Who can question the new Green Deal and holy solar power? Guest Megan Seibert and super-scientist Bill Rees just published a scathing report. They say it’s time to shrink or die. Treehugger green journalist Lloyd Alter offers an antidote: how each of us can live within a fair carbon budget – that won’t totally wreck the climate or living systems.
OK, sorry. This “blog” turned out more like a multi-media book. I inserted all kinds of links for pro and con degrowth, plus the solutions for all of us from our second guest Lloyd Alter. Feel free to search or scroll down as needed. Remember, I may or may not share the views of our guests. Please: think and explore, as you question everything.
DEGROWTH VERSUS THE GREEN DEAL – MEGAN SEIBERT
Progressive people, concerned about climate change, want a Green New Deal enacted in the United States and many other countries. But Is that green vision “a dangerous myth”? Will it really help save the natural world and humanity? Question everything.
Our guest Megan Seibert says there is a way out, but it is much harsher than we have been told. Seibert is Executive Director of The Real Green New Deal Project, based in Oregon. With her Masters in Systems Science and Environmental Management, Megan just published a key paper with Canadian super scientist Dr. William Rees, Professor Emeritus from the University of British Columbia. We ran several Bill Rees speeches on this program. The new paper is titled “Through the Eye of a Needle: An Eco-Heterodox Perspective on the Renewable Energy Transition”. That is an open paper – read it for yourself.
Can we go fossil-free and still maintain something like our current life-styles? Not really. These authors point out “collectively fatal problems with so-called renewable energy”. From the “Eye of a Needle” Abstract:
“To achieve sustainability and salvage civilization, society must embark on a planned, cooperative descent from an extreme state of overshoot in just a decade or two. While it might be easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for global society to succeed in this endeavor, history is replete with stellar achievements that have arisen only from a dogged pursuit of the seemingly impossible.”
But first I ask Megan: are critics of solar, wind and the rest really helping fossil fuel interests, by undermining public confidence in renewables? Megan gets that, and even my friends warn me about it. I think we have only one chance, and a short time, to get the path out of this fossil-powered mess right. If we substitute a new error for an old one, civilization and perhaps humanity will not survive. This paper goes really deep into all the tales we tell ourselves. We need to keep cross-checking against reality, don’t you think?
Their Open Access paper says:
“Not only is the G[reen]N[ew]D[eal] technically flawed, but it fails to recognize human ecological dysfunction as the overall driver of incipient global systemic collapse. By viewing climate change, rather than ecological overshoot—of which climate change is merely a symptom—as the central problem, the GND and its variants grasp in vain for techno-industrial solutions to problems caused by techno-industrial society.”
THE SHOCKING NUMBERS COUNTING THE DECLINE OF LIVING THINGS
(from the Seibert/Rees paper)
“Prior to the dawn of agriculture eight to ten millennia ago, humans accounted for less than 1%, and wild mammals 99%, of mammalian biomass on Earth. Today, H. sapiens constitute 36%, and our domestic livestock another 60%, of a much-expanded mammalian biomass, compared with only 4% for all wild species combined.
McRae et al. estimate that the populations of non-human vertebrate species declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012 alone. Freshwater, marine, and terrestrial vertebrate populations declined by 81%, 36%, and 38%, respectively, and invertebrate populations fell by about 50%.”
This is why these authors say the primary problem is not climate change, but overshoot by our species.
NOT SO GREEN?
The authors say we must “discard” “such pat slogans as “100% clean energy” and “net zero emissions”. I won’t go into their long list of reasons why merely substituting “green” energy like solar and wind for fossil fuels will not save us or other living things. But in the interview we discuss one factor: the need to create very hot temperatures for a wide range of production techniques, including producing solar panels and cement the bases of wind turbines. Apparently standard green energy has trouble producing industrial high heat. Can renewables reproduce themselves without fossil fuels? Maybe in the future, but not now.
However, the U.S. Environmental Agency discusses this problem, and says there are renewable technologies that CAN support the highest-temperature applications. Read their 2021 report here.
WHAT IS THE REAL SOLUTION?
Seibert and Rees write:
“We argue that the only viable response to overshoot is a managed contraction of the human enterprise until we arrive within the safely stable territory defined by ecological limits. This will entail many fewer people consuming far less energy and material resources than at present.”
They propose “one-Earth living”.
“…one-Earth living (‘one-Earth living’ implies any material standard of living that, if extended to everyone on Earth, would be sustainable—i.e., the human population would be living within the global carrying capacity. Obviously, the more people, the lower the average sustainable standard of living).”
