Tags: collapse* + degrowth*

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  1. Meno energia, meno lavoro, meno materiali

    “I have a dream” disse Grillo nel 2008. Con l’articolo «Tre meno - Perché non voto» (Internazionale dell’11 aprile), sognava tre principi strategici. Meno energia: da una società a 6000 watt pro capite a una società a 2000 watt, come deciso in referendum dal popolo svizzero, approvando la strategia dei Politecnici e del governo elvetici. Meno lavoro: subito 30 ore, più tardi 20 ore in media alla settimana, come sostenne nel 1930 J. M. Keynes, e nel 1985 l’eminenza grigia del miracolo economico tedesco Oswald von Nell-Breuning S.J. nel suo libro L’uomo lavora troppo? Meno materiali: da 40 a 20 tonnellate pro capite – grazie alla economia circolare, il cui primo pioniere è l’architetto svizzero Walter Stahel, che già tenne conferenze ai festival 5-stelle.

    “Quasi tutti i peggioramenti della nostra vita – scriveva Grillo - hanno una causa comune: troppa economia. Troppa energia, troppo petrolio, troppi materiali, troppo inquinamento, troppi rifiuti, troppi chilometri, troppa pubblicità, troppa corruzione, troppo stress, troppo lavoro. Contro ognuno di questi "troppi" servono molte iniziative. Ma il risultato deve essere facilmente misurabile: meno economia, più vita. (…) Oggi invece facciamo il contrario: consumiamo per poter vendere, vendiamo per poter produrre, produciamo per poter lavorare. È il contrario di come hanno funzionato tutte le civiltà. (…) Un parlamentare che avesse capito queste cose dovrebbe cominciare a lavorare subito per tre obiettivi: meno energia, meno lavoro, meno materiali”.

    Nel 2018 il programma di governo del 5-stelle dice tra l’altro: dimezzare l’uso di energia, ridurre il tempo di lavoro, dimezzare l’uso dei materiali attraverso un’economia circolare - e molti altri obiettivi social-ecologici. Nella grillosfera non mancano personalità di alto profilo. Consigliere economico e candidato 5-stelle al parlamento è Lorenzo Fioramonti, professore di economia politica, autore di Economia del benessere – Il successo in un mondo senza crescita e del best-seller GDP - Gross Domestic Problem (in Italia: Presi per il PIL). Il grillino Dario Tamburrano è il quinto eurodeputato più influente sulle politiche energetiche. Fu lui, inoltre, l’artefice della video-conversazione tra il Presidente del Parlamento europeo e l’eco-pioniere Bertrand Piccard durante il primo volo solare intorno al mondo dell’aereo fotovoltaico Solar impulse.
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  2. an endlessly growing population is not sustainable, even if they live like peasants.

    That said, overpopulation is not, in my view, the main driver of planetary collapse today. The main driver is capitalism. The human population has roughly tripled since WWII. But our consumption of resources has multiplied many many times greater than population growth: We use something like 6 times as much steel as in 1950, 15 times as much aluminum, thousands of times more plastic and on and on. That ravenous overconsumption of resources, and its associated pollution, is overwhelmingly driven by the requirements of capitalist reproduction, the ceaseless invention of new needs and so on, not by human reproduction. Yes we need to reduce the human population, if only to give other life forms some space and resources. But there are easy ways to do so without using force like the Chinese government. Instead of building grandiose blingfrastructure and space shots to glorify the Communist Party, China’s so-called communists could have prevented their current overpopulation problem if they had spent that money on providing adequate old age pensions and social security so that peasant farmers don’t have to raise multiple kids in the hopes that one or two will live to support them in their old age. Amazingly, this is still the “social security sytem” for hundreds of millions of Chinese.

    So overpopulation is a real problem. But if we don’t overthrow capitalism, Mother Nature is going to solve the overpopulation problem in a hurry, but in a most unpleasant manner. That’s why I don’t concern myself much with the population problem. I don’t mean to ignore it. But I think its very much a secondary driver compared to capitalism.
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  3. Earlier studies on this issue, Brandt points out, have highlighted the risk of a “net energy cliff”, which refers to how “declining EROI results in rapid increases in the fraction of energy dedicated to simply supporting the energy system.”

