Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Facing the truth can be hard

“Sometimes facing up to the truth is just too hard. When the facts are distressing it is easier to reframe or ignore them. Around the world only a few have truly faced up to the facts about global warming. Apart form the climate ‘sceptics’, most people do not disbelieve what the climate scientists have been saying about the calamities expected to befall us. But accepting intellectually is not the same as accepting emotionally the possibility that the world as we know it is heading for a horrible end. It’s the same with our own deaths; we all ‘accept’ that we will die, but it is only when death is imminent that we confront the true meaning of our mortality.”

- Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species: why we resist the truth
about climate change
(Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2010), viii.

These are the opening words of Hamilton's new book. In case you hadn't picked it up from the title, it's no exercise in optimism. Hamilton believes that we have largely missed our opportunity to respond in time to climate change and now all we can do is minimise the damage and salvage what we can. However, reaching that conclusion involves a willingness to face the full scale of the threat rather than watering it down through a variety of coping mechanisms.

There are three important claims in this quote. First, Hamilton believes that "the world as we know it is heading for a horrible end". It is important to distinguish between the planet and the world. The planet will survive, life will go on, but the human world, our societies and contemporary globalised industrial civilisation, will not survive in anything like their present form. This prediction may or may not be true, but our ability to determine its truth will be partially affected by our openness to considering the claim closely rather than dismissing it out of hand.

Second, Hamilton points out that it is quite possible to accept this prediction in the abstract, to know something of what the likely implications of climate change will be, and yet for this knowledge to remain at arm's length, disconnected from our emotional life. We "get" it, but many of us have not had what Hamilton calls the "oh shit" moment, where we really get it: "We can no longer pretend the impacts of warming are too far off to worry about, or that the scientists must be exaggerating. We realise that our apathy is rooted in fear or that our hopes for a political upheaval are no more than wishful thinking. We concede that no technological marvel will arrive in time."

Third, Hamilton draws an analogy between facing personal and social mortality. Just as we evade really facing the former through a variety of distraction and coping mechanisms, so there are analogous strategies at work to keep us from facing the depth of our current predicament.

Where can we draw the strength to face the truth about ourselves and our situation?


byron smith said...

“There have been any number of books and reports over the years explaining just how ominous the future looks and how little time we have left to act. This book is about why we have ignored those warnings. It is a book about the frailties of the human species, the perversity of our institutions and the psychological dispositions that have set us on a self-destructive path. It is about our strange obsessions, our penchant for avoiding the facts, and, especially, our hubris. It is the story of a battle within us between the forces that should have caused us to protect the Earth – our capacity to reason and our connection to Nature – and those that in the end have won out – our greed, materialism and alienation from Nature. And it about the twenty-first century consequences of these failures.” (page x)

Anonymous said...

i don't know if you or jess have time to read novels at the moment, but i've just finished reading The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson. it's a terrifying book about the end of the world as we know it (partly for environmental reasons, partly social and economic), and also deeply pessimistic about the ability of humanity to change. not very uplifting, but very powerful. i recommend it.

ps nice photo

byron smith said...

Hey Joel, thanks for the recommendation. I am very interested in the imaginative responses to such threats in "disaster" novels and films, though many/most of the examples I've found are too enamored with a sudden "end of the world" scenario that plays out over days or weeks, rather than a more gradual decline/transformation (involving a series of "shocks") of society that I actually think is more likely. In a sense, I think many authors and screenwriters are still using a nuclear holocaust paradigm, though I think the realities of ecological degradation point to a different kind of reality that may actually be more difficult for being less dramatic and direct.

Anonymous said...


1. As Christians, do we have to have the angst of Hamilton? In reading Ecclesiastes, aren't we meant to recognise the sheer un-know-ability of the future, even though we should still act ethically with global warming, resource depletion, and ecocide in mind? Gordon Cheng and I fought this fight on Sydney Anglicans many times over, because he seems to believe the ambiguous nature of the future means we shouldn't 'worry', which in his paradigm seems to be 'don't even bother to care'. I'm not going that far, not at all! But I am saying that even after we 'get' the dire possibilities of our situation, never, ever pretend to be God and make out we know the future. That can make the world of difference to one's state of mind, and now lets me get a good night sleep and enjoy a movie now and then.

