The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
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    Saving Civilization Through a New Energy Economy

    The longest running PBS series Journey to Planet Earth has been airing Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, the name of a book by long-time environmental visionary Lester Brown. 

    Narrated by Matt Damon, its mission is to show the various crises and tipping points the planet is reaching, far too many of which are related to, and will be worsened by, climate change due to carbon-based energy dependence.

    For some reason the PBS link says the video to the whole program isn’t currently available, and advises we check back.  Please do.  This is another of the issues that really can’t wait, as experts say that only massively changing the way we live our lives right now can head off many of the disastrous effects coming our way: rising sea levels, floods and droughts, food scarcity, failed states, more energy wars, and health crises.  Decreasing availability of potable water will provoke another crisis, but that’s for another day.

    Brown and Damon show the various sustainable energy technologies that are being utilized on a grand scale in other nations; Algeria, China and Saudi Arabia, to name a few; and increasingly in a few states in the US.  It’s encouraging, but not nearly enough, say all the experts, and it will require a massive effort similar to FDR’s orders to the various departments of the government and manufacturing sector to retool factories in order to build planes and tanks for WWII, and cut back energy consumption, including transportation and encouraging new models for towns and cities toward that end.

    That we need a National Sustainable Energy Policy is clear; that the de facto one primarily still in place is Dick Cheney’s energy task force is pretty evident, and right now the natural gas, big oil and nuclear industries are waging huge on-air and internet ad campaigns to convince us to stay reliant on their products and convince us that they are clean and safe.  There are many voices calling for massive drilling offshore, promising it will lead to more jobs, lower prices at the pumps, and energy security, two of which are bogus claims, and ‘more jobs’ may be true for a time, but at what cost?

    The first video is from Lester Brown’s book and it highlights the issues in text, not voiceover, but it’s easy to read, and about six minutes.

    The second is a bit on failed states as a root cause of failing states, focused on Haiti as an example.

    The third concerns the possibilities of a whole new energy economy, and is a boost to imagining of the possibilities we are capable of if there is the political national will.  It’s clear that it would be an incredibly heavy lift given what we know about the MICC, the alliance between industry and our nation’s leaders, and the incredible forces arrayed against sustainable energy.  A new paradigm may need to be driven by the American people, and bit by bit has started in the citizens’ pushback against coal-fired power plants.

    This link (new tab) describes the ongoing changes in dietary desires as more nations want what most Americans eat, and how population figures indicate the difficulty of supplying meat and eggs to all, given that they are grain-based animal products.  It causes us to think about whether or not corn-based ethanol is a wise use of farmland.

    Make your voices heard; this is another issue that should be spread through online forums, blogsites and social networking sites, IMO.  Lester Brown says, “Saving civilization is not a spectator sport; we all must get involved.”


    [There may be others like me who have days wondering if civilization is worth saving, but that's a philosophical conversation for another day.   ;o) ]




    (cross-posted at


    I was in Denmark recently talking to a friend who works for the Copenhagen city hall on green issues, and he talked about how they were moving pretty fast. They've started setting up loading stations for plug-ins around the city, there's a leasing program where you can get an electric car for 300 dollars a month (which is unbelievably cheap in a country where ordinary cars get slapped with a 300% tax). The country as a whole is headed for 40% renewable energy by 2020 - much of it from off-shore wind. And they're projecting to have 80% of the electricity supply to be renewables by 2025 (if the oil price doesn't fall too much). They're actively promoting geothermal heat pumps ... whatever those are (I'm just reading the notes I took here), but it sounds good, and other energy efficiency measures.

    They just make it look easy. It's the kind of thing where, if people see it, they might not feel so freaked out about climate change and the things we have to do about it that they just refuse to accept it's happening.

    What great news to hear, Obey; and you saw it in person!  We're just laggin so far behind.  The long film showed massive solar projects and huge wind projects in other nations we consider kinda backward.  ;o)  (Yeah; I know) 

    The long film said that geothermal projects can happen near volcanic activity, though the first time I saw it was wweeks ago, and I missed that part last night.  The many possiblities are almost staggering, though.  They'd speak of tis or that project that could produce enough energy for Nation X over some time period...and your jaw would drop. 

    There are reportedly so many factories that have closed; it would be so cool if there were even public/private partnerships formed to create windmills, solar panels, electric batteries (though I have read about some of the toxic risks of those in manufacturing and disposal) and other systems.  Americans get up in arms because they don't want to look at windmills of their shores?  Arrrggh!  I think they are neat to look at, and could probably made to look more like art if the Japanese designed them.  (Functional object art; always loved it)

    Lester Brown was/is a breath of fresh air, though in the long version you have to hear Tom Friedman, too.  ;o)

    I keep hearing Obama's line about 'we can do anything we set our minds to do'.  We should set our minds on this; some say it's already too late to avert some of the most imminent disasters like rising sea levels wiping out sea level coastal cities and islands.

    Sure am envious of your travels, Pug.

    Here's a bit on geothermalThe Hot Facts!    Cool

    That's a different geothermal. Try Wiki, on Geothermal Heat Pumps. A geo heat pump just takes energy from the top few yards of earth beneath your lawn, for instance, and uses it to heat your house. God knows why we're still stuck with two entirely different energy groups each chasing the term "geothermal." :-(

    Heeeeeeerrrrre's Wiki!  Beats the hell outta me, as I said.

    Hm, well no volcanoes in Denmark so that wasn't what he meant by geothermal. I think he was just referring to the deep holes you have to dig to get the optimal heat differential between the two ends of the heat pump.

    As for the wind mills - they're apparently setting them up 20 miles off shore so I guess they're hardly visible. They have an affection for them anyway - a sort of nostalgia for the wind mills of the olden days mixed with national pride at the technological achievement. It also doesn't hurt that wind-mills, and manufacturing more generally, is now their no 1 export. Ahead of bacon, which is unheard of - though it's also a good thing they can get off their bacon addiction, since that is the main source of GHG in the country. Still, bacon ... mmmmm.

