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Being real about the climate emergency

Written By: - Date published: 6:05 am, December 4th, 2020 - 118 comments
Categories: climate change, sustainability - Tags: , , ,

Commenting on the government’s declaration of climate emergency this week, Minister for Climate Change James Shaw said this,

We are saying this is an emergency that has a level of equivalence to any Civil Defence emergency.

The Prime Minister however seems to think it’s not akin to an already existing emergency and is something we need to prevent happening in the future.

There’s probably a whole post in the difference between those two positions, but rather than getting caught up in the details of what the New Zealand government and New Zealand as a whole is and isn’t doing, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture.

Vox published this piece in 2017 on the issues with climate targets and reliance on unproven tech,

One of the morbidly fascinating aspects of climate change is how much cognitive dissonance it generates, in individuals and nations alike.

The more you understand the brutal logic of climate change — what it could mean, the effort necessary to forestall it — the more the intensity of the situation seems out of whack with the workaday routines of day-to-day life. It’s a species-level emergency, but almost no one is acting like it is. And it’s very, very difficult to be the only one acting like there’s an emergency, especially when the emergency is abstract and science-derived, grasped primarily by the intellect.

This psychological schism is true for individuals, and it’s true for nations.

You can click through for the science, or have a read of this twitter thread from today from @ClimateBen,

What if I told you the Paris Agreement on climate change relies on technologies that scientists know DO NOT and WILL NOT WORK?


Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) systems like Carbon capture and storage (CCS) and Direct air capture (DAC) put more greenhouse gases into the air than they take out, and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) would push Earth over ecological limits.


‘Beccs features in more than 80% of the IPCC pathways, which means it sits at the very centre of the Paris agreement – even though it is not mentioned in the text. But there is a growing consensus among scientists that Beccs won’t work.’


The technology has never been proven at scale, and there’s no way it will appear in time to save us. Even if it did, it would require that we create plantations equivalent to three times the size of India, which would eat up 1/3 of the planet’s arable land’


This would make it impossible for us to feed the world’s population. And transforming that much land into bio-energy monoculture would trigger ecosystem collapse that could be disastrous for all of us.


‘While many scientists and climate change activists hailed December’s Paris agreement as a historic step forward for international efforts to limit global warming, the landmark accord rests on a highly dubious assumption…’


‘BECCS at scale would require 724 million arable hectares of Earth’s surface to be dedicated to bioenergy crops, approximately double the size of India. BECCS of such magnitude looks wildly improbable’

https://www.forbes.com/sites/andystone/2018/10/29/negative-emissions-wont-rescue-us-from-climate-change/ (paywall)

to avoid a 1.5°C global warming calamity without relying on fantasy, large-scale carbon sequestration, the global community would have to get to zero carbon emissions by 2026.


This is why I write about the Powerdown, a framework for acting fast on reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the same time as transitioning to regenerative and resilient societies that are based in degrowth rather than perpetual growth but still give us a decent standard of living.

Because if it’s true that global climate agreements are at best giving us only a percentage chance of avoiding catastrophe, and those agreements are based on technology that isn’t available yet, is unproven at scale and may cause more damage, then we need another way. And the block to other ways is not lack of options but is our collective and personal inability to grasp the immediacy and scale of the emergency.

The best way I know of managing the cognitive dissonance that kicks in in the blunt face of climate reality is to have proactive pathways for action. This is things we can do right now that bring a personal sense of making a difference (climate activism, planting gardens, divesting from climate polluters), as well as movements and world views that present us with hope even if we can’t see how things might work out.

That’s twofold: one is letting ourselves be confronted with the enormity of the situation and all the grief, shock and fear that goes with that, and two is choosing to act in ways appropriate to it being real.

I don’t know what will shake enough people out of complacency, denial and clinging to our “workaday routines of day-to-day life” to get the mass mobilisation necessary to shift our government to ‘war footing’, but I do believe that there are enough of us who get it already to be stepping things up and demonstrating the action matching the reality of the emergency.

Many of us are already doing things in our personal lives, and many of us are here for the discussion, although I fully expect at least some of the threads under this post to be focused on arguing about what is real about the green tech vs powerdown realities. For those of us that do get it, can we please use the climate emergency declaration to shift things up to the next level and strategise about our political options. We can’t afford to wait for parliament, but they will follow the radical edge if we make them.

118 comments on “Being real about the climate emergency ”

  1. Pat 1

    Hear hear….but I am at a loss as to how we make the wilfully blind politicians see.

  2. Stuart Munro 2

    It's not a matter of inability – there are enough desertified lands to capture plenty of carbon. What's lacking is political will. Just like NZ's burgeoning inequality – it doesn't matter to Wellington "elites" and so nothing will be done.

    We had a generational opportunity to fix our freshwater, and Parker micturated it away –

    Nothing really matters, anyone can see,
    Nothing really matters; nothing really matters to me.
    Any way the wind blows…

  3. roy cartland 3

    We can’t afford to wait for parliament, but they will follow the radical edge if we make them.

    Jacinda has pretty much challenged us to do just that, right? With her messaging aroung looking after the 'new' voters Labour has acquired, what I hear from her is "I agree with everything you say: so go out there and make me do it!"

    • weka 3.1

      Oh that would be cool. I haven't followed it this week other than superficially, been busy and also didn't have the heart to watch the mainstream drag the chain again. Would you mind linking me to anything you see that looks like this is what she is doing?

  4. Bearded Git 4

    If the government is serious about climate change it should come out against the proposed new international airport at Tarras….but all I hear is a deafening silence.

    • weka 4.1

      yeah, that shit is unbelievable, doubly so since covid. But most people still believe in perpetual growth, and there is a *lot of pressure within the left to not address overpopulation. Yet that is exactly what is driving that completely insane project. That and boys and their toys and too much money.

      • greywarshark 4.1.1

        The proposed Tarras airport. It's a bad commercial decision if looked at in only that way. It must be a short-term fix as air travel becomes less of an option because of the eventual shortage of fossil fuel, or dangerous type of fuel, that it uses. Then there is the growing climate change realisation that even the airy-fairy moneyed tourists will have to pay attention to. Then there is the necessity of limiting tourism as it tends to spoil the resource it sells as scenic, destroying by sheer numbers, by demands for comfort and glamour, and because it is a chancy business to invest in, but encourages desire for short-term growth without long-term considerations.

        If the airport was costed to pay off completely within ten years and could be, which I doubt, it is still setting aside land that otherwise would be available for more important purposes and interferes with nature, with noise from bulldozers and other machinery, soil pushed away here and there for roads as well as the actual airport, the landscape changed and sequestered, and the noise of planes and spills of chemicals (fire-fighting foam etc). Hey you money-jerks leave our place alone!

        • weka

          Destroying quality of life of people that live there would be high in my list of reasons of don't do it.

          But, tourism and related sectors (looking at you councils) are in massive denial about climate change. People think we're going to have electric planes and BAU.

      • Craig H 4.1.2

        Unbelievable is right, particularly all the nonsense around the return of international tourism as the saviour of the economy. Now would be an excellent opportunity to wean ourselves off it permanently.

    • Graeme 4.2

      A good thing that's come out of the Tarras proposal is that it's flushed out Auckland Airport's dreams of monopoly dominance of NZ longhaul aviation by developing a new airport in the South, most likely at Hawea Flat. Christchurch became involved as this would have been an existential threat to their business, just as the earlier Castle Rock proposal was, which was also firmly shut down.

      Now we are starting to have a mature discussion on future transport infrastructure into Central Otago, with some decent thought and discussions taking place, and covering all current and possible future modes of transport into the district. Hopefully it will take us to a much better place.

      From an emissions perspective the current Regional Airport at Queenstown would be the worst in the country per px by a huge margin due to the constrained approach and departure, and the huge number of diversions and missed approaches due to weather, mainly cross wind or nil / fickle wind conditions. It's a very difficult airport. A larger airport would would accomodate larger, more efficient aircraft and be in a more open location without the weather constraints.

  5. Robert Guyton 5

    When smokers are presented with and accept the deadly inevitability of their habit, do they quit?

    If humans resist change in just one minor aspect of their lives, would they make major changes in order to avoid destruction?

    Even as some smokers struggle to breathe and hear from their doctors that every cigarette worsens their condition, they smoke on. Are humans faulty in their manufacture, or at least, has this model become corrupted and unreliable in terms of self-maintainance?

    Can that 'fault be repaired?

    • weka 5.1

      lots of people give up smoking too, so maybe there is something in providing support to get people off fossil fuels, or off the consumerist, perpetual growth, neoliberal society. BAU-cessation programmes?

      It's the ones who want to give up that we can work with, don't think we need to be worried so much about the hard core ones who can't or won't, they will diminish in number over time.

    • Brigid 5.2

      It's called addiction Robert.

      Look it up

      • Robert Guyton 5.2.1

        Thanks for the encouragement, Brigid. My idea was that all of our present behaviours; driving cars, buying stuff, watching stuff, is just that; an addiction, subtle and very difficult to break. I'm wondering, "what techniques have the "habit-breakers" learned in order to facilitate addiction-extinction and can we employ those learnings to free each and every one of is from our cultural/behavioural addictions; you know, those ones that are stuffing the place up!

  6. Robert Guyton 6

    "maybe there is something in providing support to get people off fossil fuels, or off the consumerist, perpetual growth, neoliberal society. "

    Yes. There is. Or rather, something that will repair the fault we've acquired in recent centuries.