2. I've been there, done that, and survived it to become an optimist again. I was ill with peak oil anxiety and my child's cancer. Every waking moment, from waking up with stress-induced heart palpitations at 5am, through to my last desperate emails to various peakoil activists at 1am again the next morning, was filled with mind-numbing terror.

Is that the way we are to live? Because if one maintains that too long, it can easily become the way we despair and die.

Please read "The moment of Darkness" about young Tasman McKee, who after reading Life After The Oil Crash and being on the ROEOZ email list for a year committed suicide. He was not as depressed and anxiety ridden as I was. I've spoken with the father, who wanted to interview me about my own state of mind in the first few years of peak oil fear. Geoff McKee basically says Tas made a cold, calculated, logical choice from his perspective. One line in his sucide note was that he couldn't participate in this 'suicide civilisation' with a good conscience any longer. Is that the road we want to take?

Anonymous said...

3. I'm convinced we can lick climate change if we want to.

Paul Ehrlich says he's not even convinced that global warming is the most serious threat we face, and that the accumulated toxins and invasive species placing accumulative stress on our ecosystems might be worse.

$50 billion dollars a year could run the sulphur sun-shield that would cool the earth. That's chicken feed in a global economy of $70 trillion dollars! The figure of $50 billion dollars a year really stood out for me as a neon-light, because it is one of the reasons I feel we should abolish the Australian States and just have a National / Local government system with only 2 tiers of government (and a much stronger, tidier, more democratic constitution). We'd save $50 billion a year each year after Abolishing the States. (According to Dr Mark Drummond of Beyond Federation).

I raise this left-of-field topic to make one point about how cheap the sulphur option is: if Australians had the referendum we need to have about abolishing our superfluous, interfering, redundant, expensive State governments, then if we paid the same amount of tax to fund the 'sulphur silver bullet' even little ol' Australia could pause global warming - and not even notice it financially!

So if Australia could afford it, how much more the governments of the world? The "sulphur gun" is not pretty: and has some repercussions. (It might turn the sky white instead of blue! Yuk!)

But it would give the world time to roll out the nuclear power plants, electric cars, fast rail systems, the alternative jet fuels, biochar production to fix Co2 in the soil, New Urbanism, etc.

We already have the technology, we don't need any new technologies! (But it is increasing exponentially all the time).

Another horrible scenario I wouldn't wish on the world, but one that pauses global warming a decade or so, is any significant nuclear exchange. According to the latest studies, if just India and Pakistan exchanged a mere 50 nukes the size of Hiroshima (tiny tactical nukes), then just this exchange would have a similar effect to the sulphur particles... and induce global dimming and prevent global warming for a decade or so.

So even the worst nightmares of some nations might give The World As We Know It some breathing space. My point in discussing these horrible scenarios is that we don't know the future, and what seems like TEOTWAWKI to some might be the salvation of others.

We do not know the future, and I think there are times we should rejoice in this fact. We are just creatures, not the creator. And, as Ecclesiastes says, there are times when we should just rejoice in our God and pass the pizza.

(Kirk Patson's quick guide to Ecclesiastes from KEC. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Last thought:

4. So I guess my question would be, is a Christian response to Hamilton to really be so gullible and just accept that this guy knows the future? He seems to be attempting to Bulverise anyone that disagrees with his conclusions.

I'd prefer to have a discussion about how we prepare emotionally with a variety of scenarios that might? unfold, rather than the scenarios some doomer has said are inevitable.

But that's just my Denialism talking. ;-) (According to Hamilton's Bulverism, anyway).

byron smith said...

Great comments Dave. Thanks!

I don't think Hamilton is claiming to know the future, nor is he telling us to do nothing. He is quite adamant about that. Remember, this quote is the opening paragraph of a book where he has a great deal more to say. He is just getting people's attention here. He doesn't claim to know the future about his own death either, but he's not optimistic that he'll live to 140, I presume. And if one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it becomes prudent to consider the high likelihood of a much more imminent death. Such a diagnosis doesn't mean we should sit down in despair and simply wait for death (or speed its arrival), far from it! But he wants us to feel the emotional weight of the diagnosis and work out what a good response to such a situation is.

