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Energy and Authoritarianism

September 26, 2017

Could declining world energy result in a turn toward authoritarianism by governments around the world? As we will see, there is no simple answer that applies to all countries. However, pursuing the question leads us on an illuminating journey through the labyrinth of relations between energy, economics, and politics.

The International Energy Agency and the Energy Information Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Energy) anticipate an increase in world energy supplies lasting at least until the end of this century. However, these agencies essentially just match supply forecasts to anticipated demand, which they extrapolate from past economic growth and energy usage trends. Independent analysts have been questioning this approach for years, and warn that a decline in world energy supplies—mostly resulting from depletion of fossil fuels—may be fairly imminent, possibly set to commence within the next decade.

Even before the onset of decline in gross world energy production we are probably already beginning to see a fall in per capita energy, and also net energy—energy that is actually useful to society, after subtracting the energy that is used in energy-producing activities (the building of solar panels, the drilling of oil wells, and so on). The ratio of energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) for fossil energy production has tended to fall as high-quality deposits of oil, coal, and natural gas are depleted, and as society relies more on unconventional oil and gas that require more energy for extraction, and on coal that is more deeply buried or that is of lower energy content. Further, renewable energy sources, especially if paired with needed energy storage technologies, tend to have a lower (some say much lower) EROEI than fossil fuels offered during the glory days of world economic growth after World War II. And renewables require energy up front for their manufacture, producing a net energy benefit only later on.

The quantities and qualities of energy available to any society have impacts that ripple through its economy, and hence every aspect of daily life. As Lynn White, Marvin Harris, and other anthropologists have shown, the political and social institutions of every society are determined—in broad strokes, though certainly not in the details—by what Harris called its infrastructure, or its ways of obtaining energy, food, and materials. Abundant, easily transported and stored energy from fossil fuels made industrial expansion possible during the twentieth century, and especially after World War II. This period of turbo-charged economic growth had repercussions in fields as diverse as manufacturing, farming, transportation, and even music (via the electrification of live performance as well as the flourishing of the recording industry). That’s right: your favorite rock band is an epiphenomenon of fossil fuels.

Further, as archaeologist Joseph Tainter has pointed out, societies often use complexity (an increase in the variety of tools and institutions) as a means of solving problems. But complexity carries energy costs, and the deployment of complexity as a problem-solving strategy is subject to diminishing returns. Tainter argues that this is a comprehensive explanation for the historic collapse of civilizations—one that has obvious implications for our own society: clearly, if its energy supplies are compromised, its capacity to successfully deploy complexity to solve problems will be impaired.

All of which suggests that if and when energy sources decline, industrial societies will face systemic challenges on a scale far beyond anything seen in recent decades. In this essay, I propose to examine just one area of impact—the realm of politics and governance. Specifically, I address the question of whether (and which) societies will have a high probability of turning toward authoritarian forms of government in response to energy challenges. However, as we will see, energy decline is far from being the only possible driver of authoritarian political change.

The Anthropology and History of Authoritarianism and Democracy

It is often asserted that democracy began in ancient Greece. While there is some truth to the statement, it is also misleading. Many pre-agricultural societies tended to be highly egalitarian, with most or all members contributing to significant decisions. Animal-herding societies were an exception: they tended to be patriarchal (men made most decisions), and, among men, elders and those with more property (women, children, and captives were treated as chattel) held sway. (Herders, whose social relations reflect the harshness of their environment, typically live in places unfit for farming, such as deserts.) A good example of democracy completely independent of the Greek tradition is the Iroquois confederacy of the American northeast, whose inclusive decision-making system incorporated checks and balances; it served as an inspiration for colonists seeking to design a democratic government for themselves as they threw off the yoke of British rule.

Early agricultural societies were often rigidly authoritarian. Marvin Harris explained this development in infrastructural terms: stored grain surpluses required management and distribution authority, as did irrigation systems. But the appropriation of so much power by an individual or family required further justification; hence new sky-god religions emerged, valorizing kings and pharaohs as wielders of divine power. Greece, however, differed from Egypt and other “hydraulic” civilizations (i.e., ones based on huge irrigation systems): it enjoyed enough rainfall so that irrigation wasn’t required. Farmers could grow diverse crops independently, without relying on state controls over water and grain. Hence it was in Athens that democracy emerged (or re-emerged) as a political system—imperfect though it may have been (Attica’s total population was likely between 150,000 and 250,000, but free citizens numbered only 20,000 to 30,000: women, slaves, and foreigners could not participate in the public process of making decisions).

Prior to the fossil fuel era, Europe enjoyed a significant injection of wealth from its sail-based pillaging of much of the rest of the world. Merchants, as a social class, began to jostle against the aristocracy and clergy, previous holders of political power. Wealth and abundant energy supported the development of science and philosophy, which—when combined with newer technologies like the printing press—helped usher in the age of reason. The autocratic rationale for rule, “because God granted me divine power,” no longer seemed reasonable. In Britain, the monarchy began reluctantly to cede some of its authority to parliament during the mid-seventeenth century; then, a little over a century later, thirteen of Britain’s colonies in North America rebelled and formed a federated republic. Revolution in France further stoked demands throughout Europe and elsewhere—by philosophers and commoners alike—for wider distribution of political power.

In modern times, industrial expansion based on abundant energy from fossil fuels has led to urbanization and to the employment of much of the population in factory, sales, and managerial positions. This detachment of people from land has in turn produced greater geographic and social mobility, as well as opportunities to organize collective demands for power sharing (via trade unions and political organizations of all kinds), including women’s suffrage. Democracy has spread to more and more nations—always kept at least partly in check by centralized economic and military power. Meanwhile, an ever-greater mobility of capital, goods, information, and people has also led to the geographic expansion of polities—nations of larger size, alliances between nations, trade blocs, and an intergovernmental organization offering membership to all countries (the United Nations).

Now, in all likelihood, comes an era of declining and reversing economic growth, as well as reduced mobility. Existing forms of government will be challenged. Ultimately, larger political units may tend to break up into smaller ones, and many democracies may be vulnerable to authoritarian takeover. But the risks will vary significantly by country, based on geography and local history.

How Nations Succumb to Authoritarian Takeover

Before exploring those risks, it may be helpful to review the four main ways in which democracies have changed into authoritarian regimes in recent history.

  1. Election of a dictator. Mussolini initially came to power in Italy through election, as did Hitler in Germany, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and “Papa Doc” Duvalier in Haiti. Why do people elect authoritarians? Typically, they do so because they feel threatened—by a foreign or domestic enemy, or by hard times—and want a strong man to take charge. Usually the elected authoritarian-in-waiting only assumes dictatorial power later, without asking the consent of the electorate. For example: in a recent essay, Ugo Bardi recounts how declining exports of British coal to Italy after World War I led to an energy famine, which in turn resulted in riots, shifting political alliances, and the rise of Mussolini and the Fascists.

