It has been a while since my last blog post in this second decade of the 21st century. We have all been occupied with the Covid 19 virus and finding time to read anything besides escapist literature has been difficult along with trying to keep a little subsistence farm afloat but winter has hit the Wyoming mountains early and with the landscape turning snowy dark and deep, I am finding time to reflect upon these changes to our region and the planet. This book by Hope Jahren PhD, a Minnesotan living in Norway was a pleasant perspective.
Hope Jahren PhD is an utterly engaging and easy to read author of scientific subjects. Her first Book “Lab Girl” was a NYT bestseller dealing with her scientific and teaching career. The Story of More is her latest short book published this year(2020). The sub title”How we got to climate change and where to go from here” is in some ways incomplete but I’ll give you her slow to evolve conclusions: Burning fossil fuels releasing carbon dioxide is generating global warming. ‘’ll also give you her “where to go from here” segment: USE LESS and SHARE MORE.”: The structure of the book is uniquely hers if not anthropocentric. She was born in 1969 in a small town in southern Minnesota whose economy had one big employer, the “Hog Kill”, a meat processor operating in a rural region encircled by Corn and soybean fields. She uses her 51 years to show how the world had changed in her 51 years. Early in the book she said we have 4 resources: “Earth, the sky, the ocean and ourselves”. This is not a unique idea as the ancients said the key elements were earth, air, fire, and water. Notice that the ancients did not consider “ourselves” an important element nor do I. I regard “ourselves” as part of the problem. Hope breaks her book into 4 parts: (1)Life, who, how and where we are (2)Food: for these inhabitants: grains, meat fish. (3) Energy: and its impacts on us and the planet and and (4) more impacts on same, including melting icecaps, rising seas, changing weather etc.. Her book is an extensive data recital of human resource consumption of the planet and the alterations it has induced. She uses no footnotes but offers a complete source list of her data at the end of the book, She includes no graphs or pictures which might have been useful. Her writing style is conversational and digresses at times into her upbringing and teaching and research career and unrelated topics such as her chapter on high fructose corn syrup and its impact on diet and health. Her conclusions and recommendations at the end mirror the title. She says that the world population has doubled since she was born in 1969 and that it will probably “never have less than 7 billion people.” Her recommendation to solve these looming risks to the planet are an egalitarian sharing of these resources as a means of combating inequality of access to opportunity, health, education and communal happiness. It is a sunny view of life reflecting her optimistic outlook. I feel that as a reviewer I must point out shortcomings and omissions in her treatise. My biggest critique of her book is that while she has an entire section dealing with Energy, she misses its significance on how it altered the world in the last 250 years of the Industrial Revolution. She misses the WHY and HOW of the changes on the earth wrought by the availability of the unexpected but the all too brief energy bonanza of fossil fuels. For example the population explosion occurred first and foremost because of the availability of industrial food production, processing, and distribution of food and goods made possible by the concentrated energy of Oil, particularly diesel oil. She also makes the common mistake of how many of these fossil resources remain to be discovered and consumed as she conflates “resources” and “reserves.” Nowhere in the book does she address the Economy and the role of energy. Bluntly, Energy IS the Economy and energy consumption is the root of all the positive and negative changes it has made to the human civilization and the natural world. She may very well be aware of all of this but it is absent from the book. She entirely lacks an ecological perspective of the world and all its living components such as the concept of “carrying capacity” or “Overshoot and collapse.” Reference her statement that “The earth may never have less than 7 billion people.” Hope Jahren gets many factors well integrated into her arguments but her naively optimistic Kumbaya conclusions at the end of the book were unconvincing to this reader.
This Corolla Virus thing is starting to hit close to home. John Prine died yesterday and I can think of a lot of people I would like that virus to set up housekeeping inside besides John Prine. John wrote some poignant and funny songs and very little these days is funny and poignant. We are just starting the second week of April here and folks are dropping like flies in NY and Europe. Meanwhile back in the District of Corona the shitstorm just waxes and wanes with lies and ill formed policy proposals from both the Orangeman in chief and his democratic opponents. We are learning that the 2 Trillion $ money printing operation is vastly complex when it comes to delivering welfare checks to the slobs on Main Street but works just fine getting to the hedge fund parasites like Citadel who ran into trouble when their algorithms imploded in the recent bear market . Their senior economic adviser, a certain Ben Bernanke, was able to have his former cronies at the Fed cook up some rescue rules. I can’t prove that he called Jerome Powell singing the blues but in no time flat all those leveraged losses disappeared. There is no coordination or even intelligent discussion going on in the White House and every press conference is a litany of lies and bumbling mismanagement.
Amazingly, some of Trumps statements might actually be true. Chloroquine especially in combination with Zpak and Zinc might be a possible treatment. He also might be right about mocking a Governor’s request for 30000 ventilators. It is starting to be very obvious that being put on a ventilator for Corona pneumonia is almost a death sentence. Chinese and Italian statistics indicated that you only had one chance in 3 or 4 of surviving the typically long duration vent management required. Governor Cuomo of NY recently said that the fatality rate being put on a ventilator in NY was a staggering 80%. These figures to me hint that ventilator management for the Corona virus might be the wrong thing to be doing mainly because the longer a patient is on a ventilator, the harder it is to get them weaned off of it. I do know a bit of what I speak because I have put many hundreds of patients in my career on ventilators. It is frequently a last ditch option and I always resisted it if I could. It may be that this virus is more of a blood disease than a pulmonary disease. Support for this theory comes from a recent Chinese paper that described the possible pathophysiology of the Covid Virus. Pathophysiology is a study of how a particular disease process changes the function of a particular organ and as I understand this is still incomplete science. But it seems to indicate that the virus proteins may attack and displace the iron “heme” from one of the chains of hemoglobin in the red blood cell and if so the red blood cell can carry less oxygen and CO2 and what’s worse, the liberated iron has its own cellular toxicity. The real issue appears to be cellular hypoxia.
