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A Climate Love Story (ucsd.edu)
32 points by grey_earthling on Sept 21, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 43 comments

This articulates why I became disillusioned. The fantasy described in the beginning is what I typically see in solarpunk literature, which is just as unrealistic.

I find myself with a lot more optimism about what comes out of permaculture design. Whether permaculture design and regenerative paradigms ultimately can help, still requires us to change our way of life.

Now, no one is going to that. I think most people want to cling to the fundamentals of their way of life. Even giving up fossil fuels for “green energy” is giving up something more superficial while still clinging to the fantasy of unlimited, on-demand energy. Nothing fundamental has changed about the way of life or the world view that goes with it.

Fortunately, for me at least, I think a found a path that works even if most people don’t want to climb on board.

> Fortunately, for me at least, I think a found a path that works even if most people don’t want to climb on board.

Would love for you to share this with me.

I am doing my own thing as well. A friend and I have been talking about how to raise others consciousness about all of this if it is possible and the only conclusion we come to is to push the Overton window so far that it jolts peoples mental system.

So we are striving to live a life like Franciscans, Buddhists, and Daoists. What do we really need to be content? How do we cope with our deconditioning from all the material wants?

I almost stopped reading that article because of the beginning paragraphs. Glad I did not.

Also, I missed you asking about sharing what I found.

Permaculture was the gateway into the world of what is possible. Consider, for example, the 3 permaculture ethical principles:

  - Care of Earth
  - Care of People
  - Fair Share
This is all voluntary. It’s not about making people change, or changing the masses.

The design principles shows a way of decentralizing food production in a way that is more resilient, adaptive, and also works with the culture (and not just the technologies or methods, hence “perma-culture”)Although the two people who originally put this together doesn’t address Consciousness or spirituality, I have found that these design principles can lead to way of life that has room and integrates cultivation of consciousness.

That also lead me to Carol Sanford. You look around at articles and podcast, and then at some point, you see her mentioned all over the place in the permaculture world.

As a hint of what is possible, with just better management of water, this series of video talks about implementing better use of water in India, and how it not only restored watersheds, but also helped people socially and addressed economic inequality:

Episode 1: “Solving the Crisis in 45 Days” https://youtu.be/-8nqnOcoLqE

Episode 3: “From Poverty to Permaculture” https://youtu.be/KtHuIlfyJao

Episode 7: “50 Years of Permaculture at Auroville” https://youtu.be/wcYL5Uya5MU

There are more. We can chat about it by email — talktohosh at gmail

I had the same reaction to the first few paragraphs.

I’m glad it is written, and hope it wakes more people up to it. I don’t know if the author has looked into stuff like permaculture design principles and permaculture ethical principles. Those in turn were distilled from indigenous communities — point being, we do have something in our collective consciousness on how to do this … it’s just not in modernity.

As far as deconditioning from our material wants — I do see some of this pop up from time to time. Minimalism. Marie Kondo. Mindfulness.

I’ve also learned that people are walking their paths, and each of us have to discover the truths within ourselves. A society that uses _regenerative_ (not just sustainable) principles and practices, can open up space for people to get in touch within. However, it’s still something that someone has to voluntarily give it a try.

Have you looked into the work of Carol Sanford? She has chosen to try to transform business for decades now, and managed to do that for the companies she worked with.

There are also things I’m open to discussing further — in relation to Buddhism, Daoism, Consciousness, etc., just not in a public forum here. If you like to discuss those, you can email me at talktohosh at gmail.

Did the propaganda work so well that there's really so many people out there thinking the real problem of climate change is not fossil carbon, but just human beings having access to energy?

Would it be impolite to ask anyone who believes that to just remain silent until after we get rid of the fossil fuels that are causing pollution, climate change, wars and undermining science?

Because it really muddies the waters if you go around saying you do actually want humans not to have energy at all.

You appear to have accepted and embraced what was only ever a straw man argument made by fossil fuel companies to delay progress in addressing climate change.

