Prof. questions whether humanity can summon the will to voluntarily induce civilization “decay” in the face of daunting obstacles.
No 2377 Posted by fw, October 2, 2018
NOTE — To access my other posts related to Dr. Garrett’s research on a global economic/civilization collapse by the end of this century, click on the Tab in the top left margin, titled Civilization/Economic Collapse ~ Links to All Posts By or About Dr. Tim Garrett’s Research
“Can such deep fundamental change in human behavior globally happen? It must be achieved by the large majority of global population in order to change climate, such that we would voluntarily inflict on ourselves a substantial negative growth of civilization, affecting the decay/inflation term in [Garrett’s Climate and Thermodynamics Economic Response Model] and while still decarbonizing and allowing atmospheric CO2 to not rise beyond ~500 ppm? Garrett is quite skeptical and so am I, although I still hope that education may make some difference. My frustration is in discovering how stubbornly resistant people are to this evidence.” —Richard Nolthenius, Cabrillo College
This repost is taken from a 319-page PDF presentation by Dr. Richard Nolthenius, Astronomy instructor at Cabrillo College, California. The account, entitled Civilization as a Thermodynamic System – Connecting Energy and Economics: Implications for What’s Possible, appears to have been prepared as a teaching aid for his students. The above passage, is part of a section titled Can Human Nature Change? which appears on pages 154 to 165. Nolthenius’ presentation is primarily a critical review of “the insightful discoveries of cloud physicist Prof. Tim Garrett.”
Below is a repost of the section Can Human Nature Change? with my added subheadings and text highlighting. Alternatively, to read the piece in Nolthenius’ PDF account, click on the linked title in the preceding paragraph.
Can such deep fundamental change in human behavior globally happen?
To change climate requires the large majority of global population
It must be achieved by the large majority of global population in order to change climate, such that we would voluntarily inflict on ourselves a substantial negative growth of civilization, affecting the decay/inflation term in CThERM* and while still decarbonizing and allowing atmospheric CO2 to not rise beyond ~500 ppm? [*CThERM = Climate and Thermodynamics Economic Response Model]
Frustrated by how stubbornly resistant people are to scientific evidence
Garrett is quite skeptical and so am I, although I still hope that education may make some difference. My frustration is in discovering how stubbornly resistant people are to this evidence.
But humans are credited with having “free will” – we hope
But humans have free will (…we hope. There’s some question among researchers). We can voluntarily create legal, enforced barriers to acting on our impulses and desires for immediate gratification, for the sake of a better future.
It’s hard to get people to voluntarily create legal, enforced barriers to acting on our impulses and desires
It’s going “uphill” in a thermodynamic system sense, against the grain, doing the hard thing… but it’s not physically impossible.
In Tim Garrett’s model, it would mean voluntarily inducing civilization “decay”
In the CThERM model, what that would mean is voluntarily inducing civilization “decay” in the form of hard work which did NOT lead to expanding civilization.
The choice is ours – voluntary decay or crippling of civilization by ravages of climate change
Decay that arose not by the involuntary crippling of society by the ravages of climate change and low resiliency, but was chosen voluntarily as a path (see my K44-Policy Presentation), hopefully more gracefully than Nature will choose for us, if we choose not.
Our brain is only 2% of our body mass but uses 20% of our energy
Remember from Chapter 0 – our brain is only ~2% of our body mass, but uses 20% of our energy (which must come from food grown by our agricultural industry)
To override our biological urges using our will power demands constant biological energy consumption
If you’ve ever tried to over-rule your biological desires (going on a diet, say), you know how hard it is. It demands additional constant energy consumption.
Will power, requires the constant input of biological ENERGY. Will power will go only so far, because it takes real ongoing biological ENERGY to fight against desires. It’s like holding up an Olympic barbell. No matter how strong you are, eventually that barbell is coming down.
…to ENJOY a new “less is more”, “small is beautiful” way of being, perhaps this consideration would not hold quite as much sway.
Is it possible to rouse the will power of people on a massive global scale?
But experience says that this will take such intensive individual human psychological maturing on a massively global scale, and so quickly, that it would seem impossibly unrealistic.
To change, would the masses first have to “hit bottom”?
