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Unforced Variations: Sep 2017

Filed under: — group @ 1 September 2017

This month’s open thread…. and let’s stay on climate topics this month. It’s not like there isn’t anything climate-y to talk about (sea ice minimums, extreme events, climate model tunings, past ‘hyperthermals’… etc.). Anything too far off-topic will get binned. Thanks!

399 Responses to “Unforced Variations: Sep 2017”

  1. 351
    Killian says:

    #336 zebra said Prosperity through technology leads to lower birthrates

    Women having equality, control of births and being educated lowers birth rates, not technology. I think your correlation is spurious.

    while localized subsistence farming leads to higher ones.

    Disrupted, degraded, broken cultures might react this way, but intact sustainable cultures tightly control population due to a profound understanding of their environment and the desire to keep it intact. Otherwise, the Amazon, e.g., would have long ago become more densely repopulated. Your correlation is again spurious.

  2. 352
    Mal Adapted says:

    zebra:

    Is the relationship between reduced global population and sustainability linear?

    How can it be? Remember I = PAT? Without elaboration, it means that even a shrinking population will exacerbate environmental costs if per-capita consumption rises rapidly enough. Even with rapid build out of a global carbon-neutral economy, multiple other social (including environmental) costs of material prosperity will still be unsustainable.

    According to The World Bank, global population increased from 3.0 billion in 1960 to 7.4 billion in 2015. Annual per capita energy use grew with population, from about 1.3 tonnes to just under 2.0, roughly proportional to total GHG emissions. In the same period, atmospheric CO2 rose from around 315 to just over 400.

    Meanwhile, even as lifespans lengthened, estimated global total fertility rate (average number of children a women bears in her life) declined from 5.0 to below 2.5, and is still declining. The current, relatively high annual population growth rate is due to all the women born when TFR was high, whose numerous daughters and granddaughters are on average having fewer daughters of their own. The global replacement TFR, accounting for premenopausal female mortality, is probably not less than 2.3. Demographers thus expect global population to peak between 9 and 12 billion sometime in the next century, before stabilizing and eventually decreasing.

    The decline in TFR is attributed to improved education for girls, along with female empowerment overall. Like their parents and grandparents, however, coming generations will consume as energy as they can afford at the lowest prices they can find; and they’ll be able to afford more than their elders. Consequently, the large-scale anthropogenic transfer of carbon from geologic sequestration to the climatically-active pool will continue as long as fossil fuels are ‘cheaper’ than carbon-neutral alternatives for substantial numbers of people.

  3. 353
    Mal Adapted says:

    That’s “coming generations will consume as much energy as they can afford”.

  4. 354
    John Dailey says:

    Hello, my name is John Dailey, and I had taken Earth Science classes at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. At that time, what I had learned in those classes had inspired me to create an alternate Earth, with geographic and geological features different from Earth’s but still inspired by them. The problem I have is that I know only the Cause–i.e. the changing of the geography–and not the Effect (how the changes in geography influence landscape, climate and weather). I have the whole description written down, but before I show you the description, if it is not too much trouble, would you be willing to help me with feedback and advice on the changes I had made? Thank you for your time.

    https://medium.com/universe-factory/great-lakes-earth-geography-372bce96d642

  5. 355
  6. 356
    zebra says:

    nigelj 341,

    Well, if you want to take K and T seriously, that’s your problem– to me they are more effective than any denialists in preventing a rational discussion, particularly in the form of spamming and burying more concise inputs.

    At this point, I think everyone understands that most of the “science” in the strict physical sense has been (sufficiently) settled– the other excellent posts recently are doing a good job of articulating things in a way that may be (somewhat) more accessible for the general public. So, we have to acknowledge that climate is a social/political/economic issue as well, and (scientifically) understanding how humans are affecting the system is part of the process.

    Which brings me back to my earlier critique of your approach: You can’t just generalize about “law” and “technology” and so on. To solve a problem like this, you have to identify the areas where resources should be applied to maximize the desired effect. Even if it is something that is tainted by right-wing rhetoric, like population, or an indelicate topic like toilets. Did you ever read that article?

  7. 357

    I’ve been a tad surprised that Killian had ignored my comments on on his vision of sustainability. But now he addresses them at second-hand, via alan’s post commenting upon my remarks.

    I’ll pass over the insults, except to note that being called ‘dishonest’ and ‘egotistical’ is unpersuasive, a waste of other readers’ time, and can only function as a distraction from the substance at issue. As BPL has been known to note, it doesn’t matter, from the POV of the conversation, whether Killian or alan or I eat babies for breakfast; the question is, whose points make sense?

    So here’s what I think, FWIW. In a slightly later post, Killian links to a critique of what the authors call ‘the 100-percent dream’. I read it with interest; to me, the critical paragraph is this:

    America does need to convert to fully renewable energy as quickly as possible. The “100-percent renewable for 100 percent of demand” goal is the problem. Scenarios that make that promise, along with the studies that dissect them, lead me to conclude that, at least in affluent countries, it would be better instead to transform society so that it operates on far less end-use energy while assuring sufficiency for all. That would bring a 100%-renewable energy system within closer reach and avoid the outrageous technological feats and gambles required by high-energy dogma. It would also have the advantage of being possible.

    That is more or less what I think should happen eventually. There is, in my opinion, no reason that vast amounts of energy should be expended upon fabricating ‘stuff’ to be discarded within a few years. Whatever the definition or vision of ‘sustainability’, surely that does not meet it. And there are real, hard, physical limits to growth. Locating them in advance appears to be a non-trivial task, but we know that they exist–and those who are aware of this are also aware that society at large has not yet begun to come to grips with this fact in a real way. So, yes, we need to work toward a different economic and social model, one which does more with less.

    On the other hand, such an evolution–I choose that word because the reality is that, much as I or Killian or Bill McKibben, or David Koch for that matter*, might prescribe, none of us actually get to dispense our prescriptions. Where society goes is not ours to dictate; at best, we may be able to have some sort of influence.

    Based on the many thousands of his words that I have read, Killian seems to think that we can “simplify” easily, painlessly, and quickly. He has written of simplification supporting “billions”, in the relatively near term. He has written of keeping mass transit, but not automobiles; of perhaps keeping some form of internet; of possibly, some distant day, of even creating some sort of sustainable technological society.

    All I can say is that I can find no coherent vision in this. Oh, the *principles* he puts forward are highly coherent. But principle is one thing; practice quite another. When Killian speaks of need, he generally reduces it to food. I queried him on this; what about tools? Clothes? And what about medicine? Communication? Need does not stop with food–or if it does, we should be brutally honest with ourselves about what sort of future we are proposing.

    No doubt I will be accused of ‘Straw manning’ here. This isn’t what Killian proposes at all!

    Maybe not. But I’ve asked repeatedly for more concrete detail, and I have in fact gotten, read, and acknowledged, some pointers. And none of that has moved the ball much (if I may use a football metaphor.)

    Perhaps it’s my background: I’m mostly a city boy–small city, not metropolitan so much–but I’ve spent useful amounts of time on a farm, and in wilderness settings. It’s made me very aware of, for instance, the difference in productivity between a bow saw and a chain saw when you are in existential need of a cord or two of firewood for the winter. Of just how much sweat goes into a bushel of tomatoes. And of just how much practical, everyday knowledge goes into ‘simple’ living.

    It’s pushed me to argue that “technology displaces technique” over historical time: that in important ways we clever, knowing moderns are actually less knowledgeable than our ancestors. Modern technology is designed to be simple to use–and the more advanced, the simpler. Compare the Model T Ford: a breakthrough vehicle that helped change the world, and which was enthusiastically adopted by millions of relatively ordinary folk in its day, driving it was like “like trying to do the Charleston while loading a musket after a big night at the speak-easy.” Just to start it:

    1. Pull the choke adjacent to the right fender while engaging the crank lever under the radiator at the front of the car, slowly turning it a quarter-turn clockwise to prime the carburetor with fuel.

    2. Get into the car. Insert the ignition key, turning the setting to either magneto or battery. Adjust the timing stalk upward to retard the timing, move the throttle stalk downward slightly for an idle setting, and pull back on the hand brake, which also places the car in neutral.

    3. Return to the front of the car. Use your left hand to crank the lever (if the engine backfires and the lever swings counterclockwise, the left arm is less likely to be broken). Give it a vigorous half-crank, and the engine should start.

    Currently, we have cars that can start themselves as you approach them (assuming you’ve remembered your key fob.) And we expect within the next decade to have cars that can drive up to you and take you where you want to go.

