Tag Archives: renewable energy

Space Engineers

This looks like a good place for adventure. (Me, playing Space Engineers)

Hello again everyone!

This is kind of a ‘just for fun” post, but something I think is important to talk about all the same. It should come as no surprise to anyone here that aside from being a fiction writer, I’m also a gamer. I like games, and I make no apologies for that. Oregon Trail, Super Mario Brothers, SimCity, Minecraft… All of it. I have been gaming for a long time (and this includes tabletop). Games aren’t real life, but it has always struck me how informative games can be when it comes to thinking about real life. There are important lessons to be learned from games.

Games are designed to simulate some aspects of real life, and so can help us think about all sorts of issues. I really like sandbox, exploration, and building games; so games like Starmade, Minecraft, and Simcity have a lot to teach us about building, crafting, and even urban design and energy policy. It’s the last I really want to focus on today, through the lens of a game called Space Engineers.

I really enjoy Space Engineers, because it is a game built around creativity and exploration, using technology inspired by the real world, in a near future scenario. We see a lot of energy technology that we have at our disposal right now, such as wind turbines, solar panels, hydrogen engines, and even nuclear reactors. There are no fossil fuels in the game, so it is a really useful lens for thinking about energy policy, and the current state of our energy systems.

Michigan

As games and fiction are can be useful for imaging the future, I want to take you on a bit of thought experiment today. We are going to use my home state of Michigan as an example, with Space Engineers as a lens on our energy policy. So here is our current energy mix for electricity generation;

(From here and here.)

Alright, so we can from the chart above that Michigan has four main electrical power sources; coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewable energy (wind, solar, and hydro; primarily.) By contrast, Space Engineers uses all clean sources (though not necessarily renewable) sources of power as I have already pointed out. So can we use Space Engineers to rebuild Michigan’s energy system? Release the army of engineers!

They took the scenic route in their solar/hydrogen powered vehicle.

According to the recent IPCC report, we have to drastically reduce our usage of fossil fuels, and they need to be zero by about 2050 if we are going to have any chance to mitigate climate change. So on the above pie chart, that means that coal and natural gas have to go, so we will start there.

Coal & Natural Gas

Coal and natural gas in Michigan make up about 63% of our total electrical energy supply. As such, well over half our energy system comes from fossil fuels, and would have to be phased out by 2050. Coal is definitely the worst of the two offenders, as natural gas is slightly ‘cleaner’, but in the long run it should go too.

Starting with coal then, and utilizing our full army of Space Engineers, we have to replace 37% of our energy sources. The most obvious sources (leaving nuclear aside for now) are renewable energy, especially wind and solar. Michigan has tremendous wind and solar resources, so our limited factor is energy storage more than production capacity. However, with increasing efficient battery technology, and local Michigan pumped hydro storage, our engineers have no problem replacing coal with renewable energy by 2050.

Which brings our renewable energy percentage up to 45%. Drawdown lists on-shore wind, solar farms, and rooftop solar in the top ten solutions to combat climate change. I don’t see 45% as an unreasonable number, as it may be technically possible to run Michigan on 100% renewables.

Unleash the wind and solar! (Yes, I’m flying. Big whoop.)

The next kicker in our energy mix is natural gas. Like coal, natural gas energy is a form of combustion. Basically, burning a fuel to turn a turbine, which creates electrical energy. There are a lot of variations and methods of this, so I’m not going to go into the technical details all that much. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, produced primarily from oil wells. And while it is ‘cleaner’ than coal, it still produces quite a bit of carbon. Methane is it’s chief component, which is carbon with four hydrogen atoms. So how do we get natural gas out of the mix?

Well, our engineers are good at what they do, so we could just expand more renewables and bring our mix up to 71% renewable. That is possible too, and again the IPCC report says 70-80% renewable energy is about where we’d need to be. So that is one option. We will call that scenario one.

But our Space Engineers also give us another option. One of the big sources of energy in the game is hydrogen; which is used for everything from jetpacks, to rocket engines, to hydrogen engines. So this gives us another option, the hydrogen economy. By using clean renewable energy (as opposed to current techniques), for electrolysis, we could produce abundant amounts of hydrogen from water. If we built up the infrastructure for safe transport and storage of hydrogen gas  (which is quite volatile), we could use hydrogen in everything from transportation to gas turbines. In short, it may be pretty easy to convert natural gas power plants to use hydrogen. If we use pure oxygen in addition to the hydrogen, the only waste would be water vapor. So 26% of our energy could also come from hydrogen plants. We will call that scenario two.

Now this is only a hypothetical situation, as there are several aspects of hydrogen and renewable energy that aren’t quite there yet. The only way to make hydrogen viable would be clean, renewable primary energy. That isn’t the case, as we still are mostly using coal and natural gas. Also, the infrastructure isn’t in place yet, though it is growing.

Nuclear

Moving on, the next big energy source in Space Engineers are nuclear reactors. I have used these in the game for a lot of different applications, from factory power to starship reactors. There are some things in the game that require quite a bit of power, and nuclear works nicely for this. In addition, in the real world Michigan gets 30% of it’s energy from nuclear power plants. We have three plants in total.

Drawdown ranks nuclear as #20 on it’s list. This power source has the potential to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, but it comes with a whole bunch of risks and drawbacks. Drawdown lists nuclear as a regrets solution, and has this to say on the topic;

“At Project Drawdown, we consider nuclear a regrets solution. It has potential to avoid emissions, but there are many reasons for concern: deadly meltdowns, tritium releases, abandoned uranium mines, mine-tailings pollution, radioactive waste, illicit plutonium trafficking, and thefts of missile material, among them.”

However, Drawdown goes to say that plausibly; “we assume its share of global electricity generation will grow to 13.6 percent by 2030, but slowly decline to 12 percent by 2050. ” It is important to note that this is global generation, and regional generation can vary a bit. For example, right now global energy production from nuclear is about 11%, whereas Michigan’s percentage is 29%.

With nuclear being both and option in the game, and in real life Michigan, I am going to assume our engineers use the resources we have, and upgrade them to newer, safer reactors. Maybe they even deploy some of those generation IV reactors we hear so much about? (Most reactors in existence are second generation, built in the 70-80’s)

The Scenarios 

Alright, so our army of engineers have scoured the state of Michigan, and made huge improvements and refinements to our energy system. They also changed out our transportation system, which works mostly now on electricity and/or hydrogen. So where does all this leave us in our game inspired fantasy? With two unique scenarios for a possible sustainable energy future.

Scenario 1: 29% nuclear, 71% renewable.

Scenario 2: 29% nuclear, 45% renewable, 26% hydrogen

I like scenario 1 a little better, because it makes a few less assumptions and relies more on technology we know to work today. The hydrogen economy is a little more of a stretch, because there are a lot of technical details and infrastructure that just doesn’t exist right now. But this imagined scenario is 2050, so our wonderful engineers may have worked that out. It is also technically possible, that the grant us a third scenario that eliminates the nuclear.

Scenario 3: 100% renewable energy, or 100% hydrogen/renewable.

Could the last be possible? I think so, and our engineers are a brilliant sort. It would be the ideal scenario for sure, but engineers are also very pragmatic. That leaves nuclear an open question.

Even though Space Engineers is a game, again, I think it is a great tool to help us think about the future. A future where space travel is real, and our civilization is sustainable. So I leave you with this thought and image. A ship powered by hydrogen and electric thrusters, with energy supplied by a mix of solar, hydrogen and nuclear.

It’s my ship, and thanks for reading!

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Random Roundup 2/8/19

(A hand picked random meme from Facebook for this roundup)

Hello again folks!

I am busy working around on a few different projects, so I wasn’t able to get anything of length ready for publication just yet. So today, I am bringing you another roundup of ideas and news that I think are good ones.

First, something local (for me);

“Consumers Energy says it plans to dramatically increase its reliance on solar energy in the next few decades.

Battery storage can save some of the energy that solar panels produce during the day, so it can be used at night.”

It’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of solar energy, and so it warms my heart to see more and more local projects being installed. I think we need to ambitiously address the problems of the climate crisis, and solar panels are energy storage are a good start.

Second, something that is a great step in the right direction;

“The plan to eliminate coal-burning plants as well as nuclear means that Germany will be counting on renewable energy to provide 65% to 80% of the country’s power by 2040. Last year, renewables overtook coal as the leading source and now account for 41% of the country’s electricity.”

Germany is commiting itself to ambitious goals to combat the climate crisis. The 2018 IPCC report is very clear that we need to drastically reduce emissions and fossil fuel use in the next twelve years, and we are in need of models to show how that change could happen. Germany is offering one such model, and I think the world would be wise to pay attention.

