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Climate change thought experiment

Written By: - Date published: 7:10 am, January 27th, 2020 - 120 comments
Categories: climate change - Tags:

Dr. Genevieve Guenther @DoctorVive on twitter asks,

Thought experiment for the weekend:

 

What if everyone could have adequate food & healthcare, access to education & the arts, but industrialization were unsustainable.

 

Would you rather de-industrialize & halt warming or continue industrial activity & let the planet heat 3C+?

🤔

Moderator note: no CC denial comments under this post thanks (including “we’re all going to die”, “it’s too late” or “there’s nothing we can do” comments).

120 comments on “Climate change thought experiment”

  1. Andre 1

    The idea that everyone in a world of 7 billion people (on the way to 10 billion) can all have access to adequate food, healthcare, education, arts etc without industrialisation is even more far-fetched than the idea that industrialisation can be modified to become sustainable.

    • RedLogix 1.1

      I completely agree with your first proposition. De-industrialising is a dystopian, morally bankrupt plan to fail on a monumental scale.

      But why do you think our current forms of industrialisation are beyond improvement? After all this is what they've been doing constantly for over 200 years, why the sudden stop now?

      • Andre 1.1.1

        I don't in the slightest think industrialisation is technologically incapable of changing into a completely sustainable form.

        I'm firmly of the opinion that the simple change of requiring industries and consumers to pay the full costs of everything that currently gets externalised for free is fairly likely sufficient to cause that change to happen in a fairly short time frame.

        I'm just doubtful that we humans collectively will develop the will to make it happen. Due to resistance from those that directly benefit from the status quo, those that don't understand how the change will in fact benefit them, and those that will resist because the resulting relatively modest change won't fulfill their deeply held desire to totally upend and smash current sociopolitical systems and structures.

        • RedLogix 1.1.1.1

          I think I see where you're coming from, and like you I'm doubtful the collective will to implement full costing of externalities would ever happen. Besides it would be immensely complex and bureaucratic thing to try and do. Which kind of rules it out as a good option.

          Yet industrialisation, in the very big picture, really boils down to three things, competent people, energy and resources. We don't look like we're going to run out of people anytime soon, so it really comes down to energy and resources.

          What if energy was abundant, cheap and had only a tiny impact on the environment? What if instead of getting resources primarily from mining or crude oil refining, we could recycle almost everything? Everyone in that industry is clear, the primary barrier to 100% recycling is energy costs; remove that barrier then the methods to achieve it will become highly available.

          Therefore energy is the pivotal issue. We don’t need to just decarbonise, we need 5 or 10 times more energy per capita than we have now. With that we can decouple from exploiting nature and drive the externalities as low as we like.

          Look back at the past 200 years … whenever a new technology becomes cheaper and better than it's predecessor, it replaces it very, very quickly. And it takes no collective will whatsoever.

          • Andre 1.1.1.1.1

            The vast majority of the problem is simply CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels for energy. Putting a price on that is relatively bureaucratically simple, as long as it is applied to everything. But sure, when we start trying to quantify stuff like agricultural emissions it gets a lot harder.

            When it comes to energy, this piece has a lot of easy to digest info and charts. Not far down there's a chart of world primary energy consumption from various sources.

            Of the 140,000 TWh used, almost all of it was from coal, gas, oil, and biofuel, and renewables are just a tiny sliver. All those fuels have to be burned to extract their energy, which means most of their energy just becomes waste heat and only a small fraction actually does anything useful for us. Lets be generous and say that useful fraction is 40%.

            Could we supply all that primary energy from renewables? Let's just consider solar. Large parts of the world get over 2500 kWh/yr.m^2 of incoming solar energy. Let's be pessimistic and say we can harvest that with 10% efficiency (commercial panels and solar thermal plants are up over 20% efficiency, but don't get 100% land coverage). An area 750km x 750km would be needed to harvest 140,000 TWhr/yr of electricity. That's about half the area of a small saharan country like Chad. Then halve it, considering it's displacing fossil energy that's only 40% useful.

            Sure it's a massive amount of engineering, but it seems doable if we collectively develop the will to. Especially since it won't just be solar, there will also be wind and geothermal (please no more massive hydro ruining rivers, just pumped hydro for storage).

            • RedLogix 1.1.1.1.1.1

              Good logic. There are only three known horses in the energy race.

              1. Efficient Solar PV: A runner with track record, and still showing promise. But the pundits wonder about her staying power long term.

              2. Nuclear Fission: A runner that has stumbled at the gate a few times, but shows tremendous development potential with a trainer who has faith. Could go all the way.

              3. Nuclear Fusion: Great breeding genetics, but hasn't so much as stepped onto a training track yet, much less shown any results. Great long shot, but nothing will happen for a few seasons yet.

              Three good bets, but quite different characteristics. No-one can be certain yet which one will be the winner, therefore the smartest plan is to back all three.

              • Robert Guyton

                The 4th "horse" being the one that looks at the racers and thinks, "meh!" and goes to sit under a tree, as Ferdinand did. Trees, it's well known, provide most of the needs humans have; food, shelter, spiritual sustenance, inspiration, fuel and so on. That horse is a winner!

                • RedLogix

                  most of the needs humans have; food, shelter, spiritual sustenance, inspiration, fuel and so on.

                  That's the photosynthesis world prior to coal. Our ancestors and those people in the world who are still not yet connected to an electricity grid will tell you what a tough, precarious and boring life it was. The natural world has an important value and place in our future. We will always need wilderness and the natural world, without invoking any utilitarian argument, and if only of aesthetic and spiritual reasons. I want to see the natural world thrive, expand and restored from it's presently battered state.

                  But as the basis on which maybe 10b people will grow and thrive into a good future … sorry but no.

        • weka 1.1.1.2

          "I don't in the slightest think industrialisation is technologically incapable of changing into a completely sustainable form."

          What's your concept and definition of sustainable there? Some practical examples would be good.

          • Andre 1.1.1.2.1

            I don't really want to get into nitpicking about definitions of “sustainable”.

            But broadly, to me sustainable means 'not quantifiably permanently increasing humanity's footprint on the plant and not causing irreversible damage to the biosphere'.

            So to me, a subsistence farmer on the edge of a forest remnant in say Kenya or India that clears just a bit more land to grow food for his six kids and thereby reduces habitat size below viability for unique species is unsustainable.

            But say, a steel plant that used electrolytic processes using solar electricity beside a mine that was formerly low-productivity farm that had already deposited a bond with an independent organisation sufficient to cover restoration of the site would qualify as sustainable.

            • weka 1.1.1.2.1.1

              Given how loosely the term sustainable is used I think having clarity about what people mean is useful, so thanks for that.

              I not sure if that steel plant would be sustainable, it would depend on the relationships between that plant and the society around it. Obviously metals are a finite resource, so theoretically if those metals were in continuous re-use at a set level, then there might be a way to create a sustainable system there. Would also depend on things like what pollution was being produced and whether the EROEI was justified.

              However the thought experiment was positing that if industrial society was inherently unsustainable, would one choose to continue it and thus lock in 3C, or instead choose a different lifestyle and standard of living but one that was still pretty good? It's interesting that you believe that the latter is impossible, but that making industrialisation sustainable is possible. Much if this hinges on what people mean by industrialisation too (eg are electrolyte processes inherently industrial?), but I'm going to respond to that more to Gosman below.

    • weka 1.2

      Maybe dig a bit deeper into the thought experiment Andre. If you believe that 3C is catastrophic, that humans can't make industrialisation sustainable, and that it's impossible for us to have good lives without industrialisation, how does that affect your decisions regarding climate action?

