Friday, April 18, 2008

I get spanked.

David Roberts, blogmaster over at Gristmill has spanked me for being a bad boy on his blog. No surprise it comes quickly after I've jumped all over WalMart's pet environmentalist Adam Werbach. Read over my shoulder now......


Let me be crystal clear. The current path the human race is on amounts to mass suicide of about 5 billion people.(quoting me-pangolin)

The fact that you believe this is crystal clear from the first ten million times you said it. You say it on every thread; it is your response to every subject, no matter the size or nature.

You might think that hectoring people for whom you radiate contempt (and frequently refer to as "sheeple") is a good way to avert the outcome you fear, but I assure you it is not. When people see that discussion here is dominated by strident cries that The End Is Nigh -- and, by implication, that anything else they have on their mind reveals them to be deluded and selfish -- they run the other direction. Adam and I have both had reports of people who wanted to discuss his article but were put off by the vitriol in the comments here.

I can't imagine that anyone who reads these boards doesn't know where you're coming from by now. If anyone's mind was going to be changed by it, it's changed. I think you should take the gentle advice offered more than once now and tone it down.
by David Roberts at 1:32 PM on 17 Apr 2008

What to do, what to do? I guess I must make my case.....

Solution sets

David- In my little town the western border of the town is bisected by the train tracks that run from Sacramento to Seattle. All day long you can cross those tracks, look north, look south and see nothing; no train. For 23 hours and 20 minutes per day there is no train on those tracks. If you don't live by the tracks and just happen across them for five minutes here or there you might think them a safe place to hang out. Somebody makes this mistake every few months.

A person who is "hysterical" about a danger that others can't perceive may be crazy or they may have more information. The danger is real, it is global, it has the potential to cause a mass extinction and eliminate the support systems for the majority of the human race. None of these ideas originate with me or lack support in peer-reviewed science.

A few years ago I wasn't concerned about the climate all that much. I drove small cars and biked around in good weather so it wasn't my problem. Took my cans, bottles and paper to the recycling bin, kept a little veggie garden and left well enough alone. The 9-11 thing and the resulting wars woke me up to the fact that we were going to war to preserve the right not to drive but to drive really big vehicles. I started reading.

Mike Rupert, Jan Lundberg, Mathew Simmons, Paul Chefurka, the crew over at The Oil Drum, all built on foundations laid by Edward Abbey, Kim Stanley Robinson and Ernest Callenbach. They all point to the same conclusion. That the human race is walking down a very dark path. This isn't even close to my idea; I walk a very well trodden and exquisitely mapped path that starts at Homer and continues to the edge of tomorrow.

The earth is limited. Our space on this earth is a small portion of the total space. You cannot place your emissions or waste in a place that is sufficiently "away." You cannot push your neighbor far enough "away" that the damage your conflict caused will not somehow come back to you. If you take from your neighbors share that person will be angry with you. If he then is forced to take from his neighbor they both may be angry with you.

You know very well that you and I and especially AW and the people he works for exist by taking from our neighbors share. It's the heart of our culture. That very concept was driven home here on Grist with Michael Tobis' post "My Little World (and yours)

So, yeah, I'm a PITA on your board and other boards sometimes. Nothing new there; you have jabailo, Black Wallaby, Manaker and many others in your peanut gallery. I also propose solutions, valid, tested, solutions regularly. I earned my living with my hands so star-wars carbon defense systems don't appeal to me as much as digging charcoal into the soil with a hoe and then planting orchard trees.

I've proposed or promoted solutions on concentrated solar power, organic gardening, transition economics, carbon capture, golf, cars rice apples cars again also airships, tactics of debate, housing, hybrid utilization, biomass and much more. I've posted a lot of commentary and criticism most of which doesn't rate a comment by anyone; no surprise there. I promise that in my 548 posts to date (I counted) I've never once used the phrase "the end is nigh."

Your search engine yields 13 results for the word "sheeple." This one is mine and it's a rant, it even says "rant warning." Here are 1, 2, 3 posted by some David Roberts guy. Twice in defense of some enviro's association with greenwashing. My single use of the word is in response to DR's use in thread #2. Sadly, I frequently refer to "sheep" as grazing animals known for mowing lawns and yeah once I used "sheep" to describe the "fleecing" of gamblers in Vegas. Harsh criticism that and beyond the pale.

