Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Links

  • Jet stream in extreme configuration causing anomalously cold temperatures in California and anomalously warm ones on the east coast.  This is broadly consistent with the latest thinking that Arctic warming will cause slower loopier Rossby waves in the jet stream, leading to more extreme and longer-lasting weather patterns in the northern hemisphere.
  • This is interesting: Ran Prieur, dropout/doomer extraordinaire, is sounding more like me in his views.  I still think there are non-trivial tail risks of this-century societal collapse running around.  One is that climate change turns out to be a runaway process and basically burns all/most of the biosphere in a massive drought.  Another is that the process of keeping ever larger numbers of technologically unemployed people from revolting turns out to be too hard.  A third is a massive cyberwar.  I agree peak-oil has become very implausible as a sole collapse trigger (indeed, once it became clear a number of years back that the decline rate would be slow, that should have been obvious).  Peak (or rather plateau) oil is a stressor though.
  • US coal production down almost 7% in 2012.  Excellent.

10 comments:

Glenn said...

Nothing will be a "sole collapse trigger". Looking at Tainter's work, it would seem that the collapse of Industrial Civ. will be a death of a thousand cuts. Peak Oil, Anthropogenic Climate Change and Resource Depletion will be chief among them though.

Steve From Virginia said...


Prieur:

"Over the next few decades I see the global system passing through a bottleneck as it shifts from nonrenewable to renewable resources."

Huh?

The renewable resources have been hammered along with the other kinds. It's hard to burn firewood if yr a Greek and all the trees have been cut by others with the same idea.

A world w/ 800 million cars cannot be 'shifted' to something else.

BTW: if everyone plays ball and the central banks don't make any mistakes the permanent shortages occur next year:

http://www.economic-undertow.com/2013/01/14/of-dogs-and-corpses/clb-010613/

Luke Smith said...

This depression is psychological. Dealing with any change in life-style or environment tends to be pschological. I think you, Stuart, are right that the production rate of world oil will be more log-normal-looking than gaussian.

This should give socities time enough to deal with their fears: nuclear energy and high-cost solar energy. However, because I am contrarian - or perhaps more so, apprehensive - I ultimately think socities will fall back to what is most readily available, most well known and cheap: coal.

Mr. Sunshine said...

"I imagine an airtight sci-fi utopia/dystopia, where almost everything will be automated, nobody will have to do any work, everyone will be comfortable and safe, and we will have amazing powers to entertain ourselves. Other than that, we will have less power than any people in history or prehistory. The world will be lifeless and meaningless, a human museum, a suicide machine." This sounds great, doesn't it? [shaking head] "Nobody will have to do any work?" Really? Which means nobody will have to have shelter, food or heat, since the people who own the machines won't expect to charge anything to the unemployed for the products produced, since the input materials will all be free too? This guy's smoking crack. A lot of it.

sunbeam said...

"I imagine an airtight sci-fi utopia/dystopia, where almost everything will be automated, nobody will have to do any work, everyone will be comfortable and safe, and we will have amazing powers to entertain ourselves. Other than that, we will have less power than any people in history or prehistory. The world will be lifeless and meaningless, a human museum, a suicide machine."

That's pretty much what I see coming. I don't see any way round it. Short of some kind of collapse of civilization; climate change may not do it, and I certainly think peak oil won't.

Peak oil will make life crappy, for a lot of people, and a few will never notice the effects upon their daily lives.

Mid-range (a matter of decades), I think climate change is going to be our biggest challenge. Short to mid-range:

"Another is that the process of keeping ever larger numbers of technologically unemployed people from revolting turns out to be too hard."

At this moment in time, I think peak oil's chief effect is to make it more difficult to deal with the major problems. My viewpoint is that the bulk of the employed population is mostly employed in the production of ephemera. Life may not be as good without it, but it's not essential to keeping things going.

Stuff like food production, processing, and transporting that food is vital. Pushing papers (well emails around) is usually an activity that isn't as of much true importance.

Lucas Durand said...

"I still think there are non-trivial tail risks of this-century societal collapse running around."

I agree.

Also, I think there is all kinds of risk of this-century societal collapse that we're generally ignorant of and aren't anticipating.

Dan L. said...

@Mr. Sunshine:

Take a look at this graph.

"Really? Which means nobody will have to have shelter, food or heat, since the people who own the machines won't expect to charge anything to the unemployed for the products produced, since the input materials will all be free too?"

The graph I just linked demonstrates that the US economy is more productive than in 2007 but without employing any more people. It's not that all the inputs become free -- specifically, it's that the demand for labor is falling precipitously, and labor is for the most part a rather expensive input. It's also a unique input in that money spent on labor is what is used to buy the stuff that labor produces.

If only a tiny proportion of the work force can produce a whole economy worth of stuff, who buys that stuff? How do the unproductive workers get money? Where do they get food and shelter? And what happens if they can't? "Nobody will have to do any work" is a bit of hyperbole, but the fundamental problem here is that there won't be enough useful work for everyone to do.

Is your solution, then, to let those who can't find useful work (because there is no useful work to do) to starve? I'd suggest you look at the correlations between civil unrest and price of food in that case. It's cheaper to buy off the unemployed with subsidized food and housing than to have them take what they need to survive by force.

Your assumptions about economics only hold in a narrow range of conditions and Ran is talking about a future in which those conditions no longer apply.

You might also consider how pejorative nonsense like "this guy's smoking crack" makes you look kind of silly when it turns out you're the one not really thinking the situation through.

Mr. Sunshine said...

"Peak oil will make life crappy, for a lot of people, and a few will never notice the effects upon their daily lives." Thom Hartman has said that revolution is caused more by the difference in people's expectations of their quality of life and reality than a life of low quality. If a lot of people have to face "crappy" when they've got other expectations entirely, based on the HDTV reality they've lived with, you should expect a lot more than grumbling masses.

Manolo said...

Mighty important to the Arctic situation:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130118111710.htm

Cheers, Manolo

Zeke said...

One thing is very, very clear to me. Comments are not written by the poor or much of the "middle class". Obvious thinking is coming from a standard of living way higher than anyone I know. As the real problem level, like food, clothing and shelter, reach many of you there won't be any comments like switching to "solar or wind power". Life is "crappy" when you're not eating and sure as hell not based on "unmet expectations". Only in America.