Solving secondary problems first

10 08 2018

Can you run a self-driving car on a desert island?

Of course not: There are no roads; and there is no fuel for the car.

Why do I mention this?  Because the received narrative around climate change and so-called “peak oil demand” is that new technologies like electric self-driving cars are going to ride to our rescue in the near future.  This is a nice fantasy; but I would draw your attention to the fact that while we still have roads, along with much of our infrastructure they are falling apart through neglect.  Without the enabling infrastructure, the proposed new technologies are going nowhere.

Energy, meanwhile, is a far greater problem.  Globally (remember most of the food we eat and the goods we buy are imported) 86 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels – down just one percent from 1995.  Renewable energy accounts for nearly 10 percent; but most of this is from hydroelectric dams and wood burning.  The modern renewables – solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tidal, and ocean energy – that so many people imagine are going to save the day account for just 1.5 percent of the energy we use.

Modern renewables are a kind of Schrodinger’s energy because they are simultaneously replacements for (some of) the fossil fuel that we are currently using and the additional energy to power all of the new technologies that are going to save the day.  And rather like the benighted feline in Schrodinger’s experiment, so long as nobody actually looks at the evidence, they can continue to fulfil both roles.

Given the potentially catastrophic consequences of not having sufficient energy to continue growing our economy, it is psychologically discomforting even to ask why energy costs are spiralling upward around the world, and why formerly energy independent countries are resorting to difficult, expensive and environmentally toxic fuel sources like hydraulically fractured shale or strip mined bitumen sands.  This, perhaps, explains why so many people focus their attention on solving second order problems – something psychologists refer to as a “displacement activity.”

An example of this appeared in today’s news in the shape of an Australian attempt to revive hydrogen-powered cars.  In theory, hydrogen (which only exists in compounds in nature) is superior to (far less abundant) lithium ion batteries as a store of energy to power electric vehicles.  Crucially, unlike battery-powered electric vehicles, hydrogen cell electric vehicles do not need to be recharged, but can be refuelled in roughly the same time as it takes to refuel a petroleum vehicle.  And, of course, hydrogen vehicles do not require tax payers and energy consumers to foot the bill for the upgrade of the electricity grid needed for battery-powered cars.

hydrogen car

The drawback with hydrogen is that it is difficult to store.  Because hydrogen is the smallest atom, it can gradually corrode and seep out of any container; especially if it is compressed into liquid form.  It is this problem that the Australian researchers appear to have solved.  Using a new technology, they have been able to store hydrogen as ammonia, and then convert it back to hydrogen to fuel their cars.  As Lexy Hamilton-Smith at ABC News reports:

“For the past decade, researchers have worked on producing ultra-high purity hydrogen using a unique membrane technology.

“The membrane breakthrough will allow hydrogen to be safely transported and used as a mass production energy source.”

Unlike batteries, which have only succeeded imperfectly at replacing lightweight vehicles, hydrogen is already used around the world to power much heavier vehicles:

“Hydrogen powered vehicles, including buses, trucks, trains, forklifts as well as passenger cars are being manufactured by leading automotive companies and deployed worldwide as part of their efforts to decarbonise the transport sector.”

Step back for a moment and you will see that this is, indeed, a displacement activity.  Insofar as humans are currently imagining a far more electrified world, then there is a competition to be won on the best form of energy storage.  And there are good reasons for believing that hydrogen is a more versatile battery than lithium ion (which also has a tendency to burst into flames if not stored properly).  However, this competition is predicated on the highly unlikely possibility of our having a large volume of excess energy in future.

Currently, almost all of the hydrogen we use is obtained by chemically separating it out of natural gas.  Using electrolysis to separate hydrogen out of water is simply too expensive by comparison.  But gas reserves are shrinking (which is why fracking is being promoted) and are already required for agriculture, chemicals, for heating and cooking, and for generating much of the electricity that used to come from coal.  Given the Herculean efforts that were required to install the modern renewables that generate just 1.5 percent of our energy, the idea that these are about to deliver enough excess capacity to allow the production of hydrogen from water is fanciful at best.

And that’s the problem.  Until we can secure a growing energy supply both hydrogen and lithium ion cars are going to end up on a global desert island.  One where there is insufficient power and unrepaired infrastructure.  To make matters worse, climate change dictates that the additional power we need in future cannot come from the fuels that currently provide us with 86 percent of our energy.  And, of course, whatever we end up substituting for fossil fuels will have to provide sufficiently cheap energy that the population doesn’t rise up and produce something a great deal worse than Brexit or Donald Trump.


It finally seems even renewable energy pundits are starting to see the light regarding Hydrogen…..  Renew Economy has just published an article titled Beware fossil-gas suppliers bearing hydrogen gifts

Recently there has been a flood of announcements about renewable hydrogen. Some seem fully legitimate and exciting. But in some others, are we seeing a red-herring not unlike clean-coal? Will the public-relations power of renewable hydrogen be harnessed by fossil-fuel interests only to maintain business-as-usual?

In the Aeneid, Virgil had a warning for the Trojans. Something along the lines of “you better have a squiz at this big wooden horse and see what’s up”.  So let’s take a quick break from “electrifying everything” and look at what’s up with the green hydrogen being spruiked across Australia by fossil-gas suppliers.

In Western Australia, the fossil oil and gas company Woodside says “Green hydrogen is the holy grail and if people want green hydrogen, we’re happy to deliver.” But then Woodside goes on to remind us “currently, the best way to export hydrogen is via LNG” (liquefied fossil gas).

ATCO, the Canadian owner of Western Australia’s fossil gas distribution networks will use renewable hydrogen in the quest of “maximising existing network infrastructure”.

(Note: After years of experience, we now know that Australian utility companies seeking to “maximise energy network infrastructure” whether it’s needed or not, is code for maximising utility company returns while driving up consumer energy costs.)

More at the link……..


6 07 2016

15 Realities of our Global Environmental Crisis

By Deep Green Resistance

  1. Industrial civilization is not, and can never be, sustainable.

Any social system based on the use of non-renewable resources is by definition unsustainable. Non-renewable means it will eventually run out. If you hyper-exploit your non-renewable surroundings, you will deplete them and die. Even for your renewable surroundings like trees, if you exploit them faster than they can regenerate, you will deplete them and die. This is precisely what civilization has been doing for its 10,000-year campaign – running through soil, rivers, and forests as well as metal, coal, and oil.

