The proprietor of the false progress blog which I mentioned in an earlier blog post made a comment about another one of my posts. Actually, that’s not quite right in three respects.
- I don’t really know if it’s really the proprietor of False Progress, since they are not properly identifying themselves, even by a permanent email address: firstname.lastname@example.org doesn’t work any longer so must be one of those throwaway email addresses. But I am assuming it is the same person since they haven’t given me anything else to go on. According, as inconsistent as the comment they made is with the position, the proprietor of False Progress has supported nuclear power here and there. So I assume here the commenter does, too.
(And if they don’t really, tough.)
- They did not really comment at the appropriate location, possibly because they were responding directly to a YouTube video at my channel on the same subject linked from that blog post. Instead they replied at a form on my About page.
- I took Moderator’s License and moved the in-fact comment from the form to the appropriate location.
I’ll break it down and respond, but here, for easy reference, is the entirety of the comment:
Segment from “Choices.” https://youtu.be/4ZM3EMRQnQI?t=1659 Sure, let’s axe more trees to sequester carbon, since crude old nature doesn’t do it fast enough to fix blunders by the same mindset that cleared so much land in the first place. This photo sums up that vision: https://imgur.com/a/IMNKFOs (cut, build, repeat…) Man must right old wrongs by committing more of them, eh? Part of your conscience must know that nature can’t be tricked indefinitely. It’s already being engineered to death to “create jobs” and such. I suggest taking a break from number-crunching and reading about environmental ethics and the problem with endless techno-fixes. This is no casual statement. You’re clearly no dummy, just too detached from your natural origins to see the real problem. https://newsociety.com/books/t/techno-fix
Yeahhhhhhhhhhh Well, at least it’ll give me a chance to explicate.
First off, let’s have a look at “natural origins”. It connotes to me a quasi-religious philosophical position. Maybe not. Maybe “natural law”? ‘Guess not. So, let’s look at “natural”. Ah, now there’s something.
Fact is, in my experience, when most people use the word “natural” they actually mean “human”. And, in particular, with respect to an experience of the natural world the perspective is incredibly anthropocentric. Most people don’t really want the natural world as it is, they want the natural world as they’ve experienced it. So, they’d rather not have ticks and mosquitos and bee stings or skunk sprays. They’d rather not get bitten by sharks off Wellfleet or Cape Cod Natural Seashore. And they’d rather not see The Natural Familiar change.
But change it does, all on its own, and often in response to being nudged by people.
This isn’t first and foremost because, well, most people, or at least the ones who urge “nature can’t be tricked indefinitely … environmental ethics and the problem with endless techno-fixes”, don’t actually know a lot about how the natural world works. (I don’t like using the term Nature. Why is a different blog post.) Keeping in tune with how the biological world works is one of the reasons I study a part of sessile biology which is quite different to human scale experience, Mosses and Lichens:
To quote Ralph Pope (2016, page 5) of the Eagle Hill Institute:
Bryophytes are not just tiny versions of larger vascular plants. They have very different physical characteristics, and they solve many of life’s problems differently from the vascular plants that dominate life on Earth.
Bryophytes are small, and small size has allowed them to colonize a great diversity of habitats throughout the globe. Don’t allow their small size to fool you into thinking they are evolutionary failures. Their body plan and lifestyle have suited them well, allowing them to survive for more than 400 million years with apparently minor changes. Approximately 20,000 bryophyte species are known worldwide, and in much of the Arctic, they are the dominant life form.
In comparison, humanity as a species is on an early test flight, and it may not make it.
Second, how did we get into the Great Mess we are presently in?
Sure, it’s possible to blame “capitalism” or “technology” or “greed” or “economics” or “immorality” or “too much money in politics” or “the U.S. Constitution”. But, from a biological perspective it’s really quite simple. The unassisted carrying capacity for Earth of people is about one to two billion individuals tops. To produce food, warmth and clothes, and an organizing system to put it all together demands the expenditure of energy to, firstmost, produce enough food to feed the present 7.8 billion people, and then to distribute that to them, get them their other needs where they live, and organize the system to make it all happen.
