Senate Doom N Gloom Report: - "On the verge of a global food crisis"

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Jabbadabbado, Mar 18, 2010.

  1. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Well I think that the way we should seek to improve our water systems should start at the macroscopic level and work our way down. For leaking water pipes built below streets, the best option is to use a flexible inner tube that would form an airtight layer within the pipe itself. This would reduce the pipe's capacity by 5-10%, but it would allow for an easy fix without having to dig up the roads and relay everything.

    This is a temporary solution and a quick fix, but the real solution must come from seriously rethinking the way we lay out our utilities. Using the transportation oriented development pattern(TOD), you can significantly reduce the upkeep for virtually every utility by using a less extensive network with pipes and wires of greater capacity. After the TOD is laid out, then we can start to focus on renovating a building; or if it would have to be torn down and rebuilt to make room for upgraded roads and utilities.
  2. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
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    If you're the kind of person who is frustrated and annoyed by people like me, then Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist" Is the book for you. He has done a better job of anyone I have yet read taking on the likes of me and making the case that humans, with their capacity for breeding ideas (ideas can have sex!) to produce useful mutated ideas--what we like to call innovation--are destined for long-term success and prosperity on planet Earth.

    Ridley states as his opening premise that our capacity for trade provided the push that allowed Homo Sapiens to eradicate the Neanderthals and spread across the face of the earth. Trade predates civilization and goes far enough back into human prehistory that it may be a primary cause of behavioral modernity rather than a result. Humans evolved to use oxytocin to reduce stress and anxiety and increase feelings of affiliation in exchange encounters with each other. Language may have developed in part to allow for more complex exchange. What makes us human, Ridley asks? We're the only primate that will exchange something we value for something we value a little bit more. The unbeatable combination of human supremacy, Ridley writes, is trade, division of labor and specialization and the leveraging of comparative advantage combined with the accumulation and interbreeding of useful ideas.

    From there, Ridley launches into the unstoppable march of homo sapiens. Of all the optimists I have encountered, Ridley has the most thorough understanding of the role of energy in civilization. Energy is civilization, and Ridley knows it better than optimists who are less rational. He offers up an entertaining general overview of the history of human energy leveraging, from fire which allowed for cooking and released more and better calories into the human diet, to the neolithic revolution, the development of agriculture and the domestication of food and draught animals, to the concentration of human energy through the use of slave labor, through the development of cargo ships harnessing wind energy for trade, to the medieval water wheel revolution, coal and the industrial revolution, then the distribution of coal energy (and later natural gas and nuclear) through the electricity grid and finally the natural gas and oil revolutions that brought human interaction to new heights of innovation and economic globalization. Through the use of fossil fuel, each of us benefits from the energy equivalent of hundreds of slaves, so most of us live like "sun kings" with life expectancies and access to goods and services that no feudal monarch could ever have imagined.

    And, thanks to innovation, things will keep getting better. The last part of the book is an explanation of why the things pessimists like me whine about are not really problems. The green revolution, which allowed a doubling of the human population between 1927 and 1974, is now being followed by a genetically modified crop revolution that, combined with an ongoing trend toward slower population growth worldwide, will help us reach a comfortable and sustainable final world population peak of perhaps a little more than 9 billion in the second half of this century. These people will be better clothed, fed, sheltered and supplied with goods and services of all kinds than any people in human history. Climate change panic is a passing fad. Mineral resources have never been exhausted and never will be. Freshwater scarcity caused by aquifer depletion and glacier meltwater loss will be met by widespread adoption of drip irrigation and GM crops with a tolerance for arid conditions.

    I should cut this post short. Let me add that the anti pessimism screed at the end of Ridley's book is erudite and extremely amusing. I can't recommend the book more highly if you like well written non-fiction. As an affronted pessimist, however, I have a few concerns and complaints. More later.
  3. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 19, 2000
    star 5
    ... so why did you read it?
    No, scratch that: why did you choose to read that instead of Larry Niven??
  4. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    That's why I used to read the National Review way back when it was well written and smart. Try to understand the arguments of the guy who disagrees with you most. You might learn something from him.
  5. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 19, 2000
    star 5
    Then, disagree!
    You're listing what Matt says, not where and how you disagree with him.
  6. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Oh, right. That part.

    Put simply, Ridley doesn't recognize the implications of his own persuasive arguments, and so reaches the wrong conclusion.

    But before I go into that, his brief history of pessimism includes one important error that makes me wonder about the thoroughness of his research.

    For real Malthusian resource pessimists, the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth is a hugely influential text. Ridley's criticism of it is very familiar, having been repeated often by other rational optimists over four decades, to wit:

    The problem with this statement is that Limits to Growth doesn't make that claim. Ridley hasn't read it. Like untold number of people before him who have decried its humiliating failure, he never bothered to read the book.

