Casaubon's Book

The IEA has pretty much conceeded peak oil, announcing that growth to meet demand in the coming decades will come from entirely mythical sources. Ok, they didn’t say that, what they said in the latest World Energy Outlook was that the majority of oil production by 2030 will be coming from “fields yet to be developed or found.” But what that means is “we’re hoping someone with magic powers will come and reverse the long-stand trend towards decline in oil discovery.” Because we know that oil discovery peaked in 1964 and has been declining ever since, so that we are consuming oil five times faster than we are discovering it. According to energy consultants IHS, 90% of all known or suspected reserves are in production already. In a world that consumes 40,000 plus barrels per second, that’s a pretty big deal.

And this comes after an IEA whistleblower accused the IEA of intentionally overestimating reserves in order to please rich world countries and avoid a financial panic. If that turns out to be the case, which from all the independent research into reserves being done, seems likely, the decline of oil is going to come a lot faster and harder than many people think.

So you’d think that peak oil writers would have enough to write about – after all, this is pretty much the nail in the coffin. So why are they still banging hard on the idiotic “peak oil is more important than climate change” drum?

Consider the latest by Kjell Aleklett, who just published a piece at Energy Bulletin that claims that the IPCC scenarios are “pure fantasy.” in which he argues, yet again, that we don’t have enough fossil fuels to hit the worst case IPCC scenarios.

To a certain extent, Aleklett is right – he (and James Hansen) have shown repeatedly that actual oil reserves can’t get us to the old tipping point numbers, and he’s done a great deal of good work in re-estimating coal figures. The problem is Aleklett doesn’t seem to grasp that this work was important once, and is now obsolete, and the emerging consensus among climate researchers is that climate sensitivity is much greater than it ever was. And this is a profound failure of analysis – the nature of scientific inquiry is that at times your work will be found to have been superceded by new knowledge. The appropriate response to that is to go do all the other important work that now needs doing – not to spend time whinging that no one is paying attention to you any more. And this is particularly troubling because the questions he raises – for example about world coal reserves – are so enormously important – it is simply his conclusions that are wrong:

“The climate change negotiators main question should therefore be, “How will we use coal in the future?”.

Today’s coal production – hard coal and brown coal – is approximately 3000 million “tonne of oil equivalent” (toe). For the “Business as Usual” scenarios coal production must increase seven-fold by 2100. That is an increase of 600%. In the last 20 years, global coal reserves have been revised downwards by 25%. The most recent case was India that halved its declared reserves. The USA is the “Saudi Arabia of coal” with 29% of global reserves. The former Soviet Union has 27%, China 14%, Australia 9%, India 7% and South Africa 4% of global reserves. That means that 90% of the fossil coal reserves exist in these six nations. We can also assert that the same six nations today produce 86% of the world’s coal.

If emissions of coal are to increase by 600 percent this cannot occur without the USA – that has the worlds largest coal finds – increasing its coal production by the same amount. In an article published in May 2009 in the International Journal of Coal Geology we have studied the historical trends and future possible production of coal in the USA. The production of high-grade anthracite is decreasing while the production of brown coal in Wyoming is increasing. Future coal production is completely dependent on new coal mining in the state of Montana. According to the constitution of the USA, federal authorities cannot force Montana to produce coal. In Montana they do not want to produce coal since the mining will destroy the environment and large areas of agricultural land. If the constitution is changed and mining of coal in Montana does occur it is possible for the USA to increase its coal production by 40% but not by 100%. An increase of 600% is pure fantasy.

Today, the world’s largest coal producer is China. Its reserves of coal are half the size of the USA’s and China has no possibility of increasing its coal production by 100%. A 600% increase there is also pure fantasy. Russia, with the world’s second largest coal reserves, can increase its production significantly but the untouched Russian coal reserves lie in central Siberia in an area without infrastructure. Russia is not dependent on this coal for its own energy needs but if mining did begin there some time after 2050 it could only ever be equivalent to a small fraction of today’s global production. Therefore, it is impossible for global coal production to increase by 100% and 600% is, once again, pure fantasy.”