  7. RedLogix 7

    It's now widely recognised that bio-fuels (being essentially another photosynthesis based energy storage mechanism) simply used up too much land and has too low an EROI to be the path forward.

    Indeed all renewables that depend in direct sunlight (solar, wind and biomass) are inherently limited by their diffuse and intermittent nature; yet for several million years of evolution it's all that was available to us. Our technical, economic and social development exactly mirrored these limitations.

    Then we discovered these miraculous stores of sunlight, coal and oil, that are concentrated and and reliable. On the back of this we have transformed our world, doubled life expectancy and lifted the majority of humanity out of brute poverty for the first time ever. I don't know about some people here, but I care about this. We cannot legitimately fight poverty and inequality if we remain blind to the fact that access to energy is the essential physical basis on which these ancient ills are eradicated.

    My problem with Powerdown as a concept is that it explicitly takes us backward toward the pre-fossil fuel era , without being clear on just how far back it wants to go. It seems to propose we can undo the physical basis on which the modern world functions, while somehow magically retaining all the benefits of it. Who here after all is for life expectancies going back to around 35yrs or so? Infant mortalities close to 50%?

    Now if Powerdown proposes better energy efficiencies, less waste and profligacy, then generally these are worthwhile goals that any intelligent person would support. But this is a place we have been before; our pre-Industrial ancestors were very smart and tough people, more so than us, they lived Powerdown all the time and were very, very good at it. What makes us think we would do any better in the long run? And why do we imagine the social outcomes would be much different?

    Yes the first generations of Powerdown would enjoy a legacy benefit of the now cancelled Industrial Revolution, there would be left over resources and technical knowledge to draw down on for maybe a century. But long term the outcome would inevitable.

    My direct challenge to the OP is this; yes Powerdown embraces some legitimate motives and ideas, but in the long run it will be a defeat not a saviour.

  8. WeTheBleeple 8

    Stuart and Robert have both pointed out (part of) the way forward. Stuart mentions restoring deserts, and Robert with his approach to his magnum opus, the Food Forest.

    Robert got a bad piece of land and made it good. This is exactly what's required. We make bad land good. We restore topsoil and sequester carbon there, we restore forests and sequester carbon there. But also, an economic case can be made for restorative ecology (to bring those suicidal idiots with all the money along for the ride).

    There are examples of water restoration projects in India (and other places) that show bad land being made good. Some have created forests on what was bare rock. Once you have water, and biomass e.g. weeds and manure, you can start to make soil. When you build topsoil over large areas you sequester a shit ton (I think this is the correct term) of carbon.

    Mostly economic cases fail to factor in the costs of ecosystem services, but if nature were not there to provide them (water purification, air purification, nutrient recycling, carbon capture, pollination, rain production, shelter, flood and drought mitigation, temperature mediation, off the top of my head…) most economic endeavors would collapse.

    Restoring topsoil restores fertility and production to lands. Here tangible (to the short sighted) benefits might also be realised. Crop production, food, fibre, medicines and fuels. But we need to realise these particular benefits in a regenerative fashion, or again we start to lose the ecosystem benefits. It's give and take, not take take take.

    A new accounting is required. Similarly to having a wellbeing budget that challenges finance as the only measure of success; we need some measure(s) of ecosystem health that define a lands 'productivity'.

    Organic matter is a reasonable measure of soil health, while biomass/biodiversity would better represent health above ground. All give a reasonable guesstimate of carbon on site, with some being imported via primary production, and some being exported via products and practices.

    Restore the worst patches of land. They have the best potential to improve things. These can generate carbon credits and, once they're 'productive' again, might be managed – wisely!

    • RedLogix 8.1

      Robert got a bad piece of land and made it good.

      Which is a great achievement and something I sincerely respect. Yet he did not do this in a vacuum; for a start it was dependent on a legal and security system surrounding him that meant him and his family might have continuity and certainty of occupation, and this making the investment of time they have put into it worthwhile. That system is the NZ state that is sustained on the basis of a much broader, industrialised economic system.

      I'll warrant that visit to Robert's home (and I'd be chuffed if that was possible one day) I could quickly find many dozens of essential items linked to the wider economy. I'm sure Robert and his family went to school, visit doctors and dentists … and so on.

      I'd characterise what Robert has done as a research project; that within certain boundaries he's informing us on how to intensify land productivity, without necessarily degrading it. Good sound stuff; but as a model for how the whole of modern humanity might live …. less so.

      • WeTheBleeple 8.1.1

        Why you'd take all that nonsense from what I said is beyond me. FFS. Nobody's asking you to join a cult and eat roots. I'm talking land restoration and we have many examples and experts you'd fail to see if you fell over them.

        • RedLogix

          experts you'd fail to see if you fell over them.

          As someone who just purchased a David Holmgren book just a week back, I find that a fairly silly assertion.

          Nobody's asking you to join a cult and eat roots.

          Just to be totally clear, yes I fully grasp that land restoration is a good thing, but it's not a sufficient solution on it's own is it?

          • WeTheBleeple

            Why do you feel the need to assert than any idea brought up is not the whole solution? This is quite obvious. Or must I preface what I say with 'this is not the answer to everything'. Unless of course, my post simply states:


            • RedLogix

              OK fair enough. I wish you could have read my comment more constructively; yes I support the broad ideas you mention, land restoration, carbon sequestration, etc. I've had a sustained interest in these things since my 20's.

              (And right now my partner is tending a small urban garden and chook run, and we've eaten mostly plant based for decades, so please don't assume we do nothing personal.)

              But the OP makes a key point here:

              Many of us are already doing things in our personal lives, and many of us are here for the discussion, although I fully expect at least some of the threads under this post to be focused on arguing about what is real about the green tech vs powerdown realities.

              My sense is that this binary framing 'green tech vs powerdown' unhelpfully pits the two views against each other, when it's my very strong sense (and I apologise if I've failed to convey this properly) that the two must complement each other. That both can co-exist and thrive alongside each other.

              So where I point out that Robert's excellent work (and many others by implication) does not stand on it's own, I'm not attempting to detract. Rather I'm seriously trying to visualise how a hyper-energised world could build on his ideas in order to both intensify agricultural production and free up the natural world at the same time.

              Historically these were two contradictory goals, yet maybe our future could say otherwise.

              • WeTheBleeple

                I agree that a tech/restorative future is possible, and have no desire to go backwards. But, despite our progresses, we are heading, not just backward, but off a cliff.

                That's something that needs to be recognised about tech. It got us here, good and bad. We gotta fix the bad or the good is gone too. Nobody wants to go back to the dark ages. But we also don't want to suffer and die. All fairly logical.

                How we produce, how we consume, matters. Tech gave us fertiliser and desertification. It gave us pesticides, steroids and cancers. It gave us mobility and air pollution.

                We gotta stop compromising for convenience it's entirely inconvenient.

                The biggest carbon sink we can make is land restoration; closely followed by conversion of (much of) agriculture and horticulture to more appropriate models.

                This is not a step backwards, it is a correction.

                • RedLogix

                  Good. I think we've established a fair bit of common ground there.

                  And to make a final point, I'm absolutely not advocating for more of the status quo. I agree we are heading down a road that has the wall of climate and resource depletion on one side, and the chasm of another dark age on the other. And the narrow, twisty path between them just isn't all that obvious at the moment, but we had better bloody bet on it being there.


          • Robert Guyton

            Sorry to have missed the conversation; after making my comments here I busied myself picking up timber from the mill; macrocarpa for the signs that mark our 12 heritage orchards in the towns around the region, and Oregon the Menzshed guys are going to make "1-metre garden beds" from, for the new-to-vegetable-growing members of our community. Because we had a delegation from each of the councils, TransitNZ and other agencies arriving at midday to hear about proposals for a significant expansion to the community garden/forest garden/orchard network across Southland, I had to organise the tours of the various examples we have in our village and make sure I knew where the ripe fruits (gooseberries and red currants) were, so that we could "stumble upon them" and they could all fill their pockets; are tangible result to their tour. They are all in my forest garden presently and the discussions are very uplifting; talking about how such gardens are "safe storage" for food the community could access following catastrophies of various sorts, how community projects like the Community Forest Garden (we're going there next) build networks of communication and interaction, as well as adding to the "larder" of the village, and how that sort of self-generated, council-supported supports and fosters good mental health, both before, during and after challenging events, such as Covid or an earthquake (the Southern Alps are due a big one presently). There was even talk of the potential for gardens like these; ones that feature trees and perennial plants, rather than just annual vegetables, to sequester carbon and while the Government might not stretch to assigning monetary value to that sequestration, the community would certainly count them as an asset of that nature. Now I have to go again, as the tour is nearing the house and I want to say a few things. I hope to return to the conversation later in the day, if anyone is still playing 🙂

            • weka

              This is gold. Once you get the ears and eyes of people in those kinds of positions of power, things change. Well done you and your community.

              I figure the sequestration that isn't being counted is our secret weapon. If they count it someone will want to use it to offset burning fossil fuels instead of seeing it as the restoration bank for keeping people and the land safe going forward.

              • Robert Guyton

                "I figure the sequestration that isn't being counted is our secret weapon."

                Ha! That's brilliant! Hidden in plain sight.