One of the biggest ongoing problems revolves around testing for Covid-19. There are two types of tests currently being used. One is the PCR test also abbreviated RT-PCR. This is the nasal/Pharyngeal swab test and it detects the particular RNA signature of the Covid-19 virus. It is used early on in the infection. Later on there are serological tests from blood drawing which measures the titer of the particular antibodies elaborated by the patient’s immune system as it fights the infection. High titers, high immunity to Covid-19. The importance of serological testing to measure immunity is that if a person has a high titer of antibodies it means he/she can get back to work and not have to worry about getting Covid -19 again. The more people that can get back to work the sooner the economy can resume. For example the country could issue a medallion to wear around the neck, a bracelet or some decal to put on your car or appear on your cell phone stating your immunity. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. A recent paper by the Imperial College in London has said that most of the tests they have evaluated have flunked! That really is terrible news if you don’t have serological tests you can trust. And here is another disappointment from Chinese researchers who tested 175 hospitalized patients who had confirmed Covid-19 by PCR tests. The bad news was that about 1/3 of the 175 patients had titers of antibodies too low to confer immunity9less than 500) and “several” patients had no detectable titers at all. Most of these low titer patients were less than 40 years old. The older over 50 population had far higher titers. This is potentially bad news because the younger tranches tend to get less severe cases compared to the older population but it seems to indicate that they didn’t develop immunity either! It seems to indicate that they could contract the Covid-19 again. It is possible that other modalities of the immune response such as T cells or a cytokine response might have made them better rather than a pure antibody response. It suggests that this group of 175 will need to be tested within the next year to see how antibody levels change but I didn’t see in the abstract whether that was part of their plan. Let’s hope so. It seems to indicate that it could be some time before the world gets a handle on the host responses following a covid-19 infection. The good news is that a variety of vaccines are under development using all manner of tried and proven techniques but how long they confer immunity and how specific they are to the virus and its haplotypes needs to be determined by clinical trials which take time.. Some vaccines have even proven toxic. Stay tuned for the vaccine news because it is most likely to be THE solution. Other treatments during the infection will certainly be tried and one would hope there will be treatment drugs with efficacy such as hydroxycloroquine/zinc/zpak.
One final little tidbit I read yesterday is that a Chinese study said people with type O blood types fared much better than others. Type A blood types seemed to fare much worse. The message I want to continue to hammer home is that YOU MUST NOT GET THIS VIRUS until a vaccine is developed. Stay isolated in your cave.
Wait! There’s more! It seems the corona virus can hit animals. A tiger in the Bronx zoo has it and one would have to assume pets can get it. Who knows whether the animals can transmit to humans but if a Tiger coughs in your face you need to be worried. Wear a mask if you visit the Bronx Zoo and hope the tiger has one too.
Well that is the latest news from the end of the first week of April 2020.
We are happily isolated here in Wyoming by a rotten climate and low density of people most of the year and we like it that way! Stay safe out there, wear a mask in public and get planting your garden!
Awakening this morning I saw the large white flakes drifting down into the skylight and wondered if spring would ever come to Wyoming. WE are more than a week into spring and the snow pack remains stable at 24”. We are eager to move manure and compost to the fields, start a new hoop greenhouse, fence a few new paddocks and get on with a life which results in social isolation for us every year from November to April.
Another unvaccinated lamb died this morning from Clostridium leaving us just one meat lamb for the family. There will be no lamb sales this year to our friends and neighbors. Egg sales are robust and Daisy our very pregnant Jersey, will calve in 5 or 6 more weeks. My daughter will also be birthing at the same time! This farm continues to practice Social Distancing” reinforced by a locked farm gate which keeps people out and animals in. After all, this is Wyoming, where social distancing is a way of life. The internet has been a positive force for information and social communication and for instance this weekend my nephew Patrick and his family in Charlotte are streaming a piano concert by his son Andrew which the whole scattered family will tune in to. It doesn’t feel too isolating here.
It is terribly sad seeing all the worldwide suffering from the Corona virus pandemic but every country seems so wrapped up in its own responses that the millions of stranded refugees will get little to no help when countries like Italy and Spain can’t even take care of their own. My previous post alluded to the fact that our artificial energy dependent economy may not survive its current form after the dust settles from this pandemic because our urban living structures are a perfect homeland for a virus which thrives within them. These same structures will be abandoned when the fossil energy plug is pulled which this pandemic may accelerate. And if not this pandemic, then the next. If there is any good news in this dark time is that Planet Gaia may get a reprieve from mankind’s destruction of her environment. There may dawn a realization that most of us will have to find a better way to live. Living in a crowded urban supply chain dependent anthill carries real risks like dying alone in a crowded ICU plugged into a ventilator drowning in your secretions.
I am a lucky old man who spent 15 years as an Emergency Room Doctor and I decided in the mid 80’s that I had to get out because of a mysterious ailment appearing which seemed to be carried by blood and other bodily secretions. It began posing risks to ER and OR staff like myself who spent part of our time resuscitating trauma and OR patients hanging fresh units and getting splashed and painted by their blood. After a few of my colleagues began to sicken and die I knew it was time to make a change by removing myself from the battlefield. Eventually the agent was discovered which was HIV and ways were devised to mitigate the risks. I am glad I can’t work now in those front line ER s not the least because my medical license lapsed 16 years ago. My heart goes out to those courageous nurses and doctors who used to be colleagues who have to push open those swinging doors into fresh and deepening chaos every morning. PTSD is a guaranteed consequence to their service and if this pandemic lasts too long they will be facing the same factors I faced 35 years ago. I used to say that life is short but it’s a lot shorter if you’re covered in blood.
Our industrialized finacialized overpopulated carbon spewing civilization is destroying our environment and there is little chance that this homo sapiens will be sapient enough to turn things around before we hit the wall. Perhaps a tiny clump of RNA might be just the ticket to trigger a realization that it is time to look at a new planetary living model with less crowding allowing us room to work our muscles to move around and perhaps grow our own food. We might even learn to work with our hands, frugally conserve our dwindling resources and resume our tribal village life again free from the destructive addiction of our social media distractions.
John Denver had a song which might give a little musical impetus to such a change. It was called “Blow up the TV!”
