Peak Energy Vs. Climate Change: Stupidest Debate Ever

Sharon November 16th, 2009

Kjell Aleklett should really pretty much stop talking about climate change, because he looks like a fool when he does.  And that’s not a good thing, given that he’s not one - on energy he’s done deeply important work, and I’d hate to see people dismiss it because he says dumb things about the climate.

Here’s a good example from his screed:

“How will our well-being be affected by the expected growth in population? How will this affect our food supply, our climate, our economy and our hopes for peace? In Copenhagen the hungry will prioritise more food on the table before an unaltered climate. The poor nations want economic growth and we all know that this requires more fossil energy use. To see this we only need to study the development of China or India, or even Sweden from 1945 to 1970. In Copenhagen, this will mean that they will not want to sacrifice economic growth on climate’s altar. Ultimately, it comes down to we, the wealthy nations, not wanting to bear the cost of all the carbon dioxide waste we have dumped into the atmosphere without the poor and hungry also paying out.

In Copenhagen global emissions of carbon dioxide will be discussed and, for the sake of our future climate, it would be a good thing if emissions were reduced. However, according to the human well-being equation, it is not carbon dioxide but, rather, energy that is needed to produce food and to turn the wheels of the economy. By clever marketing of unrealistic future scenarios the IPCC has blinded the world’s politicians – particularly those in the EU – to these facts. Light was shone onto this issue when President Obama noted the importance of energy in a speech some days after his inauguration. He said, “No single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy” and I with many others began to hope for a brighter future when the Nobel prizewinning physicist Steven Chu was appointed as the USA’s Secretary of Energy.”

There’s not a single citation in this article, so, for example, his observation that we use a lot of energy to produce food now is left to stand with his presumption that we will require the same amount of energy to produce food in the long term.  In _A Nation of Farmers_ Aaron and I observe that low-input agriculture has largely kept approximate pace with high input agriculture, and that in periods of climate instability, low input agriculture that improves soil actually does better than industrial agriculture.  So no, we don’t need as much energy as we have been using for food.  Will we have a hard time feeding ourselves?   Undoubtedly, but “we use this much now, which means we must use more later” assumes that we can keep industrial society going on the same track – and even Aleklett knows we can’t.

We’ll also note that Aleklett simply doesn’t believe climate change is a serious issue, and has said so.  He seems, in the article, to be implying that he does, but he’s been more explicit in other writings.  He claims, again completely without evidence that the IPCC scenarios are “unrealistic” – which they are – but in the wrong direction.  All the material evidence – and by this I mean not-up-for-debate stuff like “how fast the ice is melting” which you can see by looking at it, or by fairly simple measures – suggests that the IPCC scenarios are unrealistic in that they *understate* the rate at which climate change *is happening* – not is projected to occur.  He gives lip service to the fact that we should put out less carbon, but then goes on to suggest we need more carbon sources.  

But the biggest and dumbest gap in this is that Aleklett doesn’t seem to have any recognition that addressing climate change *is* about food.  At the simplest levels, countries that are underwater don’t grow a lot of food.  Neither do countries who depend heavily on meltwater from glaciers that dry up and disappear (again, this isn’t a hypothetical, you can go see it).  Aleklett doesn’t seem to be familiar with research that higher temperatures will dramatically reduce yields of wheat, rice and corn, the staple crops that provide the vast majority of the world’s calories.  And desertification (in part caused by climate change, but also caused by the very oil-infused agriculture that Aleklett says we desperately need to preserve) will take large chunks of grainland out of production.  Copenhagen will almost certainly fail, but the idea that people in Copenhagen don’t get that this is about food is just laughably ignorant.  It is Kjell Aleklett who doesn’t seem to grasp that this is very much about food.

But more importantly, and the reason I’m being so hard on him, is that this represents two sides of a strain of thought that I think is truly destructive to the agenda of both Peak Energy and Climate Change.  On the one side, you have peak energy thinkers, frustrated that climate change gets all the attention, who falsely believe that they have to poke holes the fairly iron-clad science of climate change, because they are competing for attention and resources.  On the other side are climate change advocates who ridicule or simply minimize the importance of peak energy, because their assumptions all presume a stable economy and energy supply to build upon.  There’s a “we’re only allowed to have one big central problem, and we have fight over it” attitude, that presents a completely false dichotomy - a dumbass logical error  that a freshman in high school should be able to dissect.