    And in the States, I can't believe they are having trouble finding municipalities wanting to take them on. There must be pretty good money in it, and municipalities are so cash-strapped...


    This is the sort of story I meant; and then the folks saying they kill birds (though for my money if took out a bunch of starlings and the ubiquitous redwing blackbird...)

    I dunno; seems like if there were the national will, some fantastic ads selling the ideas would change public opinion and attitudes fast.  Instead, on MSNBC online news programs and on my teevee, you have these lying liars telling how safe fracking is, and playing coy with the wording of false safety records.  I watched some industry flacks on a Colorado energy show the other night, and it was astounding the way they parsed their words.  Luckily, there were a couple fracking-detractors on, too. 

    Goddam; we need some national pride, too!  This could be such a boon.  Okay, you lead the way, dear.  ;o) 

    And now a word from our sponsor:  Healthy bacon; no nitrates, no nitrites, and only Contented Pigs, slow-smoked the Obey-fashioned way.


    Hey Obey. I'll just comment from Manitoba, or "Canada's Sweden" as it's sometimes known. ;-)

    Like the Danes, the strategy is to build on what we have. No room for anything fancy, no room for big subsidies. Where MB is today is:

    - 97% renewable electricity, mostly hydro, but just added 238 MWs wind (with another 30% exported to Minnesota);

    - 40% renewable heating, that is, heat pumps or all-electric or wood); and,

    - 5% renewables for transport (8% of gas is ethanol, 2% of diesel is biodiesel.) So MB is pretty much over 40% now. 

    -- The new 138 MW wind-farm will power 50,000 households, and operate at a very high 40%-45% capacity factor. It took <1 year to construct, and will provide $38 million to hard-case rural landowners and $44 municipal/school governments over its life. For just 60 turbines, that's >$600,000 each to farmers, who can farm right up to the foundation. It also created ~350 construction jobs, 10 permanent local jobs, plus wherever Siemens made the turbines.

    The key to wind? Technically, the stuff works, and yes, the grid can add significant %'s. The siting problems usually come down to one thing - large corporate developers who go for the kill, and have no local ownership (or sense.) The Danes differed from others in that big chunks of their wind is owned by coops. And whether its visual issues or the sound of turbines spinning, if you OWN a share, your responses differ dramatically. 

    -- For transport, we think plug-in electrics, like the Volt and the 2012 Plug-In Prius are the cat's ass. [The Danes are missing a trick, IMO, by getting too heavily engaged with Better Place and their "battery swap-out" model. Colour me unconvinced.] What Manitoba has is... 7 cent/kwh electricity, from renewables, which we can now use to fuel cars... more than 500,000 EXISTING recharging stations, namely, the regular old garage and parking lot electric plugs we've been using to heat our block heaters all these years, which now becomes a recharging infrastructure we DON'T have to pay $1 billion to build anew... plus 70% of its population lives in one city, Winnipeg, with a maximum trip distance from perimeter to core and back of <30 miles. Which means... we don't need to buy big batteries for our cars, or expensive 2nd level "fast" rechargers, or wait for anything other than the cars to hit the market. 

    Since the Gen2 Chevy Volt engineers are targeting taking $10,000 in costs out of the vehicle - i.e. a sticker price next time of ~$30,000. Toyota says its P-I-Prius will be $3-$5,000 more to start (still making it under $30,000), with their aim being NO price premium by 2015. I know some may not EV/PHEV prices will ever fall this low, and I really have no desire to argue about it, so here's Deutsche Bank from Dec 22, 2010 instead. [From their pdf, The End of the Oil Age.]

    Which means, any Manitoban will be able to charge up in the morning, from their existing garage, drive to work and plug-in in their parking lot, travel home, round-trip for the day about 40 cents, never need the gas unless they're driving longer-hauls to the lake, and all this in cars priced at $20-$30,000. The average family will save $2-$3,000 a year, and the provincial economy will gain another $1 billion plus a year in reinjected funds (since we'll be displacing imported refined gasoline.) [Small PDF.]

    In short, we'll have not only the cleanest vehicle fuel on the continent, but also... the cheapest. You have no idea what a smile that brings to my face. 

    -- As for heating, that's a real battle right now. We've been doing great at getting ground-source heat pumps (or "geo-thermal" to some) installed, to the point where our major apartment buildings, hotels, office buildings, university residences, recreation and entertainment complexes are using them, along with households. But the collapse in natural gas prices creates a strong incentive for people to just stick a cheap gas furnace in.

    What we're pushing more and more is for people to look at the new cold climate air source heat pumps, which are priced at $5-$10,000, have incredible efficiency ratios (e.g. you can get 3 units of heating and up to 26 units of cooling out of just 1 unit of electricity used to run them), and they can increasingly provide not just air conditioning, but also heating, even in cold climates. Sadly, Manitoba's is the coldest, or we'd be shoving these in our lawns like tootsie rolls.

    So, sure... lots of difficulties... but when even a jurisdiction containing the world's coldest large city, Winnipeg... in a jurisdiction with a per capita income of roughly North Dakota's... prone to massive flooding, and drought... with very little access to solar power resources or ocean/tidal potential... with no political clout at all... can practically look at a move completely off fossil fuels, year by year family by family, beginning now and probably taking 40 years to complete... I find lots of reason to hope. 

    And that's me, MR HAPPY HOPEFUL!

    97% renewable? That's just showing off... !

    Geneva apparently has 85% renewable sources for electricity, which I thought was pretty amazing. But here there's hydraulic that's pulling a lot of the weight. As in Manitoba it seems. Denmark, all they have is... wind. And, some sun, maybe. But, hey, I never saw it when I was there ... So they have it a bit harder. Apparently the plan is to have all the heating of buildings covered by a mix of solar and heat pumps. And heating is a huge part of the energy consumption there. But I  guess you already know all this stuff.