The following brief representative picture of how an authoritarian leader can take total power following election is from journalist Tim Rogers, recounting Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega’s ascendancy:

“When Daniel Ortega was elected president in 2006 with a twiggy 38 percent victory, Nicaragua had a constitutional ban on consecutive reelection as a safeguard against dictatorship. . . . Eleven years later, Ortega is starting his third consecutive term as president after rewriting the constitution, banning opposition parties, and consolidating all branches of government under his personal control. Ortega orchestrated his power grab by polarizing the country, dividing the opposition, attacking congress, demonizing the press, forbidding protest, demanding personal loyalty from all government workers, and turning all his public appearances into campaign rallies for his core base of supporters. He institutionalized his cult of personality and normalized . . . threats of violence and chaos. . . .”

  1. Military coup. The list of military dictatorships in recent decades is long. Clayton Thyne and Jonathan Powell maintain a coup dataset, according to which there were 457 coup attempts worldwide from 1950 to 2010, most by military factions. Of these, about half were successful. The reason military putsches are so common is not hard to discern: the taking of power by armed force is likely to be most often—and most successfully—attempted by those who are already professionalized wielders of weaponry.
  2. Foreign interference or foreign support for a coup. If a powerful nation wishes to exert near-total control over a weaker country, one of the most effective ways to do so is to install a puppet dictator who can then be bribed and threatened. This is a strategy the United States has deployed often, beginning early in the twentieth century with its support for dictators in Central and South America. Also, in the early 1950s, the U.S. supported Shah Pahlevi over Iran’s elected President Mohammad Mossadegh, leading to decades of dictatorship there. However, the U.S. is far from the only country to have ruled other nations by remote control: Britain, France, and Russia/USSR did the same in one instance or another.
  3. Revolution. Most revolutions are fought against authoritarian regimes or foreign rulers. On rare occasions, however, the people—typically a rambunctious faction of the people—attempt to overthrow an elected government in favor of a would-be dictator. Such revolutions are usually more accurately described as civil wars. Coups in which an elected leader is overthrown in favor of an authoritarian with the help of foreign influence can be stage-managed to appear as revolutions (this happened in the case of Mossadegh in Iran). More frequently, however, revolutions that are widely intended to result in democratic reforms eventually result in the coalescing or emergence of an authoritarian regime (for example, in France at the end of the 18th century, in Russia in 1917, in China in 1949, in Cuba in 1959, and in Cambodia in 1963).

Risk Factors for Authoritarian Takeover

Economic decline led by energy decline probably won’t automatically result in despotism, just as industrialism and economic expansion didn’t everywhere lead to democracy. What are the circumstances that are likely to push nations to adopt more authoritarian governments?

Below are some notable risk factors (this is not an exhaustive list). From here on, I will occasionally refer to the Democracy Index (compiled by the UK-based Economist Intelligence Unit), which seeks to measure the state of democracy in 167 countries based on 60 indicators.

  • Economic decline or instability. Periods of high joblessness, disappearing savings, and declining incomes can lead to widespread dissatisfaction with government, offering an opening for demagogues, military coups, revolutions, or foreign takeovers.
  • Weak democratic institutions with a short history. Democracy is a habit that needs reinforcement. It also needs institutions—parties and election machinery (polling places, fair counting of ballots, etc.). If those institutions have shallow roots, it is easier for them to be undermined or corrupted.
  • Dysfunctional media. Democracy only functions if the public is well informed with regard to issues and the actions of government. Media organizations can become weak, dominated by special interests, polarized, or suppressed by government. Their ownership can be consolidated by a few companies with similar political interests. In our current age of electronic information, media are vulnerable to outright propaganda, “fake news” (i.e., reporting characterized by ideologically spun, inaccurate, or even wholly invented stories), and the clever use of social media (bots and trolls).
  • High and growing levels of economic inequality. Some of the early observers of democracies, including Toqueville, noted that procedural democracy (equality before the law, universal voting rights, the right to express oneself in the political sphere) can be undermined by the power of wealth. Rich people can buy influence in ways both obvious and subtle. This is why healthy democracy is often correlated with progressive taxation and the availability of government-run social programs for those who are unemployed, retired, or sick.
  • Simmering resentments among social/racial/religious/ethnic groups, offering fodder for scapegoating. In hard times, demagogues can play upon such resentments to gain support and take power.
  • Deep political polarization. Polarization drains people’s attention from areas of shared interest and potential cooperation, and focuses it instead on points of disagreement. As each party demonizes the other, former political extremists may find their way into the mainstream. Polarization can offer an opening for a demagogue who promises to trounce the opposition party once and for all, if given dictatorial powers.
  • Weak financial systems heavily dependent on debt. As economic historians have shown, heavy reliance on debt always results in an eventual financial crash. See “economic decline” above.
  • Special vulnerability to foreign influence or takeover. If a country is militarily weak but has a strategically significant geographic location (for example, along the route of an important oil or gas pipeline), or if the country happens to possess strategically important resources (minerals or fossil fuels), more powerful nations are likely to have a keen interest in keeping that country controllable.
  • A powerful military with a history of domestic intervention. If social chaos ensues for whatever reason, the military is likely to step in; and when it does it is more inclined to install a dictator than to restore or build a democratic system. That’s because the military itself, in virtually every nation, has an authoritarian internal structure. (The Iroquois insisted that peace chiefs be different from war chiefs—an idea borrowed by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, which specifies that no acting military leader may assume the presidency).
  • Special vulnerability to climate change or other environmental disasters. People don’t inevitably turn to strong leaders after natural disaster. Over the short term, they tend instead to band together. Old grievances tend to be temporarily forgotten, and distinctions between rich and poor are at least somewhat erased. However, over the longer term, ecological disruption can lead to scapegoating and either revolution or a turn toward strong men who promise to restore order. For example, the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, was preceded by a long and devastating regional drought linked to climate change; refugees from the countryside flooded cities, straining infrastructure already burdened by the influx of some 1.5 million refugees from the Iraq War. These refugees provided recruits for the Free Syrian Army, which rebelled against the authoritarian Assad regime.
  • High population growth rate. Nations with high fertility rates typically find it difficult to overcome poverty, absent a robust resource-exporting economy. Indeed, of the ten nations that currently have the highest population growth rates (Lebanon, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Jordan, Qatar, Malawi, Niger, Burundi, Uganda, and Libya), seven have fully authoritarian regimes according to the Democracy Index, while three have “hybrid” governments; only two (Qatar and Lebanon) have a per-capita GDP higher than the world average. As world energy declines, countries with fast-growing populations will probably see higher-than-typical per-capita decline rates in energy usage, likely leading to economic and social instability.