      I'll be interested if you have a rationale for the belief that good lives without industrialisation is impossible. Maybe it depends on what you consider essential.

      • RedLogix 1.2.1

        The romantic idea that we can all revert back to a form of subsistence agriculture and or village life is undermined by the simple fact that if you actually go and live in such places in the developing world, everyone with any dreams wants to get out from the backbreaking, boring work, and move to a city. As soon as possible. These people will bluntly tell you it's not a 'good life'.

        While it's entirely possible for niche communities to live on the margins of our modern world and sort of replicate low tech village life, they're rarely if ever self reliant. They're always embedded in the industrial world to some degree, and in the final analysis totally dependent on it.

        The massive trend of the past 100 years is that people are moving to cities. By 2100 it's projected over 80% of humanity will live in them. That's what people define as a 'better life' … and they vote with their feet en mass.

      • Andre 1.2.2

        My refrigerator is quite essential to what I consider a good life. It massively reduces the amount of time I have to spend frequently sourcing food, and massively reduces food waste. Cost effective refrigerators are not possible without industrialisation.

        I've been fortunate to have good health, but on occasion I've needed sophisticated medications and treatments. Some of my nearest and dearest have literally been kept alive long-term by ongoing medication and treatment. Some of which they have to frequently travel significant distance for. All of that requires industrialisation.

        That's just two examples of many things in life important to me that simply don't happen without industrialisation. I've traveled enough to see what life is like for those without access to the benefits provided by industrialisation. It's not an attractive life.

        • weka 1.2.2.1

          Refrigeration is a really good example. I've lived without a fridge at times. My mother was raised without a fridge, so that's within living memory of it being manageable and safe. From those experiences and looking at different tech that people use, it's quite easy for me to imagine humans spending ten years doing R and D on passive cooling and coming up with solutions that are way less polluting and resource extracting than what we do currently. This isn't about reverting back to some civ black fantasy of nasty, brutish and short, it's about taking the best of our creativity and ingenuity, combined with modern and traditional ways of knowing and knowledge bases and designing a tech appropriate to the situation.

          So the question for me isn't refrigeration vs living in a third world country where people die from dysentery. It's whether I would choose the inconvenience of modern living sans fridge if that meant avoiding 3C.

        • Psycho Milt 1.2.2.2

          Some of my nearest and dearest have literally been kept alive long-term by ongoing medication and treatment.

          You bet. I don't get to live very long at all, let alone a good life, without genetically engineered synthetic human insulin. Can't see that supply being maintained without industrialisation.

          That said, if industry had to pay full costs rather than externalising all kinds of shit, keeping me alive would be a lot more expensive, so you'd have to figure at some point Pharmac would start asking itself "How much is it really worth to keep this asshole breathing for another year?" Maybe I shouldn't be such an enthusiast for industry being made to pay its costs…

          • weka 1.2.2.2.1

            Having said below that I think food is one of the easier ones to solve, I think medicine is one of the hardest. My preference at this point would be that we deindustrialise to a point, or at least start to powerdown, and retain industrialisation for key processes like producing insulin or purifying water.

            Rather than this being an issue of what capitalism can afford, I think it's an issue of our lives now vs the lives of the babies born this week. The OP question is not saying we have to choose, it's saying we might be able to avoid that choice. I'll take prioritising your insulin over most of what is found in a $2 shop for instance. Civ has so much excess that we don't even have to look at rationing things that keep people alive (we do have to look at population though).

            • Psycho Milt 1.2.2.2.1.1

              I was being tongue-in-cheek suggesting I shouldn't support industry being prevented from externalising costs. As you say, the way things are going we aren't going to be presented with a choice about whether we continue our BAU or not, so the cost of keeping people like me alive ends up on the table at some point anyway. And I'd way rather it was on the table as part of a controlled programme of climate change mitigation rather than on the table via a climate-change-induced collapse of civilisation – not much negotiating to be done if that happens.

              • weka

                yep. In a hard crash I'll be one of the first to go under.

                Is there a reason that insulin can't be manufactured using small scale tech? eg could a lab in Dunedin make it? (economics aside for the moment).

                • Andre

                  At a guess, the biggest obstacle is probably getting the skilled humans needed. Setting up and running the process would require a lot of different specialist skills needed from a lot of highly skilled people.

                  Then the time they put into replicating a production line that already exists elsewhere is time not spent doing other valuable stuff that's not just replication of something already done elsewhere. Like developing new medicines.

                  Then the economics are that the skilled input needed for a production line making 100 kilos a year of highly specialised stuff isn't much different to the skilled input needed to make 10,000 kilos a year of the same specialised stuff. But the amortised cost per unit is very different when you spread it over 100kg or 10,000 kg. Especially when that skilled labour is the biggest component of the cost.

                  • weka

                    that's certainly a set of problems under a growth economy. Even bigger problem under a climate where food supplies are collapsing.

          • Andre 1.2.2.2.2

            Had a quick look at what's online about insulin manufacturing, and I don't see a lot of potential for freebie externalities. Doesn't look like there's a massive waste stream they get to dump for free, or a lot of input resource they get to grab for free from the commons.

            The enormous cost of insulin seems mostly due to profiteering, and the extremely stringent quality control and testing required at many steps along the manufacturing process. Along with dodgy business methods to enable profiteering. And did I mention profiteering?

            https://www.t1international.com/blog/2019/01/20/why-insulin-so-expensive/

            • Psycho Milt 1.2.2.2.2.1

              Oh right, I was forgetting that bit. If it comes to a showdown in the negotiations, Pharmac has "You would lose X million dollars if we can't reach a deal" while the company has "Well, you could just let lots of people die, I suppose." Not exactly a level playing field.

  2. Gosman 2

    I think many people are not really understanding what industrialisation means. It does not necessarily mean factories billowing harmful pollutants in to the environment. Industrialisation is a means of producing manufactured items that human desire or need on a mass scale via an organised process. Many of the original factories that kick started the Industrial revolution in the UK were water powered with pollutants like coal only being used for heating purposes. There is no reason why industrialisation cannot go hand in hand with a less environmentally damaging way of living.

    • Leapy 2.1

      Gosman, for once I agree with you. What we need to do is reduce/remove the industrial processes that cause the most pollutants and encourage those that are more sustainable. This needs to be done at a personal level, a societal/governmental level, and internationally. The first is possible, but getting the latter two done is more difficult given the amount of money being used by current polluters to buy political influence to stop change happening.

      We should pass legislation to only allow sustainable business to make political contributions.

    • RedLogix 2.2

      Yup. That's the essence of my argument.

      Prior to the 1700's humanity was running into the limits of a photosynthesis based tech. It's not well understood that more than 70% of de-forestation occurred before 1800, that most large mammal extinctions were done by tiny bands of non-industrial hunter-gatherers. Pre-industrial humans were very tough on their local environments and life really was short, brutal and nasty for most people. By the mid-1700's local environments were under considerable population and resource pressure, they were running into a wall.

      Coal jumped us up onto a new tech plateau. It enabled everything we take for granted in our modern world, it let us become civilised for the first time. But now we're running into the CO2 and minerals wall and we have to take the next big step up. Fortunately the stage we're on has enabled us to develop the energy tech to do this. We really just need to be clear on the big vision, agree on the broad strategies, and then get busy making money at it. 🙂

    • Robert Guyton 2.3

      "I think many people are not really understanding what industrialisation means. It does not necessarily mean factories billowing harmful pollutants in to the environment. "

      Yes, it does, evidenced by reality. That's what "water-powered" industrialisation led to and always will. We need to de-industrialize. At least, we need to understand scale and apply discretion. The industrialists have shown that they can't.

      • RedLogix 2.3.1

        We need to de-industrialize.

