Green Power, Not

Look, I know this is not a huge issue, it’s just one UK power station as far as I know, that is burning wood pellets instead of coal to produce electricity, but it is huge in that it reflects the stupidity of the human race and the short term memory that we exhibit.

19-drax-coal-fired-power-station-afp-gettyPhoto credit: The electricity generated by Drax accounts for about 7 or 8 per cent of the total power of the National Grid AFP/Getty

 

The main reason that we started digging coal out of the ground was not that we just discovered that we could, but that we were rapidly running out of trees (in the old world industrial nations).  And, of course, the population was only about 20% of what it is now (perhaps as low as 10% in those same industrial nations) back then.  The population of a large industrial town would be numbered in the tens of thousands, maybe a few over a hundred thousand, but nowhere like the millions that we see in even medium sized cities today.  Imagine catering for the needs of today’s crowds with only timber as an energy production as well as construction source.  It would be a situation not unlike Easter Island over the whole of Europe and other places.

But that is exactly the situation we will be facing after our resource-based industrial society finally crashes as a direct result of us either discovering that we are unable to find or extract further resource supplies from the ground or we finally realise that continuing to do so will result in our rapidly killing ourselves off from the effects of that abuse on our finely balanced climate.

When that comes about, as eventually it must, I am sure that we will, given the opportunity, wonder whether we can go back to just using the trees to meet our needs.  Timber, and other plant products, being the ultimate and perhaps only truly renewable resource which can be adopted without technology no longer available to us, that we may utilise to rebuild a saner society.

We may not get that opportunity, but if we do, and take a look around us, we will see that there is no region of this planet that we have not already trashed in our pursuit of easy power, that is immediately capable of producing the number of trees which would be needed to bring such a concept into reality.

Are you beginning to get just a vague inkling of the idea that I keep preaching?  The idea which suggests that if any of us are to survive to create new generations following that societal crash, then most of us have to die somehow, to enable that to happen?

Why?  Because we need the bloody trees so that we can keep breathing and also to provide all of our other basic necessities.  And there is a limit to how many people can be supported by such a situation.  Simple as that.

How many people?  I would suggest the approximate number would be around the population level, or maybe a little lower than that, extant at the time when things started to go wrong for us.  Say, one to one and a half billion.

 Added after publication:

I would further suggest that this will also take place before the world population clock reaches 8 billion or shortly thereafter.  That should be sometime around 2023, give or take, depending on events transpiring in the meantime ie. the possibility that we may kill ourselves off earlier.

 

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Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?

Well, can it?  Good Question.

I have been saying for some time now, here on this blog and elsewhere, that we are headed for a collapse of civilisation, globally, the like of which has never before been witnessed on this planet.  At least, unseen during the 200,000 odd years, perhaps longer, that we or beings like us have been progressing to become the present dominant species here.

Civilisations come.  Civilisations go.  Most, notably in a state of collapse.  Sometimes a sudden collapse.  Sometimes a protracted one (150 years or so).  But go they must, and ours will be no different.

What makes the collapse of our civilisation so unprecedented?  Well, the world has never before seen a truly global civilisation until just a few decades ago.  Perhaps fifty or sixty years or so.

I personally think our fall will be rather sudden.  Why?  Well, for a number of reasons but primarily because of the crazy reliance on debt based economic growth that underpins it. It basically has the stability of a house of cards.  Without economic growth it is frighteningly unstable and such growth now, despite what governments tell you, has reached its limits.  Witness austerity in Europe, $multi-billion budget cuts in America, etc. etc.  Even here in Australia the government, spruiking economic growth, has spent enormous amounts of money it does not have and is not likely to get, as economic downturn begins to bite.  It will not matter who governs in the future.  They will all face the same problem of cutting up an ever smaller revenue pie.

It doesn’t take much of a nudge to topple a house of cards.

That’s My View.  Now Read On…

Well, it is briefly my view, but I leave it there because the real reason I had for adding this post today is to introduce what I consider to be an important paper on the subject originally published by the Royal Society  in January this year and most recently also published by The Simplicity Institute here in Australia.  A paper which coincidentally, wouldn’t you know, carries the same title as my post.

The Authors of the paper are Paul Ehrlich and Anne H Ehrlich.

Paul Ehrlich is a Professor of Biology and President of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, and Adjunct Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney. His research interests are in the ecology and evolution of natural populations of butterflies, reef fishes, birds and human beings.

Anne Ehrlich is a Senior Research Scientist in Biology at Stanford and focuses her research on policy issues related to the environment.

He is perhaps best known for the 1968 book ‘The Population Bomb’, though they both co-authored it, and his outspoken views and predictions on global population issues.  Many of his early predictions failed to materialise but that is often the way when numbers and dates are mentioned.  The general thrust of his ideas is still valid, perhaps even more so, today.

What Does It Say?

This paper argues much the same as what I have been saying but of course with a greater degree of eloquence, academic validity and cogency than I could ever hope to garner.  It focuses mainly not on economic issues but on the social issues of over-population, over-use of resources and consequent problems.  These are very real issues of the type that might precipitate a longer, more drawn out but perhaps just as painful societal collapse as the more dramatic economic collapse that I spoke about earlier.  Either path could very well form a lead-in to initiate the other.

The paper concludes that because of the capacity that society has shown to be able to deal with threats if the collective attention can be sufficiently focussed on the task, a global collapse of society can be avoided.  However, it goes on to suggest that even though catastrophe can be avoided, the odds are small that it actually will be avoided because collectively we will not be sufficiently motivated to work for the good of future generations at the expense of our own.

I could not agree more.