Most of the above might be considered generic risk factors, in that they apply to all societies even without taking energy decline into account. Other risk factors are more directly related to potential energy supply problems:

  • A high dependency on food imports. History has shown (for example, in Egypt in 2011) that food shortages can rapidly lead to social unrest and ultimately to revolution or authoritarian takeover. High food import dependency is therefore a point of vulnerability in societies given the likelihood that energy decline will also entail a decline in mobility, including the movement of food and other necessary goods.
  • Government’s budget tied to fossil fuel export revenues. If a government derives most of its revenues from fossil fuel exports, it will eventually face a declining revenue stream. Even Saudi Arabia, which has been a top oil exporter for decades, recognizes this (it is an authoritarian monarchy; several other major oil exporters are likewise classified as authoritarian regimes by the Democracy Index). Norway has sought to prepare for the inevitable by saving its oil export revenues in a permanent investment fund; currently that nation enjoys the highest rating of any country on the Democracy Index, and its citizens also rank high in terms of per capita income and self-reported happiness.
  • High per capita energy usage. Countries that have high per capita rates of energy usage have further to fall as energy becomes harder to produce. Countries with low rates of per capita usage typically already have ways of meeting basic needs relatively simply and directly—with a higher percentage of the total population engaged in food production, and a more robust informal economy.
  • High dependency on energy imports. If heavy dependence on revenue from fossil fuel exports can constitute a vulnerability for democracies, heavy dependence on imports can as well. Even though the U.S. was a major oil producer throughout the twentieth century, by 1970 it was increasingly dependent on imported crude; hence it faced economic hardship due to the 1970s Arab oil embargo.

There is something missing from these lists that is hard to define but nevertheless crucial to our present discussion. Perhaps Pankaj Mishra captures it best in his recent, difficult book, The Age of Anger. There he describes how, from its beginnings in the eighteenth century, modern capitalist, urban, industrial life disrupted previous patterns of settled existence. People lost their connections with land and tribe, and traditional livelihoods, and hence some essential aspects of their identity. In return, economic liberalism promised mobility, comfort, and intellectual and moral advancement. Instead many experienced anonymity and alienation, and the result was widespread resentment. This in turn led to decades of revolution and terrorism in Europe throughout the nineteenth century, with many prominent assassinations (U.S. President McKinley, French President Marie François Sadi Carnot, Bavarian Prime Minister Kurt Eisner, Russian Czar Alexander II, Serbian King Aleksandar Obrenović, Spanish Prime Minister Juan Prim, and many others) as well as bombings and other violent events.

Today urbanization, commercialization, and technological disruption are proceeding at a faster pace than ever and reaching billions in formerly rural nations in East and South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Millions of young people are being educated for life as consumers and workers, yet are finding the promises of “development” ringing hollow. Unemployment rates among young males are often very high in these nations, and young men educated for urban industrial life are being attracted to militant fundamentalism. The rise of militant fundamentalism, along with high rates of immigration from fast-urbanizing countries, generates fear in the first-wave industrialized countries—a fear that leads to a rise in “traditionalism” and a turn toward authoritarian leaders who promise to suppress terrorism and reduce immigration. In effect, for both the young Islamist radical and the older Trump voter, tribalism is a powerful motivator. We will return to this subject later as we consider ways to counter or mitigate risks to democracy.

Typically, a surplus of unemployed young males also increases the likelihood of war. During wartime, the combatants gain a sharper sense of meaning and purpose. Democracy seldom flourishes during war, though it can persist and blossom anew afterward.

Clearly, nations are in widely varying circumstances, with different areas and degrees of vulnerability to energy decline; and they are thus likely to react differently to the ensuing economic stresses. Full “democracies” according to the Democracy Index (Norway, Canada, New Zealand, etc.) are probably best situated to respond in ways that preserve democratic institutions and traditions. Nations currently listed by the Democracy Index as “flawed democracies” (United States, Philippines, Indonesia, etc.) are probably most at risk of shifting further toward authoritarianism via election. Countries that are currently “hybrid states” (Turkey, Venezuela, Pakistan, etc.) or “authoritarian” (Russia, Egypt, China, etc.) are more likely to experience revolutions or coups.

Countering the Risks to Democracy

How could nations in the “democracy” or “flawed democracy” categories resist a tendency to slide toward authoritarianism? It stands to reason that, if risk factors are present, reducing vulnerability would entail countering those factors as much as possible:

  • Build and support independent media. Governments and leaders should resist the temptation to favor media outlets that simply parrot their own talking points, or that disparage current leaders’ enemies. Maintain full press freedoms, including legal protections for journalists.
  • Work to limit climate change and other ecological drivers of human misery. This includes not only efforts to adapt to higher sea levels, but also to reform agricultural practices (carbon farming) and dramatically reduce carbon emissions in transportation and manufacturing.
  • Work to reduce extreme political polarization. Avoid wedge issues. Nations with more than two major parties sometimes fare better at avoiding polarization.
  • Support and strengthen democratic institutions. Prioritize fair elections (universal voting rights, public financing of campaigns, limits to campaign contributions, plenty of accessible polling stations that are open a sufficient number of hours, transparent methods of ballot counting).
  • Promote tolerance. For a nation, ethnic, religious, and cultural homogeneity can be an asset in avoiding political unrest during hard times. But many nations are ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse, and any effort to reduce that diversity would necessarily entail human rights violations. Nations with diverse populations must simply make the best of the situation, celebrating and honoring their diversity and protecting minorities.
  • Discourage inequality. Most nations already counter economic inequality through progressive taxation and social welfare programs. But economic stresses from energy decline will require more creative thinking and experimentation, including encouraging worker-owned cooperatives and discouraging shareholder-owned corporations; implementing high inheritance taxes with no loopholes; and finding ways to reduce the role of debt in society.
  • Minimize power of military and intelligence agencies. Keep the military separate from governance institutions. Keep the military budget within modest bounds. Don’t over-glamorize the military. And don’t permit “black ops” or domestic surveillance.
  • Build low-energy infrastructure, habits, informal economy. This implies a change of direction for most nations, which tend to be hooked on large-scale infrastructure projects (highways, airports) that lock in energy dependency. Promote low-energy ways of providing for basic human needs, such as solar hot water heaters and cookers, walking, and bicycling.
  • Promote population stabilization. Support family planning and elevate the social status of women.
  • Build local food production capacity. Support small farmers, local food, and agriculture that minimizes dependence on fossil fuel inputs.
  • Stabilize the financial system. Reduce reliance on debt in every way possible, shrinking the size of the financial system relative to the “real” economy of goods and services.
  • Decentralize both the economy and the political system. Encourage distributed energy, local currencies, and local food. Allow city and regional governments to make all decisions except those that require national or international deliberation.
  • Avoid being the target of foreign political meddling. Maintain vigilance with regard to electronic and propaganda warfare. Don’t take on big international loans.

These recommendations are far easier to spell out than to carry out. And at least two of them are seemingly at odds with each other: a nation that keeps its military and defense budgets at minimum levels might be more likely to be the target of foreign meddling or intervention. Further, while most democracies are making at least some efforts along some of these lines, in many cases they are being overwhelmed by trends toward increasing polarization of politics and media, and increasing economic inequality.

