Thursday, October 05, 2006

64 squares and a grain of sand

The century of drought
Drought threatening the lives of millions will spread across half the land surface of the Earth in the coming century because of global warming, according to new predictions from Britain's leading climate scientists.
Extreme drought, in which agriculture is in effect impossible, will affect about a third of the planet, according to the study from the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.

"We're talking about 30 per cent of the world's land surface becoming essentially uninhabitable in terms of agricultural production in the space of a few decades," Mark Lynas, the author of High Tide, the first major account of the visible effects of global warming around the world, said.

30 percent decrease in global agricultural potential? Let’s see, where are we going to grow our ethanol perennial crops to prop up our stunted clown car civilization? If we scrape all the people off of India, or South America, we might have a shot to keep the “flex fuel” hummers of the future afloat. They’ll be equipped with off-board motors in the future, see, ‘cause the oceans are going to rise.

Sick jokes aside, one theme I plan on developing – with full comprehension of rapidly enveloping energy constraints, or “peak oil”, is the need to hitch our wagon to a concept that everybody gets. Peak oil is too wonky, too nerdy, and frankly too depressing for the majority of people to entertain honestly and openly, at least in the short term. I can debunk Daniel Yergin any day of the week, but gosh, he has a Pulitzer. It is an uphill battle – to get people to pay attention.

The concept to connect with is Global Warming, of course. It has brand name recognition, and it is well-nigh undeniable, except by sophists and a few crusty scientists who get carted out by Exxon-Mobil once year to shout “I’m not dead yet!

The real changes we must make to “solve” climate change dovetail nicely with reasonable responses for Peak Oil. Increased use of renewables. Living arrangements which don’t intrinsically waste energy. I expect it won’t be long before the Chinese government orders the bicycles back in Beijing, by dictate.

Imagine how pleasant ones commute would be if one could bicycle on smooth pavement for 15 miles instead of driving in stop and go traffic for the same distance.

As it stands, the car is the penis of the American dream. You don’t chop off your penis at the drop of the hat. Just listen to Kunstler, talking about North America: “We are a profoundly unserious nation, for all our pretensions.” Certainly not serious enough to chop off a piece of our national psyche. Vinod, and perhaps some Swedish doctors, will rescue us.

More to come. It will take more than solving transportation to Solve global warming and prevent dire peak oil scenarios from coming to pass.

Comments welcome.


At 8:47 PM, October 08, 2006, Anonymous adam f said...

Consider though, that peak oil gives people a greater personal impetus to change, because we can see that our efforts at weening ourselves off fossil fuels will benefit us directly in the long run, as energy prices go up. If you're only concerned about climate change, you'll probably wonder why bother, as you imagine that your efforts will put you at a disadvantage to those who aren't making 'sacrifices', while your efforts will be so diluted as to have little influence. Many solutions to peak oil are disasterous for climate though, so the two must be considered together.

At 10:39 PM, October 08, 2006, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

great point.

I agree, in the peak oil community we have some unique perspectives on what is going to work as an actual solution and what will not.

Right now I have this feeling like time is short to educate people on the vagaries of peak oil; best to get behind solutions that work on both levels, but, critically, BRAND it as a solution to global warming.

the post was a little sloppy but I'll develop the theme a little more. It is in no way an attack on the peak oil community.

At 9:48 PM, October 09, 2006, Anonymous pekadillo said...

I've come to similar conclusions Monkeygrinder. I've recently been attempting to hitch the concepts of Peak Oil and Climage Change together into a big flashing arrow pointing towards what I consider to be the most reasonable solution: relocalisation.

Here's what's I've got so far. Feel free to do what you want with it.

Twin Forces

The twin forces of Climate Change and Peak Oil are pushing humanity to change our way of life.

In one ear, Climate Change tells us to stop burning fossil fuels or suffer the upheaval of environmental collapse.

In the other ear, Peak Oil reminds us that we have only a little time left to use our currently abundant oil and gas to effect change.

Two Complementary Problems

Peak Oil and Climate Change are huge problems in their own right. However, they are connected in many ways.
For example, if we attempt to enter the age of expensive oil without attempting to curb our demand, we will be forced to turn to dirty fuels such as coal and shale oil as oil and gas supplies decline, exacerbating global warming.

If we attempt to ignore global warming, our ability to address global problems such as oil decline will be diminished as we struggle to deal with environmental collapse, reduced agricultural output, refugees, economic recession, and other severe issues arising from climate change.

Thus we must solve both problems at once.

One Ultimatum

Both problems make the same ultimatum: we can make changes in an orderly manner soon, or change will come only a little later, in the form of a disorderly collapse of our existing way of life.

There are two major potential strategies before us.
1. Techno-fix
2. Re-localisation

Technofix strategies
"Fixing the fix for the fix"

This approach aims to allow us to continue more or less the way we are now, by applying technology to the problem. Our electricity is supplied by solar, wind, nuclear, and 'clean coal'. Our transport is powered by biofuels, hydrogen, fuel cells or batteries.

Technofix solutions are problematic for several reasons, including the following:

* They rely on cheap, abundant energy and a strong economy to implement and scale up
* They require expensive, large-scale infrastructure modifications that take a long time to complete
* They ignore other problems which also arise from unsustainable resource use, eg habitat loss, pollution, resource depletion, etc
* They add new levels of complexity to an already complex network of factors, inviting unexpected consequences
* They don't take into account energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) and actually do more harm than good

Re-localisation strategies
"Transportation systems are a symptom of being in the wrong place"

In this approach, we change our systems to use less energy and resources. Relocalisation aims to make local regions more self-sufficient, and less dependant on cheap transport and other external inputs. Food, energy and other products would be produced as locally as possible.

This solution has a number of advantages:

* It reduces demand on resources and reduces the need for transport
* It can be implemented even during an economic recession
* It builds community
* It encourages responsible economic development
* It can be begun NOW without having to wait for scientific breakthroughs
* It is compatible with long term sustainability
* It has the potential to reintroduce skills lost in the recent past
* Relocalised communities eat healthier food and get more exercise

In short, a strategy based upon relocalisation not only addresses both global warming and peak oil by withdrawing their root causes, it also brings with it number of positive effects for our society.


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