- I was a Geeky techno-optimist
- Then the 3 E’s hit me: Energy, Environment, and the Economy
- Climate change
- ‘Wet-bulb’ super-heatwaves could kill millions when they first strike
- Governments mostly ignore the magnitude of the combined threat
- Doomers and the suicide that changed me
- There is hope if you get involved
- Solutions page
1. I was a Geeky techno-optimist
I grew up reading geeky Sci-Fi books and watching Star Trek. They portrayed a post-scarcity world with abundance for everyone and nature thriving. It was a world where humanity could pursue noble scientific and artistic work – with plenty of time for leisure. I was sort of jealous of people living in the future, and happily assumed this was where we were heading.
2. Then the 3 E’s hit me: Energy, Environment, and the Economy
ENERGY: Then in my 30’s I thought I would google how renewables like wind and solar were going, and check how the assumptions of my idealistic youth were tracking. Oh boy. What I learned challenged me profoundly – and turned into years of reading.
The challenges began with oil. It appeared likely to peak and max out in production, and begin a slow but steady decline. It would never again meet demand. A 2005 Australian Senate inquiry found that preparing would take a few decades – so the earlier we started the better. (Peak oil)
I naturally wondered what renewable energy system would replace oil. After reading about it for a year I became convinced that renewables would struggle to provide reliable electricity – let alone 1000 bathtubs a second of a liquid fuel like oil. (Here are those Concerns with Renewables – but I am more optimistic about them now.)
We use huge quantities of cheap oil to grow food, especially all the gas it takes to suck nitrogen out of the air and make our fertiliser. It takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to grow 1 calorie of food energy. (Scientific American) Think about that the next time you’re chewing down on a Big Mac. Being an Australian Sci-Fi addict – I had of course seen the Mad Max movies. Of course oil was important! But 10 calories of oil energy to every 1 calorie of food? What were we going to do?
I started to see the world through split vision – a bit like Neo at the end of The Matrix. But instead of green Matrix code, everything was Oil or fossil fuel energy. Every product used or contained oil. Oil mines and transports everything, and is an actual ingredient in paints and plastics and clothes and teflon pans. Our whole modern world depends on oil for everything. If an oil war or embargo suddenly ended our supplies of oil, society would struggle not to crash. But that grim picture was just the first part – Energy.
ENVIRONMENT & ECONOMY: Not only this – but I learned how interconnected the Energy, Environment, and Economy are. For instance, solving one crisis can make another worse. Biofuels might give us a tiny amount of oil, but they quickly compete for food production and destroy vast farmlands and habitats as they do so. (Biofuels) Coal can be converted into a liquid fuel to replace oil – but this would be a disaster for climate change and natural habitats. Governments could implement emergency oil rationing – but too soon and the economy crashes just as it has during the Covid lockdowns.
The global Environment we depend on is sick and dying, right when we need it to be in tip-top condition to help us with our energy challenges. Here’s a quick snapshot. The very soil we need to grow our food is blowing away. Half our agricultural land is already degraded and global food could decrease by 12% in the next few decades, while Scientific American warns the world’s farmland topsoils could be gone in 60 years! (Peak soil) Both population and economic growth have increased water demand so that two-thirds of our main rivers do not reach the oceans unimpeded – hurting local ecosystems and fisheries and water supply. Ground water bores aka “fossil water” is depleted and water tables are dropping ever lower in over half the world’s biggest underground aquifers. (Water)
The oceans are also in trouble – with 80% of fisheries on the verge of collapse due to overfishing. The oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb about a quarter of our CO2 emissions. It may reach a point where ocean acidity enters a feedback loop making it more acidic as the acid cooks up shellfish and reefs – releasing more CO2. About 70% of the reefs could be gone by 2100, and this would be about 17% of ocean biodiversity – just from acidic oceans. Over a billion people rely on today’s ocean for protein. (Oceans)
Our land and forest habitats are under stress as we use half the land surface of the earth for grazing and farming. (Cities only take up 3%.) (Peak biodiversity) We have introduced pests, hunted the apex predators, and polluted with plastic and other toxic wastes. This creates biodiversity loss which in turn threatens ecosystem services – things nature gives us for free like clean water and air and storm breaks and pollutant recycling – all for free and are worth hundreds of billions in GDP. Without many of these free natural services, many economies will take a hit. (Ecosystem services).