There is an emerging consensus that 350 ppm is the critical point, and that we have a short period, maybe less than decade to reduce our emissions. Chief NASA climate scientist James Hansen and IPCC chief Rajendra Pachuri are among a rapidly growing number of scientists that have shifted the terms of the discussion, because of emerging evidence that climate change is happening faster and harder than even the IPCC suspected. The Copenhagen Update released recently supports the idea that climate sensitivity is much greater than expected, and suggests that sea level rises may be double what was anticipated.

The problem with what Aleklett says is that we know we can achieve 350ppm on existing fossil fuel reserves because we’ve already done it – we’re at 387 or so. We also know that we can achieve a close approximation of the absolute worst outcomes if the methane trapped in the permafrost begins to melt – something that the 2007 IPCC report spoke of as a distant possibility – but that we learned in 2008 was already happening. As Joseph Romm and David Lawrence among others have both shown, melting permafrost is more than sufficient to get us to 1000 ppm.

Given this, Aleklett’s claim that the *scenarios* are fantasy is ridiculous. It is true we can’t get there by directly emitting fossil fuels, but that doesn’t matter, because we can get there by emitting enough fossil fuels to lead to massive methane emissions. His work in documenting fossil fuel reserves is important and valuable, but he doesn’t seem to grasp that the terms of the discussion have changed. His demand that we keep talking about the old terms makes no sense at all – particularly when there is so much important work to be done on the intersection of climate change and peak energy. For example, developing an optimization figure for a rate at which we *can* safely burn fossil fuels, with both the goal of adapting for long term depletion and also preserving what we can of the climate would be nice.

The reason this frustrates me so much is that this doesn’t help Peak Oil’s cause, or help it enter into the discussion. Instead, it marginalizes peak oil advocates, giving people the impression that they have to choose between crises. It undermines the really good work done by people like Aleklett and makes people, myself included, take him less seriously – and that’s a real problem, because his knowledge of energy reserves is among the best in the world.

I wish it was just Aleklett, but it isn’t. John Michael Greer is a colleague, and I hope a friend of mine. We’re joint founders of the a Peak Oil Interfaith discussion, we have the same publisher, and I’m a profound admirer of this thought. While we’ve had some lively arguments over the years, we’ve done so respectfully. And Greer is precisely the sort of climate change skeptic that we can deal with – he recognizes explicitly that absolute need to reduce consumption radically. Indeed, I have no doubt he’d sign on for changes stronger than any government woudl ever approve. But I wish he’d be a lot more careful about what he writes about climate change, because he doesn’t seem to hold to his usual meticulous standards of research when writing about climate change. He says in last week’s essay:

“There’s good reason to think that the feedback loop by which popular attitudes generate their own supporting evidence via dubious science has distorted the global warming debate. The fingerprints show up all over the weird disconnect between current global warming science and the findings of paleoclimatology, which show that sudden, drastic climate changes have been routine events in Earth’s long history; that the Earth was actually warmer than the temperatures predicted by current doomsday scenarios at the peak of the current interglacial period only six thousand years ago; and that the Earth has been a hothouse jungle planet without ice caps or glaciers for around 80% of the time since multicellular life evolved here. Technically speaking, we’re still in an ice age – the current interglacial is on schedule to end in the next few thousand years, giving way to a new glaciation for a hundred thousand years or so, with several million years of further cycles still in the pipeline – and claims that setting the planetary thermostat a little closer to its normal range will terminate life on Earth are thus at least open to question.”

Here Greer identifies a breach that doesn’t exist (climate researchers generally work with paleoclimatologists, and the IPCC certainly included quite anumber of them), recites the oft quoted “it was warmer 6000 years ago” bit (yes, but only in the summer, and only in the northern hemisphere, according to the NOAA, “there is no evidence to show that the average annual mid-Holocene temperature was warmer than today’s temperatures”), and repeats, as though climate scientists have never heard this before that the earth has been warm for most of its history.

