So, What Should We Do?

 



Pictures of wildfire damage at Glacier National Park in Montana 2016




What type of activities will help in reducing the effects of ecological overshoot? I'm often asked this question when I point out that solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear energy, hydroelectric dams, EVs, and all other technological devices will not help climate change, pollution loading, or any other predicament under the parent predicament of ecological overshoot: "Well, what are your solutions?" Sadly, this question assumes that I am pointing out a PROBLEM, not a predicament. Predicaments don't have solutions. So, I don't have a solution (and nobody else does either, despite claims to the contrary - more on that in a couple of paragraphs). But I can tell them what WON'T help. Buying more stuff, REGARDLESS of what it is, WILL NOT HELP. Because ecological overshoot is a predicament with an outcome and not a problem with a solution, people need to adjust their expectations accordingly. 

It doesn't matter if the product is a solar panel, a wind turbine, an EV, a well-insulated new house, or a hamburger. Purchasing items require three things in particular, mining or extraction; energy use; and industrial civilization. As is demonstrated here, civilization is unsustainable. Agriculture is a form of mining (it is mining or extraction of the soil) and requires energy use and it is precisely what allows and supports civilization. It is a form of technology, and I point out here precisely WHY technology is unsustainable. So, purchasing more (unnecessary) items of any stripe will not help ecological overshoot (or climate change or any other symptom predicament of ecological overshoot). 

The claims that solar panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, and nuclear energy or any other device that has incorrectly been labeled "green" or "clean" or "renewable" reduce emissions are patently false and ignore the actual physical requirements of adding storage for devices which provide intermittent electricity; the strengthening of the capacity of the grid to allow for these devices; the roads, bridges, tunnels, and other transportation networks necessary to install and maintain these devices; and the energy and resources that the ongoing maintenance of the devices requires. The devices do NOT reduce fossil fuel emissions, but rather provide for more overall energy use as is outlined here

There are many so-called "solutions" to climate change (one of the most comprehensive plans is available here), but NONE of them are actual solutions because none of them do away with civilization. Because civilization is unsustainable, anything that doesn't do away with this system and the culture that inevitably and inseparably follows cannot solve anything. The ideas listed are very comprehensive but fail the sniff test in almost every category because of this single overlooked item. The framework for developing these ideas all fall into the same category of attempting to save that which CANNOT be saved - civilization. For anyone who missed the link above as to WHY civilization cannot be saved, here is What Would it Take for Humanity to Experience Radical Transformation?

From the first three links in this article, one can clearly see precisely WHY civilization cannot be saved. Technology use is precisely what has CAUSED the predicaments of ecological overshoot and climate change and collapse. Continuing to utilize technology expecting a different result is the definition of INSANITY. Civilization is a system whereby its members become addicted to the technology use which supports the civilization - it CAN NOT be made sustainable, so labeling these ideas as "solutions" is nothing more than fraudulent claims, no differently than the entire "green, clean, and renewable" energy industry. There is no such thing as "green, clean, and renewable" energy EXCEPT for completely naturally-grown food with no fossil fuel inputs. ALL other sources of energy require fossil fuels and the fossil fuel platform to remain viable in order to provide the support for industrial civilization to continue supplying the materials, spare parts, resources, and energy to maintain all the platforms of infrastructure, including the fossil fuel platform itself. Once the platform succumbs to energy decline (declining net surplus energy due to higher energetical costs to extract) and can no longer be relied upon, all the infrastructural platforms above it will also collapse. To gain a more thorough understanding of ecological overshoot, see my article: What is Ecological Overshoot?

The Project Drawdown site leaves out more than just these inconvenient truths. One of the faults of logic aside from civilizational inertia is the fact that most of all these ideas are presented on the basis that conditions of yesteryear will continue long into the future. Since energy growth powers economic growth and we hit peak oil in October of 2018, it needs to be made clear that the only option now is degrowth. Building all sorts of new infrastructure as outlined in the details on their website veers into more fantasies, myths, and fairy tales. As I pointed out in my last article, this infrastructure is subject to the conditions of TODAY and the future, not yesteryear. So, in other words, the bright and shiny image of tomorrow it projects is not to be. This also has to do with how we lack agency to accomplish the goals it lays out. Some of the goals are feasible, but society isn't actually focused on the ones which ARE possible; instead, society appears to be far more interested in goals that are unobtainable, such as traveling in space and other ridiculous ideas that don't take limits to growth into consideration. For another angle on just how ridiculous some of these ideas really are, Tim Watkins points out the limits of green idealism. A far better plan than the Project Drawdown one is this one here, The REAL Green New Deal.