She was a level-headed dancer on the road to alcohol I was just a soldier on my way to Montreal
Well, she pressed her chest against me About the time the jukebox broke She give me a peck on the back of the neck And these are the words she spoke
Blow Up Your TV, throw away your paper Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches Try and find Jesus on your own
Well here we are closing out the last full week of March 2020. The bogus stock market had 3 up days this week and is now down 3-4% on the last day of the week. Infection curves remain exponential worldwide and a few political figures have contracted the virus. The more the merrier in my opinion because very few are leaders . The US just passed China in cases and is set to be the new epicenter of the world with the EU nipping at our heels. Africa and India are relatively unscathed so far but exponential curves being what they are typically start out tiny before blowing up. It is hard to Imagine a country which faces greater devastation than India if the virus sets up housekeeping there. Their leader realizes that and closing down the country for 3 weeks with very few cases demonstrates his concern. Whether it will work in the long run is dubious.
The dense urban areas have fared the worst so far and this pandemic has shown the fragility of the world’s globalized industrialized economic system. There is an ongoing battle of the bands going on with one camp demanding resources to fight the virus by pouring medical resources into a broken Public Health System before it can destroy the economy and the other camp pouring money into the economy. This gambit a restive attempt to ward off economic collapse using fiscal underpinning to counteract the sudden stall of world markets. It is a time of great displays of courage and altruism along with shocking instances of denial and blatant stupidity, greed, and peevishness from the white house but also from selected governorships and a few large countries to the south of us notably Brazil and Mexico. Amazingly PBS recently stated that Trump enjoys a 60% approval over his handling of the crisis, a poll which left me gasping for air. Behind the scenes the Federal Reserve is in a full on panic attack of QE money printing and asset purchases of securities and bonds and probably equities to save the huge corporations and financial elites and banks much like what was done in 2008. In addition vast sums have been printed since November in Repo rescues to keep money and credit from “freezing up,” Supply chains across the world are not supplying and oil and energy demand and world transportation has fallen off a cliff.
Oil consumption is estimated to be off as much as 20 million barrels a day,about 20% when the next figures will be issued. The feud between OPEC and Russia about production quotas resulting in a flood of oil supplies at a time of a catastrophic drop in world demand couldn’t have been timed any worse to kill the oil market. The Trump administration has been demanding these two players STOP these production excesses. The Irony of course is that the US is the world’s largest oil producer and it has shown no sign of stopping fracking in the Permian and Baaken formations and so oil prices may have more to fall. The US oil majors have embarked upon enormous debt assumptions within the past few years to fund dividends,stock buybacks.executive bonuses, asset purchases and exploration and are now just giving the oil away. North Dakota prices for frac oil are under $15 and Canadian oil sands oil under $13 as I write. Our local Wyoming Sour is near ZERO! If this continues for much longer Frac insolvency looms and not just to the small and medium players. Other commodities world wide have been hammered as well and the real danger to the globe is what happens to food commodities and delivery and planting schedules now that we are in Spring. I wonder what might happen to fuel deliveries when refineries and oil companies continue to produce transport fuels at a loss. If a company could afford it it would seem to me that it might be better to cap wells and shut in production and lay off workers to preserve what you can of your underground reserves. Those with urgent cash flow needs may not have that luxury.
A major point of this post is not to cover the health risks and progression of this pandemic. My major emphasis is continue to repeat the precariousness of the globalized economic model which is a point I have made for over a decade. Simply put, I think this model is in the early and rather sudden stages of collapse. Along with other students of energy I have long maintained that ENERGY, primarily oil energy, IS THE ECONOMY. Oil is the single most important factor driving increased GDP, world resource production, world food production, world global climate disruption, world pollution and world overpopulation. Oil energy use is directly or indirectly behind vast increases in world urbanization and changing job patterns. Without cheap oil, Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage of world job sourcing could never have taken hold to such a huge extent.
The Sixth Extinction of our insects, mammals and birds would not be happening if the world population was still 2 billion people which it was in the year I was born. Without globalized excessive tourism and massive increases in oceanic and airline transportation and its associated interdependent supply chains this Corona virus would have had a much harder time of it establishing a foothold in the world. The Black Deaths of the 14th century were also spread rapidly through the transportation networks of the time. I have stated in many past blogs that the collapse of this Industrial civilization is baked into the cake this century. I have long speculated that the collapse could take many forms from a gradual decline with some up reversals, to a stair step decline, to a catastrophic sudden decline brought on by some trigger such as war, a massive environmental event, asteroid impact, nuclear holocaust or a pestilential pandemic. This recall’s Durer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”War.pestilence,famine, and death.
Our civilization is fragile and unsustainable for a myriad of reasons. Vast income inequality began to grow in the seventh decade of the 20th century just as US conventional oil production peaked in 1970. Coincidence or consequence? The past 50 years since then have seen the largely fair and functional capitalistic system which generated the prosperity for the 200 years up to 1970 captured by greedy elites who manipulated the nations tax and legal system allowing them to establish monopolies and eliminate competition giving them their wish of privatization of their profits and socialization of their losses when they bet wrong. They manipulated the financial system creating arcane “instruments” like mortgage backed securities and derivatives along with inscrutable algorithms and corrupt unfair trading engines like HFT(high frequency trading) for the purpose of making money from leveraged paper and digital paper never actually making anything of value for the rest of the world. Parasite is not a strong enough word to describe them. This was accompanied by vast debt issuance and degradation of the currency which continues right up to today’s multi trillion dollar bailout of almost everyone, all triggered by a tiny speck of RNA looking like the label on a Mexican beer bottle. My view is that we are seeing some of the early stages of economic collapse and if financial collapse follows any doubt I had about the timing would be erased. But the jury is still out and the courageous soldiers in the ERs along with all the ancillary staff may yet turn the tide as they try to save us but the hospital health system in the US is almost certain to be overwhelmed in some regions. The jury is also out on whether we are already on the road to herd immunity or just barely started as until we have herd immunity requiring vast increases in testing, there is no light at the end of the tunnel signalling the end of the pandemic. Getting to herd immunity with a population with the variety of comorbidities present in the US population is likely to increase the death toll as well. An effective vaccine or treatment for Covid 19 is obviously necessary but the nature of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries does not give me hope. The abject incompetent federal response to date also gives me little optimism. I think it is self evident that we will not return to the American Dream we were all enjoying before that first case in Wuhan on November 24, 2019 broke the spell of China’s ongoing economic miracle. I have a nagging ache in the pit of my stomach that what little social cohesion we have in the US might crumble in the face of food or energy shortages and the anxiety brought on by millions realizing that their future is collapsing right before their eyes. It should be self evident that our entire social economic globalized system was a perfect setup waiting for a pandemic. A TV Western from the 50’s always closed with:” That’s the way it happened. Moving West.” That’s the way it happened.
