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The denial of climate research and science in general is, I am afraid, only a small part of the problem.

Right now, I sit in an electrified, gas heated building, typing on a fossil fuel powered computer, with my gasoline powered car in the driveway, enjoying an healthy protein-rich diet, which was grown, harvested, transported, delivered, and cold stored with carbon fueled machines.  I wonder how many of us would be willing or even able in a practical sense to give up the civilized comforts we are accustomed to?  

About a third of us seven billion humans enjoy this same rich material life; about a third are working hard to have it too; and the final third are wishing it was theirs as they scratch the last topsoil from their depleted subsistence. It is a human world DENSE with energy; energy we generally do not see.  The flame in our furnaces is inside a steel cabinet.  We do not see the thousands of explosions that happen every minute inside our automobile engines, or the billions of watts flowing down the power-lines that supply our largest cities and our smallest towns.  The largest portion of the energy used to supply our food is from carbon fuels, with sunlight and natural nutrients only a fraction of the energy equation that feeds us.

Now we are finding out that we have been foolish to believe that human culture and technology could forever transcend the basic physical laws that govern all natural processes.  There is no divine retribution in this.  There is no earth mother that will notice our earnest attempts to lead better lives by eating local, riding our bikes, and loving the planet.  I do these things and I am sure many of you reading this do as well.  The trouble is, the natural world and its energy flows do not care; they have no feelings or thoughts of rightness.  They follow an evolutionary path according to the laws of chemistry and thermodynamics.

This is a hard reality, apparently beyond human cultural understanding.  It's tough to realize that there is no warm and embracing, special place for us humans in the universe.  We've had our chance at building a human world that is in harmony with these realities, and after five short millennia (in evolutionary time: an eye-blink) it's looking like a sad end for us humans.  We are failing.  As a species, and certainly as an experiment in cultural evolution we may soon be extinct.  

There is perhaps a decade or two left to completely and radically change how we live, to drastically reduce our population, to immediately stop burning fossil fuels, to reverse the growing avalanche of environmental catastrophes by removing billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere.  But, do we really expect any of those things to happen?  I feel like a man crying wolf when there really IS a wolf, and knowing that my own human stink is on the wind.  I think perhaps that the best I will be able to do is tell the story and apologize to my grandchildren.

Fact: Atmospheric CO2 has increased by 50% since the beginning of the industrial revolution.  Historical levels have been measured by examining the trapped gas in ice cores from glacial ice laid down over thousands of years.  Scientists have even collected 125 year old copper toilet floats to examine the air sealed inside during their manufacture in the late 19th century. These measurements have been debated and verified by multiple teams from universities all over the world.  The base line for present levels has been measured carefully at Mauna Loa and other mountain observatories far away from cities and other influences.

Fact: There is a strong correlation between the amount of additional carbon in the air and the amount produced by combustion of carbon fuels, deforestation, agriculture, and other HUMAN activities over the relevant time period.  There is no known, or even hypothesized natural process to account for this additional carbon.  These calculations have stood the test of strong criticism and peer review for the last several decades.

Fact: CO2 and methane produced by oil and gas wells and human agricultural activities are "greenhouse gases"  that trap solar energy in the lower atmosphere.  This mechanism has been well understood since the 19th century.

Fact: Average global temperatures have increased by about 2 deg F over the last twenty years.  These extensively peer-reviewed measurements have been carefully analyzed to remove the influence of special  local conditions, such as readings from urban heat sinks.  Two degrees may not sound like much, but think of your body running a two degree fever.  The difference between the recent past and an ice-age or the age of the dinosaurs  is only plus or minus 10 deg F.  The present trend is serious.

Fact: The glaciers are melting, the polar ice is shrinking, the seas are acidifying, sea levels are rising, etc..  All of these events are predicted by the above described data and climate models. This is one of the strongest tests of any science:  Do the real events as they actually occur fit the model?

The Evidence:

280 ppm: Preindustrial atmospheric CO2 level

300 ppm: The level in1950's

350 ppm: The generally accepted by scientists,  reasonably stable climate level (1990)

390+ ppm (& rising fast): Today's reading

Current total annual carbon emissions are SIX TIMES what they were in 1950.  Add to the above numbers huge quantities of methane and chlorinated-hydrocarbons and there is a great deal of carefully collected, peer-reviewed EVIDENCE that dramatic and fast unfolding climate change is happening NOW.

Conclusion:  There are those who say that the above research doesn't explain the increase in greenhouse gasses and the subsequent measured rise in worldwide average temperatures. However unless they can provide an alternate explanation along with supporting data, the claim that climate scientists haven't proved their case is an empty one.

We could assert for example that the law of gravity isn't proved, because there are still questions about how gravity fits in with our general field theory of matter and energy in the universe.  This is in fact one of the big questions that physicists wrestle with, but I'm also 100% confident that if I were to drop a rock on your foot you would feel the pain.

The other day I heard an oil man say confidently that only 50% of potential oil reserves had been used to date, as if that meant we could go on happily, without a care for another 100 years of gassing up.  Trouble is our rate of consumption is DOUBLING every 15 years and is already putting pressure on the supply.  It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this doesn't look good.  We are going to shortly face a PERMANENT energy crisis, along with as much CO2 added to the atmosphere in the next couple of decades as was added since the beginnings of  the industrial revolution.