Further, most of the above recommendations fall within the bounds of modern liberal norms and discourse. But, as we have seen, the entire project of industrial and social “progress,” as framed within the liberal economic tradition, has produced whole classes of casualties and rebels. The endemic risks to urban, capitalist, industrial societies stemming from the resentment and alienation described by Mishra—that lead increasingly to terrorism, religious fundamentalism, and authoritarianism—are inherently difficult to track or counter. To defuse this deep, amorphous threat to democratic values and institutions, perhaps something more is needed beyond the mere strengthening of media and democratic institutions—something that ties people back to the land and gives them both a “tribal” identity and a larger sense of purpose. A new religion might fit the need, but it is difficult to summon one at will. If advocates of democracy and cultural pluralism continue to fail to fill this void, authoritarians of various stripes will certainly seek to do so.

Are Dictatorships or Democracies Better at Responding to Energy-Economy Decline?

In the contemporary world, democracy is widely (though not universally) prized over authoritarian forms of government. This is certainly understandable: authoritarianism leads to the regimentation of thought and behavior, and often to the subjection of large segments of the population to psychological and/or physical violence. But are democracies inherently superior to authoritarian regimes in dealing with crises such as energy decline, climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation, and financial instability?

To adapt proactively to environmental limits and impending scarcity, governments may have to do some unpopular things. Restrictions on consumption (such as rationing) may be required, along with the encouraging of smaller families. Such policies cannot help but rankle, following decades of rising economic expectations. Economic redistribution could help reduce the stress of scarcity for a majority of the populace, but many will still resent the new conditions. Elected leaders may find it difficult to maintain sufficient popular support for such policies. Could authoritarian regimes fare better? A few historic examples come to mind.

During the early 1990s, Cuba saw a sharp decline in energy supply due to a cutoff of low-cost oil imports from the now-defunct Soviet Union. At the time, Cuba’s food system was highly centralized and dependent on oil-fueled farm machinery and food transport. Cuban leaders responded to the crisis by decentralizing food production, reducing fuel inputs, and encouraging urban gardening. The result was a rapid and thorough restructuring of the nation’s food system that averted widespread famine. It is unclear whether such measures would have been feasible outside a command-and-control authoritarian political context.

Both China and Iran managed to substantially reduce their nations’ high birth rates—China (beginning in the 1970s) via its compulsory one-child policy, and Iran (starting in the 1980s) through vigorous but voluntary family planning efforts. Both nations formulated and managed these programs via top-down, centralized, and authoritarian methods.

These examples might suggest that authoritarian regimes are inherently more resilient than democracies. However, there are instances where authoritarian regimes have instead proven brittle. For example, when Soviet Union failed to deal with economic decline in the 1980s the government collapsed, as did the nation’s economy. In contrast, some democracies (such as the U.S. during the Great Depression and Britain in the 1930s and ’40s) have persisted during privation, though somewhat authoritarian temporary measures were instituted, including greater control of the media by government.

Many authoritarian regimes are poorly situated to help the populace weather economic crisis simply because their leaders are too obsessed with self-enrichment, self-aggrandizement, and self-protection. It could be argued that if a society is already impoverished due to the incompetence of its authoritarian leadership, its people will have fewer expectations to be dashed, and their standard of living will not have as far to fall before hitting subsistence level. But this is faint encouragement. There must be some better recommendation for today’s nations than “crash your economy and suppress your people’s aspirations now, so that they won’t be disappointed later.”

*          *          *

The relationship between energy, the economy, and politics is messy and complicated. There is not a simple 1:1 correlation between energy growth and economic growth: the Great Depression occurred in the United States despite the presence of abundant energy resources. Similarly, there will probably not be a strict correlation between energy decline and economic contraction.

One important wild card is the role of debt: it enables us to consume now while promising to pay later. Debt can therefore push consumption forward in time and (for a while, at least) make up for declining energy productivity. It would appear that the “fracking” boom of the past decade, which probably delayed the world oil production peak by about a decade, depended on the power of debt. But when debt defaults cascade, an economy may decline much faster than would otherwise be the case (default-led financial crashes have occurred repeatedly in modern history). And debt defaults can cripple the financial and thus the economic system of a nation with plenty of energy resources (as happened in the U.S. in the 1930s).

As we have seen, dictatorships can sometimes adapt well to scarcity. We can only hope that, if scarcity does indeed lie in our immediate future, authoritarian leaders will minimize rather than add to their people’s suffering. Similarly, we should hope that everyone in democracies has access to information that helps them make collective choices that lead to successful adaptation to inevitable, impending scarcity. Unfortunately, flawed democracies may be particularly vulnerable when energy supplies decline. Given their political polarization and saturation with “fake news,” they are more likely to succumb to demagogues who promise to return the nation to a condition of abundance if granted extraordinary powers.

It is highly likely that, as events unfold, the causal criticality of energy decline will be hidden from the view of most observers, whose attention will be fixed instead on shocking but comparatively superficial and secondary political and social events. A more widespread understanding of the role of energy in society, and of the likely limits to future energy supplies, could be extremely beneficial in helping the general populace adapt to scarcity and avoid needless scapegoating and violence. Perhaps this essay can help in some small way to deepen that understanding.

Featured image via Pixabay.
Painting of Athens by Leo von Klenze via Wikimedia Commons.
Detail of “The fin de siècle newspaper proprietor” via US Library of Congress.

37 Comments, RSS

  • Electric vehicles in Hong Kong could be adding “20 per cent more” carbon to the atmosphere than regular petrol ones over the same distance after factoring in the city’s coal-dominated energy mix and battery manufacture, a new research report found.

    Investment research firm Bernstein also claimed that by subsidising electric vehicle purchases, the government was effectively “harming rather than helping the environment” at the expense of the taxpayer.

    “The policy is to encourage drivers to be green, but they are actually subsidising vehicles that create more emissions of CO2 and particulates from power plants,” said Bernstein senior analyst Neil Beveridge.


    “Whilst the electric vehicles and lithium batteries manufactured by these two companies do indeed help to reduce direct CO2 emissions from vehicles, electricity is needed to power them,” Morgan Stanley wrote. “And with their primary markets still largely weighted towards fossil-fuel power (72% in the U.S. and 75% in China) the CO2 emissions from this electricity generation are still material.”

    In other words, “the carbon emissions generated by the electricity required for electric vehicles are greater than those saved by cutting out direct vehicle emissions.”


  • Renewable energy ‘simply won’t work’: Top Google engineers

    Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.

    Both men are Stanford PhDs, Ross Koningstein having trained in aerospace engineering and David Fork in applied physics. These aren’t guys who fiddle about with websites or data analytics or “technology” of that sort: they are real engineers who understand difficult maths and physics, and top-bracket even among that distinguished company.

    Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear.

