Climate, Energy, Economy: Pick Two

7 07 2016

Another darn good read from Raul Ilargi of Automatic Earth…..

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We used to have this saying that if someone asks you to do a job good, fast and cheap, you’d say: pick two. You can have it good and cheap, but then it won’t be fast, etc. As our New Zealand correspondent Dr. Nelson Lebo III explains below, when it comes to our societies we face a similar issue with our climate, energy and the economy.

Not the exact same, but similar, just a bit more complicated. You can’t have your climate nice and ‘moderate’, your energy cheap and clean, and your economy humming along just fine all at the same time. You need to make choices. That’s easy to understand.

Where it gets harder is here: if you pick energy and economy as your focus, the climate suffers (for climate you can equally read ‘the planet’, or ‘the ecosystem’). Focus on climate and energy, and the economy plunges. So far so ‘good’.

But when you emphasize climate and economy, you get stuck. There is no way the two can be ‘saved’ with our present use of fossil fuels, and our highly complex economic systems cannot run on renewables (for one thing, the EROEI is not nearly good enough).

It therefore looks like focusing on climate and economy is a dead end. It’s either/or. Something will have to give, and moreover, many things already have. Better be ahead of the game if you don’t want to be surprised by these things. Be resilient.

But this is Nelson’s piece, not mine. The core of his argument is worth remembering:

Everything that is not resilient to high energy prices and extreme weather events will become economically unviable…

…and approach worthlessness. On the other hand,…

Investments of time, energy, and money in resilience will become more economically valuable…

Here’s Nelson:

 

 

Nelson Lebo: There appear to be increasing levels of anxiety among environmental activists around the world and in my own community in New Zealand. After all, temperature records are being set at a pace equal only to that of Stephen Curry and LeBron James in the NBA Finals. A recent Google news headline said it all: “May is the 8th consecutive month to break global temperature records.”

In other words, October of last year set a record for the highest recorded global monthly temperature, and then it was bettered by November, which was bettered by December, January, and on through May. The hot streak is like that of Lance Armstrong’s Tour De France dominance, but we all know how that turned out in the end.

Making history – like the Irish rugby side in South Africa recently – is usually a time to celebrate. Setting a world record would normally mean jubilation – not so when it comes to climate.

Responses to temperature records range from sorrow, despair, anger, and even fury. Anyone with children or grandchildren (and even the childless) who believes in peer review and an overwhelming scientific consensus has every right to feel these emotions. So why do I feel only resignation?

We are so far down the track at this point that we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Remember the warnings 30 years ago that we needed 30 years to make the transition to a low carbon economy or else there would be dire consequences? Well, in case you weren’t paying attention, it didn’t happen.

While these warnings were being issued by scientists much of the world doubled down – Trump-like – on Ford Rangers, Toyota Tacomas, and other sport utility vehicles. The same appears to be happening now, with the added element that we are experiencing the dire consequences as scientists issue even more warnings and drivers buy even more ‘light trucks’. Forget Paris, the writing was on the wall at Copenhagen.

 

The bottom line is that most people will (and currently do) experience climate change as a quality of life issue, and quality of life is related to a certain extent to disposable income. Acting or not acting proactively or reactively on climate change is expensive and gets more expensive every day.

If the international community ever takes collective action on climate change it will make individuals poorer because the cost of energy will rise significantly. If the international community fails to act, individuals will be made poorer because of the devastating effects of extreme weather events – like last year’s historic floods where I live as well as in northern England, etc – shown to be on the increase over the last 40 years in hundreds of peer-reviewed papers with verifiable data.

And here is the worst part: most economies around the world rely on some combination of moderate climate and cheap fossil fuels. For example, our local economy is heavily dependent on agriculture and tourism, making it exceptionally vulnerable to both acting AND not acting on climate change.