Total World Energy Consumption:

A watt is the moment by moment measure of the energy flow.

A watt-hour is the measurement of TOTAL energy over time.

"Tw" (Terra-watt)  is 1 Trillion watts.  

15 Tw:  This is the amount the human race is using at the average moment.  This is for all energy (electricity, transportation, heating, cooling,  etc. converted to watts (which we usually use for electricity) for convenience of discussion.  No matter what the unit of measurement, whether it be watts, Joules, BTU's, calories, etc., energy is always equivalent and convertible from one measurement unit to another.

Total annual world energy consumption:

132,000,000,000,000,000 Watt Hours

132,000 Twh (Terra-watt hours).  

We average 15 Tw total consumption, 24 hours/day, 365 days/year.

15 x 24 x 365 = 131,400

I put it up with all the zeros for dramatic effect.   Converted to oil or coal, the measurements are in billions of tons.  In short these are HUGE numbers.

Unfortunately, the average person finds it hard to conceive what this means relative to the capacity of natural systems to deliver these amounts of energy to an ever-growing population, more hungry every day for the goods and services of our "advanced" civilization.  Visualize 200 billion light-bulbs, 25 bulbs for every human on the planet, burning 24 hours/day. Solar, wind, nuclear, energy from space fantasies, and other magical thinking will make NO difference in the magnitude of the problem we face.  Assuming the best possible outcomes for those technologies, we still WILL burn the oil and coal and natural gas until we either run dry, OR climate catastrophe completes the mass-extinction event that by all indications has already begun.

The Problem:

The we are totally f****d if we don't do something fast problem.

Even if we convert all our energy consumption to the most efficient, least polluting system possible, the earth's ecology will be able to support only about 1/4 of today's population on a sustainable basis.  Today's 8+ billion is only possible because of the huge input of energy from fossil fuels, which is as we are finding out destroying the planet.  Today we are living in a short-term fools' paradise.

A new balance will be found.  The only question is: Will we do it peacefully and sensibly?  Or will "mother nature" do it brutally to us? Sad to say, the truth is brutal. It's rapidly becoming too late for well meaning, politically sliced and diced efforts to reverse the coming global climate catastrophe.  To save ourselves would require a massive, world-wide commitment to a radically different way of living, and a dramatic reduction in human population.  I see no chance we will do this sensibly, but rather expect continued magical thinking, and then a nightmare of famine and war as we face a ravaged environment no longer able to feed us.

These are hard realities to face for humanity.  The answers one hears when the facts are presented follow a predictable pattern:

"Yes we must do something at some distant point in the future, but right now it just too scary to think about and we mustn't forget profits, and jobs, and the price of gas, and maybe all we have to do is eat organic grains, and insulate our houses a bit better, and everything will work out, because after all it's part of God's plan, etc., ad-nauseum........ "  

The terrifying truth is, solar cells and windmills aside, each and every one of us is responsible for tens of tons of carbon pumped into the atmosphere every year. Assuming that all of the hopeful solutions discussed here were to come to pass BILLIONS of tons will still have been burned in the meanwhile.  The polar ice-caps ARE melting.  Ocean circulation patterns ARE changing.  The oceans ARE acidifying.  Countless species ARE going extinct.  Droughts ARE spreading.  Crops ARE failing.  Millions ARE starving.  Tornadoes and hurricanes ARE increasing.  ETC., ETC........

I have come to believe that human culture, now and numerous times in our history,  has proved incapable of adapting to ecological change.  The question is not: What can we do to fix it?; but rather: How bad is it going to get?   I would love to have anyone reading this challenge my rather grim report.  Bill McKibben and many others continue to raise the alarm.  Population numbers could stabilize; there could be political and engineering miracles; we could choose to NOT burn all that cheap and convenient fossil fuel.


Originally posted to boatwright on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 05:30 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.


What, Me Worry?

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Comment Preferences

  •  bleak (15+ / 0-)

    but fair look at the issue.

    However, we need to keep trying to focus on the positives no matter how scarce they may seem.

    perhaps that the best I will be able to do is tell the story and apologize to my grandchildren.
    Indeed. But until then we can continue putting forth common sense solutions that will mitigate climate change's worst effects.

    And remember: if we fail on climate change, nothing else matters. - WarrenS

    by LaughingPlanet on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 05:42:13 AM PST

    •  idle and biased look at the issue (10+ / 0-)
      Solar, wind, nuclear, energy from space fantasies, and other magical thinking will make NO difference in the magnitude of the problem we face.
      A breathtakingly childish statement. The wind/solar power generation potential maximum for the entire earth is much higher than present usage levels:
      The analysis indicates that a network of land-based 2.5-megawatt (MW) turbines restricted to non-forested, ice-free, nonurban areas operating at as little as 20% of their rated capacity could supply >40 times current worldwide consumption of electricity, >5 times total global use of energy in all forms. [source]
      We will need to make a major effort in the next half-century. But these Chicken Little imitations say more about their authors than reality. They also tend to discourage people from doing anything, which makes me wonder about the motivations of those who regurgitate them.

      I just hope we settle down to that major effort without being spurred on by some massive disaster in the Third World. But I'm rather pessimistic about that.