    Limits to Growth allowed different assumptions to be applied to its system dynamics model, with runs allowing for double the current known energy resources, double or more the then known commodity resources, unlimited energy, etc. No matter what the assumption, unchecked exponential population growth eventually overwhelms food production and crashes industrial productivity through massive levels of pollution and supply constraints. None of these problems were predicted to become severe by 1992, but some of them were predicted to cause intense problems toward the middle part of the 21st century. The message of the book was that the longer we wait to lower population growth, the more difficult it would be to create some kind of sustainable equilibrium.

    Where did the Club of Rome get it right:

    First of all, we're only 40 years into its look at the 100 years after 1970. They accurately predicted that the world population would double by now, which it has from 3.4 billion to 6.8, and then went on to worry that it might double again to 14 billion later in the 21st century.

    what has happened however is that population growth has slowed from its peak at about 2.2% in the 1960s, to a rate that, if the trend continues, will see the world population peak at a little more than 9 billion, or "only" a 30% increase or so from the current population. If we peak at 9 billion in a few decades, that means we will need only 30% more food, 30% more resources, 30% more energy at current per capita consumption levels.

    If we successfully cap the human population at 9 billion, we may get closer to the more optimistic "stabilized world" run of the computer model

    [image=http://www.climatechangenews.org/archive/arch-pix/limits_to_growth.gif]

    Without population stabilization, the model predicts an overwhelming of the resource base and or environmental collapse from pollution that will kill per capita food and industrial production and crash the population to a much lower level than would otherwise be possible under the (c) run.

    Notice that the middle run takes into account Ridley's assumption of "unlimited innovation." If Ridley had bothered to read the text, he might have responded to that as opposed to making **** up.

    I will say however that under the Limits to Growth regime, there's certainly cause for more optimism if the world population is capped at 9 billion, than if it doubles again to 14 billion.




  7. Alpha-Red Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 25, 2004
    star 5
    Actually bacteria are probably a better analogy for human civilization than viruses, and living creatures don't instinctively come to equilibrium with their environment so much as they consume and and devour their way into a niche until equilibrium is established. But you get the idea o_O
  8. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    That's not the point. The point is that humans don't integrate with nature. We alter ecosystems, landscapes, release toxins locked deep underground and allow them to vent into the environment, domesticate and cultivate specific species that we favor at the expense of the natural biodiversity, and (most importantly) we don't simply seek to live... we seek to take everything for ourselves and squander it.

    Humans are the most destructive creatures on this planet and we have to recognize we're endangering everything we need to survive. We may be well off today, but our actions are going to be felt when technology can no longer keep up with the ecological damage we've caused already.
  9. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    Jun 29, 2000
    star 9
    'Integrated with nature' is basically code for 'overly specialized'. Animals that live in a close lock-step with their environments tend to be extremely vulnerable when environmental conditions abruptly change. For evidence...well, crap, look at the trends in modern-day extinction. It's the animals with highly specialized environmental and food requirements that are dying off; animals that are generalists are doing more or less fine.
  10. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    How simplistic of you. Although you do make a point about species that are very sensitive to environmental change are more likely to die out, I wouldn't say everything else is doing 'fine.' Even right now, elm trees (which once had a very wide tolerance for various ecosystems) are now quite rare in the US. Ash trees are subject to the Emerald Ash Boar. And virtually every tree in the US is potentially at risk from garlic mustard and buckthorn invasion. They may not be in danger as it is, but when garlic mustard takes over, they virtually make it impossible for oak, black walnut, and hickory to reproduce.

    When you have an increasingly diminishing ecosystem, everything is at risk from total ecological collapse.
  11. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    Jun 29, 2000
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    But species have survived even the worst of ecological collapses before, like during the Permian extinction, where 90% of all life on the planet died. Generalized animals also survived the end of the last Ice Age-a good example of the fact that generalized animals survive things their specialized neighbors don't.

    It's simplistic because it's true. The animals that have become extremely specialized are the first to suffer, and usually wind up extinct. Generalist species survive because of their ability to either adapt (cockroaches, coyotes, etc) or adapt the environment to themselves (humans, beavers, etc.)


    The beaver is a fantastic animal when it comes to learning about extinction; the modern-day beaver and it's relative the giant beaver both lived at the same time.

    The giant beaver, Castoroides Ohioensis, was a highly specialized animal that favored swamps and marshes because of it's dietary preferences. When this sort of terrain started disappearing at the end of the last ice age, the giant beaver went extinct because it had grown overtly specialized and was therefore unable to adapt. The modern beaver, on the other hand, which had long since taken to adapting it's environment to itself through the building of dams and lodges, did not go extinct.



    I agree with you that we're currently in a mass extinction (you'd have to be an idiot not to :p), but we'll see how humans and other generalized species handle it.


