2018/11/29: If two-parent families could support themselves with only one parent working outside the home in the past, then something is wrong with “growth” that imposes a de facto need for two incomes.
There needs to be a return to the notion of the oikos, or household, or marriage, as unit, rather than atomized Jane (or as Obama and Orwell both put it, Julia). Matrimony was always intended to be a shared division of labor that would protect the mothers long term interests while raising family. And that marriage needs a rebuttressing by the church in the face of today's pressures.
2018/10/08: The Paris Agreement notes how it will take a little longer for poorer countries to fully decarbonise, raising the bar still further for the UK, USA and other wealthy nations.
To genuinely reduce emissions in line with 2 C of warming requires a transformation in the productive capacity of society, reminiscent of the Marshall Plan. The labour and resources used to furnish the high-carbon lifestyles of the top 20% will need to shift rapidly to deliver a fully decarbonised energy system.
No more second or very large homes, SUVs, business and first-class flights, or very high levels of consumption. Instead, our economy should be building new zero-energy houses, retrofitting existing homes, huge expansion of public transport, and a 4-fold increase in (zero-carbon) electrification.
Sadly, the IPCC fails, again, to address the profound implications of reducing emissions in line with both 1.5 and 2 C. Dress it up however we may wish, climate change is ultimately a rationing issue.
The technological and social change the world needs dwarfs anything that’s come before in history.
we aren’t going to geoengineer our way out of this mess—cutting emissions is our number one priority. But as this new report makes abundantly clear, the disease we’ve unleashed on this planet is only getting worse, and we aren’t doing nearly enough to find the cure.
To correct course and avoid 1.5 C, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, we’ll need to cut emissions by half before 2030, and go carbon-neutral by 2050, the report says. That gives us three decades to transform our energy production into something unrecognizable, with renewable energy galore combined with carbon capture techniques like the bolstering of forests, and maybe even sucking the stuff out of the atmosphere and trapping it underground. We’ll have to change our behavior as individuals, too. Meaning, we’re looking at unprecedented change, what is essentially the restructuring of civilization.
2018/09/30: growth is slow, but ruin is rapid.
The basic ideas in the behavior of complex systems are always the same, especially when dealing with collapses: complex systems are complex because they are dominated by the mechanism we call "feedback." Because of feedback effects, a large structure may collapse when just one of the elements that compose them fails. That may lead to the failure of the elements that surround it. These, in turn, cause the failure of other elements of the system, and so it goes. The result is what we call an "avalanche" and, as Seneca said, "ruin is rapid".
Modeling s not a question of predicting the future, it is a question of understanding it.
I am writing another book that should be called "The Seneca Strategy" -- it should be published by Springer in 2019. This second book is more a "collapse manual" that can be used to manage collapses: that is, it explains how to avoid being destroyed by collapses, how to minimize damage, and even how to profit from collapses (hint: have your enemies collapse first!). What I said in my first book remains valid: collapse is not a bug, it is a feature of the universe!
2018-10-01: Governments from California to China and South Korea -- even Donald Trump's Washington -- have taken steps that will make battery power more ubiquitous. There's just one hitch to this battery boom: The world isn't making nearly enough. All of the new demand from North America, Europe and Asia is constrained at the moment by a market that remains heavily dependent on a few producers. Data on the global supply of batteries is hard to come by, but close observers of the industry have noticed evidence of the shortfall. "We've never seen such demand," said Yayoi Sekine, a New York-based analyst at Bloomberg NEF. "But the supply is struggling to keep up."
Oddly, however, lithium-ion battery-rack prices have continued their annual decline, even in the face of constrained supply and expectations of ever-growing demand. To get a clear sense of the near future, consider battery-powered cars: Today, there are more than 3 million electric vehicles on the road worldwide; by 2025, Volkswagen AG alone plans to build as many as 3 million electric vehicles per year. Those vehicle batteries -- in addition to storage batteries for homes, businesses and utilities -- will have to come from somewhere.