Not only this, but it seemed we had an Economic system dependent on debt-fuelled growth while the world already had too many people using too much stuff too fast. EG: We will mine most conventional metal ores by 2075. (Peak metals) The sheer speed of exponential growth is hard for many of us to visualise. (Speed of growth) Most citizens of our nations are hardly aware of how all these factors can come together, and how fast, and are understandably just struggling to get through each day and want to watch some TV. All of this is bad – real bad. Chris Martenson’s “Crash Course” outlines it well. (4 hours 40 minutes viewing here) He asks the right questions – and that is important in an age when many of us are too distracted to even begin to think about these complex subjects. But I ultimately disagree with some of his conclusions.
3. Climate change
But now add climate change to the mix and it just makes everything worse. As the Pentagon says – climate change is the ultimate ‘threat multiplier’. There is already way too much writing about climate change so here I include a few video refreshers. (If you want more, start with the Climate Crisis is real and work from there.)
National Geographic – 3 minutes
WWF – beautiful and comprehensive – 38 minutes
(If you listen carefully, they cover the 3 E’s)
(I disagree with the WWF’s anti-nuclear stance, but love their conservation work and this documentary! – 38 minutes.)
4. ‘Wet-bulb’ super-heatwaves could kill millions when they first strike
This is not a Sci-Fi thriller like 2012. The human body simply cannot survive above 100% humidity at a mere 36 degrees C. Normal heatwaves kill the elderly and infirm. But these ‘wet-bulb’ heatwaves will be unlike anything we have seen before, and they could start appearing in the next few decades. The first time one of these heatwaves hits the tropics or India – it could kill millions – even tens of millions. Their potential range is the tropics – red below – and it puts 3 BILLION people at risk.
5. Governments mostly ignore the magnitude of the combined challenges ahead
Hardly a year goes by without a conservative, careful scientific organisation sounding the alarm. Back in the day we read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and watched Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. Governments paid lip service with a few rebates to renewables. But sadly, my Warnings page documents a growing list of papers that have largely been forgotten. The classic 1970’s Limits to Growth (still on track 40-something years later) to more recent work has more than established that there are too many people using too much stuff too fast. The dangers are real, and accumulating.
6. Doomers and the suicide that changed me
Most people just brush off these concerns and assume technology and the government will save the day. On the other hand, some become cynical and pessimistic. A few adopt a Doomer worldview (even if they don’t have the commitment to leave society and become a full Doomsday Prepper themselves).
I agree with their concerns. They are asking the right questions. Have we left it too late? Are the combined challenges of Energy, the Environment and Economic growth addiction just too vast? But I disagree with them giving up. We’ve got a moral duty to fight this and hand a better world to our kids. Sadly, one Doomer group I was in proved deadly to one young man. He cycled out to his favourite tree and hung himself. That suicide changed me – and I became appalled at the cult like mentality in some of these groups – especially with their pessimistic denial that any technology or cultural changes can improve things. This blog is my reaction to that suicide – a collection of today’s technologies and practices that can solve our problems – if enough of us demand action.
7. There is hope if you get involved
I’m now convinced that there are technical and cultural solutions to our many problems. But will we deploy them in time? This is why I chose the logo of an eclipse. An eclipse was once feared by ancient cultures as a sign of great danger. But today we can also use it to describe a fantastic accomplishment – something that so takes the lead it blots out all previous attempts. It eclipses them. And eclipse represents both the dangers and the opportunities of today.
However, we must act soon. This is not binary – fail or succeed. There are many ways we might get by in some areas and fail in others. Climate change is accelerating. If we become complacent our children may inherit a planet we hardly recognise. On current trends half the biodiversity will be extinct by 2050 and possibly billions will grind by in crushing poverty, hunger, and war. There are challenges ahead – but also some attractive solutions. I hope you find one you can work towards in your area.
Please browse my solutions summary page.
Click the links, read the pages, watch the videos. You might not agree with all of the solutions, but if just one resonates with you – do something! Join a local activist group or facebook group, get involved, and you may just have an impact. You’ll learn more, make friends, and help to make a better world.