  1. Industrial civilization is causing a global collapse of life.

Due to industrial civilization’s insatiable appetite for growth, we have exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity. Once the carrying capacity of an area is surpassed, the ecological community is severely damages, and the longer the overshoot lasts, the worse the damage, until the population eventually collapses. This collapse is happening now. Every 24 hours up to 200 species become extinct. 90% of the large fish in the oceans are gone. 98% of native forests, 99% of wetlands, and 99% of native grasslands have been wiped out.


  1. Industrial civilization is based on and requires ongoing systematic violence to operate.

This way of life is based on the perceived right of the powerful to take whatever resources they want. All land on which industrial civilization is now based on land that was taken by force from its original inhabitants, and shaped using processes – industrial forestry, mining, smelting – that violently shape the world to industrial ends. Traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or sell resources on which their communities and homes are based and do not willingly allow their landbases to be damaged so that other resources – gold, oil, and so on – can be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they can to acquire these resources by any means necessary. Resource extraction cannot be accomplished without force and exploitation.

  1. In order for the world as we know it to exist on a day-to-day basis, a vast and growing degree of destruction and death must occur.

Industrialization is a process of taking entire communities of living beings and turning them into commodities and dead zones. Trace every industrial artifact back to its source­ and you find the same devastation: mining, clear-cuts, dams, agriculture, and now tar sands, mountaintop removal, and wind farms. These atrocities, and others like them, happen all around us, every day, just to keep things running normally. There is no kinder, greener version of industrial civilization that will do the trick of leaving us a living planet.

  1. This way of being is not natural.

Humans and their immediate evolutionary predecessors lived sustainably for at least a million years. It is not “human nature” to destroy one’s habitat. The “centralization of political power, the separation of classes, the lifetime division of labor, the mechanization of production, the magnification of military power, the economic exploitation of the weak, and the universal introduction of slavery and forced labor for both industrial and military purposes”[1] are only chief features of civilization, and are constant throughout its history.

  1. Industrial civilization is only possible with cheap energy.

The only reason industrial processes such as large-scale agriculture and mining even function is because of cheap oil; without that, industrial processes go back to depending on slavery and serfdom, as in most of the history of civilization.

  1. Peak oil, and hence the era of cheap oil, has passed.

Peak oil is the point at which oil production hits its maximum rate. Peak oil has passed and extraction will decline from this point onwards. This rapid decline in the availability of global energy will result in increasing economic disruption and upset. The increasing cost and decreasing supply of energy will undermine manufacturing and transportation and cause global economic turmoil. Individuals, companies, and even states will go bankrupt. International trade will nosedive because of a global depression. The poor will be unable to cope with the increasing cost of basic goods, and eventually the financial limits will result in large-scale energy-intensive manufacturing becoming impossible – resulting in, among other things – the collapse of agricultural infrastructure, and the associated transportation and distribution network.

At this point in time, there are no good short-term outcomes for global human society. The collapse of industrial civilization is inevitable, with or without our input, it’s just a matter of time. The problem is that every day the gears of this destructive system continue grinding is another day it wages war on the natural world. With up to 200 species and more than 80,000 acres of rainforest being wiped out daily as just some of the atrocities occurring systematically to keep our lifestyles afloat, the sooner this collapse is induced the better.

  1. “Green technologies” and “renewable energy” are not sustainable and will not save the planet.

Solar panels and wind turbines aren’t made out of nothing.  These “green” technologies are made out of metals, plastics, and chemicals. These products have been mined out of the ground, transported vast distances, processed and manufactured in big factories, and require regular maintenance. Each of these stages causes widespread environmental destruction, and each of these stages is only possible with the mass use of cheap energy from fossil fuels. Neither fossil fuels nor mined minerals will ever be sustainable; by definition, they will run out. Even recycled materials must undergo extremely energy-intensive production processes before they can be reused.[2]


  1. Personal consumption habits will not save the planet.

Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption for organized political resistance. Personal consumption habits — changing light bulbs, going vegan, shorter showers, recycling, taking public transport — have nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet. Besides, 90% of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. Three quarters of energy is consumed and 95% of waste is produced by commercial, industrial, corporate, agricultural and military industries. By blaming the individual, we are accepting capitalism’s redefinition of us from citizens to consumers, reducing our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming.

  1. There will not be a mass voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living.

The current material systems of power make any chance of significant social or political reform impossible. Those in power get too many benefits from destroying the planet to allow systematic changes which would reduce their privilege. Keeping this system running is worth more to them than the human and non-human lives destroyed by the extraction, processing, and utilization of natural resources.

  1. We are afraid.

The primary reason we don’t resist is because we are afraid. We know if we act decisively to protect the places and creatures we love or if we act decisively to stop corporate exploitation of the poor, that those in power will come down on us with the full power of the state. We can talk all we want about how we live in a democracy, and we can talk all we want about the consent of the governed. But what it really comes down to is that if you effectively oppose the will of those in power, they will try to kill you. We need to make that explicit so we can face the situation we’re in: those in power are killing the planet and they are exploiting the poor, and we are not stopping them because we are afraid. This is how authoritarian regimes and abusers work: they make their victims and bystanders afraid to act.

  1. If we only fight within the system, we lose.

Things will not suddenly change by using the same approaches we’ve been using for the past 30 years. When nothing is working to stop or even slow the destruction’s acceleration, then it is time to change your strategy. Until now, most of our tactics and discourse (whether civil disobedience, writing letters and books, carrying signs, protecting small patches of forest, filing lawsuits, or conducting scientific research) remain firmly embedded in whatever actions are authorized by the overarching structures that permit the destruction in the first place.


  1. Dismantling industrial civilization is the only rational, permanent solution.

Our strategies until now have failed because neither our violent nor nonviolent responses are attempts to rid us of industrial civilization itself. By allowing the framing conditions to remain, we guarantee a continuation of the behaviors these framing conditions necessitate. If we do not put a halt to it, civilization will continue to immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it (civilization, and probably the planet) collapses. The longer we wait for civilization to crash – or we ourselves bring it down – the messier will be the crash, and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans who live during it, and for those who come after.