There is a lot more problems than just energy. For example, the way we farm accelerates the degeneration of the global ecosystem. The same with our use of water, both agricultural, and residential.

If you only address fossil fuels, it will help, but won’t solve the issues of ecosystem and environmental collapse.

Huh, for me solar punk actually is renewable tech mixed with also the mind set deemend necessary in the article (fully agree), especially embracing also e.g. permaculture? e.g. the self-sustaining small farm, cutting down also a lot on modern lifestyle, but still some you need, and instead of the Diesel generator its solar panel + battery.

Admitted, solar punk leaves lot of room for interpretation : - )

So as an example, solarpunk generally look at centralized energy and food solutions rather than decentralized, local solutions.

Compare, say, the various urban, walkable communities with green plants vs Auroville in India. Auroville was built from a wasteland, and over the past 50 years, has restored the ecosystem them, and in a way where people can still live well. We’re talking about hotels with onsite blackwater treatment (as an example), or reforestration with perennial food forests.

Solarpunk, by and large, does not represent a change in worldview or paradigm whereas permaculture does.

> The fantasy described in the beginning is what I typically see in solarpunk literature, which is just as unrealistic.

Yet, utopian and dystopian tales are still an effective literary device—utopian tales can be as possible as dystopian tales.

We're far closer to a world imagined in 1984 and Brave New World than utopian counterparts. They were warning signs—and as works of fiction, they don't come to 100% fruition, but you can see through lines predicted by them that are real today.

Maybe something would click that triggers us to work our asses off. But in present day, it's more likely to be a puzzle-box tv show, epic movie, or a viral TikTok than a blog post.

I read through this thinking it was a bit pessimistic, so the twist didn't really hit me in the intended way.

Like aren't we already projected to be at level population growth by 2100?

But it's the weird fossil fuel cultism that gets me:

> Besides the fact that we have never built any alternative energy infrastructure (dams, photovoltaics, turbines, nuclear) without extensive reliance on fossil fuels, it is not clear how non-renewable materials could be coaxed to maintain a renewable energy infrastructure for the long term.

What specific thing is it hard to do without fossil fuels?

Trucks? Steel? Concrete? Mining? Boats? Give me some details please as I feel you're wrong but you're being very coy about the details so I can't tell you why you are wrong.

More importantly, put a figure on it, what percent of the total absolutely requires fossil fuels which are today, right now more expensive than renewable energy.

What price would renewables need to get to in order to build those apparently necessary fossil fuels from the air with green electricity? This kind of puts an upper limit on the price of avoiding this doom.

edit: he does in fact link to more in depth fossil fuel cultism:


Apparently heating things is the Achilles heel of renewables. Just not possible without fossil fuels.

I mean we can literally make fossil fuels with electricity. So that doesn't seem a blocker anyway, but surely someone will figure out how to heat things with electricity? I mean there must be some way to work around the fact that putting too much electricity through metal will melt it? And how are we going to melt metal if the metal things we build to melt the metal also melt when we put electricity through them. It's a conundrum, but surely some genius will solve it.

Also, I didn't realise how correct I was to refer to this as cult-like:

> That leaves the question: if most of what we praise about ourselves is not so much us but our fossil fuel suit (we do look good in it, don’t we?), then what’s left when our empire loses its cladding? Just how feeble, pathetic, and dull are we, under that thick and powerful shroud?

He literally thinks we can't invent new things without fossil fuels. That's a very weird belief.

Regarding the question 'what specific thing is it hard to do without fossil fuels', the answer, from what I've seen of that side of the debate, is that the problem isn't technical but economic.

