June 11, 2012 | Ronda Jambe

A couple of people woth listening to

Once in a while, I forward an article in its entirety. Besides I am in
France and their keyboards drive me nuts. Below are two book reviews by
 Jenny Goldie, reprinted with permission. Some of you may be familiar
 with her clear thinking and writing from other National Forum articles
 and activism on population issues. I am grateful to know her through
the peak oil group in Canberra. The author mentioned in the second review
 is coming to Australia later this year, and he has a following. At the
end I have added a link to another article about temperatues in the US,
but some readers might not believe NOAA, your choice.
Apologises for the length and formatting of this post, but internet is not so
 easy when travelling.

 The Race for What’s Left – the global scramble for the world’s last
Michael T. Klare
Metropolitan Books, New York 2012, 307 pp
Reviewed by Jenny Goldie

For those of us aware of the issue of peak oil, exploitation of new
 unconventional sources has thrown us into confusion. If conventional
 oil production peaked in 2006, will tar sands, deep off-shore oil
 and gas, Arctic oil, shale gas and other hydrocarbons stave off the
 imminent decline in oil?  There are certainly a lot of these
unconventional sources, as Michael Klare explains in yet another
 authoritative book. In one of his earlier ones, Resource Wars,
he argued that future wars will be fought over access to dwindling
 supplies of natural commodities such as oil, natural gas, minerals,
 and water. This book is really a corollary of that. 

There might be a lot of unconventional oil reserves – 50 billion
 barrels in ultra-deep pre-salt deposits off Brazil for instance –
but they come with problems. They are difficult to get at. The
Brazilian reservoir Tupi, for instance, ‘lies beneath 1.5 miles
of water and another 2.5 miles of rock, salt and sand’. 
(Can’t get your head around that? Think of the Grand Canyon
 and multiply its depth by four.) These wells in tropical seas
 are vulnerable to hurricanes such as Katrina in 2005 that
 destroyed 47 drilling platforms and then, a month later, Rita
 that damaged 32 more. The likelihood of major accidents is high. 

And it’s not just in the tropics that such accidents may occur.
The rush is on for the vast reserves of oil and gas in deep water
 off Greenland’s west and east coasts but here the rigs are
vulnerable to ice-bergs. Workers must also contend with extreme
 cold and frequent storms. Inuit activists are concerned that a
 Deepwater Horizon-type spill would severely damage Greenland’s
 fragile coastal zone, some of which is vital to Inuit culture.
But even further north in the Arctic Sea, geo-political disputes
 over the oil and gas reserves between the five Arctic powers – USA,
 Russia, Norway Denmark (Greenland) and Canada – are already
underway, especially after Russia planted a titanium replica of
 the Russian flag on the floor of the sea at the North Pole
in 2007.

Most worrying, however, is the exploitation of the Athabasca
 tar sands in Alberta, Canada, that carry such an immediate
and huge environmental cost. Tar sands are basically bitumen
 that has to be melted and combined with natural gas to make
 it liquid and transportable. Pine and spruce forests are
annihilated for the open cut mines. Pollutants contaminate
 the north-flowing rivers into the Arctic. With an estimated
 170 billion barrels potentially recoverable, however, or
nearly six years of total global consumption, there seems
no way to stop the Canadians continuing on this rapacious path.

Oil, of course, is not the only resource that is in demand.
Modern industry depends on many exotic elements like rhodium,
 niobium, lanthanum and samarium. China holds 95 per cent of
the total supply of ‘rare earths’ and, in 2010, blocked such
exports to Japan causing panic because many are essential in
the production of hybrid cars. The Toyota Prius, for instance,
requires two pounds of neodymium and up to 33 pounds of
lanthanum. The race is now on to find alternate sources.
As well as rare earths, there are other ‘critical minerals’
that are not readily available because either their deposits
 are scarce or because  they are located in problematic locations,
 such as tantalum in the eastern  part of the Democratic
Republic of Congo. The profits of mining this particular mineral
 flow to rebel militias or rogue elements in the DRC army.

And now yet another race is on. This time it is to acquire land
 for food  production since there is no guarantee there will always
be food to buy on the world market. Wealthy Arab desert states
with large and growing populations are searching in Africa, South
America and Russia for land on which their companies can grow food
 and export it back home. Many locals, in Ethiopia for instance,
protest that land is already being utilised – often for pastoralism
 if not cropping – but their objections are over-ruled by elites
wanting to cash in on the deals. Even Australia is affected by
foreign take-up of land.