This is a technique that is commonly used by Global Warming Skeptics – to speak as though they alone have noticed obvious scientific facts – my favorite is the “it could just be the sun” standard, as though no scientists have never even thought that the sun might have something to do with warming. It is absolutely true that earth was warmer through much of its history. It is also true that human beings were not present through most of that period, and certainly there weren’t 6-9 billion of us relying heavily on a stable climate for agriculture. Climatologists are worried that agriculture won’t be viable in many of the places people live, and that those people will die, or migrate and start wars. They are also concerned that some of the places we live and grow food will be under water, or have salty groundwater. They are worried about more diseases. They are worried about more death. This is, IMHO, a good thing to worry about.

No climate scientist I’m aware of prophesies human extinction – the single most extreme version I can think of would be James Lovelock’s claim of “a few breeding pairs of humans at the poles” but even he admits to overstating for rhetorical purposes, and his is hardly a mainstream viewpoint. Most scientists seem to spend their time worrying about ordinary, simple things like people dying without adequate crop irrigation or drinking water. They are fixated on saving millions, maybe even billions of lives over the course of the century, but not on saving the human race from extinction. IMHO, saving a few million lives alone would be enough to be worth doing.

Greer goes on to write that the narratives of peak oil and climate change are fundamentally different, in a segment of his writing that simply doesn’t make a lot of coherent sense. He says,

“The global warming story, if you boil it down to its bones, is the kind of story our culture loves to tell – a narrative about human power. Look at us, it says, we’re so mighty we can destroy the world! The peak oil story, by contrast, is the kind of story we don’t like – a story about natural limits that apply, yes, even to us. From the standpoint of peak oil, our self-anointed status as evolution’s fair-haired child starts looking like the delusion it arguably is, and it becomes hard to avoid the thought that we may have to settle for the rather less flattering role of just another species that overshot the carrying capacity of its environment and experienced the usual consequences.

It’s hard to think of a less popular claim to make these days. Similar logic may be behind the way that both climate change believers and deniers shy away from the paleoclimatic data that shows just how lively Earth’s climate has been in prehistoric times.”

Here Greer’s normal coherent reasoning falls apart. First there’s his premise that climate scientists don’t pay attention to paleoclimatic data – that’s just wrong. For example, paleoclimatic data is precisely why we worry about tipping points and rapid shifts being caused by anthropogenic activity – because we know that they have happened before. Ice core climate data is central to establishing the case for global warming – this is very basic knowledge, and I simply find it hard to believe Greer has never encountered it before. Again, we’re all concerned precisely because we have no idea how human beings will respond to the scale of climate change we may be facing. Just as we don’t exactly know how we will respond to peak oil – in both cases, though, we have ample reason to suspect the results will not be happy ones.

Perhaps as importantly, his claim that peak oil and climate change are stories with only one meaning, in opposition to one another is just another false dichotomy, the sort of thing he generally tends to deplore. It is certainly true that you could argue that the story of climate change is “we can destroy the world” just as you could argue that a narrative that a people built a fossil fuel dependent agriculture and society and then starved and froze because the energy resources to continue it constituted a similar narrative, and Greer agrees that there are people who tell that version of the peak oil story. Equally, you could read both AGW and Peak Oil as stories about banging up against natural limits – in one case a limit of resources, in another, the limit of the ability of the atmosphere to absorb our outputs. Greer should know as well as anyone that stories don’t have inherent meanings – they have the meanings we apply to them. His caricature of the climate change story seems to be based on misunderstandings about both what climate science is based upon and on what climatologists say.

If we are telling stories, I’d like to propose another one. In it, climate change and peak oil are both acute situations, coming together. It turns out that after using fossil energies to put off the material limits of our world, we found that there were real limits after all – both to the fossil energies we have to use and also to our environment’s ability to withstand degradation and absorb our outputs. This is not a strange concept – that is, if you are drinking beer and pissing in the stream, it is perfectly possible to imagine you will have to deal simultaneously with rendering the water undrinkable and running out of beer.