      "They smash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn)

      by sagesource on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 10:56:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm encouraged by the example of Germany (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        monkeybrainpolitics, cai, DawnN, splashy

        and others using solar power now as shown in Solar Power Revolution - Here Comes The Sun
        The film shows how quickly a massive change from fossil fuels (and nuclear) can be achieved. All that is needed is the political will.

        The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

        by ybruti on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 01:32:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I try to remain optimistic (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I really do.  It's just the measuring of the 6 MILLION wind machines in the above calculation vs. the ease with which we will continue to exploit carbon based energy sources leaves me very worried.

        We simply can't expect the world population, esp. in poor countries to stop doing so, without a revolution in how we live.  History shows this doesn't happen easily.  We have always preferred cathedral building and sacrificial religion to changing our relationship to a failing ecology.

        In addition to that -- hope aside, we are already well past the tipping point in atmospheric CO2 levels.  And as long as we are throwing barbs around: How many tons of carbon did you personally put into the air last year?  I know that I did a bunch; I'm pretty sure you did too.

        Labor was the first price paid for all things. It was not by money, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased. - Adam Smith

        by boatwright on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 02:03:25 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dewley notid

        might quibble with some of the bleaker figures, but imo the general thrust is accurate, and the writing is very, very good.

    •  don't you mean, my grandCHILD? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      we only have one; the only responsible thing for him to do will be to have only one... a few generations of that would be a great help in reducing the resource burden of the top third, but we certainly don't have time for THAT (multiple generations)

      if there aren't some large population crashes soon, there will probably be a total one (immediate full extinction or so few survivors so widely scattered that there will be no possibility of species recovery)

      "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

      by chimene on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 12:23:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  it can be a depressing problem, but (13+ / 0-)

    that feeling can fade, and we still have to face it.

    We'd all feel a lot better if our country actually took it on, made it a priority, gave it the focus it deserves.

    Right now we're just waiting for something to happen, and future looks worse and worse.

    An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

    by mightymouse on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 05:46:03 AM PST

    •  Much truth in diary, but it is not quite so (8+ / 0-)

      hopeless. The changes needed are bigger than most people assume. We need to reduce fossil fuel use quite rapidly in total while allowing modest increases within the poorest nations. North American lifestyles will definitely be altered -- less meat per person, more transit, less travel, smaller living spaces, changed technologies everywhere, more renewable energy. But I think that the world could support 8 rather than 2 (and rather than 10 or 12) billion people) and it could feed them all too. We would need fossil fuels, but maybe a quarter of what we use now. Whether we can make such a shift over a 50 year period, I do not know, but I am not prepared to give up on the possibility.

      We have only just begun and none too soon.

      by global citizen on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 06:08:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Mississippi River is edging towards historic lows (18+ / 0-)

      My prediction, and has been for a while, is that no meaningful discussion and introspection will come to us as a country until there's a noticeable "kiss of death", in which the economy is untenable from the environment, and our economy starts to get crippled from the climate events. Sandy alone shows just how vulnerable we are. There were still 32,000 people without power in the NY/NJ region as of Thanksgiving. The drought spanning 60% of the mainland US is a festering ecological disaster in the making, the Mississippi River just the latest ongoing casualty. So, yes, our instant gratifying, fragmented way of life we've come to expect with 600 cable channels, cheap plane rides, and a barrage of other stimulating human activity make delay our expected defense mechanism.

      Environmental regulations used to be just health regulations. Now, they will also be economic regulations.

      "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~Edward Abbey ////\\\\ "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

      by rovertheoctopus on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 06:28:07 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It would be better if our country (6+ / 0-)

      took it on. But unfortunately, we also need the Indians, and Chinese, and Russians, and everyone else, to do it. The number of countries that are where they need to be (or will be soon) you can count on one hand. Denmark is one of them. We need China and ourselves to be like Denmark.

      I think that our only, best hope is that public sentiment radically changes over the next 10 years. This IMO cannot come from leaders telling us the truth. People just are not wired to personally sacrifice for the good of the global citizen. And politicians are not going to pass laws here forcing people to do things they don't want to do, since that would not be popular. First, the public needs to change, to become enthusiastic about making this the #1 national priority.

      The only way I see this happening is due to actual, real-time presentations of the data. Pictures from the arctic won't do the trick. We have to see disasters, here in the U.S., causing unprecedented amounts of deadly destruction. We need to see the Great Lakes noticeably drying out, and the plains states a dustbowl, and states in the Southeast and South becoming broken by the number of major hurricanes hitting us. I think I believe that in the long run, such a terrible thing might be our best hope of avoiding a catastrophe a hundred times worse.

    •  There may be a day, and I said (7+ / 0-)

      this here years ago, that denialists are held in utter disrepute. That to be accused of having been a denialist will be the equivalent of having been a monster, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions, the suffering of billions, and a planet whose temperature has now risen more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit and is still rising, now out of our control completely (as the methane under the sea and beneath the tundra is now boiling into the atmosphere).

      And right here on the internet will be preserved the writings of all those that said even in 2012 that the scientists of the world are conspirators and that this is all one big hoax. I think some of their lives might be in danger from angry mobs (if the direct effects of global warming hasn't already killed them).

      •  Assuming that the Internet is still up & running. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        And right here on the internet will be preserved the writings of all those that said even in 2012 that the scientists of the world are conspirators and that this is all one big hoax. I think some of their lives might be in danger from angry mobs (if the direct effects of global warming hasn't already killed them).

