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Toss the Paddle! Looking for a Way Out of Carbon Creek Bill Vitek Clarkson University The Center for Humans and Nature The Land Institute October 9, 2007.

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Presentation on theme: "Toss the Paddle! Looking for a Way Out of Carbon Creek Bill Vitek Clarkson University The Center for Humans and Nature The Land Institute October 9, 2007."— Presentation transcript:

1 Toss the Paddle! Looking for a Way Out of Carbon Creek Bill Vitek Clarkson University The Center for Humans and Nature The Land Institute October 9, 2007

2 The End of the World As We Know It Vital Signs Vital Signs Up Carbon Creek With a Paddle Up Carbon Creek With a Paddle A Necessary Revolution A Necessary Revolution A Long Shot A Long Shot

3 An Enthusiasm Fueled by Failure The Paddle: A Failed Mental Model Applied Correctly The Paddle: A Failed Mental Model Applied Correctly Nature as Boundless Sources and Sinks Nature as Boundless Sources and Sinks Human Mind/Knowledge as Sufficient Human Mind/Knowledge as Sufficient Human Concerns First and Foremost Human Concerns First and Foremost Transgression of Limits Transgression of Limits Science Science Agriculture Agriculture Economics Economics Ethical Ethical

4 Vital Signs Peak Oil: first trillion barrels consumed in last 100 years; last trillion barrels in next 30 years. (A 22 year old today has lived through a time in which 540 billion barrels of oil has been consumed…  ~ 437 trillion lbs of new CO 2 in the atmosphere). Peak Oil: first trillion barrels consumed in last 100 years; last trillion barrels in next 30 years. (A 22 year old today has lived through a time in which 540 billion barrels of oil has been consumed…  ~ 437 trillion lbs of new CO 2 in the atmosphere). One billion people lack access to fresh water. One billion people lack access to fresh water. The current rate of species loss is being compared to the five known mass extinction waves. This “sixth wave” is anthrogenic. The current rate of species loss is being compared to the five known mass extinction waves. This “sixth wave” is anthrogenic. Two of the most populous nations are becoming two of the largest economies. Two of the most populous nations are becoming two of the largest economies.

5 Vital Signs The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that “there is a 90% chance humans are responsible for climate change," mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that “there is a 90% chance humans are responsible for climate change," mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels. Soil destruction now claims 24 million acres a year world- wide, about half the size of Kansas, a quarter the size of California or 3.5 Marylands. Soil destruction now claims 24 million acres a year world- wide, about half the size of Kansas, a quarter the size of California or 3.5 Marylands. Speaking of agriculture, it’s not just for food anymore. Large numbers of Mexican farmers and workers recently protested the high cost of tortillas, a food staple, due to the increased exports of Mexican corn to America for the production of ethanol, an alternative to gasoline. Speaking of agriculture, it’s not just for food anymore. Large numbers of Mexican farmers and workers recently protested the high cost of tortillas, a food staple, due to the increased exports of Mexican corn to America for the production of ethanol, an alternative to gasoline.

6 Vital Signs Human population growth continues to follow an exponential curve. Human population growth continues to follow an exponential curve. It is estimated that there are currently 27 million slaves in the world, more than at any other time in human history. In 1850 a slave cost 40,000 of today’s dollars. A slave can be purchased today for a mere $30. (Bales, 1999). It is estimated that there are currently 27 million slaves in the world, more than at any other time in human history. In 1850 a slave cost 40,000 of today’s dollars. A slave can be purchased today for a mere $30. (Bales, 1999). Atmospheric CO 2 is at a 650,000 year high. Atmospheric CO 2 is at a 650,000 year high. Eight nations possess nuclear weapons, and two are working to acquire them. Eight nations possess nuclear weapons, and two are working to acquire them.