    The point here isn’t the wonders of tech; it’s that we as users need to know less and less over time. And that is no less true as you go backward to the point where “tech” is increasingly not tech but “nature”. A hunter-gatherer had voluminous, detailed and intensely practical knowledge of how to use his/her environment in order to survive and provide food, shelter and, well, everything else. My suspicion is that this knowledge base was at least as extensive as today’s typical ‘professional knowledge’, and probably much more so. It was also more existentially critical, because there was little or no ‘safety net.’

    All of which is to illustrate at length that “simple” is not, in fact, easy, and that while my failure to understand Killian’s vision may well be a shortcoming on my part, it is not willful. I simply don’t see any reasonable prospect of sustaining billions of ignorant city dwellers by ‘simplifying’ over the course of a few decades. The only way that a ‘simplified’ society similar to Killian’s will arise, IMO, is by simple livers being the survivors of a massive societal crash.

    (And even that I find unlikely as written, because K’s vision excludes militarism, and people can get very nasty during
    existential crises. Simple societies will need to be able to defend themselves if it comes to that; and if we don’t make a gradual transition away from current models that people do know how to navigate terms of their daily life, then it *will* come to that.)

    I’ve obviously developing this notion at some length, in blog terms at least. Sorry about that. But I do passionately believe that this is important: we need to be talking about what is possible, and what is desirable, and what is essential.

    I said above that I think, in agreement with Killian’s linked piece, that it is essential to be largely reliant upon RE, and that it is also essential to reduce the use of resources. But I don’t think that we are going to ‘get there’ in a decade or two, or even three.

    What I think *will* happen over that span is that we will see RE becoming the new backbone of our energy economy, supplemented by nuclear power generation and various other technologies. (And yes, I think it will be a long time before the ‘long tail’ of fossil fueled tech completely extinguishes.) That will, I think, probably end up being enough to avoid 2 C–if we work sufficiently hard at it.

    I think we are going to have to endure at least 1.5 C, because we just aren’t moving fast enough, and therefore we are going to have to do quite a lot of adaptation. That’s not all bad in a way, because that is probably necessary in order to have a meaningful global-level conversation about reduction and sustainability. People have to see the need, and mostly we don’t, yet. Our noses will have to be rubbed in the reality of our situation.

    I think that what we need to do in *this* historical moment is to do everything possible to encourage the adoption of RE and of other emissions-reduction technologies, including electrifying transport, and implementing sustainable agricultural and building practices; to defend democratic and community-based decision-making and governance; and to resist temptations to delusional ‘solutions’ such as Trumpian populism, nationalism, militarism, and other oppressive ideologies that can only hold back adaptive efforts and waste our energies.

    Killian sees these as beside the point at best, dangerous distractions at worst. Fair enough; he’s certainly entitled to his opinion. But that’s not how it groks for me, so far at least, and so I will continue to advocate for what I see as necessary until such time as I’m convinced by evidence and logic to modify my understanding. Because, as I see it, the danger in dismissing RE today is the risk of dismissing the main factor helping to account for the 3-year ’emissions plateau’ we think we’ve observed, and of future emissions *reductions*; not to mention dismissing an essential element in the Paris Accord, the first truly global emissions reduction agreement. (See Mr. Gore’s “Inconvenient Sequel” as practical illustration of that point–it’s on Netflix, I believe).

    And as I see it, dismissing political action in the present risks conceding both of those points as well, plus retarding adaptation efforts and thereby putting a great many lives at risk; degrading our polity and communities in ways that will make realistic conversations–probably *any* conversations–about sustainability nearly impossible; ensure the social triumph of militarism in the near term; and even possibly lead fairly directly to widespread social collapse.

    I, for one, will not willingly ‘go there.’

    *Although Koch has had stunning success in (mis)shaping the American political system over the last 30 years, as documented in Jane Mayers’ “Dark Money,” and elsewhere, Trump is not the President he would have picked as first choice–too many problematic New-Dealish impulses, and too many purely erratic ones. Now we must hope that the latter discredit the whole sorry bunch in charge–but that’s another topic.

  8. 358
    zebra says:

    Mal Adapted #352,

    Thanks for your reply.

    How about we take a step back from what we are “used to” seeing, which after all is conditioned by population growth. Let’s postulate a boundary value, like say 10 million humans on the planet– we want to keep some genetic diversity, and that’s pretty far above what bottlenecks humans have apparently survived in the past.

    Are you really saying that such a population would be consuming resources at the same per-capita rate as we in the USA or Europe do now? To me, obviously not, because they would be able to choose places to live that don’t require high energy inputs for heating and cooling, and they would not be flying in jets all over the world, because they would all be living in relative proximity, and they would not need industrial agriculture, and so on… I think you can see where I’m going.

    So, the question is, how soon does this non-linear relationship become significant, as the population curve bends. I would argue sooner than most people think, because much of what we spend our resources on is driven by competition for those resources.

    If you disagree with my initial premise, let me know.

  9. 359

    Speaking, as we were above, of renewable energy and energy efficiency (and the related concept of reduced energy usage):

    https://cleantechnica.com/2017/09/25/heres-proof-energy-efficiency-turbo-boosts-renewables/

    Both-and.

  10. 360
    Al Bundy says:

    A curiosity:

    It appears that some posters’ comments get posted immediately upon submission, while others’ comments get held for a day or two. This wouldn’t be an issue except that the delayed comments are sorted so that they appear in the “past”, and so pretty much might as well not have been posted at all, as only by going back to the past can one see the words.

    Comments should be sorted based on when they post as opposed when they are submitted.

  11. 361

    K 355: A very nice overview of the “100% renewables” fantasy.

    http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-09-19/100-percent-wishful-thinking-green-energy-cornucopia/

    BPL: Gee, if you can’t trust resilience.org, who can you trust?

  12. 362
    Scott Strough says:

    Killian,
    You are in favor of a 90:10 I get that.
    But the world isn’t only yours to rule. Others may prefer a 100%:0% ratio. Some might prefer 50:50. 60:40. 40:60.

    Whatever……

    The important thing is that they balance, not that the whole world turns into a carbon copy of Killian’s wishes wants desires and visions. That’s the social aspect to this you are unwilling to let go of. We need to be able to make permaculture designs that are more flexible to anyone’s culture, not just your own ideal, not just my ideal, not just any single person, country or culture, rich and poor alike.

    Ironically I actually do like the simple lifestyle in principle and I have lived it many periods in my life. But I also have lived long enough to know that is not something you can sell to everyone. So try and understand that. Once you let go of this idea that you must control the world your way or it all fails, then you can open up your mind to many new possibilities.

  13. 363
    Mal Adapted says:

    JR:

    I thought the greatest irony was the GWPF decrying, as they saw it, the suppression of research findings that didn’t “support the cause of extremist climate communication” (sic[k])

    Fify.

    David Whitehouse redundantly verifies that the GWPF is a professional disinformation services firm offering quick-turnaround, high-volume custom AGW-denial on contract to investors in the highly-profitable fossil fuel industry, thinly disguised as a ‘non-profit’ public education organization. ‘Stink tank’ is a puerile but evocative rubric for the business model.

  14. 364
    Mal Adapted says:

    Sorry, my previous comment was intended for aTTP. I wish wordpress had an instant preview feature 8^(.

  15. 365
    nigelj says:

    Killian @344

    What is your definition of low tech and sustainable? Please make this in reference to specific technology and cover all items below. Please be detailed, comprehensive and specific, and justify each claim. It would still take less space than any of your long posts, so I’m not being unreasonable.

    Until you do this, I cannot take you seriously, not even slightly. Please don’t give me empty rhetoric about first principles, or philosophies, or generalisations of less is better. People have to make DECISIONS on specifics.

    So what types of foods are acceptable, meat or vegetarian only? Size of houses? Are we allowed machine made clothing? Is electricity acceptable for making clothing, of just water power like in the early industrial revolution?

    Are we allowed cars, or just bicycles, or horse and cart?

    If cars are allowed this is high tech and would be an exception. How many cars per community of 100 people and why?

    What about home appliances like ovens, washing machines, allowed or not?

    Are we allowed televisions, phones, computers, air travel? These are all high tech. and there’s no real low tech. or even medium tech. version.

    And if high technology is allowed like for example phones, how many is each family permitted, or each community of 100 people permitted?