        I'll be blunt on this as I usually am. This statement is the claim of a mass murderer. I know you don't intend it as this, but prior to industrialisation we peaked at 1b people, on a planet riddled with disease, violence, slavery, empire and war. We had deforested three quarters of the planet, we had driven to extinction dozens of large species, our shit was poisoning surface water everywhere we lived in numbers. There was nothing romantic or idyllic about it at all.

        Now we have increased our population roughly ten-fold. We have more than doubled our life expectancy. Blindly advocating we revert back to the low energy intensity prior to what enabled the modern world is at best naive. And that's the polite respectful version Robert.

        • Robert Guyton 2.3.1.1

          Well, that's me exiting the scene for good.

          • Gosman 2.3.1.1.1

            You are not explaining how a deindustrialised society could feed more than 1 Billion people

            • weka 2.3.1.1.1.1

              Have you ever gardened Gosman? Or lived on a farm? Growing food is not that hard relatively speaking. It's hard work sometimes, and it's definitely hard for many people locked into economic systems that aren't designed primarily for food and resource production, but the actual growing is something that humans have done for a very long time and we're pretty good at it even without industrialisation.

              Under the current global system, there is a large amount of food wastage, a large amount of energy wastage, and pressures that promote daft ways of growing food (trying to grow milk en masse in a desert for instance). Regnerative systems are much better at managing those things, and they're more resilient.

              In terms of the OP, we know that climate change is likely to create food shortages within our lifetimes, and that chunks of the industrial tech supporting ag currently has to stop (fossil fuels, artificial fertiliser, chopping down rain forests and so on). So it's not really a question of industrial not letting people starve, because we're already on track for that.

              • Gosman

                There is very good reasons modern society moved away from subsistance agriculture and why humans moved to cities rather than living in smallish self sustaining rural communities that we had lived in for the vast majority of our existence as modern humans. Specialisation and economies of scale allow greater productivity which in turn leads to increased living standards and/or population.

                • weka

                  I wasn't talking about subsistence ag though Gosman. And you seem to be ignoring the bit about climate change being about to make industrial ag fail.

                  Cities can produce food locally so not sure why you are referencing historical situations of villages.

          • RedLogix 2.3.1.1.2

            I'm not quite sure what you mean by that, but please take a walk in your forest and chill. Then come back and work with this.

            All I'm doing is challenging some deeply held assumptions, not you personally. I know that can be really hard to untangle. I have expressed nothing but respect and support for your competency and dedication Robert.

            • Dennis Frank 2.3.1.1.2.1

              Being reactive is easy, and I get why Robert is reacting (although not the extreme bit). We've been exploring thesis/antithesis via the history of the twin Green social archetypes that apply. Doing zero-sum on that Green history is a non-starter, so my advice to Robert is to admit that. He's still free to state his preference for resilience design.

              He & I differ only on acceptance of what others elsewhere need. You & I are pragmatic enough to admit industry will always play a part in the economy. Robert seems averse to the notion. I'm ambivalent, so I see an upside and a downside. Industry will maintain BAU until forced into sustainability, but civilisation is trending them onto that trajectory. Too little too late is a valid view. I'm with Monty Python though.

              Third world countries choosing modernism while we do postmodernism is understandable. Green fundamentalism inclines some to telling them off for that – unsurprising if they get angry about the paternalism, eh? Typical leftist arrogance projects the view that the leftist knows best, hence the prescription advocacy, but that denies third-worlders their freedom to choose. Immoral.

              So leftists need to be more considerate and diplomatic with regard to global projections. Nuances apply. Listen to what the locals want.

              • RedLogix

                I made my case to Robert with more force than was necessary. That was a mistake.

                It's hard to make two apparently contradictory cases at the same time. On the one hand I firmly believe that if we can access, cheap, abundant, zero carbon energy then we can ramp up our energy intensity to the point where we can substantially de-couple our civilisation from direct dependence on natural systems and photosynthesis. Let the natural world have it's food source back and it will recover rapidly.

                At the same time we will need the Robert's of this world to be the custodians and guardians of the natural world. Their essential skills in managing forests and systems, aquaponics and advanced regenerative landscape management, water systems, and as you say … adapting to the local nuances … will be valued more than ever before.

                If only I could convey to Robert that if we can get humans to stop depending so directly and intensely on nature, on photosynthesis … it would release vast tracts of the planet for his hopes to be fulfilled on a scale he would scarce dare to dream of.

                • Dennis Frank

                  Yes, that's a good way of seeing the situation. Reducing our collective footprint on nature is essential, and due to clever design that is a trend we can see is now gathering momentum. I'm encouraged whenever a new report documenting it shows up in the media.

                  https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/the-human-footprint
                  https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
                  ” [17 June 2019] The world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion persons in the next 30 years, from 7.7 billion currently to 9.7 billion in 2050, according to a new United Nations report launched today.” https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2019.html

                  • Dennis Frank

                    "Earth has been in ecological overshoot (where humanity is using more resources and generating waste at a pace that the ecosystem can't renew) since the 1970s. In 2018, Earth Overshoot Day, the date where humanity has used more from nature than the planet can renew in the entire year, was estimated to be August 1. Now more than 85% of humanity lives in countries that run an ecological deficit. This means their ecological footprint for consumption exceeds the biocapacity of that country."

                    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_footprint

                    https://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/

                    • RedLogix

                      There are two related concepts at work here; one is relative sustainability, the other is absolute sustainability.

                      The bad news is that because human populations are increasing our total absolute footprint continues to get worse as your link shows. The good news is that (even in the worldpop link you give above) the peak rate of population increase topped out at around 2.1% in 1972. Since then it's been declining quite dramatically. More than half the people in the world now live in a nation where fertility is now below replacement level.

                      In relative terms our footprint per capita however is slowly improving. Every year we get a little more efficient and less dependent on natural systems. But for the time being population growth is dominating the picture.

                      At some point, hopefully this century, the two curves will reinforce each other, and even presupposing no technical improvements, our total absolute footprint should start to diminish.

                • Poission

                  In a section titled self producing cultures and dependent cultures (apocalypse postponed) Umberto Eco writes.

                  The drug culture,complete with its own values and rituals ,can only survive as a tolerated alternative within a much larger cultural model that does not itself propound the spread of the drugs prinicple.In a world made up exclusively of junkies,there would be nobody left to run the international drug trafficking business:drug culture presupposes a commercial framework for the buying and selling of drugs,this in turn presupposes a freemarket culture.Those hippies who artificially create an idealized culture of the past in which to live can only do so,thanks to the existence of general motors or the pentagon,which allow them to languish on the periphery of repressive intolerance.

                  The danger here is not in these cultures inability to express their own system of values and behaviour ,but in their failure to acknowledge their dependency on the dominant bourgeois model.

                  • RedLogix

                    Sometimes I almost think I understand what you're getting at Poisson. cool

                    It may of course be a foolish conceit on my part ….

                • gsays

                  Perhaps seeing us as seperate from 'nature' can be untangled.

                  • RedLogix

                    As an infant you were totally dependent on your parents; they provided everything for you. You were indeed inseparable from them, without them you might likely perish.

                    Now as an adult do you consider yourself an individual separate from your parents? Do you make your own decisions, provide for your own welfare and take responsibility for your life? Of course you do. At the same time you remain related to your parents, you will always have a vital social and spiritual connection to them.

                    The same applies to our relationship with nature, we are both connected yet separate at the same time.

                    • gsays

                      As an infant it was very easy, natural, to realise I was at one with nature.

                      As time progressed, that can become harder.

                      If you listen to some folk, they would tell you you were seperate from nature.

                      Others would have it, that nature is there for us to keep biggering.