This video shows that we were warned about the limits to growth nearly 50 years ago with the World3 computer model, and this new article from Nafeez Ahmed shows the predictions made back then are actually right on schedule. Unfortunately, the predictions showing the end of economic growth to be in 10 years are about 10 years too late. Degrowth has already begun, although most of society is unaware of this fact. Distractions are a part of life, unfortunately, and there are several major ones directing attention to things other than the ongoing collapse all around us. Society will most likely attempt to begin growth again (much of the hoopla is expressed in the "reopening" of society after COVID-19; although the pandemic isn't even over yet). The only growth which can now take place does so at the expense of even more degrowth elsewhere. It is likely that richer, more developed nations will fight for more energy and resources as resource depletion worsens. Dave Pollard attempts to predict the next decade here, and unfortunately, I don't see anything here that I disagree with.

Discussions over degrowth should be taking place all over the planet, IF society understands the truth about where we are as a species. Rather than focusing attention on building yet more infrastructure that will be incapable of being maintained in the future, why aren't we having conversations on how to end industrial civilization; not to protect ourselves necessarily but for the safety of other species on this planet which might survive the extinction we have unleashed? Wouldn't this be the most responsible thing to do? Why are we not decommissioning every nuclear power facility right now; knowing that every day each one is allowed to continue to operate, the lives of everything near them are threatened? I think many of the reasons we haven't done these things is because humans have a rather strong tendency to see things from an anthropocentric perspective and from denial of reality. Our viewpoints are focused on us and our desires, not all the other flora and fauna surrounding us. If we truly cared about other plants and animals, then decommissioning nuclear power plants would be one of the best ideas to undertake rather than attempting to move them around the globe through translocation or other means. These ideas are noble, but are they practical and feasible? Would society ever take such a stance realistically? If the answer is no, should that stop us from trying? What does a pro-future, sustainable perspective say? If we belong to the land (the truth) and not the other way around, then it is our job and responsibility to take care of said land appropriately. This being said, the question I asked about society taking such a stance realistically can most likely be answered quickly - NO.

Another plan to "solve" climate change (remember, this is a predicament, not a problem; so in reality there are no solutions) is highlighted in this post; quote: 

"1) Terminate adding more carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide to the atmosphere [where we are already over 500 PPM CO2e];

2) Draw carbon dioxide levels back down to 300 PPM to reach stability; and

3) Cool the planet to reform and stabilize the cryosphere.

Anyone who follows climate change seriously already can tell you that not one of these is actually feasible today. Now that natural positive feedback loops are pouring more emissions into the atmosphere, terminating emissions becomes impossible. See also articles about ocean heat uptake and a study regarding permafrost thaw. There is no known technology which can draw CO2 levels down on a relevant scale in a timeline necessary, and natural negative feedbacks are in serious decline. There is also no known technology which can cool the planet without serious side effects to climactic patterns and possible agricultural disaster causing massive starvation for millions if not billions of people. 

So, this takes us back to the fact that those 3 required items to ameliorate climate change are in actuality denial of reality. Those who think they are possible are suffering from optimism bias and not comprehending what it would take for humanity to experience radical transformation. Further evidence points to a lack of agency to accomplish these tasks in the first place. At the end of the day, we see that this is precisely why we are looking at NTHE as the eventual outcome of these predicaments. The one item which I haven't mentioned (yet) is because Anderson didn't bring it up, but which has even worse prognostications for climate change and extinction - hydrogen sulfide - and this is the topic for my next article!"


