when it comes to exporting jobs.

Still, when the upcoming crash bottoms out and the economy begins to recover, there will be renewed demand for things that can only be had from overseas and international trade will recover to some extent.


Impoverished organizations such a governments, multi-national corporations and international standards groups will struggle to maintain today’s high degree of centralization and eventually will be forced to break up into smaller entities.

Large federations such as Europe, the US, Canada and Australia will see rising separatism and eventually secession. As will other countries where different ethnic groups have been forced together and/or there is long standing animosity between various localities. If this can be done peacefully it may actually improve conditions for the citizens of the areas involved, who would no longer have to support the federal organization. But no doubt it will just as often involve armed conflict, with all the destruction and suffering that implies.


The cessation of services from the FIRE industries and the resulting breakdown of international (and even national) supply and distribution chains will leave many communities with no choice but to fend for themselves.

One of the biggest challenges at first will be to get people to believe that there really is a problem. Once that is clear, experience has shown that the effectiveness of response from the victims of disasters is remarkable and I think that will be true again in this case. There are a lot of widely accepted myths about how society breaks down during disaster, but that’s just what they are: myths. Working together in groups for our mutual benefit is the heart of humanity’s success, after all.

Government response will take days or more likely weeks to organize, and in the meantime there is much we can do to help ourselves. Of course it helps to be prepared… (check out these posts from the early days of this blog: 12) and I’ll have more to say on that in upcoming posts.

The question then arises whether one would be better off in an urban center or a rural area such as a small town or a farm. Government relief efforts will be focused on the cities where the need will be greatest and the response easiest to organize. But just because of the millions of people involved, that response will be quite challenging.

Rural communities may well be largely neglected by relief efforts. But, especially in agricultural areas, they will find fending for themselves much more manageable.

I live in a rural municipality with a population of less than 12,000 people in an area of over 200 square miles (60 people per sq. mile, more than 10 acres per person). The majority of the land is agricultural, and supply chains are short, walking distance in many cases. Beef, dairy and cash crops are the main agricultural activities at present and they can easily be diverted to feed the local population. Especially if the food would go to waste anyway due to the breakdown of supply chains downstream from the farm.

So I think we’re likely to do fairly well until the government gets around to getting in touch with us again, probably sometime after the recovery begins.

In subsequent crashes the population will be significantly reduced and those of us who survive will find ourselves living for the most part in very small communities which are almost entirely relocalized. The kind of economy that works in that situation is very different from what we have today and is concerned with many things other than growth and profit making.


The move toward automation that we’ve seen in the developed world since the start of the industrial revolution has been driven by high labour costs and the savings to be had by eliminating labour from industrial processes as much as possible. That revolution started and proceeded at greatest speed in Britain where labour rates where the highest, and still hasn’t happened in many developing nations where labour is very cheap.

Sadly, the further impoverishment of the working class in Europe and North America will make cheaper labour available locally, rather than having to go offshore. During the upcoming crash, and in the depression following it, impoverished people will have no choice but to work for lower rates and will out compete automated systems, especially when capital to set them up, the cutting edge technology needed to make them work, and the energy to power them are hard to come by. Again, the economic advantages of simplicity will come into play when it is the only alternative, and help drive the recovery after the first crash.


In the initial days of the coming crash there will be problems with the distribution systems for food, medical supplies and water treatment chemicals, all of which are being supplied by “just in time” systems with very little inventory at the consumer end of the supply chain. To simplify this discussion, I’ll talk primarily about food.

It is often said that there is only a 3 day supply of food on the grocery store shelves. I am sure this is approximately correct. In collapse circles, the assumption is that, if the trucks stop coming, sometime not very far beyond that 3 day horizon we’d be facing starvation. There may be a few, incredibly unlucky, areas where that will be more or less true.

But, depending on the time of year, much more food than that (often more than a year’s worth) is stored elsewhere in the food production and distribution system. The problem will be in moving this food around to where it is needed, and in making sure another year’s crops get planted and harvested. I think this can be done, much of it through improvisation and co-operation by people in the agricultural and food industries. With some support from various levels of government.

There will be some areas where food is available more or less as normal, some where the supply is tight, and other areas where there is outright famine and some loss of life (though still outstripped by the fecundity of the human race). In many ways that pretty much describes the situation today but supply chain breakdown, and our various degrees of success at coping with it, will make all the existing problems worse during the crash.

But once the initial crash is over, we have a much bigger problem looming ahead, which I think will eventually lead to another, even more serious crash.