    All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms – and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.
    In reality, well before any such stage was reached, energy would become horrifyingly expensive – which means that everything would become horrifyingly expensive (even the present well-under-one-per-cent renewables level in the UK has pushed up utility bills very considerably).



  • Germany’s Expensive Gamble on Renewable Energy : Germany’s electricity prices soar to more than double that of the USA because when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind does not blow they have to operate and pay for a completely separate back up system that is fueled by lignite coal http://www.wsj.com/articles/germanys-expensive-gamble-on-renewable-energy-1409106602

    Why Germany’s nuclear phaseout is leading to more coal burning
    Between 2011 and 2015 Germany will open 10.7 GW of new coal fired power stations. This is more new coal coal capacity than was constructed in the entire two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The expected annual electricity production of these power stations will far exceed that of existing solar panels and will be approximately the same as that of Germany’s existing solar panels and wind turbines combined. Solar panels and wind turbines however have expected life spans of no more than 25 years. Coal power plants typically last 50 years or longer. At best you could call the recent developments in Germany’s electricity sector contradictory. https://carboncounter.wordpress.com/2015/06/06/why-germanys-nuclear-phaseout-is-leading-to-more-coal-burning/

    Germany Runs Up Against the Limits of Renewables
    Even as Germany adds lots of wind and solar power to the electric grid, the country’s carbon emissions are rising. Will the rest of the world learn from its lesson? After years of declines, Germany’s carbon emissions rose slightly in 2015, largely because the country produces much more electricity than it needs. That’s happening because even if there are times when renewables can supply nearly all of the electricity on the grid, the variability of those sources forces Germany to keep other power plants running. And in Germany, which is phasing out its nuclear plants, those other plants primarily burn dirty coal. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601514/germany-runs-up-against-the-limits-of-renewables/

  • Always look out for the last qualifying paragraph:

    Update: This article was updated to clarify
    that NextEra and AWC were investments outside of RE<C. Additionally,
    a Google spokesperson says “we remain committed to the renewable energy
    sector and we plan to continue investing to add to our over $820 million
    in energy project investments.”

  • Numerous studies now have demonstrated in various ways that renewable energy can provide the power the world needs, articles in the conservative wsj notwithstanding. getrealbuddy grossly distorts what’s happening in Germany and why, tells some outright lies, and picks 2 supposed authorities out of many because they happen to agree with him. Many more disagree. Emissions in Germany–a place with far less renewable potential than most countries in the world including the US (the Saudi Arabia of renewables)–have fallen pretty steadily despite the main moral and legal purpose of the Energiewende being to shut down nukes, which it has. https://carboncounter.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/emissions.png

    5 countries get most of their electricity from nukes, 4 of them barely over 50%.
    61 countries get most electricity from renewables, 21 of them at or near 100% and dozens more over 70%. While oligarchies like the US and others under its influence have been mixed in their responses, (the US and Russia are both at a pitiful 17% RE) generally the more democratic a society the better decisions it makes–taking into account the welfare of all its current and future citizens, the world’s citizens, and the rights and welfare of the rest of nature. The best way we can revitalize democracy is to build renewables as fast as humanly possible, and reforest the world and transform industry and agriculture to ecological forms, all as parts of a global climate mobilization like the one the US used to win WWII.

  • Nonsense. Pollution per Kwh is lower even from 100% fossil fueled grids than from internal combustion vehicles because of pollution controls on stacks. And in the US (and everywhere with more renewables than the US, which is almost everywhere) GHG emissions are also lower from EVs than ICEVs. Virtually no grids are all fossils now and the percentage of renewables is growing quickly. It’s being held back by lies and manipulations from people like getrealbuddy (only more consequential), who then blame the victims of their lies for not being able to go faster. Despicable.

    “Recent research by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that driving and charging an electric vehicle anywhere in the United States produces fewer global warming emissions than driving an average new gas-powered vehicle. Furthermore, the research shows that more than two-thirds of Americans live in areas where driving an average electric vehicle is better for the planet than even the most efficient hybrid vehicle on the market.” http://www.ucsusa.org/publications/catalyst/winter16-electric-vehicles-just-how-green-are-they#.WdJdxkyZO2w

    Electric motors are much more efficient than ICEs; the vehicles are lighter, and the costs in energy, emissions and materials are fantastically lower for making EVs than ICEVs. With only 1% of the moving parts of an ICEV, EVs will last 5-10 times longer, and with reusable/recyclable battery materials, all those costs and impacts can be drastically reduced by a switch to EVs. (Trains, including high speed trains, are even more efficient, as are walking, bicycling and landscape changes we need to implement. Other breakthrough technologies will lead to even bigger savings soon.
    https://climatecrocks.com/2017/09/16/the-weekend-wonk-tony-seba-on-disruptive-energy-technologies/ (Skip the 8 min. video, watch the longer one, prepare to have mind blown)

    And EVs are already cheaper to run and will be cheaper to buy within a year or so, so this argument has been rendered moot by the market those who oppose EVs are so fond of.

  • “The Daily Caller is an American news and opinion website based in Washington, D.C.. It was founded by Tucker Carlson, a libertarian conservative political pundit, and Neil Patel, former adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney. The Daily Caller produces sensational headlines and has a right wing bias in reporting and has made false claims according to Snopes and Politifact.”

    Google itself disagrees with grb’s 2 anti renewable extremists. Its electricity is now entirely renewable, and it’s going ahead with its renewable build. The article linked to by grb is from 2011; eons ago in terms of renewables. Here’s a more recent and intelligent source: https://www.blog.google/topics/environment/100-percent-renewable-energy/

    Every single point is false or deceptive in another article linked to. See my forthcoming comment there for corrections. All the points raised by grb are also false or deceptive.

    In fact, switching to renewable energy will end up dramatically decreasing mining, drilling, and ecological impact of many kinds, obviously. To deny that is ludicrous. Materials are recyclable; energy and emissions will be dramatically reduced with renewables. If we live more wisely, we’ll do away with huge wastes of everything (which grb doesn’t seem to object to or mention reducing despite his or her touching concern for nature). There’s a need to replace and update much of the infrastructure of the world whether we go with renewables or not. (Actually, if we don’t switch fast, civilization won’t survive another century so there won’t be any point to fixing anything. And civilization won’t go gentle, which means all of life on Earth, so revered by grb, will be threatened.)

    Efficiency and wiser lives are the cheapest source of energy; solar and wind are now cheaper than coal and oil, far cheaper than nukes, and competitive with gas or cheaper. Renewable prices are falling incredibly fast while fossil fuel prices (and ecological harm, as with offshore drilling, fracking and tar sands) are increasing. Battery prices are also dropping fast; within a few years the cost of renewables plus storage will be cheaper than all other sources. Subsidies have gone 10-13 times more to fossil and fissile fuels and that’s a drastic understatement, considering the lies behind ethanol and externalities so getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies will make the transition go even faster.