Meanwhile down on the farm………….I will try to do a little farm blogging as time permits. Last week was not a good one as we lost 2 lambs to Clostridium Perfringens, a killer of lambs who aren’t vaccinated. Clostridium lives in the soil. One variety causes Tetanus as well as food poisoning.. We are down to a 2 month supply of forage and will need to resupply in case of a national lockdown. WE still have 2 feet of snow on the ground making storage and movement a struggle.I am not confident of nationally secure supermarket food supplies and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the military get involved to deliver food. I have long said the dense cities are at great risk of supply chain issues and social unrest. Desperate people do desperate things and martial law is not out of the question. Our armed 2nd amendment citizenry poses a real danger of blood in the streets. We here in flyover country will probably see a delay in clusters for a while( I hope) but if we let the tourists come that bet is off. Local gossip is the national parks will be open with no fees. This could be very bad for our gateway communities. Many of our locals here are ignoring pleas for social isolation and if this continues the next cluster is nigh. Our hospital is woefully unprepared. They claim they are fully prepared. Nurses there have told us they are short masks, gloves and gowns. They have a screening tent out front of the ER but no electrical power. Bring your own flashlight. We can do corolla tests here but Labcorp sends it to Cheyennne and it takes 7 days for results. With cases and deaths doubling every 3 days in Europe right now, 7 days is too long to be of value. We are holding up fine psychologically and get out every day for walks and exercise but rarely see any others and keep our distance if we do. My hip replacement was cancelled 16 hrs before I was to go under the knife and I am still limping around. I have no hope that elective surgery will return any time soon and who would go into a hospital now? My dad used to say: ”Stay out of hospitals. People die there.” I expect that a tourist shi__hole like Jackson will suffer economically and the service people will drift away soon. Most people here are hoping for a short lived downturn but I am unconvinced. I think this is the great inflection point I have been blogging about for many many years. This country and much of the world is following an unsustainable economic and social/environmental model working too little at productive jobs, traveling too much, using too much energy and getting too little exercise. We eat too many low nutrient high fat and high salt foods, become too fat and waste our lives away staring at the absurdities of those blue screens and antisocial media getting ever more lonely and isolated and ultimately angry at our sorry existence but not knowing why. The neoliberal economic community of academic and government economists have finally been revealed for what they have always been: deluded high priests and viziers staring at their invented models, issuing deliberately manipulated statistics to cover up the real underlying pathology of inequality and resorting to glorifying the magic of financialization where money is made in vast amounts by a few elites weaving their algorithms into computer fabric to make money trading paper money. It does appear to me that if the Federal Reserve and Treasury continue with their paper money printing we will not be short of toilet paper in the future. Right now the government is following the same model used 12 years ago rescuing banks and corporations who made colossal bad bets and missteps as the big boys were privatizing their profits and socializing their losses. There is simply no justification to rescuing the airline industry or the cruise industry because of their impending bankruptcy. The executives will depart millionaires but the airplanes and boats and the gates will remain ready to be restarted with their debts liquidated when/if air /boat traffic demand returns with new management and rehiring former staff. The best thing that could happen to the planet is for this consumptive globalized supply chain economy which has long utilized Ricardo’s system of comparative advantage circle the drain and head down to the septic tank so we can get busy building a new model that is better aligned to human and planetary needs. Will this happen? Not if the elites have anything to say about it in which case we just move up the collapse date. Stay safe out there everybody and BACK OFF!
We are approaching the Ides of March 2020 .The Corona Virus is all the rage here in the US. The markets are crashing, the president is babbling and the virus is setting up house keeping here in the New World. The chaotic brain of the of the Tweeter in Chief is on full display lurching from pillar to post as he issues strange and contradictory pronouncements on the Corona Virus pandemic generally downplaying its significance while praising his (mis)mangement of it and blaming the media for exaggeration and fake news. It is clear there will be no leadership from the White House. Even formerly respected organizations like the WHO and the CDC have made some really stupid decisions like delaying calling this obvious Pandemic, a pandemic and in the case of the CDC shipping thousands of defective proprietary testing kits to labs around the country with restrictive testing guidelines and at the bargain price of $3700 since reduced to a discounted $3200. Trust in government seems to be fading fast and with good reason. A lot of bloggers, myself included have maintained for years that the current industrial civilization reliant as it is upon cheap fossil energy and fueled by rampant financialization and debt was getting long in the tooth. All empires have a lifespan and eventually fail and there is often a triggering event. These triggers have been wars, environment collapse or climate change, wealth inequality and yes Pandemics. The 14th century gave us the Black death which proliferated in Europe’s newly built and crowded cities and may have killed 50% of the population. The microorganism was likely Pasturella Pestis carried by rodents and marmots displaced from East Asia by drought and climate change. Does that sound familiar? It should, because in many ways we share some of the same living conditions of 600 years ago. We are living in dense urban and suburban enclaves, crowded together on mass transportation, dependent upon tenuous supply chains and isolated from food and water sources and nature. Most of the products we need and rely upon are made elsewhere. We make very little of of what we need and live in a consumption based throwaway economy. Most of us are unhealthy and fat and not a part of an emotionally supportive community. In 1790 only 5% were living in cities and by this century over 80%. This is a perfect setup for a pandemic especially a new virus for which there was no herd immunity. The globalized nature of crowded transportation facilitated a rapid dissemination of the novel Corona Virus and so here we are squabbling over what to do about it while we swarm big box stores stocking up on TP and bottled water. I think it is self evident we are looking at some degree of political collapse which is not confined to the US. We are well along into environmental collapse with all manner of species going extinct, with glaciers melting and temperatures rising. We have blown through most of the worlds accessible non renewable natural resources and the keystone resource, Oil, is increasingly being seen as finite with most of it in control of shaky and tyrannical governments. Global Central bank policies and money printing have destroyed our markets making it impossible to discern true market value of anything. The banks have usurped the political process by obtaining free money from the government using fractional reserve lending promoting rampant borrowing which has had the effect of shifting consumption forward and sending millions into penury. Consume. Consume. CONSUME! It is hard for this author not to believe that we are lurching toward some form of economic and financial collapse., Cheap and abundant fossil energy has created cheap and abundant machine produced food and fed billions of mouths who rely upon that food often produced and shipped by the same fossil energy from one continent to another. When that business model fails so will food distribution and production. We are in overshoot and the consequence of overshoot in an ecological system is a die off. Many authors such as Dimitri Orlov have made the contention that in many regions we are enduring forms of social collapse manifested by among other things, dangerous drug addiction and overdose and senseless mass killings even of school children. This was not happening 100 years ago.
