Learn Your History. Rinse. Repeat.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  George Santayana

The foreigners came from the sea, amazing us with their guns and ships and numbers. They only wanted one thing, a thing we did not value, and when we asked them why they wanted it, they said it made them rich, and if we helped them find it they would make us rich, too, but if we interfered with them they would kill us. So some of us died, and some of us got rich, with things we had never needed before, things that made life easier, but not much better. And then we ran out of the thing the foreigners wanted, and they went away, and then we could not spend their money that had made us rich, and we could not replace the things that had made life easy, and we could not remember how we had lived before, when we had been happy but not rich. And so more of us died, and the rest of us became beggars and drunks.

The speaker is imaginary, but his description of events is true. Continue reading

Renewable is not Sustainable if it’s Industrial

Renewable is not Sustainable
The electricity industry has embraced the cause of renewable energy sources, primarily wind and sun, so that it can pour gallons of greenwash over its installations and run TV commercials about how it’s helping to save the planet. But the industrialization of renewable energy sources is little  more sustainable than are fossil-fuel-burning plants.
For example: dozens and dozens of multi-billion-dollar solar projects haven been proposed for the desert southwest, where, of course, there is lots of sunshine. But most of the proposals involve using the concentrated heat from the sun to run boilers. A typical proposal, for Amargosa Valley, Nevada, would require 1.3 billion gallons of water per year. Water, as you may know, is not plentiful in deserts.
[“Alternative Energy Projects Stumble on a Need for Water” — The New York Times.]
(It is not widely recognized how thirsty the electricity generating industry is. Providing power to the typical American home requires three times as much water as the household consumes for all other purposes.)
There are many other difficulties attending desert solar plants. You need water, as well, for the hundreds of people needed to build and maintain the plants. You need to build huge transmission lines through thousands of back yards to get the power thus produced to market.
As with solar, the industrial approach to wind energy is to erect giant wind turbines where there is lots of wind and transmit it to market via the grid. First, nothing that requires the manufacture of enormous machines and the erection of huge installations can be regarded as sustainable. Second, the highly variable output of wind turbines poses some extremely difficult problems for the managers of the grid.
What would be both renewable and sustainable when it comes to energy? The answer is simple, though not easy. We have to start, right now, to produce the energy we need where we need it. We need, in other words, to de-industrialize electricity, if we are going to keep on having any.
[For much more on this see also Chapter Six, “Grid Lock,” of my book Brace for Impact now available.]

The electricity industry has embraced the cause of renewable energy sources, primarily wind and sun, so that it can pour gallons of greenwash over its installations and run TV commercials about how it’s helping to save the planet. But the industrialization of renewable energy sources is little  more sustainable than are fossil-fuel-burning plants. Continue reading

Three Strikes

Two of the country’s leading columnists are inching toward the first part of the premise of Brace for Impact — that the industrial world is facing imminent collapse and cannot prevent it.
Eugene Robinson, writing in the Washington Post [“Seemed Like a Good Idea…”], looks long and hard at fire-ravaged, earthquake-threatened California, then at hurricane-battered New Orleans, and wonders whether they ever should have been built. Immediately he shrugs this notion off, as if physically burned by contact with the heresy, to say that not building them, not repaitring them after every predictable, unavoidable catastrophe, would be “unthinkable.”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/31/AR2009083102910.html?nav=hcmoduletmv
In one sentence he comes very close to where Brace for Impact starts: “In the end, the least — and, probably, the most — we can do is try our best to envision which of our good ideas seems least likely to burden future generations…Is there anything in the works, in other words, that’s the equivalent of building one great city that regularly burns and another that regularly drowns?”
Of course there is not. Big Oil and Big Agriculture need New Orleans, Big Money of all kinds needs California, and they need them just as they are where they are, and they don’t mind spending the money to convince us that any alternative is “unthinkable.”
And the alternative — sustainable living, which can save any of us from the coming crash — will remain “unthinkable” as long as Big Money retains its grip on our government, as Paul Krugman recognizes in his New York Times column [“Missing Richard Nixon”]. He points out that the health care reform that Nixon proposed 35 years ago looked very much like what Barack Obama is proposing today, indeed was in some respects more “socialist.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/opinion/31krugman.html?_r=1&em
Krugman marvels that in the face of extreme partisanship and unfettered corporate spending, significant reform of health care and/or health insurance is simply not going to happen. And, he says, it’s not just health care: “Every desperately needed reform I can think of, from controlling greenhouse gases to restoring fiscal balance, will have to run the same gantlet of lobbying and lies.”
A third example, from yesterday’s Washington Post [“Environmentalists Slow to Adjust in Climate Debate”], details how corporate money is killing the current attempt to place a few restraints on carbon emissions. The contest, as the report typically portrays it, is between the “oil lobby” and the “coal industry” on one side, and “environmentalists” — that radical fringe group that desires the survival of humans on the planet — on the other. Ordinary people do not appear in this article, which reports admiringly that industry is providing free lunches, concerts and t-shirts (not to mention millions of dollars worth of propaganda on TV) then oserves sarcastically that all the environmentalists were offering, on this particular day in Athens Ohio, was a “sedate panel discussion.”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/30/AR2009083002606.html
How naive of these radicals, to think that important legislation ought to be discussed — sedately, at that! Don’t they know that what you do now is accuse the oil companies of killing grandma, and hand out guns to everybody who comes to your town meeting?
“Actually turning this country around,” writes Krugman, “is going to take years of siege warfare against deeply entrenched interests, defending a deeply dysfunctional political system.” Who is going to conduct this warfare, and where are they going to get the money to do it? The most probable answer: No one and no where.
Brace for impact.

Two of the country’s leading columnists are inching toward the first part of the premise of Brace for Impact — that the industrial world is facing imminent collapse and cannot prevent it.

Eugene Robinson, writing in the Washington Post [“Seemed Like a Good Idea...”], looks long and hard at fire-ravaged, earthquake-threatened California, then at hurricane-battered New Orleans, and wonders whether they ever should have been built. Continue reading

Tower of Power

There it is, in Chicago of all places, the Big Idea that could have saved us, in plain view for everybody to see and not talk about.

After a $350 million renovation the Sears Tower, at 110 stories the tallest skyscraper in the hemisphere, will produce 80 per cent of its own electricity. [Sears Tower to be Revamped to Produce Most of Its Own ElecricityThe New York Times.] That’s a big project, but it’s not the Big Idea. Continue reading

The Opacity of Hope

This is how the Money waits, and reasserts itself, and maintains control of this crashing machine that is our industrial world: Continue reading

The Dark Twin

The thing we love about the industrialization of everything, the reason we tolerate its destructive rampages, is the notion economy of scale. This is the theory that when you mass-produce something, each something in the mass will cost less. What we need to keep in mind is that economy of scale has a dark twin that is equally powerful and seldom discussed — elevation of risk. Continue reading

Getting the Small Picture

Micro-economics tells us that a major reason for our current financial troubles is that individuals and families have been living beyond their means. Continue reading