Last, the Green New Deal;

“In very broad strokes, the Green New Deal legislation laid out by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey sets goals for some drastic measures to cut carbon emissions across the economy, from electricity generation to transportation to agriculture. In the process, it aims to create jobs and boost the economy.

In that vein, the proposal stresses that it aims to meet its ambitious goals while paying special attention to groups like the poor, disabled and minority communities that might be disproportionately affected by massive economic transitions like those the Green New Deal calls for.”

The IPCC 2018 report and others are very clear about the need to mobilize on a massive scale if we are to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. Local and regional governments can certainly take up that charge, but frankly, we need all the resources we can get. I for one would love to see the United States step up to the plate here, and I think a form of the Green New Deal is a great start to figuring out what that looks like.

I hope to have more stuff for you in the next week or so.

Thanks for reading!


Random Roundup, 1/11/19

Random Roundup 1/11/19

Hello everyone!

This is a new thing I’m going to try for a bit. I’m calling it “Random Roundups”, and the goal is to share some random articles or media with you that I found interesting throughout the week. In part, it helps me publish short content, but also helps me keep track of articles I tend to forget about…

I need an image for this thing…

So here is this weeks Random Roundup!

Environmental Story Telling Can Help Spread Big Ideas for Saving the Planet*

Research increasingly suggests that trying to promote behavioral change through fear can be counterproductive, leading to anxiety or depression that results in an issue being avoided, denied or met with a sense of helplessness. However, in education, news and fiction, stories with positive role models and which focus on the positive outcomes of solutions are much more likely to inspire action to solve it. “

Story telling is vital to how we shape our place and experiences in the world. The narratives we hold to can drastically shape how we confront the crises ahead. In short, I think we need more stories of a better future, and less dystopian ones.

There is no Planet B

“If, however, we change our technologies and our economic system to better match the physical and biological realities of life on Earth, the resulting history could be quite amazing, what some are calling “a good Anthropocene.” That future would, in effect, be the story of humanity devoting itself to nurturing the health of the biosphere and creating a sustainable prosperity for all the living creatures on this planet. While not exactly utopia, that future could be called optopia—the “optimal place,” the best possible outcome given the current conditions.”

On the topic of environmental story telling, Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my favorite contemporary authors. So when he speaks about threat of Climate Change we all face, I tend to listen. It’s well worth the read!

And last, but simply not least. If positive story telling can help us each take action to help mitigate climate change, then perhaps it is best to end with a positive story!

This old coal plant is now a solar farm, thanks to pressure from local activists

For more than half a century, a coal plant in the city of Holyoke, Massachusetts spewed pollution into the air. Now, the plant is closed, and 17,000 solar panels and a battery storage system–the largest in the state–send clean power to the grid. “

Shutting down all coal plants is going to be essential to building a sustainable future for our planet. So will be the installation of renewable energy. Why not do both at once?

I hope you enjoyed this roundup, and feel free to leave me feedback if you did! I will continue to work on other pieces for my next post, but I feel this was a nice change of pace.

Thanks for reading!

*I don’t agree with any article 100%, so I might have my quibbles with any article, but I still think there is value in each.


A Solarpunk Paganism?

(Image Source: Zearz on Deviantart)

Hello folks!

This is an update blog and a bit of stream of conciousness, so bear with me if this doesn’t seem fully fleshed out. I am really just checking in and telling you I have not forgotten about you, but that I have been really, really busy.

Right now, I am working away on an animism manuscript, which is my first real foyer into non-fiction writing. There has been at least one other attempt as a manuscript, but we don’t talk about that project anymore. It has really been a fun ride so far, and a very spiritual exercise. Some of the topics I am writing about have left me light headed and inspired. I am hoping the book when it is finished does the same for my readers.

I am also working my latest project towards publication, and am in the artwork stage right now; getting cover art (and hopefully more) done to really bring the project to life. I am really excited about this project, as it combines element of animism, shamanism, cyberpunk, and solarpunk.

Which brings us to what I really want to talk about it today. What is that whole solarpunk thing? If you know me at all, you know I have been kind of obsessing over it lately. It is a relatively new literary genre. It got it’s start on Tumblr in 2014, and has really took off in 2017. The moment I started to read about it my eyes went wide, and I knew I had found something amazing.

I’ve made no secret on this blog about where I stand on environmental issues as well as humanitarian ones. As an animist, environmentalism and humanitarianism are part and parcel of my spiritual belief. I have written a fair bit about renewable energy and sustainable cities.

So the moment I heard about solarpunk, I had to know more.

I have written recently over at Pagan Bloggers a little about this already, but I wanted to expand on it more. As I said, maybe, sorta, mostly, kinda obsessed at this point.

What is Solarpunk?

I recently finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 novel, and have just now started on the Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) Some have called New York 2140 solarpunk, with it’s renewable energy, airships, sky villages, even within a world that has been flooded by climate change.

One source describes solarpunk as;

Solarpunk is the first creative movement consciously and positively responding to the Anthropocene. When no place on Earth is free from humanity’s hedonism, Solarpunk proposes that humans can learn to live in harmony with the planet once again.

Solarpunk is a literary movement, a hashtag, a flag, and a statement of intent about the future we hope to create. It is an imagining wherein all humans live in balance with our finite environment, where local communities thrive, diversity is embraced, and the world is a beautiful green utopia.”

It is so much more than this too. It is an optimistic look at the future that doesn’t fall into our current cultural obsession with apocalypse and dystopia. More than this, I think it might contain ideas that a lot of pagans like me might embrace. As Adam Flynn points out here

In short, solarpunk is a reaction to climate change, inequality, and our cultural obsession with dystopian futures. Its followers… want a world where people thrive through energy independence, local resilience, and sound infrastructure.

The vision is not about back-to-the-earth survivalism, Flynn says, because solarpunks embrace the responsible use of new technologies like synthetic biology and sensor networks. And it’s not utopian, he says, because the solarpunk future is one that is both high-tech and gritty, and — more importantly — one that we can actually achieve.”

Most of you know me here as a cautiously optimistic sort. I also have a fair bit of pragmatism in my mix. I think we face a lot of challenges in the days ahead, but I think that if we work together we can find a way through. As both an animist and a science fiction writer, I think it is possible for the future to be both sustainable as well as technological. I think we can build a renewable civilization and weave nature and culture back together.

A Pagan Statement on the Environment, A solarpunk paganism?

More than this, I think paganism is tailor-made to be a great fit with solarpunk. Folks, this is what we were made for. Solarpunk is about building a radically new world, from the ground up. This may well be part of our pagan frontier, and with the depth of our creative energies, maybe this is something we should embrace.

When it first came out in 2015, I signed onto A Pagan Statement on the environment, which can be found here. If you want to be specific, I am signee #2148. That’s me, the animist.

Just looking at A Pagan Statement on the Environment, it is solarpunk as hell;

There are certain actions we can take now. It is important for each individual, community, and nation to take stock of what that means for the betterment of the whole. Technical solutions can never move forward without political will, and the necessary political will requires a shift in our most deeply held values, in our very definitions of what it means to be human, and in how humanity relates to the world. We recognize this shift as a spiritual imperative.”

We need change, and we need change bad. In order to build a truly sustainable world, it is all hands on deck. We need investment, and we need to be to keep the pressure on our leaders. If they can’t cut it, then we need new ones. This is part and parcel of my spirituality.

Rather, building a truly sustainable culture means transforming the systems of domination and exploitation that threaten our future into systems of symbiotic partnership that support our ecosystem. We must be clear about our agenda, which includes promoting sustainable, local economies, reforming our food systems, distributing resources in a more just and humane fashion, and ensuring that our human populations are below the carrying capacity of our planet through access to voluntary birth control, and equal access to education and work for women.”

Local economies, reformed foods systems, equality and sustainability. More than that, is it the idea of local resilience and renewable energy.

Any economic or political system which encourages the exploitation of Earth and people must be dismantled or substantially reformed. This includes any system based on endless growth. We should be operating in a closed loop system, not a linear one. This means moving away from disposable development and culture, and moving toward renewable development and culture wherein all products are intended for longevity, repairability, and easy recycling or composting at the end of their use. The sustainable economy of the future will be one with the shortest distances between production, consumption and recycling of byproducts.”

This is exactly what I think solarpunk is talking about. We need changes, big changes, from the roots up. Radical changes, in infrastructure and in economics. Capitalism is dangerously exploitative to humans as well as the environment, all in the search of greater profit. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not sustainable. We need a better vision and better stories than that.

A Practical, Possible World.

I have written a great deal about Drawdown, renewable energyand sustainable cities.

