Citizen Action Monitor

What the Green New Deal and other Good News fantasies do not explain about our climate predicament

“It’s a really good idea for citizens to understand that geology, biology, and thermodynamics caused our predicament.”  

No 2435 Posted by fw, February 17, 2019

“… given that most are not aware of, or preparing for, the coming shitstorm, caused by an energy price high enough to cover extraction costs, that are rising 10+% per year due to depleting low-cost reserves, [and] is an energy price too high to permit economic growth, and without growth, debt defaults causing a depression; … and because we’ve already captured most efficiencies, so falls our real incomes for all except the upper 1%, who profit from money printing; … and in addition to using debt, we further masked declining real incomes by lowering the cost and price of manufactured items by consolidating shopping at Walmart and Amazon and by moving good paying manufacturing jobs to poorer countries … and this loss of good jobs further lowered incomes, making citizens angry, for example, Brexit and Trump; … and if citizens continue to not understand the cause of decline, nor the plentiful reasons to be thankful, they may someday support a despot like Hitler … so it’s therefore a really good idea for citizens to understand that geology, biology, and thermodynamics caused our predicament … so citizens can’t be persuaded to blame another person or tribe … and given that our culture, leaders, and news focus almost exclusively on GDP growth, which, as we’ve seen, is actually growth in burning carbon … and given our need for constant reinforcement to fight our human tendency to deny unpleasant realities … we should seize a simple public education opportunity, by renaming GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to GDB (Gross Domestic Burn) …”Rob Mielcarski, un-Denial

With a better understanding of what is causing “the coming shitstorm” – we will, Rob writes —

“… see the wisdom of using some remaining carbon wealth to build a softer landing zone in preparation for a world with local food and local economies and much less energy, wealth, complexity, and population.”

What fascinates me now,” he says, “is our collective denial and inability to discuss or act on overshoot, despite some threats being imminent.”

Rob has an honors M.A.Sc. Electrical Engineering degree from University of British Columbia, and knows the laws of thermodynamics and other physics stuff. But don’t let that deter you. Read Rob’s piece and make of it what you can, which is what I did.

Below is my repost of Rob Mielcarski’s unconventionally punctuated, stream of consciousness reasoning on why we should rename GDP – Gross Domestic Product – to GDB – Gross Domestic Burning. To make his unconventionally punctuated more readable, I have reformatted Rob’s original piece and added some text highlighting.

To read his piece on his website – one of the most reliable sources of information available about our climate predicament — click on the following linked title.

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On Burning Carbon: The Case for Renaming GDP to GDB by Rob Mielcarski, un-Denial, February 8, 2018

Following is a single sentence description of our predicament that includes a simple proposal for how we might increase awareness and shift behavior in a positive direction.

Given near perfect historic correlation and sound physics to expect causation between energy consumption and wealth — more specifically US$1 (1990) = 10 mW; [One megawatt = 1,000 kilowatts = 1,000,000 watts]

and given over 85% of energy comes from burning carbon, including ancient (oil, coal, gas), old (wood), and recent (biomass), and the remaining 15% of energy requires burning carbon for materials, construction, maintenance, and energy distribution — for example, cement from natural gas, steel from coal, and diesel machines to mine and transport the concrete, steel, and uranium, required to build and operate hydroelectric dams and nuclear plants;

and given wind and solar can’t scale up to replace 18 TW [One terawatt = 1,000,000,000,000 watts] of burning carbon, which, for comparison, is 300 billion 60 watt bulbs, about 40 per person, because of low power density, intermittency, and high storage cost, and because wind and solar requires burning carbon for materials, construction, maintenance, and energy distribution — for example, concrete, steel, copper, glass, silicon, and composites — and diesel trucks to transport, install, and maintain the equipment, and diesel machines to build and maintain the access roads, and because wind and solar equipment wears out and must be replaced after 25 years, when there will be little remaining oil to do so;

and given that most do not understand the tight dependencies between

  • burning carbon to create the wealth we enjoy and want more of,
  • nor burning carbon to make the nitrogen fertilizer our food requires,
  • nor burning carbon to pump the water we drink and irrigate crops with,
  • nor burning carbon for tractors and combines that permit us to specialize,
  • nor burning carbon to transport everything we depend on to survive,
  • nor burning carbon to make the concrete, steel, and glass we live in,
  • nor burning carbon for the vacations, recreation, and internet we enjoy,
  • nor burning carbon and population growth from 1 to 8 billion,
  • nor burning carbon and climate change that threatens our children,
  • nor burning carbon and sea level rise that threatens many cities,
  • nor burning carbon and aerosols that mask 0.5+C additional warming,
  • nor burning carbon and ocean acidification that is killing coral reefs etc.,
  • nor burning carbon and the sixth great extinction,
  • nor burning carbon and the collapse of fisheries,
  • nor burning carbon and rising ground level ozone that is killing trees;