The truth is this – we know for a fact that peak oil is real.  Why do we know this?  Because we’ve seen it happen right here in the USA.  No matter what technologies we use, no matter how much we invest, the US hit peak oil in the early 1970s, and hasn’t passed Saudi Arabia since.  We can look at all the other countries who have done the same.   It is a geological fact of life – and the preponderance of the evidence, slowly, solidly coming in is that the world is at or past its peak, that Saudi Arabia has been fudging its numbers with seawater. 

We know that other resources are going to peak too – and many of them soon.  We’re not sure exactly how much coal there is, but we do know that North American Natural Gas, for example, is a likely near-peak.  We know that we are already seeing high energy price volatility, we know that it is affecting our economy, not to mention our ability to get by personally.  We’re never going to know, year to year, how much food (tied to energy) and heat are going to cost us.   We know that if it isn’t going to get worse in the near-term (which is the more likely scenario, IMHO, since it is already happening), it is going to get worse in the long term, and ethically speaking, screwing the next generation is how the last couple of generations have handled this, and is not ethical.  So there’s not much doubt about this – we’ve got to deal with an energy decline, and rapidly.

The same is true of climate change – the climate is changing.  We know this – we can look at the pictures of glaciers in 1950 and glaciers now.  We can look at the arctic ice.  Anyone who lives near an ocean can go see the houses, once comfortably back from the sea’s edge, now hanging precariously.  We can look at flower bloom, and bird migrations and climate (not weather) patterns and see a consistent and substantial alteration over a very short time.  This is not rocket science.

We also know why the climate is changing.  The Greenhouse effect is not controversial – if it didn’t exist, the earth would be a lifeless rock, so cold it couldn’t support life at night, so hot it couldn’t support it during the day, just like the moon.  We know without any doubt that the gasses in our atmosphere are what warm the climate.  We know that there are more of them.  We know that more of them correspond with warmer periods in history from ice core samples.  We know that each gas has demonstrable warming effect, and we can demonstrate that their concentrations are growing.   You can certainly get more complicated than this, but again, it isn’t rocket science. 

There is no question that climate change is going to radically impact our lives – and soon.  It already is, if, say, you live in a low-lying area, or if you rely on meltwater, or if you are noticing more heat waves and drought or worried about the health consequences to you or your asthmatic daughter or you aging mother.  And just like it is wildly unethical to pass off our energy problems to the next generation, it is even less ethical to pass off our climate problem – because both effect basic things like whether we’ll eat or not.

In both cases, there are sensitive bits up for discussion – precise climate sensitivity, and exactly when the peak is/was.  Nothing is perfect, but overwhelmingly, the debate on both subjects is effectively over.  And that means that the scientists and thinkers on both sides of who are sitting there waving their hands saying “My problem is more important!  No, Mine!” are wasting a lot of time and energy on the false idea that we can’t have two central problems at the same time.  This is dumb – and it delays creating an appropriate response.

The truth is that we have at least two central problems (the economic one is tied to both in the long term), and only people who can get their mind around the combined difficulty will have anything useful to offer.  Yes, we need to know how what fossil fuels are in the ground – and we also can’t burn them rapidly.  Yes, we need to address climate change – and we need to stop lying and claiming that we can have it all – a happy growth economy based on renewable energy, yada yada. 

Thankfully, ther are people doing good work on both issues – people who really get it, like James Hansen and Richard Heinberg.  They haven’t fallen into the false dichotomy.  They haven’t missed that this really is all about “who eats” – and that we can’t see the whole picture of our future just looking through one eyepiece of a pair of binoculars.

18 Responses to “Peak Energy Vs. Climate Change: Stupidest Debate Ever”

  1. Cornish_K8 says:

    Climate change is uppermost in my mind today after reading this:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/earth-environment/article6917215.ece

    It sure would be nice to have just one problem to deal with at a time.

  2. Mike Cagle says:

    I’m genuinely puzzled that there seem to be so many people who believe in/are concerned about peak oil, but not climate change — or vice-versa. It seems bizarre to me. But, in the comments on this blog, or those for Kunstler’s, or on the Oil Drum, you do sometimes find such people (on these sites, mostly people who question climate change). It’s troubling. To me, to claim either problem is a “hoax” puts you on the same level of nuttiness (or nuttier!) as the “Birthers” or the “Truthers.” Actually, a lot of birthers and truthers (and even people who seem to be both) seem to comment on Kunstler’s blog and on the Oil Drum. Foolishness is exasperating. At least the Flat-Earthers and the Creationists don’t show upon the sites I read! Yet.