I want to build a sustainable world in accordance with my spiritual beliefs, and I want to do that in a way that doesn’t involve given up or “running into the forest”. I want to see humanity spread to other planets, and I want to see technology used with wisdom and in a sustainable way.

It should come as no surprise that I may be taking to solarpunk like a fish to water. It combines all these things in a way that is both radical, practical, and future looking.

Three of the top ten solutions to climate change from Drawdown are forms of solar or wind power; Onshore Wind TurbinesSolar Farms, and Rooftop Solar.

This isn’t just the realm of fantasy or fiction either. As Drawdown clearly lays out, this is a future we could build. This could be a reality. National Geographic and The Solutions Project also have detailed plans for a renewable, sustainable, and carbon free future.

Solarpunk in this sense is not just speculation, but a possible future we could actually create. We can take solutions from Drawdown and other places, and create a solarpunk world. Building a green infrastructure from the ground up is one of the most radical things we can do. It is also good for both humanity and the environment, and as an animist this pleases me to no end.

As pagans, I think it is well past time we start telling stories about what that future might look like. I am pretty excited that my new novel falls into this genre. I didn’t even do it on purpose, and that’s even more fantastic!

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://ecopagan.com/

http://paganbloggers.com/wolftracks/2018/02/19/what-world-shall-we-create/

http://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/sci-fi-doesnt-have-to-be-depressing-welcome-to-solarpunk/82586

http://theconversation.com/explainer-solarpunk-or-how-to-be-an-optimistic-radical-80275

https://solarpunkanarchists.com/2016/05/27/what-is-solarpunk/

http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/city/life/215749-solarpunk

http://www.drawdown.org/

https://grist.org/business-technology/this-sci-fi-enthusiast-wants-to-make-solarpunk-happen/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/shaping-a-living-world-part-11/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/shaping-a-living-world/


Shaping a Living World: Part 11

Half of humanity—3.5 billion people—live in cities today, and this number will continue to grow. Because the future will be urban for a majority of people, the solutions to some of the greatest issues facing humans— poverty, climate change, healthcare, education— must be found in city life. “

(UN SDG 11

Hello again folks!

Today I want to talk about the UN Sustainable goal number 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities. In many ways, cities are the real heart of our civilizations. Over half of all people live in cities, but cities are also responsible for a huge amount of energy, resource, and carbon emissions. As the facts and figures of this SDG point out;

The world’s cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions” (UN SDG 11

More than this, the percentage of people living is cities is estimated to increase over the course of the century. This poses significant challenges to building a sustainable and renewable world. Thankfully, there is a quite a bit that can be done to improve and retrofit our cities and create a civilization that is truly sustainable in the long run.

There are a lot of specific solutions that we will get into, but first I would like for you to use your imagination for a bit. I want you to picture a city with green roofs on every building, from the smallest structures up to massive skyscrapers. Imagine that some of these skyscrapers are not offices or hotels, but vertical food farms or urban forestry towers. These structures along with food forests and urban gardens throughout the city provide large amounts of fresh produce for local markets and restaurants. In addition, the greenery absorbs and sequesters carbon dioxide, and overall improves air and water quality.

Imagine too that these buildings have been built or retrofitted with sustainable materials, such as wood and alternative concretes. In addition, each building could have a net zero carbon impact, our could be a “living building” that creates more energy then it produces. Rooftops and carports could be lined with solar panels, or windows might actually create solar power.

The entire city would be powered by renewable energy. 

From high atop one of these towers, you see an endless sea of greenery, from trees to plenty of accessible parks. More than this, the vehicles on the streets are fully electric, powered by a complex sustainable grid system. Far off in the distance you can see wind turbines that help to power the city.

The entire project has been a reintergration of humanity and nature, in which the forests and the wilds have returned to the city. Moreso, the city has become an integral part of the landscape, a part of nature and not separate from it.

Does this sound like pie in the sky, something form science fiction? What if I told you this isn’t some pipe dream? What if I told you that truly sustainable cities was possible, and with the technology of today.

It is possible, but it will also take a lot of collective work by everyone. Individual actions are great, but they are not enough. It will take a change in spirit, in culture, in policy, and in the direction of our planet as a whole.

And it starts with you and your city. Each and every one

How you ask?

Let’s explore that a little deeper.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

It should be stated right off that there is no such thing as a perfect solution. Every single idea we propose is going to have flaws, or is going to be outside of the realm of the possible. That being said, 193 countries have agreed upon the SDG’s, and I think it represents some of the more realistic options available to humanity.

These goal represent a collective agreement to give it our best shot, and I believe we can do this.

By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.”

Affordable housing is a big deal, especially with the rising costs of living in many cities. These kinds of costs displace people, or price people out of a given city. It also can increase homelessness, and contribute to the many problems associated with segregation. In my personal opinion, everyone should have the ability to have shelter. Now, there are a lot of different ways to do that, from low income housing options through ideas like Universal Basic Income. What each city will need to implement is the policies and practices best fit for their situation.

By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.”

I think that this one speaks for itself. We need to be building more sustainable infrastructure for transportation; especially in the realm of public and mass transport. These solutions not only are necessary for sustainable communities, but also for the most vulnerable and marginalized. New electric vehicles do nothing for people who cannot afford them, but electric buses and trains might.

By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.”

To me, this one speaks for the need for democratic methods of government and planning. The ability for the people of each city to decide what is best practice for their communities, and for the plans for each community to be sustainable as possible. Sustainable urban planning needs to account for disaster resiliency, the needs of the masses, and the needs of the environment. Urban planning that ignores flood plains or wild fires is not sustainable.

By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.”

This is a big one, as we all need to be doing the best we can to lower our environmental impact per person. Air quality is very poor in many cities, and there is more we can do individually as well as collectively that can make our air cleaner and more breathable. Waste Engagement is also a big issue, as the growing number of plastics in our landfills and in our oceans is a serious concern. Recycling and circular economic production standards should be the rule, not the exception.

By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.”

We need more parks, more urban forests, more community gardens, all of it. Public parks and forests are vital to reintegrating ecosystems into our city systems, and it is an important step in transition from “grey” to “green” cities. The impact of more trees alone would be substantial in creating healthier and cleaner environments.

By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels.”

As this target mostly speaks for itself, I am going to let it stand as is.

This gives us at least some ideas on how we may be able to push policies and implementation of crucial sustainability solutions. It is important to note that quite a bit of work towards sustainable cities is already being done.

As such, let’s look at a few examples from northern Europe.

Social Democracy

Take a look at the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index and notice that two Nordic cities, Stockholm and Copenhagen appear in the top twenty. There is a lot of data in that index, spread across three major pillars; People, Environmental, and Economic. I invite you to browse that information more thoroughly.

In addition, the Sieman’s Green City Index has Copenhagen at #1, Stockholm as #2, Oslo at #3 and Helsinki at #7 on it’s overall ranking of green cities. It should however be noted that this index is from 2009, so represents dated information.

I feel it is safe to conclude then that these cities are on the right track, and can serve as models for cities across the globe. So the question then becomes; what are they doing that justifies such a high ranking? There is a lot of information in the Green City Index, so just like the previous link, please look it over for yourself. But let’s look at a few points covered in the Green City Index, and then more specifically at the four Nordic cities at the top of the list.

– There is a strong correlation between cities and the wealth they have at hand. This should come as no surprise, as wealth translates to the ability to invest in expertise and sustainable infrastructure. It is true that many of the cities in the index have quite the GDP at their disposal. But it is also notable that cities like those in the North have strong redistribution and taxation programs instead of the US’s obsession with “trickle down”.

There is little correlation between city size and how well it does on the index. Though it is important to note that physically smaller cities make it easier for things such as biking or walking.

Cities with an active civil society tended to perform well. There is a strong connection between the voluntary participation of citizens in organizations and how well that city performed in the index.

Stemming from the last point, there is a decent correlation between citizen engagement and environmental performance. This is at the democratic governance level, as well as the local level. Sustainability is the result of collective action.

Cities can approach sustainable development through a diverse range of options, ranging from policy and environmental governance, to volunteering and other organizations.

Technology will be a factor in creating sustainable cities, implemented through all levels of government as well as individual actions of residents.

Education and public awareness are very important to the development of sustainable cities. When people are given the necessary information, they can make greener choices. This cascades through all levels of society.

With all that in mind, let’s look the top Nordic performers; Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen achieves the highest ranking in the European Green City Index, with a score of 87.31 out of 100. The city performs well in all eight categories of the index, and is ranked joint first in the environmental governance subcategory. Successive governments at both national and municipal level have strongly supported the promotion of sustainable development.