    Because the far right, owned by fossil fuel corporations, has delayed rational action on climate and the large ecological crisis for so long, we have to do massively and immediately what we should have been doing all along. There are some inefficiencies they’ve thus caused and now use as excuses to continue to act irrationally, an irrational argument itself.

    When are we going to get smart and stop listening to the lunatics on the right wing and the fossil fuel corporations?

  • 1: Power Storage Is Incredibly Expensive On A Large Scale

    It is currently impossible to economically store power for times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Purchasing enough batteries to provide just three days of storage for an average American household costs about $15,000, and those batteries only last for about five years and are very difficult to recycle.

    This is true for home power storage as well, even with the latest batteries. A Tesla power-wall capable of powering a home costs $7,340 to buy. A conservative analysis estimates that a power-wall can save its owner a maximum of $1.06 a day. Such a system would take approximately 25 years to pay for itself, according to the same analysis.

  • Renewable energy ‘simply won’t work’: Top Google engineers

    Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.

    Both men are Stanford PhDs, Ross Koningstein having trained in aerospace engineering and David Fork in applied physics. These aren’t guys who fiddle about with websites or data analytics or “technology” of that sort: they are real engineers who understand difficult maths and physics, and top-bracket even among that distinguished company.

    Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear.

    All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms – and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.
    In reality, well before any such stage was reached, energy would become horrifyingly expensive – which means that everything would become horrifyingly expensive (even the present well-under-one-per-cent renewables level in the UK has pushed up utility bills very considerably).

  • 2: The U.S. Power Grid Is Older, And Has Trouble Handling Solar And Wind

    “Our power grid works well today. Some complain, but blackouts are rare and large-scale blackout are really rare. The power grid was set up for the [electrical] generation we have. Building a lot of new wind and solar requires much greater expenditure on the grid,” Vice President for Policy of the Institute for Energy Research Daniel Simmons told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

    According to the Department of Energy, 70 percent of the transmission lines and power transformers in the country are at least 25 years old.

    In order for the power grid to function, demand for energy must exactly match supply. Power demand is relatively predictable and conventional power plans, like nuclear plants and natural gas, can adjust output accordingly. Solar and wind power, however, cannot easily adjust output. They also provide power unpredictably relative to conventional power sources.

    On an especially cloudy or windless day, the electrical grid can’t supply enough power from solar or wind alone. Wind and solar also run the risk of producing too much power which can overload and fry the power grid. This is why electrical companies will occasionally pay consumers to take electricity.

  • Rebuilding The Power Grid To Handle Solar And Wind Is Absurdly Expensive

    The three power grids that supply the United States with energy are massive and expensive pieces of infrastructure. The power grids are valued at trillions of dollars and can’t be replaced in a timely manner. It takes more than a year to manufacture a new transformer, and transformers aren’t interchangeable, as each one must be individually built specifically for its location. At a time when the U.S. government is more than $18 trillion in debt, building power grids that can handle solar and wind may not be feasible.

    Merely building a 3,000-mile network of transmission lines capable of moving power from wind-rich West Texas to market in East Texas proved to be a $6.8 billion effort that began in 2008 and still isn’t entirely finished. Building the infrastructure to move large amounts of solar or wind power from the best places to generate it to the places where power is needed would be incredibly expensive and could cost many times the price of generating the power.

  • 4: Solar and Wind Don’t Provide Power At Useful Times

    “Solar is better than wind for providing electricity when electricity is used,” says Simmons. “But during much of the year in, for example, peak electricity demand comes after dark. For example, [on December 17] in California peak electricity demand was at 6pm. But peak solar was at 12:36 and by 6pm, solar production was a zero.”

    Power demand is relatively predictable. The output of a solar or wind power plant is quite variable over time and generally doesn’t coincide with the times when power is most needed. Peak power demand also occurs in the evenings, when solar power is going offline. Adding power plants which only provide power at intermittent and unpredictable times makes the power grid more fragile.

  • 5: Solar And Wind Can’t Keep the Lights On By Themselves

    Solar and wind power systems require conventional backups to provide power when they cannot. Since the output of solar and wind plants cannot be predicted with high accuracy by forecasts, grid operators have to keep excess reserve running just in case.

    But natural gas, coal-fired, or nuclear plants are not simple machines. They can require days to fully turn on from a dead stop. This means that solar and wind power require conventional sources in “stand-by” mode, which means they’re still generating electricity.

    Despite this, environmental groups like The Sierra Club still call for “100 percent” solar and wind power.

  • 6: The Best Places For Solar And Wind Are Usually Far Away From Consumers

    The places with the highest potential for generating solar or wind power are typically relatively far away from the people who will consume power, according to the Department of Energy. The government agency even maintains maps of how unfeasible long-range transmission can become.

    The vast majority of people who use power do not live in deserts or consistently windy areas. The kind of high voltage power lines needed to transport even relatively small amounts of power cost $1.9 to 3.1 million per mile built. Additionally, the kind of “smarter” power systems which can be adjusted to varying energy production created by wind and solar power can cost up to 50 percent more.

  • 7: Solar And Wind Are A Very Small Percent Of The Power Grid Despite Years of Subsidies

    “The first 8 months of 2015 wind and solar combined to produce 2.3% of the energy the U.S. consumed. Also wind production is down this year compared to last year,” says Simmons.

    Solar and wind have been heavily subsidized since at least the 1970s. In 2010, wind power alone received $5 billion in subsidies, swamping the $654 million oil and gas received in subsides. One in four wind suppliers have gone out of business in the past two years.

    In 2014, solar and wind power accounted for only 0.4 and 4.4 percent of electricity generated in the United States, respectively, according to the Energy Information Administration. The total amount of energy created by solar and wind is relatively small even though both systems are heavily subsidized.

  • 8: The Solar And Wind “Low-Hanging Fruit” Have Already Been Taken

    The locations where solar and wind power make the most economic sense generally already have a solar or wind power system. Since solar and wind power are only effective in a limited number of locations, “green” power sources are difficult to expand and are simply not practical in some areas.

  • 9: Natural Gas Prices Are Very Low In The United States

    Natural gas prices are currently incredibly low in the United States, making it much more difficult for solar and wind power to become cost competitive. Natural gas is already passing coal power as the most used source of electricity. Additionally, natural gas is quite environmentally friendly.

    The Department of Energy agrees with research organization Berkeley Earth that “the transition from coal to natural gas for electricity generation has probably been the single largest contributor to the … largely unexpected decline in US CO2 emissions.”

  • Replacement of oil by alternative sources

    While oil has many other important uses (lubrication, plastics, roadways, roofing) this section considers only its use as an energy source. The CMO is a powerful means of understanding the difficulty of replacing oil energy by other sources. SRI International chemist Ripudaman Malhotra, working with Crane and colleague Ed Kinderman, used it to describe the looming energy crisis in sobering terms.[13] Malhotra illustrates the problem of producing one CMO energy that we currently derive from oil each year from five different alternative sources. Installing capacity to produce 1 CMO per year requires long and significant development.