So, you think, it’s overpopulation. Nope. It’s not because: (1) well, we have the population and the system to support it, and (2) that’s not an actionable observation, because what do you do with it? Start a nuclear war to reduce the numbers? That’ll have plenty of side effects and unintended consequences despite its great immorality and unfairness. The problem is something else. The problems are that:
- The energy system we are using to support the population is disrupting global climate, which will ultimately have severe negative consequences for all people on Earth.
- The resources maintaining this population in the way that we are is harvesting more than the non-human biosphere of Earth can produce, so we need to access resources produced by previous eons of biospheres.
- Our organizing systems barely work to keep everyone clothed, fed, and healthy, and are, in their present form, incapable of dealing with the meta-problem that the system, as a whole, needs to transform.
So, what do we do? Give up?
References for this section:
Krausmann, Fridolin, Karl-Heinz Erb, Simone Gingrich, Helmut Haberl, Alberte Bondeau, Veronika Gaube, Christian Lauk, Christoph Plutzar, and Timothy D. Searchinger. "Global human appropriation of net primary production doubled in the 20th century." Proceedings of the national academy of sciences 110, no. 25 (2013): 10324-10329.
Campbell, Bruce M., Douglas J. Beare, Elena M. Bennett, Jason M. Hall-Spencer, John SI Ingram, Fernando Jaramillo, Rodomiro Ortiz, Navin Ramankutty, Jeffrey A. Sayer, and Drew Shindell. "Agriculture production as a major driver of the Earth system exceeding planetary boundaries." Ecology and Society 22, no. 4 (2017).
Running, Steven W. "A regional look at HANPP: human consumption is increasing, NPP is not." Environmental Research Letters 9, no. 11 (2014): 111003.
Haberl, Helmut, Karl-Heinz Erb, and Fridolin Krausmann. "Human appropriation of net primary production: patterns, trends, and planetary boundaries." Annual Review of Environment and Resources 39 (2014): 363-391.
Krausmann, Fridolin, Christian Lauk, Willi Haas, and Dominik Wiedenhofer. "From resource extraction to outflows of wastes and emissions: The socioeconomic metabolism of the global economy, 1900–2015." Global Environmental Change 52 (2018): 131-140.
We have, pretty much unwittingly, destabilized the portion of the biosphere and ecosystem which humanity relies upon for food and other ecosystem services through our prodigious growth aided by exogenous energy sources, primarily from burning fossil fuels. Don’t kid yourself: We are not going to take the rest of the biosphere out with us if something severe happens. The Mosses and Lichens are testaments to adaptability. So are microbes.
There is no choice but the stark one facing us: We need to take charge of the whole system, step up our global human organizations (I hear the Gang of the Orange Mango and neocons trembling at that idea), and devise a system which can both properly feed, clothe, provide healthcare, and warmth for 7.8 billion people and, at the same time, emit nothing in terms of greenhouse gases.
Some imagine an alternative: A 16th century agrarian landscape inhabited by sustainable Hobbits, or Diggers, or indigenous peoples, demanding little more of modern technology, so living (much) simpler, in harmony. Two points.
- A lot of people won’t go there willingly. The Maoist Cultural Revolution did not work out well. Agrarian socialism really doesn’t work in a world with 7.8 billion people scattered all over the place.
- “The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring) Despite Tolkien’s emphasis, I consider this “wide world” to include the biosphere and the geophysical worlds. These, despite Tolkien’s preferences, are not humanly moral entities. They have their own rules, but they exist quite independent of any notions or principles which govern human interactions. You need to be a strong theist to think otherwise. (I am decidedly not a theist.)
How do we “take charge of the whole system”?