  12. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 19, 2000
    star 5
    Looks like DB is a veritable optimist.

    I'm not, but I'm pretty positive his is the way to go. I have become convinced that, when it concerns the future and our equilibrium in it, people will not make plans for it. People make plans for themselves and their own little surroundings, and they're not organized well enough to make any structural long-term plans. There will not be a universal return to mother nature. There will be a slow but steady conversion to a man-made ecology, or there will be no future at all.
  13. shanerjedi Jedi Master

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    Mar 17, 2010
    star 4
    Reminds me of the Panda.
  14. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2000
    star 9
    You would be correct in that opinion of me as eternally optimistic.


    [face_plain]


    I have the opinion that life is a whole lot more tenacious than we give it credit for. It started under virtually insanely coincidental circumstances and has made it through absolutely horrific events like the Permian extinction. It took a long, long time for it to get back to where it was before, but it eventually did, and that was with 90-95% of all life gone.

  15. Fire_Ice_Death Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 15, 2001
    star 7
    Mankind is ego-driven and will think that whatever happens will invariably be because of him and that anything out of that is 'wrong' because it's inconceivable that something could happen without our knowledge. Or expressly written permission. Damnit all.
  16. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    And that helps us... how? From what I recall, it took millions of years for that mass extinction 'bottleneck' to recover and leave us with a more elaborate biodiversity than before. Only it took many millions of years for a recovery to happen. How does that help us a hundred years from now?

    If you really don't give a damn about your own species, then I guess it's of no concern to you. But I'm not so sure I want that. I have no love my my own kind, but I really would rather we didn't cause another mass extinction before we die out.

    Maybe; but unlike beavers, we alter the entire planet to suite our needs. It's not like they release toxins into the water, pump hazardous fumes into the air, and clear away entire forests to make their damns.
  17. Fire_Ice_Death Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 15, 2001
    star 7
    I don't think the point of mentioning the permian extinction was to 'help us'. More like..."Life on Earth is more versatile than you believe." Which is true. All it takes is one link in the chain for life to continue.
  18. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    If this isn't about safeguarding our future, then what's the point? If we're not going to be around to witness the recovery, then maybe the priority should be to at least try and slow the progress of this mass extinction. If it can't be averted, then the next best thing would be for us to slow the process as much as possible. It's in our best interests to avert a mass extinction along with understanding and evading the causes if at all possible.
  19. Fire_Ice_Death Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 15, 2001
    star 7
    Are you certain that a mass extinction can be slowed? How would one go about it? Again, this seems like ego talking more than rationality. You can say, "Stop polluting," or, "Try not to mess up too much," but what does that even mean? There's always going to be pollution and environmental screw-ups as far as humans are concerned. So minimize it? Okay, that's well and good, but it's not a solution to say 'minimize it'. I'm not saying to burn up fossil fuels and to eat up as much land as possible, but let's be real: there's only so much that humans can do that doesn't involve taking craps in woods and wiping with leaves and eating berries one at time that are picked by hand. Yeah, we've 'lived with nature' once. Didn't work out so well for humanity's lifespan or technology. So, real solutions need to be presented. And we need to stop treating movies like Avatar as if they're documentaries.

    Anyway, doom and glooming leads nowhere and pessimism is the enemy. Strive for a better society, but be realistic about it. [face_peace]
  20. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    The Rational Optimist had this to say about mass extinction: so what?



    He also says "The amount of oil spilled in the sea has been falling steadily... It now is down by 90 per cent since 1980." I wonder who has been measuring that. Despite his many references Scott doesn't reference this figure, and I don't know where he got it. This online article lists a few sources. Oil Spills, Impact on the Ocean.

  21. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    It could be done, provided that we humans suspend our non-essential human activities. That's not realistic, but we could cease all coal mining, oil drilling, gasoline-burning, pesticide-spraying, and just go back to basics when it comes to survival. Subsistence farming with hand tools on land once used to feed cattle and pigs would allow us to eat with less destruction to the planet, but that's not realistic. That would work, although I hardly expect anything so radical would be considered.

    All I can say is that if we don't change, such fates will be inevitable in the fullness of time. When you have no resources to maintain our human activities, then our concerns will go from factory production back to seeking the basics.

    What I mean is recognize the consequences of such actions and not get goaded into thinking your actions don't matter. The diffusion of responsibility is a powerful thing that can get people to act however they want without any concern for the consequences. If everyone else is driving an SUV, doesn't recycle, eats meat all the time, and other wasteful practices... then what difference will you make to act differently? Well it's a matter of everyone having to take responsibility and realize that everyone else must think the same way as you for it to work.