To attempt to steelman the argument AIUI: If we replace the EROI of fossil fuels with the EROI of renewables, a much larger portion of the economy will have to be dedicated to generating energy. This will make everything more expensive, and a lot of activity we take for granted today will be too expensive to be maintained, even though it might still be technically feasible. Even the leisure time to invent new and better energy sources will be displaced by people needing more time to chop their own firewood etc[1], and free capital to invest in new inventions will similarly be much harder to come by than when we were all comparatively rich due to the fossil subsidy. There will be knock-on effects in the complexity of society, which is currently able to maintain a high level of complexity and specialization because the high costs of complexity (e.g. longer supply chains) is being subsidized by the low cost of energy.

It's not a terrible argument, though it clearly is making a doomer assumption at every turn. Currently, google tells me that the EROI of crude oil and solar PV are ~20 and ~10 respectively - which does represent a significant tightening of the total wealth available if we contemplated switching everything today. The more optimistic counterpoint, is that the current EROI of fossils is diminishing, and will meet the EROI of renewables at some point, where by this logic the maintainable complexity of society would stabilize. Hopefully that still allows us to have a microchip foundry somewhere, though I haven't seen anyone reliably crunch the numbers one way or another.

[1]pointing out that Nikola Tesla invented a lot of things while employed digging ditches is not part of a proper steelman.

Naively, if our EROI halves, then we should be at worst half as rich, right? If that's the case then (again, very naively) you might expect that we would "merely" have to accept an average standard of living from when the world was half as rich, which would be about 2003-2004.Now, the world was much more very unevenly developed in 2003, so that doesn't mean rich countries won't have to come down while poor ones come up, but it doesn't sound apocalyptic to return to the Bush years in terms of wealth.

That said, I think the naive interpretation is wrong. IMO most of the wealth we've been creating since the 19th century is mainly about the task of applying cheap energy to new problems: perfecting power looms, artificial fertilizer, transportation, etc. If the energy becomes twice as expensive, it's not clear that we would only be half as rich. We might in fact be much much poorer than our ancestors were before the cheap energy, because the biosphere (our previous primary source of low-entropy raw material) is in far worse shape than it was in 1800 and needs to support many more people.

One hope is that green energy can actually exceed the EROI of fossil energy. If we can get high-efficiency, long-life (don't have to replace it for 100 years or more) PV, then it should be pretty easy to exceed fossil fuels' EROI. You have to dig more coal for every unit of coal-fired work, whereas you can manufacture a solar panel once and let it do unlimited units of work as long as it exists and the sun is shining.

> Naively, if our EROI halves, then we should be at worst half as rich,

Interesting question. Not if energy is used to build things that then build things, which it is. Depending on how long that "chain" is on average, the efficiency difference can compound exponentially.

For example, if you have 3 chains of repeated processing, and each link is made 10% more efficient, the total output is increased by 1.1^3, or about 33.1%

I am not sure what kind of a number you could empirically estimate for the "average chain length" of the physical "tool chain" used to produce modern industrial goods, but it's probably at least 2, which would suggest halving efficiency yields cutting final output four-fold!

And yes, I don't actually have a real idea of the answer because it also depends on many other factors like the degree to which energy is the limiting resource for each individual step, how fast capital amortizes (literally how long a factory part lasts between replacement, essentially), etc. I really have no idea either. But my first back of the envelope initial guess would be more pessimistic than "cut efficiency in half, get half the output"

Source: ....got addicted to factorio last week. Please send help.

Renewables have been higher ERoEI for a while.

It doesn't get mentioned much because only conspiracy theorists use ERoEI as a metric, because it's nearly totally meaningless, and so you need to find an actual scientist with the time and interest to show conspiracy theorists why their own sums are wrong.

2014 link:


2018 update:


General dunking on the whole concept of ERoEI:


Yeah, obviously the thing we want to maximize is the energy output per labor input, since the whole point of having this energy is to use as an input to further labor-saving processes. Chopping wood with an axe is bad on this scale. Coal and oil are much better. Renewables have the potential to be even better, if they aren't already.

Thanks for these, they are a good way to voice something that I've always felt was a problem with the EROI crowd's thinking.

I believe this particular author admits that the ERoEI of renewables is in fact higher than fossil fuels and unlike them increasing.