  3. Julie says:

    “The truth is that we have at least two central problems (the economic one is tied to both in the long term), and only people who can get their mind around the combined difficulty will have anything useful to offer. ”
    This is the nub of the matter as far as I can tell.
    And I believe our best (maybe only) bet is the Transition movement which recognizes these problems and addresses all three threats (oil depletion, climate change and economic) with local action and education to ready people for what they call an “energy descent plan” Could work.

  4. dewey says:

    They’re both part of the same problem, as portrayed by the Limits to Growth model. The Earth serves as both resource source and pollution sink, and because it is finite, both of those capacities are finite, therefore attempts at perpetual growth will run into increasing, eventually insurmountable difficulties at both ends. The point of that model was that there is no way to avoid a limit: if you do find more sources of energy, it will just give you the wherewithal to pollute yourself into an agricultural crisis, whereas if you blow too much energy on dealing with pollution, you won’t be able to maintain capital stocks needed to increase energy and agricultural production, and so forth. It seems to me that people who think endless growth in human consumption would be a good thing prefer to fuss about peak oil, whereas those who recognize that it would be a bad thing worry more about global warming, as if an overflowing pollution sink would be obviously our fault but the planet is to blame for a resource’s running dry.

  5. Bill R says:

    Well written.

    I HAVE appreciated the fact that Kjell Akeklett has pointed out that it is possible/probable (I’ve not made up my mind on which) that IPCC emission scenarios are wrong because they over-estimate the amount of fossil fuels that will be available to civiliation. I am less familiar with him downplaying the dangers of climate change, only that he thinks they are less likely than advertised because of the abovementioned truth.

    I myself am suprised that more climate activists do not understand the utility, from a merely strategic perspective, that peak oil presents in argueing or advancing big changes in policy. We have to lower carbon and transition to a low-carbon sources not only because they are destroying the climate but because they will be gone (relatively) soon anyhow. I think they hardest thing for both the techno-optimists who think renewable energy will allow us to live pretty much as before, and for those peakists to think that the solution to peaking fossil fuels is to re-up our investment in MORE fossil fuels to accept is this: The growth game is over. We need both a culture and economic system that accept this and start from an assumption of “sustainability” or contraction even as the highest goal.

    And, unforturnately, we are pretty far from that… :)

  6. Sharon says:

    The thing is, Aleklett doesn’t seem to fully understand the science of climate tipping points. Hanson has shown that we can cross the tipping points pretty easily even with fairly conservative coal scenarios – but more, the sensitivity is greater, we’ve seen, than previously anticipated – with methane already rising from permafrost emissions, we definitely can get past the tipping points. In fact, several recent studies suggest that we don’t have a 100% certain chance of avoiding it no matter what we do – even if we dropped emissions to 0.

    Sharon

  7. Ratel says:

    Very good comment, Sharon. Thanks to the paid disinformationists out there, like Lindzen and co., much confusion exists about anthropogenic global warming.

    I urge readers to feast their ears here:

    http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/4degrees/programme.php
    http://www.ecoshock.org/green960am.shtml

  8. Brad K. says:

    I disagree with most proposals for dealing with climate change. I find the continent-level deforestation of the Amazon basin in Brazil, in Africa, and in Asia to be the long pole in the tent.

    Anything that hampers anyone’s economy, such as for “climate debt”, bothers me. This looks more like propaganda, redistribution of wealth, or simple corruption (get the cash flowing and hope to stick some in my pocket kind of thing).

    Fossil fuels may well be one driver in climate change, along with deforestation, asphalt and pavement highways and cities, and high carbon footprint lifestyles. Technology more advanced than hydroelectricity may well be useful – but it cannot be maintained if the underlying infrastructure, economic or environmental, is challenged.

    It seems that the arguments about climate change have embraced unnecessary political and economic issues that don’t directly remedy the situation. I mean the concept of cap and tax on rich nations, redistributing wealth to “compensate” for “climate debt”, and applying low carbon footprint goals based on expediency, instead of across the board, around the world.

    I doubt either peak oil or climate change advocates can achieve their goals without addressing world terrorism and radical religious intolerance.

    Transition towns are good poster children for what could be done. Localized food, food security issues and lack of peasant farmers is all well and good. But where is the starting point? Where is the plan, the process, for planting people amidst fields, and reaping the abundant personal enrichment and some food, too? Where are the railroads and wagon trains enticing people to leave their apartment for the great adventure, the opportunity to build a solid, reliable future for themselves and their children?

