Why I’m not a millennialist

Written By: - Date published: 11:16 am, March 6th, 2011 - 79 comments
Categories: Economy - Tags: , , ,

Peak oil, peak food, peak metals, climate change. By over-exploiting the world, we have enjoyed tremendous improvements in the standard of living. And now the payback is coming. We’re clearly on a downward economic slope. Things have been going backwards for 3 years and the outlook is worse, not better. But it’s not the end of the world.

Make no mistake, a long period of successive recessions, accompanied by social and political upheaval is coming as a result of declining available energy, insufficient supply of raw material, most importantly food and climate change. We’re too late to avoid this, even if we focused our efforts on the task, which we show no sign of doing. But that doesn’t mean we should give up the ghost. What is coming is big, big, trouble, but it is not Armageddon.

New Zealand is the place to be
The oil age has allowed us to have more and more living humans in environments that previously were able to only small numbers. The growth of cities in the Arabian desert is the most obvious example. Not enough oil to provide energy for cooling, not enough food, and a changing cline will doom these cities, whose population will have to fall back to previous levels.

But in New Zealand, we’ve got heaps of growing land for our population, plenty of non-oil energy sources to tap, and plenty of minerals (even without digging up our most precious conservation lands).

The capital is built
In 25 years time, most of the built environment that is here today will still be here. That’s bad in a way because we’re stuck with capital that is designed for the oil age but it’s good because just losing income does not mean we’re losing wealth. We’ll face challenges in replacing worn-out capital as the economy shrinks but we will abandon stuff that is too oil-dependent and replace it with smarter stuff.

We can handle a fall in incomes
Available energy will fall at a couple of percent a year, and growing conditions will generally worsen over time but the economy is not going to completely collapse, taking us with it.

Since the Great Recession began, GDP per capita has fallen 3% since 2007, back to 2005 levels. But it’s still quite a bit – $44,000 a year per person. What if GDP per capita keeps falling for the next 20 years at the same rate? What if lose 25% of GDP per capita? Well, we would be back to 1993 levels – $33,000 a head. Which is plenty, if it’s distributed fairly. You could even avoid most of the population having to take a drop in living standard but the distribution of income would have to change dramatically. The top 25% richest could take all the hit and still earn today’s average full time wage and the other 75% of people wouldn’t have to lose out despite the economy being 25% smaller.

Even if the economy shrunk by half that’s still a huge per person productive capacity, on par with what we had in the sixties.

The new normal will become .. normal
The idea that economic growth should be a high priority for governments and society really only dates from eh great Depression. Elites realised that a growing pie, letting all slices grow, placated the masses, and disguised the fact that the elites’ slices were so big. Lack of growth and falling incomes had brought inequity into great focus during the Great Recession and prompted working people to support radical reform. The idea that growing the economy should be the sole focus of government and society is neoliberalism and is only thirty or so years old.

If a shrinking economy becomes the norm, we will get used to it. We’ll shed the luxuries of the oil age, the stuff that costs the most for the least benefit, while maintaining all the real gains that we’ve made in the past century. We’ll turn away from consumerism and invest, like we used to, more into infrastructure, and more into research.

On the other hand, we’ll also stop expecting that the future means more pollution, more ‘development’, more crowding. More or less steady-state societies have been the norm through-out human history with the exception of the last couple of centuries. We can get used to it again.

Progress isn’t just a dollar sign
Just because the economy isn’t expanding does not mean we aren’t advancing as a species. If we re-allocate productive capacity from consumerism to research and development we’ll be able to lessen and mitigate the troubles that we’ve unleashed on our world. We’ll still be able to push back the boundaries of science and engineering and develop new technology and practices to improve our lives. Eventually, we’ll have new energy sources on the needed scale too and we’ll be able to clean the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (already possibly, with enough energy).

What this all means is that we shouldn’t be giving up and saying ‘we’re fucked’. We should, instead, be investing more in our future. In research, in a green economy, in a more equitable distribution of wealth.

We’re a hugely adaptive species. That’s what got us where we are. The next few decades are going to be rough but we will get through it. It’s not going to be pretty but it’s not going to be the end of the world.

79 comments on “Why I’m not a millennialist”

  1. Jenny 1

    Great Post Marty, a counter to the doom and gloom of most commentators on these issues. And uncharacteristically is optimism based in the real world.

    I think your positive thoughts about renewal, also apply to the Christchurch earthquake disaster.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Deadly_NZ 1.1

      Yes great post. Have you or anyone else here seen the National geographic documentary called Aftermath world with out oil. Now that is an eye opener. I caught it the other day it’s worth a watch.
      http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/series/aftermath/4462/Overview

    • weka 1.2

      I’m curious what you’ve been reading Jenny. Most of what I’ve read is likewise proactive and forward looking in a solutions based sense (I tend to avoid the survivialist crowd). Try the Transition Town and permaculture networks. They’ve been doing serious work on the powerdown for some years.

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    We still have time in the next five to ten years to invest tens of billions into infrastructure designed to carry us forwards for the next 250 years. Electricity generation, public transport and green built-to-last housing particularly. (Selling off our power generators at this time is sheer madness). Building up our on-shore industrial capability is also a must.

    This investment is what we should have been doing over the last 20-30 years but as you say that time is gone now. After the next ten years things get very tough, and even during that time it will do so.

    To my mind $3/L and $4/L petrol is inevitable during the next two or three years. $200 to fill her up is going to become the norm. For many around Wellington and Auckland, commuting 50 minutes each way for work is going to become uneconomic.

    And we need an upgraded and revamped military kitted out for homeland protection.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      And we need an upgraded and revamped military kitted out for homeland protection.</blockquote?
      Yep, although we don't want to project power we don't want to be stuck with an armed force that's incapable of defending us either and that means a switch from the peace keeping role that the last Labour led government put us to.

    • George.com 2.2

      We may well have 5 to 10 years for a transition (versus a drop) into a lower energy national growth path if we allocate sufficient resources and attention to it. The US produced a report a few years back, looking at the likelihood of energy shortages (oil plus others) which made the prediction that a transition 10 years before an oil peak would result in a 10 year energy gap before it was closed. A “transition” at or very near the point of an oil peak would result in a 20 year energy gap. The report recommended a 20 year transition period. Unles you are a optimist, that time gap has come and gone. Turning our minds to the next 5 or 10 years must be the priority of any prudent government.