  1. Militant resistance works.

Study of past social insurgencies and resistance movements shows that specific types of asymmetric warfare strategies are extremely effective.

  1. We must build a culture of resistance.

Some things, including a living planet, that are worth fighting for at any cost, when other means of stopping the abuses have been exhausted. One of the good things about industrial civilization being so ubiquitously destructive, is that no matter where you look – no matter what your gifts, no matter where your heart lies – there’s desperately important work to be done. Some of us need to file timber sales appeals and lawsuits. Some need to help family farmers or work on other sustainable agriculture issues. Some need to work on rape crisis hot lines, or at battered women’s shelters. Some need to work on fair trade, or on stopping international trade altogether. Some of us need to take down dams, oil pipelines, mining equipment, and electrical infrastructure. [NOTE: I am NOT in favor of taking down dams…]

We need to fight for what we love, fight harder than we have ever thought we could fight, because the bottom line is that any option in which industrial civilization remains, results in a dead planet.


Parts of this article were drawn from Deep Green Resistance: A Strategy to Save the Planet, by Aric McBay, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen.

[1] Lewis Mumford, Myth of the Machine, Volume 2,  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970, page 186.

[2] Recycled materials also usually degrade over time, limiting their recycling potential.

Saving the Planet is More Than Just Switching to Renewables

3 05 2016

I’m too busy sawmilling, wiring up power stations, and crushing apples right now to write much on DTM, though if the current ‘drought breaking’ rain continues, I will have an opportunity to write another update…. in the meantime, enjoy this article, a true breath of fresh air, even if it makes mo mention of Limits to Growth….

Photo credit: Bush Philosopher – Dave Clarke via / CC BY-NC-ND. Article cross-posted from Local Futures. Written by Steven Gorelick.

Among climate change activists, solutions usually center on a transition to renewable energy. There may be differences over whether this would be best accomplished by a carbon tax, bigger subsidies for wind and solar power, divestment from fossil fuel companies, massive demonstrations, legislative fiat, or some other strategy, but the goal is generally the same: Replace dirty fossil fuels with clean renewable energy. Such a transition is often given a significance that goes well beyond its immediate impact on greenhouse gas emissions: It would somehow make our exploitative relationship to nature more environmentally sound, our relationship to each other more socially equitable. In part, this is because the fossil fuel corporations — symbolized by the remorseless Koch brothers — will be a relic of the past, replaced by “green” corporations and entrepreneurs that display none of their predecessors’ ruthlessness and greed.

Maybe, but I have my doubts. Here in Vermont, for example, a renewable energy conference last year was titled, “Creating Prosperity and Opportunity Confronting Climate Change.” The event attracted venture capitalists, asset management companies, lawyers that represent renewable energy developers, and even a “brandthropologist” offering advice on “How to Evolve Brand Vermont” in light of the climate crisis. The keynote speaker was Jigar Shah, author of Creating Climate Wealth, who pumped up the assembled crowd by telling them that switching to renewables “represents the largest wealth creation opportunity of our generation.” He added that government has a role in making that opportunity real: “Policies that incentivize resource efficiency can mean scalable profits for businesses.”[1] If Shah is correct, the profit motive ­— in less polite company it might be called “greed” — will still be around in a renewable energy future.

But at least the renewable energy corporations will be far more socially responsible than their fossil fuel predecessors. Not if you ask the Zapotec communities in Mexico’s Oaxaca state, who will tell you that a renewable energy corporation can be just as ruthless as a fossil fuel one. Oaxaca is already home to 21 wind projects and 1,600 massive turbines, with more planned. While the indigenous population must live with the wind turbines on their communal lands, the electricity goes to distant urban areas and industries. Local people say they have been intimidated and deceived by the wind corporations: According to one indigenous leader, “They threaten us, they insult us, they spy on us, they block our roads. We don’t want any more wind turbines.” People have filed grievances with the government (which has actively promoted the wind projects) and have physically blocked access to development sites.[2]

It seems that a transition to renewable energy might not be as transformative as some people hope. Or, to put it more bluntly, renewable energy changes nothing about corporate capitalism.

Which brings me to the new film, This Changes Everything, based on Naomi Klein’s best-selling book and directed by her husband, Avi Lewis. I saw the film recently at a screening hosted by local climate activists and renewable energy developers, and was at first hopeful that the film would go even further than the book in, as Klein puts it, “connecting the dots between the carbon in the air and the economic system that put it there.”

But by film’s end, one is left with the impression that a transition from fossil fuels to renewables is pretty much all that’s needed — not only to address climate change, but to transform the economy and solve all the other problems we face. As the camera tracks skyward to reveal banks of solar panels in China or soars above 450-foot tall wind turbines in Germany, the message seems to be that fully committing to these technologies will change everything. This is surprising, since Klein’s book flatly contradicts this way of thinking:

“Over the past decade,” she wrote, “many boosters of green capitalism have tried to gloss over the clashes between market logic and ecological limits by touting the wonders of green tech…. They paint a picture of a world that can function pretty much as it does now, but in which our power will come from renewable energy and all of our various gadgets and vehicles will become so much more energy-efficient that we can consume away without worrying about the impact.”

Instead, she says, we need to “consume less, right away. [But] Policies based on encouraging people to consume less are far more difficult for our current political class to embrace than policies that are about encouraging people to consume green. Consuming green just means substituting one power source for another, or one model of consumer goods for a more efficient one. The reason we have placed all of our eggs in the green tech and green efficiency basket is precisely because these changes are safely within market logic.”[3]

Overall, Klein’s book is far better at “connecting the dots” than the film. The book explains how free trade treaties have led to a huge spike in emissions, and Klein argues that these agreements need to be renegotiated in ways that will curb both emissions and corporate power. Among other things, she says, “long-haul transport will need to be rationed, reserved for those cases where goods cannot be produced locally.” She explicitly calls for “sensible relocalization” of the economy, as well as reduced consumption and “managed degrowth” in the rich countries of the North — notions likely to curdle the blood of capitalists everywhere. She endorses government incentives for local and seasonal food, as well as land management policies that discourage sprawl and encourage low-energy, local forms of agriculture.