I'm obviously not with Hamilton at every point of his book, and being a Christian does make a huge difference (NB Hamilton does end up in some theology/spirituality towards the end of the book - which is quite fascinating in itself), but it is part of the work of my current project to articulate just what difference it does make. I think I've identified three false paths: denial (including belief that God will save us, or that God holds the future and so we don't need to think about it), despair (sit back and wait for the end, or reach for the cyanide) and desperation (lose sight of the bigger picture that there are things worse than death and so accept any solution that is offered, no matter the cost; a.k.a. survivalism).

The point is that despair or desperation are not the only options once you get past denial. It is possible in the power of the Spirit to face the truth (with suitable humility about not knowing the future yet without false and illusory hopes) and continue to love. I think that grief is a very important part of what it means to love at a stage like that. But also doing things that show you believe that God can take even deadly ends and bring unexpected new life.

byron smith said...

As I've said many times before, I don't think climate change is the greatest threat we face (though it is a serious one).

And so there are some "solutions" where the "cure" might be worse than the illness.

(NB The sulphur gun, apart from changing the colour the skies, has some much nastier drawbacks, as I'm sure you're aware: possibly disrupting/suppressing precipitation (shutting down the Monsoons?); masking the symptoms but not addressing the cause, so that it has to be continued until carbon levels are low again, which, if it is used as an excuse for a slow response, could take centuries; by not addressing the cause (CO2 levels); it also does nothing about ocean acidification, which could turn out to be as significant a problem as climate change in the first place.)

So, to repeat: Hamilton is not claiming to know the future. But he wants us to face our present situation with integrity, and not hide behind half-truths and greenwash. To do that, I believe, requires spiritual resources that Hamilton can't offer, but can be one of the ways that the church can serve a world facing an uncertain and likely quite bleak future.

Christine said...

Interesting discussion. I recently attended a conference on climate change as a moral issue, and one of the speakers reminded us that the result of both denial and despair is inaction. Between denial and despair lies hope - "things are too dire for despair" we were told. While Clive Hamilton's words are true,I know there are millions of people on this planet who are concerned about this issue and are actively working on a different outcome, and I choose to believe that, against all the odds, we can have hope.

Anonymous said...

Yes Christine, I think it is that choice towards action and hope that can make all the difference psychologically and of course materially. As Sam Norton helpfully points out, doomerism can quickly become a faith-based-system with a cult like outlook.

A friend of mine, Dr Greg Clarke, calls it being an "Apocalyptic Outsider" which much in common with cults like the Branch Davidian's in Waco, Texax.

As I say on my blog (which I am currently restructuring, so I won't bother with a link):

The characteristics that mark the Apocalyptic Outsider are:

* a tendency to gloat smugly over the coming destruction of civilization.
* a judgmental attitude to the uninitiated (and even non-Doomer Peakniks are scolded for their inferior position.)
* a tendency to kick back and enjoy esoteric discussions over the end of civilization — rather than actually doing anything about it
* very harsh criticism of those who do try to mitigate peak oil
* can be obstructive, critical, destroy group moral, and is ultimately attention seeking.

byron smith said...

Yes, I entirely agree that nihilistic despair is enervating. Though I think that desperate activism can sometimes be just as destructive. I am no critic of activism and believe in (pray for, work at) both political and personal repentance. But there is a kind of desperation that can sometimes come from seeing survival (personal, cultural, economic) as the highest goal, which can lead people into accepting whatever "solution" appears closest at hand. My concern is that this too (like denial and despair) can mute the critical faculties and lead to poor thinking and negative outcomes. That is, it remains the case that some solutions might be worse than the disease and we need to be able to evaluate this without desperation.

byron smith said...

PS I like the phrase Apocalyptic Outsider. Has Greg published anything using this or has he just used it in conversation?

Anonymous said...

It was a conversation on a break from Easter Convention, up in the Blue Mountains. I was in a particularly bad way, as the full weight of 'peak everything' had been seared across my mind. It was almost as if I could feel the earth screaming, and see 'through the Matrix' not into the code of the world, but the fragile energy systems of our man-made world. In my view, everything I loved was going down in flames. This was not just some dry abstraction of concern for 'saving the whales', but wondering whether or not the next 5 years would see me in a world without food, or clean water that came out of a tap, or law and order to call on in an emergency.

I was sick with it. If that's the truth (that Mad Max is inevitable) then I challenge anyone to face it calmly.

