Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why energy itself, not the lack of it, is the nemesis of our modern existence

Any energy that we ‘create’ or produce in excess of the total available energy of the sun will express itself in exponential growth until the point at which the ability to produce the excess energy is not possible or the unusable byproducts of that growth destroy the environment that enabled it.

We cannot carve the earth up and live as if energy is something we might have to be bothered to conserve or use cautiously. We cannot have the energy intensive lifestyles of our current paradigm without sacrificing our environment.

Much of the damage has already been done, but in the process, humanity discovered many wonderfully useful sciences that do not need high-tech infrastructure and processing to be relevant. Through simple breeding techniques and organic, permaculture styled food production, we can feed quite a lot of people with much less energy than is being used now with fossil fuels. Also, the food will be much better for you and for the land when being produced, guided by these low energy methods.

We really do need to live fairly low tech, productively active lifestyles in order to fit in with the earths requirements for successful organisms. Yes, we are smart, but being smart, and being successful are not always the same. Sometimes we do things that aren’t that smart for minimal, short term advantage which threatens the long term success of the species.

There is an equilibrium, a place where human civilization can live happily, with and about nature. But there will never be a condition where we can live outside of nature*. We will find this equilibrium eventually, and when we do we will be very different people from who we are now. Those of us that are still around when this great change has been fully realized will tell stories of the technological wonders that once existed, practically anything you wanted to know could be answered within seconds from a small device in your hand.

Some technology will survive, but in the long term, it will not last, not without the abundant resources and complex monetary/global trade structures to support repairing and replacement of parts. Unless we can figure out how to do amazing things organo-chemically with every day resources like rocks, wood, or dirt, we aren’t going to be able to keep our technology.

We have plenty of ways to use these types of resources as infrastructure, and thus they then become an energy sink, requiring energy, either human, animal, combustion, or electricity from Wind, Solar, Geothermal, Tidal, etc. to extract, form, transport and assemble. But we can’t use rocks to produce energy, say by simply polarizing their atoms (I am totally making this up as an example) which suddenly causes the rock to produce electricity in the company of light.

Electricity itself requires a carrier, or conduit, and a source. Normally the source is a hydroelectric, nuclear, or natural gas/coal powered plant. But with the alternatives like solar and wind, you run into intermittency problems as well as load distribution issues. So you fix that with batteries, but batteries are expensive, require many rare materials, are usually toxic or corrosive, and do not have a long life span.

The introduction of excess energy into the biosphere from humanities discovery and utilization of massive amounts of ancient solar energy in the form of fossil fuels has created one of our greatest conundrums. We are a pulsing and adaptable species which works well to keep us going, but in an energy rich lifestyle, that skill inadvertently turns to growth and our whole life becomes about earning wealth and accumulating products and investments.

The very fact that the majority of people in the developed world have not or do not often eat something that they themselves have grown, or harvested shows how deep this is. We need to get back to food production being a large employer of the population, and something that only a few would have little experience with. We cannot afford to mine, refine, form, assemble, treat, package, transport and consume our way through life with the merits of a credit economy and infinite growth.

It is a difficult position for politics to address. Ultimately, it becomes a choice between giving up our chance to escape earth rather than die with her. Now if I was alive and this was a choice right now, like an earth killing meteor is going to hit and there is a spaceship taking off with a hundred thousand light year capability, I would be on board.

I think we all know that just isn't going to be a possibility right now and in the mean time we are losing our hold and heading toward disaster in the face of energy decline.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Culture and Value

Initial assumptions:

  • Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is real
  • Environmental destruction due to pollution, resource extraction and human habitat expansion is real
  • Overpopulation is real assuming current consumption trends continue

Culture is a product of individuals collectively engaging in certain activities. The activities that these cultures engage in is how we identify and discern them from one culture to the next during a specific time frame or across the entire span of human existence.