    What about modern medical drugs? Remember all these need high tech. manufacturing equipment at large scale. The only exception would be herbal medicine, and even much of that now relies on high tech to be made in bulk, and cheaply.

  16. 366
    zebra says:

    Kevin McKinney #357,

    Very nice writing. I am particularly envious of

    much as I or Killian or Bill McKibben, or David Koch for that matter*, might prescribe, none of us actually get to dispense our prescriptions

    .

    I just made a comment to nigel about Killian’s spamming the thread… and you provide the perfect contrast here.

    Yo, Killian! The kind of frantic ranting that you offer just triggers the scroll finger. Why not try simplifying your writing with some nice paragraph structure and coherent content, in one rather than ten comments? Perhaps less is more, don’tcha know?

  17. 367
    Steve Fish says:

    Re: Kevin McKinney says: 25 Sep 2017 at 10:28 AM, ~#357

    Hi, Kevin. Your #357 is an excellent commentary. A short observation- There are serious attempts to provide simple living education to the general public. You should have come to the Not So Simple Living Fair this year.

    Website- http://notsosimple.info/
    Workshops-http://notsosimple.info/2017/05/workshop-schedule/ – Scroll to the bottom for a printable PDF

    Steve

  18. 368
    wili says:

    Coming late to the discussion.

    Kevin M (at 357), I don’t see Kilian saying anywhere that moves toward simplicity will be easy, but maybe you can point to the specific passage that gave you this impression. Otherwise, it is indeed exactly a strawman argument.

    I can’t say that I am in accord with all positions Kilian holds, but I find myself closer to his positions (as I understand them) than with most others.

    nigel at 363 seems to be presenting a number of false dichotomies, though again I can’t speak for Killian’s positions. But generally, there is not an issue of what ‘we are allowed.’ But what we have to move rapidly away from (and toward) as fast as possible.

    Certainly, air travel is one we could rapidly reduce without much threat to life and limb. Most of it is not necessary for even a ‘modern’ well functioning world. We certainly can’t survive the current rates of increase in air travel continuing for much longer.

    Trends in many cities and elsewhere are moving away from individual car ownership, so we should be able to get by with far fewer cars per capita; and much more could be done in most places to encourage much more walking, biking and public transport, again, to the good of both the planet and of individual health.

    TVs are already mostly becoming obsolete, so that bit is probably basically irrelevant.

    Certainly, meat eating at average US levels is not sustainable, and we need to do all we can to encourage people to reduce both meat and dairy consumption as fast as possible, both for GW reasons, as well as personal health reasons, not to mention to reduce the vast amounts of cruelty involved in much raising and slaughtering of livestock, etc.

    But maybe you could be clearer yourself, nigel, on whether you see some of these to be some kind of sacred cows, or if you are also in support of reductions in some of these areas.

    In general, do you have any problem with working to get to a society that recycles everything and mines nothing (or nearly nothing), mining being of course non-sustainable by definition?

    (And I do appreciate that the conversation’s tone has become a bit less ad hom…)

  19. 369
    nigelj says:

    This sustainability debate centres on how many sacrifices this generation should make to assist future generations. I can definitely go along with some significant sacrifices, costs of renewable energy, carbon taxes, a modest size home, and anti pollution laws, but I find the idea of a low tech near peasant lifestyle hard to swallow. Make no mistake low tech means no cars, airplanes, electric appliances, or sharing just a few with multiple families.

    This low tech. is essentially based around the idea of hugely and rapidly reducing mining to conserve minerals for future generations. But I don’t think this gives future generations much real advantage. Metals can be recycled, and future generations will be mining whats left anyway, and eventually forced to recycle themselves. So big sacrifices in technology now will only achieve a little if anything for future generations. It just doesn’t make sense to me, but I stand to be corrected if someone can show me some numbers and persuasive argument beyond vague principles.

    And obviously if something is in genuine risk of very short supply and with no alternative products likely we should conserve it, this is commonsense. Vanadium is one example perhaps. But to conserve literally everything right now, including sand and rocks and aluminium ore most stringently, just in case it might be needed in a million years, seems stretching things beyond whats workable,

    One thing stands out we are at obvious risk of seriously polluting the planet and using a lot of resources. Steven Hawking has lamented this problem, and said we should leave the planet. But only a high tech culture will enable us to ever colonise other planets, and once technological ability and knowledge is downgraded or lost this will become very difficult.

    Like KM says enforcing low tech politically is just not going to happen, and not many people will do it voluntarily. So its academic. Reducing carbon emissions is hard enough but at least more feasible.

  20. 370
    Mr. Know It All says:

    Back in 311, I asked another of my idiotic questions in order to display my ignorance to the world: basically why is the RF~3.7 W/m^2, but the earth energy imbalance is only ~ 0.6 W/m^2. No answer. However, I did find an explanation in this article:

    https://www.skepticalscience.com/greenhouse_measured.html

    And, at comment number 8 of that article a discussion starts about the explanation. Seem like we need better earth energy imbalance cartoons (graphs) that show the RF~ 3.7 W/m^2 and the energy imbalance. But perhaps the earth energy imbalance cartoon does not include the upper atmosphere energy flows. I’d like to see a cartoon with all the energy flows…….

    [Response: You are confusing lots of different things. 3.7 W/m2 is the radiative forcing associated with 2xCO2. It’s the imbalance you’d expect after an instantaneous rise in CO2 before anything else has changed. It is not an observable flux. The actual imbalance in such an experiment starts at that value and then gradually decreases to zero as the climate equilibrates. In the real world the change in forcing has happened gradually (and has now reached about 3 W/m2). But still, the forcing is calculated on a baseline pre-industrial climate assuming no changes in anything else. In the real world, many things have changed in response to the forcing and that will go to reducing the energy imbalance. Thus the current real world energy imbalance (about 0.6W/m2) is a measure of how much more warming is needed to get to a new equilibrium (when the imbalance will be ~zero). – gavin]

  21. 371
    Mal Adapted says:

    zebra:

    Are you really saying that such a population would be consuming resources at the same per-capita rate as we in the USA or Europe do now?

    Actually, no. What I’m saying is that the relationship between reduced global population and sustainability is not linear. I’m suggesting a declining population might also experience a per-capita increase in consumption that results in increased environmental cost. That is, for any decrease in P, there could be an increase in A such that I increases.

  22. 372
    Killian says:

    [edit – calm down.]

  23. 373
    zebra says:

    Mal Adapted 371,

    Come on, answer the question, Mal. Do you disagree with my claim that a world population of 10 million would consume less per capita than we do today in developed countries? For the kinds of reasons I suggested?

    And if you don’t disagree, we come to my question of how quickly those reasons begin to take effect as population declines. I understand that you are suggesting some kind of Jevon’s Paradox effect, but even if there weren’t all kinds of problems with JP, the other factors would overwhelm anything like that.

  24. 374
    alan2102 says:

    347 Killian 24 Sep 2017:
    “Nobody has claimed to know the state of things 200 years in the future.”

    You have, by pronouncing certain technical artifacts absolutely unsustainable, with no qualification. For example, tractors. You are saying that, some day in the next 200, 500 or more years, we will no longer be able to build tractors because we’ve used up all of the materials to build them. You are also assuming that, for the next 200, 500 or more years, we will continue to need tractors, and that tractors will continue to be about the same as they are now. But you cannot know any of that. It is speculation, presuming (falsely, and I think with hubris) to know how everything is going to unfold over many centuries.

    You are presuming to know that:

    1 we will not be successful in finding new and more-economical ways to mine and refine the relevant metals and other materials;
    2 we will not be successful in recycling metals and other materials to a sufficient degree;
    3 we will not be successful in creating new, more-efficient (less raw materials required) tractor designs;
    4 we will not be successful in creating new substitute materials perhaps much better than existing materials (can you say “graphene”? can you imagine a metal-free tractor?);
    5 we will not find new ways of utilizing forms of agriculture/horticulture requiring little or no tilling with tractors (can you say “no-till”?);
    6 we will not ever make wide use of techniques derived from permaculture and agroecology to reduce the need for tractors;
    7 we will not develop dramatically new forms of agriculture/horticulture, perhaps requiring few or no limited resources at all;
    8 we will not find our way out of the archaic, highly-inefficient grow-everything-in-dirt paradigm;
    9 … and so forth.

    When you pronounce tractors unsustainable, you presume to know all of those things, and more, centuries into the future. THAT is the problem with labeling given artifacts “unsustainable”.