But here we are, 5 years later, and still driving, still eating, still enjoying the good things of life.

What happened to the prophecies of doom I used to listen to, some of whom were predicting large scale oil wars by now?

This is why I don't talk about 'facing the truth' about collapse, but limiting the damage and managing the risk. For we don't know the future.

EG: When desperately scrambling around for various answers, I distinctly remember one conversation back on "Sydney Peak Oil" that addressed the range issues of batteries. I brainstormed and simply suggested a battery swap mechanism! The doomers there laughed me out of that conversation.

A Battery Swap taxi program just opened in Tokyo, and these taxi's work 24/7. There's no time for these cabs to sit and charge, and so they will always need to do the battery swap and will never have the luxury of stopping to charge for 5 hours.

My point? If I can guess at something that bizarre, which even the CEO of Better Place admits smacks of "changing the horses for the King's messenger!", and then smart people in companies and governments can come up with the idea on their own, improve on it, and dish it up to society, then there's hope that the other positive trends I can see could also be catapulted forwards and deployed in an emergency.

We don't know we'll make it, but isn't that the point with the whole of life? Isn't that why, in an Ecclesiastes sense, we can "eat and drink" and thank God just for our work and for the day?

The future has some very grim possibilities and we also have some very sad present realities (extinctions, wars, poverty, mass hunger, ecosystem destruction, ocean death that the new documentary "End of the line" portrays).

But each is a trend that can be reversed. (Apart from species extinction, which is the most serious problem in my eyes).

byron smith said...

Dave, I appreciate that anxiety can make one sick, and that there is a deep and diseased nihilism amongst some of those who discuss peak oil and so on. But I also think that it is possible to think that decline is far more likely than not and yet not despair. That is why I am doing this PhD, to try to articulate that.

The future has some very grim possibilities and we also have some very sad present realities (extinctions, wars, poverty, mass hunger, ecosystem destruction, ocean death that the new documentary "End of the line" portrays).
I actually just started watching End of the line last night. Grim indeed.

But each is a trend that can be reversed. (Apart from species extinction, which is the most serious problem in my eyes).
Well, perhaps even extinctions can be reversed with sufficient genetic capabilities. But the point of nearly all the trends is that reversing them is far more difficult, expensive, time-consuming and so on than causing the damage in the first place, which was the point of this post. For instance, it may take thousands of years for anthropogenic GHGs to be scrubbed from the atmosphere. And if we were facing one of these issues, perhaps we could repair the damage and move on. But we are not. We are facing more than a dozen of them simultaneously. I haven't watched the second half of End of the line yet, but I get the impression that it is only going to focus on overfishing, whereas the life of the oceans also faces dire threats from rising sea temps, increasing acidity, from pollution, invasive species, melting ice, changing currents and so on. These problems are wickedly complex and interconnecting. If we need to reduce global fish catches to prevent fisheries collapse, we need to do it at the same time as significantly reducing protein intake from meat consumption, and while we face expensive bills from energy transition, and so on.

I am not trying to depress you again, or to deny the fact that opportunities to respond well exist. And nor by any means am I advocating a passive doomerism. I am not telling you to stop advocating nuclear or to hang up your activist's keyboard. The world will not "end" in five years or in fifty years. But the challenges to our current way of life are significant, generally worsening and not easily solved. I am not (by any means!) an opponent of hope. But I don't want to push what I see as a false hope that the coming decades are likely to be on much the same growth trajectory as the previous ones, only with windmills/nuclear/batteries.

Anonymous said...

And I for one am incredibly grateful that you are devoting your time to that question in Phd form, because it is a BIG question that many ministers shy away from!

You may indeed be right about the 'degradation' of our planet. I don't know whether we'll be able to reverse engineer the Tassie Tiger or Dodo, and even if we could, would it be a synthetic version, and what original DNA clues to other solutions would we have missed?

But I do know that we have the technologies now to offer everyone on earth a comfortable standard of living. We just need the political willpower to use them. Nothing needs to be invented, it just needs to be built.

Check the board of directors at the Science Council for Global Initiatives...and what they claim can be achieved.

If this is true, then surely conservation moves back to evaluating how to protect species and ecosystems intact, and back to questions of how to 'save the whales' (and soil fungi, earthworms, ocean life... etc etc etc).

