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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Living by Values or Survival by Defence?

Survival in times of turbulence requires adaptation; living requires a radical rethinking of the world as we see it, and doing the things we do in life quite differently. Where are we flawed and what should we be doing?

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Should value of ecosystems be economized?

When did a bee actually send you an invoice? Pavan Suhkdev asks whether  evaluating the economic value of natural resources help averting crisis. He argues how for the coral reefs it’s too late – and how this will influence millions of people dependent on these ecosystems for their food. How to deal with rapidly declining biodiversity, threatening livelihoods worldwide? Economics is the language of politics; perhaps we should move the ecosystems’ value into the equation. I think this will help but only in addition to strengthening a core-value based discourse.

Why Climate Change is Happening and Catastrophic

For the first time in human history we are altering the climate of the planet in a way that is threatening our own subsistence. Global warming can make the Earth uninhabitable – at least for the nine billion people that could be alive halfway the current century, and certainly for the poorest part.

Geographic distribution Mortailty from Climate Change. Source: Human Impact Report 2009.

The climate crisis is interlinked with other crises. Biodiversity is threatened by global warming because forests can’t cope and die, taking the animals for which they are the habitats with them.[1] Floods, droughts, hurricanes, rising seawater levels and disappearing glaciers affect the poor in developing countries the most, so social inequality is increased as well.

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  1. [1]Rifkin 2011: 25

Ending the Energy Crisis

Vision 5: Natural resources are available for us and future generations. Resource taxes are raised so prices will reflect the real costs of products and the depletion of ecosystems is prevented. Finite energy sources will also be taxed so abundant renewable energy will become universally available.

The energy crisis can probably be solved, actually quite easily. There are solutions for how to deal with the two main problems: finding physical sources for acquiring the energy for an increasing global population, and creating political momentum in an arena dominated by powerful oil company lobbies.

So what to do? Use less energy or find different sources? Probably both, but with food production being dependent on energy in numerous ways finding new sources is a necessity.

Jeremy Rifkin has been pointing out solutions to government leaders ranging from the White House to a number of European, African and Asian countries. His solutions seem very possible and smart. His unique approach lies in joining practical, physical solutions with sound political strategies into a grand narrative of what he calls a Third Industrial Revolution.

Renewable energy is becoming cheap enough, and distributed production is making it accessible. That’s his main argument. Just as the internet made information cheap and abundant, an intelligent energy distribution network can disclose renewable energy sources.

Rifkin’s narrative is this: both historical Industrial Revolutions happened because new energy technology converged with new communication technologies.[1] The next Industrial Revolution is similar: the new technologies of solar, wind, water, geoheat and biomass are converging with the development of intelligent means of distribution in the form of internet-like smart grids.

This transition is supported by five pillars, Rifkin argues: renewable energy, buildings as small power plants, hydrogen and other storing technologies, smart distribution grids and plug-in and fuel cell transport. These pillars are intimately related and reinforce each other in a synergetic way. “When these five pillars come together, they make up an indivisible technological platform – an emergent system whose properties and functions are qualitatively different from the sum of its parts”.[2]

How does Rifkin overcome the power of the strong oil companies’ lobby? By proposing buildings as power plants. The construction industry is a strong economic factor that might be “a counterweight to the big energy companies”.[3]

In Europe, his ideas have a strong following. A declaration was signed by the EU endorsing the implementation of Jeremy’s ideas.

The idea of this Third Industrial Revolution seems quite solid. And there is a strong argument in favor of trying: the stakes are unimaginably high. When such a transition from carbon into renewable energy isn’t made, CO2 induced climate change might lead to mass extinction strongly decreasing the chances of survival for us and generations to come.

  1. [1]These were steam power with the printing press in the first, and electrical communication with oil powered engines in the second industrial revolution. See Rifkin 2011: 35.
  2. [2]Rifkin 2011: 71
  3. [3]Rifkin 2011: 44

The End of fossil Energy

The lower curve shows per capita oil production. Source: http://www.albartlett.org/articles/art2000jan.html

Why is energy in a state of crisis? Simply because there is a decreasing amount of freely disposable energy to meet the demand of a growing global population. The chapter on Guidelines for Energy will show that this is not a reason for despair. There is one virtually infinite nuclear energy source and of course it’s called the sun. The past century has been spent by burning a condensed form of solar energy: petroleum.

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Why Complexity necessitates trial and error but With a Plan

Why did complex systems theory become important? Because complex systems like changing climate and financial economy are increasingly influencing our dayly lives. What are complex systems, and how to deal with them?

To make things simple, let’s break the world apart in two. The Simple and the Complex. In the simple world, the position of the sun in twenty and two thousand years can be predicted. If we can do that, then predicting the weather is a matter of making better models, right?

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