    I do not know the state of things that far out. What I know is that tractors are plenty sustainable in any reasonably-foreseeable future (a century or so) — we’re not running out of any of the materials any time soon, nor are we running out of energy — hence we need not worry about it. Further, by way of the items on the above list, and because humans are so often ingenious and inventive (examples: agroecology, and permaculture), tractors could at any time become either greatly MORE sustainable, or irrelevant. In any case, there is no reason to stop using tractors as long as we find them useful, least of all because of some wild-ass speculative fear about how we might lack materials to build them, 300 years out.

    I’ve always disliked the idea of sustainability as something permanent, defined by its ability to persist for millennia, or forever. I disliked it many years ago when Schumacher (remember him?) proposed the core principles of “health, beauty and permanence”. The first two I buy, but not permanence. Nothing is permanent. I dislike the word “permaculture” for the same reason, even though I can see value in the substance of it. Lousy name for a bunch of generally rather good ideas, or at least ideas tending in the right direction.

    Yours for Impermanence, Impermaculture, and the Dynamic Nature of Everything,

    Alan2102

  25. 375
    Killian says:

    Re #372:

    I wrote nothing that was “excited”, so have no idea what your problem was with the post.

    Why not leave at least a small snippet so people know what you are referring to?

    You wonder why you have a problem: You are rewardung dishoneaty.

  26. 376

    #368, wili–

    Kevin M (at 357), I don’t see Kilian saying anywhere that moves toward simplicity will be easy, but maybe you can point to the specific passage that gave you this impression. Otherwise, it is indeed exactly a strawman argument.

    I’m working not only with statements in this immediate discussion, but also ones months past. Hard to find, since RC comments aren’t indexed such that Google takes you to the correct comment, just to the correct thread… which, of course, is hundreds of comments long. However, I did find this sample from last May. It doesn’t say ‘easy’, but it does go to my concerns:

    Oh, and I disagree to some extent. When the deep change comes, the changes will actually be minimal to 6.5 billion people, and will be improvements. The biog losers, the ones who will be mentally and emotionally unhinged by regenerative life, will be the .5 billion living the high life. The bigger they are….

    (Emphasis mine.)

    I don’t believe that. In fact, I don’t believe that most of the ‘billions’ would survive a rapid transition to a world with no high tech. They–we, let’s face it–don’t know what they need to know, and don’t even have a clue how or where to start learning it. The ‘first worlders’ would be worst off, no doubt, but I think even a lot of urban dwellers in the developing world would be in pretty dire straits.

    And of course, if simplicity is to be the solution to our climate crisis–and Killian has stated repeatedly that it is, that effort ‘wasted’ on the deployment of RE is ‘wasted’ because simplicity reduces energy demand enough that existing capacity would be more than sufficient–then the transition must be rapid. And we all know that ‘the solution’, whatever that must be, must be in place, at scale, over the next decade.

    So I don’t think I’m mischaracterizing Killian’s positions, though I certainly assess their probable impacts very differently than he does. IOW, if I’m ‘strawmanning’, it is not intentional. My effort to understand his ideas and figure out their implications is a good-faith one–though I understand that Killian doesn’t see it that way.

    That said, let me say once again that I think that consumerism as we know it is unsustainable, and needs to change–which does mean restructuring the economy. The main difference between Killian and I is that he is a radical, and I’m a reformist. As that same May comment puts it:

    The fact is, these “social change” approaches simply cannot create the change we need, they can only cause incremental change in the existing paradigm. That is, all the energy going into them is suicidal. This is not hyperbole.

    He thinks reform is “suicidal”; I think failing to reform is “suicidal.” Be a shame if we both turned out to be right, eh?

    But as I said–and very much FWIW–I think that *enough* reform will get done that social suicide will be avoided. There will be more premature deaths; there will be infrastructure losses; there will be extinctions; there will be all manner of destructive disruption; and there will be profound trauma on increasingly wide scales. And that trauma will be a big part of what motivates a new consciousness and a transition to other ways of living on the planet.

    (Or not–in which case we as a civilization, and maybe even as a species, are screwed.)

  27. 377
    Mal Adapted says:

    Moi:

    for any decrease in P, there could be an increase in A such that I increases.

    Of course, I’m sticking my neck out by getting that sciencey with it. “I = PAT” is merely a crude heuristic for thinking about socialized cost in market economies, which is otherwise challenging for some people.

    No geographic or time scales are implied on either side of the equation. On the RHS, only ‘P’, is readily quantifiable. ‘T’ and ‘A’ simply represent all physical and economic constraints, respectively, on individual consumption. No term is defined for justice, i.e. population-level economic and social structure; I propose ‘J’.

    The LHS term is the sum of all externalized marginal costs, including but not limited to ‘environmental’ impacts, of all private market transactions. Many of them are incommensurable and poorly bounded, but because they’re paid for one way or another by involuntary third parties with private weighting schema, they’re nevertheless true socialized costs. The collective weighting term, commonly conceptualized as government, is an undefined function of J; I propose ‘G’.

    Whatever. Anyone can play. It’s just a first cut at organizing one’s thinking. I wouldn’t read too much into it.

  28. 378
    Mal Adapted says:

    involuntary third parties with private weighting schema[s]

    FIF myself. Unless you prefer ‘schemata’, but why would you?

  29. 379
    Killian says:

    #374 alan2102 said 347 Killian 24 Sep 2017:
    “Nobody has claimed to know the state of things 200 years in the future.”

    You have, by pronouncing certain technical artifacts absolutely unsustainable

    False. Logical fallacy.

    You are also assuming that, for the next 200, 500 or more years, we will continue to need tractors

    False.

    and that tractors will continue to be about the same as they are now.

    False.

    You are presuming to know that:

    1 we will not be successful in finding new and more-economical ways to mine and refine the relevant metals and other materials;

    False. Never said it.

    we will not be successful in recycling metals and other materials to a sufficient degree

    False. Never said it.

    3 we will not be successful in creating new, more-efficient (less raw materials required) tractor designs

    False. Never said it.

    4 we will not be successful in creating new substitute materials perhaps much better than existing materials (can you say “graphene”? can you imagine a metal-free tractor?)

    False. Never said it.

    5 we will not find new ways of utilizing forms of agriculture/horticulture requiring little or no tilling with tractors (can you say “no-till”?);

    False. Never said it. Why lie? I advocate no-till. Nearly daily. What a foolish comment.

    6 we will not ever make wide use of techniques derived from permaculture and agroecology to reduce the need for tractors;

    False. Never said it. Have said only the opposite.

    7 we will not develop dramatically new forms of agriculture/horticulture, perhaps requiring few or no limited resources at all;

    False. Never said it.

    8 we will not find our way out of the archaic, highly-inefficient grow-everything-in-dirt paradigm;

    False. Never said it. But a more stupid things humans could not possibly do. Study nutrition of food production.

    When you pronounce tractors unsustainable, you presume to know all of those things
    Logical fallacy.

    and more, centuries into the future. THAT is the problem with labeling given artifacts “unsustainable

    The problem is you do not understand sustainability/regenerative systems. You think, for illogical reasons only you know, that stating, accurately, that something is unsustainable today means it will always be. Now, that is true with a limited resource. It’s basic physics/thermodynamics – which you do not seem to understand.

    However, there is such a thing as *effectively* sustainable, which I ***have*** talked about and which you are dishonest in pretending I have not. But it should not need to be spelled out to you. If one says, “But maybe we can mine the heavens, so let’s save resources now so we can do that later,” they are clearly talking about an ****effectively*** sustainable system due to the importation of *effectively* unlimited resourced over time frame T.

    You are falsely implying I have never said mining the heavens can, and perhaps should, be an option.

    What I know is that tractors are plenty sustainable in any reasonably-foreseeable future

    That they can be manufactured does not equal sustainable. You do not understand sustainable, still. It boggles the mind.

    we’re not running out of any of the materials any time soon

    False.

    nor are we running out of energy

    False. We may replace energy production, but we are definitely running out of current energy resources. This is so completely false on your part to qualify as propaganda.

    there is no reason to stop using tractors as long as we find them useful

    Your failure to understand the reasons/reasoning does not cause them to cease to exist.

    I’ve always disliked the idea of sustainability as something permanent, defined by its ability to persist for millennia, or forever.

    Straw Man, and so what?

    I dislike the word “permaculture” for the same reason

    Then you do not understand permaculture. Nothing about permaculture has to do with permanence in this sense. It means able to exist via adaptation, not stagnation. But, you do love to make grand pronouncements on things you do not understand, so do carry on…

    Not a single accurate statement in the entire post, some of it intentionally false, yet this post stands.