                The team, now dispersed back to their various offices, were excellent; inquisitive, curious, open-minded, willing, creative, contributory and so on, plus, it'll come as no surprise, all women smiley The moment they were, I feel, completely "won over" was when they accepted the invitation to fill their pockets with as many ripe gooseberries as the wished, from the community forest-garden. The proof of the pudding…

        • greywarshark

          What RL would do is hold a lecture series on 'experimental' projects, and a group seeking enlightenment would travel in a bus to each site where he would waffle on about his opinions on them, and what the Maori used to do, and what should be done as they did but better under his direction, and then touch 'lightly' on what the Greeks, Romans and Chinese did, and also the clever terracing carried out in Asia. (Pity that the USA bombing destroyed many cultivated fields and their irrigation dykes etc).

          Life happens to us, while [RedLogix] is making other plans.

          (And here is all about that phrase. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/05/06/other-plans/)

      • Robert Guyton 8.1.2

        "'I'd characterise what Robert has done as a research project;"

        I wouldn't. I'd characterise it as a co-operative exploration of inter-communication and intersectionality between some human and non-human entities with the aim of establishing communion and dialogue for the purpose of securing a shared and satisfying future for all concerned.


    • left_forward 8.2

      This is exactly right WeTheBleeple – thank you for this.

      Technology is what got us jnto this mess in the first place – we cannot wait for new innovations – we simply go back to nature herself, restore our soil, and she will heal herself.

      To do this we (humans) quit ploughing and adding chemicals, plant perennial grasses with minimal disturbance to the soil on our farms, gardens and public spaces. We compost all our organic wastes, mulch the soil, and plant our crops in the resulting biodynamic soils. This will sequester the legacy carbon.

      This is the core of what we need to do it and it will be driven by the economic benefits of the higher yields that biodynamic farming will bring.

      • Robert Guyton 8.2.1

        I reckon thought is technology. All physical technologies (tools etc.) arise from thought/imagination/visioning. We have to learn to manage our thinking/imagining/visioning; that's our challenge, right there, I reckon.

  9. mango 9

    "My problem with Powerdown as a concept is that it explicitly takes us backward toward the pre-fossil fuel era , without being clear on just how far back it wants to go. It seems to propose we can undo the physical basis on which the modern world functions, while somehow magically retaining all the benefits of it. Who here after all is for life expectancies going back to around 35yrs or so? Infant mortalities close to 50%?"

    That is a valid concern but there is some thought about this that has been done. A growing opinion seems to be that per capita resource consumption at the level of the developed countries had in the 1950's could be sustainable and extended to the world's poorest people. We have do have better technology so it is possible to imagine extracting somewhat higher "utility" ( to use the economics term) from that level of resource input.

    The idea of "going back to the 50's" is going to scare people but people used to live like that relatively happily ( arguably happier than people living high consumption lifestyles do now). Also overlooked is that a big chunk of the world population are living like this right now. Of course if you gave those people the choice of consuming more then most of them would but it would not increase their wellbeing.

    There are plausible arguments for a liveable but much less resource intensive lifestyle but as a society there is not yet the recognition that that there is no way to maintain the status quo by just plugging in clean technology. I don't blame politicians for this because they have to work within the overton window. The change has to be societal and there are glimmers of it happening now.

    • RedLogix 9.1

      A growing opinion seems to be that per capita resource consumption at the level of the developed countries had in the 1950's could be sustainable and extended to the world's poorest people.

      That's an interesting assertion I've seen made before, although I've never seen any research and numbers to back it up.

      I could be a bit snarky and ask if you'd also be happy to revert back to the technology of the day (minimal birth control, no computers and internet for example), but more saliently, would you be happy to live with the social norms and mores of the day? The assumption that we could live physically as our parents and grandparents did, while at the same time retaining all the social progress since we have made is a fairly heroic one in my view. Remember that relatively poor people are also typically very socially conservative; they have to be in order to survive.

      But my big objection is this; that even if we achieved the kind of Powerdown you suggest globally, we're really only kicking the climate crisis can a bit down the road. We're past the point where merely slowing down CO2 emissions will help, and it would leave a whole other range of environmental and resource depletion issues largely untouched.

      And humanity's ability to respond to them now constrained by a relatively limited access to energy.

      • mango 9.1.1

        "That's an interesting assertion I've seen made before, although I've never seen any research and numbers to back it up." As far as I know the main source comes from global footprint calculations. The numbers as I understand them involve reducing the size of the economy to within planetary boundaries ( by about 33%) then sharing the remaining resources roughly equally. The result is is about an 80% reduction in per capita resource use on current developed country levels. The 1950's comparison comes from looking back to when resource use was at that level. It does demonstrate how consumption has increased so massively since that time without (as I mentioned) not much improvement in wellbeing.

        "I could be a bit snarky and ask if you'd also be happy to revert back to the technology of the day (minimal birth control, no computers and internet for example)" Yes it does sound a bit snarky wink. More to the point It doesn't necessarily follow that technology has to or will regress even though I think it will be hard to keep some tech at the present level. What might happen regarding what tech is really sustainable long term is a complex question that would take too long to cover here.

        "but more saliently, would you be happy to live with the social norms and mores of the day?" Again that is an assumption that I would question. John Michael Greer also notes that is a common response to what we are talking about. Yes there might be some social change but it doesn’t mean life would have to be exactly like the 1950’s

        "But my big objection is this; that even if we achieved the kind of Powerdown you suggest globally, we're really only kicking the climate crisis can a bit down the road. We're past the point where merely slowing down CO2 emissions will help, and it would leave a whole other range of environmental and resource depletion issues largely untouched."

        On the contrary, the general idea is to reduce consumption of all resources thus addressing the larger unsustainability problem not just energy. Far from kicking the can down the road the whole point is to reduce consumption to the point where needs can be met feasibly from renewable resources.

        • RedLogix

          I appreciate the reasoned response. In reply I'll leap to your final point, as it wraps up most of the others:

          the general idea is to reduce consumption of all resources thus addressing the larger unsustainability problem not just energy.

          For the sake of argument, we can model the current world as being aproximately 1b people consuming everything, and around 2100 perhaps 9b other people consuming nothing. (A silly but simplifying assumption.)

          Now lets assume resource use in this model is currently say 1 unit per capita. So total usage in this model is 1b units. Now lets reduce this to 0.3 units per capital as you suggest, now total resource use is 300m units. That looks good.

          Now lets share this out 0.3 units per capita equally across all 10b humans, and total resource use becomes 3b units. We've tripled current consumption; and if the current 1b consumption is considered unsustainable, then 3b is surely no better.

          In order to just stay at the current level, we'd have to cut back to roughly 10% of our present energy/resource usage per person. That would merely keep us on the same dead end track we are on at present.

          And if I read your comment correctly you suggest we have to get total resource down to roughly 1/3rd of current levels (renewables only). Well in this model, we're now down to a per capita resource use of just 3% of what people in the currently developed world (the so called 'golden one billion') enjoy. For all practical purposes that's pre-Industrial levels.

          In a crude nutshell this the arithmetic we are collectively up against. A more sophisticated analysis would yield better answers, but not dramatically different.

          Yes there might be some social change but it doesn’t mean life would have to be exactly like the 1950’s

          The iron clad presupposition I am using here is that technology enables social change, not the other way around. And that energy poor communities tend to be socially very conservative, and prosperous one much more progressive.

          On that basis the preponderance of evidence suggests, that reverting to a per capita resource use of just 3% or so of what the developed world uses at present, would likely drive social mores back toward very conservative.

          I'm willing to accept that history won't exactly repeat itself, once humans learn a technology we very rarely unlearn it, but the context in which we use it can shift dramatically. Predicting exactly how this would play out in the context of the dramatic Powerdown necessary to sustain a 'renewables only' world with 10b humans, is I accept very hard to predict. But it's not a bet I'd be keen on taking.

          • mango

            I may not have been clear enough here. The ecological footprint claims that the economy is 1.5 times what is sustainable thus it would have to shrink by 1/3 to get back within those limits leaving 2/3. The argument goes that this resource base should be shared equally amongst the whole population (rather than the extremely unequal distribution at present) That is where the claim of the high consuming countries reducing their share by 80% comes from. The assumption is that the poorest will increase consumption to that level and "the middle" will not change much. Thus the "1950's ":figure includes redistribution, that's 20% rater than the 3% you calculated. I don't know how population growth is included in the numbers so you are better off trying to find out your self rather than asking me. Although there is a growing body of opinion that population will top out sooner and lower than the common 10b figure and that would alter the numbers.

            "I'm willing to accept that history won't exactly repeat itself, once humans learn a technology we very rarely unlearn it" But people do abandon useful technologies because the can afford to in both economic and energy senses, When the circumstances change ( and we agree they will) people can adapt if the have no choice.

            "The iron clad presupposition I am using here is that technology enables social change, not the other way around. And that energy poor communities tend to be socially very conservative, and prosperous one much more progressive."

            That's not an unreasonable idea based on history but Tends is the operative word. That suggest that a resource limited society can be progressive if they choose to be ( in other words that some beliefs are learned rather then inevitable). It also depends a lot on what you define as "conservative" or "progressive"

            • RedLogix

              OK so let's translate those figures into the same format as I used.

              Let's reduce the current 1b down by 80% (that's one hell of a lot btw) from 1 unit per person to 0.2 units per person, but it has meant that we've now gained at total of 800m 'units'.