2018/01/31: To focus on energy efficiency is to make present ways of life non-negotiable. However, transforming present ways of life is key to mitigating climate change and decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.
Treating energy efficiency as a fuel and measuring its success in terms of “avoided energy” is pretty weird. For one thing, it is about not using a fuel that does not exist.
Why is it that advances in energy efficiency do not result in a reduction of energy demand? Most critics focus on so-called “rebound effects”, which have been described since the nineteenth century. According to the rebound argument, improvements in energy efficiency often encourage greater use of the services which energy helps to provide. For example, the advance of solid state lighting (LED), which is six times more energy efficient than old-fashioned incandescent lighting, has not led to a decrease in energy demand for lighting. Instead, it resulted in six times more light.
For example, LED-screens are more energy efficient than LCD-screens, and could therefore reduce the energy use of televisions. However, they also led to the arrival of digital billboards, which are enormous power hogs in spite of their energy efficient components. Finally, money saved through improvements in energy efficiency can also be spent on other energy-intensive goods and services, which is a possibility usually referred to as an indirect rebound effect.
The problem with energy efficiency policies, then, is that they are very effective in reproducing and stabilising essentially unsustainable concepts of service.  Measuring the energy efficiency of cars and tumble driers, but not of bicycles and clotheslines, makes fast but energy-intensive ways of travel or clothes drying non-negotiable, and marginalises much more sustainable alternatives. According to Shove:
Programmes of energy efficiency are politically uncontroversial precisely because they take current interpretations of ‘service’ for granted… The unreflexive pursuit of efficiency is problematic not because it doesn’t work or because the benefits are absorbed elsewhere, as the rebound effect suggests, but because it does work – via the necessary concept of equivalence of services – to sustain, perhaps escalate, but never undermine… increasingly energy intensive ways of life.
2018/sep/26: There may be more bicycles but there will also be more planes. We’re still in denial about the scale of the threat to the planet.
Beyond a certain point, economic growth – the force that lifted people out of poverty, and cured deprivation, squalor and disease – tips us back into those conditions.
how come oil production, for the first time in history, is about to hit 100m barrels a day? How come the oil industry expects demand to climb until the 2030s? How is it that in Germany, whose energy transition (Energiewende) was supposed to be a model for the world, protesters are being beaten up by police as they try to defend the 12,000-year-old Hambacher forest from an opencast mine extracting lignite – the dirtiest form of coal? Why have investments in Canadian tar sands – the dirtiest source of oil – doubled in a year?
The answer is, growth. There may be more electric vehicles on the world’s roads, but there are also more internal combustion engines. Given that economic growth, in nations that are already rich enough to meet the needs of all, requires an increase in pointless consumption, it is hard to see how it can ever be decoupled from the assault on the living planet.
It doesn’t matter how many good things we do: preventing climate breakdown means ceasing to do bad things.
Electric vehicles have driven a new resource rush, particularly for lithium, that is already polluting rivers and trashing precious wild places. Clean growth is as much of an oxymoron as clean coal.
2018/09/21: it is impossible to achieve absolute decoupling of resource use from GDP on a global scale, even with rapid efficiency gains and aggressive taxes on resource extraction. This is the conclusion reached by literally every existing study that has been conducted on the matter (you can follow links to the original research here). The reason is simple: the rate of decoupling is outstripped by the normal rate of GDP growth, even in high-efficiency scenarios. To make matters worse, there are physical limits to resource efficiency, and as we approach them the rate of improvement slows down, giving yet more force to the scale effect of GDP growth.
Unlike resource use, GDP can (thankfully) be dramatically decoupled from carbon emissions. But this solves only one dimension of our ecological poly-crisis. Even if we magically switched to a completely clean and renewable energy system tomorrow, we would be no closer to reversing our overshoot of all the other critical planetary boundaries: biodiversity collapse, chemical loading, deforestation, etc.