I don’t buy everything about Klein’s arguments: They rest heavily on unquestioned assumptions about the course of development in the global South, and focus too much on scaling up government and not enough on scaling down business. The “everything” that will change sometimes seems limited to the ideological pendulum: After decades of pointing toward the neoliberal, free-market right, she believes it must swing back to the left because climate change demands a huge expansion of government planning and support.

Nonetheless, many of the specific steps outlined in the book do have the potential to shift our economic system in important ways. Those steps, however, are given no space at all in the film. The focus is almost entirely on transitioning to renewables, which turns the film into what is essentially an informercial for industrial wind and solar.

The film starts well, debunking the notion that climate change is a product of human nature – of our innate greed and short-sightedness. Instead, Klein says, the problem lies in a “story” we’ve told ourselves for the past 400 years: that Nature is ours to tame, conquer, and extract riches from. In that way, Klein says, “Mother Nature became the mother lode.”

After a gut-wrenching segment on the environmental disaster known as the Alberta tar sands, the film centers on examples of “Blockadia” — a term coined by activists to describe local direct action against extractive industries. There is the Cree community in Alberta fighting the expansion of tar sands development; villagers in India blocking construction of a coal-fired power plant that would eliminate traditional fishing livelihoods; a community on Greece’s Halkidiki Peninsula battling their government and the police to stop an open pit gold mine that would destroy a cherished mountain; and a small-scale goat farmer in Montana joining hands with the local Cheyenne community to oppose a bevy of fossil fuel projects, including a tar sands pipeline, a shale oil project, and a new coal mine.

Klein implies that climate change underlies and connects these geographically diverse protests. But that’s partly an artifact of the examples Klein chose, and partly a misreading of the protestors’ motives: What has really driven these communities to resist is not climate change, but a deeply felt desire to maintain their traditional way of life and to protect land that is sacred to them. A woman in Halkidiki expresses it this way: “We are one with this mountain; we won’t survive without it.” At its heart, the threat that all of these communities face doesn’t stem from fossil fuels, but from a voracious economic system that will sacrifice them and the land they cherish for the sake of profit and growth.

The choice of Halkidiki as an example actually undermines Klein’s construct, since the proposed mine has nothing directly to do with fossil fuels. It does, however, have everything to do with a global economy that runs on growth, corporate profit, and — as Greece knows only too well — debt. So it is with all the other examples in the film.

Klein’s narrative would have been derailed if she profiled the indigenous Zapotec communities of Oaxaca as a Blockadia example: They fit the bill in every respect other than the fact that it’s renewable energy corporations, not fossil fuel corporations, they are trying to block. Similarly, Klein’s argument would have suffered if she visited villagers in India who are threatened not by a coal-fired power plant, but by one of India’s regulation-free corporate enclaves known as “special economic zones”. These, too, have sparked protests and police violence against villagers: In Nandigram in West Bengal, 14 villagers were killed trying to keep their way of life from being eliminated, their lands turned into another outpost of an expanding global economy.[4]

And while the tar sands region is undeniably an ecological disaster, it bears many similarities to the huge toxic lake on what was once pastureland in Baotou, on the edge of China’s Gobi Desert. The area is the source of nearly two-thirds of the world’s rare earth metals – used in almost every high-tech gadget (as well as in the magnets needed for electric cars and industrial wind turbines). The mine tailings and effluent from the many factories processing these metals have created an environmental disaster of truly monumental proportions: The BBC describes it as “the worst place on earth”.[5] A significant shrinking of global consumer demand would help reduce Baotou’s toxic lake, but it’s hard to see how a shift to renewable energy would.

Too often, climate change has been used as a Trojan horse to enable corporate interests to despoil local environments or override the concerns of local communities. Klein acknowledges this in her book: By viewing climate change only on a global scale, she writes, we end up ignoring “people with attachments to particular pieces of land with very different ideas about what constitutes a ‘solution,’ This chronic forgetfulness is the thread that unites so many fateful policy errors of recent years… [including] when policymakers ram through industrial-scale wind farms and sprawling… solar arrays without local participation or consent.”[6] But this warning is conspicuously absent from the film.

Klein’s premise is that climate change is the one issue that can unite people globally for economic change, but there’s a more strategic way to look at it. What we face is not only a climate crisis but literally hundreds of potentially devastating crises: there’s the widening gap between rich and poor, islands of plastic in the oceans, depleted topsoil and groundwater, a rise in fundamentalism and terror, growing piles of toxic and nuclear waste, the gutting of local communities and economies, the erosion of democracy, the epidemic of depression, and many more. Few of these can be easily linked to climate change, but all of them can be traced back to the global economy.

This point is made by Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of Local Futures, who explains how a scaling down of the corporate-led global economy and a strengthening of diverse, localized economies would simultaneously address all of the most serious problems we face – including climate change.[7] For this reason, what Norberg-Hodge calls “big picture activism” has the potential to unite climate change activists, small farmers, peace advocates, environmentalists, social justice groups, labor unions, indigenous rights activists, main street business owners, and many more under a single banner. If all these groups connect the dots to see the corporate-led economy as a root cause of the problems they face, it could give rise to a global movement powerful enough to halt the corporate juggernaut.

And that really could change everything.


[1] Shaheen, Troy, “Climate change may have economic potential for Vermont”, Feb. 20, 2015.

[2] “Defining and Addressing Community Opposition to Wind Development in Oaxaca” Equitable Origin, updated January 2106.

[3] Klein, Naomi, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (Simon and Shuster, 2014), page 90.

[4] “Nandigram Violence a ‘State-Sponsored Massacre’”, August 9, 2007.

[5] Maughan, Tim, “The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust” BBC Future, April 2, 2015.

[6] Klein, op. cit., page 287.

[7] Norberg-Hodge, Helena, Localisation: Essential Steps to an Economics of Happiness, Local Futures, 2015.

What a tangled web we weave……

28 03 2016

John Weber, whose excellent articles about the fossil fuels needed to make renewable energy I have published here before, led me to a Jo Nova item on her website titled Renewables industry collapsing in Europe.  Nova is the penultimate climate denier, as you will quickly see if you visit the link to her blog. She based her entire article of the following interesting graph……:


When I see a chart like that, I don’t see the collapse of renewables……..  I see the collapse of Capitalism!  The difference between Nova and I is that I am utterly convinced climate change will destroy civilisation and most of life on Earth as we know it, no matter how much renewable energy systems we build, whereas she thinks AGW is crap, and we’re wasting precious dollars propping up an unnecessary industry.

