Thursday, 1 November 2018

What I've Been Reading, October 2018

Links

Miscellaneous

Collapse

  • Technofantasia in action, by Tim Watkins, The Consciousness of Sheep
  • Scientists Warn the UN of Capitalism’s Imminent Demise, by Nafeez Ahmed, Medium—Insurge Intelligence
    A climate change-fueled switch away from fossil fuels means the worldwide economy will fundamentally need to change
  • Is America at Rock Bottom Yet? By Umair Haque, Medium— Eudaimonia
    "If the Rise of Political Violence Doesn’t Make Society Reject Authoritarianism — What Will?"
    Sadly, if all the problems Umair points out were corrected, we'd still face the effects of declining surplus energy, for which there is no solution.

Responding to Collapse,

A Paradise built in Hell, The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster
I'm borrowing the title of Rebecca Solnit's book for this section of links. There is a deep human need to come together in crises to take care of each other. And contrary to the horrific picture of typical reactions to disaster painted by the "disaster mythology", in fact communities often do come together to help themselves in the most extraordinarily positive ways.

A transcript is included with each of these podcasts.

Peak Oil

Climate Change

  • Global heatwave is symptom of early stage cycle of civilisational collapse, by Nafeez Ahmed, Medium—Insurge Intelligence
    "Collapse does not arrive in this scenario as a singular point of terminal completion. Rather, collapse occurs as a a series of discrete but consecutive and interconnected amplifying feedback processes by which these dynamics interact and worsen one another."
    "It is not a final process, and it is not set-in-stone. At each point, the possibility of intervening at critical points to mitigate, ameliorate, adapt, or subvert still exists. But it gets harder and harder to do so effectively the deeper into the collapse cycle we go."
  • We are heading for a New Cretaceous, not for a new normal, by Peter Forbes, Aeon

Economic Contraction

  • Our Bonus Decade , by Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute
    "As a shorthand way of speaking about these four related factors, we at PCI have begun speaking of the “E4 crisis” (energy, environment, economy, and equity). It’s no longer helpful to focus on one factor to the exclusion of the others; it’s far more informative to look for ways in which all four are interacting in real time."

Energy

Emergency Preparation

Agriculture and Food

  • Farm Babe: My story: Why I advocate for agriculture, by Michelle Miller, Farm Babe
    "The reason I share my story with you; the reason I am so passionate about this, is because I want people to know I get it. I was once very misinformed and wasted a lot of money. I see how crazy and confusing it can be to only want what’s best for your family, the planet, and the animals. I want people to understand that farmers are real people who just want to connect with you. Behind the corporate face of “big ag” are real family farmers. Good people who want you to understand what we do and why."
  • Is Organic Really Better? 4 Food Myths Debunked By Science, by Victor Tangermann, Futurism

Practical Skills

Genetic Engineering

Before jumping to the erroneous conclusion that this section was paid for by Monsanto, stop for a moment and understand that organic agriculture/food is a multi-billion dollar per year industry that relies on fear to get people to buy its product. Millions of dollars are spent to convince you that non-organic food is dangerous. In fact both conventionally grown and organic foods are equally safe. Sadly neither method of agriculture is even remotely substainable.

Politics

Free Speech

Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.

  • How To Make A Relationship Last, by Kris Gage, Medium—Relationships
    As a guy who has been married over 41 years, I'd say this is pretty much spot on. Although after you've done it, the work doesn't seem like such a big deal. It's the work that remains to be done that's the big deal.
  • Six science-backed techniques to help you make hard decisions, by Aytekin Tank, Medium—The Startup
    There is a lot of the "business speak" that I find so irritating in this one, but the techniques it presents are solid.

There is No God, and Thou Shall Have No Other Gods

I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that I am an atheist, but I may not have made it clear that I think any sort of worship is a bad thing and that believing in things is to be avoid whenever possible. Indeed, I do not believe in belief itself. That's what the "Thou shall have no other gods" is about—it's not enough to quit believing in whatever God or Gods you were raised to believe in, but also we must avoid other gods, including material wealth, power and fame.

Intelligence

  • The elephant as a person, by Don Ross, Aeon
    "Elephants might have the necessary capacities for personhood – we just need to help them acquire the cognitive scaffolding"

Refugees and Migration

Poverty, Homeless People, Minimum Wage, UBI

  • Dunkin' Donuts Employees Just Got Involved in Another Disgraceful Incident. This One Could Be the Worst, by Chris Matyszczyk, inc.com
  • How to Be a Better Neighbor to Homeless People, by Matthew Gerring, Medium—Better Humans
    "...in my home city of San Francisco, about 70% of people experiencing homelessness were housed residents of San Francisco before becoming homeless. They worked and paid rent just like everybody else before some catastrophic event, like a job loss or an eviction or a natural disaster, led to the loss of their home."
    "It’s one thing to call the police when someone is in danger, or causing danger to others. It’s another thing to call the police (or to vote to give new powers to the police) just because someone is doing something that annoys you."