    Anyway, nice to see the hopeful stuff. There should be more blogs like that. The pessimism and hopelessness is just stifling at a certain point. Everyone hates the future so much it's like we need relationship counselling or something. We should all take the time to sit down and ... say something nice about the future.

    Thanks for kicking things off. ;0)

    The point of this blog was to show how hopeful our energy future could be with the political will and incentive to make it happen.

    I liked the animation in the 3rd video. Made it seem... doable, tangible.

    But I've come to hate most of the language the Big Thinkers in this (my) field use. It's the same disease that long ago infected corporate speak, most political speeches, and now the green thinkers. It's that instead of talking about the thing itself, convincing you about IT, they spend all their time smearing adjectives over it, TELLING you to feel stuff, or that they feel stuff, that doesn't come through in their stories themselves. Nowadays, when I start to hear it, I just turn it off. They're faking it, forcing it, and it makes for really bad and unconvincing storytelling. 

    Like this. If you talk about the thing, don't then step back and say "It's an enormous challenge." I mean, for fuck sake, if you've done your job in talking about it, everyone GETS that it's a challenge. And why TELL me about how we need to feel a sense of urgency. It reminds me of really bad sports coaches, who couldn't actually make you FEEL urgency, so they talked about it. 

    Same with politicians. They go on and on about how they feel PASSIONATELY about something. Or that  they CARE. Or that they're LISTENING. Thing is, I don't want to hear you SAY these things, I just want you to DO them or BE them or make ME feel them. All you're doing is parroting what the pollsters have said people want from you. These morons then translate that into, I must TELL them I feel that way. It's such a flaming mark of personal... falseness. No wonder people hate politicians. 

    Oops. See, now I'm running off into complaints again. It's why I need to stick to the very practical and doable. Apologies.

    On the other hand, these brief videos were the only ones available on youtube; I tried to reconstruct some of the longer version with my admittedly inferior memory.  Lester's not a politician, and can only advise us to make noise to force the issue with the powers that be, even if they be local powers.  You know, but most Americans don't, how urgent all this is.  You know, but most Americans don't, how doable a new renewable sustainable enery economy could go toward many of the crises now at hand. 

    I say don't piss on them: except Friedman.  He needs pissing on twice every day of the week.

    I don't think that's right, that most people don't know. People have backed solar and wind, by huge percentages, for decades now. They WANT it. And they're happy to hear when it's economic and works well.

    The issues are showing them simple, practical ways they can use it that don't bust their wallets. Or creating tools - financial and otherwise - to help them make the shift. 

    They need systems they can tap into, not more general understanding. Otherwise, it all stays theory. But ask your average Republican if they'd like to be able to detach their car from Arab oil, or unplug from the frigging utility sometime. They get it.

    With all due respect, I wrote that most people don't know how urgent it is that we change over, not whether they like solar, perhaps the 'ependence on foreign oil' idea has really sunk in; that's good, but not enough, IMO, for citizens to mobilize for it.  To try and create political incentive NOW.

    I didn't mean to diss your blog, dusty. Hell, I'm more glum than most half the time. But these videos don't really work for me. I get a general sense of, "shit, we're fucked if we don't do anything, and what do we need to do? Create some crazy radical sci-fi society?" For me, they don't make it look doable, they make it look like a sci-fi fantasy. Which is the opposite of hopeful in some ways. Hopeful to me, is when it looks simple and mundane. Like it's not a big deal. Or better, like it's an opportunity. Like its exciting.

    See above, I guess.  They excited me in the long version.  And I still think Damon was talking more about large-project geo-thermal; he was standing in front of magma and hot springs in one of the sections.  I wouldn't have had a clue that Denmark didn't have hot springs, even.  Christ; activity from the magma layer is pretty ubiquitous planet-wide.  And yeah; grouch out, I guess, but I'm tired of waiting for this government ignore the problem precisely because extractive industry and coal-fired generating plants are such big campaign contributors. 

    In my backyard, Peabody Coal is drag-lining coal, natural gas and oil shale companies are filing on all the water,, both underground and in rivers (even if there isn't any available, but hey, they have better lawyers),  EPA thinks if the 4 corners power plants deal with the visible pollution, it's all good (never mind the mercury and all the rest), Obama's Gene Sperling is sucking the natural gas folks' c***s, etc, while people in the next county can light their tap water on fire, and Obama is opening up more drilling on the Gulf, and opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserves to drilling.  Oh, and Obama's bullish on nuclear power, so that industry will get money and probably never build plants anyway, thank God.

    So, yep; I may be a goofball for hope, and you and Q see all the sane stuff done everyday where you are; it ain't so here. 

    I'm a-gonna go have a siesta, and hope to have some nice, maybe even prophetic dreams.  ;o)

    Oh,yeah: Mr. Dusty says the new courthouse in Cow-tez is being built over a ge-thermal pump, very expensive.

    Great to hear how Manitoba is showing the way, quinn. Much of that is news to me. One small question (though maybe this post isn't the place for it): You mention ethanol in passing. Do you really totally buy into it being part of the solution? I'm sure you know the arguments inside-out, so I won't recap them here, except to say energy in/energy out and alternative uses for the same amount of soil/water/sun. I'd sort of written ethanol off.

    And sorry about your mood swings. Try alcohol. Some of the corn-based kinds aren't bad, I hear.

    Plus the food issue, and the fact that pot would be smarter since it can be used for textiles and paper; then there's switchgrass that may not need the intensive water and petro-fertilizers, I think.  Bio mass fuel for so much.

    Food is mostly what I mean by alternative uses. You input resources and energy to grow something that could just as easily be food, then input more energy to transport it and process it back into fuel, which still has to be transported to where it can do work -- which sometimes, ironically, will be to grow food. I haven't seen the math (quinn probably has), but I'm skeptical there's surplus energy coming out of that process. And it's not a long-term investment like a hydro dam or wind turbine; every new ounce of ethanol is as costly to produce, energy-wise, as the first.