What are we going to do with all that clean energy? The same things we’re doing with fossil fuels: raze forests, intensify agricultural extraction, produce mountains of stuff, send waste to landfill – and do all of this at an ever-increasing rate, because our economic system is programmed to require endless expansion.
I have never said that poor countries shouldn’t grow – nor has anyone in this field of study (which Noah would know had he read any of the relevant literature). I have simply said that we can’t continue with aggregate global growth. What we need, then, is a fairer distribution of global income, with much more of it going to poor countries (and poor people within rich countries).
Is it politically impossible? Well, it would certainly require a struggle. But it’s far less impossible than Noah’s preferred alternative, namely, to transcend the laws of physics.
the real cause of lower fertility isn’t higher GDP but rather better girls’ education. GDP is a confounding factor.
While poor countries may need some GDP growth, that should never – for any nation, rich or poor – be the objective as such. The objective should be to improve human well-being: better health, better education, better housing, happiness, etc.
there is no evidence that relying on a switch to services, in and of itself, reduces the material throughput of the global economy.
2018-09-19: In the study, much of the assumed transformation is achieved by near-universal digitalization. The authors focus on end-use energy services, suggesting that most of these could be delivered far more efficiently using microelectronics. Household and commercial electricity use could be slashed as multiple pieces of equipment are foregone for a smart phone—whose 5 Watt power consumption would substitute for 450 Watts of consumption from cameras, calculators, TVs, game consoles, DVRs, radios, scanners, tablets, stereos, alarm clocks, GPS, weather stations, video cameras, etc. Some of these uses have already been taken over by smart phones. Moreover, the authors assume that household appliances will all be connected to the Internet of Things, to allow for their optimal operation and seamless availability for demand response.
What’s not mentioned in the Grubler scenario is that universal digitalization would require a robust, dependable electricity supply and electronic communications network. This would entail substantial new infrastructure and electricity demand to accommodate data transmission, storage, and processing for nearly every piece of equipment on Earth. It would also require a great deal of copper. And it would all have to work together seamlessly 24/7.
but... industrial uses of energy (especially for high-temperature process like cement making) will be difficult to de-carbonize, and such processes figure into nearly all supply chains. The Grubler scenario excludes aviation and shipping from consideration.
2'18/09/16: For the past seven decades, GDP growth has stood as the primary economic objective of European nations. But as our economies have grown, so has our negative impact on the environment. We are now exceeding the safe operating space for humanity on this planet, and there is no sign that economic activity is being decoupled from resource use or pollution at anything like the scale required. Today, solving social problems within European nations does not require more growth. It requires a fairer distribution of the income and wealth that we already have.
Growth is also becoming harder to achieve due to declining productivity gains, market saturation, and ecological degradation. If current trends continue, there may be no growth at all in Europe within a decade. Right now the response is to try to fuel growth by issuing more debt, shredding environmental regulations, extending working hours, and cutting social protections. This aggressive pursuit of growth at all costs divides society, creates economic instability, and undermines democracy.
2018/09/12: From crops to cattle, developing and refining living organisms through selective breeding is a 10,000-year-old practice. Industrial fermentation is a well-honed tool for converting biology into foodstuffs or commodity compounds. Major global industries routinely transform biomass into flat-pack furniture, cotton T-shirts, and vanilla flavourings.
However, biodesign fans are today repackaging biodesign, describing it as an ecological remedy, a technological breakthrough, an economic opportunity, and a manufacturing and industrial revolution. For this issue, we question whether biodesign can deliver the accompanying social transformation that those dreams imply, and explore how it might otherwise begin to challenge modern industrial, social, and economic paradigms.
Whether it’s Bolt Threads’ biosilk plastic, other companies’ promises of lab-grown “clean” meat ousting ecologically-damaging factory farming, or the development of less toxic textile-dyeing processes to mitigate the impact of fast fashion, drop-in replacements serve to make us feel better for our polluting lifestyles. However, what remains unresolved is the space in which these alternatives still operate in—the capitalist system that demands continual growth—no matter the costs. The over-consumption that industrial design is predicated upon today is under increasing scrutiny.
