Admitting We Are In For Rough Times Ahead and Still Having Hope
("Shawshank Redemption" © Castle Rock Entertainment 1994)
In one of the most poniente scenes in the amazing movie "Shawshank Redemption" Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) tells his fellow inmate Ellis Boyd 'Red' Redding (Morgan Freedman that "I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying."
Red (and many people watching the movie at that moment) believe that Andy has decided to commit suicide. We all know now that instead, Andy was just about to break out of the Hell he had been living in for over 19 years, and not only get his freedom but his revenge.
I've always thought that people tend to put themselves into their own private prisons, walled by expectations from those around them and by society into accept the shackles and bars imposed on them. I think its time we all took a cue from Andy.
I know which choice I will choose.
For ten years or more, I've been following John Michael Greer, reading his words first on the Archdruid Report and now Ecosophia. I've read his books and watched his video interviews. I've progressed from occasional forum poster here at the start of the Green Wizard site to now its webmaster and chief advocate of Greer's idea that we need to learn the skills to live in the coming Collapse of our current civilization and the Long Descent into a much lower tech level of sustainable living.
In that time I've gone from being a pessimist who knew without a doubt that Mankind was doomed to an optimist, but one who still believes the Future is going to be terribly rough and we as a collective society will end up doing almost nothing to stop that outcome. Yet I am an optimist because I believe that that same bleak Future has a glimmer of Hope.
I've begun to see a particular type of article appear in the Mainstream Media this year. Its one of a similar outlook, that is is time to admit to ourselves that we are just not going to solve the problems facing us. Here is a good example, recently published:
Its a sobering article that Jonathan Franzen writes and yet anyone who has read Greer for a while can see the same conclusions played out in his writing as well. That we don't have the political will or bravery among out elected leaders to enact the changes we need. That too many business people view fighting climate change as just another way to make a lot of money. That as little political will our leaders have, the population (aka the rest of Us) has even less. His conclusion is:
"Finally, overwhelming numbers of human beings, including millions of government-hating Americans, need to accept high taxes and severe curtailment of their familiar life styles without revolting. They must accept the reality of climate change and have faith in the extreme measures taken to combat it. They can’t dismiss news they dislike as fake. They have to set aside nationalism and class and racial resentments. They have to make sacrifices for distant threatened nations and distant future generations. They have to be permanently terrified by hotter summers and more frequent natural disasters, rather than just getting used to them. Every day, instead of thinking about breakfast, they have to think about death. Call me a pessimist or call me a humanist, but I don’t see human nature fundamentally changing anytime soon. I can run ten thousand scenarios through my model, and in not one of them do I see the two-degree target being met."
"A World Made Harsh" is now baked into our Future and that still gives me Hope.
Some will argue that we can have our "New Green Deal" and our current electrified economy too. That if we just spend the money and get gasoline powered cars off the road and everyone into electric vehicles we can make a dent in the climate change that is heading towards us. That if we just let those heady Silicon Valley entrepreneurs loose they will come up with a solution.
The problem there is we can't prevent the disruptions by looking to the very forces who got us into this, to get us out.
It was the race for riches which started the Industrial Revolution and lead to us adopting fossil fuels as the means to get us to that bright and shiny future. It was also that race for riches which learned to dump the costs of making those riches onto the Commons, while keeping the profit for the people running the show. That division has lead to some of the highest levels of income inequality in centuries.
Do we think asking business to fix the problems their race has caused will solve anything?
"Recently, the consumer-facing tech industry has transformed to a rentier model. In this model, you don’t necessarily ever own gadgets, software or media; you merely rent them from a corporation forever. Businesses prefer this model, as rather than buying something once, you pay to rent it forever — and that means far more money for them in the long run.
I have no doubt that if we let techno-capitalists tackle climate change, we will end up with a similar situation: world governments will contract out carbon capture to a group of tech behemoths whom we will pay forever to rent their equipment and keep things in a stable state. If they fix the problem and remove all the excess carbon from the atmosphere, their services will become useless — and their shareholders and investors certainly wouldn’t like that. Better to keep the problem intact as long as possible to wring dry the public sector for all eternity — ironically, fixing the problems that technology, largely, created. It's the perfect grift.