7 A Trip To Exponentialville

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15 Growth of yeast in a 10% sugar solution

16 Problems in Carbon Creek  Interconnected  “Solutions” often make matters worse  Early daylight savings increased energy use  Jevons Paradox: British Coal and North Sea Oil  The recipe for success is broken  Unleash human ingenuity  Harness and commodify nature’s immense and complex forces (90 million acres of US corn in ’07)  Enjoy the new and improved world that results  Repeat

17 Beyond the Rock is a Hard Place We are nearly at the end of a line of thinking that is no longer supportable by the material and energy conditions upon which it rests We are nearly at the end of a line of thinking that is no longer supportable by the material and energy conditions upon which it rests Western Liberalism/Liberty depends on Geological Inheritance Western Liberalism/Liberty depends on Geological Inheritance It is now the Western world’s largest export It is now the Western world’s largest export We’ve burned through our inheritance in record time We’ve burned through our inheritance in record time We need to dismantle the worldview that is dismantling the world. We need to dismantle the worldview that is dismantling the world.

18 It’s a Great Time to be a Philosopher! New social and political systems will soon be required to provide liberty, education, political stability, economic mechanisms, and a social net in a post-carbon world without cheap, plentiful oil, natural gas, and coal. New social and political systems will soon be required to provide liberty, education, political stability, economic mechanisms, and a social net in a post-carbon world without cheap, plentiful oil, natural gas, and coal.

19 What’s a Philosopher To Do? Provide Perspective Provide Perspective Ask Unpleasant Questions Ask Unpleasant Questions Expand/Contract Boundaries Expand/Contract Boundaries Encourage Awareness of the Larger Goals of all of our Good Work: Encourage Awareness of the Larger Goals of all of our Good Work: A Viable Economy and Social Justice A Viable Economy and Social Justice Healthy and Productive Ecosystems Healthy and Productive Ecosystems Civic Engagement Civic Engagement Post-Carbon Energy Supplies Post-Carbon Energy Supplies

20 Changing Our Minds/et New Conceptual Models New Conceptual Models New/Old Standards New/Old Standards Renewed Respect for Limits Renewed Respect for Limits Ethical Ethical Epistemological Epistemological Ecosystemic Ecosystemic

21 Limits and our Post-Carbon Future No Harm: An Ethical Limit No Harm: An Ethical Limit No Hubris: An Epistemic Limit No Hubris: An Epistemic Limit No Hurry: An Ecosystemic Limit No Hurry: An Ecosystemic Limit

22 Proposition One: No Harm  Except for planet Earth, life seems pretty rare in the universe. Thoughtlessly and willingly destroying it or limiting the diversity and co- evolution of life, especially at the level of species, is a moral wrong among self-conscious creatures who surely know better by now.

23 Proposition Two: No Hubris  Human beings are the unintended offspring of evolutionary biology, and as such lack any special or pre-ordained tools for divining the world’s inner workings.  Closer to our cousin apes than gods in all things—and genetically 99.5 percent Neanderthal—we should refuse to think otherwise.  We should behave as if our ignorance will always exceed our knowledge. It will.

24 Proposition Three: No Hurry All life depends on sunlight and the complex and integrated chemical and thermodynamic processes it powers. All life depends on sunlight and the complex and integrated chemical and thermodynamic processes it powers. Net Primary Production (NPP) is the term that describes the energic and organic material production of these ecosystem processes. Net Primary Production (NPP) is the term that describes the energic and organic material production of these ecosystem processes. NPP is constrained by many factors and cannot be substantially improved, increased or sped up over time without the addition of inputs from outside the system. NPP is constrained by many factors and cannot be substantially improved, increased or sped up over time without the addition of inputs from outside the system.

25 Proposition Three: No Hurry Our high life of consumption is brought to us by contemporary NPP and the rapid drawdown of an eon or more worth of accumulated fresh water and highly energy-dense materials (stored Natural Capital). Our high life of consumption is brought to us by contemporary NPP and the rapid drawdown of an eon or more worth of accumulated fresh water and highly energy-dense materials (stored Natural Capital). Across the board this drawdown is increasingly noticeable in the exploitation of soils, aquifers, oil and natural gas. Across the board this drawdown is increasingly noticeable in the exploitation of soils, aquifers, oil and natural gas. In the grand sweep of human history and culture, these are one-time draw downs. In the grand sweep of human history and culture, these are one-time draw downs.