By designing with biology, start-ups like Bolt Threads can potentially challenge how consumer products are made, their life cycles, and enhance the performance of materials that could improve product lifespans.
Scaling these technologies to reduce environmental impact, these new bioindustrialists still need to access the same instruments of capital and consumption that inhibit systemic change. Herein lies the uncomfortable paradox: whose role is it to link new industrial processes with systemic economic, social, and political change?
2014/03/24: economic growth has already ended in the sense that the growth that continues is now uneconomic; it costs more than it is worth at the margin and makes us poorer rather than richer.
We still call it economic growth, or simply “growth” in the confused belief that growth must always be economic. I contend that we have reached the economic limit to growth but we don’t know it, and desperately hide the fact by faulty national accounting, because growth is our idol and to stop worshiping it is anathema.
some say that if our empirical measure of growth is GDP, based on voluntary buying and selling of final goods and services in free markets, then that guarantees that growth always consists of goods, not “bads.” The free market does not price bads—but nevertheless bads are inevitably produced as joint products along with goods.
Since bads are unpriced, GDP accounting cannot subtract them—instead it registers the additional production of anti-bads (which do have a price) and counts them as goods. For example, we do not subtract the cost of pollution as a bad, yet we add the value of pollution cleanup as a good. This is asymmetric accounting. In addition we count the consumption of natural capital (depletion of mines, wells, aquifers, forests, fisheries, or topsoil, for instance) as if it were income rather than capital drawdown—a colossal accounting error.
Paradoxically, therefore, GDP, whatever else it may measure, is also the best statistical index we have of the aggregate of pollution, depletion, congestion, and loss of biodiversity. Economist Kenneth Boulding suggested, with tongue only a little bit in cheek, that we relabel it Gross Domestic Cost.
2017/01/10: When we added up the replacement cost of all of the city's infrastructure -- an expense we would anticipate them cumulatively experiencing roughly once a generation -- it came to $32 billion. When we added up the entire tax base of the city, all of the private wealth sustained by that infrastructure, it came to just $16 billion. This is fatal.
It's obvious to me why this is fatal, but for those of you for whom it is less clear, let me elaborate.
To maintain just the roads and drainage systems that have already been built, the family in a median house would need to have their taxes increase by $3,300 per year.
Thus, Lafayette has a predicament. Infrastructure was supposed to serve them. Now they serve it.
The way this happened is pretty simple. At Strong Towns, we call it the Growth Ponzi Scheme. Through a combination of federal incentives, state programs and private capital, cities were able to rapidly grow by expanding horizontally. This provided the local government with the immediate revenues that come from new growth -- permit fees, utility fees, property tax increases, sales tax -- and, in exchange, the city takes on the long term responsibility of servicing and maintaining all the new infrastructure. The money comes in handy in the present while the future obligation is, well....a long time in the future.
All this infrastructure is a bad investment. America needs a different model of growth and development.
Economists are pointing to Japan, which has been trapped in low growth and deflation, as a dark vision of the future for the West.
2017/11/22: I want to tell you a story of economics, love, and death. Kind of a Romeo and Juliet parable for the modern age, where the protagonist are societies, not people, who made a kind of suicide pact
Of course overpopulation is a problem, a huge problem. Look around. I live in one of the most crowded pieces of real-estate in the world.
Reading the previous post you may have thought: Okay, so perma-circularity is about circularity and permanence -- about recycling, reusing, re-manufacturing, repairing, and reducing -- but what does it consist in? Isn't it some sort of neo-primitivist pipe dream? Do we really need to reduce? Why have zero or near-zero growth? Surely engineers nowadays are
We need a genuinely circular metabolism, and that can only be a self-maintaining circle - one that doesn't spiral outward.
The referendum shows how far Britain's economic failures have divided the country, but Brexit will only make them harder to address