Autonomous Vehicles and Artificial Intelligence

Education

  • Why it’s so Hard to Help With Your Kid’s Math Homework, by Jessica Lahey, Medium/Washington Post
    This is why parents get frustrated with their kids’ math homework, and why kids may end up thinking they are not “math people”
    This one was almost amusing to read. Apparently, Canada, or at least Ontario, went down another road from the US, and tried to give kids "math sense" while largely eliminating the rote learning of number facts and basic procedures. The results, I can assure you, are just as bad. Somehow, in elementary school in the 1960s, I was forced to do the rote learn and also managed to develop a strong math sense. Both are needed. And a large part of having math sense is having those number facts memorized so well that it feels like intuition when you use them. You'll never get math sense without that foundation to to base it on.
    When discussing these issues with friends I am frequently given examples of supposedly hard math problems that I can do in my head in a matter of seconds. I am no rocket scientist, I just have a pretty good grasp of the basics.
  • You Have to Adapt, or Die Trying, by Jessica Wildfire, Medium
    "Nobody succeeds at anything without adapting. In order to adapt, you have to realize what’s missing. In short, identify why you currently suck."
    I could just as easily have put this in the "Lacking a Manual" or "Responding to Collapse" section, but since it's from the viewpoint of a teacher, I'll leave it here.
  • Flawed thinking has hijacked early childhood education, by Kendra Bell-Hayes, Medium—Education
    This one got included because the same points could be made in any situation where adversaries try to communicate. That's something we all need help with.

Humour

Books

Fiction

Non-Fiction

Friday, 26 October 2018

Responding to collapse, Part 3: Declining Surplus Energy

Canada Geese enjoying a calm day on Lake Huron

In my last post I talked about responding to changes in our "natural" environment caused by climate change. Today I'll be talking about responding to changes in the human part of our environment, the part that we have created, both the "built" physical environment and the social environment.

We are social animals and also technological (tool using) animals. For the last few million years our ancestors evolved to live in groups and use technology. In one way of looking at it, our techniques for working together in groups are an organizational technology that greatly amplifies what we could do alone.

At any rate, for a long time now we have been dependent on technology—we certainly aren't much good alone, naked and empty handed. Technology needs energy to make it work and for most of our history that energy has come from food via muscles (human or animal), biomass (mainly firewood), and to a lesser extent wind, moving water and the sun. But over the last couple of centuries we've added cheap and abundant fossil fuels to that mix of energy sources. We've gradually become dependent on a global network of complex technology powered by those fuels for the very necessities of life.

This is a cause for concern—what if energy were to become more expensive and/or less abundant? As it certainly seems likely to do in the near future. Well, in short, the way we live would have to change, becoming less energy intensive, and it seems very likely that the planet would no longer be able to support so very many of us. It can barely support the number of us that are alive today, so this would mean a significant dieoff of the human population. And the climate change related problems we talked about last time will only make this worse.

Of course this is nothing new. I've discussed the ideas of carrying capacity, overshoot and dieoff many times over the years on this blog. But the devil, as they say, is in the details and if we are to discuss strategies for living through collapse, we need to look closely at those details.

The economy is a major and critically important part of the modern human environment and one that is fueled by energy, so I see depletion of fossil fuel energy resources (often referred to as Peak Oil) as the major challenge as far as the human built environment goes. To really understand that challenge, it is important to understand a bit about "biophysical" or "surplus energy" economics. Have a look at those links for more detail, but I'll try to explain in brief.

First, why is energy so critical to the functioning of the economy? Modern industrial processes are significantly more productive than the cottage industry of just a few hundred years ago, and it requires a lot of energy to make them work. The energy that drives these processes is worth far more in terms of the goods it produces than the price that industry pays for it. As such, energy is far more than just another commodity. And it must be abundant and cheap, if industry is to be profitable and the economy is to continue growing.

Second, why are fossil fuels such an important source of energy? Basically because they have been abundant, cheap and convenient to use. When I say cheap, I am not just talking about the cost in dollars, but in the amount of energy it takes to access fossil fuel energy. This is defined as the "Energy Returned on Energy Invested" (EROEI). Early in the twentieth century, when oil came into prominence as an energy source, it took just one barrel of oil to get 100 barrels of oil out of the ground—the EROEI was 100. The "surplus energy" was over 99% and this was a tremendous stimulus for economic growth.

Since we have developed fossil fuel resources on a "lowest hanging fruit" basis, the easiest to access, highest quality sources have gradually been used up. Modern oil discoveries rarely have an EROEI better than 10. Unconventional sources of oil, such as fracking and tar sands, have even lower EROEIs. And sadly, the renewable energy sources that are being considered to replace fossil fuels also have very low EROEIs. Even lower if you add in the energy storage required if intermittent sources like wind and solar are to be put into practical use.

The important thing to understand here is that there is a very clear link between the average EROEI of a country's energy sources and the strength of its economy. As that average EROEI goes down, industry starts to become less and less profitable. Below 15 this gets very serious—it becomes difficult to raise capital to start new endeavours and existing businesses find it hard to stay profitable. As the average EROEI decreases further, infrastructure replacement and even routine maintenance of infrastructure becomes difficult to fund. Industrial civilization starts to crumble and the kinds of heroic efforts it would take to save it are beyond its capabilities.

Conventional economists are blind to this and assume that as one energy source runs out, demand will successfully fuel efforts to find a substitute. Without a clear understanding of EROEI, evaluating the merits of such substitutes can be very difficult. Already we are seeing "energy sprawl" as wind turbines and solar panels are springing up everywhere, but with such low EROEIs that they are actually lowering the average EROEIs of the systems they are being added to.

Some people argue that there are huge reserves of unconventional fossil fuels, enough to last for centuries, "so where's the problem?" The problem is that these unconventional hydrocarbons have such low EROEIs that they are not a solution—pursuing them just makes things worse.

The same is true of nuclear fission—lots of fuel, but such a low EROEI (around 9) that it's no help. If at some point we manage to design practical fusion reactors, it is pretty clear that they will be so complex that their EROEI will be even lower than fission reactors, making the abundance of fusion fuel a moot point.

