Header art: Roland T. Amayo, North West, 2011   http://rolandtamayo.com/paintings.php

Hair of the dog, or, the limits of technology

By Mary Logan

This post is about the hopeful idea that technology is going to save us from having to adapt to descent. A recent article describes an episode of geopiracy to geoengineer the ocean, so we’re back at climate again, since this example provides particular insights and illustrations into our blindspots about the limits to growth and the limits of technology. Almost all environmental articles now mention climate, whether it is warranted in the discussion or not, so it is hard to avoid the topic. We are shoehorning every environmental problem into the same size small shoe of solutions. Is it lack of ecoliteracy? I also continue to beat this drum because one of Odum’s great concerns was that misunderstandings about the interconnected nature of our problems would lead to geoengineering of the planet. He recognized the hazards of industrial scale manipulation of the biosphere, and the danger of relying on the industrial machine for fixes.

Asking wrong questions….

Climate change is a situation where we have fastened on a subset of the real problem, which is population and economic growth. So we immediately frame the solution set in an even smaller space, which is geoengineering, or financial wizardry, or some other narrow solution to the wrong problem that benefits only a few, and further damages the environment. 

We have trained our minds to focus and analyze, thus we anxiously narrow our frame of reference when faced with big problems. Einstein said that  problems cannot be solved by the level of awareness that created them. He meant seeing the big picture, and avoiding doubling down on behaviors that got us where we are now. Or, in colloquial terms, What how fellow, thou knave, I pray thee let me and my fellow have a haire of the dog that bit us last night. And bitten were we bothe to the braine aright (Drunkard.com, from 1546). The idea that the hair of the dog was a cure dates back to the Greek, who believed that a dog bite would heal more quickly if you ate dog hair. Is technology a hair-of-the-dog cure for our energy bender?

We’re going to have to shift our world views to adapt. In an ongoing quest to broaden worldviews to consider the hierarchy of energy, here are some recent climate articles as examples of the limits of technology.

What is technology and are there limits?

Les Dames Goldsmith au bois de Boulogne en 1897 sur une voiturette, 1901, Julius LeBlanc Stewart

In an earlier post I said that opting to worry about climate change instead of limits to growth allows us to believe that we can keep what we’ve got while also finding solutions for the problem through technology and markets, our two favorite religions. Technology and markets are mechanisms to harness and maximize power by entraining more and more energy into our market economy. If you doubt that statement, think about the evolution of the car over the past century. In a century autos have developed from the humble Model T into fervent symbols of  power, speed, wealth, modernity, technology, personal freedom, freedom from nature, and even sexuality (Thacker, 2000). Why do we keep adding to cars’ heft and speed instead of making them more efficient? The Maximum Power Principle (MPP) dictates that

. . . Because designs with greater performance prevail, self-organization selects network connections that feed back transformed energy to increase inflow of resources or to use them more efficiently” (Odum, 2000). . . . Particularly during times of growth, when resources are still plentiful, what is economically competitive is increased rate of resource use rather than efficiency (Odum, 1987).

This means that if we can’t find a rational use for power, we will develop complex cultural obligations to entrain energy supported by advertising and other forms of status-seeking. How much energy do we waste in the US on the glorification and pursuit of status in our over-sized, over-powered cars?

Many in peak oil circles have fastened on the theory of a 19th century economist named Jevons to represent the idea that we will use any available, un-obligated energy. Jevons observed inductively that increasing the efficiency of coal led to wider uses in multiple industries, so in the long run, saving through efficiency in one place got offset by expanded uses later elsewhere. But the MPP takes it a step further deductively, explaining complexity in systems terms. If there is available energy, we will always opt to adapt ourselves and the system to maximize power inflows through self-organization of feedback loops, gathering energy and adding it to our hierarchy step by

Pact with the devil-is that an iPhone in her hand?

step, transforming simple systems into complex ones over time. Technology is the name of the tools we build to help us to entrain more energy. If there is still surplus energy lying around available for collecting, then we will design one more iteration of software, derivatives, or iPhones to sell more stuff, create more wealth, and keep growing. Apple now suggests in ads that the laws of physics are just general guidelines that can be overcome. Perhaps there is some Faustian lesson here if we could only understand our hubris about technology.