    Allowing fifty years to develop the requisite capacity, 1 CMO of energy per year could be produced by any one of these developments:

    4 Three Gorges Dams,[14] developed each year for 50 years, or
    52 nuclear power plants,[15] developed each year for 50 years, or
    104 coal-fired power plants,[16] developed each year for 50 years, or
    32,850 wind turbines,[17][18] developed each year for 50 years, or
    91,250,000 rooftop solar photovoltaic panels[19] developed each year for 50 years

    The world consumes approximately 3 CMO annually from all sources. The table [10] shows the small contribution from alternative energies in 2006.


  • “To provide most of our power through renewables would take hundreds of times the amount of rare earth metals that we are mining today,” according to Thomas Graedel at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. So renewable energy resources like windmills and solar PV can not ever replace fossil fuels, there’s not enough of many essential minerals to scale this technology up. http://energyskeptic.com/2014/high-tech-cannot-last-rare-earth-metals/

  • Germany Runs Up Against the Limits of Renewables

    Even as Germany adds lots of wind and solar power to the electric grid, the country’s carbon emissions are rising. Will the rest of the world learn from its lesson? After years of declines, Germany’s carbon emissions rose slightly in 2015, largely because the country produces much more electricity than it needs.

    That’s happening because even if there are times when renewables can supply nearly all of the electricity on the grid, the variability of those sources forces Germany to keep other power plants running. And in Germany, which is phasing out its nuclear plants, those other plants primarily burn dirty coal.

  • Blues for the Greenies: Now matter how many greenbacks the government throws at “green” energy, everyone ends up feeling blue. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal updated the story we’ve been covering for a long time now about the dismal performance of the Brightsource solar energy array in the California desert: High Tech Solar Projects Fail to Deliver – $2.2 Billion California Project Generates 40% of Expected Electricity


  • Solar – After Hundreds of Billions of Dollars of Subsidies and R&D and this is what we get?

    Ten Reasons Intermittent Renewables (Wind and Solar PV) are a Problem

  • An incredibly ignorant, ahistorical lack of knowledge and imagination like that should make you disqualify yourself as a commenter.

    There used to be one oil well. Then they made more. Repeating the same foolishness the article contained doesn’t help anyone.

    A hocketed system of clean safe renewable electricity generation is the main way humanity will survive the current ecological crisis. If our economic system decides that profit for a few is more important than the survival of civilization and most or all life on Earth, it’s quite insane and should end. (Clearly it’s already decided that so we need to end the current political-economic system, headed directly for post industrial neo-feudal fascism.)

  • Asked and answered. Try reading.

    If renewable power (which as explained is a lot more than just wind and solar PV) can’t work, why does it in more than 60 countries, 21 of which are at or near 100% renewable?

  • According to my birth certificate, I’m at least 25 years old, too. So?

    What you’re saying is this is a big job. Yes it is, so either help, or just shut the fuck up with your irrational mutinous whining and let smarter, saner people do it.

  • Asked and answered.

  • Asked and answered. Posited and debunked. You really think just repeating the same lies will get you somewhere? What kind of person does that?

    Solar and wind are largely complementary, each peaking at different times of day and year. And [now shouting as if the person being shouted at is deaf or very far away] RENEWABLE ENERGY IS NOT JUST WIND AND SOLAR; IT CONSISTS OF MANY DIFFERENT SOURCES INCLUDING A NUMBER OF DISPATCHABLE SOURCES–hydro, micro-hydro, geothermal, 24/7 solar thermal, etc. Further, there are, as I’ve already pointed out and supported with several articles each of which linked to others on the subject, demand is also intermittent, and there are many ways of meeting needs by changing both supply and demand.

    The Nordic grid serves 30 million people in industrial countries under very difficult conditions (widely separated by frigid inhospitable seas, cold climate stretching above the Arctic Circle so it’s dark for long periods… etc. is 2/3 renewable, mostly hydro and wind with some geothermal, solar, and biomass. Primary energy is 1/3 RE. Both are increasing fast. Distributed generation is a valuable technique, and the increase will continue although at some point storage will help, whether it’s batteries or pumped storage or…? Norway especially is electrifying its vehicle fleet very quickly; Iceland’s geothermal is so cheap, plentiful and rock solid steady reliable they use it as a form of foreign exchange by making aluminum, a very electricity-intensive operation. The US Pacific Northwest does the same with hydro power.

    Costa Rica, OTOH, is tropical, poor, small (especially E/W, which makes distributed generation across time zones harder). Through hydro, it’s electricity is about 99.9% renewable. Now that wind and solar are cheap enough, with financial help it can quickly electrify its primary energy–transport, industry, etc. and hook up with Nicaragua, Belize and other highly-renewablized countries nearby to form a regional grid like the Nordic.

    Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and other countries in North Africa and the Middle East are investing in solar. It can be transmitted 1000 miles losing only 2%, so hooking into the vast solar potential throughout this region and combining it with local wind, hydro and other renewables in adjoining areas can provide plentiful cheap energy (the cheapest electricity of any source, ever). Spain and Portugal, 43 and 63% RE grids with hydro and on and offshore wind, can develop solar now, their natural strength. They’ve waited so long, pumping GHGs and other pollution into the air, water, soil, bodies… because our sick and twisted economic system wouldn’t allow anything else until the price of solar fell enough (it just got cheaper than wind last year.)

    Each of these stories proves your contentions wrong. All of it’s easily available information. What condition causes you to continue to post such flaming ignorance instead of trying to find out the truth?

  • Utter nonsense, wrong on every count. More of the Koch-Exxon-ALEC et al lies spewed without any sense or connection to reality.

    NREL did a study in Texas showing that with no battery storage wind and solar together with smart grid demand side management can get to 90% of needs–with current technologies and common techniques.

    The many roadmaps we already have — such as IEA’s World Energy Outlook, recent NREL studies, the IIASA Global Energy Assessment, and the REN 21 Renewables Global Future Report — all show that the barriers to 100% renewables are not technological.”

    Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) in Finland has been sporadically releasing the results of a long-running research program which evaluates the potential of a country or region’s ability to transition to a 100% renewable electricity system. So far LUT has presented a case for a 100% Russia & Central Asia by 2030; a 100% South America by 2030; a 100% Iran & Middle East by 2030; and its biggest accomplishment, a successful model of a 100% renewable energy planetary system.

    LUT has published its latest effort this week, concluding that India can function entirely on a 100% renewable electricity system by 2050.


    And of course Jacobson has done studies of all 50 US states, and 139 countries, showed 100% RE grids are possible and successfully defended his work against attacks that make a lot more sense than your nonsense and are complete crap anyway.




  • As already explained, this is utter crap.