Both of these problems, treated separately, lend themselves to apocalyptic narratives that are probably largely untrue – unless, of course, you consider the death of many people who didn’t have to die to be apocalyptic, which some of us do. Together, they lend themsevles to narratives that are more complex – and simpler. They up the likelihood that things that even moderate people call apocalyptic might happen – almost certainly not the extinction of the best and most adaptive primate on the planet, but enough suffering and death to be a very, very bad thing. They also lead directly to a single solution. We can’t keep using fossil fuels for two reasons. We also know that we can’t build out resources fast enough to keep living our way of life. So we’re going to be using less energy – all the stories lead there, and decisively.

We really like dichotomies in our society. We like either/or stories, because we’ve been trained to like them. Every newspaper story is written as an either/or, every kid learns to write “pro/con” stories. Everyone likes a nice dichotomy, and it rarely matters to us whether they are false. But they often are – and the peak oil vs. climate change discussion is a false dichotomy. The claim that we can choose which side to be on is a false one – because we’re banging up against physical realities in both cases. One way or another, we will be addressing those realities – that is the way of the world. It would be so much better to get past the false dichotomies and do it now, and start telling true stories.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Cecelia
    December 10, 2009

    Sharon – this is the best commentary I have read of late on this subject. And I have been reading a lot. There is no need for those concerned about PO to see AGW as competition for the title of “world’s worst disaster”. You ably demonstrate how foolish this is – and how connected the two subjects are.

    Great post.

  2. #2 SteveWW
    December 10, 2009

    This was an excellent and informative post. I was intimidated at first by its length, but as I read it, it proved to be worthwhile. Well said!

  3. #3 Greenpa
    December 10, 2009

    “But what that means is “we’re hoping someone with magic powers will come and reverse the long-stand trend towards decline in oil discovery.” Because we know that oil discovery peaked in 1964 and has been declining ever since,”

    Ah, but the world is changing. Thank goodness all that messy ice is melting in Antarctica – and thank goodness the international agreement on “non-development” runs out in – 2011.

    Why there’s a whole uninhabited, never strip mined CONTINENT just waiting. And remember there are zillions of places in Antarctica that are NOT covered with ice, right now. Just dripping with gold, uranium, and yttrium.

    Wanna bet? Will Japan and China turn their backs? Both have stations there already. Warming up.

  4. #4 Alan
    December 10, 2009

    Excellent post! I, too, follow Greer and find his lack of acuity on this matter puzzling. Setting up straw men and then demolishing them with his erudition is really beneath him.

  5. #5 Kiashu
    December 10, 2009

    This is an old thing, which I have called the Problem Exclusion Principle [http://greenwithagun.blogspot.com/2008/12/problem-exclusion-principle.html]

    “No more than one global problem may be acknowledged by a person at one time. After the first problem is acknowledged, any others must be downplayed or denied.”

    Many people get so fixated on their favorite issue of population, resource depletion, social inequity, racism, war, pollution or whaever, that they cannot accept that any other problems are important or related.

  6. #6 Edward Bryant
    December 10, 2009

    Wow, your blog still has that “new blog smell”! Congrats on the transition.

    I am reminded of the Ted Rall cartoon of Obama in the Oval Office saying “Yes We Can…but we probably won’t”. http://rall.com/gallery2/v/Cartoons/8-6-09.jpg.html

    I don’t share JMG’s ambivalence towards the climate science and I think your criticisms of JMG are mostly valid on this point, but his contention that we will not respond to any of our looming calamities seems to be predictively useful. So far anyway.

    I think one of the chief difference between you and JMG has to do with how you consider the consequences of inaction on AGW/Peak Oil/disaster du jour. The theoretically preventable deaths and suffering of so many millions(billions?) of people are, to you, a moral outrage and an offense against the divine. I suspect JMG views the same suffering and annihilation as an deeply unfortunate consequence of our species’ ecological overshoot of it’s environment. I probably shouldn’t try to interpret someone else’s internal landscape, but…

  7. #7 Greenpa
    December 10, 2009

    Sharon- in case you weren’t aware, Ilargi finds Greer’s economic writings flawed in a very similar fashion to your findings re peak oil. Um. And so do I, in ecology.