    I agree, canuck.  I've been reading about climate change in partnership with short-sighted purposeful environmental degradation causing massive erosion and water scarcity, and the short-sighted responses of building more and bigger dams all over the world.  (Sounds, too, as though a lot of the political muscling and boiling pots in the ME have water resoources at their root.  You likely know more about that than I...

    So it looks as though with the population explosion, it's going to get harder to feed all the billions, especially as more and more of them want to eat more than rice and fish paste now (understandably; blech).  Protein will be harder to come by in any event as we're even killing large areas of the coastal regions, but climate change will arguably be a huge stressor for crops, and already has decrease production by 7%, I think I read recently.  A pretty good opportunity to enter into cooperative agreements: You grow our corn since it's too hot here now, we'll grow your (whatever).  But it sounds as though lots of food corporations are already buying up huge acreages in Africa and other nations, plus the water, and it's like the wars are already on.  And god save the Africans, or whomever, who all of a suddenhave no water for subsistence farming.

    Anyway, I'm trippin' with information overload about it; but it's a whole 'nother reason to think about bio-mass fuels carefully, IMO.

    Soil issues, water issues, hunger issues, again and again you'll see them lead back to corn, but corn isn't being used as corn on the cob, it's for MEAT. 

    The US needs to move a big chunk of land the heck out of corn and livestock feed. 

    15% of our corn is exported to nations like Japan for cattle feed.  Prices are driving down its use for feed, and cattle can be grass-fed with some grain supplements, too, though it can have a more bitter flavor.  The emerging awareness of corn syrups will help, too, but in the not-too-distant future it may not grow here anyway (if the temps keep rising).

    It's been 70%-80% of the US corn crop going to animal feed, through at home use and export. After that, most was corn syrup, then some liquor, and so on.

    So ethanol eating into livestock feed is a little different than the view that it was stealing food from starving children. {I'm sorry, but I'm still so pissed from hearing that sort of thing, when people's meat-eating was a far more egregious sin, and the anti-ethanol thing came from a direct lobbying effort by oil and livestock producers, that I almost HAVE to comment on it.}

    Ethanol has problems, but mostly not the ones people think. 

    1. Worth noting how the big oil companies HATE biofuels, and have funded a lot of research and lobbying against it. Too many greens were parroting research from oil companies.

    2. Ethanol got slammed for the massive spike in food prices, right? The price of >100 food products, worldwide, rose like crazy - including fish - as did the price of metals, oils, and every other commodity - and it was blamed on ethanol's demand for the US corn crop. Hmmmmm.

    3. Meat. All this schtick about how SUVs were starving children? Better to have looked on your plate, at the pork and beef. If you look at the actual disposition of the US corn crop, it's for LIVESTOCK FEED. Overwhelmingly. People worried abut overpopulation and feeding the world need to take a look at the rising global demand for MEAT.

    4. Ethanol in Manitoba isn't even made from corn. It's made from lower (feed) quality wheat, and increasingly from winter wheat at that. Farmers can plant winter wheat, use less inputs, reap bigger harvests, produce ethanol from it, and then the PROTEIN from the wheat is captured and made into.... distillers dried grains, which is... ANIMAL FEED. Nope, it ain't perfect, but most people don't have the slightest idea about this.

    5. Even the energy in/out arguments I'd see were pretty ferociously tilted. Pimental et al just have such a hate on for corn (which I share, BTW) that I found they were just plain cheating the numbers in their studies. As were some of the oil-backed researchers. It made me really angry, and disappointed. You know, using energy figures from 1980's plants and such.  

    6. There is no point number 6.

    7. That said, I hope we keep its production limited. Manitoba has limited it, and we could have easily gone higher. Simply because existing technologies, using existing crops, doesn't give us a high enough return on the inputs. It's positive, but when something is 60/40 versus existing systems, that's not good enough.

    8. People never understood how important ethanol's introduction was though, as it broke the mental stranglehold the oil companies had. NOW, we can imagine other fuels, other ways of making fuels. And above all, that stranglehold is broken in HUGELY REPUBLICAN AREAS. And believe you me, that's an incredibly important thing, to have them onside for "alternatives."

    9. The use of waste biomass has some potential (but real problems as well, e.g. with toxicity, with soil degradation, etc.), so too does algae have potential/problems. And then, there are people looking to make it out of waste CO2 bubbled through dirty wastewater and run the solution through solar panels.... to get fuel. Look up a company called Joule. They're being overhyped right now, but... a fun idea.

    10. But all this, serves to negatively make the case for... electrics. I can produce orders of magnitude more car-relevant energy from wind-turbines than I can from planting corn. As in, 1 average wind turbine of 2.5 MWs can produce as much energy as 7,000 acres planted to corn for ethanol. Which thought gets me back out of my bad mood.

    Thanks for the detailed answer. If I get your drift, the current form of ethanol production isn't a long-term solution but a good stopgap until one of the really innovative biofuelish ideas floating around MIT reaches commercial viabilty. And Manitoba's version is already greener than most.

    Meat was always a problem and it's only going to get worse as the Third World discovers its tasty delights -- and that they can now afford it. The ultimate solution to peak energy, peak water, peak arable soil and, yes, peak meat is, as I've said before, fewer people. Then we can all eat meat and drink fine liquor every day.

    At a certain level of wealth and information, people almost automatically opt for two children or fewer per couple -- Quebec and western Europe show it can be painless, if you ignore the economists who insist we have to grow. China shows any country can do it with a bit of fiat, and the economic benefits have kicked in within a generation. That's my main point: overpopulation is the easiest part of the equation to fix.

    Some argue that cultural resistance is too great. Humbug. The cultural resistance to giving up freedom to travel, eat wide varieties of food, watch big-screen TVs, learn to read and educate ourselves, and indulge in arts and music will (once people realize that's the stark alternative) win -- hands down.