      The Christchurch earthquake provides an opportunity to seriously rethink our current growth path. For example, the holiday highway with a BCR of around 0.6, the Waikato Expressway & Wellington Highway projects with BCRs of around 0.8 must be halted. There is $5 to $6 Billion freed up. Some of it can go to Chch. Some of the money could go to priority roading issues if pressed, bypassing Warkworth and some double laning on that highway for around $300 and maybe some for the Waikato routes as well. The Auckland rail loop, $2 billion but with a BCR of around 2 or higher, can be funded by shelving Puhoi and part of Waikato. Maybe in 5-10 years, if there is a proven need and Chch has been substantialy rebuilt, the government can come back and relook at some of these highways. If a need exists they can build them. If events have overtaken the age of highways then billions of dollars won’t have been wasted on John Key white elephant “Think Big” projects.

    • south paw 2.3

      lets face, if post oil China or Indonesia decide it could use the extra space, there’s not much we could do about it, unless we were bristling with nukes…

      • Colonial Viper 2.3.1

        Its Australia I’m thinking about. Serious.

        • south paw 2.3.1.1

          good point – they’ll probably team up with Indonesia -> re East Timor

      • Marty G 2.3.2

        The defence of NZ in that kind of scenario would always have to be guerilla-type warfare. You couldn’t prevent an invasion but you could make occupation too expensive

        • neoleftie 2.3.2.1

          well if it come to a foreign peril i’m sure we’ll all be at the barricades comrades…as churchill said ” well fight them on the beaches, in the streets and in the hills, this is our country” – and not the overseas capitalist elites or any other foreign power who want to control or dictate our future and national welbeing.

        • south paw 2.3.2.2

          Like Vietnam, finally throw them out but only after they’ve dropped the equivalent of all WWII bombs on us 2 or 3 times 🙁

        • Sanctuary 2.3.2.3

          Actually we could defeat any invasion quite easily with a bit of time to prepare – time we would almost certainly have. New Zealand is a long way from anywhere, and we are surrounded by thousands of kilometres of ocean, across which any invasion fleet must come. The balance of modern Naval warfare is overwhelmingly in favour of sea denial – even modern surface ships are almost defenseless against air attack and completely defenseless in the face massed supersonic anti-shipping missiles and modern submarines.

          Since the defeat of an invasion force would lead to a frightful slaughter to the many thousands in the troop transports, no country would contemplate invading an even moderately prepared New Zealand unless they had a massive fleet built around several aircraft carriers to guarantee sea control. This fleet would take at least a decade to build, and it’s purpose and threat would be obvious to everyone.

          Of course, it is far, far, far cheaper to build fifty supersonic anti-ship missiles than one aircraft carrier. It may be grim to contemplate a fortress New Zealand, spending much of its national fortune on missiles, naval attack aircraft and submarines, but we could, I think, retain our independence if we had the will and determination to do so.

          • Draco T Bastard 2.3.2.3.1

            Bingo. Don’t even have to import them as we could easily research, develop and make them here.

        • Draco T Bastard 2.3.2.4

          Preventing an invasion is easy – sink the ships. Just needs investment away from the present peacekeeping force and into things like this.

          • Marty G 2.3.2.4.1

            Any missile systems capable of destroying seaborne invaders wouldn’t survive the air attacks beforehand. We can’t afford the systems to maintain air superiority against any enemy with the capability to invade us from thousands of kms away.

            Of course, it’s never going to happen anyway.

            • fermionic_interference 2.3.2.4.1.1

              On this site there is always mention of the elite or powers that be, do you seriously believe that the wealthy elite of another country wont decide that they’d love to basically use NZ as a country club with current population as service slaves?

              Countries with very large populations and large numbers poorer citizens to be conscripted into the armed forces, possibilities include China and Indonesia mentioned above and many others whom fit this description, say the elites make a decision to expand their territories and we have so much productive space per person here and their populations are very cramped for space especially food productive space.

              How long is it before we look like an easy target to ease the local tensions with regard to income, food and space (which means increases in quality of life for those of lower financial status) than in their home countries?????

              We have a relatively small armed forces and a massive coastline, as MartyG said earlier we would have to make invasion to expensive due to guerilla warfare tactics, otherwise we are a relatively easy target invasion forces could pick any port they wished to land in other than Wellington. Hell we could probably have the Nth island taken from the top down if somebody really desired to. That is the point someone has to find their local situation that bad that the desire to invade us builds it certainly can happen it’s just a matter of whether it’ll be us or another country?

              for fun

            • Draco T Bastard 2.3.2.4.1.2

              Yeah, I don’t think air attacks will be a problem.

      • David 2.3.3

        The idea that Indonesia posses some kind of military threat to anyone (other than its own people) is nonsense.

        Although this is a common idea, it seems to me to be based on little more than racist paranoia that because it’s the most populous Muslim country Indonesia must be a threat to us white folk. That and a desire on the part of the Australian military to justify bigger budgets.

        The reality is, even with decades of military aid from the US, UK, Australia and, yes New Zealand governments, Jakarta still struggles to hold the territory, that no other state claims. Economic power – the ability to pay for troops and arms – counts for far more in an offensive war than population.

  3. We’re clearly on a downward economic slope. Things have been going backwards for 3 years and the outlook is worse, not better.

    The day’s been getting warmer for 3 hours now and the outlook is for it to get warmer yet. By midnight, we’ll be cooking….

    • RedLogix 3.1

      You are an intelligent man PM so I’m baffled by this.

      The nearest parallel I can think of someone saying on Sept 2nd 1939 saying, “There was no war today, therefore there can be no war tommorrow”.

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    The one thing that must be stressed about the coming oil decline is that we must go forward as a society. We cannot go forward as individuals as National and Act like to think.

    • RedLogix 4.1

      Still far too many folks who haven’t got the rather scary truth….. that we are all ‘tar babies’.

      Almost literally.