                    • RedLogix

                      We are not separate from nature, we will always remain embodied biological creatures and connected to our origins. At the same time we've become the first species on earth to become post biological, the first species to consciously and extensively modify our environment, to wriggle out from under the thumb of natural selection, and certainly the first to ponder how much better we could be.

                      Separate or not separate is a false dichotomy, as neither answer is right.

          • francesca 2.3.1.1.3

            Oh no

            Robert!

            Apparently you could have a very good job as something like a museum curator, looking after Nature so that we highly evolved and sophisticated humans could go there(Nature reserves) on spiritual vacations, in between the times when we are living free from Nature having a wonderful time in a completely human made industrial utopia, where we all have all our heart's desire.

            fsake

            Seriously, I think the major problem is our denial of death.A truly peaceful acceptance of death would go a long way to peaceful existence

      • Gosman 2.3.2

        Simply stating it does (as evidenced by "reality') is not an effective argument. Please advise me how the first water powered factories using canals for transportation were causing massive amounts of pollutants.

      • weka 2.3.3

        "At least, we need to understand scale and apply discretion. The industrialists have shown that they can't."

        Indeed. Seems to me that many think of industrialisation as the tech, rather than also largely being about the intention and philosophy. How much would have been solved had industrialists applied self regulation and accepted feedback, especially in regards to nature?

    • weka 2.4

      "I think many people are not really understanding what industrialisation means"

      I see it more that different people have different ideas about what it means, and we don't yet have a good way of talking about this where we're all understanding each other. It's very clear that a number of people here have very different ideas about what deindustrialisation means than I do.

      "There is no reason why industrialisation cannot go hand in hand with a less environmentally damaging way of living."

      As mentioned above to Andre, the issue here is about shared understandings of 'sustainable'. But sustainable isn't defined by being less environmentally damaging, although it is definitely that. We have lots of ways of being less environmentally damaging that aren't even close to being sustainable (think fencing off waterways on industrial dairy farms).

      • Gosman 2.4.1

        Sustainability is such a fuzzy broad term that it has become little more than a buzz word for people to bandy around to prove their environmental credentials. The amount of mathematics required to truly calculate if an activity can been deemed sustainable over different time periods for different levels of use would be massive.

        • weka 2.4.1.1

          I agree it's become a fuzzy word, but more because it's been appropriated by the mainstream and used in ways that destroy its actual meaning.

          You don't need massive maths to make something sustainable, you need a systems perspective and knowledge of how the rules apply. It's not that hard once one learns this, and it's really just a skill set like other. At the moment we don't have many people with that particular skill set, nor do we have a lot of language to be able to talk about it generally.

          • Gosman 2.4.1.1.1

            I'd say it is incredibly hard and I will prove it by asking you to explain the calculation over whether using an iPhone to access the internet is sustainable or not.

            • weka 2.4.1.1.1.1

              It's not. We already know this because of the precious metals used in iphones and how they are acquired and the pollution they cause. Also, that iphones are essentially disposable, rather than having components that can be taken apart and reused. Yes some of the bits get recycled but that's rather poor relative to sustainability itself. It doesn't take complicated maths to know this.

              There are whole branches of knowledge around what sustainability actually is, and that knowledge is based in principles like cradle to grave, produce no waste, reuse before recycle and so on.

              • gsays

                Sustainability = leaving the soil in better condition for this season than it was last season.

                I would rather not cite who I got that from as it becomes a distraction. Suffice to say it is hard to argue against.

                • weka

                  I agree. I've been wondering today if applied gardening might be the best way to teach sustainability.

        • Dennis Frank 2.4.1.2

          Better to view the term as an ideal to be approached in an ad hoc, incremental manner. Don't allow those using it as a buzzword to dictate the agenda. It's whatever works to sustain an economy in perpetuity. Like living within your means, upscaled to the global level.

          • Gosman 2.4.1.2.1

            Again that makes not sense in complex systems where the means your are meant to be living within are unknown. How much energy can someone sustainably use if it comes from renewable sources like Solar or Hydro for example?

            • Dennis Frank 2.4.1.2.1.1

              Not sure what you mean there. There's the principle of sustainability, then there's how to implement it. Implementation will proceed on a `what seems to work best at the time' basis, which will get amended or changed when necessary. Pragmatism will rule. That's how people normally operate. So there's no need for angst about the future. Bad for one's mental health…

              • Gosman

                What are the different criteria used to determine if using solar or hydro energy is sustainable then?

                • weka

                  At the moment they're not if we're building a new one. The criteria would be things like:

                  • where do the materials come from, how are they extracted, are they renewable or not, is the extraction rate higher than is reasonable over a long timeframe (1,000 years?)
                  • how much pollution is produced (cradle to grave analysis)?
                  • what is the energy returned on energy invested over the whole life cycle of the solar or hydro system?
                  • can all of that be done without using fossil fuels? At what scale?
                  • weka

                    all of that relative to growth. One new hydro dam in NZ might be meaningfully sustainable if we were using it to shift to a steady state economy (including population), but not if it's being used to promote growth and thus require more extraction, wasted energy and pollution.

                • Dennis Frank

                  Well, the sun is a nuclear reactor with sufficient fuel to burn for several billion more years at least. Tech systems to convert sunlight to energy have limited life-spans, but are usually replaceable by better systems.

                  Hydro systems are sustainable if replenishment matches draw, on average, with the caveat that climate change may trend them towards being unsustainable – no mountains or usable rivers in Northland, but if there were it would be a dodgy investment!

                  • weka

                    plants and animals remain by far the best converters of sunlight to energy.

                    • Andre

                      How do you figure that? At very best, plants turn about 5% of incoming solar energy into chemical energy in its biomass. Very little of a plant's life is under optimal conditions, so actual efficiency is generally under 2%. PV panels and concentrated solar thermal plants are routinely above 20% efficiency converting incoming solar to electrical energy.

                      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthetic_efficiency

                      Then animals are horribly inefficient at converting the energy and protein they are fed into live weight (which is mostly water) and protein. For instance, it takes a cow 25kg of protein in its feed to produce 1 kg of edible protein, or 5kg of protein in feed for 1kg of edible chicken, or 10kg of protein in feed for 1 kg of edible protein in pork.

                      https://awellfedworld.org/feed-ratios/

                    • RedLogix

                      Depends a lot on what you mean by 'best converters'. Inevitably photosynthesis is both diffuse and highly seasonal. Feeding large populations took large tracts of relatively rare highly fertile land in large river basins. A few years of drought or a failed monsoon, and famine stalked the land. Hell in many locations just getting through a normal winter was a tough business.

                      Coal and oil changed everything. As essentially a highly dense store of ancient sunlight, suddenly we had a reliable fuel that was easy to store and transport, and enabled us to achieve high temperatures to in order to generate electricity and run industrial processes efficiently. Fossil fuels are about 1000 times more dense on an energy per unit mass basis than wood or food, but it was still locked into the carbon cycle, and the resulting unbalance is the story of AGW as we have spoken of for years.

                      High efficiency PV is roughly on a par with photosynthesis for energy density, but it does have the great merit that it produces high quality electricity directly and bypasses most of the carbon cycle.

                      Nuclear fission on an energy per unit of mass basis is about 10,000 times more dense than fossil fuels. It's the ancient store of energy from the core of the planet, the natural thorium/uranium reactor that keeps the mantle liquid, generates the protective magnetic field of the planet and drives the plate tectonics that form continents and makes resources available to us to mine. Without this reactor at the heart of the earth, we would live on a dead planet.