              Now lets distribute that evenly across the other 9b, which amounts to very modest increase of about 0.09 units per capita. In other words sfa, and essentially condemns the developing world to their current conditions. You may well want to ask them about that before committing to it on their behalf.

              There are quite a few different ways to do this kind of simple analysis, but all of them finish up with 10b population with a 'sustainable' resource use only just above pre-Industrial.

              By itself this very simple approach doesn't prove anything, but it does quite vividly illustrate the likely limits of the 'just cut back' approach to solving the climate/resource problem.

    • weka 9.2

      "My problem with Powerdown as a concept is that it explicitly takes us backward toward the pre-fossil fuel era"

      This is a strawman, and imo a kind of nonsense (as is the 35 yr lifespan assertion) and a diversion from taking the situation seriously. Many of the industrial tools and processes and materials aren't going to disappear overnight if we drop emissions fast, they're not even going to disappear in my lifetime. We also won't lose the knowledge and wisdom we have gained in recent centuries if we make it a priority to maintain those, nor will we lose the systems thinking involved in many aspects of our lifestyles. We can totally use the technology we have now to move forwards into something better, the idea that it's a going backwards is a paucity of imagination and imo of understanding what the resiliency, regenerative and sustainability sectors have actually been doing and planning.

      Holmgren talks about how our mahi is to solve the problems in front of us right now that we understand and can respond to, and that the creative people in subsequent generations will pick up the baton and solve the problems they face because they will be able to see solutions that we cannot. Our responsibility is to give them the best chance by the actions we take now, and this is a core part of the powerdown.

      The 1950s idea is interesting. Susan Krumdieck is talking about that as well, and interestingly Holmgren's early work pre-Retrosuburbia was on retrofitting the suburbs of Australian and NZ that had been built in the 1950s and are perfect for the relocalising food, work, relationships, community and so on.

      "The change has to be societal and there are glimmers of it happening now."

      I agree, and there is a great potential here. I take heart when I hear the stories of Robert, Bleeple and many others who share here, the ground work has long been set. I'm still a believer in tipping points and I know that every rohe in NZ has increasing numbers of people who have been preparing across a wide range of human activities. Time is getting tight, but many good things are coming to the fore too.

      • Robert Guyton 9.2.1

        " I take heart when…"

        That's it, right there.

        • weka

          The missing link 😉

          • Robert Guyton

            When I hear someone blasting up the estuary on their new jet ski, I plant another estuary-side tree (or ten) smiley

          • Robert Guyton

            There are some extraordinary things happening at the local body politics level, weka, around water quality; we are being encouraged to regard the mauri, the hauora o te wai, the mana o te wai, to greet the river and ask, "what do you need?"

            Makes my head swim smiley

      • RedLogix 9.2.2

        This is a strawman, and imo a kind of nonsense (as is the 35 yr lifespan assertion) and a diversion from taking the situation seriously.

        Powerdown quite explicitly demands we reduce our total energy consumption, that has to be the very definition of it. Saying that it takes us back toward pre-Industrial consumption levels is the exact equivalent statement; it's not a strawman. The question I posed is just how far do we need to go in that direction, and in my replies to mango elsewhere in this thread I've demonstrated that it may well be a very long way indeed in order to make a meaningful difference.

        If you look on the charts on this page it's crystal clear that this 35 year figure is not an assertion. Indeed in the year 1800 the world average life expectancy was just under 30 years. This is of course heavily weighted by the extremely high infant mortality rates of the pre-Industrial era, but then I'm not sure anyone would want to discount that morbid reality either.

        And the assertion that I'm diverting from taking the issue 'seriously' is also flat out wrong. Everything I written on this topic for years proves the exact opposite.

        Many of the industrial tools and processes and materials aren't going to disappear overnight if we drop emissions fast, they're not even going to disappear in my lifetime.

        With respect weka I'm coming from a lifetime career in heavy industry, much of it closely related to energy use in some form. That gives me a personal perspective most people here don't directly have; in particular it means I'm vividly aware of two things, one is just how very central energy is to our modern world and the unquestioned welfare we derive from it, and two just how magnificently complex and interlinked this world is.

        Of all the things we might disagree on maybe you could perhaps trust me on this; that if we pull the pin on the energy component, our global industrial system will not function as we know it. There will be a period of decline as we draw down on the knowledge and resources left over, there will be intense competition for them and then they will run out. Maybe not in our lifetime, but in our children's for certain.

        Maybe to give your argument the benefit of the doubt, a kind of 'techno-tinker culture' might evolve in a highly energy constrained environment, that managed to replicate some of the essential services that make modern life what it is. My favourite sci-fi author Vernor Vinge invoked just this scenario in his Peace War trilogy, so the idea has a certain appeal, but it's so far removed from any historic real world trajectory I'd be unwilling to bet on it.

        But as to whether we would retain much of the social progress we've built over the past 400 years is another matter altogether. We stopped slavery for instance not because we didn't need the work they did done any more, but because we could make coal our slave instead. Women could leave behind household chores and drudgery and fully enter the public domain, not because we didn't need to cook, clean and heat anymore, but because electricity now did so much of the task for them. It's wealthy societies that can afford to be socially progressive, not poor ones.

        Susan Krumdieck is talking about that as well, and interestingly Holmgren's early work pre-Retrosuburbia was on retrofitting the suburbs of Australian and NZ that had been built in the 1950s and are perfect for the relocalising food, work, relationships, community and so on.

        Given that we literally purchased and are reading Retrosuburbia right now (hell I'll post an image of the receipt if anyone insists) then it's simply not true that I'm discounting the value in this. But also I've done the numbers, and in this I think Krumdieck is guilty of underestimating the problem, that merely cutting back, even quite severely, does not solve the problem in a world of 10b people.

        From a social perspective Holmgren’s book presents a less materialistic mode of living that has much merit, and for this I’m happy to embrace it. But the engineer in me also says that it would also mean is that we would run into climate/resource limits rather more slowly … but absent any technical options to deal with it.

        • Drowsy M. Kram

          We stopped slavery for instance not because we didn't need the work they did done any more, but because we could make coal our slave instead.

          An intriguing assertion (belief?), and you’re not alone, but consider the alternative.

          As industrial Manchester grew, the American institution of slavery ballooned in scale and scope. In 1800, American slaves produced 156,000 bales of cotton—in 1860, they produced more than 4 million bales. From 1790 to the start of the Civil War, the American slave population likewise multiplied from 700,000 to 4 million, due in large part to new industrial efficiency facilitating demand for cotton—including American contributions like the cotton gin.

          Take the words of South Carolinian Thomas Cooper, who warned the British about the price of abolition in 1838. “Every slave in a southern state is an operative for Great Britain. We cannot work rich southern soil by white free labour,” Cooper wrote, “and if you will have Cotton Manufacturers, you must have them based upon slave labour.”

          So White got it exactly backwards: The coal-fired industrial revolution exacerbated the problem of slavery. Does that mean that fossil fuels are evil? No, that would be extraordinarily silly—as silly as saying the opposite.

          What it does show is that development is a double-edged sword. Things are almost never wholly good, or wholly bad. They’re complicated. They embody complex trade-offs. They have unintended consequences.

          'We' can't even harvest fruit without importing labourers. Some things never change.

          Trump’s Pick for White House Environmental Post Once Said Coal Helped End Slavery


          "The Darkest Abode of Man": Black Miners in the First Southern Coal Field, 1780-1865

          • RedLogix

            So White got it exactly backwards: The coal-fired industrial revolution exacerbated the problem of slavery.

            So where are the millions of black slaves picking cotton then?

            Coal enabled the mechanisation of the factories, thus enabling cheap cotton clothes (for which there was a tremendous global demand) before the mechanisation of the field work, which was a more difficult problem. Thus it's true that cotton slavery was exacerbated by industrial revolution for a period – and then eliminated by it.

            The same goes for fruit picking, much of the really back breaking work was first replaced by tractors and simple machines, and now slowly but surely automation is making progress on the remaining tasks. The whole mining industry is working towards eliminating as many people underground as possible … I've personally seen this in action. And regardless, modern coal mines are nothing like the hellish pits of the 1700's and 1800's.

            These 'field work' operations are from an automation perspective quite difficult problems because the environment and the product you are dealing with are so variable, and thus it's taken much longer to develop an effective technology.

            But cotton picking it turned out was pretty amenable to simple mechanisation, and was solved a long time ago, eliminating field slavery at the same time. Thus it makes a poor example for your assertion quoted above.

              • RedLogix

                Well the vast majority of jobs are already far less shit than they used to be.

                My mother's father was born in 1880, and died the year before I was born. He was a meat worker all his life, and as a young man, him and his father actually drove cattle up that steep little street named "Bullock Track" in Western Springs. If he could have been brought back to life for say just one day, and the two of us accompany me on a normal day at the office or plant, he would simply not have been able to comprehend that what I did for a living was in any sense 'work' as he knew it.

                The same will be true for our grandchildren.

            • Drowsy M. Kram

              Simply offering an alternative to your assertion that 'we' "stopped slavery" "because we could make coal our slave instead." I prefer to believe that slavery was stopped because it came to be recognised as an abomination (man's inhumanity to man) – not every advance in human rights can be slated home to technological development (unintended consequences and all), IMHO.

              Self-interest often conflicts with ‘doing the right thing’, and sometimes this conflict can delay human rights progress long after the damaged has been recognised.