    • neoleftie 4.2

      Draco -that a very good statement, the downfall of our western society is that we are so disconnected from one another. disconnected individuals have way less power or voice than a united connected mass. an example is the grassroot churches that responded in an organised manner and filled the gap in chch recently. For 12 days these connected few provide a core which was able to in a meaningful way alter history…without these connected groups who wa going to feed the poor or displaced people of chch.

    • g says 4.3

      spot on sir.
      we need to learn to share. to share without thought of recompense. this is not barter, this is not green dollar etc. it is called sharing, what we learned in kindy and then spent the rest of our lives forgetting
      all this talk of the economy makes me smile. in the words of the great bill hicks.. the economy, the economy thats FAKE anyway.

  5. weka 5

    My biggest concerns for NZ are how we transition back to local economies. At the moment we are dependent economically on tourism and oil-sucking exports. Those are going to dry up as oil becomes expensive and scarce. We also import alot of food and goods.

    I agree we are one of the better places in the world for facing peak oil. Not only do we have enough land, but there are still many kiwis who know how to grow some of their own food. Organic, permaculture, and regenAg farmers in NZ have not only pioneered post-peak oil farming, but they’ve been doing it long enough to have ironed out some of the immediate issues. I’m not holding my breath on the govt supporting these farmers better (unless NZ gives the Greens some power again), so it’s up to as many people in the public as possible to learn what’s involved in post-peak oil food production and give support to those already working towards this.

    I also agree that we need to rebuild our industrial infrastructure onshore, but can’t see how that can happen without major govt initiative. Can anyone see how that could happen otherwise?

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      I also agree that we need to rebuild our industrial infrastructure onshore, but can’t see how that can happen without major govt initiative. Can anyone see how that could happen otherwise?

      As a start I would suggest policies of localised Government procurement. Buying trains etc from China is madness when significant portions of the work could be done here. Also, give industry access to low interest loans for the purpose of obtaining and upgrading capital equipment.

      Might also be an idea to reconstitute the Ministry of Works as some massive infrastructure investment is needed and why give margin to the private sector for shareholder profits. Every single dollar needs to go into infrastructure not shareholder dividends.

      • neoleftie 5.1.1

        shareholder profits that are sqaundered or loss by money flows overseas investors or corporate owners

  6. Bill 6

    By over-exploiting the world, we have enjoyed tremendous improvements in the standard of living

    A-hem. Who is this we you speak of? There are countless examples of entire peoples who got exterminated and of others who got marginalised and impoverished (culturally, materially and politically)…actually, the majority of the world’s population if I pause to think about it. Any ‘end of the world’ already got visited upon them. Courtesy of the likes of you and me and the institutions we support (tacitly or otherwise).

    And do you really believe that as the exploitation of resources increasingly fails to satisfy the current needs of the (broad brush stroke) white world, that the more privilaged and powerful within the white world will just give it all up and move on? I think not.

    They will expand and deepen their forms of exploitation and economic oppression to include the majority in any given population. ie the third world won’t be ‘over there and brown’. It will be very much over here and very kind of pinky/white.

    I think a 20/80 split in society would be a very generous and optimistic view of the future, where 20% of a given populace has access to the benefits of industry, medicine, science, resources etc, while the other 80% are deemed as superfluous as… oh, I don’t know…Tasmanian Aborigines perhaps?

    anti-spam joys 🙂

    • Marty G 6.1

      ‘we’ is the species.

      I’m perfectly aware that elites will seek to protect and expand their privilege at the coast of others during crises. It’s up to us whether we let them. So far, the outlook isn’t good. Except for the arab world revolts, most populations have let the elites have their way during the great recession.

      But even this doesn’t lead me to millennialism. Our self-made threats are not going to lead to the collapse of society but they are going to be nasty.

  7. Afewknowthetruth 7

    It is good that some of the real issues are getting some attentions, but I wonder where Marty gets his unbounded optimism from: \’Available energy will fall at a couple of percent a year, \’

    The International Energy Agency recently suggested a depletion rate averaging 9.8% per annum. Extrction from Canterell (Mexico) is falling at something like 17% per annum, and several North Sea fields seem to recording similar rates of decline. Much of the world\’s oil system is collapsing right now and the rate of collapse will accelerate.

    If we take into account the export-land model, internationally traded oil could decline at something like 20% per annum from 2013/14 on. I would not be at all surprised to see the NZ oil supply down to 15 or 20% of the present level by 2020. It could well be far less.

    The other matter is, even if oil is available internationally, how are we going to pay for it? Are we not currently spending $300 million a week more than we earn? Are we not broke already -and facing a massive hit shortly as a consequence of what is already happening in Saudi Arabia? Oil is currently in the $104 to $116 range and the crisis has only just begun. Last time it spiked at $147 the world economy nearly collapsed.

    And, of course, the Chinese could easily buy up all the avaaible oil and leave nations like NZ with none if they choose to.

    Sorry Marty, this is just pure drivel: \’We’ll still be able to push back the boundaries of science and engineering and develop new technology and practices to improve our lives. Eventually, we’ll have new energy sources on the needed scale too\’\’

    It\’s just wishful thinking which is not based on any evidence at all. Engineering is the problem, not the answer. almost everything that engineers do uses masses of energy and generates masses of CO2 -thereby promoting climate Armageddon. The production of steel, aluminium and cement etc. are amongst the most environmentally destructive processes known.

    \’and we’ll be able to clean the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (already possibly, with enough energy).\\\’ More wishful thinking I\’m afraid. The CO2 content of the air is rising faster than ever: it\’s 391 and rising at over 2ppm per annum. CO2 is going up at something like 30 billion tonnes a year. Just wait till the ocean warm a little more and become net releasers of CO2; we seem to be very close to that point.

    Despite the rising price of most things, fantasies are still free.

    If there be a better way it to the future it starts with a full look at the worst -Thomas Hardy.

    If you don\’t deal with reality, reality will deal with you. -Dr Colin Campbell
    .

    • Marty G 7.1

      You’re conflating rising costs/shrinking economy with collapse. Of course new energy sources and climate change solutions will be very expensive, meaning economies will shrink but there still will be energy. Even if oil supply falls at 5% a year we’ll be able to offset half of that with other energy generation. It’ll be very nasty and mean giving up a lot of what we’re used to but the economy will not shrink to nothing or even half of what it is now, and that’s still enormous productive capacity. The question is what we expend that capacity on.

