Friday, November 30, 2007

Where you used to be

I had intended to continue yesterday's post in which a commenter responded to the post by saying "You can change the words but not the facts. There still has to be a way to generate electricity when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. We have to choose between nuclear and coal. What's your choice?

We exhanged some comments during the day, with RC ending with this:

"Is it realistic to pursue an electricity supply that depends on gas? Shouldn't we be thinking ahead a century or so? Will gas supplies be adequate for the whole electrified world? At the rate developing countries are growing their economies, it seems as though gas would put us over the CO2 levels that drive us deep into global warming, assuming the supplies last."

This was a response to my comment that "We can run our utility with wind and solar and a fleet of gas turbines if we choose to and have no base load plants whatsoever. Wind and solar resources are just as predictable as our load (they are all weather related). Wind peaks at midnight in the west but not in the south; solar peaks with our peak if we locate the plant 600 miles to the west."

I finished with "The original purpose of this post was to "flip" the above chart so that renewables don't sit on the top, as the graph portrays. Renewables need support just as base load plants need support, it is merely a matter of framing.

Moving from a carbon based world to a post carbon world that runs on what Bucky Fuller used to call Income Energy is a daunting and challenging assignment; yet, that is what our generation faces. We can do it if we put our minds, our hearts, and our resources into it. We have the technologies, the land, and perhaps still enough time.

In almost all ways, I wish that climate change was a hoax. I would like to believe that the bowels of the earth are constantly making oil and gas, and that we will never run out of it. I would like to wrap myself in new gadgets and not worry about whether the American Empire and its dollar are in peril. I would like to think that the ugly rise of Fascism that we see in our own government and in so many other governments throughout the world is just a temporary aberation. I would like to believe that democracy can stand up against corporatcracy.

But I cannot.

No, friends and readers, as John Michael Greer says, It's Lifeboat Time. Here is a small part of his post, but it's worth a full read:

Connect the dots and the picture that emerges will be familiar to those of my readers who have taken the time to struggle through the academic prose of How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse. One of the central points of that paper is that the decline and fall of a civilization unfolds in a series of crises separated by incomplete recoveries. The point is not an original one; Arnold Toynbee discussed the same rhythm of breakdown and respite most of a century earlier in his magisterial A Study of History.

If that same pattern will shape the fate of our own civilization – and it’s hard to think of a reason why it should not – the second wave of crisis in the decline and fall of the industrial world may be breaking over our heads right now.

No, that wasn’t a misprint. Historians of the future will likely put the peak of modern industrial civilization between 1850 and 1900, when the huge colonial empires of the Euro-American world hit the zenith of their global reach. The first wave in the decline of our civilization lasted from 1929 to 1945, and was followed by a classic partial recovery in which public extravagance masked the disintegration of the imperial periphery.

Compare the unsteady, hole-and-corner American economic empire of today with the British Empire’s outright dominion over half the world in 1900, say, and it’s hard to miss the signs of decline.

Today we may well be facing the beginning of the next wave.

One advantage this concept offers is the realization that the experience of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations may offer a useful perspective on what’s coming.

In the summer of 1929, nobody I know of predicted the imminent arrival of unparalleled economic disaster, followed by the rise of fascism and the outbreak of the bloodiest war in human history. Such things seemed to be stowed safely away in the distant past.

From today’s perspective, though, it may not be unreasonable to suggest that something not unlike the bitter experiences of 1929-1945 – different in detail, surely, but equivalent in scale – may be in the offing."

At the Vision 2020 dinner I hosted earlier this month, we discussed this possibility at length. One engineer from Beirut talked about how everyone is afraid.

But we should not be afraid. Just the opposite in fact.

As Greer says in referring to the standard procedure that occurs when your ship begins to take on water after hitting something it wasn't designed to hit:

"We’re in much the same situation as the passengers of M/V Explorer were last Friday, but with an unwelcome difference. No alarm has been sounded, no order to evacuate has been announced over the p/a system. "

The captain and half the crew insist that nothing is wrong, while the other half of the crew insist that everything will be all right if they can only replace the current captain with another of their own choosing.

The only warning being given comes from a handful of passengers who took the time to glance down into the hold and saw the water rising there, and while some people are listening to the bad news, next to nobody’s making any preparations for what could be a very, very rough time immediately ahead."

Very, very few of us are ready to do what crew and passengers must do when their ship hits the rocks. They must abandon all of their possessions, except the clothes they wear, don survival suits, climb into lifeboats, and spend many cold hours watching their ship of state fill up with water, heel over, and sink.

If you live in a progressive community that is capable of dealing with this kind of future, stay there.

I am grateful that I do.

If you don't,

Find one.

If we do manage to miss the rock,

through an insurrection within ourselves,

divine intervention, or blind luck,

The only thing you lost is the crappy place



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Earlier today there was a newscast about how google is powering it's massive facilitiy with a field of mirrors, which make steam, which run turbines to generate electricity--just like when the power is gas or coal.
I wonder if anyone ever thought to harness the exercise equipment all over the country? There is energy going to waste. Wouldn't it be nice to think you are multi-tasking when you ride the stationary bikes?

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of saving energy, if you plan to frequent the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, this year being held at the Austin Convention Center, I'm afraid there is little or no parking in the area.
However hope is on the horizon, Capitol Metro #21 and #22 have stops right on the corner by the entrance. Ditto, #17. Get a schedule book and park along the route to catch the bus to and from.
A good lot in the evening is the City of Austin Health Dept. parking lot near the RBJ Residential Tower, (where I live.) It is right next to a bus stop for the 21 and 22 lines.
Be my guest.

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" There still has to be a way to generate electricity when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. We have to choose between nuclear and coal."

Both of these sentences can be challenged as debate starters, or assumptions. I'm waaay out of my league when I talk about energy issues, but the second is clearly a false choice, as there are other options, however weak they might be. Some blend of options is neatly excluded by the forced choice, as is the whole idea of reduced voraciousness. Indeed, we don't have to debate the need for improved methods of transmission, storage, etc., or micro-approaches, or just plain doing without for periods of time. Gosh, what did people do before we harnessed electricity? Shrivel up and die?

7:36 AM  

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