    SMDH…

  30. 380
    Mal Adapted says:

    zebra:

    Come on, answer the question, Mal. Do you disagree with my claim that a world population of 10 million would consume less per capita than we do today in developed countries? For the kinds of reasons I suggested?

    Oh, that’s your question. No, I don’t disagree with that specific claim, under well-specified conditions.

    I gave some though to Jevon’s Paradox, but decided it was at most tangential to the question I thought you were asking, to wit:

    Is the relationship between reduced global population and sustainability linear?

  31. 381
    Killian says:

    #368 wili said Kevin M (at 357), I don’t see Kilian saying anywhere that moves toward simplicity will be easy, but maybe you can point to the specific passage that gave you this impression. Otherwise, it is indeed exactly a strawman argument.

    Exactly. I consistently say it is simple, not easy. Why the false claim from Kevin?

    I can’t say that I am in accord with all positions Kilian holds, but I find myself closer to his positions (as I understand them) than with most others.

    Truly, hard not to be. The situation should be clear to all by now.

    nigel at 363 seems to be presenting a number of false dichotomies, though again I can’t speak for Killian’s positions. But generally, there is not an issue of what ‘we are allowed.’ But what we have to move rapidly away from (and toward) as fast as possible.

    All the more since I never made a statement about mandating or controlling anything. Regenerative systems are inherently egalitarian; they require intense, voluntary, cooperation. All this has been stated repeatedly, so… why the false claims?

    But maybe you could be clearer yourself, nigel, on whether you see some of these to be some kind of sacred cows, or if you are also in support of reductions in some of these areas.

    Indeed. More effective to attack when one is on the wrong side of the issue and in the midst of a feeding frenzy.

    In general, do you have any problem with working to get to a society that recycles everything and mines nothing (or nearly nothing), mining being of course non-sustainable by definition?

    Yes, but he will claim no. He does not understand the mutually exclusive nature of his positions.

    (And I do appreciate that the conversation’s tone has become a bit less ad hom…)

    Less ad hom? Three people tag teaming one person with nothing but false claims of what the person said?

  32. 382
    nigelj says:

    wili @368,

    I don’t think I was proposing a false dichotomy. It really is a choice between some of these things!

    I do totally agree we could do with less air travel, and I’m not personally a huge travel enthusiast. Its not exactly an essential of life, and modern media allow one to travel through a large television screen! But please note many people wont agree with you on this one.

    Buses are more efficient than car ownership, I agree. I own one car, and get the bus whenever possible. I could afford to buy a dozen up market cars if I wanted.

    TV is not obsolete, because sales are huge. Its just content that is changing.

    You were also selective. What about basic appliances like washing machines? These use resources.

    No I don’t think any of the things mentioned are sacred cows, and many are desirable. But some are obvious “low hanging fruit” and it gets harder when you get down to things like washing machines etc. It has to be logically thought through as much as possible.

    You miss my point, and clearly its just because you haven’t read previous posts so I can understand this. I just want Killian (and others) to be SPECIFIC on exactly what level of tech. because its actually meaningless until you do that. Just talking about moving in the right direction is not enough, although clearly important.

    I’m in favour of recycling as a general thing, but I see little point in stopping and / or reducing mining, and have explained this elsewhere above. Killian underestimates the ability of future generations to recycle and find alternative products and innovate.

    I do agree we need to consume more prudently, as a general rule and Killian has opened up a very important debate. But please appreciate Killian is talking very low tech (at times anyway just read back), not just doing without smartphones for example or using buses.

  33. 383
    Killian says:

    #376 Kevin McKinney said #368, wili–

    Kevin M (at 357), I don’t see Kilian saying anywhere that moves toward simplicity will be easy, but maybe you can point to the specific passage that gave you this impression. Otherwise, it is indeed exactly a strawman argument.

    I’m working not only with statements in this immediate discussion, but also ones months past. Hard to find

    No, Kevin. You are falsifying what I have said, and this is all the more true if you really are taking the totality of what I have said into account. Wili is in the same situation as you, yet came to appropriate conclusions because he was not airing a beef, but is seeking to know.

    I did find this sample from last May. It doesn’t say ‘easy’, but it does go to my concerns:

    Oh, and I disagree to some extent. When the deep change comes, the changes will actually be minimal to 6.5 billion people, and will be improvements. The biog losers, the ones who will be mentally and emotionally unhinged by regenerative life, will be the .5 billion living the high life. The bigger they are….

    It doesn’t say easy or even imply it. The discussion, the context of which you *choose* not to include, was about impact. The conventional wisdom is that the poor will be worst impacted, but the poor already know how to survive and do subsistence. OECD citizens will be truly lost.

    None of this conversation in any way, shape, or form implied anything would be easy. You are attempting to justify a statement that cannot but be intentionally false. I repeat: I have said many times: Simple, not easy.

    You ignore this. I believe it to be intentional.

    I don’t believe that

    So what? How does that give you license to prevaricate?

    In fact, I don’t believe that most of the ‘billions’ would survive a rapid transition to a world with no high tech.

    Another Straw Man: I have never said a rapid transition to a world of no high tech. Not one single time. Ever. In my lifetime, let alone here. Am I to take a ray gun and transmogrify all existing tech into peanuts or something?

    So I don’t think I’m mischaracterizing Killian’s positions

    False.

    though I certainly assess their probable impacts very differently than he does.

    False. I have not characterized them except what you quoted above, which characterized *only* the relative difficulty of the transition for subsistence life styles vs. highly tech-dependent life styles. You assumed a great deal, but treated it as if I spoke words I have not. That is, your comments are utterly false representations of my thoughts on these topics.

    IOW, if I’m ‘strawmanning’, it is not intentional.

    And that is false. You have seen my comments for years. You know I have never claimed the transition would be easy.

    My effort to understand his ideas and figure out their implications is a good-faith one–though I understand that Killian doesn’t see it that way.

    Because it cannot be true. You have literally state opposites of what I say, made up comments of what I have supposedly said, and made entire posts that were 100% false.

    Disingenuous is the best I could offer as a characterization of this post by you.

    The main difference between Killian and I is that he is a radical

    False.

    noun
    1.
    a person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform; a member of a political party or part of a party pursuing such aims.

    I do not advocate reform. This is not about reform. It is not about politics. I am in no way a radical. I have no agenda but survival. What is different is I understand the parameters, understand the implications of them, and am not afraid of facing them. A radical *wants* and *seeks* a change to a system for reasons of ethics, morals, beliefs. None of those apply with me. I design. Because you do not understand the design process, it is like the analogy of advanced tech seeming to be magic to simpler societies. You cannot properly frame my comments; they seem like magic to you, so you try to frame them the only way you can: As if through your own lenses. And you get it all badly wrong.

    The fact is, these “social change” approaches simply cannot create the change we need, they can only cause incremental change in the existing paradigm. That is, all the energy going into them is suicidal. This is not hyperbole.

    He thinks reform is “suicidal”; I think failing to reform is “suicidal.” Be a shame if we both turned out to be right, eh?

    First, note the use of the word need. A radical is not focused on needs as a metric of change, but designers start there,

    Second, WHY? How many times have I repeated the risk assessment, recently confirmed in a *scientific* paper? The risk is extinction. Incremental changes – unsustainable incremental changes – are suicidal in the context of an existential threat that can come in decades, not centuries.

    You are about ideology while I bring none to the discussion. This is what you think you see, but it is a mirage of your own making.

  34. 384
    Killian says:

    #369 nigelj said This sustainability debate centres on how many sacrifices this generation should make to assist future generations.

    Not in conversations with me. It is about tipping points, avoiding collapse,

    This low tech. is essentially based around the idea of hugely and rapidly reducing mining to conserve minerals for future generations.

    Again, no. It is about avoiding collapse/extinction.

    But I don’t think this gives future generations much real advantage. Metals can be recycled

    Metals? The entire civilization consists only of metals? What are we, Humanobots?

    and future generations will be mining whats left anyway, and eventually forced to recycle themselves.

    You claim they are endlessly recyclable. What reason would there be for mining more?

    But only a high tech culture will enable us to ever colonise other planets, and once technological ability and knowledge is downgraded or lost this will become very difficult.

    False. A culture can be pastoral but have tech components. But why pretend I have not – repeatedly – said keep R&D active; keep a hi-tech backbone active, particularly in medicine, transport and communications?