Now I don’t care how much money we ‘waste’, it’s all monopoly play money; but all the same that chart is interesting because we are continually told about how great Europe’s renewable energy systems are, how Denmark, or Germany, or [insert your favorite EU country here] generated 50% or 100% or whatever of its energy demand (when of course it’s only electricity demand) on some days, as if that was some great breakthrough…..

Nova makes interesting comments, like this……:

Here’s a detail that tells us how big the malinvestment is here. There are nearly half a million people in Europe working in wind and solar to generate expensive electricity:

Jobs are being lost as a result. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, employment in solar photovoltaics in Europe fell by more than a third to 165,000 jobs in 2013, the last year for which it has yet collated figures. Jobs in wind energy rose slightly, by more than 5% in 2013, to nearly 320,000 across the bloc, with more than half of these in Germany.

Imagine if those people were doing something useful?

Yes……. imagine if all those people were doing something useful, like ending consumption and running their own permaculture farms……!

Here’s $329 billion very committed dollars worth of vested interests pushing the Climate Scare. Unlike the fossil fuel industry their profits depend almost entirely on government policy.

As Oil Crashed, Renewables Attract Record $329 Billion


But does she mention the amount of fossil fuels subsidies…?  Of course not!

Here is a chart of fossil fuels subsidies……:


Hmmmm……  looks like it’s double the renewables subsidies to me. And that chart is now 3 years old, I can’t help wondering if it’s not doing a cliff dive of its own…. oh wait, it IS!

There’s one thing Nova gets right…:

Whatever you do, don’t graph renewables output in actual megawatts. Don’t graph it in CO2 tons saved. Never ever even mention the number of global degrees of cooling.

The rest is pure bias on her part……

Tasmania’s Greek Tragedy…..

23 03 2016

Just when I thought Tasmania’s electricity woes could not get any worse…….  they did. And they haven’t just gone from bad to worse, they have morphed from tragic to farcical.

Tasmania’s dam levels are dropping fast, some so critically, like the Great Lake, that it has been shut down altogether.  There’s talk of draining Lake Pedder to raise water levels elsewhere in the system, but would you believe it, the morons in charge are actually balking at the idea.  There are rumors that if Lake Pedder’s iconic beach was brought back from the dead, Hydro Tasmania would not be allowed to flood it again.  But if you think that’s weird, wait, there’s more…..

Here is a chart showing the flow of electricity through Basslink, the electric cable, now down for several months, joining Victoria to Tasmania…..:


If you’re paying attention, unlike the morons in charge of Tassie’s electricity, you will notice something odd happened on the way to the market…..  the electricity market that is.

Until 2010-11, Tasmania was overwhelmingly a nett power importer. Then, during 2010-11 and 2011-12, Tasmania dramatically increased its exports to the point of equaling imports. Suddenly, in 2012-13, Tasmania’s Basslink’s imports plummeted to 2.6% of its electricity consumption (see page 130 of the link).  By 2013-14, Tassie was importing almost nothing at all via Basslink – shedloads of energy was going the other way.  What was going on you are likely to ask?

Well, remember the Gillard government? (yes I know, it’s a lot of Prime Ministers ago….) In August 2010, Julia Gillard cheerfully introduced a ‘carbon tax’. Gillard’s scheme (not a ‘Carbon tax’ according to the ALP) made ‘renewable’ hydroelectricity artificially more price competitive in the energy market. In turn, Tasmania’s government, who owned Hydro Tasmania became decidedly giddy with excitement… and greed.  After all, why worry about Tasmanians’ electricity requirements when you can make money hand over fist, seemingly for free?  (you knew the environment comes for free, right??)

The results look like this……..:


You can clearly see the Winter inflows making the levels rise, and the Summer dry season making the levels go down…..  Now, before the Carbon Tax was introduced, levels rarely dropped below 30%, giving this state a relatively good safety cushion in case of a drought…. and seeing as Climate Change is going to bring us more droughts, then it’s a good idea to keep this buffer.  Right?  Unless of course there’s money to be made….!! Never get between a conservative government and a stash of free money, let me tell you…. they will run straight over the top of you (by the way I consider a Labor government to be conservative these days…)

Hydro Tasmania must’ve been licking its lips as it flicked the Basslink switch into reverse, and recklessly ploughed through more than half of its stored energy supply (i.e. stored water) during the carbon tax period:

The figures show that Tasmanian hydro generators have been selling electricity into the mainland market at unprecedented rates, drawing down storage levels dramatically since the carbon price was implemented in July 2012.

And if you operate a hydroelectricity plant and you flog off all your stored water much faster than the rain can re-fill your dam, you’re going to be in a lot of pain….

Along comes the drought we had to have (sorry Paul…)

You think the drought’s bad right…… well wait, there’s more!

According to the Mercury….:

BASSLINK owners sought to restrict Hydro Tasmania’s electricity exports and enforce a “cooling off” protocol during the period of the carbon tax to ensure the undersea cable was operated safely and reliably.

The news comes as Basslink prepares to cut the cable today [March 10 2016] and enable the cause of the fault to be pinpointed.

After three outages in July 2012, Basslink parent company Cityspring Infrastructure Trust sought to enforce what it called a “dynamic protocol” on the service agreement between it and Hydro, which enable it to transmit at “certain elevated levels”.

But the company said the outages came after Hydro transmitted electricity at levels above these in early July.

Yes, you read right, the greedy bastards fried the cable……… Look, I’m no electrical engineer, but I do know that if you put too much current through a cable, the black smoke locked inside that cable will be released.  Except you can’t see it underwater….!

The cable has been cut…….  but they still haven’t found the fault.  If you ask me, this doesn’t look good.  And a whole lot of other Tasmanians agree.  Just the other night on ABC TV news, Hydro Tasmania engineers were interviewed about why they are installing external plugs for running their houses off generators, and stocking up on batteries and, you won’t believe this, candles…….  only in Tasmania!  CSIRO is also planning for the worst.

Yes Tasmania, you are run by buffoons…….