    Yeah and we need to stop looking at Star Trek and thinking that's what our future will be like... things can only get worse before they get better. I remember reading Parable of the Sower and thinking how unrealistic it seemed. Then only two years later, I realize that it's not so far fetched as I once thought. It actually depicts a fairly realistic version of the future in only 50 years, I think. When food and water become the new most valuable commodities and civilization turns to chaos.
  22. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    In my more lucid moments, when the meds are working properly, I strive for realism over pessimism. I'm not sure there is any inherent exclusivity between realism and pessimism.

    My problem with the Rational Optimist, I'll call him RO, is the extent to which he misreads the implications of his own arguments. A normalcy bias is the most natural thing in the world, but not necessarily helpful if the thing in question has a significant nonzero probability of occurring.
  23. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Michael Ruppert is my peak oil brother. I could easily have written the peak oil narrative he shares in the movie "Collapse," one of the more interesting documentaries I've seen in the last few years. None of what he has to say in the movie will seem new to anyone who is even a little bit familiar with my peak oil rants here in the Senate over the past five years. The newest iteration of Ruppert's From the Wilderness blog is not the most visited or remotely close to the quality of The Oil Drum, ASPO or The Energy Bulletin, nor is Ruppert a founder or visionary or in any way a leading voice of the peak oil movement like Simmons or Campbell, Laherre or Heinberg.

    So, why did Chris Smith make a movie comprising nothing but a long interview with Michael Ruppert about energy and the collapse of civilization, interspersed a bit with bland graphics and video clips? Maybe because Smith was not a peak oil blogger and had not heard the narrative before. Although not new, it may have been new to him. More importantly though, the character of Michael Ruppert that emerges from underneath his fairly lucid narrative style is even more interesting than whether or not you buy into his peak oil alarmism.

    So, the lure of the film is its layered double narrative. There's Ruppert's unvarnished monologue about peak oil and the impending collapse of civilization as the sub narrative, with the director's narrative, the true subject matter of the film, a profile of Ruppert himself. It's a flawed character study though, less unbiased than it perhaps purports to be. There are subtle and not so subtle editorial choices that shape the director's narrative, like the decision to intersperse the video with Ruppert's cigarette breaks, a seemingly deliberate effort to hint at something slightly off about Ruppert's psyche.

    The profile we're left with, an uneasy sense of Ruppert having jumped randomly from a decade-long obsession with CIA drug smuggling to a decade-long obsession with peak oil, an obsession that has left him destitute and isolated, is terribly inaccurate inasmuch as it paints Ruppert as a lone voice, preaching aimlessly about a topic no one believes or cares about. The reality is that the peak oil community is large, that Ruppert's narrative, though entertaining, is almost completely unoriginal and has been recounted countless times by more authoritative and solvent voices than his.

    For me, the film produced the empathic, queasy vertigo of being able to imagine myself sitting there giving the same interview, being exposed as a doomerish nutjob by someone pretending to be interested in what I had to say for its own sake. I guess it's sometimes necessary to break some reputational eggs to make a cinematic omelette.

  24. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Thanks for the critique. I hadn't seen it myself, although I had been interested in watching this documentary. I guess that when I first became aware of the peak oil crisis brewing, I probably was much the same way. Thinking I was alone and that I had to get it into everyone's head that this was a crisis that we aren't remotely prepared for.

    After I while, although I still try to get the message out, I realize I'm not that important. Someone of my stature isn't going to get as much influence as some who've dedicated their lives to the subject, hold at least a PHD in economics or physical geography, or who've written books on the very topic. As far as I know, there isn't a single American who doesn't recognize oil is finite. They simply aren't aware of the forecasted events that are doomed to happen once oil demand exceeds supplies. Once that happens, the linear increase in price will quickly turn into a parabola. Good luck in solving the problems once oil doubles almost overnight.

    Still we shouldn't stop trying to alert people to the imminent disaster of peak oil.
  25. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    The modern peak oil movement I think traces itself to the 1998 Scientific American article, "The End of Cheap Oil" by by Colin J. Campbell and Jean H. Laherrère, so its pedigree is pretty good, not based on some cranky shut in carbon copying his typed conspiracy newsletter for a circulation of 20-30 a la Mel Gibson.

    If you look at what they wrote:
    But once approximately 900 Gbo have been consumed, production must soon begin to fall. Barring a global recession, it seems most likely that world production of conventional oil will peak during the first decade of the 21st century.


    it's about as prophetic a statement as you could possibly imagine.

    In 1998, they predicted oil production would peak around 2008 and would go into terminal decline, barring a global recession which would temporarily suppress demand and production to sub peak levels. And indeed, in 2008, oil prices hit an all time high, followed by a global recession which has obscured the peak for perhaps another five years.

    But "Collapse" really made me want to retrace my steps. Ruppert and I evidently followed the same path to our understanding. If the 98 Scientific American article made me Peak Aware, the 2004 Harper article "The Oil We Eat" is what tied peak oil to the population problem for me and made me a true doomer.