Drought hurts rural economies and extreme winds and rainfall can cost millions in crop damage as well as repairs to fencing, tracks and roads. As a result, both farmers and ratepayers have fewer dollars in their pockets to spend on new shoes, a night out, or a family trip. This is alongside living in a degraded environment post-disaster. The net result is a negative impact on quality of life: damned if we don’t.

On the other hand, tourism relies on inexpensive jet fuel and petrol to get the sightseers and thrill seekers to and around the world with enough dollars left over to slosh around local economies. Think about all of the service sector jobs that rely on tourism that in turn depend entirely on a continuous supply of cheap fuel. (This is not to mention peak oil and the lack of finance available to fund any long and expensive transition to an alternative energy world.) I’m told 70% of US jobs are in the service sector, most of which rely on inexpensive commuting and/or a highly mobile customer base.

Any significant approach to curbing carbon emissions in the short term will result in drastic increases to energy prices. The higher the cost of a trip from A to Z the less likely it is to be made. As a result, business owners and ratepayers at Z will have fewer dollars in their pockets to spend on new shoes, a night out, or a family vacation of their own. The net result is a negative impact on their quality of life: damned if we do.

 

I suppose it deserves repeating: most OECD economies and the quality of life they bring rely on both moderate climate and cheap fossil fuels, but these are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, regardless of emissions decisions made by the international community, we are already on track for decades of temperature records and extreme weather events that will cost billions if not trillions of dollars.

The response in many parts of the world has been to protest. That’s cool, but you can’t protest a drought – the drought does not care. You can’t protest a flood – the flood does not care. And even if the protests are successful at influencing government policies – which I hope long-term they are – we are still on track for decades of climatic volatility and the massive price tags for clean up and repair.

Go ahead and protest, people, but you better get your house in order at the same time, and that means build resilience in every way, shape and form.

Resilience is the name of the game, and I was impressed with Kyrie Irving’s post NBA game seven remarks that the Cleveland Cavaliers demonstrated great resilience as a team.

As I wrote here at TAE over a year ago, Resilience Is The New Black. If you don’t get it you’re not paying attention.

This article received a wide range of responses from those with incomplete understandings of the situation as well as those in denial – both positions dangerous for their owners as well as friends and neighbours.

The double bind we find ourselves in by failing to address the issue three decades ago is a challenge to put it mildly. Smart communities recognize challenges and respond accordingly. The best response is to develop resilience in the following areas: ecological, equity, energy and economic.

The first two of these I call the “Pope Index” because Francis has identified climate change and wealth inequality as the greatest challenges facing humanity. Applying the Pope Index to decision making is easy – simply ask yourself if decisions made in your community aggravate climate change and wealth inequality or alleviate them.

For the next two – energy and economics – I take more of a Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight (credit, Thom Hartmann) perspective that I think is embraced by many practicing permaculturists. Ancient sunlight (fossil fuels) is on its way out and if we do not use some to build resilient infrastructure on our properties and in our communities it will all be burned by NASCAR, which in my opinion would be a shame.

As time passes, everything that is not resilient to high energy prices and extreme weather events will become economically unviable and approach worthlessness.

On the other hand, investments of time, energy, and money in resilience will become more economically valuable as the years pass.

Additionally, the knowledge, skills and experience gained while developing resilience are the ultimate in ‘job security’ for an increasingly volatile future.

If you know it and can do it and can teach it you’ll be sweet. If not, get onto it before it’s too late.

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IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD — HOW DO YOU FEEL?

12 06 2016

Terry Root often goes to sleep at night wondering how she’ll be able to get up the next morning and do it all over again. Then the sun comes up and she forces herself out of bed. She might go for a run to release the pent-up anxiety. Sometimes she cries. Or she’ll commiserate with colleagues, sharing in and validating each other’s angst. What keeps Terry up at night aren’t the usual ailments; it’s not a tyrant boss or broken heart.

The diagnosis: global warming.