      • weka 7.1.1

        “Even if oil supply falls at 5% a year we’ll be able to offset half of that with other energy generation.”

        All energy generation in NZ is dependent on cheap oil (as is pretty much everything we eat and do). Can we build hydro or wind without cheap oil (or coal to diesel plants, Southland)? Can we even maintain current plants without cheap oil? Has anyone even done an analysis of these costs?

      • Robert Atack 7.1.2

        Also Marty
        What are we going to use that energy on? Flat screen TVs? fridges ? All that stuff takes a hell of a lot of oil to manufacture, post peak means no more plug sockets, let alone the power grid, or a place to save last nights McDonalds. I discussed this with Dr Peter Lloyd he thought wave power in Cook Straight would be a good idea, I asked him to look around his operating room and see how much oil went into everything he was planing on using the power on. ‘Alternative power’ is another form of denial, I suggest to people to go to the top of Mt Vic dressed in a toga on a wet windy day, then discuss how things will be post crash, and what sort of society you can create, because who ever is ‘in power’ in these times, will have the energy level of a Roman ie slaves.
        Thanks for opening these discussions

        • Deadly_NZ 7.1.2.1

          Well then we will have a good reason or 6 to dig up all the old landfill to get at all the plastics, old tv’s etc for the gold and other rare elements plus the good ol’ plastic bottle as well.

        • Marty G 7.1.2.2

          Peak oil is not no oil. And plastic can be made without oil. Not as cheaply but I’ve been saying all along that peak oil means major economic problem

        • Draco T Bastard 7.1.2.3

          You know, back in the old days, TVs didn’t have plastic framework. It was made out of wood instead. Power sockets were, and still are, made out of ceramics.

          You seem to be one of the type of people who think that just because we won’t have as much of one single resource that we will necessarily lose everything. Which is very, very, far from the truth.

          • weka 7.1.2.3.1

            What are you going to make the ceramic power sockets with? Does the machinery used to make them need cheap oil to be manufactured and maintained?

            • Draco T Bastard 7.1.2.3.1.1

              Nope. I didn’t say it would be as cheap but we will still be able to make them and we will still have power.

              • weka

                My question was how will you make the machines that make the sockets if you don’t have cheap oil? Once oil gets very expensive, how will we afford the amount of oil we need to keep everything running? We will still have power. But will we have enough power for making power sockets (as opposed to making things like food, medicine, shelter etc)?

      • Afewknowthetruth 7.1.3

        You keep refering to ‘new energy’ sources without ever saying what they are.

        No new energy sources have been discovered for over a century.

        You assert that ‘we’ll be able to offset half of that with other energy generation\’ withoiut saying what the \’other generatiion’ is.

        The nub of the crisis is liquid fuels for transport. Without a cheap and abundant source of liquid fuels for transport 90% of the current NZ economy -dairying, forestry, fishing, wineries, fruit production, construction, tourism (not that there is any future in that)- goes down the gurgler in a few weeks.

        Nothing you have written so far convinces me we are facing anything other than collapse within 20 years (and more likely 10).

        ‘conflating rising costs/shrinking economy with collapse’

        Don’t forget that the NZ economy constitutes a very complex system, and complex systems fail catastrophically when the weakest link fails. Bearing in mind that the NZ economy is a component of an even bigger complex system (the global economy) which is in the process of failing I see collaspe as inevitable and imminent.

        Collapse of the current violent, toxic, manipulative, unjust system is not something to fear, it is something to celebrate. It is the trrasition phase to a sane way of living that will be awful.

        The scariest thing that can happen is for the present system to continue to function for anotehr decade and render the Earth uninhabitable via positive feedbacks and abrupt climate change.
        .
        By the way, I am very suspicious of anyone who uses GDP rather than GPI.

        .

    • weka 7.2

      “We’ll still be able to push back the boundaries of science and engineering and develop new technology and practices to improve our lives. Eventually, we’ll have new energy sources on the needed scale too”

      Oooh, I missed that. Might be good to look at David Holmgren’s four energy decent scenarios.

      Originally he identified four categories of how we perceive the energy crisis:

      1. techno explosion – exciting new technologies replace oil, and we carry on as normal i.e. using up the world’s resources and creating increasing amounts of pollution.
      2. green tech stability – we use alternative technologies (sun, wind etc) that allow us something somewhat below our current standard of living but still fairly comfortable
      3. creative decent – we use permaculture and other powerdown knowledge bases to transition creatively to a low energy society
      4. Atlantis – society collapses in a screaming mess

      Later he incorporated climate change into his model and looked at four scenarios depending on how fast climate change and peak oil happen http://www.futurescenarios.org/content/view/27/46/

      The big issue is how much time we have. We don’t know, because we can’t predict climate change. Techno explosion is undesirable because it doesn’t solve climate change and other environmental problems, and it ignores social issues and probably leads to scenario four. Many peak oil commentators say it’s too late to transition to green tech stability because the financial cost is now beyond the first world countries (that transition was only really viable with cheap oil).

      We might get a choice between creative decent and the screaming mess i.e. we can choose to work within the physical and economic limits we have to significantly lower our energy dependancy. The idea that we can have some hard times and then recover via science and research doesn’t hold up because we need cheap oil to do those things and we’re not going to have it. Modern high tech is not only very polluting, it’s also incredibly energy hungry, and we simply won’t be able to produce that amount of energy without cheap oil.

      It’s true that we can use new technologies and knowledge to improve our lives, but it won’t be in a return to the first world via greentech kind of way.

  8. fermionic_interference 8

    Well thought out post Marty.
    Although it may be a bit optimistic in terms of how the current “powers that be” will react and work with others, considering that in most cases they have built their monetary empires by walking over and exploiting others and the environment. What is the likelihood of them, all of a sudden, becoming community minded and working toward a more civilized human society?
    I don’t think that this will be a likely outcome unfortunately, though with luck and the power of a few strong personalities I believe in NZ we can have a few strong local community setups.