The essence of our situation here in the early twenty first century is that the problem of declining surplus energy doesn't have a solution. Of course, in addition to that underlying and insoluble problem, there are lots of things wrong with our social/governmental/economic systems that make the situation even worse. Definitely it would help to fix these problems, but it is important to keep in mind that, even if they were all fixed, everything wouldn't suddenly be OK—the main problem would still exist. And because of declining surplus energy, it's going to get harder and harder to fix anything.

So, what to do? Well, we just have to adapt to these new realities. Here I am going to borrow some ideas from Prof. Jem Bendell's essay "Deep Adaptation", particularly his three Rs.

Bendell is mainly concerned with climate change and after doing a review of the current findings of climate science, he concludes that "collapse is inevitable, catastrophe is likely and extinction is possible". Considering declining surplus energy and the resulting economic contraction as well as climate change leads me to the same conclusions, maybe more so. Even without any catastrophic events, the slow collapse of industrial civilization, brought on by the falling EROEI of its energy sources, is surely an inevitability. And we should be planning our response to such a slow and tedious collapse, which will require a great deal of adaptation to our new circumstances.

There are many forms of denial that people fall into when faced with the certainly of collapse. Not surprisingly, most people see their continued livelihood and their feelings of self-worth as being dependent on the possibility of ongoing material progress. This is the "religion of progress" which is so central to our modern society. Collapse, of course, means the end of material of progress, and immersion in a complex predicament beyond our control. Admitting this is even possible has, at least initially, a crushing effect on most people.

But, for those who have overcome their denial, Bendell's three Rs hold the key to successful adaptation.

First comes "Resilience". This means having the personal resources—emotional toughness to keep going in the face of collapse and the willingness to adapt to conditions that we have been taught are simply unacceptable (involving a significant reduction in our level of comfort and convenience). I am currently reading Resilience, by Rick Hanson, which gives an abundance of advice on achieving a greater degree of personal, internal resilience.

The alternative is to continue with denial, or having accepted the reality of the situation, give up and abandon any attempt to adapt. To do so is a great pity, since the situation is potentially survivable. Not to minimize the rigors of collapse, especially of the kind of dieoff we will eventually be facing, but there is good reason to think that some of us will survive, find a livelihood and maintain a sense of self worth even with drastically reduced consumption of energy and material goods.

In order to be among those who survive, resilience also involves having accumulated some physical and social resources which will tide us through when the system that currently supports us falls apart, allowing us to hang in there long enough so that we have a chance to adapt. These are the things we will decide we do really need to keep in order to meet our basic needs—safety, satisfaction and connection. Our ancestors did this for millions of years without the help of industrial civilization, so I think there is some chance we can do so as well.

Next comes "Relinquishment". This means deciding what we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse. Clearly, many aspects of modern industrial society cannot be sustained and will have to be abandoned.

Lastly comes "Restoration". This means deciding what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies. In building our modern world there is much that we have set aside, old things that can brought back and put to good use in our low energy future.

I could spend one or more posts looking at the details of these three Rs, and it is likely that I will. I think there are many different approaches that should be tried, and of those, quite a few that will be successful to some degree. The main thing is that people actually give it a try.

So, we started out to have a closer look at the details of collapse in order to gain a better perspective on strategies for living through collapse and after it. I think an understanding of surplus energy's role in economics and the three Rs outlined above is a good start. But to delve deeper into this, I think we need to take a look at mankind's disturbing tendency to group together in ever large settlements. We tend to focus on the advantages of living in cities and to ignore what it takes to make a city work, how it can stop and what might happen when it does.

Cities rely on long supply lines and extensive infrastructure to supply their inhabitants. Our failure to maintain that infrastructure and its resulting decay is already leading to intermittent outages of services for which there is no local alternative. At some point the line between outage and catastrophe blurs and not long after that it becomes unavoidably clear that collapse is really happening.

Now I am a country boy, so perhaps I am biased, but it is my contention that cities are going to be very hard hit by collapse, even the sort of slow collapse that I am talking about. I think that escaping to a more rural area before collapse progresses much further would be a good idea.

The key question, though, is why do I think things will be any better in rural areas?

There is no doubt in my mind that the crises related to supplies of energy, water and food (the basic necessities), which will no doubt occur as industrial civilization crumbles, will effect rural areas just as much as urban ones. People in rural areas are just as much a part of "Business As Usual" as people in the city, just as dependent on long supply chains and complex systems. And when there are disasters, relief efforts are likely to be focused on large population centres, ignoring the rural areas just on the basis of what will help the most people with the least effort.

But we are already seeing the US federal government tapering back on relief efforts in response to hurricanes and passing the responsibility off to the private sector. There is little reason to believe they will do any better. And not far down the road local communities, be they urban or rural, will find themselves essentially on their own when the going gets tough.

The good news is that there are many rural areas where:

  • adequate energy can be had locally in the form of firewood which can be cut by hand
  • potable water can be accessed from already existing wells that can be converted to hand or wind driven pumps and surface water that can be used with fairly simple filtration or treatment
  • sufficient food for the local population can be grown on existing farmland within walking distance of town, without fossil fuel powered machinery

Sure, it will require some degree of advance preparation and a willingness to adapt our lifestyles, but it is all quite doable. This is not the case in the city, where local resources for self-sufficient living are simply not available.

When I speak of rural areas, let me make it clear that I am talking about small towns of a few hundred to a few thousand people, surrounded by farmland, not isolated farmsteads. It will take more than a single family or two to make this work. Indeed isolation is one of the most debilitating conditions that you can find yourself in as a human being.