On a personal level, my off the grid system is coming along.  Today, the Victron inverter arrived; I purchased the steel Pete the blacksmith will turn into a lean-to frame to be bolted onto the shipping container; and I have located eight 260W Trina panels for $2000 locally which I will pick up after Easter.  All I need now is for my Nickel Iron batteries to arrive from China, and I will be ready for the rolling blackouts now looming on the horizon.  As my freezer is the biggest energy consumer in the shed, I will move it to the container as soon as the solar power system is up and running…. and if rolling blackouts do eventuate, I will also move the fridge there, and maybe the TV too and abandon the shed to Hydro Tasmania……  they can all get stuffed.


This story got some airtime on ABC TV the other day, and to my utter disgust it was mentioned that the executives of Hydro Tasmania paid themselves $900,000 in bonuses at the height of the Carbon Tax frenzy, then $650,000 the year after, and $450,000 the year after that, for a grand total of $2,000,000…….

Not only should heads roll over this, but they should pay all that money back in my not so humble opinion.

Paris Agreement: Twelve Days That Damned Our World?

15 01 2016

An excellent article from Boomer Warrior.  May the looming crisis save us from ourselves, because the powers that be sure as hell won’t……

Paris Agreement: Twelve Days That Damned Our World, boomer warrior

The world is ruled by those who show up. And world leaders did show up last December in Paris to sign the first climate agreement that would shape climate action for decades to come and perhaps to the end of this century. After 20 years of international climate negotiations, The Paris Agreement was formally adopted on December 12, 2015. So, will the Paris Agreement save the planet or has it damned our world?

“This is truly a historic moment…For the first time, we have a truly universal agreement on climate change, one of the most crucial problems on earth.” (United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon)

Like millions of others around the globe I got caught up in the euphoria of the moment; I was filled with hope and optimism. We have finally come to our senses I allowed myself to think. But then climate reality set in.

Now that the celebrations are over, now that the champagne has stopped flowing and now that the high-fives and congratulatory back-slapping for a job well done are over, it’s time to take a more sober look at what has really been accomplished.

Former NASA scientist James Hansen calls the agreement a fraud and a fake with “no action, just promises…..we’ll have a 2 degree warming target and then try to do a little better every five years. It’s just worthless words.” Hansen claims we are already at a level of emergency. We do not need more blue-sky pledges.

Paris Agreement has Damned Our World

Published December 5, 2015
Standard YouTube License

Naomi Klein, Canadian environmentalist and climate activist, has called the climate deal scientifically inadequateBill McKibben ( stated that, “The world’s governments have now announced their intentions. And so the rest of us can hold them to those promises, or at least try. What, you want to build a pipeline? I thought you were going to go for 1.5 degrees. You want to frack? Are you fracking kidding me? You said you were going for 2 degrees at the absolute worst.”

Inadequacies of the Agreement

Paris Agreement: Twelve Days That Damned Our World, boomer warrior

Mock Eiffel tower at Le Bourget conference centre (credit: IISD/Kiara Worth)

Citizens Climate Lobby Canada points out four facts to keep in mind:

  1. It is not a formal commitment to a 1.5 oC limit–just a promise to pursue that limit.
  2. The actual plans from the 195 countries that took part in the Paris Agreement currently still commit the world to a temperature rise well above the two degree limit.
  3. In November 2015 the world hit the one degree rise above pre-industrial levels.
  4. Also in November 2015, humanity passed another ominous milestone: the last time anyone alive experienced global carbon dioxide (CO2) levels below 400 ppm. The scientific data strongly suggests that the safe level is 350 ppm. For over 10,000 years of human civilization, until the last hundred years, atmospheric COwas below 300 ppm.

Gap between evidence and promise

The gap between what is needed to make the planet livable for future generations and the tenuous promises of the agreement is shocking. Even if the 195 signatories to the deal attain their respective emissions targets, the agreement will lock us into a future of 3-4 degrees of planetary warming–a truly catastrophic and unimaginable nightmare.

Just before the start of the Paris talks, Dahr Jamail (Truthout Report) claimed that the Paris climate talks would be too little too late:

Well in advance of the Paris talks, the UN announced that the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere has locked in another 2.7 degrees Celsius warming at a minimum, even if countries move forward with the pledges they make to cut emissions. Hence, even the 2 degree Celsius goal is already unattainable….The faux goal of 2 degrees Celsius continues to be discussed. Meanwhile, the planet burns.

Profit or the Planet

The Paris agreement will operate within an economic framework that fails to recognize the primary culprit of global warming and climate change–capitalism is inherently unsustainable. The deal continues to support an economic system that demands infinite growth on a planet with finite resources, a system which has already produced climate chaos around the globe.

We have twiddled with the temperature dial–1.5 or 2 degrees–while failing to address the real causes–a debt-bound economic system, the myth of progress and our millennia-long separation from wild nature on which we depend for everything.

Price on Carbon

Putting a price on carbon is recognized world-wide as the primary tool for reducing emissions and reaching a  zero-carbon reality sometime in the second half of this century. But the Agreement fails miserably to address carbon pricing. It includes murky semantics where carbon trading is referred to as“internationally transferred mitigation outcomes”Article 6 provides for an entirely new, UN-controlled international carbon market mechanism where countries will be able to trade carbon to help each other to achieve their own targets for emissions cuts. A CounterPunch article claims that Paris has set us up for failure:

Carbon markets basically function as a delaying tactic. It’s been that way ever since their first inclusion in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The EU-ETS for instance, the first, biggest and most significant of all trading schemes, simply hasn’t delivered. It took the best part of ten years for it to start after Kyoto, and once in action it was riddled by fraudcorruptionover-allocation of permits and perverse incentives for carbon offsetting – all contributing to the fact that the price for carbon is so low that nobody cares.

Two Untouchables

According to the U.N., livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. And yet, animal agriculture and the consumption of meat have been largely ignored at the Paris climate talks leading up to the climate deal.

A University of Cambridge study finds that business-as-usual food consumption will eat up all of our global GHG budget by 2050, with nothing left for energy, transportation and other sectors.

The discussion surrounding “overpopulation” continues to be ignored. And yet, it is the proverbial elephant in the room. It is a taboo to even talk about this issue. By 2050, another 2 billion people will have been added to the planet putting even more strain on already depleting resources.