    Population control is the global solution to everything -- climate change, loss of fossil fuels, poverty and starvation, massive ignorance. All of it. Insulating your roof and caulking your windows may be a useful step. But if you really want to make a difference, invest in rubber.

    Clever comment. I just wanted to pipe in and reinforce Quinn's point about not all ethanols being alike.  American corn is the worst performer (and heavily subsidized), but Brazilian ethanol made from sugar is actually a pretty good product.  Even BP thinks so:

    Above all, agree on the optimism - on population and other things. And that, I would say, is as important as any particular. The facts on population certainly seem to me to be that the curve is bending. And not just briefly or in a few places, but almost worldwide, and for decades now. So yes, agreed, it turns out to be a reasonably doable part of the equation.

    That said, the curves we're on - of population, and of global environmental impact - seem to me to be ones which we only get to slowly nudge, rarely even at as much as 1% a year. And that too is fine with me. Anything we could move a hell of a lot faster would be inherently unstable.

    But. Seems to me we are likely on the "overshoot" part of things. And for the remainder of our lives, we're likely to be on the part of the curve where inertia keeps pushing us higher, even though we've fundamentally changed the forces driving us higher.

    So people will be better off 200 years form now. But for us, and our kids, we need to face the fact that it's 7-8-9-10 billion people, not 7-6-5-4 billion. And the same for CO2 for a while at least. etc. 

    Which brings us back to our behaviour on other fronts. With meat, there are different ways to raise animals. But the whole feedlot/factory farms model uses a lot of grain, apparently 5-15 pounds per pound of meat, once everything's included. Same with our cars/trucks. It's very easy to cut our usage by a factor of 2-3, and soon, factor of 10. Same with our housing and home energy use, another factor of 3-4. 

    So.... even if we agree on population, and that it'll help right the ship by 200 years out (or at least give them a good chance to right the ship, considering long residence times in the atmosphere and such)... I'm still left with the potential hell that many hundreds of millions could be shoved through, head first, in the coming 0-100 years.... and the fact that, if North America simply halved meat, doubled auto fuel efficiency, and added new heating/cooling systems, it would be the functional equivalent - by creating environmental room - for... hundreds of millions of those new kids being born, in the developing world and here.

    Which is why I work on insulation ... and EVs... and heat pumps.... and windmills... and such. ;-)

    P.S. And Go Canucks? Please tell me I don't have to take this completely unethical stance. 

    As to behavior on other fronts, I can't help but think what $3T+ spent on war/propping-up-financial-house-of-cards would have accomplished had it been divided between the 115M households of the US for increasing energy efficiency, (that works out to about $26K/household).  We've got to have priorities, eh?

    Needless to say, go Canucks. I want to see a Tampa-Vancouver final. Two virtually Canadian teams, now that Boucher has put his stamp on the Lightning. (I simply refuse to think about how much energy it takes to keep a sheet of water frozen solid in Florida in June.)

    I'm really bullish on the speed with which population control can change trajectories, having watched Quebec's birth rate plummet in a single decade. Then there's Russia, whose population dropped drastically once the Soviet economy went into the toilet. When it bounced back, Russkies started having babies again. I've even seen arguments that overpopulation boosts homosexuality. That I don't know, but I do believe population levels trend toward self-regulation.

    We should capitalize on that trend. It would help if a summit of world leaders (including, in my dreams, the pope) would back the idea of every country achieving at least a stable state, although I think current population levels are unsustainable. Buy us 50 years or so to figure out how many people we can feed and clothe and offer an acceptable standard of living.

    Meanwhile, of course, do all the other things you talk about. Oh, and dump capitalism while we're at it; that obviously doesn't work.

    "I've even seen arguments that overpopulation boosts homosexuality."  It is not a good myth to perpetuate, IMO.  Gender attractions aren't about propagation.  And this was written in 2008, before science had shown to what degree it IS gentetic.  Not to quibble, but...  The arc toward a decrease in population looks complicated enough, lotsa theories I've read.  Phone.  Gotta go.

    I did put that out very tentatively, and if I remember correctly the study was on birds, not humans. I don't see it as a negative or positive either way, but I should have gone with my initial instinct and left it out.

    And I hope I didn't offend you by my comment.

    Not at all. To be clear, I wasn't suggesting that underlying genetic predispositions would change, but that societal norms about sexual expression might. Overpopulation might cause less value to be assigned to the "traditional" M-F couple, and fewer people might feel pressure to adapt themselves to a superficially straight lifestyle.

    It's not about propagation per se, but the value assigned to propagation. How that might work in birds is a mystery to me, but so is the way an entire flock can turn instantly on a dime. You're right, though: it's an unproven theory, so it didn't really bolster my claim that societies self-regulate. They do, though.

    Caulking your windows can only go so far.  When you have a heat index of 95-120 degrees, you need energy efficient windows.  Lots of new window manufacturers are using rubber as part of the seal.  Solar energy is a really good way to go.  There are lots of free energy sources that we have not even begun to tap into yet.

    A lot of times when major shifts in policies and the way we conduct ourselves are discussed, the analogy used is the sacrifices and modifications during a war effort, and specifically those done during WWII.  The big difference, however, is that people make those sacrifices for the war effort with the idea that it will be for short period of time.  Once the war is over, they can go back to the way things were.  With the demands of the needed changes required by the response to our environmental crisis, these changes are very long-term, if not permanent. 

    I think the goal for many of the needed shifts is to get the people to see them as the desirable thing to do rather than a sacrifice.  Yes, one has to give up eating as much meat, for instance, but what one replaces this with can be even more tasty and delicious.  In other words, one is not being forced to eat less meat, rather one is choosing a diet that has less meat in it (or no meat at all).  Businesses can find that many green alternatives are actually cost effective (especially if they look past the profit margin for just the current quarter) and make smart business sense. 