26 Proposition Three: No Hurry  We can’t speed up natural processes.  Our only option is to slow ourselves down.

27 No Harm, No Hubris, No Hurry Each is a limit on human behavior. Each is a limit on human behavior. Each requires us to think of ourselves and the world in which we live in radically and deeply different ways. Each requires us to think of ourselves and the world in which we live in radically and deeply different ways. Each will sound and feel foreign to us. Each will sound and feel foreign to us. All are necessary for the transition that is coming. All are necessary for the transition that is coming.

28 Action Items Become an Ambassador of Limits. Become an Ambassador of Limits. Block the “No-Limits” dogma peddled by technological optimists and economic theorists. Block the “No-Limits” dogma peddled by technological optimists and economic theorists. Acknowledge Net Primary Production as the only long-term feedstock for sustaining life. Acknowledge Net Primary Production as the only long-term feedstock for sustaining life. Slow down. And when going fast admit your role in the run on the bank. Slow down. And when going fast admit your role in the run on the bank. Welcome limits as one of the initial and permanent operating conditions for any system with life in it. Welcome limits as one of the initial and permanent operating conditions for any system with life in it.

29 Action Items Resist solutions that ignore human population. Resist solutions that ignore human population. Resist solutions that create extinctions. Resist solutions that create extinctions. Count calories, including those embodied in our everyday products. Count calories, including those embodied in our everyday products. Understand and appreciate the role that nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium—play in your life. Understand and appreciate the role that nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium—play in your life. Demand a public and accurate accounting of our Net Primary Production feed stocks and capital stocks. Demand a public and accurate accounting of our Net Primary Production feed stocks and capital stocks.

30 Action Items Demand that losses of natural capital be accounted for in any calculation of costs and benefits. Demand that losses of natural capital be accounted for in any calculation of costs and benefits. Discount efficiency as nothing more than a clever way to increase consumption (Jevons Paradox). Discount efficiency as nothing more than a clever way to increase consumption (Jevons Paradox). Accept blame yourself. Accept blame yourself. Honor your debt to the universe by drinking a toast to its—and your—continued existence. Honor your debt to the universe by drinking a toast to its—and your—continued existence. You can do this every day. You can do this every day.

31 Imagine Alternatives  Reduce human population by eighty percent from its current level without famine, war, viruses or the loss of human dignity.  Eliminate the automobile as a form of personal transportation.  Revise the scientific method so that it more accurately balances the discovery of new knowledge with moral considerations and precaution.  Devise viable models of happiness and success that do not require economic growth and increased consumption.

32 Imagine Alternatives Advocate ecospheres and ecosystems as real and valuable Advocate ecospheres and ecosystems as real and valuable Create political and social systems that run on a solar economy. Create political and social systems that run on a solar economy. Create an educational system for this century Create an educational system for this century Replace “Consumer” with “Citizen” Replace “Consumer” with “Citizen” Make the virtues of humility, cooperation, generosity, kindness and thrift cool again, or hip, or bad, or the bomb. Make the virtues of humility, cooperation, generosity, kindness and thrift cool again, or hip, or bad, or the bomb.

33 Why This is So Difficult Flashy Brains Flashy Brains Genesis Genesis Prometheus Prometheus The Enlightenment The Enlightenment Manifest Destiny Manifest Destiny Geological Inheritance Geological Inheritance Crediting the Brains (the Pumps) rather than the Inheritance (the Well) Crediting the Brains (the Pumps) rather than the Inheritance (the Well) Bacteria in a Petri Dish and the Evolutionary Disposition to Live to Excess Bacteria in a Petri Dish and the Evolutionary Disposition to Live to Excess

34 A Necessary Revolution A New Founding A New Founding Revolutionary Thinking…and Action Revolutionary Thinking…and Action At the Outer/Inner Most Boundaries At the Outer/Inner Most Boundaries The Ecosphere The Ecosphere The Human Mind The Human Mind Using the Tree of Knowledge to Protect the Tree of Life Using the Tree of Knowledge to Protect the Tree of Life A True Test and Testament of a Well-Developed Neo- Cortex A True Test and Testament of a Well-Developed Neo- Cortex There’s Still Time There’s Still Time Revolutionary Thinking is in Our Heritage Revolutionary Thinking is in Our Heritage