  9. According to the IEA ‘we’ face a 3.5 degree temperature rise (above pre-industrial) over the next 25 years, 2 degrees equals 25 meters sea rise for a start = whats left of Christchurch going under water also large areas of Wellington and Auckland, including most of ‘our’ oil storage facilities etc, and a lot of productive land Manawatu, Horawhanua etc. Our agriculture is dependent on a lot of imported inputs or oil and gas dependent minerals. ‘We’ travel about halfway around the equator each day just picking up the milk from the farm gate, and delivering it to the treatment station (or is that 2 of them?).
    I’m sure there will be enough bunker oil left to ship millions of refugees to New Zealand if we do happen to end up as the last country standing, except the refugees will be turning up in aircraft carriers, and it will be aye aye captain whatever you want sir.
    Then as we get closer to the 3.5 predicted temperature rise, things will get way worse.
    I guess Marty has to come out with the typical happy chapter rubbish, it is human nature to avoid the truth …. hence why people like me and say Afewknowthetruth are ignored.
    Oh and it is 7 degrees+ by 2100. 🙂
    Now what more bed time stories can we tell the kids?

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      I wouldn’t worry about the temperature in 2100.

      Our industrial globalised economy will be lucky to last out the next 10-20 years.

    • weka 9.2

      “According to the IEA ‘we’ face a 3.5 degree temperature rise (above pre-industrial) over the next 25 years, 2 degrees equals 25 meters sea rise for a start”

      Got a link to back that up? I thought the point is that we don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s all theory and projection.

      The problem with the polarity you present – happy chapter vs we’re all going to die – is that most people will switch off. If we want people to change, or even make some preparations, we have to present information in ways that they can manage psychologically. The vision you just presented is a possibility, but I don’t see any actual evidence that it’s a foregone conclusion, so what is the point of scaring people? For every one person you might wake up, you’ll shut down a dozen others.

      Given that you do believe what you just wrote, what are you personally doing about it (apart from posting scarily on the internet)?

      • Robert Atack 9.2.1

        Washington, Nov.12 (ANI): Global temperatures are expected to rise 3.5 degrees C. over the next 25 years, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said, suggesting that governments worldwide are failing to honor their pledge to hold global temperature at a two-degree increase.
        http://news.oneindia.in/2010/11/12/globaltemperatures-set-to-rise-35-degrees-c-by-2035inte.html

        London, June 23 (ANI): A new study on the effects of climate change on melting ice sheets has indicated that even if scientists could freeze-frame the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) as it is today, sea levels would still rise by 25 meters by 4000 AD.
        http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/health/earths-sea-levels-may-rise-25-meters-by-4000-ad-despite-co2-freeze-re-issue_100208455.html

        The catch is we are not going to be able to ‘freeze-frame’ it, so the 4000 AD comes a lot sooner.
        Because people do not want to be scared, they would rather go out an have babies.

        • weka 9.2.1.1

          OK, so that’s what the IEA says. But for that to be a fact, you’d need to show some scientific consensus. I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying we don’t know. I think telling people worst and best case scenarios as well as giving them strategies for preparing makes more sense than asserting (scarey) opinion as fact.

          I agree that the worst thing that could happen would be for us to continue on for another few decades as if nothing was wrong. But scaring people so that they shut down or turn off is likely to make that happen.

          • Robert Atack 9.2.1.1.1

            >I agree that the worst thing that could happen would be for us to continue on for another few decades as if nothing was wrong. But scaring people so that they shut down or turn off is likely to make that happen.<

            Well the greed party has had that principle for the past decade, keeping the general dumb public (GDP) in the dark for these past ten years has lead to the general acceptance that building monoliths like Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressway should even be considered, when if they had been acting in a way to actually help their green cause over the past TEN YEARS ie- educating people as to the folly of such projects, and pointing out that Kiwi Saver is an utter growth based scam, but no they have been down talking all the real issues and just vote chasing.
            The greeds are the best humans/democracy could produce, that is why I can be sooooo sure we are in deep crap, and we have little time left. ……. and I'm not talk time left to 'save' ourselves I'm talking time left to live.
            The system is like an oil tanker traveling at full speed, it takes a lot to slow it down (economic ice bergs help), the softly softly approach is like trying to stop a Juggernaut with a rowboat. The system includes maternity wards.

      • Afewknowthetruth 9.2.2

        ‘According to the IEA ‘we’ face a 3.5 degree temperature rise (above pre-industrial) over the next 25 ‘

        Professor Guy McPherson quoted that in a recent speech.

        I personally think it could be a tad on the high side, but we are headed into uncharted territory. As far as I know the set of condtitons currently prevailing have never occured on this planet before. The CO2 level has probably not risen this quickly in 54 million years.

    • Marty G 9.3

      2 degrees is nor 25m sea level rise. And there’s limits to how fast the ice caps can physically melt. We’re talking thousands of years. So, we’re not losing these cities beneath the waves in any meaningful time frame. That’s not to say sea levels aren’t a problem but you do the argument a disservice with ridiculous fairytales. And even your doomsday scenario doesn’t add up. The yanks would have more to do worry about than invading some drowning islands and our society wouldn’t collapse just because two large cities were inundated

      • fermionic_interference 9.3.1

        We as a scientific community are only just beginning to scratch the surface (forgive/enjoy the pun) of Ice melt physics and ice physics and formation thereof, Dr P Langhorne of Otago University is a leading proponent of ice physics research bases in Antarctica.
        Ice physics
        This research is based on sea ice melt and growth rates not fresh water ice but there is an amazing amount left for us to get our heads around in this field yet, which means we cannot yet determine how much increase in melt rate will occur over the next century.

      • RedLogix 9.3.2

        As far as I am aware there are three main sea level rise threats:

        1. The West Antarctic Ice Shelf (WAIS). Grounded well below sea-level and exposed to warming currents it’s inherently unstable and could melt at anytime in a period than a decade. Total rise about 6-7m

        2. The Greenland Ice cap. Currently got a lot of folk very occupied at the alarming changes and dramatic melt-rates being shown in some parts. At > 450ppm it would almost certainly be gone around 2200. Total sea-level rise is thought to be about 7.2m

        3. The East Antarctic Ice Shelf (EAIS) is by far the largest chunk of ice on the planet, but also the most stable. Grounded all above sea-level it is unlikely to melt inside a millenium. Total sea level rise in the order of 60m

        Stabilising at 450ppm risks the melt of the WAIS …that’s 7m of sea-level rise which is dramatically bad enough. Eventually the Greenland cap would add another 7m or so… and that would change the world beyond recognition.