Could be wrong on that. He definately mentioned ERoEI which set me twitching as usually that indicates insanity is about to follow. But in this case I think he got ERoEI correct but then just somehow got to the same bad conclusion that people who get it wrong do.

edit: on reflection he wasn't quite as explicitly positive as I recalled:

> That in itself is not particularly problematic. Based on the favorable energy return on energy invested (EROEI) in renewable technologies—well above break-even

But still seems enough to make that complaint irrelevant (depends on whether he buys into the society needs X and renewables and nuclear can only provide Y stuff. Which some of his other comments seem to imply).

Note that ERoEI is a nearly totally useless measure and the vast majority of people quoting it do not even understand what they are saying. So all of this bit of your steelman isn't even wrong, just doesn't really make any sense.

> To attempt to steelman the argument AIUI: If we replace the EROI of fossil fuels with the EROI of renewables, a much larger portion of the economy will have to be dedicated to generating energy. This will make everything more expensive, and a lot of activity we take for granted today will be too expensive to be maintained, even though it might still be technically feasible

> Also, I didn't realise how correct I was to refer to this as cult-like:

I like his cult better than the cult we are in right now. We live in a weird death cult which focus on greed and ignores the sufferings of others.

Have you heard Paul Levy’s talks or articles on Wetiko?

Thanks, I’ll be sending an email soon.

Yes, this article gets to the heart of the problem, like a few others, eg https://www.monbiot.com/2019/04/30/the-problem-is-capitalism...

Electric cars and other techno-fixes at best reduce the damage caused by what we do, and at worst, hide the damage from us.

The actual problem is in what we do, how we live.

IMHO there are two sustainable paths.

We can live 'in nature', as the article suggests. This probably requires a much lower population, and probable accepting nature's solutions to problems. Famine for over-population, etc.

Or we can detach entirely from nature. Live in beautiful self-sustaining cities, our food produced by cell culture, fermentation, indoor farms, etc, energy from solar, deep geothermal, etc. The rest of the world is a nature reserve.

There are a lot of of solutions from permaculture design in which one can “live with nature”. I think a lot of people would be surprised by what is possible. But it still requires a change in the world view and way of life.

Sounds cultish. What makes you think either of those paths are workable? Why wouldn’t what we’re doing now lead to a sustainable future? What does hiding the damage mean?

> Why wouldn’t what we’re doing now lead to a sustainable future?

Because what we're doing now is "growth", which isn't sustainable in a finite word. Unless you believe humanity is going to colonise the galaxy very soon.

I recommend "limits to growth" which is still very relevant https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limits_to_Growth

And you think capitalism is not a cult?

You can go live like that now in the metaverse and you don't have to disrupt how the rest of us live.

Are you serious? Really, are you?

It's always worth considering solutions that don't require forcefully changing the behavior of billions of people.

Don't worry about other people's behavior, just focus on your own. Because that is what you re really telling me. You do not want to change your own behavior.

What’s interesting and breaks that argument is how many things can effectively be recycled 100%. Rainfall and sunlight are going to be plentiful for the next billion years without issue. Dumps don’t destroy useful elements like lithium they just mix them with less useful junk.

So, at what point do dumps become mines of the future? Better technology that can economically extract useful material. Current mines already operate at concentrations that would have been useless even just 50 years ago and that trend is unlikely to change.

The "concentration of useful material" is only part of the calculus; the 'hazards associated with the other stuff' is one also (and current mines of course have this, too!).

No mention of how WW2 created a lot of two income, no kid households with extremely high savings rates that helped fuel the post-war boom.

No mention of passive solar design and vernacular architecture as a means to improve quality of life while reducing energy consumption instead of looking for bullshit miracle clean energy answers.

"Doing the math" won't fix this when the person crunching the numbers has no meaningful solutions.

The EU banned new fossil-fuel cars from 2035. Probably not quite soon enough to make "fossil fuels all but obsolete except in a few backwater places".