This is an interesting discussion because I'm currently rewriting my rather doomer blog to reflect my new thinking on the *potential* for either doom or delight. I would not be surprised if in 30 years we had a viable, self-supporting base on Mars, or if we had nuked ourselves back to the Stone Age. Each are both equally viable futures in my mind, on the extreme bookends of a range of more moderate and more probable stories.

byron smith said...

Check the board of directors at the Science Council for Global Initiatives...and what they claim can be achieved.

If this is true, then surely conservation moves back to evaluating how to protect species and ecosystems intact, and back to questions of how to 'save the whales' (and soil fungi, earthworms, ocean life... etc etc etc).

If it is true, then why does this group need to have its hand out for PayPal donations?

My point is that technology is not the only barrier. Even if I accept the claims made by proponents of the nuclear industry (and as I have said before, I am not ruling them out), sunk costs, entrenched ideology and garden variety apathy and ignorance provide more than sufficient inertia to take us into the ditch (or down the bumpy hill). But more than that, the scale of infrastructure that would be required to be built to achieve the goals of the SCGI means that "we can accomplish these goals now" may be technically true, but it is not true economically or politically. And as for whether it is actually technically true, I am no expert, but Wikipedia is agnostic: "No municipal-scale waste disposal plasma arc facilities have as yet been constructed, so considerable technological and budgetary uncertainties remain." Also, am I right that there are currently zero completed and operational integral fast reactors (4th gen nuclear) in existence? I am not saying we shouldn't try building them, just wondering whether the website is a little too breathless in their claims.

And the water issue is to be solved with nuclear powered desalination, plus pumping it inland. More infrastructure.

And all this infrastructure is to be built with what money? And at the same time as rebuilding infrastructure damaged by power powerful storms, securing more infrastructure from rising sea waters, paying developing nations to stop deforestation, massively reducing the fishing industry, and so on.

Nuclear may be incredibly useful and important, and it may be worth devoting time advocating, but it is not a silver bullet panacea for our ecological woes.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but nuclear *is* a silver bullet for our *energy woes*.

Tom Blee's chapter 7 on the Plasma recycler is one of the most incredible things I've ever read. I am definitely going to be spending some time looking into his claims. This must have been written before 2009, as he mentions smaller scale Plasma recyclers being used and the plans for the first large scale plasma recyclers in 2009.

He basically lays out a plan for the oil companies not to go bankrupt after peak oil, but to start making their petro-chemical products from all the syngas we'd get by plasma recycling ALL our waste into:
* syngas (which can be turned into everything from jet-fuel to ethanol for motor bikes)
* solid waste streams of molten silicate materials which can be 'woven' into rock-wool, which is apparently like fibreglass.

Don't bother sorting your rubbish ever again, as EVERYTHING you ever use gets plasma recycled, the metals removed, and used as new construction materials, energy sources, petro-chemical feedstocks, and even carbon sequestration if we want to.

Took me about 25 minutes to read, but I was tired.

Oh, lastly, IFR's have been used before but with much older technologies when certain problems had not been solved. They tell me that the technical problems have been solved, and GE even have a plan ready to go, the S-Prism.


They remain illegal because a previous USA government decided to ban breeding plutonium, when actually you can't use IFR waste to make a bomb... it's not pure enough.

byron smith said...

More on geoengineering and problems with a "sulphur gun".

Anonymous said...

If the following is true it will force us into action!

Green Car Congress: Study Concludes Peak Coal Will Occur Close to 2011.

Anonymous said...

Hi Byron,
If you are into novels about various shocks and declines then Bruce Sterling is a must. Bruce is not just a sci-fi author but has long been a futurist and environmental activist. This is the same Bruce Sterling that called Worldchanging.com "

"Caryatids" is one such novel, set in 2060 after various climate disasters have hit Australia, China, and America. It's a vision of the world, and so follows the story of 4 cloned sisters (who all hate each other because they hate being reminded that they were the products of an illegal and rare clone project!)

So while there is some super-advanced biotech and interesting new human computer interfaces, there are also many disasters. At one point it seemed to indicate that the sky had been darkened by China letting off hydrogen bombs to try and reverse global warming! Talk about desperate geoengineering!