        • fermionic_interference 9.3.2.1

          Yes those are the ones I know of also, the question being the rate of decay which as yet is just postulation.

          Some additional issues for the WAIS and Greenland ice caps is secondary melt from pooling/lakes (forming on the surface and making rivers through the ice cap) and for both the ice cap to ocean change over point where the loss of ice is reducing the weight and the ice caps are “floating off” in some places where the ocean is getting in underneath and will be causing melt of yet another front and as the melt continues how much this “positive feedback” add to the rate of decay is unknown and barely even being guessed at as yet.
          With the lakes also cutting gashes through from the surface as they drain this will add to our issues and because we aren’t accounting for it, it may just sneak up and give us a bit of a bite.

          AFKTT has noted a bit on this side of things below as well.

    • Jenny 9.4

      As well as the huge democratic people’s movements overthrowing, the Western backed Middle East dictatorships.

      Here is an essay from New Scientist that convinces me that MartyG has cause for optimism.

      According to New Scientist, Uganda is a nation with no time for climate change scepticism, with lessons for us all.

      “There are no atheists in the trenches”

      This article makes me hopeful that Australians also suffering from drastic climatic change, extreme drought, paradoxically coupled with extreme flooding events, (in a much stronger position to fight back than Ugandans), may be moved by these climate change effects to take action against the determined CO2 polluters, the powerful big business coal mining and oil interests.

      Here’s hoping.

      • south paw 9.4.1

        “There are no atheists in the trenches”

        Off topic but this is a pat phrase from Team Jesus that I always rebuff by pointing out how many soldiers and civilians dumped belief in a god after experiencing the horrors of industrial scale warfare – especially in the context of “For the greater glory of god” and Empire.

  10. RedLogix 10

    As a counter to AFKTT and Robert above I’d point folks to one of Joe Romm’s more important posts here.

    In fairness if the human race fails to respond to the challenge then Robert Atack and AFKTT will turn out to be almost perfectly correct….except they will be seen to have been a little too optimistic.

    But the options to respond do remain, albeit it is now too late for anything but a lot of pain and ugliness.

    • Respectfully Red
      I couldn’t get over the title >The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm<
      At the best we are stuck with 390 – 400 ppm for the next 1,000 years (that shit hangs around) that already equals the extinction of us, I don't think I can be any more 'optimistic' once the ice stops melting then all that 'ice melt energy' will start on the water, it is already in motion, we can't reverse this, the ice melt has been absorbing global warming for years, just like all the particulates are masking the true damage to the global sunglasses, once they are washed out of the sky, as industrial society stops pushing the shit up there, we could see global warming increase markedly. The only reason we haven't fried yet is the buffer of the ice and the curtain of coal and industrial dust.
      If an idiot 4th form dropout can work it out why can't everyone else?

  11. Afewknowthetruth 11

    ice caps can physically melt. We’re talking thousands of years’

    You are way off the mark there Marty. Over the past 30 years the Arctic Sea meltdown has been phenomenal -a reduction of around 30%. The monthly Arctic Sea ice has been at the lowest area recorded for the past three months, so we are headed into the northern summer with the least ice ever recorded. Temperatures in Northern Canada have been up to 35oC above normal, i.e. normally minus 35oC but recently around zero!

    And ice doesn’t just melt; it forms holes and runs to the bottom of glaciers where it lubricates the ice-rock boundary, allowiing the glaciers of Greenland to slide off the land into the sea at ‘three times the historical rate’.

    Positive feedbacks have already been triggered -more open water means faster warming means more open water means faster warming.. Faster warming equals faster release of methane and carbon dioxide from permafrost equals faster warming. There are no known negative feedbacks.

    • Marty G 11.1

      Arctic sea ice is not an ice cap. It’s melting does not significantly influence sea levels either way because it’s floating. Do some research on maximum melt rates of the greenland and west antarctic ice caps

      • Marty G 11.1.1

        It’s a question of the sheer amount of energy needed to turn millions of cubic kilometres of ice into water and the time to transmit that energy from other warming systems to the ice caps

        • RedLogix 11.1.1.1

          Totally agree that the Artic is had no direct effect on sea-level, but the melting of the WAIS and the Greenland cap together add around 15m.

          The WAIS is the worrisome one because it’s inherently unstable, warming sea currents can attack it from below, releasing it from it’s bed-rock and causing it to break up. If that happened the resulting massive blocks of ice would be free to move northward away from the cold Antarctic and melt relatively rapidly in the warm oceans.

          There is past evidence that this can happen in very short time frames. I posted on this back in 2009.

          • lprent 11.1.1.1.1

            Of course not. The arctic is seaice. Makes virtually no difference to sealevels unless it turns to gas. Land ice shifting from a solid to liquid phase does.

            BTW: The WAIS scares the hell out of me. The geological history is so volatile.

      • fermionic_interference 11.1.2

        Marty you’re dead on that sea ice isn’t ice cap.
        Unfortunately as with most things it isn’t quite that cut and dried when the sea ice melts the ocean absorbs more EM radiation and warms faster as well as holding higher temperature (this is the theory to the best of my knowledge), now this is where AFKTT means there will be an effect on the Greenland ice shelves and glaciers (and similarly the West Antarctic Ice Sheet) at the ocean – ice boundaries the melt rate is
        a; increased by water of higher temperature being in contact,
        b; the area of ice-ocean boundaries increases
        so this is where the loss of sea ice becomes really quite important as well as the effect in siberian/canadian permafrost areas where the higher temperatures cause more methane to be expelled from soils.

        Ice cap decay (melt rates) is a relatively new area of serious study and ice cap decay models will continue to be updated and refigured over the coming years.
        So this leaves best / worst cases scenario estimates:
        60m sea level rise by 2100 is possible and predicted by models if runaway warming occurs and all positive feedbacks are triggered with an increase of CO2 levels to around 1000ppm,
        25m sea level rise by 2100 possible, avoidable? maybe, really a wait and see outcome.
        Best scenario 1m sea level rise by 2100.