and given that most are not aware of, or preparing for, the coming shitstorm, caused by an energy price high enough to cover extraction costs, that are rising 10+% per year due to depleting low-cost reserves, [and] is an energy price too high to permit economic growth, and without growth, debt defaults causing a depression;

so we conjure growth with new money, created out of thin air by increasing debt, which is a useful trick when real growth is possible but a deadly trick when there are limits to growth because it is equivalent to eating seed corn;

and this debt is exploding to unprecedented levels worldwide, because it now takes more than $4 of debt for $1 of growth, with total debt about US$300 trillion — triple that in 2000 — forcing central banks to print money to keep interest rates low — 0% interest is not normal, as all grown-ups know;

and this free money has created an illusion of oil abundance, because fracking companies can operate despite losing money, meaning much oil will disappear when interest rates rise;

and this free money has created bubbles of unprecedented size, in stocks, bonds, real estate, education, healthcare, etc., that must eventually burst and revert through their mean, hurting even the innocents who did not participate;

thus printing money will someday cause suffering and social unrest, via a deflationary or hyperinflationary monetary collapse — depending on how politicians respond — from a much higher and harmful elevation than it needed to be because there is no such thing as a free lunch — and we chose not to acknowledge limits and to live within our means despite being warned of the dangers since at least 1972 even though our means compared to most of history are excellent – (for example, a poor Canadian lives better than a pharaoh);

with our real wealth of net energy per person falling, so falls our productivity because everything we do uses energy — for example, 1 barrel of oil does 4.5 years of manual labor so $80 of oil replaces $120,000 of minimum wages  — and we burn about 33 billion barrels of oil per year, meaning each of our 7 billion [people on Earth] is helped by 20 energy slaves, plus a similar number from coal, gas, hydro, and nuclear;

and because we’ve already captured most efficiencies, so falls our real incomes for all except the upper 1%, who profit from money printing;

and in addition to using debt, we further masked declining real incomes by lowering the cost and price of manufactured items by consolidating shopping at Walmart and Amazon and by moving good paying manufacturing jobs to poorer countries, which made us more vulnerable to supply chain disruptions because everything we need is now made elsewhere, and because trucks, trains, and ships all burn diesel oil and cannot practically be made to run on anything else;

and this loss of good jobs further lowered incomes, making citizens angry, for example, Brexit and Trump;

and if citizens continue to not understand the cause of decline, nor the plentiful reasons to be thankful, they may someday support a despot like Hitler, who was supported because of harm from Weimar money printing, and who blamed other tribes and promised war for gain;

but unlike past wars that rewarded victors with booty — for example, the US empire and its reserve currency — the next war will return few rewards to the victor because we’ve already burned most of the good booty and we’ll burn a lot more waging war, and we’ll risk annihilation with nuclear weapons that a desperate country without oil and hope may use;

so it’s therefore a really good idea for citizens to understand, that geology, biology, and thermodynamics caused our predicament;

so citizens can’t be persuaded to blame another person or tribe;

and so citizens see the blessing for their children of burning less carbon because a 1°C rise caused the climate problems we’ve already experienced and another 1°C rise is baked in no matter what we do because CO2 passed 400 ppm and is still rising meaning our great, great, great, great, grandchildren already have to contend with at least 10 meters of sea level rise — and we’re on a catastrophic path to another 2°C rise, or more — meaning most humans in a few generations will not survive unless we soon mostly stop burning carbon — which [carbon] depletion will force anyway, unfortunately too late;

and so citizens see the wisdom of using some remaining carbon wealth to build a softer landing zone in preparation for a world with local food and local economies and much less energy, wealth, complexity, and population;

and given that our culture, leaders, and news focus almost exclusively on GDP growth, which, as we’ve seen, is actually growth in burning carbon;

and given our need for constant reinforcement to fight our human tendency to deny unpleasant realities, which blocks awareness, discussion, and action on every issue that matters — for example, climate change, peak oil, and over-population, all symptoms of overshoot, which the Green Party doesn’t even mention;

we should seize a simple public education opportunity, by renaming GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to GDB¹ (Gross Domestic Burn);

so, every time we discuss the economy we worship, we are reminded how fortunate we are to be alive on an extraordinarily rare and beautiful planet with extraordinarily rare and beautiful eukaryotic life with an extraordinarily rare and intelligent brain during the brief 100 year period, out of 4 billion, with abundant burning carbon, and the many reasons for thankfulness and temperance².

End Notes 

¹I first heard the term “GDB” in a presentation by Nate Hagens.

²tem·per·ance /ˈtemp(ə)rəns/ (noun): moderation or self-restraint in action, consumption, statement, etc.

SEE ALSO

Everyone’s talking about the Green New Deal, but no one can fully explain what it is, says critic Stan Cox : Audacious Green New Dealers are promising prosperity and sustainability through growth, without asking where the energy to fuel that growth will come from. Posted January 17, 2019

Rob Mielcarski explains what’s up with oil, and why our leaders deny we have a problem : With global debt increasing exponentially, we likely won’t have many years of oil left. Posted July 30, 2018

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