        Renewable energy brings national global security.     

        by Calamity Jean on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 12:50:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Will that apply to voters (0+ / 0-)

        who elected denialists as members of congress?

  •  Pshaw, any 2-bit Pre-Agricultural Human Culture (16+ / 0-)

    not only can understand climate change but is well equipped to deal with it. They've all had to evolve over millennia to deal with times of surplus and times of scarcity.

    This isn't a failing of humans or their cultures generally, it's a failing mainly of our post-medieval governing systems, all of which have evolved for a thousand years in the free-lunch New World era of surpluses of room, resources and waste capacity flowing into our economies at very low cost.

    The US was born with perhaps the greatest per capita surpluses ever available to a new technological culture, and so our system is the greatest extremophile in deferring to individual liberties to exploit and consume while constraining society from imposing constraints and obligations on the individual for the safety and benefit of community.

    The American system is so ludicrous from the viewpoint of a limited lifeboat-world that has hard resource and waste capacity limitations, that you can hardly tell anything at all about human culture generally from our failings.

    What's coming is the mother of all bottlenecks. Ownership will step through it in grand style; we've spent the last half century preparing our civilization to deliver our betters through this crisis in power and comfort.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 05:59:30 AM PST

    •  Nah (5+ / 0-)

      Our elites are way too stupid to survive on their own.

      •  Yup. (8+ / 0-)

        Running a private equity firm requires a far smaller skill set, and far less physical strength than being a farmer.

        And for anyone who still cares, Jimmy Carter sacrificed the possibility of a second term by telling the American the people the truth four months after he was inaugurated. In April of 1977 he gave what has come to be known as the "moral equivalent of war speech."

        Americans didn't want to hear to it so they elected an actor to blow smoke up their asses from 1980-1988. "Take off your sweater, turn up the thermostat, go shopping," Reagan said. "Buy a bigger car. It's morning in America."

        35 year ago we might have had a chance to transition off of fossil fuels, a gradual power down. But now it's too late. Power down will occur with a series of increasingly frequent energy crises of different kinds. Exactly what sort of crisis is impossible to predict. In 2008 it was a spike in gasoline prices but that won't always be the form these crises take. Our industrial civilization is too complex to pinpoint the weak links in the chain.

        More info is available at and Lot's of other sites and books but those two are particularly good. Reading the petroleum engineers, geologists, and insurance company actuaries will disabuse you of the notion that the U.S. will ever be "energy independent," at least with our current "non-negotiable" lifestyle.

        There is no replacement for the energy of millions of years of sunlight stored in fossil fuels. And the fossil fuels that remain are becoming increasingly dirty, difficult and expensive to extract and refine.

        I had this argument the other day but I couldn't get the light bulb to come on: It doesn't matter how large the fossil fuel reserves are if it takes the equivalent of one barrel of crude to produce one barrel of crude. All the solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear in the world add up to just a fraction of the energy we get from fossil fuels.

        We're headed toward an EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) of 1:1 from an EROEI of 100:1 back in the days of Pennsylvania light sweet crude.

        Reaganomics noun pl: belief that unregulated capitalism can produce unlimited goods for unlimited people on a planet with finite resources and we the people can increase revenue by decreasing revenue.

        by FrY10cK on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 09:46:28 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Good points on Jimmy Carter (7+ / 0-)

          After the trauma of Vietnam and Watergate, Americans did not want to hear of another difficult problem facing the nation. The "don't worry be happy - it's morning again in America" nonsense from Reagan was exactly what they wan't to believe.

          Perhaps after scorching summers and Superstorms Americans might be ready to face the truth. Then again maybe not.

          "I come close to despair because so many of the pieces of the country are broken, and when you see that, you have two choices: You can give up, or you can do something about it." Elizabeth Warren

          by Ed in Montana on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 10:12:02 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  not why Carter lost (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cocinero, ybruti

          An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

          by mightymouse on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 10:34:21 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  True but incomplete (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ed in Montana, ybruti, adrianrf
          All the solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear in the world add up to just a fraction of the energy we get from fossil fuels.
          This is true. But it is also true that the potential of wind/solar alone amounts to many times the energy we now get from fossil fuels. A full-scale shift to renewable energy sources would enable us to use much more power than we do now, without turning the planet into Venus. Carbon-based fuels will be confined to a few niche uses where they are at present difficult to replace, such as aircraft fuel -- and these can be supplied via biofuels.

          Those predicting calamity are doing so because they want it to be possible. No, they don't want people to die or to suffer greatly. But they do want something outside, objective, to force others into the kind of lifestyle that they consider good. Isn't going to happen. Instead, we'll find new and less dangerous sources of raw material for our indulgences -- cloning meat on an industrial scale instead of obtaining it from huge herds of farting, belching, usually ill-treated cattle, for instance.

          "They smash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn)

          by sagesource on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 11:09:25 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  and what is WITH this insanity about everybody (6+ / 0-)

            having to FLY everywhere, all the time? put the TRAINS back! their efficiency is SO much higher than almost anything else.

            I'd rather the trip to the beach or to visit Grandma took a little longer, getting to and from and on the train, than cooking in a greenhouse frying pan!