    Where is the governmental recognition that they need to deregulate local food producers? (S. 510, creating the Food and Drug Administration to regulate every food producer of any size, including CSAs, farmers markets and those selling food for people or animals at farmers markets, as well as industrial processors and producers.) Because, frankly, the US government seems in a position to threaten any enterprise anyone wants to engage in, including peasant farming.

    Where are the success stories, that draw people to risk their lives and livelihoods on moving to an unknown region to take up peasant farming? Where are the supports and tools and plans for housing appropriate for starting from scratch? Because if we have to rely on Case/IH and John Deere, on Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland to foster this new adventure – without credit – I fear we will be a long time waiting.

    Today we live in a cash/cash flow economy. Starting up a new home takes lots and lots of cash. Anything that Peak Oil or Climate Change does to reduce the money available for restarting – diminishes hope. Perhaps that is the real Obama objective, civil disturbance quelled by poverty; the government already seems intent on depleting resources and options.

    And we still aren’t addressing deforestation, aside from a project intended to reverse the growth of the Sahara in Africa.

    Heating and cooking with wood and charcoal may avoid burning fossil fuels, but unless the wood is harvested as part of sustainable forestry, or even better, re-establishing forested land, the net impact is the same. Fewer trees, less forest to recapture carbon.

    Barry Goldwater pointed out that you cannot legislate morality. Kyoto didn’t do it, Copenhagen won’t. Transition towns, like America’s Western pioneers, are examples of people finding their own future, for their own reasons. Trying to impose something useful by government fiat will only have limited success.

    Sharon, while Peak Oil and Climate Change advocates should be working together, working to solve as many issues as are necessary to do some good, they are competing for political capital, and economic consequences. And I question the wisdom in play.

  9. Christopher says:

    If Kjell has a shortcoming, it’s that he believes that disproving the IPCC’s A climate scenarios means anything, when the science has advanced so much since then. So what if the A1 scenario is impossible? So what if peak fossil fuels mean the B emissions scenarios (or lower) are much more likely?

    All that matters, in terms of peaking at 450ppm and then drawing down, is that we peak our fossil fuel emissions by 2020 (some say 2013) and draw them down to zero by 2100 (some say 2080).

    Even Kjell’s most conservative estimates of the amount of fossil fuels in the ground put us past these guardrails. Because of coal. While those of us in the peanut gallery re-hash this debate, it’s already been decided by academics – see Hansen 2008 on the impact of peak fossil fuels on the climate.

    His conclusion was *the same* as Kjell’s – that whatever happens to oil, we cannot burn all the coal that’s left!

    So any controversy here is one generated solely by the fact that Kjell does not spend enough time with climate scientists and vice versa. The rhetoric is in conflict, not the facts.

  10. Sharon says:

    Exactly, Christopher. Moreover, we already know that IPCC head Rajendra Pachuri has announced that the new safe target limit, the one likely to keep us past tipping points that put this out of our control is *350* not *450* – which means that the IPCC estimates have to be revised anyway. Aleklett’s information is simply out of date, and as you point out, rendered irrelevant. We can’t burn what we’ve got.

    Brad, I simply don’t agree with you about most of this – I think the idea that we can’t endure any economic costs now to save future generations considerably more costs is just wrong, but we can disagree on this.

    Sharon

  11. I hate to say it but the climate change battle is already lost. There is no way that humankind will be able to stop with this self-destructive activity. Humankind is very much like the alcoholic drinking himself to death … no amount of reasoning nor any sort of warning would suffice to break the alcoholic from his drug regardless of the consequences.

    I’ve already given up on humankind as an utterly lost cause, an evolutionary dead end, God’s greatest mistake. I’ve shifted all of my investments away from humankind and into Nature since Nature actually has a future (of course these investments aren’t money, money is thankfully a meaningless concept within the natural world).

    The problem with peak oil is that it didn’t happen soon enough. The problem with the economic collapse is that it failed to destroy the global economy. Humankind’s bad habits are going to cycle between recession and recovery until humankind has thoroughly trashed the planet. I would also say “… and guarantee the extinction of humankind” but that boundary was passed when carbon dioxide crossed 350 ppm.

    I don’t trust anybody in the Peak Oil movement, especially anyone who has either a career or investments in the oil industry, and so patiently wait for Peak Oil to occur. The only real benefit of Peak Oil that I perceive is that it will eradicate the oil industry. It won’t save humankind from climate change or anything else.