              • RedLogix

                I prefer to believe that slavery was stopped because it came to be recognised as an abomination

                Slavery was virtually endemic throughout the ancient world. Yet it was always considered an undesirable state, few actually wanted to be a slave if a better choice was on offer.

                Yet is was largely tolerated, not because our ancestors were morally deficient, but because in a photosynthesis constrained world the benefits outweighed the costs to the majority. (Just as for instance in the modern world we tolerate a road toll, because the benefits to the majority outweigh them. No-one likes people being killed by cars, but neither are we willing to ban them either. We will continue to use cars until something better comes along.)

                In fact history has many isolated examples of peoples and groups quite strongly rejecting slavery, but it never stuck because competing societies who continued with slavery always had an advantage.

                Once we had industrialisation, that advantage was permanently (I hope) eliminated, and the wish to end chattel slavery finally dominated. Say thank you to coal for this.

                • Robert Guyton

                  Slavery can't be explained away because it's a pathology resulting from civilisation. Some developments are "black holes" in reason and can only be managed by increasing the diversity of everything; a state of "deep diversity" inures life against the proliferation of pathologies, as demonstrated by a healthy soil. Some pockets will continue to exist, but they will be largely de minimus.

                • Drowsy M. Kram

                  "Say thank you to coal for this."

                  Thanks for the invitation RL – I'll continue to offer my thanks elsewhere.


                  Ms. White has also frequently argued that carbon dioxide is not an environmental hazard, stating last year that "carbon dioxide is an odorless, invisible, harmless and completely natural gas lacking any characteristic of a pollutant." As an outspoken critic of the science that underpins the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's climate rules, she ardently fought against the agency's 2009 endangerment finding that greenhouse gases are harmful to human health and welfare. This finding triggered important EPA rules that would limit emissions from sectors like power plants, oil wells, landfills and automobiles. Ms. White has also unapologetically argued there is a moral case for expanding the development of fossil fuels regardless of carbon dioxide emissions, and has even gone as far as claiming that fossil fuels are to thank for abolishing slavery. In a 2014 blog post, she wrote about the connection between "the abolition of slavery and humanity's first widespread use of energy from fossil fuels," and that "fossil fuels dissolved the economic justification for slavery."

                  • RedLogix

                    Now try and make the leap from early phases of fossil fuel energised industrialisation, to the next logical phase, zero-carbon energy.

                    I've gotten through this comment thread so far without using the dreaded n-word, but there you have it, everything else we do around adapting to the climate/resource crisis will count for nothing in the long run unless we get to a true zero carbon energy supply.

                    That 'hyper-energisation' term you so helpfully coined for me a while back. yes

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      Agree that carbon-free "hyperenergisation" of civilisation without any increase in consumption and environmental degradation would be great – just don't see that happening. ‘We’ will continue to foul our own nest.

                      My subject—organizing ecological revolution—has as its initial premise that we are in the midst of a global environmental crisis of such enormity that the web of life of the entire planet is threatened and with it the future of civilization.

                      This is no longer a very controversial proposition. To be sure, there are different perceptions about the extent of the challenge that this raises. At one extreme there are those who believe that since these are human problems arising from human causes they are easily solvable. All we need are ingenuity and the will to act. At the other extreme there are those who believe that the world ecology is deteriorating on a scale and with a rapidity beyond our means to control, giving rise to the gloomiest forebodings.

                      Although often seen as polar opposites these views nonetheless share a common basis. As Paul Sweezy observed they each reflect “the belief that if present trends continue to operate, it is only a matter of time until the human species irredeemably fouls its own nest” (Monthly Review, June 1989).

                      The current economic system being utilized and internalized relies on perpetual growth. It has long operated counter to the reality that we are confined to a finite planet with finite resources. Yet, this system continues to be practiced and promoted globally. As the environmental and social repercussions of disbelief in limits become increasingly clear, so does our need for a new economic system —one that is not wedded to growth. Neither growth in the number of consumers nor growth in the amount consumed.” – Erika Gavenus

                    • RedLogix

                      I'm not arguing for present trends to continue, no more than the first fossil fueled phase of the Industrial Revolution was a just 'continuation' of what came before.

                      I'm arguing for a positive, forward looking transformation that builds on what we have already achieved, as distinct from a retreat back into what looks very much like eco-austerity to me. I've outlined it before so I'm not going to repeat myself on this thread.

                      More details here

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      RL, I admire but do not share your optimism and positivity re the future of human civilisation. A couple of months ago you confidently asserted (of the COVID-19 pandemic): "It's over." In that particular instance your optimism was mistimed. You also suggested that there was little realistic prospect of a vaccine, and I agreed with you – just as well we were both wrong there smiley

                      In a decade we'll know whether your current optimism about the hyperenegisation of civilisation was on the money, or off target.

                      Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin

                      Theoretical perspectives on organizations and organizing in a post-growth era
                      Climate change exposes and exacerbates similar inequalities: those that have contributed the least to the problem are already suffering and dying in disproportionately high numbers. While climate change did not cause the pandemic, human activity is responsible in both cases: our fossil fuelled economies of production and consumption have led to the climate emergency including habitat and biodiversity loss that created the conditions for spreading diseases by reducing the natural barriers between humans and virus carrying animals (Vidal, 2020). Both COVID-19 and climate emergencies are not unfortunate accidents but a result of conscious decisions humans have taken.

        • weka

          Its pretty clear that you are using a global economy, industrialist frame for your thinking. I'm not, and in my opinion you are misrepresenting the powerdown because you are deciding what you think it is and then constructing your arguments around that and running what are essential denial positions against my posts. Critique is good, but using a starting point that's off is a problem.

          Today I'm letting it run because there are plenty of people willing to do the work of pushing back against the problems in your comments. But I consider it a derail generally, and we will waste much time debating this instead of getting on with designing solutions. I really hope that one of the things you get from permaculture is the the ability to work with the problem as solution. Whatever one's assessment about the need for energy to sustain our lifestyles, the reality is that the emergency is here now and powering down *will give us immediate solutions to the GHG emissions problem that no-one else has solved or is looking like solving any time soon.

          I can live without my laptop, I can't live in an unstable climate that destroys not only industrial global food supply lines, but the regenerative, localised food systems that everyone on the planet can do and in the end are utterly dependent upon. It's the latter that is at risk by our current inaction and denial, and if we lose that then your and my disagreements about industrialisation will be *entirely moot, because humans will be in a far worse situation collectively than any time prior to now.

          Holmgren's Meliodora is a good example of what we could be aiming for right now. It's not anything close to preindustrial.

          I don't want to use my small amount of time engaging in arguments about things that I consider to be distractions. You're a good thinker and I hope you start engaging with the positions I am actually arguing instead of making up your own. You can of course always write your own counter posts.

          • RedLogix

            Its pretty clear that you are using a global economy, industrialist frame for your thinking.

            Yes I am, and I've been totally open on this. My career has given me a very specific set of insights about the modern world that relatively few people are privileged to see.

            Holmgren's Meliodora is a good example of what we could be aiming for right now. It's not anything close to preindustrial.

            But actually having spent two days there, neither does it exist in a vacuum. It's entirely embedded in the industrial society around it. And Holmgren would be the first to acknowledge this.

            And I'll put my argument in the smallest fragment I can manage.

            Industrialisation has been a 200 year process that has brought humanity an unprecedented level of prosperity and welfare. At the same time it never arrived perfect and without costs; it has also many manifest shortcomings and deficiencies, both physical and social.

            But the solution to bad industrialisation is better industrialisation … not to unwind it as you seem to prefer.

            • weka

              You can't understand the powerdown, or permaculture or regenag or any of the numerous solutions being handed to us on a plate by the cutting edge (who include engineers btw), from an industrialist, globalist frame. In order to see what the powerdown can be, one needs a different frame. Using the industrialist, globalists frame is what is giving us the woefully inadequate green tech solutions that will still kill us all.

              I just wrote a post with lots of references in it for industrially minded people to read and ponder and argue about if they want. I also pointed to the powerdown as an actual solution to our predicament and will be writing more. What I'm saying here is that arguing for better industrialisation without powering down in the face of that is a form of denialism, and ultimately you will have to make those arguments elsewhere because I'm not going to write posts for people to derail like that.

              Also got no time for the industrial vs powerdown false dichotomy when I've already pointed out no-one is saying we have to get rid of all industrialisation, so please don't splain Holmgren to me.

              Again, you appear to not understand what the powerdown entails and offers us, and so are arguing against something that isn't there.


              • RedLogix

                Again, you appear to not understand what the powerdown entails and offers us, and so are arguing against something that isn't there.

                I've been around alternative thinking in health, agriculture and energy all my adult life. Yet oddly enough at the same time I earned a living in the heavy industrial world. Long ago I learned not to pit the two paradigms against the other, that the path forward was using the strengths of each in the right context.

                I've read a fair bit of the Powerdown literature, and paid some attention to the Transition Towns movement while we were still in NZ. I've no quibble with the good motives of the people involved, I've no desire to stand in the way of people who want to go down that path. But extending what is good for some people, to all of humanity is another leap altogether.

                To make a specific criticism, (and I really would enjoy a one on one with Krumdieck on this), I think she really has underestimated the magnitude of the problem we are facing. As the conversation between mango and I illustrated, on a global scale just cutting back the developed world's resource consumption by say 50% is nowhere near enough in the context of a total population that's going to peak out at somewhere over 10b by the end of the century..