People CAN change, but for the vast majority, only after their dysfunctional habitual way of life forces them to “hit bottom”
If we wait for climate chaos to motivate us to change, it will be far too late
Only truly deep pain felt by each of us individually might induce such a commitment for such deep personal growth, and even then, only if the person “hitting bottom” has in their awareness a different and better way. By the time climate chaos delivers us there, physics says it’ll be far too late to halt dire permanent climate change.
We risk facing bare survival as civilizational complexity breaks down into simplicity
Rather than rise to the massive organizational and technological challenges required, we’ll likely be struggling with bare survival as societal complexity breaks down into simplicity (Strumsky, Lobo, and Tainter, 2010).
It usually takes long-standing pain to motivate just one person to change.
I know from experience and that of others, that it usually takes long-standing pain to motivate a person to change. And even then, it takes real work, real commitment, to overcome ingrained patterns of thought and achieve emotional maturity.
How can we expect this of the entire global population?
Currently, the voices calling for change are a tiny minority
We hear their voices from the science community, and at least some from the Green community. But they are a tiny minority – the far tail of the distribution of people.
Despite the harm of economic growth, most of Earth is peopled by those who desperately want MORE not LESS
Despite what economic growth is doing to this planet, most of the Earth is peopled by those desperate for MORE, not LESS. And not a single leader will dare talk of limiting population, or reversing growth in wealth, for fear of losing power.
Worse, our global political/economic power systems are designed to reward short-term greed
And worse, our global political/economic power systems are designed to reward short-term greed, not nurture long term planetary health (K44-Policy Presentation and especially the importance of Gilens and Page 2014).
This attitude is incredibly pervasive both in and out of politics, as science writer George Monbiot observes.
In 42 years, fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) as a % of the total, has not dropped at all; remaining at 87% of (Total Primary Energy), while total consumption of all energy has more than doubled (BP Statistical review)
In 2016, the global primary energy consumption rate was 17 trillion watts (TW), growing at about 1.5% per year (down from 2% for most of the 21st Century).
That’s 255 GW [GigaWatts] of additional power needed per year, or 700 MW of additional power generation installation per day.
To keep CO2 emission rates constant, this additional 700 MW per day must be carbon-free power…
…700 MW per day is equivalent to 3.5 gigawatts of “boiler plate” rating capacity per day (given the standard 20% capacity factor between peak output and actual average continuous output). Multiply by 365 days per year to get…
= 1,277 GW (rated) additional solar PV power to deploy every year
= 4,100 square miles of solar PV active panel area, every year. Or, 11.23 square miles of solar panels every day.
That’s equivalent to a square 64 miles on a side, of solid PV panel, every year. Realize that is what’s required not to reduce CO2 emissions, that’s just to keep the human CO2 emissions rate merely constant, and not rising further.
That’s 11.23 square miles of PV panels or about 20 square miles including supporting structure and land… taken away from other species and other human uses… every single day.
The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant – the entire generating facility takes up only 12 acres – produces the equivalent of 2,055 MW of continuous power averaged over the year.
Diablo Canyon is the equivalent of 33 square miles of modern solar PV panel area (or very roughly 50 square miles of utility-scale solar power plant facility area, by today’s standards).
Are you beginning to see the challenge of trying to transition from exploiting the concentrated ACCUMULATED energy of 50 million years of banked solar energy in the form of energy-dense fossil hydro-carbons, and instead running the same existing Civilization only on the dilute currently arriving solar energy?
Let’s assume a 30% capacity factor for the mix of solar (20%), and wind (~40%), which dominates renewables. New renewable power capacity was 161 GW in 2016. (but includes substantial biofuels which are not even carbon neutral). Still, using 161 GW, we have 161×0.3 = 48 GW actual power output. This is only 20% of the needed 255 GW needed to keep CO2 emission rates constant.
That’s based on 1.5% global wealth growth rates and therefore global energy consumption growth rates. Below, note that for the past 5 years, solar deployment in the U.S. has risen only linearly, not exponentially. Most of the gain is in utility-scale projects)
Richard Nolthenius’ home page http://www.cabrillo.edu/~rnolthenius/
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