    Like KM says enforcing low tech politically is just not going to happen

    Good thing i never said is would happen politically, only the opposite of that.

    and not many people will do it voluntarily.

    Love your omniscience.

  35. 385
    nigelj says:

    Mal Adapted @352

    “Remember I = PAT? Without elaboration, it means that even a shrinking population will exacerbate environmental costs if per-capita consumption rises rapidly enough. Even with rapid build out of a global carbon-neutral economy, multiple other social (including environmental) costs of material prosperity will still be unsustainable.”

    Perceptive comments.

    I=PAT is commonsense and generally true, but is so very general as to almost be useless.

    Per capita consumption might not increase with lower population. Per capita consumption is a function of economies of scale from a growing population, so a shrinking population will not consume at the same rate, even though the resources are there to exploit.

    But then if the robots take over, manufacturing ever more things, maybe the shrinking living population will consume at the same rate, or even more!

    The trouble is all the variables in the equation inter-relate.

    It’s unlikely that we could maintain a high technology culture forever even assuming a population that stabilises. Some materials are hard to recycle like glass. However human ingenuity will extend things a long way.

    But what do we do right now? Do we conserve absolutely everything right now, rationing materials strictly, with some very low tech culture, to give future generations the absolute best possible chance. In other words take a pessimistic view of what future generations will be able to achieve in the way of innovation and finding substitute materials etc, so stockpile everything now to give them the absolute best chances? This is pretty much Killians view.

    This very low tech culture will vastly reduce our present day quality of life and Im not just talking about a smaller house or no smartphones it would go well beyond that. Do we suffer quite significantly for generations so that generations many centuries further out have a slightly better chance at things. Even if its the right thing to do its not politically likely. Humans are self sacrificing, but only up to a point. We are captive to our own inner nature and evolutionary development.

    Or do we split the difference and just go for “medium technology” and moderate reductions in consumption, use buses instead of cars etc the obvious sensible things that also have other additional value. Call it the “middle way” environmentalism like the “middle way” in economics! Its whats humans mostly do, compromise and its not always so bad.

    A middle way seems intuitively right to me. But we need to somehow calculate what would make most sense in a bit more detail. How do we do this?

  36. 386
    alan2102 says:

    368 wili 26 Sep 2017:
    “I don’t see Kilian saying anywhere that moves toward simplicity will be easy”

    He does not need to say it explicitly. It is implied. “Simple” implies easy, and they are often used (incorrectly) as synonyms. Most people would be hard-pressed to distinguish the two words/concepts.

    It is said, often, that the solution to obesity is simple: just reduce calorie intake and increase calorie expenditure. And of course it is true. If you do that, you will lose weight, inevitably. The problem, of course, is doing it and getting it to stick. In empirical reality, it does NOT stick. That advice has done NOTHING to ameliorate obesity, even though obese people have overwhelmingly great incentives to lose weight. However simple, it is devilishly hard, and it almost always fails. The scientific literature clearly shows that 95% of people who diet and exercise to lose weight fail, over the long term. And yet, it is SO simple: just (“just”!) cut calories and move more! Just follow those simple steps, and you cannot fail!

    If scientific trials could be designed and executed to assess it, I think it likely that the permaculture lifestyle would be found impossible for the great majority. Devilishly hard, with an extremely high long-term failure rate.

    The difficulty is obscured (intentionally, at times) by that happy-face word “simple”, which implies ease to almost all ears.

    And oh btw, if you take a close look by reading permaculture literature — as I have — you will see that it is not simple, either, in spite of the claims. It is quite complex, as well as hard. It is a full-time job and more, involving not only a great deal of physical labor, but also intellectual work and near-specialist knowledge, of a sort. It is a BIG deal. That’s not an argument against doing it. Rather, it questions the idea that large numbers of people will have the ability and willingness to do it.

  37. 387
    Russsell says:

    Isn’t it inspiring that EPA Administrtor Pruitt has chosen to charter executive jets with taxpayer funds instead of flying them once and throwing them away ?

    https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2017/09/dont-worry-about-his-security-detail.html

  38. 388
    Killian says:

    #386 alan2102 said My massive bias against permaculture, et al., is now undeniable, to wit:

    If scientific trials could be designed and executed to assess it, I think it likely that the permaculture lifestyle would be found impossible for the great majority. Devilishly hard, with an extremely high long-term failure rate.

    Argumentation via assertion, and absurd as hell. You have exactly ZERO data to support this. Second, please tell me what the “permaculture lifestyle” is, because I, a permaculturist, have exactly no idea. I have never even heard of such a thing. How could there even be a permaculture lifestyle when one of the principles is to let design emerge? Another, design in place? And how do principles create a lifestyle?

    Permaculture is a *design process.* It is no more a lifestyle than engineering is because that is what permaculture is: Engineering living habitats; bio-mimicry.

    Any post by you with “permaculture” should be immediately Bore Holed: You are biased and clueless at the same time.

    368 wili 26 Sep 2017:
    “I don’t see Kilian saying anywhere that moves toward simplicity will be easy”

    He does not need to say it explicitly. It is implied. “Simple” implies easy

    It cannot be implied when the opposite is explicitly stated: Simple, not easy. This is what we call a lie.

    Most people would be hard-pressed to distinguish the two words/concepts.

    Like yourself, because I have been quite clear. Wili and Thomas have had no problem understanding the plain English of it. And, we are discussing comments on this board, which is anything but most people. It is a self-selective, highly skewed group. You are arguing that because someone might understand something, the speaker never said what they said, but said what the listener understood them to say.

    Criminy…

    “It is said, often, that the solution to obesity is simple: just reduce calorie intake and increase calorie expenditure. And of course it is true.”

    This is an absurd analogy. This is not about a personal goal. This is not about one person. This is not about wants or wishes or ego.

    And oh btw, if you take a close look by reading permaculture literature — as I have

    I do not believe you have, and if you did it appears to have been to find fault because you keep making false statements, such as talking about a “permaculture lifestyle,” a thing that does not exist.

    What did you read, Permaculture for Prevaricators?

    you will see that it is not simple, either, in spite of the claims. It is quite complex, as well as hard.

    In the sense that anyone wishing to change their landscape will have to work, certainly. But one does not measure ecosystem energy over short time frames. One measure them over lifetimes. As with a from-scratch food forest: Lots of design and physical work the first year, less the second, some the third, not much at all after year four or five. In fact, a food forest to feed a family would take no more than two days a year for maintenance, then whatever you put into harvesting.

    Again, you have no idea. Quit pretending you do.

    Build a pond… then rebuild it every year? Is that your permaculture?

    Build earthworks that cause the hydration of your land, passively, so you no longer have to dig and/or maintain a well, or haul water, or pay for city water… like Flint, maybe?… is not easier in the long run?

    It is a full-time job and more

    Absolutely false. A well-designed permaculture homestead or community would have the time commitments of hunter-gatherers or less. The majority of food plants? Perennial. Mulch, fertilize, pick. Deal with pests if necessary.

    You have no idea what you are talking about. You are conflating the implementation of a design and the long-term stability of a design and pretending the frontloaded effort does not have a back-end payoff. Ask anyone anywhere in the world if they’d give 3 to 5 years of hard work for a life of relative ease for the rest of their lives and see what they say.

    involving not only a great deal of physical labor

    Compared to what? How many hours over how many years? Permaculture is based on Natural systems. In a sense it brings into density those things that allow a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The free time is immense compared to anything anyone on this forum experiences.

    A question needs be asked: You have never *done* permaculture; how would you know?

    A small example. I did a garden applying permaculture principles in Detroit. Know what I had to do each year? Pull and occasional weed. Plant what annual seeds we used. Water. Apply water. I spent maybe an hour a day on average in the summer, none in the winter, and had armfuls of food all through the harvesting season.

    Why? Because I sheet mulched the first Spring. I planted chop-and-drop nitrogen fixers. I grew a Three Sisters garden. I planted various plants in co-planting sets aka guilds so they both attracted and repelled insects, and the mixing kept any plant illnesses or infestations from spreading.

    but also intellectual work and near-specialist knowledge, of a sort.

    Indeed. One must think. If one wants to grow, say, cherries, one would probably study how to do that. How is that a bad thing or somehow different from any other work?

    Now, let us address your Straw Man: I have never said permaculture is easy. Nor have I said it is simple, not easy. Those comments have always been about the nature of the transition.

    But honesty is not your goal here, is it.