It’s my guess that if this pandemic does not trigger a collapse of an unsustainable civilization, there will be another one coming along down the track that will. This is good news for the planet if we can go from an extractive consumption based economy to one where we use less carbon emitting energy we might be able to build a new civilization using available renewable materials.
Covid-19 : Supply Chains and Disaster Preparedness.
We here in Jackson Hole are way past starting a discussion on instituting disaster preparedness for the upcoming Corona Virus which is likely to pay us an unwelcome visit this year. I have discussed supply chains and how they impact life here in my blogs and in previous guest editorials and it is time to hammer this meme home again. There is no evidence the current administration in DC is taking the current world pandemic seriously beyond fatuous statements that the situation is” under control.” Clearly, nothing is under control and we in Wyoming will need to find local and state officials to formulate an intelligent response. I would like to offer a first take on what we should be doing right here and right now.
First: consider our vulnerability. We are 99% dependent on long supply chains for everything we use and consume here because our economic and corporate leaders decided decades ago to maximize efficiency and profit over buffers, inventories and redundancy. We have JIT(just in time) delivery of everything. And what is worse is that we are not at a nexus of supply chains like in Denver and Salt Lake.. We are at the TAIL END of the supply chains. Some of our supply chains are relatively secure such as in energy and others like food and medicine are at risk. The Novel Corona virus is unique in that it is long lived on dry surfaces, spreads easily because of a High R0( “R nought”) of over 2.5 meaning one carrier infects an average of 2.5 individuals. You need a R0 of less than1.0 for the virus to die out. Asymptomatic carriers can spread infection before they show symptoms and carriers can infect for periods greater than 14 days. You can be “REINFECTED” after the first episode. The disease is spread not only by aerosol droplets from victims coughing but from droplets landing on clothes and skin surfaces, credit cards, door handles etc. The disease varies in lethality but the aged over 70 and those with chronic disease are at great risk. Amazingly, children seem to be largely spared so far. There is no treatment beyond supportive and there is no vaccine and none in the near future. Testing is not being done in the US unless you visited China or came in contact with a documented victim. The first batch of only 200 test kits send out this month from the CDC to regional labs had many that were defective, The test may be unreliable with many “false negatives” even on people who later died of Covid-19. Research labs have to get permission from the government to try to develop new and better tests. These are grim facts to swallow. What then should we do now?
Swamp Cheyenne with calls and emails asking that our Governor set up a task force of experts. China has helped to show us some possible strategies:1. Keep people isolated to try to get the R0 below 1.0. 2. Keep critical aspects of the economy going such as food distribution and critical medical supplies. 3. Keep the infection rate low enough so that it doesn’t swamp our hospitals. 4. Establish stockpiles of masks, and medical supplies such as oxygen, pulse oximeters and portable respirators. We need gowns and hoods giving full isolation for our nurses and doctors. We have very few doctors and nurses trained in pandemic response techniques and few doctors know how to intubate and manage respirator patients. They are a vital link in any response and we must keep them healthy. We need decontamination agents and equipment and people who know how to use it. This little hospital has very few critical care beds. Perhaps more could be added in the OR or even in the large hotels in town. We may need emergency providers from the Fire and EMT community who are skilled in starting IVs and managing airways.
Members in the community need to be self sufficient. First and foremost they need stockpiles of food and water primarily long lasting non refrigerated items like grains, beans and rice. Every person needs to have a minimum of 1-3 months of food. The LDS church has long demanded that of its members and good websites abound. Both the Red Cross and the Dept of homeland security have good disaster plans online. Read them. We have no community food depots but we could easily set up such areas. If efforts such as this fail then most people will need a plan B which could include learning to live under quarantine or even evacuation. We may need to consider restricting tourism by turning back tour buses and restricting aircraft from hot areas or even entirely. Most people have the sense to self regulate by staying out of crowded venues like aircraft and buses, concerts and conventions, sports events and crowded bars, restaurants and churches and of course schools. Under this scenario the local consumptive, service and tourism based economy will be brought to its knees. Welcome to Wuhan, Iran and Italy where this is a current reality. Let the discussion begin!
This a guest editorial which our local newspaper has decided not to post,presumably because it is a booster of our Real Estate and tourism based economy and my letter casts doubt upon its viability in the medium term. The situation in the US is especially grim because of our dysfunctional, profit based health system with millions without insurance and many more millions with high deductibles and co pays. Having Trump/Pence in charge just adds another terminal layer of ignorance, denial and incompetence. The only way to manage and monitor this situation is at a national level with intelligent leadership. Testing needs to be FREELY AVAILABLE to everybody. The high cost of the tests guarantee that the spread will be exponential. South Korea does the tests for FREE. From a treatment standpoint there is little reason to be tested because there are no treatments beyond supportive, and supportive treatment could easily swamp the nations hospital beds and ICU beds. There are 931,000 beds in the US and only 94,000 ICU beds most of which are already occupied. I see this morning that Trump says he is not afraid and plans to continue with his political rallies. Let’s hope so.
In previous posts I have covered decarbonization of energy and it is high time to continue to look at the complex interconnected global industrial system focusing on one of its dominant components: Plastics. It is past time to cover Dematerialization of plastics.
Who can forget the key line of the 1967 movie The Graduate,when Dustin Hoffman got the famous advice for his career: “Plastics.”