                Depending on the starting assumptions you make, we arrived at a range of 'powerdown' somewhere in the range of 80 – 97% of total resource in order to make the necessary difference and arrive at a stable, sustainable world.

                Now I'm explicitly not making this argument to discredit the Powerdown concept, in that you are right, there is a lot more to it than just reducing resource use. But equally I don't think you can credibly ignore the quite stark implications of the arithmetic we are up against.

                • weka

                  That you are analysing global data instead of going watershed by watershed is precisely the problem.

                  Powerdown isn't primarily about reducing energy use in that reductionist sense. If you don't use a systems thinking, regenerative frame then you end up looking at the wrong things. This is what is happening with global climate action. Too many people think that we can keep our current system and adjust it so that we burn less FFs, and thus GHG reduction becomes the focus and then we end up with stupid shit like carbon trading and offsetting.

                  This isn't working and no-one knows how to make it work apart from what the post covered (high tech interventions that boil down to magical thinking). When we think the problems is global GHG emissions, we come up with reductionist solutions that just don't work. Because the GHGs are the symptom and until we look at the causes and address that we will keep running round like headless chickens. Instead of relying on GHG emission counts, we need to look at the whole systems that are generating them and why and change that. Likewise, with the powerdown, stop counting energy units abstractly and look at the systems that are dependent on energy and why and change that.

                  Every watershed, rohe, country will have to design site specific solutions. Without looking at that and what regenerative action means on the ground in each place, there is no such thing as sustainability. When we have the data for how much food and other essential resources can be grown in for example coastal Otago to support the population of people and rest of nature in that area, then we can do the data for how NZ collectively can manufacture other goods, grow additional food for places in the world that can't, how much non-sustainable/regenerative extraction we can support and over what time (metals, concrete, chemicals etc), and so on.

                  If you start at the top, the global data, of course it looks impossible, because it's completely abstracted and not connected to the real world soil and water and microbes that everything else comes from. Global food production figures are based on farming systems that we just cannot sustain, so those numbers are essentially useless.

                  (There is a reason why permaculture starts with food btw. It is our primary need and if we can't get that right, nothing else matters.)

                  Starting with the global figures is also how we end up talking about the need to automate kiwifruit production so humans don't have to do manual labour, which is basically a highly industrialised way of making money that has nothing to do with the climate/biodiversity emergency or how to get ourselves out of this mess and in fact will exacerbate the crisis.

                  tl;dr until you understand that you are missing the crucial frame, it won't be possible to talk about solutions.

                  • RedLogix

                    Yes I do tend to start from the global perspective because including the whole of humanity in the discussion is an ironclad ethical starting point for me. At the same time I think my own comments on various topics suggest I'm not immune to thinking about localised frameworks. But ultimately CO2 molecules don't have a nationality and a global accounting is what will determine the outcome.

                    Likewise, with the powerdown, stop counting energy units abstractly and look at the systems that are dependent on energy and why and change that.

                    So what exactly do you mean by that? As I tried to outline in my comment on the Kaya Identity a few weeks or so back, there are really only four levers that we can pull on total carbon. Which one do you want to go for? Population, GDP, energy efficiency, or carbon intensity?

                    It's my reading that the Powerdown movement is broadly saying that we can improve energy efficiency and reduce economic activity, while transitioning to SWB (solar wind battery) renewables. And yes all that has to be implemented at a local level, in a whole range of site specific measures. (If there is one thing that decades of development economics tells us is that solutions that work really well in one place, can often fail in another location apparently not so far away and all that different.)

                    Yet the numbers have to add up. And in the big picture a world powered on SWB alone (the only zero carbon energy source you are allowing for) is going to fall well short of what is necessary, while imposing a substantial land area and environmental cost. And despite all the remarkable progress SWB still only provide a small fraction of the existing demand.

                    Yet by the end of this century, any reasonable projection suggests we will need at least 3 – 4 times more energy than we currently use if we are to allow for global poverty to be eliminated.

                    (high tech interventions that boil down to magical thinking).

                    Well yes, the future often does look a bit magical. The life you lead would I suspect look quite magical in some respects to your own grandmother.

                    But more saliently, I have also argued that with considerable historic and real world evidence to back me up, that hoping you can have a de-powered, low tech world running on minimal resources, while retaining most of the physical and social benefits that a high tech, high energy world delivered … is also a form of magical thinking.

                  • RedLogix

                    And I do appreciate your tolerance on this thread. I think I've made my case as well as I can put it at the moment and I'm happy to leave it there.

                    Look on the bright side, at least this post got a decent conversation going under it, even if it didn't all run as you might have preferred.


            • arkie

              But the solution to bad industrialisation is better industrialisation

              Current industrialised capitalism is at odds with a sustainable and equitable alternative though. To improve industrialisation it needs to be decoupled from profit-seeking principles of artificial scarcity and directed towards collective climate goals in a way that it has not and will not.

              • RedLogix

                Partly true; yes the old mode of scarcity has shaped a great deal of human behaviour, and that's certainly evident in how the old world economies used to function.

                But it's only been very recently that we've entered a world where scarcity is no longer the dominant force, and I think we're still learning to adapt to this.

                (Which is incidentally one of the reasons why I argue against re-imposing scarcity as a solution to climate/resource limits. It would only cause old ways of behaving to re-emerge with greater force than ever before.)

                But yes, I think I agree with the intent of what you are saying, that human behaviour has yet to properly adapt to the dramatic changes in our modern world over the past 200 years. It's worth thinking about that.

                • arkie

                  Scarcity, artificial or natural, is still the dominant force in the globalised capitalist world. It's the origin/source of profit and as long as industry is driven by that motivation we will not achieve a truly post-scarcity society, industrial or otherwise. Exploitation of resources and people has resulted in the inequality and environmental degradation we already see around us. Many thinkers have devoted themselves to analysis of these very issues but I don't think you'll read them. We have reached a point where advocating further discussion only seems to be resistance to pragmatic action.

                  • Incognito

                    Scarcity and necessity, demand and need. I’ve not studied (neoliberal) economics but I do wonder whether and to what extent these concepts are conflated in models and actual ‘market fundamentals’.

                    As we have seen with Covid, when there’s a real need, Government will override and overrule almost everything else, to meet/satisfy the need, but only temporary and as an emergency response – markets would be too slow and without the required authority to address most of these needs adequately and promptly and the employment market was, in fact, one in need of a support lifeline. It has now declared another emergency but without the urgent action.

  10. Siobhan 10

    "Many of us are already doing things in our personal lives"…..we can recycle, we can buy locally produced goods(really just Beer, Gin and food) we can refill our glass containers at the milk collective….however within the paradigm of ever more, ever bigger "Free Trade" deals, are we simply kidding ourselves?

    ..we seem to spend more energy worrying about so called "recycling" of plastic bottles everything, than worrying about the gigantic plastic bladder and the ocean transporter that bought the darned things to NZ in the first place..


    • WeTheBleeple 10.1

      Yeah governments aren't going to stop building their global shop till ya drop shop. Up to consumers to turn their backs on imports and shallow consumerism which is much easier said than done. And to try and sway government action, again, easier said than done.

      We seem more busy and distracted than happy with all our trinkets anyway. Slowing down I doubt we'd lose any happiness, only the manufacturers of the myriad things care about us slowing down.

      We could still be high tech without buying consistent streams of replacements if not for marketing and built in obsolescence. We could have our cake and eat it too with ethics involved.

      • Siobhan 10.1.1

        The first step is for the (world wide) main stream Media to regain its tender hold, on its previous role as a marginally independent Educator, and Mediator, between the voter/consumer/citizen and the Government and Industry..

        unfortunately I really do not see any pathway for that to happen..and while many think the internet could step into that empty space, many formerly credible 'independent' news sources have been quietly co opted by people pretty much invested in the current status quo. on all manner of issues, not to mention the serious voices that one moment are lauded..the next moment disappear for good for not sticking to the script..

      • greywarshark 10.1.2

        Stress and your babies or not. Pencil time slots to sit down and reflect and read and listen, play music. The hare and the tortoise etc.


      • Incognito 10.1.3

        We seem more busy and distracted than happy with all our trinkets anyway. Slowing down I doubt we'd lose any happiness, only the manufacturers of the myriad things care about us slowing down.

        On the contrary, slowing down will increase our happiness! The stories have already died away, but there were many accounts of people reconnecting with family and other local activities in their bubbles during the lockdowns.

        It is worth noting that we seem to be so focussed on attaining and maintaining happiness as if it is something tangible that you can hold in the palm of your hand while other cultures focus on alleviating suffering.

  11. Ad 11

    Does anyone remember the era in New Zealand from 1976 to 1984 when there was a huge flourishing in pastoral living, communes, living off the land, the first big outdoor music festivals, and abandoning the city-focused order? Ours started several years later than the United States, but it was pretty similar.

    • weka 11.1

      yep. Tui community in Golden Bay was started in the 80s and is still going.

    • RedLogix 11.2

      Very much so and I've still got quite nostalgic memories of it all.

      But it was a more innocent age in many ways, I strongly suspect it wouldn't be possible now.

    • Grafton Gully 11.3

      Happened under the Muldoon governments. Then the Lange government, voted in because people were sick of Muldoon, imposed the rules we have followed ever since and judging by the last election results are happy to continue obeying.