    When one considers the difficulty of the lives we live now, the impossibility of keeping this lifestyle going, the extreme complexity of trying to, then, yes, **by comparison**, simplification (not permaculture) is simple, not easy.

    How can simply stopping most of what society does be more complex than continuing to do those things? If successful, in four generations or so a huge number of make-work jobs will no longer exist. Society will be simpler, and, by then, easier. Only the transition will be somewhat difficult, but that will primarily be due to ignorance. It will be because people do’t listen, like yourself and nigel, who are quite certain you can make this disaster bend to your will and keep going like the Energizer Bunny.

    Good luck with that.

    That’s not an argument against doing it. Rather, it questions the idea that large numbers of people will have the ability and willingness to do it.

    A discussion you have added nothing to with your screeds. Thankfully, the essence of permaculture and other regenerative practices and design processes can be learned in weeks. One need not be expert to be successful. And that takes time. But you seem to think people are going to stop talking, sharing, teaching, mentoring. No. If anything, the networks of people doing this will be growing exponentially. Transition Towns has been a decent example. There is not a new group doing Ecosystem Restoration Camps. There are online permaculture courses from multiple sources. And much more.

    You are biased. I am curious as to why. Those reading this forum deserve better.

  39. 389

    Killian, #383–

    Sigh. It’s really difficult to engage in a conversation with someone who persistently attributes malign motives to you. Let’s see:

    1) “You are falsifying…”
    2) “The discussion, the context of which you *choose* not to include…”
    3) “You are attempting to justify a statement that cannot but be intentionally false.”
    4) “You ignore this. I believe it to be intentional.”
    5) “And that is false.”
    6) “You have literally state opposites of what I say, made up comments of what I have supposedly said, and made entire posts that were 100% false.”
    7) “You are about ideology while I bring none to the discussion.”

    No. I’ve spent years now trying to understand just what K is actually proposing, and doing so very publicly. If K can’t recognize sincerity when it kicks him in the butt, it’s not ultimately my problem. (Though the urge to understand via engagement apparently may be.)

    I’ll just say that we all know that climate danger is lapping closer and closer to all of our front doors. Maybe we have a couple of years left to get emissions declining, or maybe it’s a couple of decades. Either way, it’s an immediate survival issue. This is one thing K and I agree on. As he put it:

    I have no agenda but survival.

    I say that right now, that implies that we bring emissions down *fast*, and that that means effective international agreements to do so, and liberal lashings of renewable energy (as the only thing I see around right now that can scale up even remotely fast enough.) K decries both as wasting energy, and hence ‘suicidal’. I think it’s not unreasonable to want to understand in some detail just what the alternative is supposed to be. The answer to that is still not clear–witness, for example nigel’s questions (#363) to K, which, quite characteristically, have not been answered (unless I somehow missed a response.)

    K, if you want us to understand, you can only accomplish it by stating clearly and specifically what you are proposing. If we persistently misunderstand, well, I’m sure that’s frustrating, but insulting us in response isn’t going to help.

    #364, Zebra–ta, much. Especially gratifying given the length at which I wrote; it could have been tiresome, so I’m glad that for you, at least, it wasn’t.

    #365, Steve Fish–Thanks, and for the link, too. Didn’t know about the event; now I do!

  40. 390

    #365, Steve Fish–Ah, I note the location now! Cool event, but a 2,800-mile round trip would have been–er, problematic, and in several dimensions. :-(

  41. 391
    Killian says:

    This should be interesting. Another beginning to echo my call to apply the lessons of the enlightened: Aboriginal societies.

    Live so lightly they leave virtually no trace. Hmmm…

  42. 392
  43. 393

    OT alert: A bit tangential, perhaps, but the postmortem on the failure of the Sumner nuclear project is a big deal here in SC.

    Some shocking information on the fiasco:

    http://www.postandcourier.com/business/internal-westinghouse-document-warned-south-carolina-nuclear-reactor-construction-was/article_9d9c08f4-a3a5-11e7-9b82-e749ee661e95.html

    “Corporate hubris…” If Ed Greisch were still around, he’d probably point out that this wasn’t a fault of nuclear power per se, but rather a failure of corporate governance. And he’d be right–but the real-world damage to the prospects of nuclear power in the US remains, either way.

  44. 394
    alan2102 says:

    379 Killian 27 Sep 2017:
    “False. Never said it.”
    “False. Never said it.”
    “False. Never said it.”
    … etc.

    You’re correct. But then I did not say that you said those things, explicitly. I said that you are “presuming to know” those things. Those things are built-in to the pronouncement that tractors are unsustainable. That was the point: that calling something “unsustainable” implies a long list of assumptions, all packed-in to the statement, which need to be unpacked. I started the unpacking with that short list. All of those assumptions, and many more, must be made in order to conclude that tractors are “unsustainable”, long term. And each of the assumptions would, if reversed (if proven false by events), result in sudden and often drastic increase in the sustainability of tractors.

    Pronouncing a given artifact or technology “unsustainable” presumes to know in great detail what is going to happen for many decades, centuries, and beyond. It especially presumes to know what is NOT going to happen: game-changing innovations, which you will note happen all the time. If we lived in a static world, in which game-changing innovations never happened, then it would be otherwise; but we don’t.

    If you want to pronounce things “unsustainable”, meaningfully and with intellectual honesty, then you have to accompany that assertion with at least a short-list of the assumptions underlying. Otherwise the assertion is meaningless or worse (misleading).

    Yours for a Dynamic World in which one Cannot Step Twice Into the Same River,

    Alan2102

  45. 395
    alan2102 says:

    #332 Hank Roberts 22 Sep 2017:
    “Another item for the “Oh, shit” file:
    http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/09/13/food-nutrients-carbon-dioxide-000511?cid=apn
    as the zooplankton experiment showed, greater volume and better quality might not go hand-in-hand. In fact, they might be inversely linked.”

    Thank you, Hank.

    Yes, they are inversely linked. Higher CO2 for plants is like junk food for humans: lots of calories, but no other nutrients. The result is more luxuriant growth, but poorer quality in terms of protein, micronutrients, etc. Higher CO2 has the benefit of modestly increased total biomass (already evident, globally), but poorer quality food. There is also the possibility (likelihood) that the superficially-laudable increased biomass is of poorer quality, perhaps less resistant to disease, perhaps less able to play its normal role in local ecologies.

    Going forward, higher CO2 will exacerbate mass micronutrient deficiencies in humans — billions of sufferers, globally — which were in part caused by excessive, green revolution-style NPK fertilization over the last 50 years. The phenomenon is called “hidden hunger” (search for it), referring to micronutrient and other deficiencies in spite of adequate calories. These deficiencies cause widespread anemia, developmental disorders including low population I.Q.s and blindness, and other problems. Like CO2, NPK also promotes luxuriant plant growth, but at the cost of eventual micronutrient depletion in soils and plants, and consequently in human consumers.

    The IPCC has discussed this (CO2, not NPK) problem in their reports, but the quality of their analysis is limited by their unfamiliarity with physiology and nutrition. For example, they assert that the problem might not be too bad because more calories (resulting from faster plant growth) is a good thing for calorie-malnourished people. Yes, of course the calorie-malnourished need more calories, by definition, but you can’t look at calories in a vacuum. A diet enriched with refined sugar and starch (empty calories) will cause you to gain weight, but it won’t be good, functional weight. Humans need calories along with a full complement of nutrients which allow the body to use those calories in a health-promoting way. And billions of people are not getting adequate nutrients right now and for decades past, even well before CO2 fertilization has maxed-out.

    Further:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4034684/
    eLife. 2014; 3: e02245. doi: 10.7554/eLife.02245
    PMCID: PMC4034684
    Hidden shift of the ionome of plants exposed to elevated CO2 depletes minerals at the base of human nutrition
    snippet: “The increase in CO2 in the atmosphere that has happened since the Industrial Revolution is thought to have increased the production of sugars and other carbohydrates in plants by up to 46%. CO2 levels are expected to rise even further in the coming decades; and higher levels of CO2 are known to lead to lower levels of proteins in plants.”

    46%?! That’s a huge figure, almost unbelievable. Some portion of it is structural carbohydrate (fiber) which is indigestable, but it is still a big figure. So far, no one has thought to ask whether this large increase in carbohydrate calories, along with depletion of protein and micronutrients, has played a role in the dramatic increase in the incidence of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity, globally, over the last few decades.