“Without pressure from ordinary people, world leaders would have gladly ignored this problem [global warming] entirely. It’s  pressure from people that will close the gap between what was signed today and the action we need“, wrote May Boeve of 350.0rg in a December email. I started this piece by saying that the world is ruled by those who show up. But change only happens when people on the streets take action.

That will happen in 2016.


RollyRolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s a Climate Reality leader, a Blogger and a Climate Activist. He’s a member of Climate Reality Canada, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Ottawa) and 350.Org (Ottawa), the Ethical Team (as an influencer)  and Global Population Speakout.

Rolly has been published widely in both print and online publications. You can follow him on FacebookTwitterLinkedin and Pinterest.

Abundant Clean Renewables? Think Again!

7 12 2014

Although “renewable” energy is growing faster than ever before, it is neither carbon neutral, “clean” nor sustainable. We need to transform into low-energy societies that meet human – not corporate – needs.

Found at generation Alpha

Renewable energy is growing faster than ever before. Sure, some countries are lagging behind, but others are setting widely praised records.

Germany has installed over 24,000 wind turbines and 1.4 million solar panels, and renewables generate 31 percent of the country’s electricity on average – and as much as 74 percent on particularly windy or sunny days. According to the German government, 371,400 jobs have been created by renewable energy. Norway generates 99 percent of its electricity from renewable energy. Denmark already generates 43 percent of electricity from renewables and aims to phase out fossil fuel burning by 2050.

Many view such news as rays of hope in a rapidly destabilizing climate. We all need some good news – but is renewables expansion really the good news people like to think? Can we really put our hopes for stabilizing the climate into trying to simply replace the energy sources in a growth-focused economic and social model that was built on fossil fuels? Or do we need a far more fundamental transition towards a low-energy economy and society?

Here’s the first problem with celebratory headlines over renewables: Record renewable energy hasn’t stopped record fossil fuel burning, including record levels of coal burning. Coal use is growing so fast that the International Energy Authority expects it to surpass oil as the world’s top energy source by 2017.

Perhaps the 1,500 gigawatts of electricity produced from renewables worldwide have prevented a further 1,500 gigawatts of fossil fuel power stations? Nobody can tell. It’s just as possible that renewables have simply added 1,500 gigawatts of electricity to the global economy, fueled economic growth and ever-greater industrial resource use. In which case, far from limiting carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, renewables may simply have increased them because, as discussed below, no form of large-scale energy is carbon neutral.

Germany’s Energy Transition illustrates the problem: Wind turbines and solar panels have certainly become a widespread feature of Germany’s landscape. Yet if we look at Germany’s total energy use (including heating and transport), rather than just at electricity, energy classed as renewable accounts for just 11.5 percent. The majority, 87.8 percent, of Germany’s energy continues to come from fossil fuels and nuclear power (with waste incineration accounting for the difference of 0.7 percent). Coal consumption, which had been falling until 2008, has been rising again since then. Germany remains the European Union’s (EU) top coal consumerNet electricity exports are being blamed for the rise in coal burning and carbon dioxide emissions, yet they account for just 5 percent of Germany’s electricity – and electricity accounts for less than half of the country’s energy use.

The picture looks even worse when one examines the mix of energy classed as renewable in Germany: Solar photovoltaic (PV) makes up 11.5 percent of renewables, wind, 16.8 percent. The bulk of it – 62 percent – comes from bioenergy, much of which is far from low carbon or sustainable. It includes biofuels, many of them made from imported soya and palm oil that are being expanded at the expense of tropical forests and peatlands and that destroy the livelihoods of small farmers, indigenous and other forest dependent peoples worldwide. It includes biogas made from 820,000 hectares of corn monocultures in Germany – a key driver for biodiversity loss in the country. And it includes wood pellets linked to forest degradation across Central Europe. On closer examination, therefore, 24,000 wind turbines and 1.4 million solar panels have scarcely made a dent in Germany’s fossil fuel burning and carbon emissions.

Norway’s situation is unique in that virtually all of the country’s electricity is generated from hydro dams, which were gradually expanded over the course of more than a century. Fossil fuels (mostly oil) still surpass renewable energy in Norway’s overall energy mix (with electricity accounting for less than half of the total), though only marginally so, and Norway’s economy remains heavily dependent on oil and gas exports.

Norway’s own hydro dams – many of them small-scale – have raised little controversy but the same cannot be said for Norway’s efforts to export this model to other countries. The Norwegian government and the state-owned energy company Statkraft have been at the forefront of financing controversial dams and associated infrastructure in Laos, India, Malaysian Borneo and elsewhere. One example is Statkraft’s joint venture investment in a new dam in Laos that has displaced 4,800 people and is causing flooding, erosion, and loss of fisheries and land on which people relied for growing rice.

Another example is Norwegian aid for transmission lines for mega-dams in Sarawak, a Malaysian province in Borneo which has seen vast areas of tropical rainforest – and the livelihoods of millions of indigenous peoples – sacrificed for palm oil, logging and also hydro power. One dam alone displaced 10,000 people and at least 10 more dams are planned, despite ongoing resistance from indigenous peoples. Far from being climate-friendly, hydro dams worldwide are associated with large methane emissions – with one study suggesting they are responsible for 25 percent of all human-caused methane emissions and over 4 percent of global warming. The disastrous consequences of Norway’s global hydro power investment illustrates the dangers of the simplistic view that anything classed as renewable energy must be climate-friendly and merits support.

What about the much-heralded renewable transition of Denmark? There coal use is falling and around 21 percent of total energy is sourced from renewables. Denmark holds the world record for wind energy capacity compared to population size. Unlike many other countries where wind energy is firmly controlled by large energy companies, Denmark has seen strong support for locally owned wind energy cooperatives, widely considered an inspiring example of clean, community-controlled energy. Nonetheless, wind energy in Denmark accounted for just 3.8 percent of Denmark’s total energy use in 2010.