During the last few decades neoliberalism, in its endless search for profit, has done its best to monetize every human relationship and to isolate individuals from each other. The declining economy is leading to increased under employment and unemployment, poverty and homelessness all of which stresses our communities and isolates their individual members. And civil unrest is growing as inequality between the upper and lower classes increases and the degree to which the lower classes are being abandoned becomes more obvious.

But many small towns are a long way behind cities on that curve and their communities are still intact enough that co-operation is possible when it becomes clear what is required. And during a slow collapse it will gradually become more clear what the situation really is. To enough people, at least, that those advance preparations will get made. Collapse aware people have an important role to play there.

For a long time now, young people have been moving from areas like the one where I live to the cities in order to get an education and find work. The day will come (as I understand it already has as conditions have worsened in Greece) when the situation in the cities will be so bad, they will start to come home to take advantage of the somewhat better situation in the country. They will be able to pitch in and help their families adapt to collapse.

So far I have been talking about adapting during a slow and steady collapse. But of course catastrophic events can by no means be ruled out. In particular, our financial systems are largely virtual and as such are subject to extremely fast collapse when they fail. They will be the first to go, and that will have a negative effect on everything else.

It appears to me that most real economic growth ended in the 1990s and since then growth has largely taken the form of financial bubbles, fueled by debt instead of energy. Those who have money are desperate to find somewhere to invest it at a good return, but profitable, growing businesses are becoming rare, so instead they invest in ever more speculative endeavours. That's fine as long as the price is going up, but every such bubble is looking for a pin to burst it. A few months ago I said that we can expect a financial crash of greater magnitude than 1929 or 2008, sometime in the next few years and nothing has happened since then to change my opinion.

Already we have had a minor spike in the price of oil, trouble for the currencies of emerging market countries, and some indication that the long running bull market may be coming to an end. We are in the middle of this and it isn't yet clear if this is the start of a recession, or if the economy will rally and put off the big crash for some months or years yet.

When that crash does happen, I think that even in cities most of the population will survive the initial days of a financial collapse, mainly because of heroic efforts on the part of individuals in shop floor and low level management positions in supply chain and infrastructure organizations. The people at the tops of those organizations will be largely paralyzed, or at worst doing exactly the wrong thing. But even a worldwide financial collapse will hit some areas harder than others and will proceed, as I have said before, unevenly, unsteadily and unequally. And that's a good thing, because it means when things get really bad locally, there may well be someplace to go where things are better.

I expect there will be some reduction in our population due to supply chain failures following financial crashes. But the big dieoff that lies ahead of us will happen when industrial scale agriculture (both conventional and organic) comes hard up against resource limits—mainly fossil fuels and mineral fertilizers.

Still, it is possible that in the wake of a financial crash the stereotype of a city full of people starving in the dark with no help in sight will occur occasionally. For the vast majority of the unprepared people in that city this will not a survivable scenario. For anyone who really has no other choice but to stay in the city for now, it might be best to have a few weeks of food, water, etc. on hand and plan to stay at home during such a situation, keeping a very low profile, until things settle down and only then head for the country.

But you and I, of course, will have long since moved to a small town at a safe distance from the city. The standard trope in discussions of collapse involves our little town being overrun with roving hordes of hungry people engaged in looting and other forms of violence. I think this is unlikely. The key is to be farther away from the city than most of its population can walk on empty stomachs, which is not that great a distance. Thirst and starvation are debilitating and most people will not think to head out until they are quite desperate.

A few people will no doubt make it through though. It is my opinion that it would be better for everyone involved to welcome them with food and medical assistance, rather than fight them off with guns. It will be a bit of a trick to be set up to do that and in my next post I will look at the practicalities of moving to a small town in the country and getting ready to cope as the pace of collapse increases.

Monday, 1 October 2018

What I've Been Reading, September 2018

Links

Miscellaneous

Collapse

Peak Oil

Climate Change

Economic Contraction

Emergency Preparation

Agriculture and Food

Genetic Engineering

Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.

Refugees and Migration

Puerto Rico

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage, UBI

Books

Fiction

I re-read Kim Stanley Robinson's "Science in the Capital" trilogy this month.

Non-Fiction

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Responding to collapse, Part 2: Climate Change

These squash just climbed up and helped themselves to a seat.

The title for this series of posts started out as "Preparing for collapse", but in my last post I immediately went into a rant about how I see a hard, fast, world-crippling collapse as pretty improbable. What I'm observing instead is a slow collapse that has already been happening for several decades and will continue for several more, albeit with much the same end result as a fast collapse. KMO, one of my favourite podcasters and a follower of this blog, suggested a better title would be Responding to Collapse, and that's what I'll be using from now on. Thanks, KMO.

Of course, I expect that the degree of collapse will become more intense as time passes, and it is that which we should try to prepare for (or respond to). Times will become gradually harder and occasionally bad things will happen that make things quite a bit worse all at once. But things will be much worse in some areas than others and if you are clever you can arrange to be where you'll miss the worst of it. Though if you think you can arrange to miss all of it, you're kidding yourself.

Over the next few posts I'll be offering some rules of thumb for surviving collapse. But always remember not to follow any rule off a cliff. Look at your own current circumstances and adjust my ideas fit.

All of what I am suggesting here only works if the great majority of people ignore my advice or, more likely, never hear it in the first place. One of our biggest problems, now and for quite a while yet, is that there are too many people living on this planet. If a great many people where to head in the direction I am pointing, the advantage of being there would immediately go away.