In order to better understand the initial assumptions and what they mean for humanity I am going to use a cultural 'lense'. Over time, cultures appear to be dynamic and elastic, as well as being very short lived in some cases. The dynamism, elasticity and longevity of cultures is determined by many factors such as environmental conditions, resource availability, access to information and much more. There is no question, however, that cultures can and do change or disappear entirely.

There is a new culture that has arisen recently in the human experience and that is the culture of consumerism. Now we normally do not think of ourselves that way in the developed world. When we think of our culture we might think of things like Baseball, Rock & Roll, fast cars, etc.

But there is a level at which our culture is something more than the sum of its parts and this is what we fail to see when we consider the way we live our lives. We want to have the many things that we take for granted and we want to create them with the least cost and greatest efficiency and expediency. We don't have time to wait for fast food, there are so many things we have to do in our day, so many places to drive and resources to expend.

Some have less hectic lives, but exist within the same cultural paradigm so in one sense, they cannot extract themselves from the responsibility or the burden entirely. But they can begin a shift in our culture by leading the way in less consumptive behavior and more resilient living. Like most people, culture does not change just because a certain inconvenient truth is realized. Culture is slow to change and must start at the local level. You cannot force cultural change without serious social consequences.

We cannot continue with the culture of consumption and thus our culture must change and it will. How and what causes the change is the key to knowing and understanding the culture that will emerge from the ashes of consumption.

It is certainly desired that the change be voluntary and that it does not shock the population with such drastic changes in a short amount of time. A gradual shift into this new culture would be much better for society in general. This seems to be what is happening now as movements like Transition spring up and grow around the world. So there is an idea of how we would like to live beyond consumerism, an expectation. But there is no guarantee that these transition communities will survive the changes expected to occur within the next two decades with the rapid decline of fossil fuels and the increasing tensions and conflicts around the world.

But the best we can do is to try to build the world we would prefer in the absence of mass consumerism and the infrastructure and energy that drives it. Resilience is the key to the success of these movements. Resilience is also key to the success of culture. Until the expansion from the industrial world into the jungles of south america, resilient cultures of native Americans existed in large numbers for thousands of years. They were resilient because their culture was simple, there were few rituals or requirements beyond hunting and gathering.

We can simplify our culture but it will require sacrifices that many are just not ready to make. There is still a large number of people led to believe my initial assumptions are false. Misled by propaganda provided by those that profit most from the continuation of our consumer society. It comes down to what Gandhi said, we need to ‘be the change’ that we want, or rather that we know must happen to survive as a species.

Thoughts on anthropomorphic reasoning and the concept of good and evil.

It is difficult to embrace life and to envision meaning without imparting the learned values and self advancing tendencies that accompany the thoughts of a conscious mind.
We spend the majority of our efforts in acts of self preservation, eating, working, sleeping, etc are all activities that we engage in for the purpose of self preservation and they tend to take up a majority of our time. It is easy to see why our thoughts would include something of a looping mechanism that always returns us back to the question of self interest. Any idea or thought we have is weighed to some degree by this looping mechanism.

In fact, why should we wonder, worry or concern ourselves at all with anything that does not immediately benefit us in one way or another? It would seem pointless on the surface, but just below that surface is a world of understanding that easily eludes us. But we have proven effective at this throughout history. Many of the great thinkers and scientists of the past have unwoven a stunning story of our existence and many without recognition until long after the fact.

So in what other ways can a lack of human-centric thought lead us to new understandings of our reality and our place in it? If I only knew. The idea though is that it allows us to think outside of the human box.

We don't usually think of the concepts of right or wrong when we think about nature or the cosmos. But realistically, the relativistically loaded concepts of right and wrong can easily be extrapolated to the concepts of order versus disorder, and in the natural world, this is a battle that never ends.This then brings us back to 'us' and the evolutionary processes that brought us into being. We have been fighting an ongoing battle to lean toward order or 'right' and away from disorder or 'wrong'. This is not just a metaphorical example, it is ingrained into our very being by millions of years of evolution driving us toward more cooperative social behaviours.