Copenhagen is at the top of the list as far as this index is concerned. Not only does support for sustainable development come from both national and local governments, Copenhagen also ranks real high for low C02 emissions, energy efficient buildings, and renewable energy.

This city also has an ambitious plan to be carbon neutral by 2025, and part of this initiative is carbon-neutral neighborhoods; a partnership between public as well as private agencies.

 

Stockholm

Stockholm is ranked second in the European Green City Index, with a score of 86.65 out of 100. The city does particularly well in the areas of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, buildings, transport, air quality and environmental governance. It shares a number of characteristics with its Nordic neighbours, Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki (all of which rank highly in the index); these include a plentiful supply of water, a lack of heavy industry and a long tradition of policies aimed at protecting the environment.”

Stockholm is second only to Copenhagen as far as the index is concerned. As the quote above points out, this city does quote well for low CO2, and transportation. In fact 75% of the city’s public transport runs on renewable energy. Some of the buildings in Stockholm are some of the most energy efficient in the world.

Oslo

Oslo is ranked third overall in the European Green City Index, with a score of 83.98 out of 100. It is also the best-performing city in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, largely because of the use of hydroelectricity to power rail-based public transport.”

Olso takes the cake for having low CO2 emissions, in addition to the city getting nearly 70% if it’s energy from renewable sources. Strong environmental policies from the city council have noticeable affects on sustainability.

Helsinki

Helsinki ranks in seventh place in the European Green City Index, with a score of 79.29 out of 100. Helsinki is ranked fourth among the Nordic cities, largely because of its relatively high carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and energy consumption, even though the city is a leader in energy efficiency. “

Helsinki, while scoring lower than other Nordic cities, still rounds out the top ten. While it puts out more CO2 than the others and has more work to do in terms of energy, Helinski ranks real high in energy efficient as well as environmental governance.

As always, there is a lot more information to be found out there, but for now I want to move to the Drawdown section of this piece. I have talked a lot about renewables energy, and energy efficiency, and clean transportation. You might be wondering what exactly those kind of ideas look like.

Well, let’s explore that too.

Drawdown

Now comes the part where we get into the real nitty gritty of how to create sustainable cities. There are countless numbers of interconnected solutions presented by Drawdown, and as per usual I encourage you to visit the site yourself because there is no way I am going to be able to cover them all.

This is because cities are really complex, and the specifics on the ground will vary from city to city; based on needs and on environment. We also need to be honest about cities, in that in many ways they are resource pits. As was pointed out earlier in this article, cities use the bulk of energy on the planet. They also require constant supplies from concrete, to metals, to food, and countless others resources besides. Over half of our population lives in cities, and that requires constant inputs.

That means there are countless of different ways to create sustainable cities, and that this can and needs to happen on every scale of society. From individuals up to the international level, our cities are deeply interconnected with each other and with their environment. The only way to truly create sustainable cities is in a holistic and systemic fashion.

Materials

As has already been pointed out, cities are resource pits. You need wood, steel, glass, concrete, and other materials for building. You need (currently) fossil fuels to power transportation and industries, as well as to just keep the lights on. Plastics, electronics, and on and on and on. The resource requires are immense, and so sustainable cities starts with using sustainable materials.

Alternative Cement and Bioplastics  would be a great start. The current processes we use for both requires huge amounts of energy during processing as well as fossil fuels as raw materials. Long string polymers for biodegradable plastics are found in natures, such as cellulose and chitins. More than that, we should design productions for a circular lifecycle, instead of for the dump. If we build our products and buildings to last, and then to be recycled or bidegraded at the end of life, we would be off to a good start.

Recycling is an obvious step as well. At the individual , industrial, as well as materials such as paper, recycling is a vital part of the process. Comprehensive municipal recycling programs are an integral part of the sustainability equation, as well as designing products to be recycled in the first place.

One of the large factors in energy use and emission is heating and cooling, and the includes refrigerant management. In fact, managing refrigerants it the number one solution according to Drawdown, and will help to keep almost 90 gigatons of CO2 out of the air.

Buildings and Cities

Building scale solutions are vitally important to creating sustainable cities, and there is plenty of diverse ways to retrofit and redesign cities of the future. Some of the more impactful solutions include energy efficiency and heat management. This includes solutions such as insulation and LED lightings for both households and commercialentities.

Other solutions will go a long way including green roofs (which can grow food too), and solar water systems, and building automation too.

Much of the green construction applies to new buildings, but cities are not made of just new buildings. Many cities have been around for hundreds of years, and have many old buildings and historic districts. That is which retrofitting is so important for old buildings.

That said, imagine new construction being a mosaic of many of the different solutions present here. New buildings could be net-zero buildings, buildings that create as much energy as they use. An entire city could be constructed of buildings like this, and combined with urban farming and forestry, it is possible to envision a city that meets most of its energy and food requirements in a self-sufficient manner.

Some solutions are bigger than any one building, and need to be implemented across several buildings, communities and neighborhoods. These include things such as water and heating infrastructure, as well as transportation.

One of most impactful solutions is district heatingseveral buildings have their heating and cooling needs met by a central facility, cutting down on the need for distributed heating systems and the energy inefficiencies that result. Copenhagen is a global model for DHC’s sytems, as it now meets 98% of its heating requirements with the world’s largest system.

Water distribution is very energy intensive, and efficiency here can reduce not only the monetary costs, but the energy costs as well. Huge amounts of electricity are wasted pumping water through leaking systems or outdated infrastructure.

Our current economic system is incredibly wasteful, so inevitably a lot of what we use ends up in landfills. A sustainable city will have to get rid, to the best of its ability, such waste. A lot of reductions can be found in designing products to be durable, reusable, and easily recyclable at the end of life. Following all the solutions of Drawdown, landfill waste should reduce from the change in diets, waste reduction, and comprehensive recycling and composting programs. Some more waste can turned into energy from waste-to-energy plants (rememeber, this is a regrets solution), but some will still reach the landfill. Landfill methane extraction can help to recapture some lost energy, and turn it into energy for limited use.

Transportation

Cities require the movement of people and materials in an out of the city, and as such transportation is an important aspect to creating a sustainable city.

The most obvious solutions are those that reduce the demand for inner-city transportation in the first place, such as walkable and bikable infrastructure. It can help too if some of those bikes are electric, as it is one of the most environmental forms of motorized transport on the planet.

Yet, it has to be said that biking or walking isn’t always the ideal form of transporation. If greater distances are involved, sometimes cars and trains are a better option. If a lot of cargo is involved, trucks, trains and ships come into play. This implies a radical need to redesign our transportation systems. Shorter distances between extraction and production can go a long way, as can localizing everything we can, be it food or manufacturing. But not every city is built on a iron mine, or near a stone quarry, so sometimes that transportation has to happen.

Therefore, the most impact we can have is by implementing forms of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles now means I am mostly talking about passenger cars, but in the future it will need to include all vehicles from cars to ships, and charged on a renewable grid. All of these options are being developed.

Other important solutions for cities includes the electrification and expansion of mass transit, as this keeps unneeded vehicles off the road. This solutions includes both buses as well as subways and passenger trains.

For connecting cities together, especially in the US, one of our best options is high speed rail, as it is fully electric and can help connect cities together across long distances.

Most of our heavy shipping relies on trucks, trains, and ships. In the short term, we need to be doing everything we can to increase efficient fuel use on these vehicles, from greater fuel efficiency, to aerodynamics, to hybrid fuel systems. In the long term these methods would be fully electric as well, in some form or another. A lot of work is being done here, and several companies have already ordered Tesla electric trucks for their fleets. It’s a step in the right direction.

For long distance travel, planes obviously come into play. There are savings and efficiencies to be gained here, and in the long term we can only imagine what the next generation aircraft may well look like. It is possible that future aircraft may be fully electric as well.

Future Solutions

It would not be fair to end this post without some consideration of what is on the horizon. I want you to imagine, just for a second, a city created from living buildingsPicture a city build of buildings that create their own energy, their own food, and are built from sustainable materials such as wood. These are fully self-sufficient buildings that recycle water, collect rain water, create their own solar and renewable energy, and grow their own food. What would a city built of these kind of structures look like?

We don’t have to imagine, because some examples are already being built.

More than that, we could have cities built of sustainable materials, powered by renewable energy, and driven by electrified transportation. Our electric grid is considered to be one of the most complex and intergrated machine on the planet. Imagine for a second if it were a smart gridthat could help manage and balance demand and energy use across the network. Aside from the grid, electric (autonomous) transporation could also be running on smart highways.

Think about it.

Thanks for reading!