BURSTING THE LITHIUM BATTERY BUBBLE?
Seibert and Rees:
“An entire year of production from the world’s largest lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility—Tesla’s $5 billion Gigafactory in Nevada—could store only three minutes’ worth of annual U.S. electricity demand. Manufacturing a quantity of batteries that could store just two days’ worth of U.S. electricity demand would require 1000 years of Gigafactory production.
Storing only 24 h worth of U.S. electricity generation in lithium batteries would cost $11.9 trillion, take up 345 square miles, and weigh 74 million tons — at enormous ecological cost. A battery-centric future means mining gigatons of rare-earth mineral ores. For every kilogram of battery, 50–100 kg of ore needs to be mined, transported, and processed. Constructing enough lithium batteries to store only 12 hours worth of daily power consumption would require 18 months’ worth of global primary energy production and the entire global supply of several minerals.
Batteries also have higher GHG emissions than internal combustion engines[!].”
Their source for this shocking statement about batteries versus internal combustion engines comes from this 2017 study in China, led by Q. Quiao: “Cradle-to-Gate Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Battery Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles in China.”
In their work and this interview, the authors also cite the book “When Trucks Stop Running”
by A.J. Friedemann, published by Springer (paywall).
THE SENTENCE OF DOOM
Seibert and Rees say:
“With accelerating climate change, possible food shortages, no viable alternatives to FFs, and the time when “the trucks stop running” not far off, the prospects for our globalized, transport-based, just-in-time urbanized civilization are dire.”
THE WAY BACK IN TIME IS THE WAY OUT?
But they do offer answers. In the interview, Megan says “life after fossil fuels will closely resemble life before fossil fuels.” That includes more human and animal power. They work out how many horses and mules we might need to sustain a greatly reduced population.
We may have to learn from late Medieval life. That is what the French energy guru Jean-Marc Jancovici told us in this exclusive Radio Ecoshock interview: we know how to live without fossil fuels. Humans lives without them for thousands of years. We may have to retrieve that knowledge.
Joke: If we are going Medieval, maybe this Maine recluse is the new ideal American citizen?
DEGROWTH IN HUMAN POPULATION
Earth cannot sustainable support several billion humans, these authors find. We need to drastically reduce population. In September 2019, Dr. Bill Rees wrote this article: “Yes, the Climate Crisis May Wipe out Six Billion People”. But they offer a different plan in the new paper.
In the wonderful Canadian West Coast publication The Tyee, Rees wrote:
“As much as a decade ago a climate symposium organized to discuss the implications of a 4 C warmer world concluded, ‘Less than a billion people will survive.’ Here Schellnhuber is quoted as saying: ‘At 4 C Earth’s… carrying capacity estimates are below 1 billion people.’ His words were echoed by professor Kevin Anderson of the U.K.’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change: ‘Only about 10 per cent of the planet’s population would survive at 4 C.’”
“Similarly, in May of this year, Johan Rockström, current director of the Potsdam Institute opined that in a 4 C warmer world: ‘It’s difficult to see how we could accommodate a billion people or even half of that…. There will be a rich minority of people who survive with modern lifestyles, no doubt, but it will be a turbulent, conflict-ridden world.’”
In the new paper they write:
“Failure to implement a planned, relatively painless population reduction strategy would guarantee a traumatic population crash imposed by Nature in a climate-ravaged, fossil-energy-devoid world.”
Overall, the authors present a seven point plan with the best prospects for a habitable, sustainable planet. They conclude we will have to force the hands of power.
NOTES FROM ALEX
The Seibert/Rees paper does not mention a key resource: time. We do not have time to implement the grand vision of swapping in renewables by 2050. Severe climate change will be ensured by then.
Also, predation by climate extremes weakens the ability to make such large scale changes. more and more energy will be spent on trying to restore, recover, run away, and then just survive. The barrier to a successful energy transition comes from the problem itself.
Further, this pandemic and possibly other illness will last years – unless the virus mutates away from us, as SARS 1 did. The virus can continue to find new unvaccinated victims anywhere in the world almost endlessly by breakthrough infections, where the vaccinated pass on the illness until it finds a host to conquer. We may fail to build the renewable dream as the economy weakens by disease, wave after wave. No greens foresaw this. We still assume the economy will recover to allow climate action.