I frequently post that nasty link to the Google search: ["faster than expected" warming]. Just the headings on that search will give you the willies and a news alert on that string is worse. Repeated posting of links isn't banned on your site last I checked. Please inform Greyfalcon if they are. It's grim reading but I only post the link to the search. Luckily nothing bad happens like that right?

My entire life I've belonged to that crazy club that voluntarily moved towards a green ethic. Bookstores have whole sections of lushly photographed adobe, cob and straw bale houses but still the majority live in CO2 spewing urban or suburban tract housing.

We have the solutions to global warming that would allow us to lead comfortable lives at far less energy input in human labor, fuels, biomass and minerals than the current economic standard but simply desiring change is useless without the resources to change. People want these solutions just like they want universal health care but "something" presents a barrier. That barrier is economic inequality. People with limited economic choices just can't buy land and put a net-zero house on it. They can't afford houses at all when housing prices are run up by speculators and insane mortgages. It's been a bit of a problem recently.

So yeah, I'm bitter towards the comfortable class. Thank god I'm alone, right? It makes it easy to dismiss people like me as jealous cranks. Then those Brown grads can relax at their $200 lunches where they discuss profit opportunities in cap-and-trade schemes and the "BLUE" labeling of disposable consumer goods. They can cash those fat checks and move on. Hey go for it; it's not like lives are at stake or something.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Suppressing the Solution Set

Let's be absolutely clear; a solution set to environmental problems exists.

They consist of deploying:
  1. Wind Power
  2. PV solar distributed
  3. Concentrated Solar Power built in optimal sites
  4. Geo-exchange thermal management replacing HVAC systems
  5. Hot rock geothermal energy
  6. Ultra-light rail or personal rapid transit
  7. Inter-urban heavy rail for freight
  8. High-speed rail replacing air travel
  9. Organic farming, including the pasturing of meat animals and elimination of CAFOs.
  10. Biochar agriculture for carbon capture, NOX capture and nitrate fixation
  11. Conservation retro-fits of all occupied buildings
  12. Social safety nets- a universal right to food, housing, minimal personal needs.
  13. Health care- Cuban model as a minimal standard
  14. Birth control- available freely on demand
  15. Returning to a walkable, bicycle-friendly urban space
  16. Cradle to cradle consumer products
  17. Marine and riparian reserves, sanctuaries and protections to allow ocean recovery
  18. Regulated markets on the EU model
  19. Organized labor
  20. Any other solution that provides service in a "thermodynamically free" fashion i.e. where the EROI is greater than 2 including externalities

The above list are systems that have proven to have energy use patterns substantially cheaper thermodynamically than existing systems. They could effectively replace the majority of services provided by our existing economic technology set while reducing pollution, birth rates and social disruption.

Instead of solutions we are offered the false solution set of:
  • The hydrogen hype
  • Nuclear power
  • Carbon capture and storage
  • Coal burning
  • Biofuels
  • "Free market" economics (loot and run corporate management)
  • Cheap labor (union-busting by para-militaries)
  • Debt economies
  • HMOs
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Homelessness
  • Mass starvation by market forces (see biofuels)
  • Abstinance education (and resulting STD's)
  • SUVs
  • War
  • Sprawl built on the quick, cheap and leaky model.
  • GMOs
  • CAFOs
  • "Disposables," plastic bags, shoes, razors, clothes, employees...
  • "Farmed" fish (yuck)
  • Subsidized air travel
  • Subsidized auto industry
  • Monopolies i.e. WalMart, Microsoft, ADM & Monsanto
  • Other solutions sets that offer choke points where essential services can be harvested for income by corporate oligarchs.

It is worth noting that even the most obvious portions of the solution set are ignored by major media voices. George Bush himself has a geo-exchange HVAC system in his Crawford, Texas house and despite the fact that it offers a major wedge that would allow reduction in coal, oil and natural gas burning at a small profit yet it is generally ignored by both the media and Congress in favor of non-solutions like the hydrogen hype.

This can't be accidental since the promoters of the true solution set have both physics and verifiable demographic studies on their side. Marine reserves increase fish stocks and social safety nets reduce birth rates; both are desirable goals unless one is seeking short-term profits from a mass market. The evidence at hand leads to the conclusion that the mass media is being directed to sell us a false solution set in order to maximize profits for a tiny minority.