(From Plug In Magazine)

Sources/References;

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/buildings-and-cities

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/transport

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/materials

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/cities/

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/09/these-are-the-world-s-most-sustainable-cities/

https://www.arcadis.com/media/0/6/6/%7B06687980-3179-47AD-89FD-F6AFA76EBB73%7DSustainable%20Cities%20Index%202016%20Global%20Web.pdf

https://www.arcadis.com/en/global/our-perspectives/sustainable-cities-index-2016/

https://www.hel.fi/static/ymk/esitteet/nordic-catalogue-060612.pdf

https://www.siemens.com/entry/cc/features/greencityindex_international/all/en/pdf/report_en.pdf

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/shaping-a-living-world-part-7/

https://www.siemens.com/entry/cc/features/greencityindex_international/all/en/pdf/gci_report_summary.pdf


Shaping a Living World: Part 7

It is important for each individual, community, and nation to take stock of what that means for the betterment of the whole. Technical solutions can never move forward without political will, and the necessary political will requires a shift in our most deeply held values, in our very definitions of what it means to be human, and in how humanity relates to the world. We recognize this shift as a spiritual imperative. “ A Pagan Statement on the Environment

Hello again folks!

I have been very busy with the holidays, but I am trying my best to keep up regular blog posts. However, with other projects waiting in the wings I have had to prioritize the writing I am going to get done this year. Frankly, I’m just not going to be able to get to everything I want to before I go into “manuscript mode” towards the end of the year. There is a much larger project fighting me for mental space.

As such, I have decided that my next two posts will be about Renewable Energy and Sustainable Cities; which are UN Sustainable Development Goals number 7 and 11 respectively. These two goals are really close to my heart, and I want to get them out as soon as I can. I want to, and plan to, write about all the other SDG’s as well, but they will have to go onto the back burner around the end of the year. I will have to come back to them in the new year.

So let’s jump right in. Today I want to talk about renewable energy, and the role it will need to play in creating a sustainable world. The fact of the matter is that most of our energy generation technologies are dirty, and rely on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, as NASA points out, are one of the largest contributors to atmospheric carbon dioxide:

On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities has increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.” (NASA

The above quote highlights some of the many human causes of climate change, and yes climate change is the result of human activitiesAt this point, we don’t have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand (or up some unspecified orifice).

Fossil fuels are used in everything from our power systems to our transportation systems, to our materials such as plastics. Fossil fuels are ubiqitous throughout our entire society, and for the the sake of the planet as well as the future of our civilizations we need to be transitioning away from a fossil fuel economy. And we need to be doing it now.

More than that, it is is possible. We have the means and technology to make this transition today. What we lack is resources (public, private, and otherwise) and political will. These changes are waiting for us to embrace them, and time is of the essence.

In fact, as the World Economic Forum points out, world wide fossil fuel use could end as early as 2050. Not only could we end fossil fuel use, but we could transform the vast majority of our energy systems to renewable and sustainable sources.

As the WEF points out;

The study, by the Solutions Project, aims to completely remove reliance on fossil fuels by switching all energy use to renewable sources.

It claims doing so would deliver the Paris Climate Change Agreement target of keeping global warming to below 1.5C.

It could also help avert the 4.6 million deaths that are connected to air pollution each year.”

(Image from The Solutions Project)

2050 is 33 years away. At most a generation or two. I could live to see that world, and it will be the world our children and grandchildren will inherit. We must do our best to make sure that world is the best for them. Greener, cleaner, renewable, and more sustainable.

If you have the time, be sure to also check this video where Mark Jacobson explains how that transition could happen.

Now, I think the scale and benefits of the task ahead of us is pretty clear, so I don’t feel any need to harp on that further. As such, let’s turn to the see what the SDG’s point to as targets for this goal.

Sustainable Development Goals 

By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services”

This one is pretty straight forward, and basically involves further developing our energy infrastructure, especially in areas of the Global South that are often undeserved or don’t have access to reliable energy sources at all.

By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.”

I honestly wish this target had stronger verbiage. While I think it is important to ratchet up our efforts, it is pretty clear in many cases that we can and need to be doing a lot more. We need a better vision, more investment, and more boots on the ground doing the actual work. It is not enough to “increase substantially” the share of renewables, no. We need to be pushing for a full transition.

By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology

This target speaks most strongly to my last point about the need for increased investment. At every level we can, from the individual to the international, we need to be freeing up the resources to make the transition to renewables possible. That is everything from research and development of new technologies, as well as greater efficiency, and infrastructure. Science and engineering requires funding, labor and materials. We need to make that more available than we do now.

By 2030, expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States, and land-locked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programmes of support”

If you build it, sustainability will come. This is pretty straight forward and blends nicely into the previous points I have already made.

All told, on top of investment and resources, we need to be creating a policy environment that allows renewables to thrive. As the quote at the beginning of this piece points out, all the technology in the world isn’t any use if we don’t have the policies to enable it. Rooftop solar and micro-wind doesn’t help us at all if cities don’t allow residents to put them up. The most efficient wind turbines and solar farms can never be built if we keep subsidizing fossil fuels and continue to make it difficult to invest in those projects.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the policies of social democracy that help to create a fertile culture for renewable energy.

Social Democracy

As Wikipedia points out, there are a lot of things that could impede our transition to renewable energy systems;

  • Climate change denial
  • Efforts to impede renewable energy by the fossil fuel industry
  • Political paralysis
  • Unsustainable consumption of energy and resources
  • Path dependencies and outdated infrastructure
  • Financial and governance constraints

This should sound real familiar to those of use living in the US. As such, we have to wonder what we can do better. As is the regular habit of this series, we look to Northern Europe for some guidance.

First off, let’s just take a peek at what the World Economic Forum had to say about the countries that are closest to 100% renewable energy:

“According to the Solutions Project study, published in the journal Joule, the countries closest to 100% renewable energy are: Tajikistan (76%), Paraguay (58.9%), Norway (35.8%), Sweden (20.7%), Costa Rica (19.1%), Switzerland (19%), Georgia (18.7%), Montenegro (18.4%), and Iceland (17.3%).” (WEF

I want you to notice that of nine countries listed, three of them are Nordic. Norway is by far the closest, but at under 40% still has a long way to go. The WEF also put Norway, Sweden and Denmark in the top ten (behind on Switzerland) on their Worlds Top Energy Peformer’s List.

The US by contrast was given a score of 52 out of the 127 countries surveyed. There is plenty of room for improvement there.

So what are some of the things the Nordic countries are doing right? For that we are going to look at the Nordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities;

You might be wondering why a focus on cities instead of the countries as a whole? First, because the cities represented are primarily capital cities, and so are quite representative of the countries as a whole. Second, because by focusing on specific cities, we can talk about specific solutions as opposed to generalities. These will become more important as we get to the Drawdown section of this article. Third, cities can serve as models to other cities across the globe. While policies and cultures vary quite a bit between nations and boundaries, most cities have the capacity to implement these solutions in their own way. More than nations, cities are the real heart of civilization. This will also serve as a good transition into my future piece on Sustainable Cities.

Some of the details here presented represent 8 different Nordic cities; Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki, Manehamm, Nuuk, Torsavn, and Reykjavik. I will only be detailing small excerpts here, so I encourage you to look at the source yourself for more details.

I will be focusing my attention on just four of the cities, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Helsinki.

(From Nordic Solutions)

Copenhagen, Denmark

540,000 population. Targeting being carbon neutral by 2025.

Stockholm, Sweden

861,000 population. Targeting being fossil fuel free by 2050.

Olso, Norway

615,000 population. 50% reduction in C02 by 2030.

Helsinki, Finland

588,000 population. 20% carbon reduction by 2020.

But as the source points out; there are some very specific things each of these cities are doing, often in cooperation with one another and other levels of government.

Traditional, centralised generation of energy is often inefficient, wasting 60% or more of fuel – in particular, the generation of electrical power using fossil fuels or nuclear simultaneously produces large quantities of heat energy that, with nowhere to go, is discarded. “

How have the Nordic cities tackled this problem?

In response, over the last 100 years, the Nordic cities have championed decentralised, district energy networks; systems that can generate energy at fairly large scales, but close to where the demand is…”

There are so many different things that each of the cities are doing, so please I encourage you to peruse the source cited. It is full of case studies on many of the cities, and these are important models that US cities can certainly be replicating. But it goes well beyond technological solutions and even political well. As the Nordic Solutions points out;

City governments and technology are important when it comes to addressing the challenges facing cities in the 21st century. However, ultimately it is the way that individual people and companies act that dictates resource demands, consumption patterns and our impact on the natural surroundings. To truly address the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and population growth, human behaviour must change. Acting sustainably must become ‘normal’.”

