Margin Call: There’s More At Stake Than Money

In the new movie “Margin Call”, in the days just before the 2008 economic meltdown, a young employee at one of the large Wall Street investment banks is given some research data by a departing coworker that shows him just how far out on a limb his company is. What he then experiences is a lot like what happens to anyone when they first start looking into the actual numbers around peak oil, overfishing, climate change, water overuse etc. and realize just what those numbers really mean.

Since having my own person awakening in this regard, I have permanently felt like the character in the Margin Call trailer when he looks out his car window and says, “Look at these people, wandering around with absolutely no idea of what’s about to happen”. And unfortunately, what is about to happen to us in the real world is also based on a true story…

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Climate Change Update From Al Gore

In this one hour documentary, recorded on September 16th, 2011, Al Gore gives an updated version of his Climate Change presentation. Skip ahead 9 minutes to bypass the preliminaries.

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Our World 2.0: from the United Nations University Media Center

Our World 2.0 from the United Nations University Media Center is a non-mainstream and excellent source of information about the issues near to the heart of most of us in the transition movement – peak oil, climate change, food security and biodiversity. I can highly recommend it as a timely source of information. Start with this great post and video about Transition Fujino, the first Transition Town in Japan.

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So is it “Buy Local” or “Protectionism”?

Everybody thinks “Buy Local” is great – until they no longer qualify as local. In this case, it’s Canada.

Obama’s new jobs act states in a section headed “Buy American — Use of American Iron, Steel and Manufactured Goods”, that “…none of the funds made available by the American Jobs Act may be used for the construction, alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public work unless all of the iron, steel, and manufactured goods used in the project are produced in the United States.”

Suddenly instead of “Buy Local” such ideas are referred to by the Canadian powers that be as “Protectionism”.

Our politicians are currently trying to find out what this clause in the jobs act means and are assuming we are exempt. It won’t matter what the politicians say – individual Americans will decide for themselves who to buy from. This behavior on the part of the politicians reminds me of a scene from Contagion; a bureaucrat asks if maybe someone has weaponized the bird flu and the character played by Laurence Fishburne replies, “Someone doesn’t have to weaponize the bird flu, the birds are doing that.”

As the slow motion collapse of the European Union shows there is no longer any “us and them”. As Greece goes, so goes the union. We Canadians are in the same boat as the Americans. As globalization gradually shifts into reverse more and more Canadians will also come down with a case of “Buy Local”. It’s going to spread. Only in this case it’s something you need to get.

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Coming ‘round To Heinberg

Even though he has dismissed the survivalist response to peak oil, I have up to now found Richard Heinberg’s writing on the crisis to be too extreme for me; too thin a veil covers his implied future of families escaping dystopian cities in search of safer regions.

The vision of the future which Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement, suggests, is one where with sufficient, timely action we have successfully transitioned to a lifestyle free of dependence on fossil fuels. It is one little changed from today other than the fact that we use renewable sources of energy for everything, including our personal transportation and all forms of shipping. Most people would be happy with this and I am confident it is the tomorrow the majority of North Americans assume. Let’s call this “Green World”.

Or it could be a future much less palatable to most folks: “Amish World”.

Amish World, a lifestyle of almost absolute self-sufficiency and local community focus, is the inevitable result of failing to replace oil with alternative sources of energy and their requisite distribution systems before oil became too expensive to maintain the life to which we had become accustomed. We can no longer use oil to operate cars, heat buildings or transport goods by container ships from China, food by trucks and ferries from Florida to Vancouver Island or coal by rail to electrical power generating plants. Oil has become too expensive to fuel the globalized economy which as a result has shifted into reverse.

And there is a critical link in the chain of history that will break if we have failed to put alternative energy sources in place before oil becomes prohibitively expensive: after we have entered the gap, we will no longer have the energy required to manufacture and install those alternative generating and distribution systems.

Consider this analogy. During the Second World War, by presidential decree all automobile production in the U.S. was stopped for three years and instead of producing cars America’s automotive plants produced tanks, bombers and landing craft. But what if instead of experiencing the crisis of peak oil now, we were already well into it then, in 1942? What would have become of the U.S. response to Nazi Germany in that case? As you can imagine, our success or failure to rise to the challenge of our own time, and successfully navigate the gap, will equally lead to alternative futures of historic proportions.

Assuming no other major changes in global socioeconomics, if we fail to navigate the gap, our culture will simply go back to the point at which the oil revolution began; about 1850, the days of the steam locomotive and the horse and buggy.

The complicating factor in this model is that it is abundant energy in the form of oil that enables our planet to support the current population of 7 billion. If we have failed to put alternative energy sources in place in time the global population will decline to what it was in 1850, about 1 billion. Most of this will be the result of starvation, because the connecting link between oil and population growth is food production.

It is not only the worlds poor who would be effected by this depopulation; without oil, many of the high “quality of life” factors the G8 nations enjoy would be dramatically diminished. As a result of a much more physically demanding daily life combined with a reduction in the infrastructure, equipment and medicines required to deal with disease and injury, life expectancy in the G8 nations would drop dramatically.