    Sometimes there is no way around that in the short-term a sacrifice has to be made.  In places like Indiana, a shift away from coal will mean higher energy costs in the short term.  This means increase financial costs to working families who are struggling to make ends meet as it is.  The only way around that is to shift the burden to the tax payers, and we all know what kind of rhetoric there is around that right now. 

    I always like Al Gore statement he made when he was first taking up the environmental cause: no one wants to pollute and destroy their own backyard, so what we need to do is get people to see the whole planet as their backyard.  Nothing turns average politically-disengaged people into firebreathing environmental activists faster than when they find out their neighborhood has become a toxic wastepit by the nearby chemical plant or some incenarator is moving in down the street and will soon be blowing toxic fumes over head. 

    In sense, these people respond in matter as a nation does when it is under attack (or perceived to be under attack) by another entity.  People will make the sacrifices because it seen as necessity of staying alive, of protecting a quality of life that they believe is their due. 

    The catch I think for so many is that if one takes in the whole picture as your blog nicely does, it is impossible to not see the need for the changes.  Unfortunately, there is a tendency it seems in human nature to want to avoid having to make discomforting sacrifices (or what is perceived as discomforting).  We are under attack by the very socio-political and economic system in which we participate and also derive our pleasures and comforts. 

    Which brings to fear, or the two competing fears: the fear of what will happen if we stay on the path that we are on currently, and the fear of what life will be like if we change the current system, and take off onto a new path.  For many gripped by the latter fear, the usually unarticulated sense is that if we leave this system, the alternative is the bread lines of the Soviet Union. 

    Maybe if people could be led to understanding or comprehending where we're headed they wouldn't have to just have fear informing their next choices or see them as sacrifices but adaptations.  I kinda think people can be caused to like big projects they can feel a part of, but we've moved so far away from that model to think that it would be easy to divert people from purchasing their ways toward, or comforting their ways toward, the American version of Nirvana; I really don't know, Trope.

    Some folks have been a bit bitter about Bush not calling for any American sacrifice in his war effort except shopping, which is pretty on-point ironic.  And yet our energy policy really has as one of its main underpinnings war for resources and their delivery.  So as some experts tell us (as in the full Plan B film, we need products prices to reflect their actual cost, though I can find a few holes in that thinking, especially that it would need to happen over time.  Like the idea Obama's  floating to tax cars per mile all of a sudden...nah.

    Dyaln Ratigan is always on about how inefficient our energy production and usage is, though improving some of it may be useless; coal, for instance.  Go green instead.  But the energy savings with even slightly higher CAFE standards ends up being remarkable, as is painting roofs white, caulking air leaks, efficient window coverings, all that. 

    A few years ago I saw a program about archictect/engineers having built a green energy efficient office building, and the cost savings were dramatic.  As Quinn says, the more of things built, the less they cost as you go along.

    I was tempted to put up some recession recipes again.  Even on sale a lb. of hamburger is $2.59 now, so I've been stretching it with other things to make it last three meals.  Mr. Stardust has to do the grocery shopping, and he is often heard to say, "Everything is $2.50 now!"   ;o)


    I would also say that a "new paradigm" is needed by the American people.  In something like coal-fired plants, the push back can be simply against a particular type of energy source without any corresponding views on the amount of energy use by the citizens and business that utilize it.  In other words, these people don't see any modification or change on their part of the energy use spectrum.

    Among other things, we are a consumer culture.  The desire to buy things and consume them, to possess them, is part of our paradigm.  One only has to watch some of the Christian channels for a little while before one can see how people have adapted their views of God and Christianity to fit the desires of consumerism (and its cousin capitalism), rather than the other way around.  This isn't a new thing; economic success and faith have been tied together since the beginning of civilization.  The catch from this particular perspective is that to go after the way people consume ends up being an attack on their faith as well.  This was the brillance of the Republican strategy to tie up their economic agenda with the agenda of the religious right. 

    That is thing about paradigms - everything is tied up with everything else.  Views on homosexuality and marriage get connected to views on energy policies, which gets connected to views on political structures and authority. And of course all of those things are connected to the personal pyscho-emotional landscape that includes the individual traumas, fears, desires and longings.

    It is why people can get so emotional about some policy issue that seems otherwise rather mundane.  Or why someone won't listen to someone talking about the need to eat less meat the moment he or she thinks someone is telling them what to do, even if they actually agree with the logic of the argument.

    Well...we could say we need a new model, or standard, or pathway of living, just to avoid people wanting to smack someone for using the term.   Cool

    Right now it's even more difficult to grasp the inter-relatedness of humans and their environments; it's one area I agree that conservatives and liberals often differ.  The arrogance of seeing humans as the pinnacle of evolution God's creation is kinda comical, but also counter-productive.

    Oddly, the Pope just came out in favor of full-tilt solutions to climate change (Whaaaat?), and the Jehovah's witnesses have gotten religion (sorry) on envirnmental imprtance a decade ago, so it's not impossible that it could become another sort of Social Gospel, imo.

    Now will somebody give me a cheeseburger? 

    Interesting note about the Pope.  Other things aside, his support could go a long ways globally, including the US, of getting some shift in people's perspective because of the reach of the Catholic Church.

    And I don't want to imply that I think Christianity is inherently anti-environmental (or at best apathetic).  In fact, environmentalist activists can go along way on grassroots level by doing outreach to the local churches.  I know in my community, all of the community organizing and implementing of social change initiatives are either more successful or only can be successful with the buy-in and participation of the religious organizations.  The same dynamics that can lead a pro-consumerist to modify their religious faith can also lead a religious faith modify one's environmental views.