This is already starting to play out in some parts of the world where things are getting bad enough politically, economically and/or climate-wise that many are leaving in desperation. I am talking about places like the Middle East, North Africa, Venezuela and to some extent even Puerto Rico, where people are leaving for the mainland U.S. in droves. As the numbers of refugees mount the welcome they receive gets less enthusiastic. But bear in mind that the only real choice you will have in this situation is to be part of the influx of refugees or to be among of those who are welcoming it. I would say that the latter role is very much preferable. A timely move, before things get serious, can put you on the right side of things.

And those of you who applaud their government for clamping down on immigrants and immigration, consider this: if your government is so ready to mistreat "those people", how long will they hesitate to treat you similarly when it becomes convenient? Better to take part in the political process (vote, as a minimum) and work towards a government with more humane and progressive policies.

Some of those bad things that might make you want to move will be caused by climate change and today I'd like to focus on the negative effects of climate change, specifically higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns.

I should say in advance that if you are in denial about climate change, please go somewhere else where you'll be more welcome. I simply don't have the energy or inclination to engage with you. As far as I am concerned it's happening, we're causing it by adding CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and it's going to get worse for quite a while yet. Especially since it doesn't seem like we are going to do anything about reducing green house gas emissions until collapse forces us to drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels and our level of consumption in general. At the same time, I give very little credence to those who talk about near term extinction of the human race. That's way too much of an easy way out, and little more than an excuse for inaction.

Much of how we have come to live over the last few thousand years was determined by the climate, which has been fairly stable and accommodating to the way we practice agriculture. Based on this, we have been a very successful species, at least if you judge by how we have spread over the planet and how our population has grown. During the last couple of centuries energy from fossil fuels has enabled us to become even more "successful". We have overcome some challenges that had previously been insurmountable and managed to feed an ever growing population.

The Green Revolution involved some "improved" plant varieties that give startlingly better yields in response to optimized irrigation, fertilization and pest control, all of which have been facilitated by the ready availability of cheap energy. Unfortunately, this has involved the use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels, the water in fossil aquifers, and deposits of potash and phosphorous.

We've managed to live and even farm in areas that were previously deserts. and we've been able to ship food from all over the world to areas where the population couldn't even remotely be supported by local agriculture. But the days of cheap fossil fuels, fertilizers and pesticides, abundant fossil water, and low cost worldwide shipping (with refrigeration as needed) are coming to an end at the same time as the climate is going crazy. We're are going to have to adapt as best we can.

So, let's have a closer a look at the consequences of climate change.

There is no doubt that the climate is warming worldwide and will continue to do so. That warming is much more intense in the high latitudes, leading to melting of major ice shields in Greenland and Antarctica. Mountain glaciers are also melting and disappearing at an alarming rate. To make matters worse, the water and land exposed by melting ice is much less reflective that the ice was and retains more of the heat from the sun rather than reflecting it back into space, leading to even more warming.

Ice is only about 89.5% as dense as sea water. This is why about 10% of the mass of an iceberg sticks out of the water, and why when ice floating in sea water melts, it does not change the level of the water. So the ice covering the Arctic Ocean will have no effect on sea level as it melts. But ice sitting on land does increase sea level when it melts and runs into the sea. This is true of the ice in Greenland and in mountain glaciers, and of much of the ice in Antarctica.

The loss of mountain glaciers also effects the way in which precipitation is stored and flows into rivers and we'll get to that in a moment, but for now, let's concentrate on sea level rise.

Interestingly, sea level isn't the same everywhere. When we speak of altitudes "above sea level" we are talking about "Mean Sea Level", which is an average level of the surface of one or more of Earth's oceans. But what we are concerned about here is the actual sea level at any particular location, and this can differ quite a bit from one location to another, and from one time to another, as the sea is in constant motion, affected by the tides, wind, atmospheric pressure, local gravitational differences, temperature, salinity and so forth. In addition to melting ice, sea level has been increasing during at least the last century as the oceans have heated up due to climate change. Further, many human settlements are built on river deltas, where subsidence of land contributes to a substantially increased effective sea level rise. This is caused by both unsustainable extraction of groundwater (in some places also by extraction of oil and gas), and by levees and other flood management practices that prevent accumulation of sediments from compensating for the natural settling of deltaic soils.

Here is an interactive map that illustrates what areas will be flooded as sea level rises. You can select the amount of rise and scroll around and zoom in to see the effect on the parts of the world that interest you most.

When I initially looking at that map, even with the sea level rise set to the highest level, it didn't seem all that bad—there will be lots of dry land left. But, zooming in and giving it a little further thought, I realized that the missing piece of information is what currently occupies the relatively small areas that would be flooded—a whole lot of people, many of whom are living in the world's largest and most economically important cities.

It's hard to nail down how many people will get their feet wet for any particular increase in sea level, but I did find one article that discusses this in some detail.

The writer says,

"Current estimates for the absolute maximum sea level rise, if the glaciers at both poles melted, range from 225 to 365 feet, with the latter being more likely accurate. If sea levels rose that much, coastal lands would be depressed several meters and transgressive erosion would also occur. So, for instance, even though Long Island has many points that are above 300 feet or so, none of it would survive the transgressive erosion because it is all glacial till. It is hard to extrapolate from the numbers above to a 100+ meter rise, and improper to do so, but consider that if the human population is concentrated near the seas, and 10% live below the 10 meter line, then it is probably true that well more than half live below the 100 meter line, and many more within the area that would be claimed by the sea through erosion and depression."