            "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

            by chimene on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 12:33:17 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Good point about the cattle. (0+ / 0-)

            I'm not sure about cloned meat, but there are plenty of ways to get protein that are much better for the planet (and our health) than beef.

          •  How do propose to smelt the steel and heat (0+ / 0-)

            the glass that floats on a bed of molten tin to produce all these solar PV, solar hot water,  and wind farms?

            A wind generator is great. It can't produce enough energy to build another wind generator. It takes fossil fuels for that. Or fusion which is 25 years away and always will be.

            I'll bet somebody here can do a napkin calc on how many PV panels it would take to run a steel mill. I suspect it's not even close to viable.

            Reaganomics noun pl: belief that unregulated capitalism can produce unlimited goods for unlimited people on a planet with finite resources and we the people can increase revenue by decreasing revenue.

            by FrY10cK on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 06:43:32 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Americans are not that atypical (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ed in Montana

      of other humans, we didn't create the problem,  we're just the poster children that are easiest to point at from our ethnocentric views of the world.  You ignore a propensity and problem in  history until the the settlment of America, and call it a 1000 years of gluttony, all of which is America's fault.  No we were a product of the gluttony that already existed, in the greed for goods and land and empire.  We were just a next step in evolution, and evolution won't stop with us.   We may have developed a national psyche that put some of the worst aspects of humanity into overdrive, that was codified into laws and a governing system that is not particularly well suited to stopping it.   But what successful and sustainable system is?   Many have been tried, all of the ones that came before us failed too.  Some of the European nations may be on a better path now, but certainly not all.   What can work for one area may not suit another, as we have proved in trying to forcibly export our notion of democracy without regard to other cultures and their experiences.  Which rolls around to having some regard for individual humans and smaller collectives than nation states or the world community.   There needs to be some balance in all of it.

      As for preparing our betters to survive a crisis, how we define betters may change over time from physical strength to some form of financial cunning to something else in the future, but 'betters' have always been the ones to survive.

    •  One slight problem... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DawnN, adrianrf
      They've all had to evolve over millennia to deal with times of surplus and times of scarcity.
      We're not talking about times of scarcity in the sense of a seven-year drought.  At best, we're talking about a thousand years or more of extreme climate shifts more than capable of leaving our agriculture and cities in ruin.  At worst, we're looking down the barrel of a mass extinction event and will watch helplessly as the fabric of life itself unravels practically at the microbial level, leaving Earth's biodiversity devastated in its wake.

      We haven't had to deal with something on this level since... well, since ever.  Hominids have weathered some bad times, but not seven or eight billion of them with advanced weaponry competing for scarce resources.  This is something a few science fiction writers and political scientists may have wrestled with on an intellectual level, but none of our ancestors had to face anything like it.

      Ownership will step through it in grand style; we've spent the last half century preparing our civilization to deliver our betters through this crisis in power and comfort.
      I'm certain that they think that will happen.  I don't think they appreciate the magnitude of the situation.  Some humans will probably survive, but I wouldn't trust any current contingency plans to remain intact for long after this shit hits the fan, and the species and civilization will look very different before we're through.
      The American system is so ludicrous from the viewpoint of a limited lifeboat-world that has hard resource and waste capacity limitations, that you can hardly tell anything at all about human culture generally from our failings.
      Agree completely.

      "If Mitt takes office, sooner or later, the Zomnies will come for all of us." -Joss Whedon

      by quillsinister on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 03:15:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Are our comforts really civilized? (6+ / 0-)

    Or are they simply mass produced for our convenience?

    When you talk about "a healthy protein-rich diet, which was grown, harvested, transported, delivered, and cold stored with carbon fueled machines", it sounds more like a manufacturing process than the hunting and gathering that spurred human evolution.  A lot of that food is not really civilized at all.  Moon pies and an RC cola seem to me a lot less civilized or healthy than stir-fried vegetables and some herbal tea which come straight from the kitchen garden.

    Our food doesn't have to be so wasteful of energy inputs; modern 'civilization' has made it that way.  An orange-cranberry muffin with a cup of fair trade Ethiopian coffee sounds like a civilized comfort, but it comes with a steep energy price.  Oranges and cranberries don't grow within hundreds of miles of each other, hence the need for an elaborate transportation infrastructure.

    Kitchen gardens can cut down on the energy inputs, while at the same time improving the taste and quality of the food.  I harvested the last of the tomatoes and eggplants from my garden last week, and am looking forward to the change to winter vegetables in the coming weeks.  I have all manner of turnips, beets, lettuce, kale, celery, and onions that have only required compost in the way of carbon inputs.

    But we will probably go on, oblivious to the need to change, until it is forced upon us.  Then we will have to discover the value of locally produced food.

    •  I've run into problems with this approach (21+ / 0-)

      As part of my carbon-footprint makeover I have tried to produce as much of my own food as possible. Also done all the right things in terms of making my own compost, keeping seeds, etc.
      What has begun to happen in the last three or four growing seasons is the plants are being heavily stressed by the very climate change we are trying to mitigate. A March heat wave created vectors for dozens of species of pests not indigenous to my area to invade and destroy crops well before harvest; there are virtually no bats left in the Northeast to control their numbers, and the birds haven't figured out if these new bugs are edible or not (in the case of the stinkbug infestation, they aren't.) My maple sap run ended a month early, and was quite poor. Fluctuating temps from 80 to 40 back to 80 over a ten day span stunted many plants. Extended rain events swamped some, and led to fungus problems like Septoria leaf spot all summer. Increasingly common "freak" storms like Irene flattened tall and fragile plants. Potatoes rotted in the ground, the dearth of bees kept my peas and many other plants from goes on and on.