35 Revolution 101 Re-engage your curiosity Re-engage your curiosity Read a national newspaper or two Read a national newspaper or two Be wary of your education Be wary of your education Master the fundamentals Master the fundamentals Learn the new concepts Learn the new concepts Distrust accommodation and compatibility Distrust accommodation and compatibility Hold out for the real deal Hold out for the real deal Imagine your names in future history books Imagine your names in future history books

36 Revolution 101 We live in revolutionary times made necessary by the sustained failures of the current sovereigns and global systems to provide everyday citizens a life sufficient in health, freedom from want and fears, and the prospects of a similar future for their children, without degrading the lives of billions of these very same citizens, causing mass species extinction, and running down the ecosphere on which our good lives depend. We live in revolutionary times made necessary by the sustained failures of the current sovereigns and global systems to provide everyday citizens a life sufficient in health, freedom from want and fears, and the prospects of a similar future for their children, without degrading the lives of billions of these very same citizens, causing mass species extinction, and running down the ecosphere on which our good lives depend.

37 Revolution 101 These sovereigns and systems go by many names: individualism, capitalism, scientism, materialism, corporatism, globalism, But they share a common belief that the natural world is without limit in terms of its sources of energy and materials and sinks for wastes and pollution, and that the human intellect is sufficient to run the world as a machine for the exclusive material happiness of humans. These sovereigns and systems go by many names: individualism, capitalism, scientism, materialism, corporatism, globalism, But they share a common belief that the natural world is without limit in terms of its sources of energy and materials and sinks for wastes and pollution, and that the human intellect is sufficient to run the world as a machine for the exclusive material happiness of humans.

38 Revolution 101 After nearly a two and one half century reign, it now becomes necessary to overturn these false and dangerous belief and their many adherents, and to usher in a new way of thinking and living in the world. After nearly a two and one half century reign, it now becomes necessary to overturn these false and dangerous belief and their many adherents, and to usher in a new way of thinking and living in the world.

39 Revolution 101 In such times it becomes vital for revolutionaries to refuse all attempts by the current systems to make accommodations, excuses, and minor concessions. These systems cannot be made compatible with an ecospheric perspective any more than the British monarch could be made compatible with colonial America, or Scholastic scriptural authority with 17th century scientific discoveries. In such times it becomes vital for revolutionaries to refuse all attempts by the current systems to make accommodations, excuses, and minor concessions. These systems cannot be made compatible with an ecospheric perspective any more than the British monarch could be made compatible with colonial America, or Scholastic scriptural authority with 17th century scientific discoveries.

40 Revolution 101 Revolutions require revolutionaries: willing and able citizens and organizations ready to confront, reject, and replace current systems, and who are willing to: Revolutions require revolutionaries: willing and able citizens and organizations ready to confront, reject, and replace current systems, and who are willing to: State without hesitation that these are revolutionary times State without hesitation that these are revolutionary times Deliver uncomfortable and terrifying truths to those least willing to hear them Deliver uncomfortable and terrifying truths to those least willing to hear them Stand by ecospheric facts as bedrock truth and not simply a theory or “point of view” Stand by ecospheric facts as bedrock truth and not simply a theory or “point of view” Confront authority at their sources Confront authority at their sources

41 Revolution 101 Revolutions require revolutionaries who are willing to: Revolutions require revolutionaries who are willing to: Speak clearly and confidently to those who are close to joining the cause Speak clearly and confidently to those who are close to joining the cause Mobilize at the street level Mobilize at the street level Create the intellectual and conceptual scaffolding necessary to build a new worldview Create the intellectual and conceptual scaffolding necessary to build a new worldview Take calculated risks Take calculated risks

42 Revolution 101 Revolutions require revolutionaries who are willing to: Revolutions require revolutionaries who are willing to: Stand ready with one’s particular talents when seismic shifts occur Stand ready with one’s particular talents when seismic shifts occur Utilize one’s positions within the current systems to the disadvantage of those systems Utilize one’s positions within the current systems to the disadvantage of those systems Resist accommodation and solutions within the current systems Resist accommodation and solutions within the current systems

43 The most meaningful work that we can do is to “Build receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.”* Beginning with our own….. *Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac


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