  8. #8 Robin Datta
    December 10, 2009

    Warning: The video runs for over one hour!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zOXmJ4jd-8&feature=player_embedded

  9. #9 Glenn
    December 10, 2009

    I follow, you, Greer and Orlov regularly.
    Greer strikes me as a skeptic rather than a denier. I take his point to mean, the climate is naturally unstable enough, we’re not helping matters any by dumping CO2 into it.

    His comparison of Peak Oil narrative myth vs. Climate Change narrative myth was not to denigrate Climate Change, but to point out _why_ Climate Change is getting so much more attention than Peak Oil. Besides, if we acknowledge Peak Oil, we have to accept the fact that we won’t have the energy resources available to make the infrastructure changes we’ll need to deal with Climate Change. Although the current recession has been the most effective means of reducing Carbon emissions that’s come alonge lately. To paraphrase Greer, perhaps failure is the best option…

    Glenn

  10. #10 olympia
    December 11, 2009

    Kiashu, I think you’ve got it down. More than one problem at a time just blows people’s minds. Accepting that all these problems coincide, and figuring out how to deal with all of them at the same time? Well, it requires problem solving skills set to a mathematical degree, and a lot of acceptance that things are going to be bad, no matter what you do. It’s a hard thing to accept.

  11. #11 querulous
    December 11, 2009

    “things are going to be bad, no matter what you do”

    I agree, this is why I and most people take the airplane-oxygen-mask approach to the world’s problems: “Place the mask over your face before assissting others.”

    “How can we offer a hand to uplift our neighbors when the ground is sinking beneath our feet?” is how most people feel, IMO.

    Even lifeguards know that a drowning victim can take you down with them, if not handled in the right way. We need to get some stability in our own situation before we can attempt to help others.

  12. #12 Sharon Astyk
    December 11, 2009

    Edward, that’s probably a pretty good analysis. Greer would argue we’re not going to, and while I know him well enough to doubt that he denies moral responsibility, he’d spread it thinner than I would.

    I don’t disgree with Greer’s general assessment that we aren’t going to do much – I think his essay this week is pretty much right on. But I also think that his sense of a gradual decline, something that mirrors Rome is based on an disregard or misunderstanding of climate science – that is, abrupt and violent climate change (which may or may not happen, but we really should avoid messing with it, and it *has* happened) would throw his theory of the Long Descent out of whack, which may have something to do with his reluctance to take climate science seriously – or maybe it doesn’t.

    Glenn, I think that it is more than that – I agree that he’s partly showing us why it gets more attention, but he’s also suggesting it shouldn’t – and I think a really good understanding of the climate science suggests that we actually probably should be giving very slightly more attention to climate change than depletion, in that depletion alone is probably manageable over time in a lot of horrible and bad ways, but the worst climate outcomes aren’t.

    What frustrates me – and I’ve written about this before – is that I think that those long view of history, which Greer so deeply admires has real advantages as a viewpoint -but it elides human suffering. There’s a reason why materialist historians and other forms of historical inquiry were added to Gibbon and his ilk – because you miss a lot. Greer misses that those millions of lives are the center of this – he elides them as long views tend to, and I don’t think that’s acceptable.

    Sharon

  13. #13 vera
    December 11, 2009

    More debates between intellectuals who are really very similar in outlook about how exactly the planet burns while humans fiddle. How tedious.

    “No more than one global problem may be acknowledged by a person at one time. After the first problem is acknowledged, any others must be downplayed or denied.” Kiashu, you make a good point here. But there is the obverse of it as well: “At least one global problem MUST be panic-mongered to the hilt. That is how change comes, right?” Sorry, I don’t have a snappy name for this particular irritant. Maybe it should be called “Ehrlich’s delusion.”

    Greer gets points for realism (any organism that goes into overshoot will reap what it sows), Sharon gets points for moral outrage (do not go gently into that good night!)… fair enough.