A senior fellow at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment, Root has spent the past two decades unraveling the thread between climate change and the eventual mass extinctions of countless species of plants, animals — and, yes, humans. “That’s a tough, tough thing to cope with,” Root says in a weary, jagged voice. There’s more. When the gray-haired bird watcher shares her End of Days findings, she’s often met with personal attacks; naysayers hurl their disagreement and disdain, complete with name-calling and threats from politicians. But the absolute worst part of her job? We’re not listening. “It’s harder than hell to carry that,” says Root.

 

Armageddon aside for a moment, that an acclaimed scientist will say h-e-l-l to a reporter and use words like cope is a sign of changing times. Not only are we living on a warming planet but a progressively emotive one. It started with parents coddling their kids (no more advice to “just suck it up”), then it was emojis (punctuation isn’t enough) and now it’s climatologists tweeting “we’re f’d” and field researchers speaking up about climate depression — or even pretraumatic stress disorder.

There is a paradigm shift taking place in the field of science with the recognition that even the most stoic minds of the world need a way to process their doomsday findings. All of this is fueling a debate that’s raged since before Galileo and until recently landed on one central question: What place does human emotion have in scientific reasoning? But in 2015, there’s another layer that’s been schlepped into the controversial heap: What do you do when your job is to document the end of the world?

But what if the entire goddamned profession gets wiped out in a hurricane? Then what? There’s a growing sense of urgency as worsening environmental catastrophes play out before us. In the midst of what many in the science community — by “many,” we mean upward of 95 percent — are calling a planetary crisis, more researchers are finding that they can’t simply present their data in a vacuum, then go home at the end of the day and crack open a beer. “Scientists are going from these totally objective outsiders into being much more subjective and a part of the community,” says Faith Kearns, an outreach coordinator for the California Institute for Water Resources, which tries to solve drought-related challenges.

Indeed, the façade of total objectivity has deteriorated in recent years alongside intensifying environmental cataclysms. In 2012, Camille Parmesan, who shared a Nobel Prize with Al Gore in 2007 for her climate work, publicly announced her professional depression and frustration with the current political stalemate. Shortly after The Atlantic named Parmesan one of its 27 “Brave Thinkers,” alongside Steve Jobs and Barack Obama, for her efforts to save species, she temporarily left her university job in Texas for a reprieve across the pond. Then last summer, climatologist Jason Box’s tweet — “If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d” — went viral, provoking a media frenzy. The public relentlessly chastised him for a) making a definitive statement instead of dealing in the usual probabilities and b) expressing emotion.

And now there’s the website Is This How You Feel?, which publishes handwritten letters from climate scientists expressing their frustrations, fears and hopes. One professor writes, “It’s probably the first time I have ever been asked to say what I feel rather than what I think.” Another scrawls, “I feel exasperation and despair. … I feel vulnerable that by writing this letter I will expose myself to trolling and vitriol.” Joe Duggan, the mohawked Aussie with a nose ring and master’s degree in the growing field of science communications who manages the site, says he’s been shocked at how many responses he’s gotten in the mail: “There is a movement of scientists looking for new ways to connect; they’re emoting in ways they never have before,” he says.

 

Elizabeth Allison turns off the lights. She instructs her students to stack one vertebra on top of the next until their spines are straight and long. Then to focus on the rhythm of their breath. In. And out. In. And out. Acknowledge any feelings or sensations that arise, then let them go. After 15 minutes she slowly guides them back into the present. Feet and hands begin to stir. Eyelids slowly make their way to full attention.

OK, that’s it. See you all next week — and don’t forget your homework assignment is due. After all, this is graduate-level course PAR 6079.

So much for that centuries-old hidden curriculum. From professors like Allison taking students through a guided meditation after a discussion on retreating rainforests to scientists signing up for workshops on compassion and communication to support groups for climatologists, human emotion has wedged itself into every step of the scientific method. Marilyn Cornelius, a Stanford-trained researcher, has found the best way to explore creative solutions for the planet’s woes is to meld behavioral science, biomimicry, meditation and design thinking. Now she works as a consultant, taking energy experts on wilderness retreats and teaching lab coats to connect with themselves and nature. “I made a decision to work on behavior change,” Cornelius says, “because it’s a positive way to work on the climate problem.”