With my apologies to my “crunchy” friends, modern agriculture and the systems downstream from it supply us with the cheapest and safest food that mankind has known since we were hunters and gatherers and allows us (so far) to support an ever growing human population.

The problem is that this agriculture is not sustainable. It requires high levels of inputs–primarily energy from fossil fuels, but also pesticides, fertilizers and water for irrigation–mostly from non-renewable sources. And rather than enriching the soil on which it depends, it gradually consumes it, causing erosion from over cultivation and over grazing, salinating the soil where irrigation is used and poisoning the water courses downstream with runoff from fertilizers. We need to develop a suite of sustainable agricultural practices that takes advantage of the best agricultural science can do for us, while the infrastructure that supports that science is still functioning.

The organic industry spends extravagantly to convince us that the problem with our food is pesticide residues and genetically engineered organisms, but the scientific consensus simply does not support this. The organic standards include so called “natural” pesticides that are more toxic than modern synthetic ones, and allow plant breeding techniques (such as mutagenesis) that are far more dangerous than modern genetic engineering. Organic standards could certainly be revised into something sustainable that retains the best of both conventional and organic techniques, but this has become such a political hot potato that it is unlikely to happen.

As I said above, during the upcoming crash one of the main challenges will be to keep people fed. And I have no doubt that this challenge will, for the most part, be successfully met. Diesel fuel will be rationed and sent preferentially to farmers and trucking companies moving agricultural inputs and outputs. Supplies of mineral fertilizers are still sufficient to keep industrial agriculture going. Modern pesticides actually reduce the need for cultivation and improve yields by reducing losses due to pests. It will be possible to divert grains grown for animal feed to feed people during the first year when the crisis is most serious.

Industrial agriculture will actually save the day and continue on to feed the growing population for a while yet. We will continue to make some improvement in techniques and seeds, though with diminishing returns on our efforts.

This will come to an end around mid century with the second bump on the road ahead (starting at point “g” on the graph), when a combination of increasing population, worsening climate, and decreasing availability and increasing prices of energy, irrigation water, fertilizer, pesticides and so forth combine to drastically reduce the output of modern agriculture.

Widespread famine will result, and this, combined with epidemics in populations weakened by hunger, will reduce the planet’s human population by at least a factor of two in a period of a very few years. Subsequent bumps as climate change further worsens conditions for farming will further reduce the population, resulting in a bottleneck towards the end of this century. Without powered machinery, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and with drastically reduced water for irrigation, agricultural output will fall off considerably. And our population will fall to match the availability of food. I do think it unlikely that the human race will be wiped out altogether, but our numbers will likely be reduced by a factor of ten or more.


It is a sad fact that many people, communities and nations, when faced with the sort of challenges I’ve been talking about here, will respond with violence.

In the remaining years leading up to the next crash, I think it is likely that even the least stable of world leaders (or their military advisors) will remain well aware of the horrific consequences of large scale nuclear war, and will manage to avoid it. As has been the case since the end of WWII, wars will continue to be fought by proxy, involving smaller nations in the developing world, especially where the supply of strategic natural resources are at issue.

War is extremely expensive though and, even without the help of a financial crash, military spending already threatens to bankrupt the U.S. As Dmitry Orlov has suggested, after a financial crash, the U.S. may find it difficult to even get its military personnel home from overseas bases, much less maintain those bases or pursue international military objectives.

But even in the impoverished post-crash world, I expect that border wars, terrorism, riots and violent protests will continue for quite some time yet.


Whether from the ravages of war, climate change or economic contraction many areas of the world, particularly in areas like the Middle East, North Africa and the U.S. southwest, will become less and less livable. People will leave those areas looking for greener pastures and the number of refugees will soon grow past what can be managed even by the richest of nations. This will be a problem for Europe in particular, and more and more borders will be closed to all but a trickle of migrants. Refugees will accumulate in camps and for a while the situation will find an uneasy balance.

As we continue down the bumpy road, though, many nations will lose the ability to police their borders. Refugees will pour through, only to find broken economies that offer them little hope of a livelihood. Famine, disease and conflict will eventually reduce the population to where it can be accommodated in the remaining livable areas. But the ethnic makeup of those areas will have changed significantly due to large scale migrations.


I’ve been talking here about some of the changes that will be forced upon us by the circumstances of collapse. I’ve said very little about what I think we might do if we could face up to the reality of those circumstances and take positive action. That’s because I don’t think there is much chance that we’ll take any such action on a global or even national scale.

It’s time now to wrap up this series of posts about the bumpy road down. At some point in the future I intend to do a series about of coping with collapse locally, on the community, family and individual level. I think there is still much than can be done to improve the prospects of those who are willing to try.