                      Nuclear fusion is at least another 1,000 times more energy dense than fission is again. This is the process from the heart of the sun itself. Ultimately we will crack the secret of this very hard puzzle. Within decades of this breakthrough we will not recognise our world, everything will have changed. Whether for the better or not is going to depend on choices we make.

                      But ultimately the logic is that human energy needs will come from sources that are higher quality, much denser, more abundant, far cheaper and will no longer depend at all on plants and animals. That strikes me as a very good prospect.

                    • weka

                      any set of stats that starts with factory chickens in a conversation about sustainability should be set aside.

                      Ecosystems have maintained stability over millions of years. And adapted. In that plants and animals have a supremely sophisticated set of systems for converting sunlight into life that not only sustains the individuals but provides for the whole system. Regenerative.

                      Energy from PV panels cause more pollution than the system can sustain, and take more resources than the system can sustain. That might change if we move to a steady state economy/population and attempt to design them with sustainability in mind (rather than simply being renewable energy outputters).

                    • RedLogix

                      In that plants and animals have a supremely sophisticated set of systems for converting sunlight into life that not only sustains the individuals but provides for the whole system.

                      Nice but didn't produce the computer you are typing on. Essentially that statement erases the whole of the human endeavour. From the very moment we started to use tools like sharp flints fractured from rocks, or fire to cook with and to extend the range we could survive in … we started down the path of becoming separate from these purely natural systems. We've been modifying our world for a very long time now; it's just now that we've grasped the enormity of both the threat and opportunity before us.

  3. Sabine 3

    well, currently we are doing nothing. Collectively we don't want to give up our 'comforts' our 'lifestyle' our 'toys' blahblahblah. Because essentially we have become a blob of over entertained, bored, under challenged human beings who will do fight change any chance they get. Some to show it to the SJW, or to own the libs, others because their business / political interests hinge on it, others because they really don't care about the future and so on.

    There are some countries that are future investing but then i guess we don't want to do what they do cause capitalism or something, i never quite understand the reasoning of people that think signing papers of no significance is 'doing the work'.

    But here that might be something that we could do, once we decide that we can do things.

    https://www.utilities-me.com/news/14852-solar-powered-rail-network-set-to-become-reality-in-germany?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=utilities-me_newsletters&utm_email=xaxnar%40aol.com&fbclid=IwAR2HSMtY794mCqso-42fYB4efzD69AL5tDhVnrS30_ZPgusk49M7i3FNLfk

    German rail operator Deutsche Bahn and solar project developer Enerparc have signed a contract for construction of a 42 MW solar power plant in Wasbek, in Schleswig-Holstein, eastern Germany.

    The solar power generated will be fed directly into Deutsche Bahn’s 16.7 Hz rail network via a converter plant in Neumünster.

    Enerparc told pv magazine the solar plant is expected to generate around 38 GWh of electricity per year.

    https://www.wired.co.uk/article/dutch-trains-wind-power

    Every electric train on the Dutch railways NS network now gets 100 per cent of its energy from wind energy.

    NS Dutch Railways has partnered with energy company Eneco to use its wind turbines to generate the energy needed to power all of its electric trains. The pair had hoped to achieve this milestone by 2018 but managed the feat as of January 1 this year.

    NS annually consumes 1.2 billion kWh of wind electricity, reportedly equivalent to the amount all households consume each year. The 100 per cent wind energy-powered trains transport 600,000 passengers and three strokes of an Eneco wind turbine drives a railway train one kilometre.

    https://www.engadget.com/2019/08/23/solar-power-rail-line-uk-renewable/?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuYmluZy5jb20vc2VhcmNoP3E9U29sYXIrcG93ZXIrb24rcmFpbHdheSt1ayZwYz1NT1pJJmZvcm09TU9aTEJS&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAKVq_HzRpFffKXCdQ_Ge4cV2DF6zZUfaEAzNIBjG2kFBEEVpWvl6pMIpjUGpb_DnY_QDcse7xqpayxq5-f7zlZAN-GAfilqVnF1gQ7_xrZ6SqDrlyH8JH5fl1i5K7FqO9tRk7rYda3LPDJVoXy4pU7rDKz6sjJ4TPxJlsFPrcG5_&fbclid=IwAR3kS-w093dDrkoZdkuBxXlz54QWHUReKFf_OZNiDsLL398B4PWCoZNYoV0

    Some trains in the UK are now running on a rail line powered entirely by a solar farm in what's said to be a world first. Around 100 panels are keeping the signaling and lights up and running on the track near Aldershot in Hampshire, and the project could be a precursor to solar-powered trains on the nation's network.

    Several UK train stations already run on solar. Network Rail, which manages most of the railway infrastructure on the British mainland, has earmarked billions of pounds to electrify rail lines, and aims to do so with solar power if the pilot project is successful. The UK government aims to eliminate the use of diesel on the rail network by 2040.

    https://www.livemint.com/news/india/indian-railways-to-be-fully-electrified-in-next-3-4-years-11574622192167.html

    • As per the NITI Aayog data, carbon dioxide emission from the Indian Railways was around 6.84 million tons in 2014
    • Piyush Goyal also said that the Indian Railways will be 100% electrically run by 2023

    https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/newsindia/india-is-the-first-to-convert-a-diesel-locomotive-to-electric/ar-BBTMXbe

    The DLW converted two WDG3A Diesel Locos into a twin electric WAGC3 locomotive of 10,000 horsepower. According to official statements, the government has called it a ‘complete Make in India’ initiative which will result in less greenhouse gas emissions while also making way for better efficient locomotives.

    The question should never be 'you like that civilisation that you have" then you put up with our polluting and not giving a shit – cause that is not a choice that is extortion. And this is what we do currently . What we should be asking is how can we keep the parts of our lifestyle that make our life better i.e. fridges, hot water, public transport, hospitals, education etc (the cavemen already had arts and they – one could argue – had no lifestyle at all) while not constantly collectively shitting our bed every chance we get.

    And going from fossil fuels (including lithium mining) to renewable energy, i.e.. solar, wind, water, heat would be the thing to do. Getting people out of their single serve cages into public transport that gasp would be powered by renewable energy should be something to aim for, and we could make it free so that people use the services provided – and not only those to poor to keep a car – but above all those so rich or such large businesses that they can write of the costs of maintaining fleets and have the tax payer foot the bill for their travels and pollution and use of resources.

    Heck our fridges, freezers could run on solar power. And it would be a whole new industry with many jobs and such.

    But we are not gonna do that. Cause it would be the sensible thing to do, and because we don't want to pressure our industry leaders, our selected Ministers, our business leaders our banks into doing the right thing. That is not what any of these guys have signed up for. They are here for the profits.

    And thus Australia is the Canary in the mine, and the poor bird just died.

  4. Sabine 4

    and here is a picture of down town Auckland in the past with its electric busses.

    https://www.facebook.com/vtstation.nz/photos/a.1256707564537221/1309649982576312/?type=3&theater

    • Graeme 4.1

      Another thought experiment is to consider what Auckland would look like now if the trollies and / or trams were still in place and Robbie's plan to electrify the rail network had come to fruition in the 70's. It seems odd seeing Auckland is going there after 50 years.

      Small aside, those ARA trollies were the quickest thing across the lights on Queen Street, if empty with a willing driver. Many a young hoon in their hot Zephyr was embarrassed.

      • Ad 4.1.1

        Auckland has started to do the right thing because it is exhausted from doing all of the alternatives.

  5. Andre 5

    As examples of things that would change if climate change were taken seriously and a price put on greenhouse gas emissions: consider domestic refrigeration and air-conditioning.