        Mark Lynas’ book six degrees: our future on a hotter planet, has a fairly comprehensive collation of the modeled outcomes of every degree of warming and is worth a read.
        six degrees

        captcha: decides

      • Robert Atack 11.1.3

        Marty.
        Yes I’m sure we can agree on that, but Arctic sea ice melt is a good indicator that something is wrong?
        Not having it there is maybe a good thing for ‘growth’ ie faster shipping, maybe finding large gas reserves? Getting those pesky polar bears out of the way.
        I point out the ice is melting because things are going down, namely global warming or climate change, the heating isn’t going to stop once the ice cap is gone, it is going to increase.
        Ice melt is not going to be a big worry for humankind, abrupt climate change that damages the food growing areas are going to get most of us, ice melt is just something clowns like us discuss, but in the long term it will be starvation or local violence.
        Saying it nicely might give people ‘hope’ and all that does is encourage more children. Having children in this age of ‘enlightenment’ is like buying a flat on the tenth floor of a burning building.
        With the acceleration we are seeing in climate forecasts (zoning in on 3.5 by 2035 -50) and the economic and energy ‘problems’ we are facing, how should we discourage reproduction? 300,000 a year in Australia.
        Most peer reviews are around 3 – 5 years behind, according to David Wasdell http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKV7VfAQhs0 (who ever he is?). So what ever you are currently reading, well…. it is worse.

  12. Afewknowthetruth 12

    I am perfectly aware that melting of sea ice does not affect overall sea level.

    The whole point is that Greenland and the other Arctic land masses are surrounded by warmer than normal water, and that is almost certain to promote faster melting of ice on those land masses, which will result in faster than expected sea level rise.

    I suspect I have done a lot more research than you have. I have written four books which include major sections on the topics being discussed.

    • Marty G 12.1

      If you know it all it’s somewhat odd that you point to arctic sea I’ve melt rates to refute my statement that ice caps cannot melt completely for centuries. I’m not going to bow down to you because you wrote books. I’m interesting in the quality of the arguments. And your falling back on the appeal to authority fallacy doesn’t make me more likely to accept yours.

      Look, we both know that climate change and peak oil are huge problems but why I’m not a millennialist like you is because humanity can and will adapt to the challenges it faces. There will be famines. There will to ecosystem collapses. There will be revolutions and tyrannies. There will be wars and mass migrations. But there are ways to minimise the damage and get through this the best we can. We should work towards them, rather than just screaming that the sky is falling.

      • Afewknowthetruth 12.1.1

        I totally agree. It will take a very long time for the ice cap on Antartica to melt COMPLETELY. No argument there. The point is, it will not take much of a meltdown of Greenland, plus a few glaciers in Northern Canada, plus some of the Antarctic shelf, plus a bit of thermal expansion to generate a 1 or 2 metre rise. That would devastate a lot of locations around NZ amd pretty much annhilate most of the Netherlands, Shanghai, New York etc,.

        When you say adapt are you saying there will be 80% die-off worldwide and the 20% who get through the bottleneck will adapt to the rise in average temperature that is coming?

        I think it is very pertinent that we are up around 0.8oC so far and we are already experiecing a fair bit of climate chaos, yet there are people who say we can adapt to 2oC rise in average temprature even though we know our staple crops -rice, wheat, corn etc- cannot.

        I think it is always wise to consider how well the inhabitabts of Easter Island adapted after they had wrecked their environment: they expericneced a 90% population collapse, accompnaied by cannibalism. Yes, they adapted eventually.

        It seems to me the inhabitnats of most major cities are in a worse predicament that the Easter Islanders -surrounded tens of thousands of eaters, surrounded by concrete and asphalt, and government by maniacs who want more concrete and asphalt.

        These are most interesting of times.

        Nothing wrong with screaming that the sky is falling if it is. That way people might think to move.
        I spent a decade promoting a soft landing the ‘nice way’ and got nowhere. Most people are not the least bit interested and won;t be until reality hits them,. And it’s far too late then.

        Good on you for raising the issues, but let’s not promote faux solutions. Leave that to the Green Party: they are experts at ‘not rocking the boat’ and promoting faux solutions.

        • Lanthanide 12.1.1.1

          Unfortunately in a democracy, parties get into parliament by being voted in by the masses. The masses aren’t turkeys who will vote for Christmas, so any political party hoping to get into power can’t go hard-out doom-and-gloom. This should be obvious by the fact that we don’t have any doom-and-gloom parties in parliament.

        • weka 12.1.1.2

          “generate a 1 or 2 metre rise. That would devastate a lot of locations around NZ amd pretty much annhilate most of the Netherlands, Shanghai, New York etc,.”

          What time frame for the sea rise?

          What’s the purpose of screaming that the sky is falling? Or indeed even saying it? What are you wanting to achieve or have people do?

          Please explain why a 2oC rise means we can’t grow grains? Grain crops grow in much hotter places than NZ.

          Humans can live without grains. Whether we’ve got time to change is another matter.

          • Afewknowthetruth 12.1.1.2.1

            Nobody knows the time frame for the 1-2 metre sea level rise since the rate of rise is accelerating and the rate of acceleration is going to accelerate, but a reasonable estimate is 30 years. A rise of 5 to 20 metres by the end of this century likely if positive feedbacks play out the way we anticipate.

            The main point about hightlighting these realites is so that no further energy and resources are squandered on infrastructure that will have no untility in the future, and to minimise the misery to come, as opposed to what governments and district councils do, which is implement policies that will maximise the misery that is to come.

            The 2oC rise is an average. What that translates into with increasing climate instability is maximum temperatures up by 8 or 10oC above current maximuma: that ‘toasts’ pretty much everything. Raed Nature Bats Last ‘We’re toast’.

            Remember a couple of years ago when temperatures in Victoria were around 48oC , or Russia last year, where drought and heat destroyed around 30% of the grain crop. That is happening at just 0.8oC above the historical mean. Nothing grows without regular rainfall: climate instability equates to irregular rainfall: drought followed by inundation.