    • Graeme 11.4

      The Ohu communities. Started by the Kirk government, but pretty much shut down by Muldoon by 1976, although some endured through the 80's


      There were lots of ‘independent’ communities around the country as well, until people moved on with the pressures of being part of society, like having an address.

  12. Phillip ure 12

    two things..

    one is that my understanding is that global population is falling/steadying…

    this largely in part due to the spread of the cellphone in 3rd world countries..with women there learning there are other options to constantly breeding..

    the other point is that in all this flailing around for solutions..the one/most effective thing/action that the individual (yes..!…you..!) can do to help/to become part of the solution..is being studiously ignored..

    namely the eating/'farming' of animals..

    this is a case where most are pointing the finger/fretting about solutions that are largely out of their control..

    whereas today all could start doing something meaningful..that is proven to 'work'..on both the personal and in the big picture..

    namely…kick your addictions to eating flesh…

    and this is a proven solution….that those addicted to flesh eating choose to ignore/not countenance…

    (and in fact drives many to accuse those already doing this of 'fanaticism'…etc etc..)

    yet is something meaningful/effective everyone could do…today…

    instead of just arm-flailing etc about what others are or aren't doing..

    • Andre 12.1

      Your understanding of global population growth is faulty. Which a simple fact check would easily have shown you.

      In absolute terms, global population has grown by 82 to 84 million every year in the past decade. This is just barely lower than the peak growth of up to 93 million per year in the late eighties, but higher than the annual growth of around 79 million annually in the late 90s/early noughties.

      In percentage terms it's possible to kid oneself it's not as scary. We're currently at about 1.1% annual increase, which is down from a peak of around 2.1% in the late 60s. But the current 1.1% annual increase is still higher than the annual increase seen over almost the entire history of human existence, except for the current period of massive population growth.


      • Ad 12.1.1

        Even once global population is peaking in 2100, it's hard to see the planet not simply used up for most other mammals.


        • Andre

          I've got hopes for vat-grown stuff replacing a lot of the demand for mammals and birds on the ground. After it's been munched to mince for burgers and sausages and meatballs and nuggets, who is going to care that it came from a vat rather than a live animal? In fact, I'll prefer the vat stuff – it's less likely to have e.coli or trichinosis or salmonella issues.

          When it comes to replacing the texture and other qualities of a steak or roast or breast – that will be a tougher problem for the vat-grown stuff. But give the nerds time …


          Then we can hopefully see a bit more of the world getting returned to wild places. As is already happening in some (mostly) wealthier countries.

          • Ad

            The Linda McCartney sausages are kinda getting closer.

            • Andre

              Maybe I need them fed to me when I don't know what's coming, but I've not yet found a meat or dairy substitute fabricated from veges that's very convincing. The ones that have come closest have still given me a weird aftertaste.

              So at the moment, I'm kinda still of the view of let vege food be unapologetic about being vege food. There's plenty of interesting stuff that can be done with it. It's just not much good at pretending to be meat. Yet.

              • Phillip ure

                @ andre..


                you get past that desire for things to be like flesh..

                in fact I have absolutely no desire to try one of those new products that are just like the flesh-eating experience..

                ..tho' I do see their value as a form of methadone for the flesh-eating addicted ..
                as a bridge to a much better place..

                • RedLogix

                  Why is it that extreme left wingers are so adept at taking a good idea and then just going too damn far with it?

                  • Phillip ure

                    @ r.l…


                    is deciding to stop hurting animals…and fucking over the planet @ the same time..

                    a step too far'..for you..?

                    do you prefer finger-pointing/arm-flailing/demanding others do things..

                    ..to actually doing something yourself..?

                    you aren't alone in that..

                    ..there's a lot of it about..eh..?

          • RedLogix

            Then we can hopefully see a bit more of the world getting returned to wild places.

            And this is the key point so very often missed in these discussions.

            Michael Schellenberger uses the example of whales. The most intensive period of whale hunting was driven primarily by the demand for lighting oil. (Before the days of refrigeration, their meat was largely worthless as a product). And off the back of this demand they were almost driven to extinction.

            What saved them was not that we developed more 'efficient' oil lamps, or we put in place rules to 'harvest' them sustainably. Instead we found a substitute, cheap kerosine from the early oil fields in places like Pennsylvania.

            We save nature by not using it, not by being more efficient, or more sustainable, but by simply using better substitute resources. This rule applies across virtually all problems in this space.

            • Pat

              you may wish to revisit your theory…kerosene availability became widespread in the 1860s….whaling peaked in the 1960s/70s

              • RedLogix

                You missed the hint; in the era before refrigeration whales were hunted primarily for oil:

                Whale oil was essential for illuminating homes and businesses in the 19th century, and lubricated the machines of the Industrial Revolution. Baleen (the long keratin strips that hang from the top of whales' mouths) was used by manufacturers in the United States and Europe to make varied consumer goods.

                British competition and import duties drove New England whaling ships out of the North Atlantic and into the southern oceans, ultimately making whaling into a global economic enterprise. The mid 19th century was the golden age of American whaling.

                From the Civil War, when Confederate raiders targeted American whalers, through the early 20th century, the American whaling industry suffered economic competition, especially from kerosene, a superior fuel for lighting.[9]

                If kerosine had not come along, the increasing industrialisation of whale hunting methods would have ensured their extinction sometime in the early 20th century.

                But as I hinted, the invention of shipping refrigeration meant that whales suddenly had a new value as meat, and it was this quite different trade that peaked in the 1960's, until improving land based agriculture meant that it rapidly became uncompetitive again, until only a small handful of nations with a cultural attachment to whale meat remained active.

                Fun fact; land use per capita for agricultural purposes has halved since 1960.

                • Pat


                  "Michael Schellenberger uses the example of whales. The most intensive period of whale hunting was driven primarily by the demand for lighting oil. (Before the days of refrigeration, their meat was largely worthless as a product). And off the back of this demand they were almost driven to extinction.

                  What saved them was not that we developed more 'efficient' oil lamps, or we put in place rules to 'harvest' them sustainably. Instead we found a substitute, cheap kerosine from the early oil fields in places like Pennsylvania.'

                  keep digging

                  • RedLogix

                    As I've clearly explained, hunting for whales had two quite different phases. The first was for their oil, the second for their meat.

                    The first phase would have been quite sufficient to make them extinct on it's own, until kerosene came along brought that era largely to a halt. The second phase nearly did hunt them to extinction, until improving land based agriculture made it largely uneconomic as well.

                    If anything this merely illustrates my argument twice over, that we largely save nature by not using it, by finding better and more cost effective substitutes.

                  • RedLogix

                    And from your link:

                    Our planet does not have the biocapacity to sustain our current levels of growth and resource consumption. So, what can be done to minimize our collective impact on the environment? In his book, How Many People Can the Earth Support?, mathematical biologist Joel Cohen classifies current solutions into three paradigms: those looking for a “bigger pie” (improving technology), those advocating for “fewer forks” (slowing population growth), and those looking to rationalize and improve decision-making though “better manners” (changing global culture). Cohen argues that, standing along, each paradigm is necessary in solving our environmental crisis, but not sufficient. Change must come from a combination of all three. “Promoting access to contraceptives, developing economies, saving children, empowering women, educating men, and doing it all at once,” he writes, is a way to both lower our impact on the planet and improve the quality of life for all. Perhaps Oxford economist Robert Cassen said it best, “Virtually everything that needs doing from a population perspective needs doing anyway.” Adopting human-centered initiatives targeted at addressing both population growth and consumption habits, ranging from the individual to trans-national level, are our best hope for achieving a sustainable future.

                    The big graph on that home page showing an exponentially exploding population is a bit misleading in this context, it omits future projections of global population. It's not going to just keep rising indefinitely, the growth phase that industrialisation enabled is coming to an end this century, and is already well under way in most developed parts of the world. As I've pointed out below, it's really only Africa that's growing, the rest of the world is damn near static or falling already. So that largely takes care of the population leg of the story.

                    Then there is the 'social human-centred' initiatives that form a large part of the OP's argument. Nowhere have I discounted the value of these, progressing toward a less materialistic mode of life would be a very good thing for environmental, economic, health, community and spiritual reasons. And oddly enough, as populations age, they do tend in that direction, as we take care of our core material needs, our attention turns to more social and ethical needs. So lets take that one as read too.

                    That leaves the third leg of challenge… improving technology. And on this we have a problem don't we?

                    • Pat

                      The observations you draw attention to connected to the graph (which shows an over doubling of population since the 1960s, so much for the claimed land use fun fact) provide no quantitive measures to either determine carrying capacity nor how to reach such a capacity….as john Key would say, its 'aspirational'….the graph does though indeed demonstrate that until the work multiplying impact of fossil fuel use the world had a relatively steady state population of less than 1 billion….I expect that when fossil fuel use ceases (for whatever reason) the worlds (human) population will revert to a similar equilibrium position …unless of course we trash the place beyond habitation before hand.

                      And as to African population…the map is informative


                    • RedLogix

                      (which shows an over doubling of population since the 1960s, so much for the claimed land use fun fact)

                      Yes. Now put these two facts together, that we've both roughly doubled our population since 1960 and halved our agricultural land use per capita in the same time frame … means that we've avoided Erlich's catastrophic outcomes while working within the constraints of a relatively fixed amount of arable land.

                      the graph does though indeed demonstrate that until the work multiplying impact of fossil fuel use the world had a relatively steady state population of less than 1 billion….I expect that when fossil fuel use ceases (for whatever reason) the worlds (human) population will revert to a similar equilibrium position

                      Yes that's entirely possible. I note that weka is giving me heat because I suspect she interprets my argument as indirectly implying something very similar.

