You know we are going to run out of civilization's life-blood: fossil fuels. And if we burn what's left, the climate will tip into a mass extinction event. Meanwhile, barking madness seems to be the only growth industry. Is it time for more pills, booze, or end-time religion?
Our first guest says there may be some hope left. Shaun Chamberlin's blog is called "dark optimism" - and that may be as good as it gets. Shaun is part of the "transition movement" in Britain. He's the author of the new book "The Transition Timeline, for a local resilient future," ...and, part of an upcoming report for the British Parliament, on a scheme to give everyone an energy quota.
Read more, to get info and links on
While Shaun advocates joining a community movement, to get away from fossil dependence, - he is also helping with national action, by the UK government. Along with Dr. David Fleming of Lean Economy Connection, Chamberlin is working on a report to the House of Commons All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil (APPGOPO), - a second revised edition, to be released in April 2010. The first edition was published in October 2009.
Back in 1996, David Fleming originated the idea of Tradable Energy Quotas, also known as Domestic Tradable Quotas.
Here is the basic WIKI entry on TEQ's, which summarize the plan better than I can.
"1. “Tradable Energy Quotas” (TEQ's) is an energy rationing system to enable nations to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases along with their use of oil, gas and coal, and to ensure fair access to energy for all.
2. There are two reasons why such a scheme may be needed. Climate change: to reduce the greenhouse gases released when oil, gas and coal are used. Secondly energy supply: to maintain a fair distribution of oil, gas and electric power during shortages.
3. TEQ's (pronounced “tex”) are measured in units.
4. Every adult is given an equal free Entitlement of TEQ’s units. Industry and Government bid for their units at a weekly Tender.
5. At the start of the scheme, a full year's supply of units is placed on the market. Then, every week, the number of units in the market is topped up with a week's supply.
6. If you use less than your Entitlement of units, you can sell your surplus. If you need more, you can buy them.
7. All fuels (and electricity) carry a “rating” in units; one unit represents one kilogram of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent in other greenhouse gases, released when the fuel is used.
8. When you buy energy, such as petrol for your car or electricity for your household, units corresponding to the amount of energy you have bought are deducted from your TEQ’s account, in addition to your money payment. TEQ’s transactions are automatic, using credit-card or (more usually) direct-debit technology.
9. The number of units available on the market is set out in the TEQ’s Budget, which looks 20 years ahead. The size of the Budget goes down year-by-year – step-by-step, like a staircase.
10. The Budget is set by the Energy Policy Committee, which is independent of the Government.
11. The Government is itself bound by the scheme; its role is to find ways of living within it, and to help the rest of us to do so.
12. TEQ’s are a national scheme, enabling nations to keep their promises, guaranteeing their carbon reduction commitments within whatever international framework applies at the time."
Not everyone agrees. After promoting energy rationing in his book "Heat, How To Stop the Planet Burning," journalist George Monbiot abandoned the idea, saying rationing can only work in highly developed countries, where most people already have banking cards. He says the system can't work in India, for example.
I don't see why that should prevent developed countries from using this scheme to promote both energy fairness, and to lower emissions over time. As I discuss with Shaun in the radio interview, part of the problem is how to guarantee poor people enough energy to heat their homes, and get to work - even as world energy supplies peak and dwindle.
Not to mention the double whammy of oil exporting countries keeping and using more oil themselves (witness Saudi Arabia switching to more oil, as their gas supplies deplete, or Abu Dhabi and Iran industrializing) - and competition for existing supplies from countries like China, where everyone wants a car. The Chinese car market is now larger than the United States.
If we stick with "free market" distribution of energy, that just means the rich get to continue flying around to multiple monster homes, while the poor go back to the Dark Ages. No matter what the anti-government forces may think, energy rationing is just a matter of time, in my opinion.
So why not use a plan like TEQ's? At least you'll get a chance at some energy. If you want to sell your quota, and live very efficiently with your own solar panels, go ahead and sell it to someone else. The end result is a transfer of wealth from the energy-inefficient rich to lower consumers. Not a bad result either.