    Personally I think I'll stick with paradigm (or para-dig-em).  I think it best captures the wholistic, pyscho-emotional, linguistic-based, feedback-looping system that words like model or standard don't capture.  And phrases like "pathway of living" tend to focus on the end behavioral decisions (which is of course what concerns us here), but not on the dynamics that play into those decisions.  One way I think about it is that Karl Rove and his ilk were guys who were "unpopular" growing up and allowed their sense of resentment and anger to inform their socio-political worldview.  Only after we can begin to see as clearly as possible (no absolute clarity, not even close) how we come to view and understand the world, do we stand a chance of changing how we view and understand the world, and thus consciously change how we interact with it and the pathway we choose to live.

    Basically as a country and nation we all need to go to therapy for awhile and start to unlock all the garbage and traumas and longings that is swirling beneath the surface.  Great art can help us, too.  But getting most people to engage in truly powerful art is about as easy as getting them voluntarily into therapy.

    Just goes to show one person's utopia is another's dystopia. Smile

    Totally onboard with renewable electric as primary energy source.  Just do not think that necessarily leads to increased urbanization and multi-passenger vehicles.  Did you notice the absence of electric scooters and small golf-cart like vehicles in the cgi projections?

    Also the promotion of their vision of those urban hives as a place designed for people (and not cars)?  Please.  Cities are designed for neither.   They are marketplaces and are designed for commerce -- sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.  Great if they can be made pleasant as well but remember aesthetics will almost always follow functionality which is always in flux.

    More later.

    I came across some time ago the connection being proposed between urban density and environmentalism that can be summed up with the title of one blog: If you're not pro-urban density, you don't have much claim to be an environmentalist.  This one linked to a interesting blog by ryan called Liberal NIMBYs It was in the author's take on the subject brought up by Elisabeth Rosthehal's NYT's piece Green Development? Not in My (Liberal) Backyard which begins

    "Park Slope, Brooklyn. Cape Cod, Mass. Berkeley, Calif. Three famously progressive places, right? The yin to the Tea Party yang. But just try putting a bike lane or some wind turbines in their lines of sight. And the karma can get very different."

    In ryan's blog he writes at one point:

    "My old neighborhood, Brookland, voted overwhelmingly for Obama (about 90-10, as I recall). Many of the locals are vocally supportive of broad, lefty environmental goals. And yet, when a local businessman wants to redevelop his transit-adjacent land into a denser, mixed-use structure, the negative response is overwhelming, and residents fall over themselves to abuse local rules in order to prevent the redevelopment from happening.

    This project would bring new retail with it, which would enable more local residents to walk to a retail destination. It would bring new residents, and those residents would be vastly more likely to walk or take transit to destinations than those living farther from Metro. Forget the economic benefits to the city, the people occupying the new housing units would have carbon footprints dramatically below the national average. But this basically does not matter to the NIMBYs however much they profess to care about the environment."

    I do think it possible that higher density areas can be designed for both commerce and non-material values / aesthetics.  In order for any human settlement to have a quality of life, commerce (and production) has to be a part of it.  The issue is whether commerce is inherently a negative quality of our living space.  Even in neighborhoods that become artist hotspots, the selling of the artwork becomes part of the dynamics of the neighborhood.

    But the creating greater urban density for enviromental reasons has a lot of variables.  It is not as clear cut as one would hope.  Here is one article that looks at the tie between it and climate change.  And urban density also brings up other issues. One hadn't thought about before was the influence on creativity and innovation.

    I guessed before clicking on the creativity and innovation link that Richard Florida would be innvolved somehow.  ;-) I am a really big believer in the synergy generated by exchanging knowledge.  I would even go as far as making the hoarding of knowledge a crime against humanity.  

    Which brings me back to the first crticism that if I am not pro-urban density then I am not an enviromentalist.  Basically a false equivalence but for the record, I put humanism way ahead of enviromentalism in the saving civilization department.  

    Stardust does not want to discuss whether or not civilization is worth saving but I think at a minimum the discussion requires a definition of civilization.  Sustaining as many people as possible for as long as possible in urban center  like Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai even NY and LA while rendering them more and more dependent through overspecialization is not the civilization I am most interested in preserving.

    The civilization I want to preserve is the cumulative knowledge and skllls acquired by human beings across the millenia.  Those can best be preserved by sharing and distributing them across cultures and geography.   We now have these wonderful internets to help with that and I experience equal measures of hope and dread when I think of what these new synergies may produce.  Communication not physical proximity is key.

    Like I said utopia/dystopia depends on how you look at it.

    I didn't mean to imply that I agreed with the sentiment, merely that it is a strong meme out there within the collective environmentalist consciousness.  One of the strands of human nature (whatever that is) is the inclination to seek the answer or solution to complex issues.  Increasing density is one of those that catch on and tends to keep us from engaging in the greater complexity of the issue, and its intertwining with other issues and phenomenon.

    In the end, if one puts humanism ahead of environmentalism, enlightened self-interest will inevitably bring one back around to making environmentalism a priority.  (this would also include the spiritual, emotional and pyschological well-being that is associated with a deep connection with "nature") And on a grassroots level, when one is dealing with things such environmental pollution, one finds oneself (surprise, surprise) 99 out of a 100 times in the low-income, disenfranchised neighborhoods.  So even if one puts environmentalism ahead of humanism, one ends up dealing with social justice issues. 

    And around and around we go. 

    And while intertubes have opened up the greater acess to information and knowledge, it doesn't guarantee that this access will be leveraged by the user in a way that moves them forward.  Making heads and tails out of the stream of information is something we all need guidance with (and why discussion threads on blogs play such an important role).  This would be true even if there isn't a plethora of misinformation and malevolent propaganda mixed in the stream washing over those who dare open up the intertubes.  Of course, we still have a technology gap where many of those in poverty (especially in rural areas) don't have access or easy access to the internet.

    I'm an avowed Country Mouse, Emma; I figured that was one group's model expressly for existing cities or urban areas that could be revitalized.  I watched a whole program awhile back about an actual redesigned area that was supposed to be so complete that residents could walk everywhere to get what they needed.  All carefully planned, beautiful, incredibly pratical...and 100% white.  Flipped my zoris right offa me!