      Granted, I am a 'hobbyist' gardener, but external factors like I've described cannot be surmounted by more professional farming via anything short of building massive greenhouses, and that is worse.
      My experience is not unique. This is beginning to snowball faster than the approach of peak oil. I think we are already past the point of peak food.

      Stand for something, or you'll fall for anything - Malcolm X via Skindred

      by kamarvt on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 06:36:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've noticed the same thing (16+ / 0-)

        And I'm far south of you in Georgia.  

        The predictions that climate change modelers make about more dry spells and deluges? Normally in Georgia we are supposed to get around 4" of rain a month.  Since May, each month has been under 2" except for August, when we got 12".  I point this out to all the nay-sayers that deny that our climate is changing.

        Adaptation is going to strain our collective resources.  Water management is going to become a very important issue.  Last year Nebraska was inundated with a more than 100-year flood; this year it is in severe drought.  Farming and gardening is difficult even when the weather cooperates. It's next to impossible when it doesn't.

      •  Same thing here in the UK (9+ / 0-)

        A lot of my plants drowned. Even the seed producers that had plants in polytunnels had severe problems with the lack of light. I'm trying to hold over some plants inside to get a jump on next year, but it's difficult and would be impossible without light or heat.
        A good book to read about someone trying to survive off the land in marginal conditions is Halldór Laxness' brilliant Independent People. Nonetheless, I do agree that we should all do what we can. I'll be trying to grow food again next year with fingers crossed, and buying the rest of what I need from neighbours and other local farmers.

        "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

        by northsylvania on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 09:36:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I just don't think the human species (14+ / 0-)

    is a whole lot smarter now than when that last tree was cut down on Easter Island.  I'm sure there were some brave souls there that decried that stupidity too.  Today's carbon footprint is massively intertwined in our modern society, and that alone is going to make it almost impossible to abruptly bring atmospheric CO2 down.  The world's whole economic and political systems are geared to growth; the whole concept of a stable environment which is zero sum growth is only a concept in outlier thinking.  As conditions worsen (and they will) technocratic "solutions" will be attempted, some of which will be partially helpful and some positively causing more harm than good.  Meanwhile there will be more famine, more wars over resources, and the extinction of large swaths of species that now reside on this planet.  The only question I have:  Will humans survive?

  •  We don't have to stay on top of the food chain (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ed in Montana, chimene, KJG52, ybruti

    and we don't need to have a huge carbon foot print. Massive conservation has not even been tried but pretty soon it will be imposed on us by Climate Change and the economy that will go with it.

    Ask the people in New York City still digging out, people who lost everything they owned, if they feel like they are on top of the food chain.

    ❧To thine ownself be true

    by Agathena on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 06:14:53 AM PST

  •  Good diary. (4+ / 0-)

    But we are now running at about 18 TW of power. And that is an amount of power, not energy.

  •  What arrowheads teach us (11+ / 0-)

    Part of the story of our evolution, which archeologists study, is the manufacture of arrowheads.  These are shapes people have been making out of hard stones like flint.  

    What is remarkable is how consistent people are in sticking with a shape that works, fearing to change lest it lead to failed efforts to find food.  Thus, shapes change only slightly over periods of thousands of years.  

    We are in an era in which the shape of the economy that we live under and which in turn, has formed the basis for our thinking about the world as a worldwide human culture, was more or less founded after WWII.

    A remarkably effective consensus was reached that turned our economic system on a dime.  The determination was reached that to keep war time production levels up, factories that produced bombs and guns had to be converted to making washing machines and refrigerators, toys, and all manner of consumer goods.  

    Since there had not been a consumer economy, advertising and PR were ramped up to unprecedented levels to create one.  

    Now, we can't think of a world without this consumerism.  It has moved from advertising Barbie Dolls to shaping the way we think about just about everything, as our moods and our attitudes shape what sells.  

    This consumer experience, this 24/7 shopping mall of the mind, was the creation of a relative few people in response to a large economic challenge in the 1940s.  

    Considering how pervasive this became and how quickly, it should give us some hope that if we can get a handle on the ways we need to communicate about this, we can create a new paradigm at least in terms of the consciousness we need to foster.  

    The diarist has achieved a succinct analysis, which I have not seen in every discussion of this issue.  Mostly it is kind of muddled.  The first step is to achieve clarity and then to repeat it endlessly everywhere.  

    Thanks for writing this.  Please continue to beat the tom tom!

    hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

    by Stuart Heady on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 06:33:03 AM PST

  •  Far too many people (3+ / 0-)

    ..for a balanced ecosystem to remain balanced.

    Especially if a select few hundred million insist on blithely and callously living "the good life."

    There's pills for depression, and wars, pestilence, and famine for overpopulation. It would be interesting to see what Earth looks like in a thousand years but I have to vote: "We're Screwed"

    Homo Sapiens is clever but wasn't not quite clever enough this go 'round.