Back in 1967 plastics were known and utilized in society but who would have expected that plastics would within 50 years become such a dominant industrial substrate and worldwide pollutant and contributor to species extinction and CO2 emission induced climate change? Plastic pollution is now on the radar of environmentalists but I see little in the way of restricting plastic use anywhere outside of some insignificant silliness like banning plastic straws. Less silly are some decent first steps like banning plastic bags. One nation, Vanuatu, has in fact recently banned plastic bags nationally and is attempting to add many other plastic product bans to their list. Other nations such as Chile have made efforts in the same direction which no surprise has been fought vigorously by the plastic industry.
Which companies are the dominant polluters of our oceans and waterways. Greenpeace and some other environmental organizations have compiled worldwide oceanic surveys and here are worst of the worst:
Procter & Gamble
Perfetti van Melle
As soon as the spotlight was on them, many of these companies scrambled through their PR Departments to pledge better recycling in the future but virtually none offered to remove plastic entirely from their packaging. This is patent nonsense of course. Most plastics are not recycled and many countries starting with China have stopped accepting unsorted plastic trash for recycling. The whole recycling movement is largely a bogus feelgood scam to make consumers assuage their guilt about plastic use in their lives. This writer’s opinion is that most plastic recycling is a waste of time and energy and does nothing to reduce the USE OF PLASTIC in our lives. Another factor is that the price for Ethane, the feedstock has hit rock bottom in the past several tears making recycling economically pointless. Here is a recent graph from the EIA of current prices for the main natural gas liquids:
There are no surprises here if you are familiar with the feedstock for single use plastic: Fossil Fuels. Specifically natural gas. More specifically the Ethane fraction of natural gas which undergoes conversion to Ethylene which becomes the precursor to Poly ethylene(PE), polypropylene(PP) and a myriad of others. It is the polyethylene plastics that are called “Food grade” that dominate plastic pollution and the shocking fact of PE production is that these big oil and gas and chemical companies have been on a massive multi-billion dollar factory construction binge in the past few years primarily along the US Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana to meet the “increasing demand.” One new factory in Texas built by Dow claims to be the world’s largest facility:
HOUSTON (ICIS)–DowDuPont Materials Science, the business division of DowDuPont to be named Dow, on Thursday announced the start-up of its new integrated world-scale ethylene production facility and its new ELITE enhanced polyethylene (PE) production facility, both in Freeport, Texas.
The units will continue to ramp up through the third quarter and are expected to reach full rates in the fourth quarter of 2017.
The ethylene production facility has an initial nameplate capacity of 1.5m tonnes/year. As part of a next wave of investment, capacity will be expanded to 2m tonnes/year, “making it the world’s largest ethylene facility”, the company said.
Exxon Mobil in Baumont Texas has also just completed an enormous facility to produce PE : Here is the PR announcement:
ExxonMobil begins production on Beaumont high-performance polyethylene line
IRVING, Texas – ExxonMobil said today it started production on a new high-performance polyethylene line at its Beaumont, Texas polyethylene plant. The expansion increases plant production capacity by 65 percent or 650,000 tons per year, bringing site capacity to nearly 1.7 million tons per year.
ExxonMobil begins production on Beaumont high-performance polyethylene line
Increases polyethylene plant production capacity by 65 percent or 650,000 tons-per-year
Project supported more than 2,000 temporary jobs and approximately 40 permanent jobs
Expansion makes Texas the company’s largest polyethylene producer.
Notice that this enormous highly automated computerized facility not only will produce 1.7 million tons of PE but it has created 40 permanent jobs to boot!
If you go on the Industry organization websites you might be aghast as I was to see no sign of industry guilt or responsibility for causing worldwide plastic pollution. It’s not their fault. It harks back to the old NRA phrase that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Dow doesn’t cause plastic pollution. People cause plastic pollution.
This blogger has a pessimistic outlook of any meaningful chances for measures to mitigate climate change because of the lack of leverage and pressure points to alter the growth paradigm but I feel that that is not the case with plastic pollution. There are many measures that we as individuals can do and many individuals and organizations now having an effect at the local and state level. There needs to be a national and international initiative to END ALL USE OF SINGLE USE PLASTICS WORLDWIDE. That means that any new plastics factories being built to produce single use plastics need to be stopped. This will be a hard sell given the obvious political power of the globalized oil and chemical companies in Texas and Louisiana. The only high paying jobs in the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana are in the petrochemical and Oil and gas industry. These existing factories might be able to reconfigured to producing different plastic: multiuse, durable and long lasting and not single use garbage. These companies are arguably indifferent to the ecological damage they have caused to the planet for decades and until they are brought to heel by concerted consumer driven pressure, they are unlikely to yield their power and influence. The national grocery chains could play a big role if they leaned on their suppliers en masse and ship their products in bulk, paper or glass and metal. That is the way it was done just 50 years ago and it could be done again. No beverages should be bottled in single use plastic and that includes the worst offender: bottled water. Most people remember the French Bottler Perrier and their iconic light green 1 liter bottles. If plastic containers could be returned for refill and reuse just the way that coca cola reused their beautiful sexy glass coke bottles, plastic containers could remain in circulation. Put a deposit on the containers. British Columbia has a 10 cent deposit on glass and plastic bottles ut to one liter. Put deposits on containers of all sizes so they can be returned for reuse or incineration! The problem of course is that sterilization and reuse of plastic containers is problematic at least for polyethylene which disintegrates rapidly compared to many other plastics. It disintegrates into smaller and smaller particles and is eventually ingested by all living organisms in the food chain. I read recently that most samples of Sea Salt are now contaminated with microplastics.
Since recycling of plastics is largely a failure, the obvious solution in my opinion is to burn most plastics in efficient furnaces which could include co-generation and electricity generation. It is possible to burn plastics cleanly if they are not co mingled with other household trash because remember: Polyethylene comes from a natural gas fraction:ethane, and any plastics in that family could be burned to generate heat and electricity. David Reed in a letter to the Guardian Newspaper had this to say about burning plastics: “The effort of collecting, transporting and cleaning plastics for possible recycling has largely failed, created much more pollution and contributed massively to climate change. The idea of burning plastics and using the energy to heat our homes was proposed by the plastics company Dow more than 30 years ago: it suggested treating all plastics as “borrowed oil”. At that time, ordinary domestic waste had a calorific value of low-grade coal, so the suggestion was that this plastic waste should be burned in efficient plants with heat recovery and treatment of the gases produced, perhaps even trapping the carbon dioxide produced, rather than trying to recycle the complex (and dirty) mix of plastics. Today, with higher use of more complex plastics, this makes even more sense. Mixed plastics cannot really be recycled: they are long-chain molecules, like spaghetti, so if you reheat and reprocess them, you inevitably end up with something of lower performance; it’s called down-cycling.”