    I heard recently about an area in NJ (gads; was it a bit from the Plan B program?) and people were given tax breaks to move back to cities where they'd be closer to their jobs.  I was yelling at the teevee that I hoped if they went to all that trouble, they'd still have jobs for long enough to make it worththeir while

    I like the civilization you describe; for me it has to also be about wide open spaces and gardens and wildlife and getting the hell away from cramped civilization.  Silence and an absence of light pollution so that I can see the maximum number of stars and planets and the Milky Way, too, and watch the vast lessons of life and death and seasons turning that the plants and trees offer; I don't think we'll ever be forced to give any of this up, though if the taxes get outrageous...  ;o)

    Otherwise, they're gonna carry me offa this great glacial moraine end of a piece of land in a box, I think.

    I'll gladly do my bit: we've got ten acres of dryland just right for wind generation; and climate change has really ramped up the wind here. 

    In Dec. of 2007 Pope Benedict attacked climate change science, and said the futures of animals shouldn't be put ahead of the futures of humans or some nonsense.  He apparently didn't know much about ecosystems and species that can act as 'canaries in the coalmine' (someone help me with the useful term?).

    Here is this week, eating a little crow based on information gleaned from the 8-0-scientist panel he sponsored on the subject.  Here's his Papal Decree on the Vatican website; it's pretty darned cool.

    We call on all people and nations to recognise the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other land uses. We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home. By acting now, in the spirit of common but differentiated responsibility, we accept our duty to one another and to the stewardship of a planet blessed with the gift of life. We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us. The believers among us ask God to grant us this wish.

    Thanks, Pope.


    Of course, the Church still owes us for this guy...


    True, but he got off pretty easy compared with Giordano Bruno.

    Eeek; yes; I googled him to refresh my memory, but the dude was into some pretty esoteric stuff, to boot.  Wiki says that's more why they burned him at the stake.  Pretty grisly was to go.  Brrr.

    In the 'some communities are doing it for themselves' category, someone at my.fdl left this website for a Marin County group that's procuring and selling 100% green energy.  And it doesn't cost any more than the carbon kind.

    Marshall Auerbach approached the issue of a national sustainable energy program from the direction of having a sustainable monetary policy as well as a meaningful regulatory environment and fiscal policy here. Seems like the obvious choice to me, but then I haven't been captured by the Energy or FIRE sectors as has our government. 

    In a much saner world, we would be in the midst of a government-led investment push, much like the Space Race or the Manhattan Project, to drive new energy technologies forward by scaling up production and innovation, both apt to lower unit cost points. There would also be a concerted effort to establish the new infrastructure required. (After all, highways were constructed in part for national defense purposes, and railroads and canals had their share of public subsidization.) But with the ease of capture so visible, no such effort led by the government could be trusted enough to be supported, especially by a citizenry that has become one of fragmented (and anxious) consumers. Deficit austerians in government fail to understand that a budget deficit is essential for stable economic growth if the contribution of net exports (the difference between exports and imports) is not strong enough to sustain domestic demand while the private domestic sector is trying to save.

    That's really good, and on the order of what I thought the authors of the Journey to Planet Earth Plan B might be imagining; at least that's what tripped in my mind.  To see in the original film the scale at which the energy alternatives could be done, creating the necessary infrastructure for manufacture and delivery would be a jobs answer, an infrastructure upgrade we need so badly (I even thought the light rail could fit into the plan somehow)...

    I just woke up so I could use some help with the final sentence, please, but Id just read a piece about trade balance that said that for the good of the nation and it's workers and long-term economic health, it just wasn't right to make trade deals that would weaken domestic products (Chinese currency mucking up the equation, maybe), but still.

    Funny it's Auerbach; I have a tab on my taskbar of his piece on revenue-sharing with states; I wanted to write it up with some other info and ask some of you what yuou thought about it. 

    Have to wake yup more to read the whole piece; but thanks; good to hear he's thinking so powerfully.   ;o)

    Last sentence:  Deficit austerians in government fail to understand that a budget deficit is essential for stable economic growth if the contribution of net exports (the difference between exports and imports) is not strong enough to sustain domestic demand while the private domestic sector is trying to save.

    I think he's tying it to Modern Monetary Theory in that sentence, though I could be wrong.  Here's a good place to start, if you haven't read it already.

    I have, Miguel; I think Yves linked to it.  And there is a large my.fdl contingent of MMT adherents.  I read there stuff, and have read the debates at Yves, sites others have linked to  (Hudson, maybe?).  The truth is I know so little about economics and the terms and workings of capital that I just can't understand much of it.  'Letsgetitdone' is a friend from correntewire where I sometimes cross-post, and he said one day that if I had some questions he'd gladly answer them.  Turns out I can't even frame a question I'm so clueless.  So...

    Some of the comment threads at Yves' place were interesting, but not illuminating for the ignorant, if you know what I mean.   ;o)

    Know the feeling stardust.  These were the kinds of topics I used to depend on my friend Maxine to help shed some light on.  Not so much anymore.

    Hmmm.  Weighty final paragraph by Ferguson:

    "Polarized politics is money-driven politics and political parties are first of all bank accounts, whatever else they do. More precisely, the current polarization of the system is the direct result of the Republicans’ attempt to roll back the New Deal and the way the Democrats responded. I regret to say I don’t see much chance that it will abate any time soon. The Obama administration’s failure to deliver “real change” has given the Republicans a new lease on life. Less than three years after the financial collapse, which handed the presidency and both houses of Congress to the Democrats on a platter, free market fundamentalism is back. Today Republicans look closer to rolling back the New Deal than they ever have. They are unlikely to see much reason to compromise; especially when the Obama administration, in the middle of trying to raise a billion dollars for the 2012 campaign, declines to press a strong defense of investments in people and regulation, not even financial regulation."

    You and I were more right on the Ratch Effect than even the originator (or at least right in different and additional directions.)

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