Bare Bones Biology 106 – Richard Heinberg

Bare Bones Biology for this coming week is entirely taken up with an interview with Richard Heinberg, who also gave the keynote introductory lecture at the conference of The Economics of Happiness. I’m pretty sure that talk will be posted on the web site of The Economics of Happiness. If not, I can give you my personal copy, just let me know. Later that day, Richard took five minutes out of his busy schedule to give an interview for us in Texans and former Texans. Because he introduced himself so well, I have given the entire program to his words.

“My name is Richard Heinberg. I’m Senior Fellow at the PostCarbon Institute and the author of a recent book called The End of Growth: Adapting to our New Economic Reality.

“The book is based on quite a lot of recent research that shows that we’re really entering into a new economic era, particularly in the US but I think around the world as well, and that new economic era is one where growth in GDP, growth in the total amount of money we’re spending in the economy on an annual basis, is going to be a lot harder to achieve. There are a number of reasons for that.

“One reason is that we are reaching a number of limits to debt. We’ve used debt to grow consumption and to grow GDP for the last several decades. And here I’m not just talking about government debt. I’m talking about consumer debt. Debt has grown faster than GDP in just about every year. People want bigger homes, and bigger cars, and we’re constantly being advertised at and talked into wanting this stuff, but real inflation-adjusted hourly wages for American workers haven’t been going up for three decades or so. So how we financed all this consumption is with more debt. You can only do that so long, because people get loaned up to their eyeballs, and they can’t afford to make payments on the debt they have, and banks don’t want to lend them even more money, so we’ve reached the end of that particular strategy for increasing the scale of our economic activity.

“Another problem that’s impinging on economic growth is energy costs, and of course here we’re talking primarily about the price of oil. That’s being driven by speculation and other things, but a lot of it is that we’ve already harvested the low-hanging fruit. I’m not suggesting that we’re running out of oil. Obviously, in this country, our real oil production has actually increased in the last few years, but where it’s increased is in the production of much lower quality resources. We’re talking about the shale deposits in North Dakota, and the Eagle Ford Play in Texas” (you can download maps of the Eagle Ford Shale and the Texas Aquifers from the lower right side of this page) “shale gas. The costs of production are higher, and with gas of course, we had very high natural gas prices a few years ago, and that drove up a glut of supply. We look at that and say: “Oh, well now we’ll have natural gas for 100 years and it’s always going to be cheap.” But actually most of the producers are losing money on production right now, because their production costs are so high and the natural gas prices are so low. The same thing will happen with the shale industry, if price of the oil goes down, if we do get gas prices down, well that’ll just mean that the industry will have to consolidate, and instead of seeing increasing rates of production in the US it will go back down again.

“So once again, the problem is not that we’re running out, the problem is that we’ve used all the low-hanging fruit, and that means we will be paying more for energy. We’ve got to get used to that. That will be a drag on economic growth.

“The third factor is increased incidence of weird weather. You can call that climate change, you can call it anything you want. You can attribute it to cow farts or volcanoes, or to CO2 emissions. If you’re an insurance company and you’re looking at the costs of what you are having to pay out for droughts, floods, fires, and other events like that, the costs are increasing. There’s no getting around it, and they’re increasing exponentially. So that is another drag on growth.

“So take the drought situation in Texas as an example of that. That kind of thing is happening around the world, and it’s getting worse. So economic growth as we’ve known it is coming to an end. Well, how do we adapt to that? What do we do instead?

“Well it turns out that actually we could make life better for people and for communities without necessarily having to have the kind of economic growth we’ve had in the past. But we will have to pay attention to different things. We’ll have to pay attention to what really makes our communities work better; we’ll have to pay attention to what makes our environment more livable.

“If we do that, I think we can have a better quality of life even as our economy changes. We live in a time of rapid change, and the intelligent path is to see where that change is going and adapt sooner than later.”

Bare Bones Biology 106 – Richard Heinberg
KEOS 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas
You can download the audio here or at:
http://BareBonesBiology.com

Recommended Reference: The End of Growth: Adapting to our New Economic Reality

Bare Bones Biology 066 – Corposystem Power

The corposystem can not destroy our heritage, the rule of law, the soil, water, air, the climate and our freedom. That is, they can’t do it unless we let them, and because we all know that this is true, the corposystem gives us games to play to prevent us from thinking about the reality of our power.