It was an interesting read, but not as captivating as some of his other books. I found flitting from one sister to another effectively divided up the narrative into 3 chunks. (One sister only plays a cameo appearance).

I was not sure whether the main protagonist at the time was actually the 'hero' of my story or not! I couldn't really relate to them. Maybe I'm getting soft in my reading habits and want a more 'traditional' hero. These were messed up girls!

So while not entirely as satisfying as a story where I traditionally like the 'hero to defeat the bad guys and overcomes all opposition with their integrity intact', this was definitely a haunting look at a future that could be entirely possible. And entirely complicated. And messy. And full of hope and despair. It's a mixed bag.

Lastly, and I raise this with some trepidation: have you read "The Road"?

byron smith said...

Dave - Peak Coal in 2011? Wow, that's quite a call. Though I note that the study refers only to "existing coal fields". Does that mean coal fields already under production or coal fields already explored and understood?

Thanks for the recommendation on Caryatids (though you weren't selling it very hard!). I do have some interest in such literature, though in my experience there is too much of a morbid fascination with apocalyptic nightmares and not enough imaginative exploration of a "long decline", which I think more likely. In many ways, a long decline is less sexy and so less "attractive" than a skies turning to blood scenario like The Road (which I have seen, but not read, though I've heard I ought to read it as the movie was quite different). Someone has suggested that perhaps Children of Men actually best captures something of the mood of a society in decline (even if the reason for the decline is not a highly realistic fear) and certainly that was my experience of the film: I was largely bored by the foreground (plot & characters) but fascinated by the background (setting and depiction of society).

So to return to The Road, while it was an interesting study of the place of love, trust and loyalty in a bleak and hopeless world, as a thought-experiment for what the future might look like I thought it was somewhat escapist as it actually oversimplifies the likely future moral landscape.

Anonymous said...

So while the cause of "The Road" is fairly instantaneous, the long term effects are incredibly bleak.

However, I wonder about some of the details. Would fallout levels really be so bad that forests died and remained dead even years after the event? Or maybe I misunderstood... maybe it was the nuclear winter that was killing trees in their part of the world?

I liked your description of "Children of Men", as again the main characters were... doing what, exactly? And why were we to care about them? How was I to sympathise with them? Even the fact of the 'miracle' of a newly pregnant women was kind of silly, because no explanation had accompanied the sterility of the human population in the first place.

Suspension of disbelief sometimes has to be enabled.

byron smith said...

Yes, I'm not sure that we're really meant to be that concerned about the mechanics of either the unnamed holocaust in The Road or the unexplained loss of fertility in Children of Men. You're right that having some clues that help the suspension of disbelief can remove potential distractions.

byron smith said...

A good review of Requiem for a Species.

Anonymous said...

A nice review. I have one problem with the argument though.
A unilateral deployment of geoengineering techniques is a frightening prospect and should be pre-empted by international agreement.

Frightening it may be, but not permanently so. The cheap 'sulfur gun' I keep mentioning has the advantage of being temporary. If there proved to be extremely negative consequences we could just pull the plug, stop the jets dumping sulfur, and the atmosphere quickly cleans itself.

The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling briefly mentions that the sky is an ugly colour because the Chinese found global warming so horrific they detonated a bunch of h-bombs to kick up some dust.

Now that's desperate!

byron smith said...

I'm a fan of geo-engineering through afforestation, roof whitening (which is also an obvious and cheap form of energy efficiency, actually, and probably has a bigger impact through that route than directly through radiation reflected), more research into carbon trees and am open to carbon capture and sequestration (though sceptical of the spin often put on it and aware that it is far from the cheapest way of limiting CO2). But the sulphur option is truly dangerous. It entirely fails to deal with ocean acidification, which may turn out to be the most damaging effect of our carbon emissions; it significantly increases the complexity of the geopolitical sphere, and is open to abuse; it can distract from the much more important mitigation efforts (this is true in political reality, even if it is labelled as an emergency measure); it may well disrupt monsoons; it is likely to increase acid rain and overall is a further and hyperbolic expression of industrial humanity's grand experiment with the biosphere. Yes, it could be stopped fairly quickly, but then any time and momentum we'd lost through thinking that it was working and we didn't need to work so hard on mitigation would come bounding back at us in an awful rush. Remember, it's the pace, as much as the scale of change that kills.