What it's going to do to the vast majority is too horrible to contemplate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Economics vs Thermodynamics

"Economics" keeps telling us that wind or solar power is a bad investment. It just isn't true. The economy uses a form of monopoly money called US dollars that is essentially fictional and allocated preferentially to the oligarchs that control the banking system. They do whatever they feel will increase their own status and power with it. Right now, status and power is not perceived to be attached to wind or solar power hence there is a disinclination to invest in these systems in favor of oil, gas and coal. The basic unit of economics is a fictional control token.

Thermodynamics tells us that there are "external" costs to burning oil, gas, and coal. In essence we are burning coal in a domed city. Long before the fumes choke us out we will spend as much energy dealing with the damage of the coal smoke as we get from burning coal. The time gap where the damage comes after the burning doesn't change the fact that if you keep burning coal in a domed city eventually you will kill everyone inside the dome. The final status of all residents of the dome is equal: dead due to coal burning. The basis of thermodynamics is physics. Unlike economics you don't get to change the physics in a meeting of political insiders.

Reality is moving far closer to the second scenario than the first every day.

The EROI of well sited wind power is at least 20:1. By any standard of thermodynamics that amounts to "free." Windmill A1 yields enough energy to build B1 through T1 and then they all yield enough to build more until you get bored of building windmills or run out of good sites. Of course other factors will come into play but that's the simple version.

The thermodynamics of dozens of conservation programs are even better. Insulation and weatherproofing is far cheaper than hauling firewood. Building with super-insulating materials like straw bale is cheaper still. Likewise heating and cooling with a ground source heat pump is cheaper than burning coal.

A thick walled cob house is cheaper than all that since once built it can easily last 500 years and is easily heated past the comfort level by a cast-iron, wood-fired, cook stove. New wood-gas stoves use a fraction of the fuel that most rural people use for cooking; they're "free" solutions thermodynamically. Wrapping your house in compressed straw panels would probably be "free."

Bicycles are cheaper than almost anything since they require less energy to move a human than walking. Riding a bicycle is the thermodynamic equivalent of floating downstream on a barge your whole life; the return is better than actually doing nothing if you count health benefits.

A personal rapid transit system would be cheaper to build than the current maintenance costs of our asphalt and concrete roads. A 12 inch steel monorail is much cheaper than 25 feet of asphalt by any standard. Electricity cheaper than gas, shared pods far cheaper than cars. That would be effectively "free."

Permaculture activists have proven that food is abundantly available to much of the human race with a bit of knowledge and planning and shockingly little work. Dig a pond and you get fish, geese and ducks from it forever; get some beaver to dam a stream and you get the same result for free. Chestnuts are "free" thermodynamically as is mulberry, blackberry, mustard greens, acorns (and acorn fed pork) apples, walnuts, almonds, pears, quince (quince are just silly prolific) potatos, sunflowers, deer, buffalo, geese, and rabbits. Salmon used to be free before we poisoned, polluted and damned their rivers. Cod were "free" when we limited our fishing to wooden boats with hemp sails and lines.

Birth control is "free" if you have a lemon tree ;`) actually if we all use it well then lots of other things become energetically cheaper since we don't have to compete with other humans for them.

So understanding that we can get electric energy, heating and cooling, food and transportation for "free" thermodynamically we continue to live inside the death dome; because the economists tell us that it's too "expensive."

Come again?

How long will it take us to figure out that the economists are insane? Wind power or solar thermal power is cheaper than coal once you factor in the cost of emissions. Even if you escape the cost of emissions financially, as an investor, you or your descendants will pay by living in the death dome. We cannot burn fossil fuels in a closed system at all anymore and the earth is effectively a closed system.

There's a "free" world out there if we just reach for it. As the chinese are now learning; money cannot buy you a new set of lungs and you can't eat gold if your grain fields are under concrete. Think about it; if your beach house has no beach and the mountain place is a fire trap what good is it?

It's past time we started looking for real solutions. Letting insane people make decisions for us is simply not working.

crossposted from Gristmill in response to A decarbonization story: part one
Why a carbon price beats technology breakthroughs