    Prior to the ozone hole becoming a problem and the Montreal Protocol adopted to fix it, Freon (also called R12 or dichlorodifluoromethane) was almost universally used as the working fluid in fridges, freezers, domestic and automotive air-conditioners. But after the Montreal Protocol, R12 was quickly replaced by other gases that don't damage the ozone layer, usually R134a ( 1,1,1,2-Tetrafluoroethane). So quick changeovers can happen when there's a will and an alternative.

    As it happens, this was also a bit fortuitous from a global warming perspective, since R12 has a global warming potential of 10,900, while R134a has a GWP of 1430. But now it's abundantly clear global warming is also a problem, there seems to be a distinct lack of action on changing to alternatives to R134a. The easiest alternative is R600a (isobutane, GWP 3), which actually is starting to get used in fridges. But there's resistance on the bogus grounds of flammability, even though the amounts involved are tiny (a few cigarette lighters worth in a fridge). So far, I have yet to see any heat pumps using R600a, they are all R134a.

    But even more shocking, R134a is sold for a variety of other uses. Completely unrestricted, and with no information on its effects. Such as my kid going and buying a can of computer duster to blow dust out of his electrickery. It was full of R134a, and he and I were both shocked to work out that from a global warming perspective that can was the equivalent of burning at least 250 litres of petrol.

    • RedLogix 5.1

      So quick changeovers can happen when there's a will and an alternative.

      Exactly. Both factors are necessary, but it's even better if the alternative or substitute is actually better than what it replaces. The best example is how rapidly cars replaced horse drawn vehicles in the cities of the developed world in just one short decade, from 1900 to 1910. Cars were not only better, they were much cheaper to own and operate. That's the ideal type of transition, one that is driven by the underlying economics.

      Your point on R134 is a good one, at present there isn't a strong enough economic incentive to replace it, and therefore it's a good candidate for either regulation or costing off the market; both mechanisms have their place. (Incidentally large industrial vendors who have multiple generations of product in their catalogs often do this to earlier generations of product, they simply put a ridiculous 'don't buy' price on it and their customers soon get the message that it's time to start making the switch.)

      • Poission 5.1.1

        The kilgali amendment has restricted the use (and has a phase down) on the use and manufacture of HFC this will reduce the GWP by around 0.5c by 2050.

        On October 15, 2016, with the United States’ leadership, 197 countries adopted an amendment to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol in Kigali, Rwanda. Under the amendment, countries committed to cut the production and consumption of HFCs by more than 80 percent over the next 30 years. The ambitious phase down schedule will avoid more than 80 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 2050—avoiding up to 0.5° Celsius warming by the end of the century—while continuing to protect the ozone layer. Under the amendment, developed countries will reduce HFC consumption beginning in 2019. Most developing countries will freeze consumption in 2024, with a small number of developing countries with unique circumstances freezing consumption in 2028. The plan also provides financing to certain countries, to help them transition to climate-friendly alternatives. Key elements of the Kigali Amendment include:

        https://www.epa.gov/ozone-layer-protection/recent-international-developments-under-montreal-protocol

        Click to access hfc-consumption-in-nz.pdf

        Kinda gets in the way of a good story.

        • Andre 5.1.1.1

          An 80% reduction over 30 years is underwhelming, considering the seriousness of the problem and that there's near drop-in replacements available right now for most applications.

  6. Andre 6

    What does a de-industrialised food supply look like? Particularly for meat?

    Is it like the producer markets so beloved of western hippies? That in the early 80s in Spain supplied me the meat that gave me my worst-ever bout of food poisoning?

    Is it like the markets in Africa that sell bushmeat and are strongly implicated in spreading ebola?

    Is it like the markets in Wuhan, that are strongly implicated in spreading the current coronavirus outbreak?

    • weka 6.1

      No, it's none of those. It's taking our modern understandings of hygiene and how illness spreads, and factoring that into a system that is designed to be sustainable. You seem very centred in a vision of full industrial vs (what you imagine as) hellscape poverty. I guess I'm fortunate that instead of spending time in places where the food systems harmed me because they were problematically designed, I've been around a lot of people whose culture creates sustainable systems and people produce food that is safe and healthy.

      Of all the things that might be about to go wrong for humans, I think food is actually one of the easier ones to solve. If we had to rely on locally grown food we could, and those systems can be designed more safely than big industrial supply chains. It would be different than what we do now, but I think it's doable and meeting the criteria of the question.

      The problems re Wuhan are likely to be industrial factory farming. We could see that problem as not being industrial enough, or we could shift to regenerative systems that respect animals and nature. Where you see two options, I see three (or more).

      • RedLogix 6.1.1

        The Chinese 'wet markets' are notorious for their medieval notions of hygiene. The only reason why they work is that in the absence of refrigeration everyone must eat the food that is purchased that day. Otherwise it rapidly becomes too dangerous to eat. It also forces women into a constant daily round of chores shopping, cooking and cleaning. Anything not eaten that day is discarded.

        In the aftermath of this crisis the CCP will almost certainly impose much higher standards of food preparation and handling. Already they are moving to ban trade in wild animals like snakes, bats and the like.

        You seem very centred in a vision of full industrial vs (what you imagine as) hellscape poverty.

        Because quite simply if you abandon industrialisation (and you don't get to pick and choose which bits you like and don't like, it's one vast interconnected web of sciences, materials and engineering) we know exactly what that looks like. Either go back in time 200 years or so, or travel to undeveloped countries where people are not yet connected to electricity. Compared to what we enjoy on a daily basis, yes it is a hellscape of sorts. Certainly anyone still living this life chooses to get out of it if at all possible. They don't suffer any romantic illusions about how pure they are.

        Choosing a 'third path' is a reasonable option. Is it possible to devise an 'eco-technic' future in which we select from a menu of the best of both worlds? Can we have a limited industrialisation, those components that give us safe water, power, good food, education, health care, connectivity, safe regulated communities and so on, while living de-powered lives 'in harmony with nature'? I have to say I was convinced of this option for many, many years. It does have an innate appeal and I don't want to scoff at it.

        Will this path save the planet? I used to think so, but in truth 10b humans will take up a LOT of land living in such a mode. By contrast if we look around the world where there is relatively untouched nature … it's the places like mountains, deserts, glaciers and marginal lands that humans have not been able to find an economic use for. We save nature by not using it.

        In the meantime all the big global trends are running in the other direction. Our agricultural footprint per capita is half what is was in 1960. We're generally using fewer resources, using less land and living far more densely in large cities. Slowly but surely we're de-coupling from nature, becoming far less dependent on it directly. And all of this is being driven by constant improvements in our industrial civilisation.

        I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but as we've become more energy intensive, our impact on the natural world per capita has diminished. The logical path forward is to drive this process to it's optimum outcome … the greater mass of humanity living advanced, civilised lives in highly dense, thriving and attractive cities, surrounded by a natural world allowed to regenerate because we are no longer using it.

        Look at pictures of Hong Kong. Here is one of the great world cities, highly developed and dense, yet it occupies barely 10% of the island. The other 90% is bright green forest right up to the windows of the high rises. Here is a very plausible prototype of how a truly sustainable future might look.

  7. Matiri 7

    (Jonathan) Pie takes a new direction. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-YuoWaCfhI

  8. pat 8

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/22/worlds-consumption-of-materials-hits-record-100bn-tonnes-a-year

    "Since 1970, the human population has doubled, the global economy has grown fourfold, and trade has expanded tenfold, a trajectory that — in the absence of widespread recycling — relentlessly pushes up the demand for energy and resources."

    https://www.afp.com/en/news/826/global-resource-consumption-tops-100-bn-tonnes-first-time-doc-1o12kc2

    Now recycling will help but there are many critical resources that either cannot be recycled or only recycled a limited number of times and in most instances there is a decline in quality and/or application…and then theres potable water

    • Drowsy M. Kram 8.1

      Thanks Pat – such reports demonstrate that fair theories about the sustainability of current human enterprise are unrealistic.