The Science Institute for the Study of Phlogiston

Once again this week, we have an anxious article blaming future species loss and food insecurity on climate change. The report suggests that in a hundred years we’re all going to die from the effects of toasting the planet. But aren’t those and many other problems happening now, from other causes? We might as well have reporting from the Onion, given the lack of recognition of other possible causes of our problems. The report focuses

Code Green, Stephanie McMillan Dancing around the blind spots

on the doom and gloom of future climate problems, yet suggests no solutions. I have come to suspect that climate change articles that fail to suggest solutions are avoiding the subject because any real efforts to think logically about solutions eventually unearths the root cause of climate–growth. Increasingly, public debate has become a minefield of blindspots we have to dance around. If we step on a growth bomb or a nuclear meltdown, our rhetoric about our climate war with nature blows itself up. Ask yourself, What is the cause of climate change? Ask that question several times, until you get to the root cause. Source reduction is the only effective way to deal with industrial pollution. In order to manage inputs we must first recognize that we cannot return to economic growth. Source reduction is not compatible with capitalism, so this shift in policies would need a complete retooling of our cultural, social, and political systems.

Another post that appeared this week from a recent UN report has a more balanced assessment of the causes of these problems of biodiversity loss and food insecurity, itemizing the disappearance of fishing stocks from overfishing, and desertification from over-harvested cropland and forests. The idea that these problems are happening now from causes other than climate change is borne out by a Guardian article that warns of looming worldwide food crisis in 2013. Not 100 years from now–next year.

We’ve not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). With food consumption exceeding the amount grown for six of the past 11 years, countries have run down reserves from an average of 107 days of consumption 10 years ago to under 74 days recently (Vidal, Guardian, 13 Oct. 2012).

So which is it? Is our food crisis a future problem related to desertification from climate? Or is it due to a recent pattern of declining production in our industrial food supply combined with an exponentially growing population? Aren’t climate change, food insecurity, biodiversity loss, and rising water shortages all secondary to and caused by population and economic growth? Do we really have 100 years to wait for the extinction of humanity if we have food insecurity now on a planet overstuffed with 7 billion people? It seems to me that we are beginning to feel the effects of that last lethal population doubling time that will leave a mark. Exponential growth of the population is the driver that causes pollution, including climate change and other problems. If our population is reliant on a food system where potatoes are made partly (or mostly) of oil, then when oil production begins to wane, so does food production. Go figure! And if we try to fix our problems with technology, then we end up making it worse, as suggested by Limits to Growth models by Meadows et al. below.

A. Perez-Carmona from Meadows et al., 1972 LTG Standard run on the left, or fixing our problems through the “comprehensive use of technology” on the right–you be the judge? (The x-axis should read 1900-2100, by the way.)

If you look at the original Meadows model output for the standard run on the left, you can see that we are entering a period of converging crises with declining food per capita, waning industrial output, and a rapidly growing population. Delay in dealing with our quandary only results in more overshoot, causing more risk of collapse. The model run on the right illustrates a scenario of delay, where extension of industrial agriculture, resource extraction, and industrial output are maximized through technology, resulting in rampant pollution and collapsing human populations. Pick your poison–does technology always improve our lives? Both scenarios above are bad, but which is worse?

Orange-brown patches about 200 miles west of British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) indicate relatively high concentrations of chlorophyll in the area where Planktos Inc. dumped iron sulphate. Giovanni — Goddard Earth Sciences / NASA (Before picture here)

Another news article this week illustrates what happens when we view climate as the root cause of our ills. An American businessman cooked up a rogue geoengineering scheme to drop 100 tons of iron sulphate in the ocean to create lucrative carbon credits to trade for profit, which triggered a 10,000 square kilometer plankton bloom in the Pacific off Canada’s west coast. Ocean dead zones could result, as the plankton quickly dies off and starts to decay. The decaying organic matter uses up the oxygen and kills off marine life that depends on oxygen. But since  geopiracy allows major energy, aerospace and defense enterprises to cash in on earth’s misfortunes, we will continue our global push to apply the intentional, large-scale technological manipulation of the Earth’s systems. Capitalism and the use of our power might yet be the death of us all. The more industrial-scale technology at our fingertips, the more ability we have, through markets, to wreak havoc with our life systems.