Although, I'd guess not many people in EU will be enthusiastic to a buy a fuel car in 2030. Second hand value might be low. So the ban might have a front running effect.

Solutions without degrowth are not solutions. Even if we somewhat move to renewables for cars and transport in general, if we keep growing our need of cars, plane/leisure trips, industries and so on we will hit another bump pretty soon, or not be able to finish that move at all. You can't just do both. Low hanging fruits like ending (far away, at the very least) tourism, far more remote working and presence to avoid commuting and revamp (electric) public transport should be adopted and soon. It will have a huge economic and social impact, but will be pocket change compared with the cost of doing nothing or not enough.

We won't get up to 2050 in a good shape, even if the scenario of stop using fossil fuels. The system already have more circulating carbon, that lead to more concentration of GHG, global warming, and triggering positive feedback loops that will keep worsening things badly, I just don't know what will be the scenario at the end of this decade, much less in 30 years. But I know that things will be far worse if we keep delaying and doing nothing significative about it.

Keep people educated and hand out contraception.

As a side note, a day will come when there will be the most humans ever alive at one time. I wonder what that will be like? I hope I live to see the day and that it falls this side of Halley’s Comet’s next appearance. Keep watching Japan’s economy.

I think the tiger is saying the "peak day" will occur, and that will only be known afterwards as the peak drops. In other words, the day that number starts going down.

Bio fuels for air travel is not the answer. We need zero emission technologies for transportation.

What specific technologies are you suggesting? It is possible to manufacture carbon-neutral synthetic liquid hydrocarbon fuels using renewable sources of heat and electricity. The costs are higher than fossil fuels today but that is a fixable problem.

I don’t know if Mother Nature will care if something has carbon neutral label on it or not but when burnt it emits a bunch of CO2 and other toxic gases into the atmosphere. So we really need to switch to electric engines for transportation and then use fuel cells charged from renewable sources with them.

The point of carbon neutral fuels is that the CO2 used was captured.

Electric motors aren't going to be viable for long-haul flights in our lifetimes due to battery weight. Fuel cells aren't "charged", but they do need a supply of hydrogen. I'm skeptical whether that will work out due to safety, storage, and volume issues.

We know how to travel with zero or near zero emissions; we just don't want to.

Make the world big again! Stop with traveling faster than 25 miles per hour! It'll blow your face off anyway.

Agree, and I too was lost at that point, but I implore you to read on.

In terms of technology we already have all the solutions we need to avert environmental catastrophe. We don't have to reduce our standard of living. If anything quality of life will go up, as living in harmony with nature is fun, healthy, and economical.

In terms of actually learning (really re-learning) to live in harmony with nature the resolution lies in what Martin Buber called "I-Thou vs. I-it":

> Buber's main proposition is that we may address existence in two ways:

> - The attitude of the "I" towards an "It", towards an object that is separate in itself, which we either use or experience.

> - The attitude of the "I" towards "Thou", in a relationship in which the other is not separated by discrete bounds.

> One of the major themes of the book is that human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships.


By treating Nature as an "it" rather than a living constellation of living beings we deny ourselves the meaningfulness of relationship with the rest of life. This in turn naturally leads otherwise-good people to thoughtlessly and needlessly destroy other living beings and the ecosystems which they comprise and which sustain them.

Scientific reductionism has lead to incredible insights into the biomolecular machinery of life, which in turn has lead naturally to our dawning understanding of the physical chemical basis of cellular communication ("wood wide web"; Michael Levin's lab; etc.)

The task now is to harmonize our technology with the ecological systems around us.

- - - -

I met a group of people living in Northern California who produce their own food and energy, construct their own buildings from on-site material (wood, stone, earth) and they even have a cow for milk production. They also have Internet and modern technology.

I'm not saying we should all live in semi-rural communes. I'm pointing out that it's possible to have the best of the techno-industrial world and the Natural world.

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