This isn’t just about managing the feelings of scientists, though. Kearns, from the California Institute for Water Resources, acknowledges how painful it can be to watch academics try to relate to everyday folks and has made it her mission to make these interactions less cringe-inducing. The soft-spoken brunette first began thinking about this impasse after some years back she hosted a community workshop on emerging “stay or go” science that weighs whether home owners can — and should — protect their property from increasingly frequent and ferocious wildfires. Her audience was a small northern California community that had recently faced that very dilemma. Fear, anger and helplessness pulsed through the room. “I started to feel their anxiety,” Kearns says. “Our research has an effect on people’s lives. My scientific training hadn’t prepared me to cope with the emotions that come with that.”

But there is still the camp that believes feelings erode credibility and breed bias. It’s the naturalistic fallacy, and it’s the difference between the is and the ought. The philosophy is that facts can’t substantiate value judgments. Science is perhaps the last frontier of neutrality, especially in today’s polarized society. As Philip Handler, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, once said, scientists “best serve public policy by living within the ethics of science, not those of politics.”

 

The seismic sentimental shift among scientists parallels an outpouring of feeling — and narcissism — across American society. Once-detached psychotherapists are hugging their clients, journalists have come to love the personal essay (in fact, it seems like everyone has a story to tell these days), even man-eating corporations are experimenting with emotional leadership. Or think of the impassioned protests around Black Lives Matter, the outrage at sexual abuse and the pleas against social inequality. “There’s been more space in the public realm for bringing up and dealing with emotional stuff, and that has cracked the shell of otherwise very removed scientists,” says Allison, a professor at the California Institute for Integral Studies. Then again, maybe climatologists are more cunning than we give them credit for, and they’re simply taking a page out of their opponents’ playbook.

Indeed, emotions are a powerful tool for those who know how to use them. Which is why those leading the climate-change charge aren’t looking to labs anymore. Instead, eager students are following Cornelius’s path, pursuing studies in contemplative environmentalism or transformational ecology, which looks to shrinks, money and Facebook to protect the planet. With the future of everything at stake, what has traditionally separated science from sentiment is a lot less defined — and perhaps even irrelevant.

But emotions are less predictable than facts and figures. Root remembers giving a talk once at the University of Utah. Afterward a few students came up to ask questions; one young man had tears in his eyes. “Is it really this bad?” he pleaded. Root told him it’s worse. He went on to become an activist and was sent to prison for one of his illegal protests. Root has always felt responsible.

“I’d always thought that facts and the truth would win out; then I realized that wasn’t the case,” Root says.





It’s hopeless….. enjoy it!

22 01 2013

pollardDave Pollard, whom I introduced to Damnthematrix some time ago, is at it again……  it’s so so nice to run into a good blogger every now and again…

At his website, Dave posted Ten Things To Do When You’re Feeling Hopeless. This resonated with me so much, I’m going to discuss it with you here…..

  1. Give up hope: That’s right, get off the hope/despair roller coaster and realize once and for all it’s hopeless! You should have known when a US presidential candidate won an election on a platform of mere ‘hope’ that it was time to give it up. Derrick Jensen explains how and why to get Beyond Hope:

    The more I understand hope, the more I realize that all along it deserved to be in [Pandora’s] box with the plagues, sorrow, and mischief; that it serves the needs of those in power as surely as belief in a distant heaven; that hope is really nothing more than a secular way of keeping us in line… People sometimes ask me, ‘If things are so bad, why don’t you just kill yourself?’ The answer is that life is really, really good. I am a complex enough being that I can hold in my heart the understanding that we are really, really fucked, and at the same time that life is really, really good. I am full of rage, sorrow, joy, love, hate, despair, happiness, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and a thousand other feelings. We are really fucked. Life is still really good… Many people are afraid to feel despair. They fear that if they allow themselves to perceive how desperate our situation really is, they must then be perpetually miserable. They forget that it is possible to feel many things at once. They also forget that despair is an entirely appropriate response to a desperate situation.