Using carbon credits to fix climate change is like stuffing a banana up the tailpipe of your Mercury Marquis. Thanks Eddie! (From Beverly Hills Cop)

Focusing on climate change when the real problem is growth is like having an Institute for the Study of Tailpipes and Phlogiston gas that comes out of tailpipes, for the sake of this analogy. If we perceive tailpipes as the problem, then we will do complex analysis of the components of the phlogiston. We will explore how to block phlogiston in the tailpipe. We’ll use technology to change plant DNA to grow more genetically engineered crops, while at the same time burning more crops as biomass for energy to fuel the high-tech institutes.  We will worry about how to bury phlogiston, or to poison the atmosphere to block phlogiston there. We will describe in detail how to tax the smog, or reflect it with giant mirrors. All of this technology will make the rich richer, and use more energy, and create more phlogiston. But we won’t look at how the car causes the phlogiston, and why riding your bike could cut the need for the Institute and its associated war on nature almost immediately. And in the worst case scenario, where we drive the car until it runs out of gas, we’ll have bigger things to worry about than our Institute. At least the phlogiston problem will be solved then.

We have a long history of misunderstandings about gases and how they interact with other processes within ecosystems. Early misunderstandings in the 1600s about the nature of Phlogiston were later corrected by Joseph Priestley, who discovered oxygen (or dephlogisticated air) while also helping to bring us full circle back to where we started in this essay, which is alcoholic beverages.

Conclusions: Candles and mice produce injured air, but plants can improve injured air

Priestley lived next to a brewery and one day noticed that the gas given off from the fermenting vats drifted to the ground, implying that it was heavier than air. Moreover, he discovered that it extinguished lighted wood chips. He had discovered carbon dioxide, which he called ‘fixed air’. Devising a method of making the gas at home without brewing beer, he discovered that it produced a pleasant tangy taste when dissolved in water. By this invention of carbonated water, he had become the father of fizzy drinks! In 1772 he discovered the respiration of plants by placing a shoot of a green plant in a sealed container, in which he lit a candle that he left burning until it went out. Later, he discovered, the candle could be lit again.” (Oxygen.darkillusions.org)

So plants can improve injured air. Who knew? Someone needs to tell those carbon mitigation folks! So which is it–do we mitigate climate by replacing our ecosystems with high emergy solar panels, nuclear power plants, and ocean dead zones, or do we help Mother Earth protect herself by protecting what’s left of our biomes? Could someone please ask the systems ecologists?

Maximum empower and scale

Bill Roth, ADN.com A Princess visits Whittier 8-12-12

Attempts to fix our problems with industrial scale technology may impact communities due to the scale of the impacts. The picture of a cruise ship visiting a small fishing port in Alaska called Whittier is a metaphor for this process. Odum would have viewed this cruise ship as a sharp pulse from the larger scale as a pulse adaptation similar to an ecosystem adaptation to flood, fire, or earthquake.  Big pulses from industrial scale impacts of pollution and its mitigation may overwhelm relocalization efforts, causing benefits to funnel upwards to the top of the hierarchy, while negative impacts fall on local environmental support systems. Industrial tourism creates damaging effects on communities, requiring adaptation to the large pulses that may not be sustainable once the pulses are removed. A sudden pulse from the larger scale required that Whittier develop methods of drawing benefit and adapting to these weekly pulses. Everyone gears up for activities resulting from the ship’s docking, and businesses come to rely on the pulse. In winter, when cruise ships don’t arrive, Whittier is pretty quiet. Similarly, large commercial enterprises impact bush communities in Alaska when they come in and hire workers at relatively higher wages to extract resources, causing disruption of culture within the communities. Some of our elders call this process Losing Focus. Aiming industrial strength fire hoses of money and influence at small communities is disruptive to traditional local cultures, and small local businesses have difficulty competing against introduction of big box stores. Global industrialization spreads harmful impacts to small communities, creating uncertainties about growing your own food, lack of resilience, and yes, even climate change. Relocalization efforts may need protective policies and laws for locales and small business–instead we are seeing the opposite, with municipal laws geared towards larger businesses and powerful corporate/federal initiatives that boost aid to dangerous experiments.