    The dichotomy between you and Greer, Sharon, is a false dichotomy. “So we’re going to be using less energy – all the stories lead there, and decisively.” Exactly. The interesting thing to me right now is… the elites seem to be acting on the assumption that when all is said and done, they’ll be the ones holding the bag of remaining fossil fuels, water, fertile land, and minerals while the rest of us…?

  14. #14 Toby Hemenway
    December 11, 2009

    Sharon, congrats on the new blog with an even bigger megaphone! It seems hard for people to grasp more than one big idea at once, harder to understand that these ideas aren’t mutually exclusive, and harder yet to make the connections between them. I’m hoping fewer people will listen to the battling experts who just clog the debate, and listen to their own senses: Are you happy? Do you like what’s going on? Then make the changes that really solve that for you.

    best to you and the family–

    Toby

  15. #15 Marina
    December 11, 2009

    Great post Sharon. One remark though.

    In your sentence “In a world that consumes 40,000 plus barrels per second, that’s a pretty big deal.” the 40,000 number is inaccurate. The world consumes about 31 billion barrels of oil annually. That makes approximately 1,000 barrels per second, not 40,000.

    Thanks,
    Marina

  16. #16 Don
    December 11, 2009

    Sharon, my reading of John Michael Greer, for what it’s worth and freely admitting that I might be reading him wrong, is that there’s a distinct possibility that climate scientists have become engaged in groupthink. It’s an element of human nature for those who have intensively studied a topic–and after all, we’re speaking of people who have dedicated their lives to researching earth’s climate systems–to begin thinking alike, regardless of where the evidence is leading them. Alleged evidence that climate researchers have exhibited this tendency, of course, is one element of the hay that climate change deniers are currently making over the leaked e-mails from the University of East Anglia.

    The thing is, even proof of groupthink wouldn’t, by itself, disprove AGW. It only demonstrates that the climate researchers are, after all, human.

    Physicist Lee Smolin in his book The Trouble With Physics, argues that the popular string theory in physics is really more of a hypothesis than a true theory. Smolin asserts that, despite little empirical evidence to support it, physicists engaging in groupthink have almost universally accepted it. I don’t know much about physics or string theory, but it seems to me that AGW has much more going for it than this. There’s a mountain of evidence supporting AGW, much of which is quite irrefutable, that skeptics really haven’t grappled with and that evidence of researcher groupthink would be unable to cast any real doubt upon.

    Thinking about peak oil and what it means to civilization can be overwhelming. The same is true with climate change, not to mention the other crises that our world is facing. Putting them together can create cognitive overload that simply is more than most of us can handle. You and John Michael are both doing an admirable job of making us aware of these predicaments. May both of you continue in this valuable work. Try not to sweat the small stuff, including how much relative importance someone else is placing on one predicament or another.

    Peace,
    Don

  17. #17 Kiashu
    December 12, 2009

    “The thing is, even proof of groupthink wouldn’t, by itself, disprove AGW. It only demonstrates that the climate researchers are, after all, human.”

    Thousands of scientists all subject to regular critique by their fellows might be wrong, or one old bloke who appointed himself head of a long-dead religion most of whose details had to be made up might be wrong. One of these is more likely than the other.

  18. #18 Joseph
    December 12, 2009

    Thank-you for this article.

    I tried to talk about climate tipping points and Lovelock’s “Revenge of Gaia” on Greer’s blog around a year and a half ago and all I got for my efforts was to be insultingly informed that I had an “apocalyptic mind-set”.

    He kept hitting me over the head with this no matter how many times I tired to explain to him that I was talking rational-empirical science, not apocalyptic belief systems.

    I also tried to explain that worst-case, not best-case, scenarios have consistently been proven more correct. Again, to no avail.

    I realize that he is a colleague of yours but I’m sorry, the man has an ego the size of a locomotive and his website is incredibly cultic.

    Greer is deeeply psychologically invested in his “long descent” scenario, whereas I look at many different scenarios simultaneously. So my point is, I do not necessarily believe Lovelock’s scenario is absolutely going to happen, and even less do I have some psychological need to believe in it, but I do take it into account, and I will not tolerate being talked down to for doing so. Consequentely, I do not tolerate Mr. Greer and the axe he has to grind.