One game is to change the subject away from real facts by claiming there is a debate. Rather than consult experts and discuss opinions, they display their own ignorance by debating fake or peripheral issues. We saw this clearly in the so-called debate over climate change. Also “Darwinism” and others you can name.

Another game they give us to play is to use really important issues, like fracking to make us forget the root cause of the multiplicity of our lesser problems. Fracking is as important as global warming, but the root cause of both is growth, because economic and population growth require resources that come from the living earth ecosystem – resources like food, minerals, water, soil – and the economy and every living thing requires these resources in order to grow. We can not grow forever because we will run out of food, clean water and good soil. And we run out of them because they are being destroyed by fracking and chemicals that are used in an effort to support more growth. And the game is, while we are fighting over fracking, or “Darwinism,” or poisoned soil, the corposystem is trying to grow some other part of itself, so that whatever we gain by reducing fracking is more than lost by the overgrowth of something else.

Or some important problem bubbles up in the news, and immediately the corposystem might start a fight over whose fault it is. Fight! Fight! We all gather around to watch and have a good old time blaming each other. Blame-placing, of course, takes away all our personal and social power, because we can’t change anything that has already happened. We can only do one thing at a time, and fussing over things we can’t change doesn’t change anything. That’s why political blaming and fighting is one of the corposystem’s favorite games, because it distracts us so effectively from the bigger problem. The bigger problem is — us — sitting on our TV watching the fight when we could be using our brains and our hands to make positive change.

If we would stop debating and blame-placing, and hand-sitting, and think factually about reality, we KNOW that growth beyond resources is NOT A GOOD THING. The solution to our problems is NOT growth, after we have already reached the capacity of the earth’s ability to feed us. From that point, which is approximately now, the solution to all these problems is to stop using more food energy and other kinds of energy than the earth can grow. But that’s not what the corposystem is doing. Instead of looking for real solutions, the corposystem just gives us another game. This time it’s a cliff-edge panic decision that is meant to grow the corposystem. Bush chose war — Obama chose debt. Neither war not debt nor any other kind of growth addresses the real problem.

So there is no point poisoning the future water and soil and air, just to squeeze out another dollar or two for a dying corposystem that will crash anyhow. Or maye it will change. It can’t continue as it is, because, there aren’t enough resources. Our better option would be to build a more compassionate and sustainable social order for our future. We can begin this by refusing to play the corposystem’s power games. Blame-placing, political board games, aintitawful games, cliff-edge panics. And use our own personal power to do something positive.

Anyone can do that.

Bare Bones Biology 066 – Corposystem Power
KEOS radio 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at FactFictionFancy.wordpress.com
Audio later this week at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

In a Hostel in Japan

“If English is good enough for the Bible, it’s good enough for us.” (former Texas Governor)

“Unlimited Economic Growth . . is the pet idea of a Party of Hardheaded Realists. That unlimited economic growth can be accomplished within limited space, with limited materials and limited intelligence, only shows the unlimited courage and self-confidence of these Great Minds. That unlimited economic growth implies unlimited consumption, which in turn implies unlimited pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth, only makes the prospect even more unlimited.” Wendell Berry (Was he talking about the UN Millenium Project? I don’t know.)

July 19, 2005
Today is Wendell Berry day

I am sitting at breakfast in a Japanese Youth Hostel, speaking with a Dutch Youth who lives in China. He speaks nearly perfect English; I will not misrepresent what he said. He said some things about fundamentalist religious people being unable to listen to any other perspective than their own: “Oh, well, that’s because they are fundamentalist – that’s what it means.” (Not quite I don’t think, but let that go. I’m not sure myself what it means. What could be more fundamental than the created natural laws of the creation in which we are living?)

“Creation is nothing less than the manifestation of God’s hidden Being.” (Philip Sherrard, Greek Orthodox theologian.)

Our breakfast conversation moves along to economic growth, and immediately the experience for me becomes no different from trying to converse with the most fundamentalist of Texas or South Carolina Christians (which I have done, and I listened). He says the economy goes up and down but it will always be as it has always been. He thinks it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t understand biology because it is not relevant to the economy. And besides, we have to work to maintain this current economy because otherwise we wouldn’t have jobs. Nice, tall handsome blond young man. Nice smile.