In the geopiracy experiment by the US businessman, NOAA loaned the businessman 20 buoys for an enterprise that made the gent $2.5 million from a local Haida tribe hopeful for larger salmon runs. Corporate control of powerful governments creates industrial strength tools that can create industrial strength catastrophes, that exacerbate the damage to the environment created by climate change, population overshoot, over-harvesting and other problems. When there are large available flows from outside, the scale of self-organizational processes increases. . . . If a surge of input energy of one kind is added to a system, it creates a bulge in the energy spectrum, causing energy to be propagated upscale and downscale (Odum, 2007, p. 86). How do we protect our local environments from industrial scale activities such as this one, besides a massive education initiative for ecoliteracy, which is sorely needed? In this case, additional insult comes from NOAA, a federal agency whose mission is to protect the oceans and air. Where is the ecoliteracy in this agency, and how come it is helping a businessman profit by dumping in the commons? Our education process is transforming into jingoistc behavior modification complete with stimulus response devices such as galvanic response bracelets, microchipping, and corrupted science to make us into performing monkeys, or perhaps Pavlovian dogs marching to the corporate goose-step.

While the MPP dictates that we will use available energy, we can opt for wisdom instead of waste and use energy wisely to maximize efficiency, helping to adapt infrastructure for a prosperous way down. But that will require awareness and a shift in consciousness. Eventually, the MPP will mandate that we maximize (real) world wealth and emergy by abandoning wasteful high-tech projects that funnel wealth and harm the environment. Wars and revolution will reboot world opinions about equity in resource use. The imbalances that we see cannot and will not last.

Technology is a means of harnessing more power. Technology will be useful in descent as it was in growth to harness more power. We need to assume that because of Maximum Power, we will use every last drop of oil that we can find, as quickly as we can get it out of the ground. But we can use that oil to adapt wisely, as technology in descent will need to emphasize lower gain technologies that maximize efficiency and not waste. The good news is that there is a lot of waste yet to wring out of society as we descend, especially for Americans. We just need to get started, self-organizing from the bottom up on smalllocal projects for descent.

Postscript: It has been 9 months since I began this website, and I feel as though I have birthed a baby. Relief is in sight; symposia on the Prosperous Way Down at the Ecosummit in Ohio last week were packed, and I have promises for posts on emergy and money and several other topics including overall impressions of the conference. Scientists, please, talk nerdy to us!

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  • http://www.EcoReality.org/ Jan Steinman

    The “problem” is that people, particularly first-wolders, see things as problems.

    As John Michael Greer notes, problems have solutions. But the things we have coming down the line at us have no solutions. Rather, they are “predicaments” or “dilemmas” that can’t be solved, but only have coping strategies.

    As long as we’re looking at “solving the problem” of climate change or peak oil or industrial pollution or food supply, we miss the boat. Yes, we can do as Mary suggests and follow a problem (symptom, actually) down to its root cause of energy excess or depletion, but if we try to “solve” even that root “problem,” we only cause more problems.

    I’m hoping (with JMG) that we can start using the vocabulary of predicaments and dilemmas, which will more likely lead us to coping strategies such as frugality, sufficiency, etc.

  • http://twitter.com/TinyEnergies Prosperous Way Down

    http://e360.yale.edu/digest/solar_geoengineering_projects__could_be_more_effective_on_regional_scale/3670/

    Here’s what happens when you allow reductionist climate science combined with Ivy League corporatization to dictate environmental policy. Let’s see here. Since no one’s buying the global, industrial-scale atmospheric aerosol injection into our damaged atmosphere, let’s narrow our scope and just try it in our corner, so we can get more grants and publications. Never mind that occluding sunlight limits plant growth, which then causes dieoff up the food chain? Not to mention all of the other unforeseen ecological connections that blocking insolation will cause? What about the fact that most of our global energy budget as the basis for all life on the planet comes from sunlight? Can we be that stupid?

    If we’re going to make changes, don’t you think we should be keeping the renewable energies and ditching the nonrenewables that caused our problems in the first place. There was a reason the ancient religions worshipped sunlight and Turtle Island as the source of our energies and all life? We monkey with all of that at our own peril. Our global energy budget is based on inflows, in joules of:

    Solar insolation inflows 3.93 E24 (Empower 3.93 E24 SEJ/yr)
    Deep Earth Heat 6.72 E20 (Empower 8.06 E24 SEJ/yr)
    Tidal Energy 0.52 E20 (Empower 3.84 E24 SEJ/yr)

    From the folio below, the total annual global empower is 29.90 E24 SEJ/yr. Of that, the total annual renewable inputs to global processes is about 9.44 E24 SEJ/yr. The total non-renewable empower is 20.46 E24 SEJ/yr. We’re burning up the planet with our oil, and we want to block the sun? Can we be that stupid?

    http://www.enst.umd.edu/tilley/emergy/EmergyFolio1Introduction.pdf

    The sooner the corporate machine falls apart, the better.