    Years ago, after giving one of my very first Peak Oil presentations to a branch of hopeful Greens Party members, I was told in no uncertain terms by an older member of said branch that my presentation was deficient in that it gave no hope for her teenage daughter who was present…..  I admit, I had not given the issue any thought, because, frankly, I had already reached the stage where I thought there were actually no solutions to keeping business as usual going, and surely members of the Greens Party already knew this…..  Now of course I realise that most people who vote Green do so because they believe in false hope, that the world can be run on wind and solar power.  I don’t know how to fix that.  In many ways, “hopeful people” are actually as intransigent as climate change deniers!  They’re hooked on HOPIUM…..

  2. Explore your gifts and passions with someone you love: Get together with someone you love and tell each other what you really care about, what you have real passion for, and what you think really needs to be done in the world, that you think you could actually contribute to usefully, and would really enjoy doing. Then tell each other what you think each other’s gifts to the world are, the things that other person is, in your view, uniquely good at doing. I bet you’ll feel things starting to shift, in ways that are practical, and intentional, instead of just desperately, uselessly hopeful.

    I do this with my wife constantly……  I can vouch it works…

  3. Be good to yourself: If you’ve been reading the previous points, you should now appreciate that it’s perfectly understandable, even sensible, to feel hopeless. We’re fucked, and you know it, but still you’re doing your part, taking responsibility, doing important work to mitigate or help adapt to the hopeless future we all face, right? So ease off. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself a break. Pamper yourself. Have a long hot bath by candlelight, with your favourite music playing. Go for a walk in the moonlight, or sleep under the stars. Play something, or just play around, by yourself or with those you love. Have chocolate by the fire. Celebrate the fact that you’re smart enough, informed enough, strong enough, sensitive enough, to feel utterly hopeless. You have to love that!

    He’s right you know…. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  I celebrate with chocolate, beer, espresso coffee (not all at once!!), and loads of good cooking….  you really need to do this.  I remember a couple of years ago totally shocking a friend of Glenda’s when she asked me what goals I had set for the year and answering…  none!  I’ve already achieved everything, I don’t want anything else…  of course now I have the Tassie experiment as a new goal to look forward to.

  4. Cry (like an elephant): Research suggests that crying is a natural response to stress and grief, with enormous therapeutic value: “Tears aren’t just salt water; they contain leucine enkephalin, an endorphin that modulates pain, and hormones such as prolactin and adrenocorticotropic hormone, released at times of stress. Tears [might] be the body’s way of flushing out excess stress hormones… a safety valve.” Elephants, with exceptionally large brains and memories, visit the sites of pack-mates’ past deaths or suffering every day for years, to remember and to cry, according to research by Jeff Masson. It’s natural, it feels good, and it’s good for you. So why does our culture not want us to cry when we feel hopeless? Hmmm.

    I don’t do this anywhere near enough.  I think I’ve become so immune to the whole catastrophe that I no longer even feel bad about it…  Not even death makes me cry anymore.  Even when my goat died last year, I was upset, but I didn’t cry.  I accept it as inevitable, I’m ready for it, I don’t even care.  I think.  I won’t really know until either my mother or Glenda’s mother dies.  Maybe it’ll come back to me..

  5. Listen to kids talk about what they care about: Kids are hopeless. By that I mean that, until their parents, peers and the education system brainwash them to start planning and hoping for their future, and living inside their heads, they live in the present, without hope. By listening to them we can relearn what it means to live without the need to hope, to just accept and be.

    I have young nieces and nephews.  All they seem to care about is what’s on the nearest screen.  It’s all they appear to care about these days as far as I’m concerned….