But while all that ice may well melt eventually, most sources predict that sea level will only go up a few feet during this century. That would be less destructive, but even moderate increases in sea level combined with more severe and more frequent storms, and with tides (if the timing of those storms is bad), will result in previously unheard of damage to seaside settlements. We've already seen some of this with Katrina, Sandy and several storms (Harvey, Irma, Maria) in the fall 2017, that hit the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico and Florida. As I write this, Hurricane Florence is heading for the Carolinas. It promises to last longer and bring with it a lot of rain due to the unusually high temperatures associated with it

Clearly, you'll want to be away from the seashore. But you don't want to jump from the pan directly into the fire, so we need t look at what other climate change related problems you might face farther inland. In an attempt to increase the content value of this post, I found some more maps which illustrate the effect climate change is going to have over the coming decades.

Climate change is a global problem, but in my search it became obvious that quite a lot more information is available for the U.S. and Canada, and since many of my readers are from North America, I'm including some of that information here.

Looking at those maps and a lot of other study led me to the following conclusions:

Tropical storms can do quite a bit of damage fairly far inland—look at what Maria did to Puerto Rico—even the mountainous inland parts of the island. This is something to take into consideration if you currently live in the Caribbean, near the gulf coast of the U.S. or near the eastern board of the U.S. Tropical storms in the Pacific and Indian Oceans are not something we hear much about in the mass media in North America, but they do happen and have lots of potential for damage to human settlements. If you live where this happens you're probably well aware of it and can take it into account in your plans.

People are often proud of the way they have managed to rebuild after storms, and this is fine if you're talking about storms that only happen once a century or so. But as storms become more frequent the financial resources to rebuild every few years will dwindle away. The best time to move is when things have recovered nicely from the most recent storm, but well before the next one. Of course, if it looks like recovery isn't going to happen, then it's time to get out, regardless of the cost.

It always astonishes me the way people are willing, perhaps even eager, to build or move into accommodation on the floodplains of rivers. The story is always that the river floods only very rarely and hasn't flooded in a long time. Now that sounds to me like a promise that flooding can be expected shortly even without climate change. But as climate change brings more violent storms even outside the tropics and changes in the pattern of precipitation and spring melting of the winter snow pack, more frequent floods are a certainty. So don't be fooled when moving into a new area—stay away from floodplains and areas likely to be undercut by erosion.

Heat waves are becoming more common everywhere, but particularly in the tropics. Many areas will eventually get to the point where they will be uninhabitable for large parts of the year if you don't have air conditioning or housing designed to cope. As always, the poor will be hardest hit.

The lack of water can be just as much of a problem as too much.

Already deserts are expanding and they will continue to do so, consuming the semi desert areas surrounding the desert where people have been living and are now forced to leave. This is already happening in North Africa and the Middle East and is the root cause of a lot of political unrest.

Droughts are becoming more common and are striking areas that traditionally have not suffered droughts. The Pacific Northwest, including California and British Columbia, is one such example. Even areas such as the one where I live, which is getting slightly more precipitation overall, are suffering from changes in when the precipitation happens. In the case of southern Ontario, we're getting more precipitation in fall, winter and spring but less in the summer. This is a problem for agriculture hereabouts, which has traditionally relied on getting a sufficient rain in the summer.

There are areas in the southwest of the U.S. that have traditionally been seen as deserts, but during the twentieth century were made to bloom, using water from pump from fossil aquifers and rivers dammed and diverted. Unfortunately the aquifers are just about depleted and all the water in the rivers is being used while demand still grows. As precipitation decreases and temperatures increase even at higher altitudes, there is less accumulation of snow and glaciers melt away, meaning that rivers fed by melting snow and ice run dry earlier in the summer, if they run at all.

There is a great deal to be said about areas outside of North America, but this would require a lot more research on my part and delay the publication of this post even more. But I was reading recently that Spain and Portugal are experiencing a severe drought, and it is expected to get worse.

People have difficultly responding rationally to these sorts of problems. Slowly increasing temperatures, slowly rising sea levels and slowly spreading desertification are the kind of thing that we tend to let future generations worry about, thinking it's not going to happen here, not just yet anyway. Then one day it does happen and many are caught unprepared.

Catastrophes that happen irregularly and unpredictably, like storms, heat waves, droughts and forest fires, are the kind of thing we live through and convince ourselves won't be happening again anytime soon. But as climate change progresses, they will become ever more frequent and more difficult to recover from.

Don't be caught in denial—where ever you are, you'll be experiencing some negative effects from climate change. But in some places, those effects will be overwhelming and the only viable response is to move away. Better to be well ahead of the rush. If you own property, better to get it sold while there are still buyers who haven't caught on to what's happening.

So, you're looking for a place that is, and will continue to be:

  • well above sea level
  • not at the top of a bluff overlooking the sea that is being gradually eroded away
  • not situated so as to take the full brunt of tropical storms
  • not in the floodplain of a river
  • not in a desert or semi-desert that relies on water from fossil aquifers that are being depleted faster than they are replenished or rivers fed by glacial melt water
  • not subject to hot season temperatures or heat waves that are not survivable if the power goes out or you can't afford air conditioning
  • receiving enough rain to allow for agriculture
  • with a growing season and soil that will support agriculture

In addition to the problems caused by climate change, the other two main concerns of this blog (resource depletion and economic contraction) are going to see most of us becoming quite a bit poorer, and not relying on anything that uses much energy, including shipping things in from far away. Most of our own food will have to be grown locally and the smaller amount of "stuff" we consume will be made locally.

In a future post (coming soon) I'll be talking about coping with the challenge of finding and fitting into a community that can survive under these conditions. For now I'll just say don't assume that collapse will relieve you of the necessity of earning a living in the growth based capitalist economy. It's going to take a long time to switch over to a low energy, low consumption, non-growth economy and in the meantime, most of us will have to keep a foot in both worlds, and initially mainly in the currently existing world.