    • Jerry McManus

      It gets worse. In a sense we are already “geoengineering” the planet due to the fact that we continuously emit massive amounts of aerosols from industrial activity. I believe the largest anthro source is sulfur dioxide from burning coal.

      This has had the perverse effect of masking the climate forcing that we might otherwise be seeing due to already high levels of greenhouse gasses. I’ve seen estimates as high as 2degC is being masked in this way.

      Beyond two degrees celsius: sulphur won’t save us for long
      https://theconversation.edu.au/beyond-two-degrees-celsius-sulphur-wont-save-us-for-long-1885

      Aerosols precipitate out of the atmosphere fairly quickly, on the scale of weeks, which raises the possibility of a truly nightmarish scenario. should a global energy or economic crisis significantly slow industrial activity then we could quickly feel the full force of the climate forcing currently being masked by high emissions of aerosols.

      The atmosphere’s shift of state and the origin of extreme weather events
      http://theconversation.edu.au/the-atmospheres-shift-of-state-and-the-origin-of-extreme-weather-events-9285

      It’s hard to quantify what sort of chaotic effect that would have on weather, but I would hazard to guess that in some regions the enterprise of industrial scale agriculture would not survive the twin blows of both economic and climate chaos, especially those countries that have bought into globalization and rely on large scale mono-culture crops for export cash to sustain their populations.

      • http://twitter.com/TinyEnergies Prosperous Way Down

        Hi, Jerry! Yes, its hard to say what the interactions might be, especially as we get all kinds of systemic unforeseen consequences. We dearly need ecologically based systems thinking but instead we get economics and climate. Build more stuff to block climate gases, when peak oil is going to put us on a diet really soon anyway. The climate models are based on extrapolation, and we know that won’t happen. What goes up, must come down . . . .

  • hyperzombie

    Limits to growth, are you kidding me? Our beautiful blue planet has almost unlimited resources and energy. Everything is still here, all the resources and all the energy (locked up in different forms, but still here).
    Doomsayers have been predicting the end of civilization and mankind since its inception, malthus, Elrich, major religions, and they have always been WRONG.
    Growth is the solution, not the problem.

    • http://www.EcoReality.org/ Jan Steinman

      Malthus wasn’t wrong; he just didn’t anticipate the exploitation of fossil sunlight.

      So what’s next. Will beings from Alpha Centauri descend with the plans for perpetual motion machines? Will some genius harness zero-point energy in his garage?

      I think not. During my high-tech career, I got to see how research and trade secrets work. There’s no silver bullet out there that someone’s been hiding in their lab. The nature of competition is that new technology is exploited as soon as possible, to keep others from doing it first.

      • hyperzombie

        Jan “Malthus wasn’t wrong; he just didn’t anticipate the exploitation of fossil sunlight.“ So that would make Malthus WRONG, or do we have to wait another century or so.
        Always remember, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future“
        We have no idea what the future has in store for civilization, but all the evidence suggests that it will be wonderful and beyond our imagination.

        • http://www.EcoReality.org/ Jan Steinman

          “all the evidence suggests that it will be wonderful and beyond our imagination.”

          Yup. That’s what they were saying in 1970, when US oil production peaked. “What do you mean oil is going to get scarce? We’ve NEVER pumped as much as this year!”

          Upward-pointing graphs never continue infinitely. They just don’t — they go in cycles. Look into the work of Buzz Holling on Panarchy Theory.