But I suppose we still do have the ability to move backward in time and technology as the survivors of disease, economic collapse and recurring violent weather go basic, producing food and shelter outside the former system? We have the cultural models of renunciation of material things for the spiritual in some Christian sects, in monks and nuns for example. The same concept is deep in the Buddhist and Hindu faiths, where poor monks are a pathway of honor. But their existence depended upon excess production by the rest of people who never follow that path. Mass reduction has never developed into a totality of any society in history. We need that now.
We had “small is beautiful”, the simplicity movement but these were a tiny fringe of civilization which was doing the opposite. Acceleration of resource use and waste along with glorification and dependence on acquiring more things was the true direction of this civilization.
Our inability to maintain or reconstruct an egalitarian society, with trust in each other also prevents the kinds of sharing and group resource management we urgently need. For example, I need a truck only a few times a year, but everybody has their own. We have not yet negotiated how to fairly share a truck, tools, land and food. Some communes tried but all failed over time. The individualist stands in the way of social solutions.
We lack even the language and concepts to make the wrenching changes to save ourselves. Shall we call it “managed decline“, “guided collapse”, “planned retraction”, “planned retreat” or some more appealing name?
As these authors point out, we do not know what the landscape of a truly sustainable human presence on this planet would be. We do know that at least half the land surface and most of the oceans must be left on their own to make those decisions, through the normal process of natural selection, evolution – wild logic. Humans cannot plan those “landscapes”, Nature will.
As my friend Dana says, nobody will accept “degrowth”. We should call is “regrowth” instead .
Don’t Call Me a Pessimist on Climate Change. I Am a Realist, by William E. Rees, 2019.
and this YouTube video of a cool Bill Rees talk: “William Rees: Techno-Industrial Society is Inherently Unsustainable” 17 Jun 2021, posted by US Association of the Club of Rome.
The “New Energy Economy”: An Exercise in Magical Thinking by Mark P. Mills
and the book “Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World” by Jason Hickel at the London School of Economics. (Available at most book sellers online).
RADIO ECOSHOCK SHOWS ON “GREEN” ENERGY:
“Green Illusions” – Ozzie Zehner, Posted on December 31, 2014. Blog and audio here.
Green Reality VS. Ozzie Zehner
Posted on January 7, 2015, by Radio Ecoshock
Green tech investor Dan Miller, and host Alex Smith answer Ozzie Zehner’s claims the green energy is an “illusion”.
RADIO ECOSHOCK SHOWS ON DEGROWTH
Post Growth and Degrowth: Tim Jackson, Lorenz Keysser
Posted on June 2, 2021, by Radio Ecoshock
From the UK, Professor Tim Jackson talks about his new book “Post Growth: Life After Capitalism”. Lorenz Keysser from ETH Zurich takes it further: planned decline coupled with increasing well-being – degrowth. Stock markets, banks, every business – everybody wants to grow more and buy, buy, buy. Will we wait for the great collapse, or plan our way back down the mountain?
Also my recent show “Ugly Truths Nobody Wants to Hear” with J.B. McKinnon explaining consumerism is killing us.
You can further challenge your mind with a few folks I have disagreed with in the past. Try this YouTube video from Chris Hedges on RT (the Russian state media outlet). “Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbert’s new book is ‘Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost its Way and What We Can Do About It’.”
“Chris Hedges discusses the lies and fantasies told by the mainstream environmental movement about how to solve the climate crisis with authors and activists Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith.”
Can we save the planet by shrinking the economy?
The “degrowth” movement to fight the climate crisis offers a romantic, utopian vision. But it’s not a policy agenda. By Kelsey Piper Aug 3, 2021
CLIMATE SCIENTIST MICHAEL MANN’S TAKE (from the Vox article cited above)
“If we are to avert catastrophic warming, we have to lower carbon emissions by a factor of two within the next 10 years. I find it highly implausible that capitalism/market economics will be abandoned by the world on that time frame, That means we have to act on the climate crisis within the framework of the current system.”
THE ENERGY TRANSITION SHOW SAYS GREEN ENERGY IS POSSIBLE
Just before you send me angry emails about our guest questioning the push for mass green energy – I intended to add an interview with pro-green energy guru Chris Nelder. Chris hosts “The Energy Transition Show” podcast. Chris interviewed Bill Rees in 2017, but recently he talked with Kingsmill Bond from Carbon Tracker to refute claims the green energy transition is not sustainable or a viable solution.