This approach to stopping worldwide plastic pollution can succeed using a region by region approach applying pressure at the local and regional level long enough that the packagers and producers will be forced to do the right thing. They are certain to fight tooth and nail using the legal system, the Interstate Commerce Rules and lobbying their political toadies to preserve their wealth and power. If the consumer stops buying their garbage, they will be forced to stop selling it.
It is time to get serious about Global Climate Change by looking at the root cause: GROWTH. Global climate change/Warming has been the focus of world wide demonstrations primarily by the youth kickstarted by Times’s person of the year, sixteen year old Gretta Thunberg. Children like Gretta will inherit this mess. Most adults don’t get it, especially my baby boomer generation. Almost no politicians get it and most don’t even understand it with many including our president calling climate change, the consequence of growth a “hoax”. 37% of adults in a recent poll said the warming came from increased solar radiation! In this short essay my goal is to show that climate change is merely the symptom. The root cause is exponential increases of population and material consumption what we call GROWTH which has altered the climate. This growth of the economy accelerated exponentially with the onset of the industrial revolution which began two centuries ago and really took off within the past 150 years. This growth was fueled by the discovery and utilization of fossil energy, initially coal followed by oil and gas. The unprecedented economic boom after WW 2 in the US was the poster child for this massive transformation in living standards. The ditty at the time urged us to buy and consume, to see the USA in our Chevrolet flying on newly constructed smooth glossy highways linking the shining new sprawling suburbs. All of the energy for this growth powered by virtually free fossil fuels pouring gasses into the air. Virtually no one then paid attention to the “externalities” of air pollution, loss of farmland, and certainly CO2 emissions which to many of us was just vapor from dry ice in a high school science lab. Initially, few were talking about any negatives to this newly discovered nirvana. Incomes were rising lifting all boats. Income inequality was minimal and except for the beginning of smog in Southern California, what was there not to like about life in America? We were the model and the envy of the world with expanding opportunities, universal education and improving public health. Atmospheric CO2 measured at Mauna Loa was 320 ppm in 1972.. It is important to note that Ice core samples now go back almost 3 million years and no readings exceeded that number.(Ed note: today it is 415 ppm)There were a few brilliant minds who began to question this economic model including a group in Italy called the club of Rome started by David Rockefeller, Aurelio Peccei, and Alexander King and a group of scientists at MIT led by Jay Forester. There was a growing awareness in the scientific community that unlimited growth on a limited planet was unsustainable. Using the newly developed science of System Dynamics and early modeling on freezer sized IBM computers, the group attempted to explain the likely trajectory of 13 different scenarios of growth examining five different factors which allowed or limited growth: population, pollution, industrial production, agricultural production and natural resources. In 1972 they published their results in a book called The limits to Growth. It was a an environmental blockbuster hailed by many, assailed by others.The books central conclusion was that a finite world could not support infinite growth and expansion without collapse. The different scenarios’ model runs looked at outcomes when sustainable development was instituted and compared it to outcomes where current development remained unchanged. Now almost 50 years later we can see that the world has followed the unsustainable version and we are entering a period of decline which will result in a collapse of growth this century. It is too late to institute a” sustainable” growth program to prevent collapse. That is not to say that policies to reduce greenhouse gasses shouldn’t be enacted to reduce impacts of climate change. They absolutely should! But to reemphasize my original statement:Global climate change is the symptom and consequence of unlimited growth:Population growth, production/consumtion growth, economic growth. Runaway Global climate change would not occur without runaway exponential Global growth. Calling Global climate change The PROBLEM conflates cause and effect. Measures designed to attack or mitigate Global Climate Change without attacking the root cause of growth are doomed to failure. The lag periods inherent in the biophysics of a myriad of atmospheric and oceanic feedback loops guarantee that climate change will continue the rest of this century. If nothing is done to slow the process, the ultimate outcome could be far worse for the world’s climate. The destruction of soils, forests and grasslands is reducing the carrying capacity of the planet. Every ecosystem has a carrying capacity for its members and when that carrying capacity is exceeded there continues to be overshoot of the population followed by collapse. This is the period we are entering based upon this 50 year old model. Critics of the original model then as well as today, refuse to believe the model. As Gore said, it is an inconvenient truth. One group doesn’t want to believe that there are limits to the human experience. Many believe that technology can extend or abrogate these limits if they in fact even exist. Another group simply doesn’t care and think there is still time to party and loot the environment for profit heedless of the consequences. Some of the rapacious “one percenters” do get it and are fleeing to their fortified island sanctuaries to save themselves leaving the rest of us to our fate.
It is a mistake that just climate change has been the sole focus in worldwide demonstrations. Gretta Thunberg is exceedingly bright and and must certainly grasp that climate change is the symptom and not the cause. In her direct and forceful voice she utilizes shame to try to force emission reductions as way of reducing GROWTH, which is the cause. The recently concluded COP25 in Madrid was yet another doomed conference focusing on a symptom of the problem because at this point the world is not ready for a conference limiting growth. l Lmiting growth could shrink living standards, cause a depression, shrink the wealth of many countries, corporations, and powerful individuals. I get it that this is a hot potato so she has attacked the problem indirectly through the back door by seeking to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Green house gas concentrations are increasing because of increasing population, increasing production leading to increasing material consumption fostered by burning fossil fuels to support that consumption. It’s as simple as that. But the growth and “Progress” model is baked into the world’s economic, social and political cake and that is why absolutely nothing has happened to reduce emissions or growth. Bill Clinton once said “no one was ever elected promising less.”