  6. Learn to be “present” like wild creatures: Like young children, wild creatures don’t live in hope. They too live in the real world, in the present. They have much to teach us about the First Principles of living, hopelessly: Be generous. Value your time. Live naturally. Learn to be present, your own way — meditation, exercise, walks in the woods — whatever works for you. Hope and hopelessness are both about the future. When you are present, neither has any hold on you.

    You can’t live like us and not do this.  One thing’s for sure, I need to learn to meditate.

  7. Talk with other hopeless people: We’re all part of the Earth organism, and it’s hopeless for all of us, so acknowledging that and starting to talk about it knowingly and honestly is the first step in making peace with our hopelessness, and with our collective grief. Perhaps it’s time to challenge the taboo in our culture that we must not admit to, or talk about, the hopelessness of our situation, and our feelings of hopelessness. You might start with someone you care about who you haven’t talked with in a long time. Right now, yeah, leave a message if you have to, and persevere. When you do converse, forget about catching up on old news or talking about future plans. Talk about what you’re doing and feeling right now. Including the feelings of hopelessness. Bring them into your present and they’ll bring you into the present in return, and out of the “hopeless” future.

    As it happens, I do know lots of hopeless people, but most of them live rather far away, so the only way I can talk to them is over this piece of technology.  It’s better than nothing, but I have to admit to looking forward to having more hopeless people around me in Tassie…..  it’s definitely one of the reasons I want to go there….

  8. Avoid unactionable news and “self-help” books: The media don’t have a clue, and the “news” is all about what has already happened, dumbed down, sensationalized and oversimplified to the point of meaninglessness. And skip the “good news” pap and the technophiles’ gee-whiz “future’s so bright and green I gotta wear shades” new invention news, too. It’s all designed to make you feel hopeful, so you don’t rise up and do something dangerous or appropriate to the worst of the perpetrators who have, in fact, made everything hopeless. And while you’re dispensing with hopeless reading, throw out all those so-called “self-help” books with their glib prescriptions for you how you should live. There are gazillions of them out there, clogging the aisles of bookstores everywhere. Most of their readers will tell you (even as they buy more of them, stupidly, hopefully): They don’t work! Things are the way they are for a reason. You are the way you are for a reason. Accept what is. Appreciate it. Make peace with it. It’s all good. It’s absurd to hope that some stupid book is going to change it. Donate your “self-help” money instead to those who truly embrace hopelessness, like the local homeless people, or your local food bank, or animal rescue centre, or radical activist group. And when you’re picking what to read, choose poetry and stories about the present, not nostalgic or traumatic stories about the past or cautionary tales about the future.

    A friend actually invited us to a “self help” seminar recently…..  I was appalled.  What was the matter with her?  All she needed to do was talk to ME!  Obviously we declined…  I toss religious belief in with that self help crap…  doesn’t do you any good.  Can’t understand what happened to critical thinking, must’ve gone out the window with whatever is on TV.  Speaking of TV, I almost never watch commercial TV…  can’t stand the ads for starters, but the quality is also appalling.  And even when watching what’s on the ABC or SBS I’m choosy….

  9. Dream: Dreams are alternate realities, and they are realities we can create and control. When you give vent to your imagination, it can manifest, ‘real-ize’ wonderful inventions — works of art, with amazing healing, communicating, inspirational and transformative power. Your dreams are clues to your gift to the world

    I only have one dream right now…..  moving to Tassie of course.  At my age (it’s obvious Pollard is much younger than me!) , you should’ve achieved pretty well everything you needed or wanted to.

  10. Fall in love: I have no advice at all on how to do this. All I know is that it works. It’s risky and addictive, for sure, and for most of us its most blissful effects wear off too fast. But nature has given us this wonderful state of foolish, invincible, chemical-induced grace, and it makes us immune to both hope and hopelessness.

    This one……  I don’t think my wife of 35 years will allow!  I can remember (dimly….) being in love…  go for it!