It is the "Grift of the Long Con" too. Find a Gullible Mark, promise to give them what they need and walk away with their money.
And its not just the Techno Snake Oil Sellers who are going to use our desperation to stop Climate Change to enrich themselves. It will the suppliers of the materials for those snake oil potions they sell. The companies who take over once we shut down the fossil fuel industry who mine the lithium we need for the dreamed of fleet of electric vehicles. All the other strip mines of rare earth minerals we will need for the so called renewable technology.
One of the side effects of lithium mining is water pollution: the process of mining can affect local water supplies, potentially poisoning communities. Yet chemical leakage is also a major concern when it comes to lithium mining. The lithium carbonate extraction process harms the soil, and can cause air pollution. There are also concerns around how to recycle it. Eco-nonprofit Friends of the Earth notes that lithium recycling is fraught, as the metal is “toxic, highly reactive and flammable.”
“It tends to be incinerated or ends up in landfill due to very low collection rates and flawed waste legislation,” Friends of the Earth states in their lithium fact sheet. “Low collection rates, the low and volatile market price of lithium, and the high cost of recycling relative to primary production have contributed to the absence of lithium recycling.”
I'm reminded that there are thousands of abandoned oil wells sitting in desolate fields of stunted grass across our country, slowly polluting the ground water whose clean up was supposed to done by the companies that drill them. Instead those companies used their money to reap a profit and when the well ran dry, declared bankruptcy and dumped the cost of clean up onto the Public. Think the new Lords of Renewable Tech will do it differently?
Future generations will be left starring at toxic sites just as abandoned without the money to clean the damage our generation has cause the environment. All to keep our extravagant energy orgy going for a few years more.
The thing is, all this damage to our environment and the legacy of pollution we leave our Children might, just might be worth it if it actually could be done.
But its not going to get done.
That's the dirt secret of this whole "we can save the Future if we just replace all our tech with Green Tech©. Like current supplies of fossil fuels, there is just not enough of the special minerals we need to Green Revolution our World left in the ground that can be extracted, to bring up the current billions of Third World people into a First World middle class life style. We do have enough so those of us at the top of the food chain can enjoy our destructive and extravagant energy rich lifestyles for a few years more though. We just have to do it by deluding ourselves it for them.
To completely replace hydrocarbons over the next 20 years, global renewable energy production would have to increase by at least 90-fold. For context: it took a half-century for global oil and gas production to expand by 10-fold. It is a fantasy to think, costs aside, that any new form of energy infrastructure could now expand nine times more than that in under half the time.
If the initial goal were more modest—say, to replace hydrocarbons only in the U.S. and only those used in electricity generation—the project would require an industrial effort greater than a World War II–level of mobilization. A transition to 100% non-hydrocarbon electricity by 2050 would require a U.S. grid construction program 14-fold bigger than the grid build-out rate that has taken place over the past half-century. Then, to finish the transformation, this Promethean effort would need to be more than doubled to tackle nonelectric sectors, where 70% of U.S. hydrocarbons are consumed. And all that would affect a mere 16% of world energy use, America’s share."
Pretty bleak news, isn't it? Just how much effort and money it is honestly going to take to convert our current economy to renewables. And just to kick you when you are down.
There just isn't enough raw materials in the World to do it.
"Radically increasing battery production will dramatically affect mining, as well as the energy used to access, process, and move minerals and the energy needed for the battery fabrication process itself. About 60 pounds of batteries are needed to store the energy equivalent to that in one pound of hydrocarbons. Meanwhile, 50–100 pounds of various materials are mined, moved, and processed for one pound of battery produced. Such underlying realities translate into enormous quantities of minerals—such as lithium, copper, nickel, graphite, rare earths, and cobalt—that would need to be extracted from the earth to fabricate batteries for grids and cars. A battery-centric future means a world mining gigatons more materials. And this says nothing about the gigatons of materials needed to fabricate wind turbines and solar arrays, too.
Even without a new energy economy, the mining required to make batteries will soon dominate the production of many minerals. Lithium battery production today already accounts for about 40% and 25%, respectively, of all lithium and cobalt mining. In an all-battery future, global mining would have to expand by more than 200% for copper, by at least 500% for minerals like lithium, graphite, and rare earths, and far more than that for cobalt.