However we cannot assume “no other major changes in global socioeconomics”. In fact, based on the current trends with regard to water use, climate change, overfishing, failing states and their associated horsemen, we can instead assume there will be other factors in play which will only make a negative contribution to the situation.

I do not see the signs that we will successfully navigate the gap in a timely manner and so, unlike the majority of North American’s who assume a Green World future which will allow them to carry on with business as usual, I am now more inclined to agree with Heinberg’s view; a descent into a period of dystopia, leading at best to an Amish World emerging in the latter half of this century or in some future century. After the fall of Rome in the 4th century, the Dark Ages in Western Europe lasted 400 years and for the Roman Empire there never was a “recovery”.

As I travel around Vancouver Island, the breathtakingly beautiful island that is my home, I find myself enveloped in a cognitive dissonance because everything looks fine. I am reminded however of exponential math and of author Lester Brown’s tale of the 29th day; how everything looks fine right up to the day before the last day. I am reminded of how we humans think in linear terms but nature does not and with what hubris we strut, knowing so little about the things upon which our lives depend. I am reminded of the fact that research has shown that dramatic climate changes like ice ages and their retreat do not necessarily take centuries or millennia but can happen in the course of a single decade.

We are running out time for Hopkin’s vision. I am now inclined to expect something initially not as bad as “The Road”, but also not quite as good as Amish World.  I am now inclined to think Heinberg is right and that we must individually prepare at a more basic level; not for Green World or Amish  World, but for the gap, for what I call, “Pioneer World”. What does that look like in concrete terms? Three to six months food and supplies and the knowledge and equipment required to live off the grid; the of the ability to survive a season or two, until we, as individuals and communities, learn once again to be self sufficient.

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2013: La Fin Du Pétrole

Excellent French language (English subtitles) dramatized documentary about Peak Oil impacting by 2013.

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The Kaya Identity

No its not the latest spy thriller from Robert Ludlum. The Kaya Identity is a mathematical formula that plays a key role in the development of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate change scenarios. The scenarios set out a range of assumed conditions based on a mix of of the four inputs: population growth, GDP per capita, energy intensity and emission levels. Click the link below to launch the Kaya Identity calculator.
If you play around with it for a while, you will see that some things have a much greater effect than others.

There are training videos here, very easy to understand, that will teach you how to use and understand the calculator.

But let’s return to the spy thriller for a moment. If you were the leader of a global superpower, and wanted things to stay that way, based on the Kaya factors, what options might you consider, given the military, scientific, diplomatic and economic powers at your disposal?

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Power Switch: CBC Report on Canadian Energy

CBC report which will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about our energy system now and in the future including more private ownership and a 50% price increase by 2020.

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Transition Canada: Vital Interests

On a personal level, what are our vital interests? At the most generic level, they are: food, water, shelter, physical health, financial security, social & professional relationships, knowledge or skill and the environment.

Given that the world is increasingly globalized and interdependent, and that this has significant impact on where we study, work or retire, there are a half dozen global issues worth considering when planning for our future or our families future. Lets take water scarcity, oil consumption and population trends as examples.

This is a map of world water scarcity trends from 1980 to 2015. Source: U.S. National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2015 report.

India’s current population is around one billion people. By 2020 they are expected to add approximately three to four hundred million more souls, or about the total population of the United States, thus exceeding the growth rate of China. In third place for growth rate by the way, is Pakistan and notice in the above map how their water situation is going. By 2030 India’s oil consumption is expected to double. Meanwhile, India is rapidly running out of water. See this BBC news article dated 7 July 2009: Mumbai Faces Acute Water Shortage. It is my opinion, that due to population growth, groundwater depletion and shrinking the Himalayan glaciers, ALL regions of India (and surrounding regions) will suffer catastrophic water scarcity in the near future.

As an aside, Mexico has almost identical problems and Saudi Arabia’s water supply is entirely dependent on oil to run desalinization plants. The U.S. does not escape this trend due to aquifer depletion and climate change fueling the northward expansion of something called the Hadley Cells.

Africa provides a clear view of the Hadley Cells effect.

Notice where the clouds are and are not. The hot, moist air rises over the equator and, as it cools, dumps all its moisture in the equatorial/tropical zone. The resulting dry air travels north before coming down. The area above that very clear line across North Africa shows what the Hadley Cells do and what is intensifying and expanding into North America, Europe and Asia. The southern Hadley Cells are less intense due to the difference in land mass in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

These mega-trends – water scarcity, climate shifting, demographics and more – must be taken into consideration with regards to future plans. They will not just effect “far away” places like India. How they go anywhere will be in our vital interests.

Posted in climate change, demographics, economics, peak oil | Tagged , , ,

Avg US climate 1.5 degrees F warmer than the 1970s

According to the 1981-2010 normals released by the US National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) on July 1, temperatures across the United States were, on average, approximately 0.5 degree F warmer than the 1971-2000 time period.

In the continental United States, every state’s annual maximum and minimum temperature increased on average. “The climate of the 2000s is about 1.5 degrees F warmer than the 1970s, so we would expect the updated 30-year normals to be warmer,” said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D., NCDC director.”

Full story: 

Note: one °F is exactly 5/9th of one °C

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