                      But I'm on record as vociferously rejecting a population crash of this magnitude as any sort of plan, it's essentially anti-human and amoral. (And this is no strawman, there is a strand of eco-extremists who do embrace this kind of thinking.)

                    • Pat

                      You may vociferously reject population crash (as a plan)…it wont however prevent it.

          • WeTheBleeple

            These products will never replace whole foods as a dietary component, they're highly processed facsimiles at best. Eating less meat I can get behind, pea protein, gimme a break. I'll eat peas if I want pea protein.

            This (fake meat) industry is full of dangerous idiots with idealogical nonsense in their heads, factory farms as a reference point, and $$ in their eyes.

            • weka

              also disconnects us even further from nature, and that shit will kill us.

              • Robert Guyton

                Disconnects us from what? Who? How can we disconnect from the un-disconnectable?

                We may imagine ourselves disconnected, we may behave as if we are seperate, but nah, can't be done.

              • Phillip ure

                @ weka..

                are you seriously saying your eating of animals 'connects' you to nature..?


                that really is a groin-stretch that would test the strongest lycra..

                • Robert Guyton

                  Pre-civilization peoples who hunted would indeed say that eating the flesh of the animals they hunted, connected them to "Mother Nature". They often had significant ceremonies through which they spoke to those animals, asked their blessing and thanked them for their sacrifice, or something along those lines (I was not there in person).

                • weka

                  no, I was saying that eating food that comes directly from nature connects us to nature. Lab food is a step away from that. It's our disconnect (or apparent disconnect) that leads to the thinking that destroys nature. People who are connected to their local rivers look after them much better than people who never see them.

      • RedLogix 12.1.2

        Good to see real data being used in this discussion for once.

        Now dig into exactly where that 1.1% increase is happening … it's almost entirely in Africa. (Incidentally I really like this populationpyramid.net site, a simple clean interface with the essentials made very accessible.)

        The developed world, Europe for instance, looks entirely different.

        • Andre

          That current population growth is also happening where climate change is going to hit earliest and hardest. I can't see anything but shitloads of human misery coming out of that collision.

          When it comes to declining populations in developed countries, I really don't understand all the bedwetting that gets done about it. It certainly doesn't look to me like any kind of demographic disaster it's often portrayed as. Japan has had declining population for quite a while now and as far as I know they're coping OK.

          • RedLogix

            It certainly doesn't look to me like any kind of demographic disaster it's often portrayed as.

            Exactly. The proven counter to expanding populations is human development. Which sadly has proven an especially intractable problem in Africa, where a version of 'Powerdown' subsistence agriculture, wood and dung burning for energy, and large families are still the norm for much of the continent.

            The good news is that the African cities are growing, and people move away from the poor farms as soon as they can, having smaller families as a result. Unfortunately this has been a very uneven process in Africa generally, but the outcome will eventually be the same.

            Edit: The whole story is more complex than this; first population expands as infant mortalities drop, and the process of industrialisation rapidly improves lives. Then people move to the cities, they start having medium sized families, and finally the growth phase peaks and very prosperous populations start to decline even.

            Just how this plays out longer term is an experiment we’ve never done before.

            • WeTheBleeple

              Water is the key to a good life. Got water you can grow food, fuel, fibre and building materials. Can sub-saharan Africa have a good life – absolutely, yes!

              This kind of pisses me off I've been working on this type of design for a long while. However, the world applauds, and I happily join in.

              • RedLogix

                A good video, and well worth watching.

                While I do tend to bang on about energy as being central, I don't intend to diminish the role water plays.

                As I've said elsewhere our ancestors were tough smart people, and they were very good at surviving in a photosynthesis constrained world. And many of their ideas can enhanced using modern industrial materials and methods.

                (As an aside, I once attended a three day course in Hastings on flowforms. It was ironically enough a few weeks after the cyclone Bola event, and the story of how I got there will have to save for another time. I've plans for installing some at some time in our future. Current flowforms are relatively expensive being quite labour intensive to make, but imagine if we applied 3D printing and high efficiency composite materials to making them.)

                But otherwise a great example of melding the industrial and natural worlds exploiting the strengths of both.

                • WeTheBleeple

                  Yeah we require a total effort, all involved; not a reversion to middle ages or ascension to The Jetsons.

                  Much like the potentials for increasing efficiencies in the tech world, the same might be said of the natural world. We fight it tooth and nail using tremendous resources to show who's boss. And we lost…

                  But when we marry technical prowess with ecological understanding, or use, as permaculture calls it 'appropriate technology' we have a hybrid capable of supplying more than our needs. Having more than our needs allows for a complex society as we see today, but much better as it doesn't lead off a cliff. ​​​​​​

                  Ideally, intensification of food production leaves more land for nature. But instead we see factory farming and feedlots destroying land, waterways and oceanic systems. It beggars belief the waste was not treated as a valuable resource from day one. Each system must support the next to bring about efficiencies we've barely begun to realise. I'm anti feedlots but it's a great example of the eco-blindness of (many) capitalists. This industry could have supplied nutrients to support a vast horticulture and aquaculture industry. You could then use the wastes of these to feed the cows… They're just so shit at dealing with shit.

                  We have land covered in tree stumps regularly – forestry. Meanwhile in towns we have special buildings full of shelves full of plastic bags full of crop materials trucked there to be heated and treated to grow fungi… We have no idea. Inoculate the stumps to feed the locals and the forest floor.

                  It always comes back to how we do things. The so called movers and shakers have got away with ecocidal practises for far too long. Alternatives exist and we can improve on them with a newer holistic understanding of business nested within and serving society and ecosystems. This pack of disparate opportunists looking for the next ride must either change or be brought low. The Wild West is over (cue space).

                  The biggest handbrake to a bright future is corporate interests holding sway over self-interested governments so we get lost in nonsense like fake-meat and solar roadways and all manner of 'fixes' that are simply more products.

                  I'm not anti 'stuff' but I am anti the treadmill of garbage paraded before us in this multi-generational game of find the sucker and take their money. We're not happier, this in itself shows we've lost our way.

                  Design smarter, think harder.

                  • RedLogix

                    Yup I get where you are coming from. I will plead guilty to being more Jetsons than middle ages, but given my personal background I hope you can indulge me on that. Looping back to my comment above; there are three legs to this story, three different paradigms in play.

                    One is growing the pie .. the Jetsons model. (Or actually more Star Trek if you will.)

                    The other is constraining the number of people lining up for a piece of the pie.

                    And the third is how nicely and efficiently we share the pie … good manners if you will. I would guess that many commenters here are coming from this place, and I do try to respect this.

                    I hope we might agree on this; if we want this stool to stand up, we're going to need all three legs.

                    (And having written this I'm struck that each of these paradigms quite neatly overlays the triple pole political model I've been working with recently. The liberal mode looks to expand the technology, the conservative mode looks to constrain the demand, and the socialist mode looks to share it more equitably. Just a thought.)

                    The biggest handbrake to a bright future is corporate interests holding sway over self-interested governments so we get lost in nonsense like fake-meat and solar roadways and all manner of ‘fixes’ that are simply more products.

                    Yup. The good news is that I think we’re getting better at sniffing out this kind of snake oil. Not all new tech is a good idea at all.

                • Robert Guyton

                  What qualities do you attribute to flow forms, RedLogix (are you a character from the Asterix comic smiley?

                  • RedLogix

                    Insufferablix devil

                    I just like flow forms. They have a strong link back to Victor Schauberger's original work.

                    The general claims (that I cannot personally verify) are that they efficiently oxygenate and 'enliven' the water, making it especially useful for gardens and biological processes in general. (Like most good ideas, some of the people working in the area tend to go too far off into lala land with their claims, but the basics seem quite straightforward.)

                    For instance cleaning up greywater through a reed bed, and then perhaps a charcoal filter, and finally through a flow form is a nice process. Similar applications are being used by some aquaponics people.

                    Not everything in the world is amenable to scientific analysis; I quite like having a few mysteries left. wink

                    • Robert Guyton

                      "Not everything in the world is amenable to scientific analysis; I quite like having a few mysteries left."

                      I'm so relieved to read that!

                      I find rivers a great meditation, especially those that broil and bubble, churn and fizz, in the way a flow form seeks to mimic. I've always found such waterbodies very Oriental somehow, perhaps Zen, maybe Tao, certainly reminiscent of Chinese brush and ink painting and haiku poetry.

                      I too like flow forms and, and if it were not for the fact that I have a stream flowing through my garden already, would look to making and installing one in an attempt to bring the qualities of ebulliently-flowing water into my world.

                    • RedLogix

                      Observational and analytic intelligence. Two different modes of the mind.

                      I freely accept that the astonishing successes of the industrial world have elevated the status of the rational, analytic mode of thinking too far.

                      A restored balance with the old meditative, observational mode would be good for all of us.


        • Robert Guyton

          Yay! Data! We're saved!

  13. R.P Mcmurphy 13

    Our civilisation is based on exploiting fossil fuels or otherwise exploiting natural resources. Bloomberg new s opined yesterday that we have now actually passed peak oil. The ultimate outcome is depopulation and whoever works out how to do this will survive while the humans created adventitiously will go to the wall.

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