    Nor have I found “The Oil Drum” a reliable source of objective information about Peak Oil or anything else. The Peak Oil movement sounds too much like an astroturf for the American Petroleum Institute. Too many oil industry advocates and too many climate change deniers. Too many people with too much money invested in their own self-proclaimed expertise.

    It is too late for humankind. So much for the future.

  12. dewey says:

    Piffle – humans have endured severe natural climate shifts in the past without going extinct. Just because Americans are fat, soft, and lazy doesn’t mean everyone on the planet will sit down and wait to starve when things get nasty. For that matter, even some Americans will probably surprise you. I’m sure you would not claim that climate change will cause every terrestrial mammal to go extinct; why then are you so sure that humans will, when they are among the most numerous and widespread of animals? I too have a somewhat negative view of humans as a group, but don’t let that blind you to the fact that they are, relatively speaking, adaptable, creative, and clever.

    (The corollary to that is that, if your goal is to see some parrots and cetaceans stay alive long-term, you cannot just assume that their problems will be solved by all the bald apes conveniently kicking the bucket. You have to try to find things to do to help the surviving humans to control themselves better, or be controlled better, or they’ll be right back denuding the landscape as usual.)

  13. Aaron says:

    Food is at the heart of the matter of both peak oil and climate change. And nitrogen is at the heart of food:

    http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2207

    Without the Haber-Bosch process our civilization would never have grown to nearly 7-billion-strong – nor would we have developed our myriad ways of fossil fuel consumption.

    But without Haber-Bosch, can we feed 3 billion people? I’m not sure how it would be possible – nitrogen fixation has allowed us to outstrip the carrying capacity of the planet. Although we temporarily increased carrying capacity, other systems were overloaded in the process (namely, climate regulation and biodiversity). We did so in order to feed ourselves:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/study-claims-meat-creates-half-of-all-greenhouse-gases-1812909.html

    The genie cannot be put back into the bottle. You cannot get parents to forego giving their children high-quality animal protein (if their economic status allows it) or cutting down rainforest to plant corn. And we cannot replace the nitrogen (produced in a chemical factory) that makes up an average first-worlder with some natural source which will somehow magically put into balance what is fundamentally out-of-balance. We are a successful species – and all successful species outstrip carrying capacity.

    http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/86/8633cover3box2.html

    Three billion people depend on the ammonium nitrate factories for their food, for the very nitrogen atoms that compose their bodies – where else can all that nitrogen come from? Massive bat colonies producing tons of guano? Huge unexploited deposits of saltpeter?

    Peak oil and climate change are just symptoms of our removal of a natural ceiling to population increase – namely, the sequestration of bio-available nitrogen. If low-input agriculture keeps pace with high-input agriculture, why did we not reach 7 billion long before we began applying Haber-Bosch nitrogen to our fields? Corn has historically yielded 20 acres a bushel – and now thanks to hybrid varieties that can be planted close together maximizing nitrogen uptake (along with a liberal application of pesticides to make such unnatural practices possible) we get 200 acres a bushel. Who doesn’t get to eat when we go back to 20 acres a bushel?

  14. Sharon says:

    Nice phrasing, Dewey ;-) .

    Aaron, in _A Nation of Farmers_ Aaron (Newton) and I did a considerable bit of research into the presistence of nitrogen in human bodies, and we found that it is pretty much infinitely recyclable – that is, there’s a lot of nitrogen out there that due to the Haber-Bosch process wouldn’t exist naturally, but it is being consumed and used only once at this stage in modern agriculture – but it could be recycled. Urine can largely be recycled directly, and composted humanure (which will be needed to deal with natural limits on phosphates) can also be reused – basically, we can recycle the nutrients for a very long time. So no, I don’t think artificial nitrogen will be the defining limit – note that I don’t think dealing with this will be easy, or that we will make a smooth transition.

    Sharon

  15. dewey says:

    “Who doesn’t get to eat when we go back to 20 acres a bushel?”

    Feedlot cattle and CAFO chickens, and that’ll be good for both the animals and your arteries.

    To be less smartass – I doubt yields will drop as far as you imagine, because we would do as Sharon suggests above and start farming and recycling nutrients more rationally, but they could drop hugely and the U.S. would still be able to feed itself.