      Governments must urgently adopt circular economy solutions if we want to achieve a high quality of life for close to 10bn people by mid-century without destabilising critical planetary processes.

      • pat 8.1.1

        very much so….no matter how much we would wish otherwise

      • Dennis Frank 8.1.2

        Business as usual (capitalism) incorporates consumerism. Consumerism is a culture, created to fuel demand for more products. Christmas gifts are a key structural component. You may have noticed a new consumer trend last November: `Black Friday Sales'. Dutiful consumers get an extra opportunity to buy yet more crap.

        Approximately half of these people intent on making the world worse vote Labour, of course… 🤫

        • RedLogix 8.1.2.1

          Yet oddly enough as a society becomes more prosperous and settled, essentially as we move up the Maslow Hierarchy of needs, the demand for physical goods shifts towards a different sort of demand for experiences and services that is less resource intensive. Or you can make a simple productivity argument as this report does:

          Resource productivity, expressed as a ratio of GDP to DMC, links overall resource use to economic activity. Between 2000 and 2012, it increased markedly in the European Union (by 29% for the EU-27 and by 39% for the EU-15), a sign that European economies are creating more wealth out of the material resources that they use, although it also reflects changes in material use and the structure of economies.

          The country with the highest resource productivity over the available time series is Switzerland. Switzerland, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have consistently been the most resource-efficient economies in Europe between 2000 and 2012. The increase in resource productivity between 2000 and 2012 was highest in Ireland, Spain, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Italy, Cyprus and the United Kingdom. Only two countries — Romania and Estonia — experienced a decline in resource productivity in the same period.

          https://www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2015/countries-comparison/resource-efficiency

          • Dennis Frank 8.1.2.1.1

            Yes, that countervailing trend is encouraging. I suspect that the balance is still tilted towards the bad side due to elements of capitalism such as planned obsolescence. That didn't exist in Aotearoa when I was growing up.

            There's a helpful trend towards businesses incorporating recycling of materials. Interesting that this is happening voluntarily rather than via legal compulsion. The Green ethos is infusing the capitalist system slowly. A quality mark on the packaging that gives the percentage would hasten the effect, much as the energy-efficiency rating of appliances has become normal.

        • pat 8.1.2.2

          not just the increasing race to grab the consumer dollar for goods (and facilitate cashflow before its spent elsewhere) but also services…..at any given time there is approximately 1.2 million people in the air travelling to places other

    • RedLogix 8.2

      Anyone in the recycling business will tell you that the primary constraint on what they can do is the price and availability of energy. Potable water is solved if you have abundant cheap energy for desalination. There will be always some need for raw resources to be extracted, but intensive recycling could reduce this by a factor of 5 or 10 even.

      These kinds of report are correct and useful in that they point to the very real limits of our present industrial base … but all too often they overlook what is possible as energy becomes cheaper. That’s the real pathway to a ‘circular economy’.

      • pat 8.2.1

        and anybody that uses recycled materials will tell you about their limitations….and desalination plants cause as many problems as they solve even if the energy is green and abundant,

        Resources are limited (even renewables have a replacement period, and one that we are and have exceeded) and they will all run out at some point, many in a very short period of time at current consumption rates…never mind the associated impacts.

        • RedLogix 8.2.1.1

          and desalination plants cause as many problems as they solve even if the energy is green and abundant,

          No really you will have to explain that one to me. I'm genuinely curious.

          As for other mineral resources … extracting metals from sea water is entirely possible and for all practical purposes represents an almost unlimited resource. Again cheap, abundant, green energy enables this.

          http://www.miningweekly.com/article/over-40-minerals-and-metals-contained-in-seawater-their-extraction-likely-to-increase-in-the-future-2016-04-01

          • pat 8.2.1.1.1

            "These pollutants increase the seawater temperature, salinity, water current and turbidity. They also harm the marine environment, causing fish to migrate while enhancing the presence of algae, nematods and tiny molluscus. Sometimes micro-elements and toxic materials appear in the discharged brine.This paper will discuss the impact of the effluents from the desalination plants on the seawater environment with particular reference to the Saudi desalination plants, since they account for about 50% of the world desalination capacity."

            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24241776

            • RedLogix 8.2.1.1.1.1

              Is that it? The solution to this is dead obvious, simply pump in more raw seawater and dilute it more before discharging the brine. A simple operational change that just requires a bit more pumping energy. Or simply disperse the discharge outlets more efficiently so as the brine dilutes more rapidly.

              • pat

                and all while increasing the the extraction and discharge …..and added to that you wish to mine (further) minerals from the oceans without understanding the impact on the environment and biodiversity….yep you'll solve it all right, just like the oil companies

                • RedLogix

                  Have you any idea just how large the ocean's are? The dilution factors are immense, pretending there is a problem here is irrational.

                  Lets look at one obvious metal, lithium which is present at 0.17ppm in the oceans. The volume of all the oceans is aprox 1.3 x 10^9 km3. That means there is around 220 cubic kilometers of lithium in the oceans. That's quite a lot really.

                  Still I understand that no matter what actual data I present, the real problem here isn't the one your talking about.

                  • pat

                    yep it is…and what purpose does it serve in the oceans?…do you know?

                    And there was a shit load of oil when they started extracting it, and quite a bit of various other resources in the ground….you do realise how desperate you are appearing promoting the extraction of lithium from ocean water at a ratio of less than 1ppm….might be time to accept that we have reached (or passed) the limits of this planet

                    • RedLogix

                      Don't be an idiot, 220 cubic km is an immense amount, we'd never get close to using a fraction of a percent of it. Current land total reserves of lithium are estimated at 65m tonnes, while just one of those cubic km in the ocean would be around 530,000 m tonnes.

                      At one time people like you were claiming shale oil would never be economic, but a mere decade later it’s cost competitive with Saudi crude, and getting better. I don’t endorse it, but its a perfect example of improving tech making fools of people who keep thinking progress doesn’t, or shouldn’t, happen.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      "…we'd never get close to using a fraction of a percent of it."

                      Red is correct. Not because of the apparently 'limitless' nature of the resource, but rather because our collective 'disbelief in limits' will ensure that human civilisation is brought low by those limits sooner rather than later.

                      Will the global human population reach its projected peak of ~11 billion? What a catastrophe for all other inhabitants of 'our' planet if it does.

                      Maybe human civilisation is too 'special' to fail – that’s a magical thought!

                    • RedLogix

                      but rather because our collective 'disbelief in limits' will ensure that human civilisation is brought low by those limits sooner rather later.

                      Yet every single time the anti-human Malthusians pronounced the imminent end of times they've been proven wrong. In this they're even more morbidly obdurate than marxists.

                      Off course there are limits, as an industrialist I'm likely more aware of the details of them that most, if I didn't believe in them I would be here discussing them. But every time we encounter a new limit, we learn to adapt. We find a different way to solve the same problem.

                      While resources are constrained, perfections are without limit. And that is the magic of being human.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      Evolution yields “adequate design“.
                      The drive for perfection is a human quirk – magnificent and sad.

                      Perfection is an unattainable illusion that taints reality.
                      View at Medium.com

                      Will civilisation survive its drives? Time will tell someone.

                    • RedLogix

                      Perfections plural. An endless unbounded process of improvements.

                      Evolution yields “adequate design“.
                      The drive for perfection is a human quirk – magnificent and sad.

                      Which is why humans are well described as the first post-biological species. Still people manage to find misery in just about any damn thing, so why am I not surprised you find this sad. Maybe something radical would shift things for you.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      Red, are you prescribing from experience? Alas, I fear the effects of psychedelics which, as your link informs, "are highly variable and depend on the mindset and environment in which the user has the experience".