So any plan for a move will have to take into account the necessity of earning a living where ever you go. You may well find that the pressure of earning a living pushes you in the opposite direction from what collapse related planning would indicate is best.

Next time I'll look at the socio-economic side of things—the problems caused when we are surrounded by too many people and by too few, often at the same time.

Monday, 3 September 2018

What I've Been Reading, August 2018

This note started out saying that the links below appear in the order I read them and was meant imply that they were more or less random in their subject matter, other than being of interest to me. During the last few months, I added a few new categories at the bottom of the links section on subjects that are of particular interest to me. This month the first few links are in a "Miscellaneous" section, and it contains only a minority of the links. If you're reading this blog for information on collapse you may wonder how relevant some of the categories are, but it seems to me that whatever insight I have on the subject of collapse is informed by what I know about everything else that I am interested in.

Links

Miscellaneous

  • How to Spot a Fake Friend Request, by Andy O'Donnell, Lifewire
    I've cut down my time on Facebook during the last few months, but I still occasionally get friend requests from attractive young women who I don't know. As this article says, probably spam. I frequently notice, though, that some of my male friends have sign up as friends with these "girls"—they are getting fooled again and again. Read the article and wise up, guys.
  • How to Tell Stories About Complex Issues , by Annie Neimand, Stanford Social Innovation Review.
    Stories are the most powerful tool we have for increasing understanding and building engagement with complex issues. Telling them well can drive belief and behavior change.

Collapse

Agriculture and Food

Peak Oil

Climate Change

Economic Contraction

  • The revenge of the spider—economic recklessness and GFC II, by Tim Morgan, Surplus Energy Economic
    "But the escalation in debt alone gives the lie to any claim that this “growth” has been genuine or sustainable. Between 2000 and 2007, growth of $25.5 trillion (at 2017 values) was accompanied by a $52tn increase in debt, meaning that just over $2 was borrowed for each $1 of “growth”. Since 2007, the ratio has worsened markedly, with “growth” of $29.8tn accompanied by $99tn in borrowing, a ratio of $3.30 of new debt for each growth dollar."
    GFC I = Global Financial Crash One (2008), GFC II = Global Financial Crash Two, coming soon.
  • Argentine peso and Turkish lira crash, putting pressure on emerging markets worldwide, by Weizhen Tan, CNBC Markets

The Scientific Consensus

Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.

There is No God, and Thou Shall Have No Other Gods

Puerto Rico

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage, UBI

Autonomous Vehicles and Artificial Intelligence

Humour

Early in the history of these monthly "What I've Been Reading" posts, Liam Scheff (since deceased, sadly) suggested I include some humour. I did once or twice, but it soon fell by the wayside. This month I've stumbled upon a couple of humourous items, so there may be hope for reviving this section on an ongoing basis.

Books

Fiction

Non-Fiction

Finally I finished The Bell Curve, and no longer can anyone say that my comments about it are made without having read the book.

In short, Murray plays fast and loose with the scientific consensus on the heritability of IQ in order to further his ideological (Libertarian) goals. To put it bluntly, he doesn't think we should be wasting money on dumb poor people, since (according to him) it will do little good in any case and more likely make things worse. He also has quite a lot to say about the inferior IQ test results of blacks and Latins in the U.S.

I don't agree with this. I got into the discussion because of a podcast where Sam Harris played "softball" with Charles Murray, essentially accepting what Murray had to say as the unfortunate truth. Fortunately, it's not. Here are some links that support my position on the subject.

  • Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ, by Eric Turkheimer, Kathryn Paige Harden, and Richard E. Nisbett, Vox
    Podcaster and author Sam Harris is the latest to fall for it.
  • Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns, by Ulric Neisser et al, February 1996, American Psychologist
    This is a "Report of a Task Force Established by the American Psychological Association.", in response to The Bell Curve, and it presents what is essentially the scientific consensus on intelligence, as of 1996, which is rather different from what Murray and Hernnstein report that consensus to be in their book.
  • https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c03f/f20904c35a370534a9d3710453dd6dc7a2d2.pdf, by Richard E. Nisbett et all, February–March 2012, American Psychologist
    This report also presents the scientific consensus on intelligence, this time as of 2012.
    "We review new findings and new theoretical developments in the field of intelligence.
    New findings include the following:
    (a) Heritability of IQ varies significantly by social class.
    (b) Almost no genetic polymorphisms have been discovered that are consistently associated with variation in IQ in the normal range. (c) Much has been learned about the biological underpinnings of intelligence.
    (d) “Crystallized” and “fluid” IQ are quite different aspects of intelligence at both the behavioral and biological levels.
    (e) The importance of the environment for IQ is established by the 12-point to 18-point increase in IQ when children are adopted from working-class to middle-class homes.
    (f) Even when improvements in IQ produced by the most effective early childhood interventions fail to persist, there can be very marked effects on academic achievement and life outcomes.
    (g) In most developed countries studied, gains on IQ tests have continued, and they are beginning in the developing world. (h) Sex differences in aspects of intelligence are due partly to identifiable biological factors and partly to socialization factors.
    (i) The IQ gap between Blacks and Whites has been reduced by 0.33 SD in recent years.
    We report theorizing concerning
    (a) the relationship between working memory and intelligence,
    (b) the apparent contradiction between strong heritability effects on IQ and strong secular effects on IQ,
    (c) whether a general intelligence factor could arise from initially largely independent cognitive skills,
    (d) the relation between self-regulation and cognitive skills, and
    (e) the effects of stress on intelligence."
  • Searching for Justice—The Discovery of IQ Gains Over Time, by James R. Flynn, University of Otago

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

What I've Been Reading, July 2018

This month, I've moved further in the direction of curating this list and added new sections for topics that particularly interest me. In the context of this blog, that is—I'm leaving out woodworking articles, recipes and most politics, so far.