    This is especially true after I read his hatchet-job review of David Korten’s “The Great Turning.” To make a long story short, Mr. Greer is quite hindered by a lot of unconscious bias, to put it eumphemistically.

  19. #19 Joseph
    December 13, 2009

    P.S.

    Another thing I said on the Greer blog is that our situation today is unprecedented, and of course, he wanted to argue about that!:::::groan::::.

    Why? Because this would call into question how much our known history of civilization can be used a a guide to what is happening now, turning it from an absolutely infallible template upon which the future will be written to a relatively useful tool that has its place in the rational-empirical mix.

    I mean, there is one thing we can be pretty sure about: there was little chance that the fall of Rome or the Mayans was going to cause something like the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), but there is a much, much larger chance it could happen here.

    The possibility of hitting a climate tipping point that could cause a non-linear reconfiguration of the entire global climate, along with Peak Everythingelse, sufficiently meets the criteria for regarding our situation as *unprecedented* as far as I am concerned, seeing how it is a complete waste of time to split semantic hairs over the issue out of some egoic need to be *right* about freakin definitions!

    Then again, the human ego is THE biggest cause of all of our problems to begin with ……………………….

  20. #20 Nils Ross
    December 13, 2009

    The question of human extinction is surely one of time scales. The ultimate fate of all species is extinction; the question is when it happens. Consider two scenarios:

    (1) Assume we halt or reverse the effects of climate change. The human species lasts ‘X’ years before extinction.

    (2) Assume we do business as usual, run into climate tipping points, cause a mass extinction of life on earth on the scale of the K-T event. The human species lasts ‘Y’ years before extinction.

    Now apply your reason. Which is more likely to be the larger number of years? ‘X’ or ‘Y’?

    This isn’t precisely the same thing as saying ‘climate change will cause human extinction’ — but what else do you call those lost (X-Y!) years?

  21. #21 oseph
    December 13, 2009

    BTW Sharon, you write,

    “No climate scientist I’m aware of prophesies human extinction – the single most extreme version I can think of would be James Lovelock’s claim of “a few breeding pairs of humans at the poles” but even he admits to overstating for rhetorical purposes, and his is hardly a mainstream viewpoint.”

    Do you have a source for your assertion that Lovelock deliberately overstated the case for rhetorical purposes? I’d like to see it.

    Also, as I recall, he said around a half a billion humans would survive, not “a few breeding pairs.”

    Also, I see few people pointing out that the tremendous waste of wealth and energy that is the result of, and the tremendous pollution generated by, global U.S. Imperial military operations, makes continuing this Imperial agenda, considering the crisis humanity is in – the most despicable immoral act in world history, as was starting all of it to begin with.

    Where is the outrage?

    This country is literally being held hostage by regressive reactionary elements, neurotic brats – including the ultra-rich corporate plutocracy that rules this country, their bought-and-paid-for stooges in congress and the presidency and their fundamentalist foot-soldiers, who may well represent the most dumbed-down people on earth – who are willing to play games with the fate of all of humanity all so they can try to preserve their childish, obsolete world-view.

    They dominate the media and never stop shooting off their mouths and we just sit here and let them get away with it…..

    U.S. policy has pushed the whole world toward a scenario of confrontation, resource wars and an arms race. If people are serious about climate change and Peak Everything, then this is a major issue that needs to be dealt with.

    Some of these people want war with Iran – imagine what THAT will do to all of our carefully mapped-out future *scenarios*…….

  22. #22 billygroats
    December 13, 2009

    oseph,

    No kidding. How are we going to pay for climate mitigation schemes when our economy is wrecked and the productive capablities of our environment have been squandered on trying to get more oil, in order to it burn faster?

  23. #23 Consumer
    December 14, 2009

    Marina – I think she meant gallons

  24. #24 Sharon Astyk
    December 14, 2009

    Marina, thanks for the correction – I did mean gallons, but I’m not sure where my brain was because that’s not quite right either.