                      My life is fine, and I prefer to see the world as it is; more than magical enough (for now) without recourse to mind-altering drugs.

                      Postscript: I can understand the appeal of the idea of humans as a post-biological species, but we should have learned to ‘walk‘ first. All this imagined “leap-frogging” is too much.

                    • RedLogix

                      My life is fine, and I prefer to see the world as it is; more than magical enough

                      How odd, for comment after comment you project little but dark doomer negativity and gloom, yet when I gently call you on it, suddenly everything is 'fine'.

                      Yeah nah.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      Ah, Red, my little 'cheer germ' – such a dark (and perhaps a tad personal) assessment of my 'agonised psyche'.

                      While you have perceived accurately that I'm not optimistic about the future of human civilisation in the medium term, I genuinely don't let that belief (which is all it is) get me down, and am more upbeat in regard to my personal future than I have any right to be.

                      Please consider the possibility that your magic mushroom advice and "Yeah nah" psychobabble might be better applied closer to home laugh

                    • pat

                      Your lack of understanding is wondrous to behold…what I want is irrelevant.

                      All your scenarios are predicated upon unrealised dreams of future tech….a future that wont arrive as you not only ignore reality but crucially you ignore time.

                      As the link I posted noted the projections of the Limits of Growth have been anything bit disproved, indeed they remain remarkably accurate.

                      And the EROI of a kg of Thorium is currently negative…and will remain so IMO

                    • RedLogix

                      And the EROI of a kg of Thorium is currently negative…and will remain so IMO

                      That merely amounts to saying " it hasn't been done yet, therefore it cannot be done ".

                      Well from this logic I'm concluding that because I can't get a rational response from you so far, it's therefore impossible to get one.

                      I looked at that Limits to Growth link, it dated back to sometime in the 90’s. You’ve been suckered by someone telling you what you want to hear.

                      Incidentally 1kg of thorium is enough to power one human for more than a lifetime. At a rough estimate we can power humanity for least 2000 years from known deposits.

                    • pat

                      "That merely amounts to saying " it hasn't been done yet, therefore it cannot be done ".That merely amounts to saying " it hasn't been done yet, therefore it cannot be done ".

                      No..it amounts to you asked what the EROI of a kg of thorium is and it IS negative….until such time as it is producing energy it will remain so.

                      "I looked at that Limits to Growth link, it dated back to sometime in the 90’s. You’ve been suckered by someone telling you what you want to hear"

                      Then you looked in the wrong place (not surprising)…my link was from 2017

                  • pat

                    it is an immense amount…and we will never get close to extracting a fraction of it…but not for the reason you think.

                    And im not sure where your reserves figure comes from but you may wish to check your source

                    • pat

                      I suspect that Red would be (if he could) be one of those burning high EROI oil to facilitate sub 1 EROI fracked oil and gas….the question of externalities and purpose is secondary…if considered at all.

                      'Progress' at all costs…right up until it all goes tits up

                    • RedLogix

                      And how did all those Peak Oil doomer scenarios work out for you pat? The world was supposed to be all over by 2010 … and here we are burning more oil than ever, and doing more with it than ever. I think you need to update some of your assumptions.

                      But setting fossil fuels aside … what can you tell me about the EROI on a kg of thorium? What do you imagine might happen if we suddenly each had 10 or 100 times more cheap and abundant energy than we do now? What do you think might become possible? What constraints might suddenly vanish?

                      Because every major technological innovation we have achieved, since we first achieved modern cognitive abilities over 70,000 years ago, has transformed our world beyond all recognition. Why do you insist against all the evidence that this process has come to an end? Why do you want it to end?

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      "What do you imagine might happen if we suddenly each had 10 or 100 times more cheap and abundant energy than we do now?"

                      Well Red, which is it; 10 times or 100 times? Not that your answer really matters – one scenario is almost as fanciful as the other.

                      Oh, and you forgot to add ‘non-polluting‘ to your “cheap and abundant” descriptors – that was careless. I love Science Fiction as much as the next guy, but should humankind be relying on such imaginings to solve the problems we created?

                    • RedLogix []

                      If we committed to it we could get to 10 times by 2050 using thorium/uranium molten salt fast spectrum tech.

                      And at some point we will crack the fusion puzzle and that gets us to 100 times without breaking sweat.

                      Yet it seems really important to you to insist none of this is possible.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      I found both your scenarios, i.e. that we might suddenly have 10 or 100 times more cheap and abundant energy than we have now, to be fanciful = over-imaginative and unrealistic.

                      I would not insist your scenarios are impossible, but genuinely believe that they are fanciful, and therefore actually quite dangerous.

                      Red, you can prepare for a future of 11 billion souls without limits; personally I think the focus should be on accepting the reality of limits and planning accordingly. But I acknowledge that your solution sounds much more fun – well, more fun for us anyway.

          • pat 8.2.1.1.2

            https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2017/ew/c6ew00268d

            and energy isnt the main limitation (or cost)

            5. Economic analysis

            The profitability of mining minerals from sea or seawater brine depends on the capital cost, operation and maintenance cost, sale revenues of water and minerals, and geological location.11 The major capital costs are those of equipment, buildings, construction of plants, and land. Operational and maintenance costs include cost of energy (e.g. electric power), chemicals and other consumables, labour, equipment replacements, and maintenance.

            • RedLogix 8.2.1.1.2.1

              The major capital costs are those of equipment, buildings, construction of plants, and land.

              All of which contain major energy costs themselves. In the context of a civilisation where energy is cheap, these costs reduce as well.

              Here's another paper that looks more directly at the fundamentals and makes it clear that energy is the limiting factor under present conditions:

              Abstract: The concept of recovering minerals from seawater has been proposed as a way of counteracting the gradual depletion of conventional mineral ores. Seawater contains large amounts of dissolved ions and the four most concentrated metal ones (Na, Mg, Ca, K) are being commercially extracted today. However, all the other metal ions exist at much lower concentrations. This paper reports an estimate of the feasibility of the extraction of these metal ions on the basis of the energy needed. In most cases, the result is that extraction in amounts comparable to the present production from land mines would be impossible because of the very large amount of energy needed. This conclusion holds also for uranium as fuel for the present generation of nuclear fission plants. Nevertheless, in a few cases, mainly lithium, extraction from seawater could provide amounts of metals sufficient for closing the cycle of metal use in the economy, provided that an increased level of recycling can be attained.

              https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/2/4/980/pdf

              • pat

                "All of which contain major energy costs themselves. In the context of a civilisation where energy is cheap, these costs reduce as well."

                but not just energy costs as you conveniently ignore…resources

  9. pat 9

    "The big takeaway, if you agree the fit is worth taking seriously, is the trends around 2020-30. All three parts of the economy plummet, then the death rate increases and the population drops, yet all the signs look good just before, which is now. Limits to Growth projected this possibility decades ago, yet nearly everyone ignored it…."

    http://joshuaspodek.com/updates-limits-growth-finally



  10. All the 'what ifs' in the world matter not at all, when set against the fundamental problems: public inertia and political shortsightedness.

    While a majority of the public in many nations now appear to accept the science of climate disruption, it seems that few are willing to accept much personal sacrifice (e.g. no more holiday flying) to ensure that our kids have a chance at a decent future. Some of us are working to keep the issue in the public eye and in the MSM, and to pressure politicians to take it seriously. Right now, politicians are not willing to risk decisive action: their event horizon stops at the next election.

    There will be global tipping points in public opinion; the Oz bushfires was perhaps the first of many. Question is, will they come in time?

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