I don't put a great deal of effort into hunting for articles on any particular topic, so the size of each section will vary from month to month. Also, for the most part, the articles are listed in the order I found them.

Links

Miscellaneous

Collapse

Peak Oil

Climate Change

Economic Contraction

The Scientific Consensus

Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.

I just started this category this month and the moment I did articles that fit started popping up everywhere I looked, so the list is probably a little unbalanced in this direction this month.

  • How a Young Woman Lost Her Identity, by Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker
    Hannah Upp disappears for weeks at a time, forgetting her sense of self. Can she still be found?
  • "Find Your Passion" Is Awful Advice, by Olga Khazan, Medium—The Atlantic
    A major new study questions the common wisdom about how we should choose our careers.
  • What Do 90-Somethings Regret Most?, by Lydia Sohn, Medium
    I interviewed the oldest people I know. Their responses contradict popular research about aging and happiness.
  • Why you shouldn’t share your goals, by Aytekin Tank, Medium—The Startup
  • Caves all the way down, by Jules Evans, Aeon
    Do psychedelics give access to a universal, mystical experience of reality, or is that just a culture-bound illusion?
    "...how do we know if our trips reveal ‘ultimate reality’ or just the reflection of our subconscious?"
    It may be that this should have gone in the "scientific consensus" section, since it is written by someone with a preconceived notion who is willing "hold his ideas to critical account" (and good for him):
    "I am a fan of the mystical theory of psychedelics. I have accepted it since I first read Huxley’s Doors of Perception as a mushroom-munching teenager. I have had mystical-type experiences on psychedelics that have been deeply important in my life (as well as some awful experiences). However, like all academics, I need to be able to hold my ideas to critical account, or otherwise stop pretending to be a researcher and leave the academy to start a religion (as Timothy Leary did in 1966 with the League for Spiritual Discovery, which used LSD as its holy sacrament). So, in the spirit of critical enquiry, I want to suggest that there are several problems with the mystical theory of psychedelics."
  • The Wisdom of the Sloth: Is Sleep a Lost Virtue?, by Joel Frohlich , Knowing Neurons
    "We are with sleep where we were with smoking 50 years ago. We had all of the evidence about the … disease issues, but the public had not been aware, no one had adequately communicated the science of, you know, smoking to the public. The same I think is true for sleep right now."
  • How Do I Stop Forgetting What I Learned So Quickly?, by William Cho, Medium—Student Voices
  • 'Boy or girl?' Parents raising 'theybies' let kids decide, by Julie Compton, NBC News
    "One way of shielding children from gender stereotypes: Keep their biological sex secret."
    I suspect there are quite a few socially conservative people around who will have trouble with this and make trouble for children being raised a theybies. Just chill.
  • You Might Not Actually Be Struggling With Depression, by Benjamin Sledge, Medium—Heart Support
    But you may be dealing with depression’s lesser known evil twin.

Intelligence

Refugees and Migration

Puerto Rico

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage, UBI

  • Where Financial Inequality Is Rampant, by, Niall McCarthy, Statista, The Statistics Portal
  • What It Really Means to Be Marginalized, by Thrity Umriga, Medium
    Growing up amid the beggars and laborers of Mumbai, I wanted to know what it was like to live their lives.
  • The United States Has a National-Security Problem—and It’s Not What You Think, by Rajan Menon, TheNation
    Conflict abroad is not the biggest threat to most Americans’ lives.
    It’s time to rethink the American national security state with its annual trillion-dollar budget. For tens of millions of Americans, the source of deep workaday insecurity isn’t the standard roster of foreign enemies, but an ever-more entrenched system of inequality, still growing, that stacks the political deck against the least well-off Americans. They lack the bucks to hire big-time lobbyists. They can’t write lavish checks to candidates running for public office or fund PACs. They have no way of manipulating the myriad influence-generating networks that the elite uses to shape taxation and spending policies. They are up against a system in which money truly does talk—and that’s the voice they don’t have. Welcome to the United States of Inequality.
  • You can’t just put homeless people in tiny houses, by Miles Howard, The Outline
    Rather than confront America’s housing crisis head-on, some cities are asking homeowners to build tiny rental units in their backyard.

Autonomous Vehicles and Artificial Intelligence

Books

Fiction

I was reading both the John Barnes books for a second or third time, but they deserve it.

Non-Fiction

I'm still wading slowly through The Bell Curve, in order to be able to criticize it with some degree of credibility. Less than 200 pages to go at this point. This has also lead to reading some scholarly articles about IQ on the web, further slowing down my other reading. I did manage to read a couple of non-fiction books this month, though.

  • The Informed Gardener, by Linda Chalker-Scott
    Disappointingly, this is mainly about landscape gardening. But it does do some pretty significant debunking.
  • Democracy in Chains, by Nancy MacLean
    My eldest son Michael lent me this book. It answers a question he and I have often pondered, "Why do people vote against their own interests?" The answer is clearly that a great deal of money has been spent to convince us that our best interests lie with the very rich and their right to accumulate more wealth, regardless of the effect on us.
  • The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, by Kristin Miller, billmoyers.com
    A Q&A with author Nancy MacLean about the elusive James McGill Buchanan. MacLean's book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, tells the story of one James McGill Buchanan, a Southern political scientist and father of “public choice economics".
    If you don't read the book, at least read this interview.