    Axiom: So the more EROI declines, a greater proportion of the energy being produced must be used simply to extract more energy. This means that EROI decline leads to less real-world economic growth.

    It also creates a complicated situation for oil prices. While at first, declining EROI can be expected to lead to higher prices reflecting higher production costs, the relationship between EROI and prices begins to breakdown as EROI becomes smaller.

    This could be because, under a significantly reduced EROI, consumers in a less prosperous economy can no longer afford, energetically or economically, the cost of producing more energy — thus triggering a dramatic drop in market prices, despite higher costs of production. At this point, in the new era of shrinking EROI, swinging oil prices become less and less indicative of ‘scarcity’ in supply and demand.

    Brandt’s new economic model looks at how EROI impacts four key sectors — food, energy, materials and labor. Exploring what a decline in net energy would therefore mean for these sectors, he concludes:

    “The reduction in the fraction of a resource free and the energy system productivity extends from the energy system to all aspects of the economy, which gives an indication of the mechanisms by which energy productivity declines would affect general prosperity.

    A clear implication of this work is that decreases in energy resource productivity, modeled here as the requirement for more materials, labor, and energy, can have a significant effect on the flows required to support all sectors of the economy. Such declines can reduce the effective discretionary output from the economy by consuming a larger and larger fraction of gross output for the meeting of inter-industry requirements.”
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  4. Millennials are threatening dozens of industries.

    They don't buy napkins. They won't play golf. They aren't buying homes or cars. And they're not even eating at Buffalo Wild Wings.

    Millennials' financial decisions have been heavily covered by media organizations — something that has infuriated many of the generation, as news that "millennials are killing" another industry has become a common headline.

    "This is just some more millennial-blaming B.S.," one reader wrote in response to a recent Business Insider article with the headline "Millennials are killing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee's."
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  5. CNNMoney spent a week in the Detroit metro region talking to current and former manufacturing workers. Almost all said the same thing: It's not the robots that took U.S. jobs, it's NAFTA.
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  6. There’s a problem, however. De-growth solves the sustainability challenge by shifting the burden onto a much more challenging issue, which is to design and implement a de-growth economy. Nobody has the slightest hint as to how to render viable a world economy that would be structurally de-growing while ensuring social balance, individual and collective satisfaction, and peace between the large states. Even the slow-growing economy (at a less-than-1% growth rate) that results from my earlier demonstration remains an unsolved challenge, since we still don’t know how to ensure employment, innovation, useful investments, and even democracy at such a low pace of economic growth. Just think back to the social structures and the kinds of international relations that prevailed across the world before industrialization.
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  7. “Material growth must be less, or even considerably less, than 1% per annum (growth rate of global production of each raw material, primary + recycled). The recycling efficiency rate must be greater than 60%, or even 80% (proportion of material contained in waste which is actually recycled). The rate of addition to stocks must be less than 20%, meaning that the economy must discharge as waste at least 80% of the quantities of each material it consumes. The path is narrow and challenging, demanding a strict balance between three fundamental parameters, failing which it would simply become impossible to find a solution to the problem of sustainable management of non-renewable resources.

    … The richer countries therefore, as regards resource management, can and should consider and implement a ‘quasicircular’ growth: an economy with a very low level of material growth, accumulating as little as possible, and therefore proportionally generating a large quantity of waste which is largely recycled.

    … a ‘permanently sustainable’ economy cannot, to be perfectly honest, rely essentially on material growth. … our analysis acknowledges the need » to work on a transition towards a sustainable economy and to set environmental limits on human activity, in the shape not of theoretical criteria, but of criteria related to the economy’s statistical values.”
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  8. The 20th century fossil-fueled economic growth spurt happened not because the energy industry created many jobs, but because it created very few jobs.

    For most of human history, providing energy in the form of food calories was the major human occupation. Even in societies that consumed relatively high amounts of energy via firewood, harvesting and transporting that wood kept a lot of people busy.

    But during the 19th and 20th centuries, as the available per capita energy supply in industrialized countries exploded, the proportion of the population employed supplying that energy dropped dramatically.

    The result: instead of farming to provide the carbohydrates that feed humans and oxen, or cutting firewood to heat buildings, nearly the whole population has been free to do other activities. Whether we have made good use of this opportunity is debatable, but we’ve had plenty of energy, and nearly our entire labour force, available to run an elaborate manufacturing, consumption and service economy.