          • hyperzombie

            Bell curves and Downward trends don’t continue forever either. Welcome to the new oil peak. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/us-may-soon-become-worlds-top-oil-producer

          • http://twitter.com/TinyEnergies Prosperous Way Down

            Thank you for finally producing a reference for your argument, Hyperzombie. Your article illustrates the points I was trying to make, thanks. Actually nature doesn’t always follow bell curves, you’re right. If we extend and ramp up fossil fuel extraction with technology, an increasing amount of the economy’s energy has to go to the production of the energy, until finally the economy is having to put more energy into the extraction than the economy gets out of it. That is the basis of net energy. That ramping of technology to extract every last available drop hollows out nature by using methods such as hydrofracking and oil shale/tar sands to attempt to use marginal sources. The idea of net energy and the knowledge that fossil fuels are finite is the basis for the argument that we cannot keep this up. What happens when we extend our reliance in defiance of the bell curve is that we get a system outcome of overshoot and collapse, which is a very common systems pattern–just google image search “overshoot and collapse graph” for lots of examples of this from a variety of systems.

            If you scroll down to Charlie Hall’s four Sankey diagrams in the excellent article on Swiss sustainability at TOD:Europe, Charlie illustrates the essence of net energy over time and how it impacts the economy. More and more energy is required over time to produce energy for the economy, which robs from discretionary funds for complex society first, and finally from basic needs (consumption of staples). I think he’s actually way too optimistic about his timeline. IMO, we’re already seeing the devolution of the ability to supply basic needs, even in the US.

            We cannot separate energy from the economy or from the environment; they are part and parcel of the same system. Unfortunately, Charlie’s Sankey diagram fails to include the environmental impacts, which are more important over the long term. Odum would have been on his case for that omission, because that blind spot leads to conversations like these here in this post. If Charlie were to include the pollution effects, you would see a rapidly expanding pollution of the environment with an additional impact of decreased standard of living there as well. When you draw any diagram of the entire system, you always have to account for the entropy in terms of heat and pollution.

            http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5316/

            If we are having a “new oil peak,” how come half the country is on government handouts, and jobless rates are so high, with rapidly expanding poverty and debt?

          • http://www.EcoReality.org/ Jan Steinman

            I don’t think you looked at the link I provided. I’m not saying downward trends continue forever, any more than upward trends do; they cycle.

            But I did look at your link. Of course, we can trust anything the Associated Press says, especially when they quote the International Energy Agency, who not too long ago predicted oil would be around $30 a barrel right now, and throughout the next decade.

          • http://twitter.com/TinyEnergies Prosperous Way Down

            Here’s a link to Dave Cohen picking the article apart. I didn’t have the patience, but he does.

            http://www.declineoftheempire.com/2012/10/the-united-states-is-the-new-saudi-arabia.html

  • Brian

    “While the MPP dictates that we will use available energy, we can opt for wisdom instead of waste and use energy wisely to maximize efficiency” begs the question, what are the limits to education? I was reading Odum’s EPSociety poolside this summer and my sister-in-law picked it up. She read it aloud and everyone was laughing at how incomprehensible it was. 24 years of education in arguably the best schools in the world at an estimated cost of about half a million dollars and I would say I am still not sure I fully comprehend emergy and it implications. Can we even afford, energy-wise, the wisdom to create global ecoliteracy?

    Do you garden? Do you raise chickens? Do I learn about the concepts of emergy? Do you drive a big car? Do we use all the oil? Do you geoengineer? If we, individually, are able, we should answer with: I do it because I enjoy doing X. Then go do it as long as you possibly can, because the costs of global wisdom (fighting MPP while energy is plentiful) are too high. In a bit of justice, those educated and aware enough to understand the problem/dilemma/predicament/MPP (generally affluent, white, and male due to historical circumstances) are the most wasteful and at risk in the long run of losing what they enjoy doing. It almost seems like all the talk about green, frugality, permaculture, and books about living in a powering down society are set up to serve this population and say, “Don’t worry, you can still enjoy life after energy descent. Hope abounds”

    • http://twitter.com/TinyEnergies Prosperous Way Down

      “I would say I am still not sure I fully comprehend emergy and it implications.” LOL. Thanks, Brian. That’s what this website is for. I had the benefit of about 20 years of dinner table conversations, starting around the age of 4 with HT. He had to explain this stuff in terms that a 4 year old could understand. What did Einstein say, “If you can’t explain it to a 6 year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Every time I write one of these, my own layered understanding expands. HT used props. I can still remember the lecture on combustion. I was about 4 and showed an interest in fire. We were having Sunday breakfast, and I clearly remember pancakes with syrup. He grabbed all of the paper napkins on the table, piled them on the carbohydrates and sugar on the plate, and set it alight. Flames shot up about 2 feet, while I chortled in joy, and my mother clucked and flapped helplessly around the edges. He followed that performance by grabbing a water glass, putting out the flames, and leaving a charred mess and good memories about science and creativity for the 4 year old. These explanations are much easier and better retained with props. But images will have to do.