Chris Nelder worked for years at the Rocky Mountain Institute, founded by Amory and Hunter Lovins. That Institute and the Lovins assumed these changes would happen within the capitalist system, and in global markets. Nelder is an acknowledged energy expert who demands deep research by himself and his staff. If you want the latest news on green technology The Energy Transition Show can certainly provide it, for a price.
Kingsmill Bond comes from a 25 year career as an equity analyst for major global banks. He and Carbon Tracker are working with the corporate system, as it is, to drive emissions down. His lens is capitalist finance.
But Chris is too busy to talk with us and doesn’t want his interview rebroadcast either. He charges for each episode. So that is out. Fortunately I reached another guest with great ways to get real about our emissions. Here we go.
LLOYD ALTER: LIVING THE 1.5 DEGREE LIFESTYLE
Everybody knows Exxon/Mobil and all the big fossil fuel companies are to blame for heating up the world. We know that, as we drive gas cars around and stuff our homes with petro-plastics. Can you and I make a difference – not pretending to be green and virtuous – but actually help save a livable planet?
Enter Lloyd Alter with his new book “Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle”. Lloyd is an architect. He became a successful Canadian real estate developer but then dropped out to become a well-known green writer in a raft of publications, especially full-time with TreeHugger. Lloyd is plugged in. He has good data, and he is not pretending to be green.
The new book’s press release says:
“Drawing on his own year-long journey to track his daily carbon emissions and live the 1.5 degree lifestyle, Lloyd Alter examines what it looks like to live a rich and truly green life. From take-out food, to bikes and cars, to internet usage, Alter guides readers on finding the big wins, ignoring the trivial, and spotting marketing ploys. Alter encourages us to start thinking about sufficiency rather than efficiency and discusses the role of individuals versus governments and corporations.”
Lloyd was an architect before becoming a real estate developer in Toronto building condos. He then became inspired by the Passivhaus movement. Check out my early shows with Austrian Passivhaus architect Guido Wimmers.
LLOYD TRACES ROOTS OF 1.5 DEGREE LIFESTYLE
In the book, Lloyd writes:
“I learned of the actual term “1.5-degree lifestyle” from Rosalind Readhead, who pointed me to a study from the Institute for Global Environmental Studies (IGES), Aalto University, and D-mat titled ’1.5-Degree Lifestyles: Targets and Options for Reducing Lifestyle Footprints.’ It provided the fundamental underpinning of this project; as noted in the introduction.”
Rosalind Readhead, Treehugger photo.
We have been told just 100 companies in the fossil fuel industry produced 71% of global greenhouse gases. I worry pushing responsibility for emissions down to the individual is just what the fossil fuel companies want. Climate scientist Michael Mann worries about that too saying: “there is a long history of industry-funded ‘deflection campaigns’ aimed to divert attention from big polluters and place the burden on individuals.”
But Lloyd replies to that in his book:
“The problem with this is that those 100 companies don’t directly produce much CO2; they sell fossil fuels that are burned for energy, which releases CO2. It’s their customers, you and me, who turn their product into emissions. We buy what they are selling, directly or indirectly, whether out of choice or out of necessity.”
LLOYD’S GOAL: THE 2.5 TON LIFE
(From the new book by Lloyd Alter:)
“Rosalind [Readhead] is trying to live with the 2050 target of 1 tonne. That is almost impossible in today’s society; for most people, it is almost a baseline of the stuff that they can’t change or avoid. In the longer term, it is achievable, after we rebuild our homes, rethink our offices, and reimagine our lifestyles. I have been trying to live a reduced carbon lifestyle as well, but have been aiming for the far less onerous 2030 target of 2.5 tonnes of carbon per year.”
ALEX IS MORE PESSIMISTIC…
Frankly, I am pessimistic. World energy consumption continued to climb this year, despite the pandemic. People are still shopping – it is just more hidden, online then delivered by trucks. It looks like we are going to roast ourselves and our descendants before taking any real wide-spread social action. Are we doomed?
I read Lloyd’s whole book and learned a lot of good stuff . He gives us great sources and leads. But judging from the top scientists I have interviewed for this show, there isn’t a hope in Hell of staying below 1.5 degrees of global mean warming. I think his book title will be out of date as early as 2025. We should call it the “save our butts” lifestyle.
Thank you for listening to Radio Ecoshock, as we kick off a whole new Fall season of show. Coming up we examine the weird world of extreme rainfall events striking around the world with new science just when we need it. Artificial intelligence meets the climate challenge. Listen in.