    Seen from this perspective, the claim that renewable energy will create more jobs might set off alarms.

    As Morgan makes clear, energy sprawl is not at all unique to renewable energy transition – it applies equally to non-conventional, bottom-of-the-barrel fossil fuels such as fracked oil and gas, and bitumen extracted from Alberta’s tar sands. There will indeed be more jobs in a renewable resource economy, compared to the glory days of the fossil fuel economy, but there will also be more energy jobs if we cling to fossil fuels.

    As energy sprawl proceeds, more of us will work in energy production and distribution, and fewer of us will be free to work at other pursuits. As Klein and the other authors of the Leap Manifesto argue, the higher number of energy jobs might be a net plus for society, if we use energy more wisely AND we allocate surplus more equitably.

    But unless our energy technologies provide a good Energy Return On Energy Invested, there will be little surplus to distribute. In other words, there will be lots of new jobs, but few good pay-cheques.
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  9. The solution, according to economists, activists and many in the design community, is to get smarter about both the design and disposal of materials, and shift responsibility away from local governments and into the hands of manufacturers.
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  10. Unless some enterprising fracking promoter figures out how to elbow his way to the government feed trough, it’s pretty much a given that fracking will shortly turn back into what it was before the current boom: one of several humdrum technologies used to scrape a little extra oil out from mostly depleted oil fields. That, in turn, leaves the field clear for the next overblown “energy revolution” to be rolled out—and my working ghess is that the focus of this upcoming round of energy hype will be renewable energy resources: specifically, attempts to power the electrical grid with sun and wind.

    In a way, that’s convenient, because we don’t have to wonder whether the two little problems with biofuels and fracking also apply to this application of solar and wind power. That’s already been settled; the research was done quite a while ago, and the answer is yes.

    To begin with, the numbers are just as problematic for solar and wind power as they were for biofuels and fracking. Examples abound: real world experience with large-scale solar electrical generation systems, for example, show dismal net energy returns; the calculations of how much energy can be extracted from wind that have been used to prop up windpower are up to two orders of magnitude too high; more generally, those researchers who have taken the time to crunch the numbers—I’m thinking here especially, though not only, of Tom Murphy’s excellent site Do The Math—have shown over and over again that for reasons rooted in the hardest of hard physics, renewable energy as a source of grid power can’t live up to the sweeping promises made on its behalf.

    Equally, renewables are by no means as environmentally benign as their more enthusiastic promoters claim. It’s true that they don’t dump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as burning fossil fuels do—and my more perceptive readers may already have noted, by the way, the extent to which talk about the very broad range of environmental blowbacks from modern industrial technologies has been supplanted by a much narrower focus on greenhouse gas-induced anthropogenic global warming, as though this is the only issue that matters—but the technologies needed to turn sun and wind into grid electricity involve very large volumes of rare metals, solvents, plastics, and other industrial products that have substantial carbon footprints of their own.

    And of course there are other problems of the same kind.

    It probably also needs to be pointed out that I’m actually very much in favor of renewable energy technologies, and have discussed their importance repeatedly on this blog. The question I’ve been trying to raise, here and elsewhere, isn’t whether or not sun and wind are useful power sources; the question is whether it’s possible to power industrial civilization with them, and the answer is no.

    That doesn’t mean, in turn, that we’ll just keep powering industrial civilization with fossil fuels, or nuclear power, or what have you. Fossil fuels are running short—as oilmen like to say, depletion never sleeps—and nuclear power is a hopelessly uneconomical white-elephant technology that has never been viable anywhere in the world without massive ongoing government subsidies. Other options? They’ve all been tried, and they don’t work either.

    The point that nearly everyone in the debate is trying to evade is that the collection of extravagant energy-wasting habits that pass for a normal middle class lifestyle these days is, in James Howard Kunstler’s useful phrase, an arrangement without a future. Those habits only became possible in the first place because our species broke into the planet’s supply of stored carbon and burnt through half a billion years of fossil sunlight in a wild three-century-long joyride. Now the needle on the gas gauge is moving inexorably toward that threatening letter E, and the joyride is over. It really is as simple as that.
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