But, don’t despair for the US. There are ideas out there on how to fully convert our power grid to a renewables. Be sure to check out the great infographics from National Geographic for the US here and even for the whole world here

I don’t want to belabor this point any more than I have too, because there is quite a bit more to say on specific solutions as presented by Drawdown, many of which are in place or in development in many in the Nordic cities.

So let’s explore those in more depth, shall we?

Drawdown

(Image From Drawdown)

Now, there is quite a bit in this section from Drawdown, so I absolutely encourage you to check out the website, or better yet buy the book. The image above does a great job showing how these solutions are all integrated, and how they interact with many other areas including city infrastructure and with the environment.

As a whole, the implementation costs for these solutions is $5 trillion dollars. That kind of price tag exceeds the capacities of any one city or even any one nation. It is only through cooperation and collaboration at all levels that we can hope to implement these solutions.

If we do so, Drawdown estimates that these solutions will remove 246 gigatons from the atmosphere, and we will save almost $21 trillion in operating costs in the long run. The point is, we need investment and political will. These solutions will help protect the environment, build a sustainable, as well as benefit the economy by more then paying for themselves in the long run.

Due to the fact that there are so many different ways we can build a sustainable and renewable energy future, I am going to be limiting myself the best I can. Mostly because of space reasons, but also because the website already exists for all of this, and it is easier for me to point you there.

Seriously, check out Drawdown’s Energy Solutions if you have not already!

Without further ado;

Electrical Generation

Wind Energy – I’m going to be talking about most of the solutions as blocs, for space reasons. This bloc is scalable; ranging from Micro-wind at the individual level to large scale facilities both Onshore and Offshore. 

Heck, it can even includes floating wind farms like those that just came online in Scotland. With all the open ocean and even lake space (looking at you Michigan), floating wind and solar projects could certainly open up many possibilities for a renewable future.

Onshore wind turbines alone have a huge mitigation impact, as they come in at the #2 solution for climate change according to Drawdown. For the energy sector as as while, onshore turbines will help avoid 35% of C02 emissions from 2020 – 2050.

Wind by far has the largest impact as a bloc of the energy sector, and it needs support, investment, and elbow grease from everyone.

Solar Energy

Solar energy is also a really diverse bloc of solutions that are immediately scaleable. On the individual level there is Rooftop Solar, which can be installed everywhere from households, to skyscrapers, to parking lot covers. At larger scales there is great potential with PV Solar Farms as well as Concentrated Solar Plants 

While not as impactful as wind energy, Solar Farms can help mitigate up to 15% of C02 emissions and also are the #8 solution according to Drawdown. Rooftop Solar adds another 10%, with Concentrated Solar adding another 5% mitigation to the mix.


Geothermal Energy

Geothermal is admittedly a small part of this mix, but for a truly renewable and sustainable future we will have to implement a diverse plurality of sources. Most certainly wind and solar, but also techniques such as geothermal as well. Drawdown ranks this as #18 out of 100 solutions, and Iceland can certainly be a model for how to do geothermal.

Water Energy

Nearly 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, and the energy available from this resource is immense, if we can learn to tap it in a way that is sustainable and economical. Obviously, water power brings to mind the big hydropower plants, which have certainly been a mixed blessing from an environmental standpoint. But it can also include much smaller scale operations such as In-Stream Hydropower as well as Wave and Tidal Energy.

Like geothermal these solutions will make up a smaller percentage of the mix. But they cannot be discounted, and Drawdown ranks Wave and Tidal as the #29 solution, and In Stream Hydro as #48.

Transitional Technologies

All of these solutions take time and resources to implement. Construction takes time, as does convincing politicians it is a good idea. As such, it is practical impossible to whole stop our fossil-fuel based energy system overnight and wake up in a renewable future tomorrow. That means we will need to transition away from fossil fuels by decommissioning older fossil fuel sources and building new renewable infrastructure simultaneously. The sooner and more aggressively we can do this the better in my opinion, and the better for a future as well.

That being said, there will be many “transition” solutions that we will need to bridge that gap without catastrophically interrupting energy systems. Some of these solutions include things like ethanol and other biofuels, as well as hybrid vehicles. However, it also includes things like Nuclear, Biomass Energy, and Waste To Energy Waste To Energy.

Many people push nuclear as the “best” method for the future, but that kind of reasoning has a lot of flaws. While nuclear fission plants can create a lot of energy, they are also very expensive and can create toxic wastes. While Drawdown ranks nuclear as the #20 solution, it also predicts its use will decline over time and considers nuclear to be a “regrets” solution. The more we rely on nuclear, the more we will come to regret doing so.

The same is true of waste to energy. In an ideal sustainable world, less waste would be produced to being with, and the rest would be recycled, composted or reused somehow. However, that is not our reality at the moment, and waste to energy is one way that is being utilized. It is a dirty process that relies on incineration, and Drawdown also considers this one a “regrets” solution. The less we use Waste-to-energy, the better.

Enabling Technologies

Now, electrical sources such as wind and solar are rightly criticized for their intermittent nature. This can certainly be partially mitigated by more localized construction, as well as a diversity of sources. However, those ideas can only go so far, and in order to truly implement renewable energy we will also have to reshape and rethink how we handle energy storage and transmission.

Part of this will involve decentralizing many energy storages system, not only on the individual or local level but also at utility scale. This will involve the creation of advanced battery storage systems at many different levels. That will allow us to mitigate the sometimes volatile nature of wind and solar sources.

It will also involve making our energy grid for more flexible, as our current grid is designed for utility scale centralized energy production. Renewables such as solar and wind have specific siting requirements (sunny or windy areas), and also benefit from being as local as possible to where the energy produced is consumed. More than this, our grids will need to be further localized and decentralized, such as is the case with Microgrids

Future Technologies

We have the technology we need to create a sustainable future right now, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to research and develop new energy solutions. As Drawdown points out, there are some potentials on the horizon that may be worth our time exploring.

The first in regards to Drawdown is nuclear fusionwhich uses the same process as the sun to make energy out of light atoms. Unlike modern nuclear fission, which relies on breaking down of heavy elements (such as uranium) to create energy, fusion combines light elements such as hydrogen in order to create energy. However, it must be said that this has been an expensive technology to develop, and so far remains unproven. If humanity does figure out a process for fusion, it could revolutionize our energy future with abundant clean energy. Though for the time being, collecting the energy of the sun is probably more economical.

Another really promising technology is Solid State Wave EnergyOne of the big problems in utilizing wave and tidal energy has been cost efficiency and the fact that like wind turbines, water based systems require moving parts and need to be able to handle ocean and water stresses. This has proven to be very cost prohibitive in tapping the some 80,000 terawatt hours of energy that might be available to us in the ocean.

To get around the problem of moving parts, a company in Seattle is trying to develop Solid State Wave Energy, which does not rely on moving parts. Given the raw amount of energy capacity available, Solid State is may well help us unlock the untapped energy potential of the ocean.

Even without future prospects on the table, the fact of the matter is that we have the capacity and the technology to build a renewable and sustainable infrastructure for the planet TODAY. What we need is political will and financial resources made available. This has to be a collective effort, from individuals, to nations, to international partnerships.

I will be about 65 years old in 2050, and a great gift to the future would be a renewable powered world. I could see this world even…

The question is not CAN we, but WILL we?

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/energy/

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/electricity-generation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100%25_renewable_energy#Places_with_around_100.25_renewable_electricity

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/09/countries-100-renewable-energy-by-2050/

https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/renewables/100-percent-renewable-energy-for-139-countries-by-2050

https://www.hel.fi/static/ymk/esitteet/nordic-catalogue-060612.pdf

https://www.sierraclub.org/ready-for-100/commitments

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/03/these-are-the-worlds-top-10-energy-performers/

http://www.cell.com/joule/pdf/S2542-4351(17)30012-0.pdf

http://ecopagan.com/

https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/

http://fortune.com/2017/07/10/climate-change-green-house-gases/

https://insideclimatenews.org/news/10072017/fossil-fuel-companies-responsible-global-emissions-cdp-report

https://youtu.be/UiBMklgawDA

http://thesolutionsproject.org/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kUE0BZtTRc

https://www.iea.org/etp2017/summary/

https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/climate-change/carbon-free-power-grid/index.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/climate-change/carbon-free-world/index.html


Some Thoughts on the Long Descent

Because of a dear friend, I now have a copy of the Long Descent by John Michael Greer. I have finished up my first read through, but I want to spend some more time with this book and really chew my way through it. Nom nom nom.