    High atmospheric CO2 appears to be turning the staple food supply — consisting formerly of nutrient-dense natural foods — into something closer to junk food. High CO2 is worse than excessive NPK because it causes lower protein values in addition to lower micronutrient values. At least NPK supports protein values, because of the N. Lower protein could be disastrous for the billions of people with already marginal protein intakes, and who cannot afford higher quality (animal) foods.

    There is no denying that CO2 is a plant food and that “greening” IS one result of higher CO2. But there is a quality angle that few are talking about, and that the denialists are, predictably, ignoring.

  46. 396
    Hank Roberts says:

    Google news clickbait headlines:

    [BABW News]
    Scientists shocked by incredible discovery about Global Warming
    BABW News 5h ago
    Related Coverage
    Scientists Underestimated How Bad Cow Farts Are
    Highly Cited Forbes Sep 29, 2017

  47. 397
    mike says:

    September 17 – 23, 2017 403.06 ppm
    September 17 – 23, 2016 401.08 ppm
    September 17 – 23, 2005 380.81 ppm

    It seems like we are drifting down toward an apparent annual increase rate of approximately 2.0 to 2.2 ppm when looking at present time versus a year ago. I think this reflects the EN bum in the 2016 numbers. I have been watching for this downward drift for some time. I think the background (real trend) in CO2 ppm increase is approximately 3.0 ppm right now. If you want a range, I would say 2.8 low to 3.2 on high side.

    So, the current number in the low 2 ppm range is not indicative of an actual decrease in emissions and accumulation, it is damped by the surge in the 2016 EN number. I would love to have seen the damped number drop under 2.0 but I don’t think that is going to happen over any meaningful timeframe.

    I read a headline somewhere recently about how carbon emissions had become flat and like the Millar study about 1.5 degrees, my guess is that this flat emission headline will be spun and misinterpreted. Sooner or later we will be talking about the need to get to a zero carbon emission state, not a flat or falling rate of increase, but getting to zero emissions. At that point, if we ever get there, we will need to look at issues like how to make the planetary carbon cycle robust enough to address the sixth great extinction. I think Killian is correct when he says that a lot of this is simple. It’s not easy, it’s simple.

    warm regards

    Mike

  48. 398
    nigelj says:

    Killian @384

    While I disagree with some of your views, you have opened up a worthy debate. A few comments on your comments:

    “#369 nigelj said This sustainability debate centres on how many sacrifices this generation should make to assist future generations.”

    “Not in conversations with me. It is about tipping points, avoiding collapse,”

    Correct , not in conversations with you. Where did I say I was responding to you in particular?

    Sustainability is most certainly about what sacrifices we make now. This is the key challenge because if it didn’t require sacrifices now, we would not even be discussing it. It would be no problem we would just do it. We make sacrifices to avoid future collapses and that’s ok provided there is logic connecting the two.

    I strongly agree future collapses are possible, very possible indeed. This is the case with about five main critical points, climate change, soil overuse, nitrate pollution, fisheries collapse, and others. Many of these can be resolved with more sustainable practices which operate within the boundaries defined by natural cycles, while others can be resolved with recycling and substitute materials, or some combination of both, while others can be resolved with technology that reduces pollution, like that used to reduce sulphate emissions.

    “This low tech. is essentially based around the idea of hugely and rapidly reducing mining to conserve minerals for future generations.”
    “Again, no. It is about avoiding collapse/extinction.”

    I feel you are avoiding the issue. You are changing the subject. You are not prepared to engage in the difficult discussion of reducing mining and how much and why, because why wont you? Because you would rather wave your arms about possible collapse, and avoid specifics and being seen to be mortal, without all the answers or having to modify your basic position.

    The level of your approach is sort of like there could be a collapse, so lets just stop all mining right now in a sort of panic reaction. Its tempting and sometimes I feel this way. Hell, I have voted for green political parties! But it’s ultimately irrational and emotive. Its like saying we could have a car accident,so lets stop using cars.

    Killian yes I totally agree humanity faces all sorts of potential collapses, but these things on mining have to be confronted, defined, quantified and thought through on more of a case by case basis or at least quantified in general terms. I’m trying to do this, you are not.

    “But I don’t think this gives future generations much real advantage. Metals can be recycled”

    “Metals? The entire civilization consists only of metals? What are we, Humanobots?”

    I never said civilisation revolves just around metals. I was focusing on something particularly critical, as I only have a few minutes to comment and this should have been pretty obvious. Some materials can’t be recycled more than a few times, like for example glass and plastics, however the raw materials for glass are extensive, and although plastics are derived from essentially finite quantities of petrochemicals, they can be made from other substances. And there are substitutes for plastics obviously, so don’t catastrophise about it too much.

    Future generations are likely to find many alternative materials, and new manufacturing processes, and may find new ways to recycle difficult to recycle products. You cannot simply discount this. You are taking the most pessimistic view on this.

    Personally I feel we should try to think several generations ahead and be reasonably prudent with consumption, but your approach appears to be lets “radically reduce” our consumption now to give future generations the best possible chance. But that radical reduction can only slightly benefit future generations, if you please just think it through more. It cannot do all that much, so it makes no sense to me when taken to extreme levels of cuts to present consumption exemplified in a low tech approach.

    But there are certainly a whole range of environmental and socio economic reasons to be largely sensible and a little more prudent with consumption, and this is a medium tech middle way approach.

    “and future generations will be mining whats left anyway, and eventually forced to recycle themselves.”

    “You claim they are endlessly recyclable. What reason would there be for mining more?”

    Not all materials are endlessly recyclable. There’s probably some ultimate limit but frankly we cannot be certain and its so far in the future as to be meaningless.

    “But only a high tech culture will enable us to ever colonise other planets, and once technological ability and knowledge is downgraded or lost this will become very difficult.”

    “False. A culture can be pastoral but have tech components. But why pretend I have not – repeatedly – said keep R&D active; keep a hi-tech backbone active, particularly in medicine, transport and communications?”

    What you have just said is more or less to keep a high technology culture! Medicine plus a transport and communications backbone equals high technology, assuming it is at a meaningful level widely accessible. All you have done is trim off a few luxuries presumably smartphones, and the computer you are typing on, but you don’t specify. Your problem is you have taken so many contradictory and vague positions you forget.

    But coming back to my previous question, please which of the following would you consider part of your “technology backbone”? : televisions, phones, washing machines, cars, buses, airplanes, electricity generation? (Just to name a few). And if they are part of your backbone, how many are permitted per person, or per “community?” The reason I say is until it’s specific, its meaningless, because consequences are not apparent. We as humans need a clear picture to judge what we individually and collectively decide to do because that’s how our minds work.

    This is what I suggest on environmentalism and consumption if you want a few principles. Firstly clearly sustainability means we should try to look after the environment for future generations and avoid environmental problems, pollution and degradation. Even this is a values judgement and ethical position ultimately but I believe the right one.

    More specifically, we should largely operate within natural cycles and recycle products where sensible. But sustainability is complex, because humans are ingenious at finding clever things like recycling and alternatives that means we can sometimes side step natural cycles.

    We may not last for millenia on this planet whatever we do or don’t do, but should plan a moderate distance ahead.

    Technology is a function of huge global systems and networks and values systems and economic systems. Its not really possible to keep just bits and pieces of this system which is what you are proposing. Little bits kept will eventually stop functioning because its all interrelated.

    I think we should keep high technology, but ideally promote what I would call sensible use. So promote much longer lasting products that can be repaired more easily. Promote a less materialistic lifestyle, where people are comfortable without having to be overly chasing too much frivolous junk. Promote a culture where we buy enough to do the job, but not more. And finally promote modest size homes, because large homes above many things use an awful lot of energy and resources and can become little more than status symbols.

    These things at least seem plausible and there are many reasons for them not just environmental ones, there are socio economic reasons as well. But I don’t buy into low tech, as it just doesn’t really make sense. Its probably more of a question of balance, and maintaining an ongoing quality of life with a balance of factors that generate real quality of life.

    “and not many people will do it voluntarily.”
    “Love your omniscience.”

    It doesn’t need omniscience. Are many people doing genuine low tech right now through choice? Not many, so I’m not guessing. I’m observing.

    But as I said and for want of a better word, some sort of medium tech. may be the best way forwards.

  49. 399
    MA Rodger says:

    The outcome of the particularly active month of Atlantic hurricane in terms of Accumulative Cyclone Energy shows 2017 well ahead of 2005 for the time of year and already 9th strongest year with October and November still to come, as graphed here (usually two clicks to ‘download your attachment’). As I type this, the ocean is presently storm-free.