- We invest hugely in the sciences needed to figure out how it works. We cannot plan ahead without understanding the climate system and the biosphere better. Our investments in these have been tiny, miniscule, compared to the U.S. NASA, or the U.S. Department of Defense. Clearly, NASA has some role to play. DoD? Not so sure.
- We double down on the technologies we know work, can be rolled out quickly and inexpensively, and, to the degree we really care about fixing climate disruption, we de-prioritize other social values like aesthetics, local sovereignty, and local job loss to this purpose. Indeed, the late member of the Bundestag, Hermann Scheer observed this is the only way this can be done. See his The Energy Imperative. Unless local interests are subjugated to more regional and national ones, they will always find ways to interfere, delay, obfuscate. We don’t have time for these kinds of games.
- We assure that the typically least enfranchised are afforded priority access to new energy technologies, despite credit or criminal or immigration histories.
- We frame and organize the energy transformation as jobs programs, training people displaced from fossil fuels in these new skills.
References for this section:
About nuclear power as a savior of the natural environment …. Bupkis.
First, nuclear power is incredibly expensive and slow to build. We don’t have time to wait for a “technological miracle” there. As mentioned in Choice even NuScale SMRs have had a setback.
Second, quoting Dr Amory Lovins:
Many nuclear advocates argue that renewable electricity has far too big a land ‘footprint’ to be environmentally acceptable, while nuclear power is preferable because it uses orders of magnitude less land. If we assume that land-use is an important metric, a closer look reveals the opposite is true.
Lovins, Amory B. "Renewable energy's ‘footprint’ myth." The Electricity Journal 24, no. 6 (2011): 40-47.
Even though Dr Lovins article is from 2011 and, so, doesn’t reflect the massive improvements in efficiency that solar PV, wind, and storage have seen since then, wind and solar come out massively better than nuclear power in bottom-to-top land use.
Of course, fossil fuels and especially biofuels are amazingly worse:
Holmatov, B., A. Y. Hoekstra, and M. S. Krol. "Land, water and carbon footprints of circular bioenergy production systems." Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 111 (2019): 224-235.
Even hydropower is up there as a lands hog:
Zolghadr‐Asli, Babak, Omid Bozorg‐Haddad, and Xuefeng Chu. "Hydropower in Climate Change." Encyclopedia of Water: Science, Technology, and Society (2019): 1-5.
This means that sensible, inexpensive, feasible solutions to climate disruption are squarely opposed to what small numbers of people want, NIMBY or not. To the degree wealthy proponents of fossil fuels support them, this is an impediment. But these small numbers of people should know they are being sold as prostitutes.
So, what do I make of the comment from False Progress?
It could be this individual is one of many at the Koch Brothers feeding trough, several times removed. After all, the Koch Bros have supported environmental organizations in locales if they opposed wind farms, or solar farms, or sensible approaches to dealing with sea level rise and enhanced storm surges at beaches. They always do it through second- and third-hand contributions.
So what about the rest of us? That is, what about people who are very concerned about climate disruption, but don’t have the, ahem, peculiar view of False Progress?
So, the answer is clear, shut down all nuclear facilities, and all fossil fuel sites, including extraction, and massively build wind, solar, and storage atop of them. Then, if short, build wind, solar, and storage on anything you can find. If you take climate disruption from fossil fuels seriously — and the price is how do you rate it compared to your personal aesthetic prerogatives — you’ll do that.
Otherwise, you are effectively a climate denier.
Recap Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson musing on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day:
Note Dr Tyson’s reference to Stewart Brand‘s Whole Earth Catalogue, and Brand’s latest, Whole Earth Discipline. And note Dr Lovins skewering the underestimates of nuclear power’s land use by Brand in his paper. Properly so.
By the way, here’s Claire and I with the memorial to Rachel Carson in Woods Hole, Massachusetts:
Meanwhile, the economics and technology are arrayed against them and their supporters. We will have a green century, whether some like it or not. The wealthy understand this is where we need to go and be. Most corporations know that, too. So, below is the future of energy generation.
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