      I agree with you that we’re probably too late for better education–the evidence is pointing the other way. For example, we need a bunch more systems ecologists in helping to solve these problems, and instead we’re about to retire what’s left of those in the United States with few replacements.

      I agree completely, Brian, that we should not put on hair shirts about all of this and live in a cabin off the grid while denying ourselves things like the internet. We have been given wondrous technology and power and wisdom in this country. And, “To those whom much is given, much is expected” (Kennedy). I was taught (in alignment with the MPP) that it is our duty to return those gifts back to society. I sat and watched over the arc of 50 years, as HT got rebuffed by the system time after time. Now, in late 2012, we are at the tipping point. It may be too late, but people are finally ready and open to listening about these issues. Climate change is an avenue for discussion, since I fear that climate change is “the terrorism in the war on Mother Nature.” (You heard it here first.) Hyping climate is a tool that allows the military-industrial-educational system to entrain more energy and build more complexity and make more money/write more papers/get more grants/build more silos of reductionist science. The people doing this are, as you say, generally affluent, white, and male, and bearing the banner of environmentalism while they pillage and plunder nature in the mistaken idea that we can continue to progress through the religion of technology. They do not see the embodied hierarchy of energy, so they expect a continuing free lunch, since the last century has been a free lunch due to fossil fuels. They know not what they do–guzzling fossil fuels and hollowing out nature.

      I do not want to get to the end of all of this and wonder whether I could have done something. We must be the change we wish to see in the world, and we must talk about it, widely, at the largest scale. And see who we can bring along?

      • Brian

        So what you are saying is that I need more optimism? Most days now I just go for enjoyment, but when I really need to put some optimism in my life I pick up and read the Earth Care Manual preface. For some reason it does wonders.

        • http://twitter.com/TinyEnergies Prosperous Way Down

          Only if the optimism is warranted, Brian. I don’t hold much hope for the future of centrally organized political structures. But I have great faith that once local people encounter enough hardship to understand that the future will be different, that we can pull together to create workable solutions on local scales. Think globally, act locally?

  • Kwazai

    yopp.
    carbon sequestration- isn’t that what plants do? when do we plant more to abate the warming trend? (warming carbon blanket or just apogee perigee around the sun?) (a large thermal mass just a few degrees)

    Much to most dismay- the bible says abundance. I figure we could give it away if it wasn’t worth much- aka more cheap food and the excess/rotted food for fuel. starvation ? why? where does supply demand go when the supply is infinite or the demand is ever increasing?

    My money is on eliminating the incentives- ancient roman style air conditing and greenhouse heating- side benefit-an indoor garden and water condensate to feed it…..
    A vertical garden that doubles as a solar chimney powerplant for urbanites. all on the sunny side of the skyscraper- SIM city?

    Existential Engineering- the technophytes and technophobes both need to rethink the reality.

    The Swedish have a 4% landfill rate and are looking for italy and norway to provide extra garbage for fuel- what happened to new yorks garbage?
    Urban agriculture takes the fuel exise out of the cost of the food (grown right next door). Might be kinda nice to pick my veggies at the ‘grocery store warehouse’.
    It doesn’t have to be 1800′s farm life where 12 of the 14 kids you have die before they are 4 yrs old. Just sustaineable- like the quote. ‘…..it takes forever…..’
    THIMK. Only dead fish swim with the stream.

    • http://prosperouswaydown.com/ MaryLogan

      Yup. We’re trying the greenhouse heating thing, Kwazai. Jury is still out–we had such cloudy weather up here this summer. I’m not sure about the vertical gardens–as energy availability wanes, the energy required to maintain dense urban living in 30 story buildings (or more) may be better used by allowing people to disperse and have small garden plots. We are seeing this week. What are the issues besides food in a city with inadequate energy inputs?

      We need to coax our engineers into thinking about these problems instead of populating Mars, I agree.