“Nature is the best farmer and forester, for she does not destroy the land in order to make it productive.” Wendell Berry

In fact, this sort of conversational experience has been pretty standard for me ever since I determined thirty years or so ago to stop playing “Aint it Awful” (Games People Play, Eric Berne) because I couldn’t think of any good that could come of that social game. I’m glad I stopped playing, but will modify my opinion of “no good” in the light of maturing wisdom. “Aint it Awful” is very good for booksellers, which keep the game going with an unending series of aint-it-awful books. It’s also good for fundamentalist economists and power politicians, because the game stimulates the economy without actually generating change. Come to think of it, almost everyone enjoys a good game of “Aint it awful,” except maybe people the likes of Wendell Berry who wish to genuinely live their religion.

“If we understand that no artist–no maker—can work except by reworking the works of Creation, then we see that by our work we reveal what we think of the works of God. How we take our lives from this world, how we work, what work we do, how well we use the materials we use, and what we do with them after we have used them—all these are questions of the highest and gravest religious significance; In answering them, we practice, or do not practice our religion.”

Not surprisingly, after my decision to stop playing “Aint it Awful” I pretty much lost contact with my old friends. We no longer had anything to talk about and it took me a long time to figure out there are other things to say and do, and so they wandered off into some gracious void wherein presumably resides someone else with whom to share their interminably recycled pretence at concern. I am thankful to my lost friends; not that they are lost but they helped me when I needed it. They are nice people.

And I guess I was not the only person who found that game depressing, because we next had the “perky” generation, which was notable for its profound belief that NOTHING AT ALL is wrong – it’s only “my perception” that is out of whack. I once heard Dr. Laura, on her help line, advise such a young woman. The poor young thing no longer felt happy; she had always been happy and she had everything; she wanted to know what was wrong with her, what was she doing wrong that she was no longer happy? Dr. Laura asked this poor woman about her load of responsibilities, as I recall it included four children under the age of five and massive volunteer responsibilities, and then Dr. Laura simply and gently told her: “Nobody feels good all the time. Did you think you are supposed to feel good all the time?” And yes, it turned out, she did. A nice young woman; a compassionate and insightful older woman. It was a sweet moment because you could tell that simple conversation would have a profoundly healing result.

Then we had a generation of young who told us that anything you believe is true “for you,” because you believe it! “It’s your perception, and so it’s valid.” According to them, there is no such thing as hard factual reality. Unfortunately, that pattern of thinking erases several hundred or a few thousand years worth of important factual knowledge. The reason facts are facts is because they don’t change. They won’t go away, which means that someone else must take care of the facts while we are having opinions and beliefs.

And now a zillion 30-somethings who have just turned 40, salt the face of the earth, dedicating their lives to bringing for the benefit of others the system that so enriched them. Unfortunately the system that enriched them (and you, and me), and which did indeed give us an abnormally cushy life-style, is now beginning overtly to crumble and no longer has the safety net of our wide-open unused spaces. These 40-somethings are very, very nice people, and admirably dedicated to helping others reap the rewards of the American economy but not realizing – or maybe they do and hence their determination to help – that they themselves, and you, and I, have eaten up, or burned up, most of the excess fruits of the American Dream, and we are running down. The American economy must go on a diet or — after it gobbles up whatever defenseless other countries it can conquer or con — it will starve. That is not a perception. It is a mathematical reality.
2 + 4 + 16 + 256 + 65536 mouths to feed, or even 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32, is not at all similar to 2 + 2 = 4 mouths to feed…and the mother of all food is being murdered. The fantasy industry will tell you it’s not that simple, but that’s why it’s called fantasy. They do not deal in facts. My career is built around facts, and I tell you it indeed is exactly that simple. Limitless is not possible, maybe unless you are God. We are not God, and THAT fact is foundational.

“The aims of productivity, profitability, efficiency, limitless growth, limitless power, limitless mechanization and automation can enrich and empower the few (for a while) but they will sooner or later ruin us all. The gross national product and the corporate bottom line are utterly meaningless as measures of the prosperity or health of the country.” Wendell Berry

But back to the generations, I am not here to comment upon their idiosyncrasies, except to remind you that if we were night-and-day different, we are all in the same boat. I am in fact here to say that we are not very different. The common denominator of all these apparently disparate generations is that they all are nice people who “know” how to “fix” what previous generations did wrong. The aintiitawfuls “know” but they have faith the system will take care of itself if we explain it often enough, the perkies blame themselves and try harder, and the 40s believe that they can do anything if only they work hard enough, but they are working harder and harder at promoting a poisonous economy that is progressively destroying the ecosystem in which we live (and there aint no place else), so in fact the harder they work the smaller percentage of people can benefit, and the sicker becomes the poor old earth while she tries to feed more people.