THE END OF GROWTH – Adapting to our new economic reality
 by Richard Heinberg
2011 New Society Publishers, Canada 320pages $26.95rrp
Reviewed by Jenny Goldie

In his book The Great Disruption, Paul Gilding describes how once he
became so overwhelmed by the parlous state of the world that he burst
 into tears while addressing a room full of executives. Clive Hamilton,
 at the launch his book Requiem for a Species, said he had an ‘Oh shit’
 moment in September 2008 when he realised the world could not avoid
 dangerous, runaway climate change.

My reaction to The End of Growth was a mixture of these. It left me
 profoundly depressed and worried. Well versed in both climate change
 and peak oil, I thought I was prepared for what Heinberg might throw
 up this time. But I was not well versed enough in the vulnerabilities
 of our financial-monetary system. That, he argues, is not just
vulnerable to periodic internal disruptions like credit crises,
it is inherently unsustainable in the emerging context of energy
 and resource constraints. 

And if the financial-monetary system seizes up, this will imperil
 society’s ability to respond to any and all other crises. This
means that, whatever our other priorities may be, we must immediately
 devote effort to reforming the financial-monetary system.

That was my ‘Oh shit’ moment. I read this just as Treasurer Wayne
 Swan said another $20 billion had been added to the deficit, partly
 because of natural disasters (Queensland floods) and to the flow-on
 effects of the Eurozone crisis. ‘It’s already unravelling’, I thought.

Heinberg argues that we are living through the ‘fifth great turning’
in human history. The first was the harnessing of fire which allowed
 us to stay warm in colder climates and to cook our food; the second
was the development of language that enabled humans to coordinate
their actions over time; the third was the agricultural revolution
 10,000 years ago that allowed division of labour and the subsequent
 emergence of towns and cities; and the fourth the industrial
revolution from 200 years ago that replaced muscle power in
transportation and production with the energies of fossil fuels.
These four turnings involved expansion. This fifth turning, in
which we are turning away from a fossil-fuelled, debt- and
growth-based industrial civilisation towards a sustainable,
renewable and steady state society, will be characterised by
contraction, until we are living within the Earth’s ‘replenishable
 budget of renewable resources’. 

For millennia, local economies advanced and retreated while the
global economy expanded only slowly. For the past century and a
half, however, the fossil fuel revolution caused economic growth
 to speed up and to a scale that was unprecedented. We appeared
 to be a ‘perpetual growth machine’ thanks to the process of
extracting and burning hundreds and millions of years of chemically
 stored sunlight.   Critically, expectations of further, indeed
unending, economic growth translated into enormous amounts of
consumer and government debt. But the era of cheap, abundant fuels
 is coming to an end and ‘any efforts by policy makers to continue
 pursuing elusive growth really amount to a flight from reality,’
he says.

There are three primary factors that stand in the way of further

The depletion of important resources including fossil fuels and
minerals. The proliferation of negative environmental impacts
arising from both the extraction and use of these (including
the burning of fossil fuels) – leading to snow-balling costs
from both these impacts themselves and from efforts to avert
them, and financial disruptions due to the inability of our existing
 monetary, banking and investment systems to adjust to both resource
 scarcity and soaring environmental costs – and their inability
 (in the context of a shrinking economy) to service the enormous
 piles of government and private debt that have been generated
over the past couple of decades. 

Heinberg notes that there are thousands of events in recent years
 that illustrate how all three factors are interacting and hitting
 home with ever more force. These include the Deepwater Horizon oil
 spill of 2010. Not only were the environmental effects ruinous,
the flow-on effects included economic damage to fisheries. Insurance
 companies raised premiums for all deepwater drilling operations
and BP duly lowered its returns to investors, affecting British
pension funds that were invested in the company. Heinberg says we
 can expect further events such as climate change-induced droughts,
 floods and famines; shortages of energy, water and minerals; and
waves of bank failures, company bankruptcies, and house foreclosures.
 Each will be treated as a special case.

But in the final analysis, they are all related, in that they are
 consequences of a growing population striving for higher per capita
 consumption of limited resources (Including non-renewable,
climate-altering fossil fuels), all on a finite and fragile planet. 