I am pessimistic that there is any hope that our globalized industrial system will ever reach a consensus on limiting growth or industrial emissions. For one, the human race has a short discount rate baked into our genes and our brain. We have a short time horizon. We focus on the immediate and discount the distant . The economy and political system operates exactly the same way. Corporate CEOs are rewarded not by the long term success of their companies but by quarterly increases in the stock price or profits. This is greed at work and not a strategy to grow the company long term. Political decisions have followed that paradigm. We may know that upfront costs might promote benefits down the line to our descendants but up front costs are too expensive costing jobs or profits or increased taxes so the proposals wither and die. That is exactly what has happened with for example the Kyoto accords which were tepid, mild and minimal to begin with. Almost no countries have come close to meeting their obligations and some countries like the US and Canada have scorned the accords and exited in high dudgeon. My pessimism has an important theoretical basis. We now have a complex globalized interconnected economic system and not just a disparate collection of independent countries and the world economic system is like some giant single organism. It is self regulating , and beyond any national control. It is like a shifting amoeba controlled by central banks and mysterious algorithms utilizing incomprehensible derivatives constructed by unknown viziers behind the curtain, like the wizard in the Wizzard of Oz. If Gretta and her supporters want to find where the pressure points or leverage points are to enact change, where would they look? They are desperately trying to start a worldwide revolution by forcing major change on the entire world. I am afraid this movement will fail just like the Occupy Wall Street movement failed 8 years ago. If she just stuck with trying to enact simple measures to limit greenhouse gas increases it might be possible for the movement to have some impact. I have some limited simple measures that could be enacted as possible partial solutions. Simply put, my first proposal is to increase the cost of fossil energy. Reduce emitting carbon. The second is: soak up this carbon. The best way to reduce emissions is to borrow from Donald Trump’s playbook and put tariffs on fossil fuels. Trump is threatening to put a tariff of 100% on French wines. A federal tariff of 100% on oil gas and coal would be a minimal first start. For example the Federal tax on aviation gas is 19 cents and only 24 cents on commercial jet fuel. State taxes on diesel and gasoline are a fraction of the per gallon cost in the US. Even with a minimal 100% tariff on fuel, the per gallon cost would still be under $5/gallon. The tariff should be raised in stages but it can and should be done immediately .Fuel surcharges in this range have been the rule in European countries for many decades and their energy use per capita is about ½ of Americans as a consequence. The second and more effective way to cut worldwide emissions is to soak it up in plants and soil. A professor at the University of New Mexico in an article a year ago estimated that human generated emissions only account for about 8% of the world wide CO2 rise. This was an astounding assertion. This is a potential solution big enough to have real impact and yet right now nations are still removing mangroves, draining swamps and marshes and clear cutting forests. These activities must cease and pressure brought to bear on those individuals, companies and nations engaging in these destructive practices to world health. Degradation of the soil by industrial agriculture also contributes mightily to emissions by the application of chemical agents which sterilize the soil, reduce tilth, increase compaction, decrease the percolation and promote wind and water erosion. For example Roundup the most popular herbicide is a potent antibiotic and kills bacteria and fungi in tiny concentrations. Trees and plants not only pull CO2 out of the air to build their stems , roots and leaves and fruits. They pass carbon- rich root exudates which nourish the bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and worms in a healthy humus rich soil. Roundup stops this process cold by sterilizing soil and thereby blocking this carbon transfer. Ban roundup and related herbicides. Simple, Just a stroke of the pen.
There. I have laid out two concrete proposals entirely absent from COP25. What do you think the chances of my proposals being enacted even if proposed by Gretta Thunberg?
I have explained why I think the world is going to ride this horse into the ground because the individual has little impact on the globalized system. That doesn’t mean that there is nothing that an individual can do this century. I have no doubt that this is the century of decline and possibly collapse. All civilizations have collapsed but after collapse there will be a chance of rebirth. Collapse will not be uniform and some regions may experience only mild forms while others experience Armageddon. What we can do is to build resilience into our cultural and social systems? Build resilience into our consumption patterns by buying only things of high repairable quality that we need. Don’t buy new when serviceable used products are available. Build resilience into our soils by organic permaculture practices and consume locally grown foods. Limit our travel to essential trips. Build walkable communities with mixed use downtowns. Halt the rampant digital data collection and surveillance inherent in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning stored in “the cloud” which ironically is a cloud, a vast increase of fossil fuel emissions from all the energy required. Make sure all new structures are insulated heavily and oriented properly to the sun to allow solar heating of the interiors and the hot water. This is truly making use of sustainable renewable energy. Forget government subsidized giant windmills and massive solar farms which have been a failure worldwide delivering only a fraction of their nameplate energy to electrical grids not designed for their erratic input. Since 2014, the amount of new “renewable” electric energy has lagged the annual increases in electric consumption. In other words, renewables are not replacing fossil energy. They are not even keeping up. There is nothing green about most forms of this new “green” energy. Build resilience into the social and cultural fabric by paying attention to neighbors and family needs. Real happiness is getting what you want. If you’re not happy you are not getting what you want. Don’t confuse needs with wants. These simple aphorisms have been the basis of civilizations and religions long before we started burning coal and oil and should form the basis for a new society.
I am a student of energy and I am well aware of the consequences of my comments. The industrial revolution was launched by the sudden one time availability of a new form of concentrated energy which has generated vast increases in wealth, amazing tools and machines, new professions, improvements in public health and education and vast enlargement of commerce and trade worldwide. It is now cooking the planet. In a very real sense, Energy IS the economy. There will be no equivalent substitute for this fossil energy. Implementation of Gretta’s recommendations would face an array of powerful interests and nations who like the way things are and will fight to keep their wealth and power enabled by cheap energy. At the time of this writing, emissions are still increasing and absolutely nothing has been done to arrest them. Humanity’s only hope is to reduce fossil energy use 7-8% Per year for this next decade starting immediately. The big emitters, the US, China, India,Brazil, the Middle East and most of the developed world are indifferent to the clamorings of Gretta and her followers. It is a certainty that fossil energy consumption will decline this century. Our choice then is to have a controlled engineered decarbonization of the economy or chaotic explosive delamination of society augmented by hothouse earth.
PS: I just reread Limits to Growth after 48 years and the accuracy of its World Model predictions is stunning. Read it.