    Joseph – In _Gaia’s Revenge_ Lovelock uses the phrase “a few breeding pairs of humans at the Poles” and in an interview I read last year, he was queried about it (since it is such a powerfully evocative statement) and he said that he had overstated it somewhat for effect. I’ll dig around and try and find the interview again.

    I don’t disagree with anything you say about America’s war culture – I think the military keynsianism that we’ve used to keep the economy afloat is at tragedy for the whole world.

    I will say, I’m not a big fan of The Fourth Turning myself
    ;-).

    Sharon

  25. #25 dewey
    December 14, 2009

    Greer has never suggested that people like him are smarter and more evolved than other types of people, so ought to be put in charge of things. Nor does anyone seem to dispute that that idea is at least implied in Korten’s book (which I have not read). It sounds to me like Greer correctly pointed out a potential negative consequence of Korten’s belief system, and people who like Korten would rather not hear that.

    If anything, Greer’s promotion of dissensus as a strategy would make it impossible for him to set himself up as a cult leader where cultural adaptation is concerned. That’s entirely separate from his role as leader of a dinky Druid organization, and IMHO his religious practices are irrelevant to judging the usefulness of his thoughts on secular subjects. Those who snark about the Druid thing (hi, Kiashu!), are you going to snark at Sharon for being an observant Jew, or suggest that a Christian pundit’s faith is relevant when he gets it wrong on some secular subject? Every religion’s tenets were “made up” by someone at some point, you know.

  26. #26 Shirley Gregory
    December 14, 2009

    THANK you, Sharon! I usually enjoy reading both Aleklett and Greer, but was deeply bothered by both the posts you referenced. Nice job in addressing why they are both wrong in this case.

  27. #27 Sharon Astyk
    December 14, 2009

    Thanks Dewey – I somehow missed the cult thing reading quickly through comments. I don’t think Greer is a cultist, or that there’s anything wrong with his faith, just fyi. As I said, we’re friends, although we’ve not met in person. We’ve had lively and interesting disagreements over the years we’ve both been writing about similar subjects, and we have a great deal in common – in general I think is Long Descent, absent worst case climate scenarios, is probably right (and I don’t claim such scenarios are inevitable, merely that they are an unacceptable risk).

    Sharon

  28. #28 dewey
    December 14, 2009

    My opinion is much the same. I don’t presume that a worldwide zombie apocalypse is impossible, but I do think that those who think it’s unavoidable and imminent have the burden of proof on their side, rather than free license to berate anyone who disagrees about their alleged ignorance, irrationality or psychological hangups.

  29. #29 Greenpa
    December 15, 2009

    Kiashu: “Thousands of scientists all subject to regular critique by their fellows might be wrong, or one old bloke who appointed himself head of a long-dead religion most of whose details had to be made up might be wrong. One of these is more likely than the other.”

    A big thumbs up for you. :-)

    Though he actually just anointed himself head of a long dead branch. Some of the other branches are not that amused, I understand.

  30. #30 jagged ben
    December 19, 2009

    FWIW, by all accounts Greer was elected Grand Archdruid, not “self-anointed.” It’s easy enough to find AODA’s website and read it’s history, which they say goes uninterrupted back to 1912 and earlier. So the aspersions cast on Greer’s religious position in comments here are not only irrelevant to his writings on peak oil, but also utterly unsupported and apparently specious.

    As for “other branches”, such as the apparently much larger Reformed Druids of North America (of which my parents were original members, btw), I suspect that while some may be annoyed by Greer’s relative celebrity as an “Archdruid,” there could be no claim from them of illegitimate leadership, his order being entirely separate in origin and affiliation.

  31. #31 maclean
    December 25, 2009

    “if you are drinking beer and pissing in the stream, it is perfectly possible to imagine you will have to deal simultaneously with rendering the water undrinkable and running out of beer.”
    …and of being too drunk, or hungover.
    since beer here is metaphorical it could be taken to represent our our need for “nourishment” or our self-destructive addictions…

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