    Most people live near a rooftop. Most of humanity lives near an ocean. Mindlessly repeating the same points I already showed were nonsense is nonsensical.

  • Years of inadequate subsidies have made it take far longer than it needed to to develop sources that are now poised to power the entire world, and will, within a few decades even according to the most pessimistic projections (that are also optimistic, in thinking society can hold together that long in the face of rapidly increasing effects of climate catastrophe. If we want to survive, we have to do it faster–a massive, immediate climate mobilization like the US used to win WWII. 5-8 years to replace at least 90% of fossil fuels, reforest the planet and transform agriculture globally to sequester carbon.

  • Not only complete proprietary fracking fluid, but already-debunked fracking fluid. In other words, useless and toxic substances spewed out into the world for no reason except a severe psychological illness.

    You clearly need to 1. read something other than denying delayalist blogs and 2. seek psychotherapy to find out why you’re so vulnerable to the lies you’ve been told by the criminal psychopaths running those blogs.

  • Natural gas is cheap because fracking is allowed by the secret agreement reached in the very early days of the Cheney administration, senselessly exempting it from all applicable environmental laws as well as all reasonable moral standards. It’s as bad as coal in causing climate cataclysm, poisons groundwater supplies (that will stay contaminated for hundreds to millions of years) and causes earthquakes. It emits methane, a much more powerful GHG than CO2 which gradually degrades into CO2. So you’re spreading lies, cherry picking for a false dichotomy and straw person argument.

    Gas is as bad as coal for climate http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/02/19/3296831/natural-gas-climate-benefit/

    DITTO from TomGram http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175873/tomgram%3A_naomi_oreskes%2C_a_%22green%22_bridge_to_hell/#more


    (Further disadvantage—low cost gas replaces renewables as well as coal.

    ”According to a [2010] lifecycle analysis performed by a team of Cornell University scientists led by Professor Robert W. Howarth, unconventional gas—particularly when it is extracted from shale using hydraulic fracturing methods—is likely to present an even greater climate disruption threat than coal and oil, the other dirty fossil fuels. https://www.desmogblog.com/fracking-the-future/myth.html

    NASA Study Nails Fracking as Source of Massive Methane ‘Hot Spot’

    Using natural gas as part of an emissions reduction program is often based on International Energy Agency projections which are blind to developments in renewable energy technology. Any investments now in natural gas represents opportunity losses, at best.

    Fracking causes earthquakes

    Fracking pollutes, causes quakes, new analysis says

  • Yup, it’s a big job. Stop standing in the way of it, because if we don’t do it, civilization will not survive this century and millions of species will be wiped out.

    You seem not to have watched the disruptive technology video. Actually, you seem to have completely ignored everything I said, which means you remain as ignorant as you were when this discussion started. That’s not only a shame, it’s evil and it’s a crime. You should change the way you handle, well, everything. To do that effectively you’ll probably need to seek psychotherapy.

  • More crocodile tears from the lunatic right

    As is every point spread by the Koch-Exxon-ALEC campaign of climate denying delayalism, this is a deception. And if you object to the use of such materials please point out your posts objecting to it in phones, audio and video electronics, computers and other consumer toys and tools.

    We waste extraordinary amounts of material of all kinds on trivial and destructive nonsense. Building tools for the survival of humanity and millions of threatened species is the only legitimate use of any materials needed for it, now and for the duration of this crisis.

    http://www.abb.com/ product/ seitp322/ 5f641f087db6118cc1256ddb0048752c.aspx?productLanguage=us&country=00&tabKey=2

    Rare earth metals are in fact relatively abundant. USGS estimates for global reserves are about 800X annual production.

    http://minerals.usgs.gov/ minerals/ pubs/ commodity/ rare_earths/ mcs-2010-raree.pdf

    Your despicable whataboutery is now way beyond the original level of annoying it had. Why are you trying (however impotently) to stop the programs most needed for the survival of humanity and all life on Earth? What mental illness could possibly be so bad that you engage in this behavior? Have you been diagnosed with any?

  • Already shown to be utter lies. Germany’s emissions have come down steadily because it’s replacing coal and nuclear with renewable energy and conservation. Connecting to a wider area–the Nordic grid, the Mediterranean, pan-Asian grid etc. will even out highs and lows. Treating rather than catering to the addicted need of the already-too-rich to profit from providing basic necessities is the most rational response to an economic system where systems don’t exist and won’t be set up to distribute energy to those who need it, because there’s not enough profit in it.

    The answers to the problem of current lignite burning are to continue to build diverse renewables, in a larger geographical area, and to pursue demand response and other intermittent-demand-changing strategies.

    Minor problems in creating a complex industry from scratch, under great time pressure, are inevitable. Harpies with political agendas and psychological conditions, whining because they’re too cowardly to face their own fear of climate reality and absolutely necessary government responses, won’t help humanity survive. This problem exists because people like you (only more consequential) delayed for decades the actions we need to take. Chief among them is to replace fossil fuel use with efficiency, wiser lives and clean safe renewable energy.

    Why are you doing this?

  • Cherry picking. Straw person fracking fluid. Red herring.
    Dozens of coal corporations like Peabody, Arch, Alpha, and nuke corporations like Westinghouse, Toshiba, and Areva have declared bankruptcy or have had or are having severe financial trouble. In an established, incredibly profitable industry, that’s inexcusably irresponsible. The amount of money wasted on fossil fuel failures and boondoggles is staggering–many, many, many times the amount lost in the dynamic and emerging field of renewable energies. Government bailouts–increased subsidies, loan guarantees, etc. for an obsolete and failing industry are senseless, but the Republicans are doubling down and bending over for industries that control them and the US federal government.

    Our survival depends on ditching fossil fuels and not letting nukes interfere with providing clean safe renewable energy as fast as possible. We need to nationalize the fossil fuel industries to shut them down as fast as possible while getting efficient and building clean safe renewable energy infrastructure to replace them where needed. (More than 80% of what we do with energy is unnecessary.)

  • This may be the most stupid of all your extremely stupid and ignorant arguments. The purpose of subsidies is to develop things to help people and make life better. Renewables are doing that, poised to take over exponentially. They would have done it years or decades ago, but the people who are giving you your talking points stopped it. This is a disgusting and reprehensible example of weaponized projective identification–creating a problem and then blaming the victims for it.

    As established and very profitable industries (and unimaginably destructive ones at that) fossil fuels of course don’t need or deserve any subsidies at all. But it’s exactly that profitableness that’s given them the clout to keep getting subsidized by taxpayers, an insane and maladaptive aspect of oligarchic capitalism.

    “Eliminating subsidies would have reduced global carbon emissions in 2013 by 21% and fossil fuel air pollution deaths 55%, while raising revenue of 4%, and social welfare by 2.2%, of global GDP.”

    People like you whine constantly about how bad it is to “pick winners” but it’s perfectly OK with you to pick losers that are quite literally risking killing the planet. Psychotherapy is definitely called for.