We devised the concepts of morality and the theory of ethics not simply as an experiment or wishful thinking, these premises were expressions of what our social evolution was doing and continues to do. Morality, Ethics, Right or Wrong, whatever we think of these concepts, they are not 'man made'. They are simply expressions of the universe being spoken by one of it's creations. We can quantify them and express them in varying degrees, and this is where anthropomorphism comes back into play.

The biggest setback to purely human-centric thought and pursuits is that humans are programmed to seek the greatest reward in the least amount of time. This conflicts with reality in many ways as we approach the limits of our physical world and this is where we need to think in a systems mode. The earth, the solar system, the universe, are all part of a system based on a few simple laws. Now the biosphere and the earth system are quite a bit more complicated than large bodies pulling each other this way and that in the vacuum of space.

The earth has many complicated mechanisms that maintain just the right conditions for humans and the rest of life to exist. We need to first and foremost protect those systems so that we can continue to survive as a species, but the earth is large and seemingly unlimited to a single mind living a single lifetime and with much more to worry about right now rather than what will be happening a hundred years from now.

So right and wrong are concepts that can be observed in nature with the right kind of eyes. It is not a conscious right or wrong, but it is there and it does influence our existence. It is like the black hole, we cannot see it directly, but we can see how it affects all of existence.

Back to 'us', from an anthropological point of view, good and evil, right or wrong, are concepts used and useful to humans alone. The elemental products of nature do not and cannot concern themselves with the concepts of conscious minds.

So I hope I have at least imparted on you the idea that right and wrong are not owned by humans. Their many variations are spread across the cosmos.

Order versus disorder in a world struggling endlessly against the effects of entropy easily seems pointless. And without a doubt, so is life. Pointless. We create the meaning in our lives and very much of that meaning comes from the core foundations of what we as individuals observe as right or wrong.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Why Solutions Are Illusions or There Is No Way Out of This

On the idea of Top Down vs Bottom Up solutions, It appears that both fail to relate to what will be possible in a world of decline and localization.

Since the current form of trade and commerce depends on cheap fossil fuels, it will be crippled by rising energy costs. This will eventually bankrupt nations and lead to revolution or dissolution as they are forced to localize.

From the Bottom Up perspective, it forgets the true dependency of the masses. It only works when there is enough land in the locality to support the population living on and around it. Food will become very local.

But that assumes we survive the mass exodus that will occur as food stops being imported into major cities and their starving masses begin to spill out in search of anything edible.

It will be amazing if deer and boar survive the decline.

So from a resources and ecology point of view, neither approach can work for the amount of people currently living on the planet. The complexity and energy requirements of that kind of governance would not be possible. Culture is the only thing that can provide any hope. But it will not avoid the pain.

Small farms, permaculture projects, and other natural food production oriented lifestyles and the people those systems support will be the only thing that survives. There will be no city or urban lifestyle where electricity powers almost every aspect of daily life.

Water and food and the ability to utilize and transport them ultimately determine what is possible for civilization. There is a definite maximum at which we could utilize the most sustainable and hospitable areas of the planet in an agriculturally formed lifestyle. If we were doing more then simply trying to find a solution for our cultural paradigm and instead, thinking about a solution for the long term, we would be focusing more honestly on what is possible by cataloging what is available in finite form and renewable form.

Let’s get the numbers, but I am afraid the numbers would not provide the answers needed to walk the current population through the resource bottleneck. This is the reality that we must accept. Once we do, more reasonable approaches can be made as to what is possible in the long term, and how we can mitigate the crisis in the meantime.

The primary goal is to increase organic, sustainable agriculture and thus increase the amount of people occupied with that particular activity. This is where culture plays an important role. We can pretend that we can keep being a culture of consumers, or we can accept the culture that is available to us via our realm of possibility.

But alas, the current culture is deeply engrained in the modern human psyche of developed nations. Often people speak as if humans never have or could survive without the luxuries of only the last century. Given the entirety of the human experience, our modern experience is a mere exception to the rule of what has been and is possible for life on earth. 

In the evolution of life, there are many dead ends, and Industrial Man is only one.