Overall, I want to say that is a very good book. It is obvious that plenty of research and thought went into the shaping of this book. While I have found plenty that I agree with, I also found plenty that I want to quibble with. Or at very least, record a few thoughts on the matter before I dig deeper.

Premise 1 Peak Oil; There is so much to say here, so really in so many ways I am only going to scratch the surface here. Basically, due to the fact’s of the Hubbert Curve, and the work of many subsequent scholars, it is a fact that sooner or later we will run into peak oil. Peak oil, being the point at which the overall production of oil ceases to continue to grow. After that, there will be an ever diminishing amount of oil that we can pump from the ground. Estimates, both within the book and without, put this peak somewhere between the 1990’s and early 2000’s. It is not clear whether or not we have hit this peak or not yet. Estimates vary widely, mostly because estimating how much oil is left in the ground is not an exact science. These days, most estimate are between the year 2000 and the year 2030, give or take.

As such, while whether or not we have hit peak oil is up for some debate, the fact is that sooner or later we will be up against that reality. And, as our civilization is based on the premise of cheap and abundant fossils fuels, and decline in one is a decline in the other.

Premise 2 The Decline of Civilization; The fact is that no civilization can grow infinitely. As I have written on this blog before, there are limits to growth. The Long Descent reaffirms this fact, primarily in the area that our production and dependence on oil and fossil fuels cannot continue indefinitely. Plain and simply, you cannot have infinite growth when faced with finite resources. This is both the problem with an oil dependent civilization, and a general problem of capitalism in general. Once peak oil begins to set in, and oil production starts to stagnate and eventually decrease, an oil dependent civilization will have to diminish and start to contract as well.

I think this much is pretty on the mark, as premise one follows pretty neatly from two. The way I see things, we are at the end of an age. We cannot base our current model of civilization on petroleum, or any fossils fuels, going into the future. Such a model is unsustainable. If we have already passed peak oil, the future of our civilization will be one of non-existence. However, as Greer points out, it will not be a sudden apocalypse, but a long, slow, decline.

It is no secret that I studied archaeology and anthropology in school, and this has given me a solid foundation to understand these things. Let’s be honest, the whole field of archaeology is based upon the idea that peoples and civilizations of the past are not around any more, and that we can understand them by what they left behind. There is a great deal of precedent for the rise and fall of civilizations, and I do not have the space to talk about it all here. I have heard from many people that we are already in a state of decline. I cannot say I agree with them wholesale, but there are signs to be sure. Our infrastructure is crumbling, and its seems like the maintenance on many things are going by the wayside. Now, I cannot say whether this is a normal oscillation, or some harbinger of things to come. It is hard for me as a single person to say. Greer points out several civilizations that have fell in the past. However, it needs to be said that even a healthy civilization will have periods of growth and contraction. The history of a civilization is not a bell curve, even a stepped one of slight recovery and further decline as Greer details in the book.

This is not a denial however, and nor should it be taken as such. Sooner or later we will have to deal with some measure of decline, and such a decline would be spanned over human lifetimes. Most of us really wouldn’t notice.

Premise 3 Replacing Oil is more costly than viable; Greer throughout the book provide a good general overview of many of the so called “alternative” energies. Many of which fail the net energy test, that is they take more energy to produce than they create. He first takes on other fossil fuels, natural gas, coal, and other finite resources such as uranium. I am generally in agreement here, that these cannot solve the problems caused by the decline in oil production. At best they are temporary bandaids, even though coal is by far the most abundant of the fossil fuels, as Greer rightly points out, it is limited and very dirty. In addition, none of these are as efficient as oil in terms of energy output.

Naturally, his discussion moves towards other alternatives, such as solar, wind and biofuels. This is the part where I start to quibble a little bit. In my opinion Greer spends far too little space in the book weighing the merits of these alternatives. In addition, this is also where the book starts to show a little bit of its age. While it is generally true that ever the most “efficient” alternatives do not have the same energy yield as oil, I think Greer misses the mark a little when it comes to dismisses these options as not enough.

The Long Descent was published in 2008, and the alternative fuel industries have made huge innovations in regards to efficiency. PV cells and solar plants produce quite a bit more energy now than they did even a year ago. Wind turbines have followed the same course. And, one area where I think Greer really falls short is his focus on ethanol production from corn alone. Even wood waste has a higher yield of ethanol than corn, and in fact corn is one of the least efficient ways of producing ethanol. While I agree it is true that ethanol does not have as high energy yield as oil or gasoline, it is one of the few viable options to keep our current modern combustion engines running, without having to convert our entire transportation sectors over to electricity, which is a better long term solution.

This is not to say that ethanol is the end all be all. There are certainly land use issues, and all kinds of problems of infrastructures. What I am really talking about here is what Greer mentions many time throughout the book, the ability to “cushion” any kind of decline.

Another criticism that Greer levels at renewable is the fact that they cost so much to mine, create and process. Whereas he says about oil, “…today the world gets most of its energy supply almost free of charge by drilling a hole in the ground and piping the results somewhere.” Pg 18. This is very incorrect, as there are huge invests in mining the metal to build wells and derricks, building the pipelines, as well as the refineries. “Light sweet crude” as Greer often calls it is hardly usable in its base form, and has to be piped, shipped, trained and trucked to refineries. Refineries for any one who has not seen one are typically MASSIVE in scale, scope, and resources intensive. In addition, the process of refining crude into say gasoline, is insanely energy intensive. Oil is hardly any less resource intensive than any process needed to create renewables. The difference of course is what Greer rightly points out, that oil yields more energy per unit, and secondly that it is much more profitable in our current economy.

Premise 4; The end of the oil age is a Predicament, not a Problem.

“Plenty of pundits and ordinary people alike insist that there must still be some constructive way out of the current situation. First in line are those that insist that replacing the rascals in power with some other set more to their liking would solve the problems facing industrial civilization. Next come those who argue that if the right technological fix gets put in place, business as usual can continue….” Pg 20. Greer goes on to highlight other manners of thinking such as more radical versions of “burn it all and build something better” and building some form of sustainable lifeboat communities to weather the coming storm.

The problem with all these lines of thought, Greer points out, is that they handle Peak Oil as a problem to be solved, not a predicament which has no solution. In other words, the realities of peak oil are inevitable, and something we will have to face and that there are no solutions. I am inclined to only partially agree. Not that I disagree with most of the points he has made so far. There are limits to the growth of any civilization. Our current civilization is built on the foundation of cheap, usable oil, and sooner or later that will run out. That is a severe limit to our growth, and nothing can grow indefinitely with a finite amount of resources available. However, I disagree that there is nothing we can really do about it. Climate Change is a predicament, but I don’t think peak oil is. It is more than a problem with a single solution to be sure, in fact it is a whole mess of complex intertwined problems. I agree generally with the ideological camps that Greer has laid out, but I think any solutions lie in some form of “all of the above”, and not in any individually posited solution.

A change in politics, a change in society, and a change in technology.

While it is true that none of the alternatives have quite the same net energy yield as oil, I do think there are viable alternatives and viable means to weather or “cushion” the effects of peak oil. Entire countries are on track to be mostly free of fossil fuels within a decade or two;

Sweden

Scotland

In addition, just this year many nations of the world signed on to the Paris Climate Agreements. While I have plenty of quibbles with the agreements, the fact is that they are historic and unprecedented in range and scope. And while they are primarily targeted towards limiting climate change, a big part of that is cutting emissions. I.E, reducing our use and dependence on fossil fuels.

Add to this that huge renewable projects are coming online, or pledging to do so;

Some of the largest cities;

The Largest Solar Plant

Solar Planes

Electric Cars

And this is just a taste…

Now let’s be realistic for a moment. None of these solutions individually will be enough. It will take a concentrated, holistic effort at every conceivable level, from the individual up through global. That is why I am cautiously optimistic about the Paris Agreements, because it implies that world leaders as well as individuals and local communities are aware of realities ahead, and have made the pledge to do something about it. That is huge in my opinion.

Premise 5; History and archaeology show how civilizations collapse;

I have plenty of quibbles here, and I am not going to detail them all here. Some of my points were made above, but one of my biggest problems with this section is two fold. First, Greer is pretty selective about the ancient civilizations he uses to make his case. While it is generally true that all civilizations from the past had vanished, the devil is really in the details. His book points to the Maya, the Roman Empire, Mycenae and Minoan Greece, as well as others to make his case for both the nature as well as the time frame for collapse. But this might be a case of making the evidence fit the theory. Once again, it is generally true that civilizations take human lifetimes to collapse. Centuries. However, it should be noted that no one civilization follows the exact course of another. For instance, the Egyptians did not collapse per se, but were absorbed into other conquering empires. Same too with the Aztecs, and many others that had the unfortunate fate of meeting with conquering powers. The point being that change is a constant when it comes to civilizations. They are constantly rising, falling, growing and contracting. They are also changing form, from empire to a diverse collections of smaller “civilizations”.