    Maybe one day the Fourth Estate will take their jobs seriously. Or not..

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 07:18:20 AM PST

  •  Join the growing chorus. Our new book (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Words In Action, LaughingPlanet

    is all about this and right down the same street with your diary: Our new book: "Global Insanity" is out. I hope you like it!

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 08:40:56 AM PST

  •  Climate is issue #1. Food and water are #1A and 1B (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RWood, DawnN

    Our agricultural practices aren't sustainable in no small part because they're using too much water. Also, they are using pesticides which work to deprive the soil of necessary nutrients -- so, we must create more fertilizers, which means far more energy used and natural gas mined to generate the needed nitrogen. If we use up the natural gas for energy, how are we going to grow our food in the future?

    We need to revamp our food production and consumption, but I can't divorce that entirely from energy issues because farms use so much energy and because I think we're squandering a valuable resource -- natural gas -- to produce something -- nitrogen fertilizers -- that we could do without, if we grew food more sustainably.  

    We're also making a mistake in using petroleum as an energy source because when it runs out, we will have a problem with replacing the valuable petrochemicals.

    I think we need to force the argument that oil and gas are too valuable to use for energy -- we can't afford to use up the supplies so quickly, even regardless of the impact on our energy supplies. We need to develop alternative energy to preserve petroleum and gas for other uses...including perhaps an emergency reserve energy source, if other sources fail us for some reason. If the electricity is out for an extended period, it would be great to supply energy with gas-powered generators while repairs go on.

    Finally, the water -- Drinking water. It's disappearing. We're using up our aquifers very quickly -- and that's without even getting to the question of what fracking might do to contaminate groundwater and aquifers.

    We do have to live very differently, but reducing our energy consumption is actually a small piece. In fact, given that there are alternative energy sources, that's the problem most easily solved, without even having to reduce our energy consumption that much. That's something we can solve. The other problems coming from reckless consumption? I'm not so sure.

    Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you:

    by FischFry on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 08:55:28 AM PST

  •  Ever read "The Cold Equation"? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Possibly the most sobering moral ever: the laws of physics don't care if we mean well, if we deserve to suffer, or even if we have the first clue what we're doing.

    Lately I've been reading Larry Niven, and he always puts me in an optimistic mood -- not that human self-salvation is inevitable, but that it's possible.  Those "space fantasies" could save us ... but not unless we work on turning them into reality while we still have the resources to do it.

  •  Population growth was a public issue back in 1972 (8+ / 0-)

    it was part of the growing awareness of the environment. Books like "Limits to Growth" and "The Population Bomb" were written, widely read, and featured on the covers of news magazines. Reporters would actually ask politicians about it.

    Unfortunately, it was largely regarded as a problem occurring in "the developing world" rather than planet-wide. Mercantile interests in the media began to frame the issue as "population vs resources" and emphasized solutions like the "green revolution" and nuclear power, rather than family planning.

    Toward the end of the decade , criticism of China's heavy-handed "one child policy" began to dominate the story line and "deniers" were recruited to refute the math of scientists like Paul Erlich.

    The green revolution did, in fact, forestall mass famine... but only by pouring gigatons of fossil energy and fertilizeer into the third-world agriculture.

    After the election of Ronald Reagan, the topic just disappeared from public consciousness. Today it's almost taboo. I blame the rise of the religious right for this. Religious fundamentalists of all stripes share a deep atavistic urge to "out-breed the other tribes", and the GOP got right into bed with them.

    The advocacy group "Zero Population Growth" was well-known and outspoken in the 1970's. By 2002, they were so beleaguered that they changed their name to the less aggressive "Population Connection"

    They are still the largest grassroots organization in the U.S. devoted to this issue, and they still lobby Congress on issues of reproductive education, access to contraceptives and foreign aid for family planning. Their mission statement is still to "stabilize world population at a level that can be sustained by Earth's resources."

    But you don't ever see them on "Charlie Rose". Between the "How dare you tell me how many kids I can have" attitude of the Fundies, and BigFossil Inc.'s grip on the news media, the world population issue is pretty thoroughly ignored today .

    I'm reluctant to criticize people personally for wanting a third child, so I try to frame it in tangible terms: "Imagine what life would be like today if everyone's grandma had stopped after having two kids".

    The population of the US has doubled since I was born. Imagine two cars ahead of you at the stoplight, instead of four. Imagine ten  families sharing the campground at the lake, instead of twenty. Imagine twenty students in your child's classroom instead of forty.

    Now think about the kind of future you would like to give your children.

    But if I ever run into a Fundie who claims that it's God's will that we "be fruitful and multiply", I am willing to raise the issue of "sinful pride".

    Have you noticed?
    Politicians who promise LESS government
    only deliver BAD government.

    by jjohnjj on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 09:24:39 AM PST

  •  We are totally f****d (3+ / 0-)

    I have my plans based on Andrew Weaver's projections;

    I met him at a UCLA conference he gave this month.

    It is not my plan A but if things don't start changing radically soon I'll have to proceed.

    If I had progeny I would be really worried.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 09:28:31 AM PST

  •  As much as the Fossil Fuel Industry (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    would love us to burn the entire lot, presupposing they could get it all out of the ground/from under the ocean, we don't have enough water to do so.  We will stop burning fossil fuels before we run out of fossil fuels because water will be the limiting factor.  But not before enough carbon is in the atmosphere - and that may possibly already be the case - for the natural "positive feedback" system to take the climate into the worst nightmare Hansen, McKibbon, Lynas, et al can envision and beyond.