Once again, we are reminded of our lack of agency. Hmmm, this seems to be a recurring theme. Perhaps it is time to realize that the planet and the life here is not "ours" to do what we please with. The land is not our property and does not belong to us, rather we belong to the land. An article I often post to highlight the false belief that the land belongs to us and the cultural trouble of colonialism brings out a word the Indigenous Americans coined; "Wetiko." As Michael Dowd points out in this short video, the whole way society tends to look at our relationship with nature is flawed. This is exactly why most all of the ideas being attempted to "fight climate change (or fill in the blank with your preferred predicament)" are flawed in their goals; because they attempt to save civilization which cannot be saved. One of the best books to read for understanding where we are and what IS and what IS NOT sustainable is Overshoot by William Catton, Jr. 

On that note, I shall close for now, and don't forget to check Part Two (and Part Three!) and Live Now!


Comments

  1. For those who prefer to LISTEN to audio narrations of particularly great books, here's my AUDIO RECORDING of William Catton's masterful (life-changing for most) book, OVERSHOOT: THE ECOLOGICAL BASIS OF REVOLUTIONARY CHANGE: https://soundcloud.com/michael-dowd-grace-limits/sets/william-r-catton-jr

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    1. Thank you for sharing. I have another book to listen to while working away in my food gardens!

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  2. You've said it better than I could. I'm 49 and have been intensely following our climate issues since I was 12. Worked in a university climate lab in the 90's when this all seemed like a distant problem for later this century. I don't see any solutions, though I do think some are trying to effect a massive population reduction program right now. I don't see them succeeding at their goal of retaining a viable biosphere, and can't really get behind such a program even though I think it could have worked if implemented 30 years ago. Many of us may be gone sooner than we'd expected, one way or another.

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  3. Great article, Erik. I have reached similar conclusions and am beginning to believe there are a few things (among many) we should be focusing our 'energy' (and resources) on: decommissioning nuclear plants and safely storing its waste products as you suggest; planting LOTS of hardwood trees (with high BTUs); and building/creating small self-sufficient and 'resilient' communities that depend as much as possible (ideally, entirely) on the local environment to procure potable water, high-calorie foods, and shelter needs (this last effort, obviously, would require much training/teaching of needed skills/knowledge). Not everyone (in fact, probably not many) will make it through the upcoming bottleneck we have created but perhaps we should at least give some an opportunity to do better; although, on the other hand the remaining non-human species might prefer we go down with the ship...

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    1. Good ideas, Steve, as usual. I don't know if the hardwood trees will have enough time to grow large enough to be of much help, unfortunately. The reports and studies I read constantly are all harping on the same issues repeatedly regarding deforestation and tree decline and the increasing number of devastating extreme weather events are beginning to emerge at ever-greater levels of destruction, so the progression of these predicaments seems to be moving faster than expected. I've seen the reports regarding how many people (about 7 out of every 8?) will most likely not make it. Average lifetimes are now decreasing and will continue to do so as time moves forward. As you clearly point out, we COULD attempt to make conditions better for those who do survive; but then again, is this actually a good idea or one steeped in our own hubris? I think that habitat for us will be wiped out within an average human lifetime (and possibly sooner) whereas smaller organisms may be able to eek out an existence for quite some time yet.

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    2. Assisting trees in migrating poleward is not about carbon sequestration. We're toast (and most trees and shrubs and other plants are, too. It's about *possibly* helping plant species that have existed for tens or hundreds of millions of years to pass through this bottleneck. It's not hubris, it's ecocentric compassion. Big difference! My wife, Connie Barlow, is one of the leading voices in the "assisted migration" movement. She fully expects NTHE. But her soul is nourished by at least attempting to shepherd some tree species in surviving the Anthropocene extinction event. She's the main character in this book: https://www.amazon.com/Journeys-Trees-Forests-People-Future/dp/1324001607
      and here is her video blog: http://thegreatstory.org/climate-trees-legacy.html and her scholarly links page: http://www.torreyaguardians.org/assisted-migration.html

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    3. Thank you for this reply, Michael. Because I cannot reply adequately in this space, I have created a new post specifically to address this issue: https://problemspredicamentsandtechnology.blogspot.com/2021/07/so-what-should-we-do-part-two.html

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