Bioenergy accounts for a far greater percentage of Denmark’s “renewable energy” than does wind – and indeed for a greater share in the country’s overall energy mix than is the case in any other European country. As in Germany, Denmark’s bioenergy includes biofuels for transport, which studies show tend to be worse for the climate than equivalent quantities of oil once all the direct and indirect emissions from deforestation, peatland destruction and other land use change associated with them are accounted for. And it includes wood pellets, with Denmark being the EU’s, and likely the world’s, second biggest pellet importer after the United Kingdom. Most of those pellets come from the Baltic states and Russia, from countries where clear-cutting of highly biodiverse forests is rampant. Studies show that burning wood from whole trees can be worse for the climate than burning coal over a period of decades or even centuries.

Thus, on closer inspection, many of the “great renewable energy successes” don’t look so great after all.

Clearly, the current catch-all definition of “renewables” is a key problem: Defining methane-spewing mega-dams, biofuels, which are accelerating deforestation and other ecosystem destruction, or logging forests for bioenergy as “renewable” helps policy makers boost renewables statistics, while helping to further destabilize planetary support systems. As long as energy sources that are as carbon-intensive and destructive as fossil fuels are classed as “renewable,” boosting renewable energy around the world risks doing more harm than good.

A saner definition of “renewable energy” clearly is vital but would it open the door toward 100 percent clean and plentiful energy? Comparing the rate of wind energy expansion in Denmark and wind and solar power expansion in Germany with the tiny contribution they make to both countries’ total energy supply indicates otherwise.

Wind and solar power require far less land per unit of energy than biomass or biofuels, but the area of land needed to replace fossil fuel power stations with, say, wind turbines is vast nonetheless. According to a former scientific advisor to the UK government, for example, 15 offshore wind turbines installed on every kilometer of the UK coastline would supply just 13 percent of the country’s average daily energy use. And offshore turbines are more efficient than onshore ones.

Researchers agree that the life-cycle impacts of wind and solar power on the climate and environment are definitely smaller than those of fossil fuels, as long as turbines and panels are sensibly sited (not, for example, on deep peat). But this doesn’t mean that the impacts are benign. Generating that 13 percent of UK energy from offshore wind would require wind turbines made of 20 million tons of steel and concrete – more than all the steel that went into US shipbuilding during World War II. Steel manufacturing is heavily dependent on coal, not just as a fuel for the furnaces but because it is needed to enrich the raw material, iron ore, with carbon to make it stable. And concrete is hardly “carbon neutral” either – cement (a key component) accounts for 5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Solar PV panels are up to four times as energy and carbon-intensive to produce as wind turbines: Aluminum – used to mount and construct solar panels – is about as carbon and energy-intensive as steel. Silicon needs to be smelted at 2,000 degrees Celsius and materials used to replace silicon have an even higher environmental footprint. Then there’s an array of highly toxic and corrosive chemicals used during manufacturing. Yet with regards to pollution, building wind and marine turbines is likely worse than making solar panels, because efficient and lasting turbine magnets rely on rare earth mining and refining. One 5-megawatt turbine requires a ton of rare earths, the mining and refining of which will leave behind 75 cubic meters of toxic acidic waste water and one ton of radioactive sludge. Two-thirds of the world’s rare earths are refined in one town in China, where people have become environmental refugees and virtually all who remain suffer from ill health associated with toxic chemicals and radiation. In the quest for “clean energy” rare earths mines are being sought and opened around the globe. The only US rare earths mine, Molycorp’s in California, has been reopened, after having been shut down due to a long history of repeated spills of toxic and radioactive waste. Since reopening, the operators have already been fined for spilling yet more hazardous waste.

Zero-carbon, clean energy? Well, no. And yet, there are no large-scale energy sources with lower carbon emissions and less harmful environmental impacts than wind and solar power. As one scientist argues from the perspective of thermodynamics: “To talk about ‘renewable energy’ or ‘sustainable energy’ is an oxymoron, as is ‘sustainable mining’ or ‘sustainable development.’ The more energy we use, the less sustainable is humanity.”

We certainly need to swiftly end fossil fuel burning and the destruction of ecosystems and that will require us to rely on the least harmful energy sources such as wind and solar power. But the myth of plentiful “clean” energy stops us from focusing on the far deeper changes needed – a transformation toward a low-energy society. A depressing conclusion? Not necessarily. As UK climate change campaigner and author George Marshall has pointed out, we could cut flights (and probably all transport emissions) and slash energy used for home heating by 80 percent overnight by going back to the way people used to live as short a time ago as 1972, provided we used home insulation and efficient boiler technology developed since then. Instead, 40 years of efficiency gains have been wiped out by ever-greater consumption. Yet UK “personal satisfaction” surveys show that people’s sense of satisfaction or happiness peaked in 1970. Once people’s basic needs for energy are met, rising energy use remains vital for corporate profits and economic growth, but not for people’s quality of life.

Most readers will have never lived in a low-energy society. Imagining what such a society might look like and how to move toward the transformation required to get there, and to overcome the corporate interests that depend on profits from ever rising energy use, must be priorities for anyone aware of the seriousness of climate change. Daunting no doubt, but once we’ve abandoned faith in plentiful “clean” energy, we can finally make a start.

Please tell us your thoughts and reactions in the comments section below. Thanks. 

Originally published in Truthout here. Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.


Almuth Ernsting helped to found Biofuelwatch in 2006. She has researched and published about a wide range of issues related to bioenergy, including the climate, social and biodiversity impacts of biofuels and wood-based biomass, public health impacts of biomass and biofuel power stations and the science and policy debate related to proposed use of biomass for geoengineering, especially biochar and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage.

Rachel Smolker is a co director of Biofuelwatch and an organizer with Energy Justice Network. She has researched, written and organized on the impacts of biofuels, bioenergy and biochar on land use, forests, biodiversity, food, people and the climate. She works at all levels, from community organizing to international UN Convention negotiation processes. She is a member of the Climate Justice Now network and has worked to oppose market-based solutions to climate change and other “false solutions.” She contributes regularly to Huffington Post and to Global Justice Ecology project’s “New Voices on Climate Change. She is the daughter of one of the founders of the Environmental Defense Fund and participated in a protest against that organization because of the key role EDF played in advocating market-based solutions to climate change. Rachel has a Ph.D. in ecology/biology from the University of Michigan and worked previously as a field biologist, gaining firsthand experience with the complex balance between the needs of people and the ecological systems they depend upon. She is author of To Touch A Wild Dolphin (Doubleday 2001) and lives in Vermont.