            I know highlighting unpalatable realities is futile because most people refuse to accpet unpalatable realities, no matter what evidence is provided.

            The ‘idiots’ currently in power will waste resources rebuilding Christchurch, so it can get demolished again by earthquakes or be inundated. They will waste resources on sports stadiums and motorways: that is tha nature of ‘idiots’ like Bill English, John Key, etc. Before them the ‘idiots’ were Helen Clark, Michael Cullen etc. Just like the statue builders of Easter Island: as long as they had workers with full vellies they just kept doing it. It was when the workers didnl’t have full bellies it all came to a stop.

            The political system is geared to putting ‘idiots’ into power because ‘idiots’ will facilitate the agendas of global corporations, who are running the show. For corporations, the more resources are wasted, the more they like it.

            Politiics is just a chirade – a stage show to keep the proles believing in the system. In reality debate in parliament is hardly above intermediate school level. And often it is at kindergarten level.

            Time to change? The Hirsch Report of 2005 suggested a 20 year transition period prior to Peak Oil would be required for a smooth transition. That puts us about 30 years behind, since Peak Oil was 2005-6.

            • weka 12.1.1.2.1.1

              A sea level rise over 30-90 years. Humans can adapt to that. The temperature rise I’m still not convinced about. Let’s look at Dunedin temperatures. The highest average max is around 22oC, with the maximum temp for January at 35oC.

              http://www.myweather2.com/City-Town/New-Zealand/Dunedin/climate-profile.aspx

              So if the average maximum temperature for January rises to 30oC and the maximum temperature is 43oC, you can still easily grow food in that climate if you have sufficient water and you know what you are doing (what happens in the winter may be more of an issue if frosts increase).

              It’s also incorrect to say that you can’t grow food in low rainfall or with irregular rainfall (there are many places in the world that produce food with irregular rainfall). The examples you give will be industrial agriculture, which is a crazy kind of practice that doesn’t take into account the land and climate it is growing in, and exists in a global economy where failure of a crop in one place is made up by a crop elsewhere – it’s not based on feeding the people who live where the crops are being grown, therefore there is less incentive to make it work.

              Water is seen as something that happens above the ground, which is problematic if you don’t have consistent rain or oil to pump up large amounts of groundwater. Sustainable food growing practices focus on keeping the water in the ground and keeping the water table high enough that you can access it. There are specific techniques that do that.

              Jordan is doing some cutting edge work on sustainable agriculture. It has the lowest rainfall compared to population of anywhere in the world, with summer highs over 50oC. Here’s how you grow in a desert (which, not for want of trying by dairy farmers, places like Otago aren’t quite at yet).

              http://permaculture.org.au/2007/03/01/greening-the-desert-now-on-youtube/

              They used irrigation for start up, but the point is that once these systems are established they are self sustaining. The key things to look at are how swales hold the water in the land where the plants are (rather than letting rainfall run off. If you store rain in the land you don’t need it as often), the depth of the mulch, the ratio of non-food bearing nitrogen fixing plants to food bearing to increase fertility, and the ability to desalinate the soil (pay attention Australia).

              These kinds of practices are happening all over the world outside of mainstream agriculture. Yes, the weather fluctuations are going to make growing food more difficult, but I don’t see how the two things you identify – sea level rise over a century, and 8oC increase in highs – are things we can’t adapt to. People are already solving these problems and growing under those conditions.

              I’m still not sure what the point is of scaring people. Are you saying that we have time to … what? if we just wake up. We’re not going to reverse climate change, we can’t prevent peak oil. Personally I think it’s too late to do much about climate change even in terms of stabilising, and am more interested in solutions based thinking. I see lots of discussion in this thread about possibilities and arguing over who is right. I don’t see a huge amount of actual practical solutions in terms of adaptation. If you are right about the time frames, isn’t that what we should be focussing on?

              I agree politicians aren’t going to provide any useful response (until the shit hits the fan in quantity). Most people I know who are aware of the issues are getting on with preparing anyway. They’re leading the way rather than waiting for people without the necessary skills (politicians) to manage the problems.

              • Afewknowthetruth

                My reply was global, rather than local.

                Yes, a place like Dunedin could stand a substantial rise in temperature provided it doesn’t get hammered by tropical cyclones -a consequence of wamer oceans..
                If you think I am ‘gloomy’ try this:

                Guy McPherson Says:
                March 6th, 2011 at 2:14 pm
                Terminal decline began in 2005 (May, to be precise). According to the DoD (echoing DoE), we’re falling off the cliff this year (2011). Even without the ongoing oilquake in Middle East, any hint of economic growth takes oil to $140/bbl … and that should do the trick for a fragile industrial economy. By lights out, I mean no food at the grocery stores, no fuel at the filling stations, and no water coming through the municipal taps … and, of course, no streets lights in the cities and towns. As I’ve indicated before, I cannot see how we can avoid a new Dark Age by the end of 2012.

                McPherson was a Professor of Ecology and Natural Resources till he quit to ‘run for the hills’

  13. Bored 13

    Good post Marty. I log on less and less now, theres too much to do other than spend time persuading people that the human constructed world as they percieve it is in permanent decline, where as the real world of a dynamic planet is close to a zero balance equilibriium (minus the human virus). What once was peripheral noise that was laughed at by all and sundry is now accepted. The question becomes what to we virus do?

    An observation:forget the concept of progress, try instead to see improvements in how we do things as something serendipitous and rather stand alone as opposed to a step up (even if it is). If we as a species had viewed and valued things as they are in reality we might have had less compulsion to change them in the name of progress.

  14. M 14

    I hope for the best but know that life is going to be a right hard-out slog where most will become poorer and hungrier and would welcome the chance to be proved wrong as to the very grim future I can imagine for all of humanity.

    Phosphate for farming could be hard to get and IIRC I saw a vignette some time ago on how a farmer in NZ discovered some phosphate rock on his farm quite by chance and was delighted by his windfall.

    People will need to enjoy the simple things in life: three hots and a cot, a garden, some good music and family/friends wrapped around me like a cloak is a damn good start.

    • weka 14.1

      We don’t need industrial phosphates to farm. Everything you need to grow food can come from the area in which the food is grown.

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