There is a great book by Wenke and Olsewski called “Patterns in Prehistory” that covers the archaeological data from many past societies. I think at least one passages from the Wenke/Olsewski is worth quoting;

“It would be gratifying if we could extract from our review of world prehistory some important predictions about the future of humankind, but, as we have noted, archaeology should not be considered a predictive science. It is not that we cannot look at the past and extrapolate trends we see into the future. It is that there is no necessity to these trends. Evolutionary histories are what happened, not what had to happen or what has to happen, and they are unique.” Pg 606

Which is a good segway into my next problem with some of Greer’s conclusions. Modern industrial, especially Western, civilizations really have not historic or archaeological precedent. No civilization from the past had such scale and scope as our increasingly globalized world. Even the colonizers from the Age of Exploration did not have the same access to technology and transportation that have come into being in the last century. They did not have the same level of integration. This is not to say our civilization is immune of course, but only unique in another way.

Admittedly, these are mostly fossil fuel driven, but the fact that we face peak oil does not make these technologies and developments obsolete. Quite the contrary, it may serve a a drive to adapt not only our technologies, but our societies as well. Even Wenke/Olsewski have this to add on this line of thought;

“While major droughts were likely an important the demise of the Classic Maya should be seen as a period when people began to restructure their society and culture to meet various challenges, such as failures of rulership, increasing populations, and warfare, as well as major droughts.” pg 515.

So, while peak oil may be a major challenge that lies ahead, the collapse of a complex society and civilization in turn has to have a complex set of causes, and no one factor can be pointed to as the root cause. More than the fact of peak oil, or even our dependency on it, it will be a full set of complex factors that will determine the success or failure of our society. So unlike what is claimed in Greer’s book, agricultural collapse was not the central cause of the collapse of the Classic Maya, but one factor in a “perfect storm” of factor’s that led to the disintegration of their society.

Conclusions; The Long Descent.

Warfare, ineffective leadership, increasing populations, and ecological decay, combined with the reality of peak oil, may well prove to be the “perfect storm” of factors that leads to what Greer calls the Long Descent. And it is difficult to deal with that reality without a certain sense of trepidation and anxiety, even it it will be our descendants, not ourselves, that will live through that reality.

And yet, one can agree, more or less, with the premises, and still find the conclusion wanting, or downright inaccurate. It could be considered a version of the fallacy of the White Raven.

Premise 1: This bird is white.

Premise 2: This bird is a raven.

Conclusion: Therefore, all ravens must be white.

The logic of the premises can be sound, and yet the conclusion is not. Now, I am not saying that is the case here. In general principal, I think the premises are sound, and the conclusion is not necessarily faulty. Peak oil is coming, civilizations collapse, and the coming of peak oil may have bad results for our industrial civilizations.

And as Greer concludes; therefore we must prepare for the long gradual descent that follows, so that we can build the next civilization.

This is not a bad conclusion given the premises, and certainly a possible future. However, this is where I diverge a little bit, because I think the next civilization is already waiting for us to embrace it. While I do think we will face a contraction in the future, especially once peak oil sets in, for all the lower net energy outputs that Greer says make renewable energies undesirable, as I pointed out earlier there are in fact entire nations within the Western sphere are near to achieving a nearly fossil fuel free status. Industrial nations. These are the kinds of models we need to be following, and we need to take steps, as Greer puts it, to “cushion” the fall, and minimize the chance of catabolic collapse.

Some of these, as is the case with the Maya, might be things like ending warfare and supporting effective leadership. Greer’s catabolic collapse is predicated on inadequate resources, especially for maintenance. Endless wars in the Middle East (some over oil) could certainly reroute necessary resources, as well as having leaders that can actually balance a budget. Living within our means, and all that.

As Greer says, in his chapter on the Myth of Progress and the Myth of Utopia (neither of which do I subscribe to. They are among the first to go studying anthropology, because so many of the field’s early thinkers were plagued and blinded by such narratives), that there are serious flaws with only having one (or a small selection) cultural narrative. So I ask, why should the Long Descent be the only cultural narrative we put our faith it? While it is founded on a good model and reasonable premises, it is not inevitable, nor is it the only option.

The thing that has often struck me as a science fiction writer, and practiced speculator, is that we are often if not always wrong with our predictions of the future. Even founded on good logic and modeling, the Long Descent may well turn out to be wrong. Dead, flat, and wrong in every way.

So while some of the prescriptions for enduring the Long Descent are solid, we should be building local communities, and practicing old crafts. We should be developing organic and local food productions, and sustainable communities as a whole. Those are all a good start, but not a final destination. Things like climate change are nothing short of global problems, and will need global solutions as well. Local solutions to global problems will not be enough. While our individual spheres of influence may be limited to the local, we need more than that. We need integrated communities, allied communities, as regional as well as global networks of interconnection. We need holistic solutions top-down and bottom-up. No one community, state, nation will be enough. We are all in this together, for better or worse.

Which is where I diverge. I do not see industrial society as a chief social ill, but it is still imperfect as all things thus far created by human hands. It may be dependent on oil, but that is something that we need to change. Our current technology makes ethanol a viable (however imperfect) transitional fuel, that we can use in flex fuel and hybrid vehicles to lower our demand of oil. As many countries are doing, we need to convert our energy production to renewables, and continue the decline of fossil fuel demand. During the same process, we can continue to convert our vehicles to full electric, making a clean energy and transportation infrastructure. This is not merely a technological solution, but one that requires a rework in social, cultural and political spheres as well. It should be said of course that there is no silver bullet, one single “one size fits all” solution. Some areas may have ethanol, others abundant solor and/or wind resources. A diversity of approaches, but a collective result.

The question is one of time.

Because let’s be frank, there may well be a period of decline ahead of us. Just like the British Empire before us, the time of the America Empire may be waning. That means we do face a period of contraction, but how far is an open question. If we follow Greer’s model, the Hubbert curve takes us right back to the 18/19th century.

But I for one am not quite ready to resign myself to that just yet. There is too much at stake, too much to loose that we as a species have worked so hard for. Not just science and technology, but literature, learning and law as well. Letting our society decay means things like civil rights and our human rights go out the window too. Also basic protections such as fire and police. Lawlessness is not something I find attractive. While these are certainly not perfect, I am not quite ready to throw away lives because of things like gender, skin color, or whether or not one has access to medication or guns.

In my defense of the big machines, as an animist, I think they are people of a different sort. Our cars and industrial tech are not simply tools or technologies, but helpers and allies as well. And they have the same unhealthy relationships with fossil fuels that we do. They need our help to adapt, and we need their help as well.

I think we should take some of Greer’s suggestions, even if I do not accept his conclusions wholesale. If his abstract model of slow decline (with periods of crisis and recovery) shows the future of our current civilization, then an inverse model of slow growth (with periods of faltering and regression) represents the next civilization, which is already in the works. As Greer himself pointed out, the oil crisis of the 70’s was met with an equal response of calls for renewables and sustainability, which regressed as oil supplies stabilized. When oil prices (and electrical costs with it) spiked a few years back, so did the number of people investing in household renewables or buying smaller cars.

It is logical to prepare for multiple options, so let’s take Greer’s suggestions and do what we can to prepare for the worst. But in the mean time, let’s keep pushing towards electric vehicles and industry, and putting up solar panels on our houses and connecting to the grid, and pushing for legislation that let’s us build a more sustainable society. Let’s keep building the large solar plants and wind farms, but  we can build these things on a household level as well and contribute our part, and the lights don’t have to go out when the oil stops.

A common metaphor for these times, found in Greer’s and Beckett’s writing, is that we are on a train headed towards the Long Descent. Those in charge keep calling for more speed, and we can see the tracks ahead leading down a long slope of decline. Following that track may be desirable for those in charge, or those that think a 19th century or medieval lifestyle might be fun.

But I would add to this metaphor that there is another track, parallel to ours, that leads off in another direction, over the river and through the woods. Those of us who look out the window can see there is a train on this track, though it is well behind us. It is the train to the next civilization, powered by more renewable energy and more sustainable communities. It is gaining speed and starting to close the gap, all the while those in charge of the current train throw more coal in the engine and oil on the tracks.

And I pray that the green train gets up to speed fast enough so I don’t have to go off the rails of this crazy train.

Sources, references;

Wenke/Olsewski “Patterns in Prehistory”

Greer, John Michael “The Long Descent”