When economic growth inevitably ends, the economy will contract and
 be radically simplified.

At some point in the next few years, stock and real estate values
 will plunge, banks will close, and businesses will shutter their
 doors. Monetary, financial and social systems built upon the
expectation of growth will simply fail in growth’s absence.
In the worst, instance, that failure could take the form of a
 nearly complete cessation of trade…Some sort of new economy would
 inevitably emerge from the wreckage…Measured in GDP, it might
correspond to the world economy of fifty, a hundred, or even a
hundred and fifty years ago. 

Contraction of the economy may be controlled, or it may be chaotic,
 even catastrophic. Energy shortages or environmental disasters
could play prominent roles, in which case collapse comes sooner
and is more complete. And the risk of the latter is considerable
 with even the Bundswehr (German military) 2010 report on peak
oil warning: ‘A shrinking economy over an indeterminate period
presents a highly unstable  situation which inevitably leads to
system collapse…The risks to security posed by such a development
 cannot even be estimated.’

Assuming we survive this radical contraction, what will post-growth
 economics look like? It must involve four fundamental principles:

Growth in population and consumption rates cannot be sustained
Renewable resources must be consumed at rates below those of natural
 replenishment. Non-renewable resources must be consumed at declining
 rates (with rates of decline at least equaling rates of depletion)
and recycled wherever possible, and Wastes must be minimised, rendered
 non-toxic to humans and the environment, and made into ‘food’ for
natural systems or human production processes. 

The ‘steady state economy’, espoused by Geoff Mosley of CASSE
(Centre for the Advancement of Steady State Economics) at our
November NSF meeting, incorporates these principles.  A pioneer
of the movement, Herman Daly, is much quoted by Heinberg (whose
breadth of reading on economic matters is nothing short of heroic).
 Interestingly, Daly differentiates between economic growth and
uneconomic growth. The latter consists of GDP gains that are
accompanied by static or declining social benefits as, for example,
 when short-term growth is achieved by undermining ecosystems whose
 services have a long-term value. 

There have been various movements in response to the works of Daly
 and others such as the degrowth movement in the US and the voluntary
 simplicity movement in the US, many of whom advocate the Buy Nothing
 Day on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Other authors have made
systematic critiques of standard economic theory including Henry
 George, E F Schumacher (Small is Beautiful) and more recently
the Canadian Peter Victor. In his 2007 book Managing Without Growth,
 Victor presents a model for the Canadian economy that shows ‘…it is
possible to develop scenarios over a thirty year time frame for
Canada in which full employment prevails, poverty is essentially
eliminated, people enjoy more leisure, greenhouse gas emissions
are drastically reduced, and government indebtedness declines,
all in the context of low and ultimately no economic growth.’ 

Some nations are already moving in the direction of a steady state
 economy such Sweden, Denmark, Japan and Germany. Sweden even has
some ‘eco-municipalities’ that try and dematerialise their economies
 and foster social equity. 

An essential component of a steady state economy is reform of corporate
 law. Currently, by limiting liability for employees and investors,
the law gives corporations financial resources to influence public
policy and to exploit people and nature without moral or legal
responsibility.  Many argue that corporations should be replaced
 with cooperatives (such as credit unions) which could potentially
 avert the overuse of resources by placing other values, including
 the interests of future generations, ahead of profit. 

Heinberg insists we must talk now about adapting to the end of
growth since the circumstances that will make the economy fail
are already unfolding around us (resource depletion and catastrophic
 environmental decline). He stresses that, in preparing for an end
 to growth in a post-fossil fuel environment, we must at the same
 time preserve and build social cohesion. 

But how far down the trail of complexity and technological
 sophistication might we have to retreat? Can we surrender
 cars and supermarkets but still keep cultural exchange and
 tolerance along with our hard-won scientific knowledge,
advanced healthcare and instant access to information?

Those indeed are the questions. 

This book is worrying in its content but a fount of information. 
Highly recommended. 


According to NOAA scientists, the average temperature for the
 contiguous U.S. during May was 64.3°F, 3.3°F above the long-term
 average, making it the second warmest May on record. The month's
 high temperatures also contributed to the warmest spring, warmest
 year-to-date, and warmest 12-month period the nation has experienced
since recordkeeping began in 1895.
-- full story > http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120607185751.htm

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 9:13 pm | Comments Off |
Filed under: Environment

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.