Then there are the hydrocarbons and electricity needed to undertake all the mining activities and to fabricate the batteries themselves. In rough terms, it requires the energy equivalent of about 100 barrels of oil to fabricate a quantity of batteries that can store a single barrel of oil-equivalent energy.
You can read an even better analysis of the huge increase we must have in mining and processing the raw materials that would go into creating the infrastructure a Green Revolution would require and the pollution that is going to come from it here:
And yet I still have Hope.
Andy Dufresne would have been a Green Wizard.
I think Jonathan Franzen (and others who hold his beliefs) are right. Its time we accepted that there is no magic bullet out there for some wiz kid to find. No magic technology some Silicon Valley start-up will invent. No government program which will mandate our way out of this crisis. It isn't going to be large efforts which save some potion of the human population as climate change and resource depletion remake our World into something much harsher and inhospitable to us.
It is going to be the simple things You and I do in our Lives from now on to prepare us.
Consider how much large scale government funded program of just upgrading the insulation and weatherizing American homes would lower our electricity needs. How it would put money directly into the wallets of the Poor and less fortunate, who struggle every hot Summer and cold Winter to pay their bills. Every watt of electrical energy not used is one less pound of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
Consider passive solar water heating. A good portion of American homes are shined on by the Sun for enough hours a day that a passive hot water tank added to their homes would lower the energy use. It makes no sense to have a fifty gallon tank in your basement, always heated to 120 degrees on the off chance you might suddenly want a hot shower. Just rethinking your habits and deciding to shower the same time every day, in the evening after the Sun has preheated the water to a reasonable temperature (and if needed a little bit of extra heat) would go a long way to lowering our National energy bill.
There are other ways to cut back on your energy useage, Greer calls them "Appropriate Technologies" and they came about when the first Oil Crisis in the 1980's hit us, which are proven and robust, and usually very cheap to install.
But we have to get over our fear of being in the least was "uncomfortable". Its more than just the germiphobia that Greer has written about. Almost everyday I read articles about people just flipping out when the least little thing doesn't go their expected way. Life is chaotic people, learn to live with it! They throw a temper tantrum worthy of a three year old when the World doesn't give them the exact condition they want.
You know what, I've lived without a air conditioner in my home now for three years. It first broke down but was fixed, then I found I could live with a home a bit hot. I learned to go sleep in the basement when it was very hot, and when it was just hot, to keep a small electric fan running on my sleeping form. I also learned that waking up wet with sweat wasn't the End of the World. I learned to change out my bed sheets on a bit more often schedule and learned to get up, slip into the bathroom for a cool shower before returning to sleep sometimes. I learned to close up my doors and windows in the morning as it got hot, and learned to open them back up in the evening as temperatures fell, putting electric fans in the window to pull in cool air and force out hot air.
I learned more importantly how to live with the Cycles of Life as they are now, instead of insisting that Nature bends to my will.
We need to relearn that lesson and learn how to apply those Appropriate Technologies soon.
I have hope we will do that.
I have hope that beyond the current fad of mega projects and celebrity poster children who preach conservation while sailing megamillionire carbon composite boats across the Ocean, people are going to begin to relearn the "Old Ways" of living within the environment's limits.
I have Hope because I can look to the most inhospitable places on the Planet, the deep deserts of the Middle East, the frozen tundra of the Arctic, and there I'll find humans living a joyful life. They love their partner, they love their children. They sit around a fire at night and tell stories. They weep at the death of a friend, and smile at the birth of new life. Its a harsh life and one with rules you ignore at your peril.
Just as our Children's World will be.
What we all can do now, is give up our dreams of techno magic will save us and begin learning the skills to survive in a World Made Harsh and make it good. Then pass on those skills to our children and teach them the old ways of earth and stone, of water and fire.
But more importantly, teach them Hope.
That's why we work so hard here on Green Wizards, to give you the tools to make your children and grand children's World a place they can Live. And help you too if you are young. If you are not a member (or don't post), please reconsider. Join us here and help us write the stories of those who come after us, will tell around the fire.
Have Hope too.