Finally, the report for Lean Energy Connection gives two reasons for tackling carbon: we are bound to run out of supplies, and it's wrecking the atmosphere. But the Guardian newspaper for March 22nd reports a third reason, found by a government advisory board, one I've been harping about: the pollution from burning carbon, mostly in vehicles, is killing city dwellers by the thousands, shortening millions of lives around the world. The committee of MP's estimate up to 50,000 people die prematurely in Britain alone, every year, due to smog. I'll be covering the scourge of "black carbon" in an upcoming Radio Ecoshock program. It was discussed in a Congressional Committee this week.
Of course, all this depends on having a functioning Democracy to implement the plan. It isn't evident that we have responsive or responsible governments at all. So most of us will bypass such government mega plans to take action ourselves. That takes us back to the Transition movement.
Shaun has been working with Transition Town Kingston (which is a suburb in South London). They have a good wiki type blog and information center going here. Chamberlin was highly commended as a "Green Champion" for his work there.
Transition Towns, if you don't know, are local groups seeking local responses to both Peak Oil and Climate Change. This may include such things as local food production, farmer's markets, skills exchanges, retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, getting safer bike lanes, and so on.
Transition Towns has become a huge movement, world-wide. Here is a new web site telling you all about it - and hosting a list of such projects in various continents.
Just as an example, here are some Transition Towns starting at the top of the alphabet: Adelaide West, Australia, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ashland Oregon, Barrie Ontario Canada, Bath, UK, and Bielefeld, Germany. The long list goes on, find it here. It's almost enough to cause hope in the most depressed brain. A good example of "dark optimism" I think.
In troubled times, it seems obvious that rugged individuals won't survive long, without a working community. Personally, I see transition, community building, and local food production, as lifeboat building. Is there anything wrong with lifeboats, if the ship is sinking? Is that "dark optimism"?
Fox News, the most trusted name in propaganda, just reported on a poll they did (of just a thousand people) - saying that a whopping 79% of Americans still think an economic collapse is quite possible. That goes across all Party lines, not just Republicans.
At least we know that recent Radio Ecoshock programs on collapse are not so far off the mark. Most people know we are teetering on the edge of big trouble.
Listen to Radio Ecoshock for collapse interviews with Dmitry Orlov, John Michael Greer, and Carolyn Baker. Not to mention the Utah scientist Tim Garrett, whose peer-reviewed paper suggests collapse is the only way to save a habitable climate.
And that bubbles up in all sorts of transition ways. Take this action by students at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia. On March 24th, a group calling themselves "Food Not Lawns" listened to speeches on sustainability. Then over 400 students marched to the University Library. There they dug up the lawn, to plant ten raised beds of edible plants, such as Camas bulbs, kale, native strawberries, salal, and ordinary vegetables.
Contact the collective by email here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sure the campus police showed up to stop people from turning useless lawns into a food resource. But the crowd was so large the cops gave up. The Food Not Lawns Collective claim if the new gardens are dug up, they will return and replant. This could be the start of a movement in colleges around the world, realizing that students may have to participate in feeding themselves, in the new energy constrained world. Let's hope so.
Speaking of hope, in this program I also run the audio from a new interview by Peak Oiler Richard Heinberg - of Lester Brown, from Earth Policy Institute.
Richard Heinberg has been rather gloomy for the last few years, cataloguing the various energy resources that are running out. His most famous books are "The Party's Over" (about oil), and "Peak Everything" - but his new book "Blackout" is worth a read, on the myths of coal reserves.
So it was a surprise to find how very optimistic Lester Brown was. Brown tells us about the huge jump in wind energy in Texas, the last place you'd expect such "hippie power." In fact, Texas is engaged in building the equivalent of 50 big coal plants, all in wind power. China has quickly emerged as another wind power. Maybe alternative energy will come up in time to keep the lights on. Still more "dark optimism"!
We also go another round with Kurt Cobb, who is so good at zeroing in on the right problems, and analyzing current trends. Time after time, whether I'm at the oildrum.com, or energybulletin.com - and I see an article that really interests me, it's by Kurt Cobb. That's why we had him back for a second week on Radio Ecoshock. Find Kurt's blog at resourceinsights.blogspot.com
It's Radio Ecoshock fully stuffed. Make sure you tune in to this week's show, on your local radio, or downloaded here (in Lo-Fi, 14 megabytes).