  •  The Science Deniers can be overwhelmed if (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mightymouse, blueoasis

    the "It's Not So Bad" and "It's Not Urgent" deniers would get there minds right and help us demand change.

    The Class, Terror and Climate Wars are indivisible and the short-term outcome will affect the planet for centuries. -WiA "When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill..." - PhilJD

    by Words In Action on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 10:07:31 AM PST

    •  Science Denial cannot be defeated by science ..... (0+ / 0-)

      ...advocates who commit their own forms of science denial.

      For example, the entire campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing constitutes a 100% denial of the scientific consensus and profession of geological engineering, petroleum & natural gas process engineering, mechanical engineering and hydrology.  

      I have not seen any part of the fracking ban campaign that can be considered much of a legitimate statement of a good faith attempt to modify the prevailing scientific consensus on the use of hydraulic fracturing.   It is just another anti-science campaign in all of its obnoxiousness, just like the Kansas state education board evolution deniers, the queen of anti-science -- the so-called 'pro life' anti-abortion, anti-contraception movement, the Saudi religious police, and other parts of the american taliban.

      •  I've had enough attempted conversations to know (0+ / 0-)

        it's about their way of life. Drill down long enough and it gets to "why should I give up my car/cheap gas for something that isn't fact. Try the Cheney Doctrine 1% threat approach, usually catches them off guard.

        Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

        by the fan man on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 04:57:31 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  would you please explain what you are thinking (0+ / 0-)

          about in more detail and with more specificity?

          •  The Cheney Doctrine? If there's a 1% chance (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            of a threat to the US, attack it.
            If you start by saying you agree with Dick Cheney, you've disarmed most deniers before you say, "well there far more than a 1% chance that global warming is already threatening the US, we must act now". "I mean, you love the US, don't you?"

            Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

            by the fan man on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 05:16:25 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  thanks for that more refined elucidation (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              the fan man
              •  It works. I've gone through too many (0+ / 0-)

                conversations with deniers pulling all the stops and whistles: "the planet's been warming and cooling for eons, we weren't around", "yeah", I reply "forest fires have been around forever, you mean we can't start a forest fire? Good, I'll start throwing my butts out the car window"...Round and round until you get to: "I'm not giving up anything until it's absolutely certain". Then introduce them to Mr. Cheney.

                Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

                by the fan man on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 09:05:25 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  Do you have a source for this? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Even if we convert all our energy consumption to the most efficient, least polluting system possible, the earth's ecology will be able to support only about 1/4 of today's population on a sustainable basis.
    On the surface it is way off, considering that a relatively minor footprint (less than the state of New Jersey, for example) is needed to entirely supply the USA with power to maintain current lifestyles.

    The problem seems to completely political (there are powerful vested interests against getting off our fossil fuel addiction) than technological.

  •  The question that arises from this, for me, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Calamity Jean, DawnN

    is how to avoid despair from these facts you lay out.

    Given the facts, how am I to live my life? Do I retire to my room and sink into deep depression? Do I say "fuck it all!" and eat, drink and party until the end comes?

    I have to live my life. A life of depression and despair is not really a life worth living. Whether it is hopeless or not we all need to find things to do, things to live for that we feel good about.

    I see many positive, hopeful things being done in my community and among my friends and family that are worth noting and being grateful for. I see people all over the world doing small, admirable things that are worth doing and are solutions to these massive problems you so accurately point out - if only they were a mass popular movement that everyone was doing.

    If everyone stopped having children the human population would be zero in about a hundred years. There are ways to limit population that could lead us to a reasonable number by limiting the birth rate - rather than increasing the death rate. And there are honorable people working very hard on this very thing - to give just one example.

    If, and I stress if, we make it it will be these kinds of efforts and not the power seeking kabuki pr of those in charge that will keep our species going.

    muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

    by veritas curat on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 10:35:58 AM PST

  •  280 ppm was the pre-industrial maximum (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    During the nearly 500,000-year period covered by ice cores, there has been considerable variation in atmospheric CO2 concentrations.  These variations correspond to the waxing and waning of ice ages brought on by planetary obliquity and precession, with concentrations ranging from a minimum of about 180 ppm during ice ages to a maximum of about 280 ppm during interglacial periods.  Thus, using the 280 ppm maximum as the pre-industrial baseline or norm somewhat understates the magnitude of the problem.  

  •  The fact this diary isn't atop the recc list (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    New Minas, DawnN

    tells me nothing is going to be done, and suggests why.

    The power of the Occupy movement is that it ....realizes a fundamental truth about American politics… there is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs.

    by orson on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 10:53:56 AM PST

  •  Want to make a real difference in population (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:


    Push hard for equality, especially when it comes to education and financial equality, for girls and women, and for them to have full reproductive rights with free birth control and abortions, everywhere.

    That's the most effective way to bring down the birth rates, quickly.

    Don't let the men control the girls and women, because when the girls and women control their lives they do the practical thing and don't have so many children. It's expensive and dangerous having children, so they will choose to limit the numbers.

    Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 12:52:04 AM PST

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