    Would we still be able to feed many people abroad? No, but under BAU, even if yields stayed high we would still end up cutting those people off so we could have more biofuels and factory meat. Fortunately, the countries that have been made to depend on our imports can feed a much larger proportion of their own populations than they currently do, and in the long run they’ll be much better off depending upon themselves than depending on a declining imperial center to care about their welfare.

  16. Bart says:

    Hello Sharon,

    This is Bart at Energy Bulletin. We re-posted this article and got two letters from allies in the peak oil community, objecting to the tone. Here is what I replied to one:

    Thanks for the email.

    You make an important point… We do need to avoid letting disagreements on issues degenerate into personal attacks.

    My impression is that the article is much more reasonable than the title makes it sound. Sharon says, for example: “on energy [Kjell Aleklett has] done deeply important work,” and I think Sharon makes a plausible argument.

    The issue about climate change is only one of many on which people in the peak oil community disagree. It’s very important that we be able to have conversations instead of yelling matches.

    One thing I’ve learned is how damaging the use of a single word or phrase can be. People never forget what they interpret as personal attacks, whereas memories about disagreements on issues seem to fuzz over with time.

    best wishes,
    Bart

  17. Aaron says:

    Sharon-
    Although I applaud the use of humanure/urine for fertilizer, the idea that human urea will replace our nitrogen needs isn’t realistic. KBR multi-thousand mtpd plants aren’t going to be replaced by the chamber pot.

    http://www.kbr.com/technology/Ammonia-and-Fertilizer/Ammonia-Process-Technologies.aspx

    The necessity for ammonia mega-plants is largely driven by the inefficiency of nitrogen application. Although that efficiency can be improved it will always require a great deal of nitrogen to produce high yields. Even 100% nitrogen recycling from human urine will be greatly dissipated once it’s actually applied to the fields. It will wash away, be taken up by other organisms, and evaporate.

    “because of the inefficiencies of nitrogen uptake by plants and animals, only about 10 to 15 percent of reactive nitrogen ever enters a human mouth as food. The rest is lost to the environment and injected into the atmosphere by combustion.”
    from:
    http://esciencenews.com/articles/2008/05/15/addressing.nitrogen.cascade

    Indeed, even the nitrogen that does get into your crops will be problematic as pests are attracted to nitrogen-rich crops (hence the need for pesticide). Nitrogen is precious stuff – it has served as a ceiling to the expansion of any species (until the last century). It is no wonder that Gaia-theorist James Lovelock surmises nitrogen is recycled in urine rather than exhaled (despite the wasteful loss of water to the individual organism). From a Gaian-perspective, nitrogen is far too valuable not to be sequestered and recycled.

    Please take a look for at page 118 for a graph detailing the direct correlation between population and ammonia production:

    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2007/ertl_lecture.pdf

    Again, if there had been a way prior to Haber-Bosch to go from a few billion people to nearly seven billion, we’d have found the way. Once civilization is sufficiently destabilized that the ammonia factories shut down, our carrying-capacity will go from 7 billion back down to just a few billion. I just don’t see a way around that fact. Nor would I characterize it as a bumpy transition – it’s a discontinuity which one can survive or not. Undoubtedly, intrepid farmers recycling their nutrients via composting toilets and chamber pots will have a better chance than some. But it’s a matter of surviving a severe discontinuity – not a transition, smooth, bumpy or otherwise.

    Dewey-
    The sooner the horror of the CAFOs end, the better!

    I contend the yields will drop faster than you imagine, and even below what is actually possible. Networks are highly resilient structures – until they are not. Our society easily continues to produce food even as the price of fuel gyrates between $30 a barrel to $140 to $30 and back up again. It is a network that makes small adjustments between its many connections to keep the energy (human, fossil fuel, solar) flowing through the system and providing sustenance. But networks crash. At some point in the future there will be an event after which the farmers in the midwest will simply leave their combines and tractors in the pole barns. Just as the artisans of Easter Island one day set down their tools in the middle of carving massive head statues – and just walked away. I don’t know when that event will be or what that event will be. But that’s the problem with networks – they buffer a lot of instability and then they just break under a cascading failure. My guess is that the event will be a severe crop failure due to high temps during a growing season that prevents plants from uptaking water faster than it evaporates. Forty, fifty, sixty percent reduction in output and the center may not hold. People wake up to the fact that the jig is up and they stop participating in society and start looking after themselves. Once people lose the faith and trust that the hierarchical organization they participate in will continue to provide food and security, they’ll begin to defect. Each defection will drive another defection – until the cascade of defections become an abrupt fail.

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