Have you read Tainter's book? I think it would be worth your while, as this seems to be a classic example of increasing complexity to preserve the status quo but which simply raises the stakes and makes any shift to simplification more painful.

Anonymous said...

Diversionary comment on reading: Tainter's book has been sitting on my shelf the last 5 years. I never seem to get around to it. (Career changes, business, family life...)

Now if it were part of my Phd I'd definitely devour it! ;-) I was impressed that you'd read both Requiem for a Species and Lovelock. That's a lot of doom to take on. I wasn't aware Lovelock wrote like a cranky old man that just wants to see the world burn!

1. I'm aware of Tainters basic idea from shorter online articles. I agree with your criticism of the 'sulphur gun' as having dangers, especially if some countries see it as an excuse to avoid all the other changes we need.

However, I don't know if the sulphur solution really represents what Tainter is talking about. Maybe if they were going to have to increase the size of the EU budget and bureaucracy by about 4 times in an effort to administer some program, or if they massively increased border patrol to protect Europe from high immigration. That's an investment in administrative complexity.

But the sulphur solution is so *cheap*. It's the last desperate measure to control the climate if it suddenly starts to phase shift in into a super-Greenhouse. Shifting to a low Co2, ecocity world is GREAT! It's like healthy living to slow the onset of disease. The sulfur-gun is more like an ER where the patient's heart has just stopped, so they grab the paddles! "Clear!" BANG!

The sulfur-gun is for emergency use only. Condemning it as 'an investment in complexity' is like rejecting the emergency brake on a train as 'complex'. If the bridge up ahead is out, we're not going to sit back and analyse the brake as just another complex system that is bound to fail in the overall complexity of the failing system we call the train. No! We'll just reach for the handbrake and hope for the best. Maybe we'll stop it in time, or maybe we'll have slowed it enough to jump before the end.

Anonymous said...

A few more comments on favourite topics you raised:
1. Painting roofs white to reflect some high energy wavelengths from the sun and stop them refracting into lower energy heat wavelengths is a good idea... especially if you're building the house and tiles the first time around. (Saves on costs and has a better Life Cycle Analysis than making all the paint to repaint roofs that have *already* been painted.)

However, my sister in law with a Phd in ecocity design would argue that green roofs reduce air conditioning requirements, store water on the roof and prevent runoff and flooding issues in urban areas, and add to biodiversity. She was on Catalyst recently in a short piece detailing all this. So who knows? Some buildings might be strong enough for a Green roof, and others just have a coat of white paint. It's all good.

Anonymous said...

2. I also love the idea of reforestation, for so many reasons.

There's a paper on reforesting inland Australia and the Sahara with a variety of desal technologies, and that this massive geoengineering project would absorb ALL the Co2 we needed. But I wonder if the left hand is speaking to the right hand? I wonder if they know about the Seawater Greenhouse which uses the sun to desalinate water. It grows food in a very water and nutrient efficient manner. It produces 5 times the water it releases. It only requires the energy to pump the seawater, which is minimal indeed compared to traditional desal methods. I should get in touch with these people and see if they've looked into the Seawater Greenhouse method of desal!

And as we know, reforesting certain areas brings back transpiration of groundwaters and DMS (chemical which helps rain drops form) and increases local rainfall, changing the local climate! AND forests are good for biodiversity, locking Co2 away in beautiful hardwood furniture when the next decade harvests some of the faster growing trees, etc. See the before and after shots at Tropical American Tree’s. If I remember correctly, this company is run by Christians trying to do the right thing by their wood product and the environment, maintaining beautiful forests by producing beautiful hardwood furniture! Now that’s conservation!

byron smith said...

Yes, fair enough about the sulphur gun as an emergency brake (nice image). I guess I was saying that if we reach that point we really will be bringing the whole train to a halt or jumping off.

And green roofs, yes, they had fallen out of my mind, though I suspect that they take a little more work to roll than a lick of paint (but with much higher benefits - again, best if they are included in the original design). Jess and I had started looking into the feasibility of some of these ideas at our building in Sydney before we left but they never even got to the drawing board.

byron smith said...

More on sulphur gun.

byron smith said...

Kara Martin: A sympathetic review of Hamilton's book by a Sydney Anglican.