And all this is happening even though we all agree upon the foundational realities — that we are not God and that the health of mother earth is a bottom-line survival issue. We all agree – all except the exploiters, and they are not nice people and they are not in the majority. And we also agree that the problem is difficult, so we all find ways to not think about it. Folks, if we don’t think about the health of our earth, it will not get better; it will get sicker. And in fact our experts do know how to help. There are factual realities that they understand (and we can understand if we try) in a factual way. “Factual” is a very important word. “Factual” means we have hard data. Hard data is information that we can measure again and again at least a hundred times and get the same answer within a mathematically permissible margin of error, and THAT means these are not personal opinions, they are hard data. We have hard data that describes ways we could be helping the poor old earth to hold the line, and maybe even perk up a bit if we don’t wait too long. But we also know that ecosystems have threshold sensitivities beyond which they are not able to recover. We know all these things. We don’t really disagree at all.

So it must be that all these very different, very nice people are working at odds with each other, right? If we all agree on the bottom line, why are we not fixing the bottom line? Again, the rather shockingly simple answer is that all these nice people are not working at odds with each other – we all (except me and Wendell) are engaging in the same activity. We are dedicating ourselves to essentially the same, age-old escapist technique (change the subject) to AVOID LISTENING to the throbbing, hurting heart of reality, or even to each other. We all have been, in practice, fundamentally dedicated to creating God in our own image. And yet, if God our creator (or whoever is our creator) is in fact reality, why would we want to be all the time changing the subject so that we need not think about reality?
“If we want to succeed in our dearest aims and hopes as a people, we must understand that we cannot proceed any further without standards, and we must see that ultimately the standards are not set by us but by nature.” Wendell Berry

The scariest generation just walked out the door for his bike ride around the island. I think he believes that the purpose of life is to have fun, and believes that fun is real and it is easy to have, so long as you have money to buy it with. And he believes that the ecosystem is a subset of the economy. And he KNOWS that he knows better than anyone else, especially little old ladies that he meets in youth hostels in Japan. He is either purely ignorant or purely selfish, or maybe both, but frankly I would rather be persecuted by a fundamentalist ”Christian,” and I have been, than to watch the death of creation at the hands of a fundamentalist economist. Both, equally, are dedicated to ignore KNOWN FACTS and the SAME FACTS. Evolution is a fact; how it works is how it works. Economists can not change how evolution works any more than “Christians” can, just on the evidence that some neurons inside their own brains don’t like it. Damn I wish I could find someone for a good old fashioned game of “aint it awful.”

“Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels, intent on “doing us good” according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication.” (Wendell Berry)

Folks, Wendell and I are old. We are not practicing greed and certainly not prevarication. We expect neither benefit nor harm, personally, in the year or two we have left to worry about these things. We are working for reality. What are you nice people doing?

You CAN understand the basic biology. Organize a study group. Get a textbook. Or start with the below. Invite a knowledgeable person to answer your questions. Do not study anatomy and physiology textbooks. It is the earth that is hurting; anatomy and physiology are about people. The earth is not us; she is very much more. Study the living earth. Study basic principles of biology and living cells, and then study ecology and evolution. Study FACTS. Opinions make people feel good, but they will not save the earth. Make healing brain waves.

Start with Mahlon Hoagland and Bert Dodson, The Way Life Works. It should be in your library. If not, you should tell them to get it. It is short and very attractive and concentrates on basic principles at an adult, responsible level. They don’t treat you as though you are unable to do the work, but they do a beautiful job of relating basic principles to the whole of life. Curtis Freshman Biology College Textbook, available at college bookstores.
If you want to enjoy and dig in The Great Courses, The Joy of Science is good, and if you don’t want to spend a year or so on the whole thing you should concentrate on the lectures on the scientific method. It comes in relatively inexpensive tapes or classy DVD’s so you can watch the handsome lecturer talk. They have lots of sales. Try for a sale. WWW.teach12.com
Do not bother with opinions of people who write aintitawful books that all contradict each other. That is part of the con. FACTS ARE AVAILABLE.

But they were not easy to find, and that is why I began writing my Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook as this fine young man walked out the door. But now I’m getting the scary feeling that people already knew the facts and don’t really care. Damn! I keep forgetting I’m of the generation of Americans who believed that everyone is well intended, and I just can’t get it out of my head.

Excerpt from upcoming memoir
“Dancing on the Dying Face of God,”
by Lynn Lamoreux