Author Archives: peakfuture

Climate Wannsee

1920px-Haus_der_Wannsee-Konferenz_02-2014.jpg

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wannsee_Conference#/media/File:Haus_der_Wannsee-Konferenz_02-2014.jpg, A. Savin, CC BY-SA 3.0

Watching the movie Conspiracy, and always ruminating on what our descendants might think of us (yes, it is a theme here on this blog); has anyone thought of the realities of climate change, knowing full well what the models are, wholeheartedly believing in their veracity, and made big decisions that completely fly in the face of what should be done?

We have to be a bit careful here; the science of climate change is still science, and nobody knows the future for certain.  The folks at the Wannsee Conference knew full well what they were doing, and the actions they were taking (and the methods they were using) were fully known to them, and already being utilized at a smaller scale.  Had they not acted, millions might not have died in such an industrial fashion.   The movie dramatization of the original Wannsee Conference was chilling; no blood was spilled, no gas chambers and images of concentration camps were trotted out to scare you.  What was the darkest part of the movie was how even-keeled all the participants generally were, and as much as they might have argued over details, they came to a conclusion without any vehement opposition. Heydrich is portrayed as a man whose heart breaks at Schubert, runs the meeting with polite overtures, and smiles as he plans genocide.  One infuriating part of that calm, quick, and yet horrific planning meeting was that only a few participants were brought to justice.  For example, Eichmann didn’t see justice until Israel captured him and brought him to Jerusalem for trial.   Many survived the war, faded into the background, and continued to live.

Will we have a climate version of the Wannsee Conference moment, or has it possibly already happened?  Will some mid or high-level bureaucrats meet, and say to themselves “Yes, we absolutely feel that climate change is real, is happening and will be very bad, but we will do this other thing, and accelerate this process to expedite another ideal or project?”

The analogy may be a bit weak; planning the direct killing of millions of innocents via concrete, direct human action is a cold-blooded and horrific thing.   Deciding to continue to extract fossil fuels, even when many think they must remain in the ground might be considered madness, but even those planning might have rational (or rationalized) points for their decisions, and think that it is a survivable thing, or that in spite of some “rough patches”, things will work out.   It might not be considered genocide directly, but if sea levels rise, droughts become more frequent, and weather systems wreak havoc and cause millions to suffer, the net effect could be the same.

There are those who truly and absolutely think man-made climate change is an illusion, and that humanity who has no real influence over what is going on.   For them, decisions to burn more fossil fuels may make sense from their perspective.  However, if you feel the climate data and science is real, and you are one that makes big decisions that fly in the face of this data, how much blame be placed on you by your descendants; how harshly should those decision makers be judged?   Climate change will affect us all, of course, but some may be affected a lot more, and a lot sooner than others.  Climate change doesn’t single out one ethnic or religious group; it affects us all.

Some may pull in the classic tropes of a secret or semi-secret group of folks who meet and control the world.   Some claim that Exxon knew about climate change as much as forty years ago, but the models and projections of forty years ago (as claimed in the article) may have been just been scientists being cautious.  There is a comprehensive article on this, but Wikipedia may not be the best reference on any controversial topic and there may be biases (it’s all enough to make your head spin).

What sort of smoking gun would it take to have a clear and unambiguous signal that someone up the food chain knew fairly well what would happen, and deliberately made policy in direct contradiction to their understanding?   In the fictional movie Twilight’s Last Gleaming, for example, a damning secret report on the Vietnam War (we went to war to prove to the Russians we would continue to fight, even if we were to lose) was the predicating factor for the action of the movie.   Will we ever see the minutes of a climate Wannsee, showing a deliberate and cold decision to put some other goal above that of mitigating what could be the greatest disaster to ever befall us?   Conversely (and very much playing devil’s advocate here), is there are converse, where climate change (manmade or not) has been trumped up to further another goal?

If there is a glimmer of hope, it must be said that there are large and well-funded organizations (such as the US military) who have already noted that climate change is a serious problem (not exactly a group of left-wing treehuggers).  Climate change is seen as a threat, and the US military plans for a wide variety of possible scenarios.   Groups that see a reality of climate change, and work against mitigating it may exist; will this pit the bureaucracy of the US military against that of whatever group flies in the face of this?  If the military sees a threat, they can plan on countering it directly via reaction, or via preemption.  Will preemption ever become, as they say, “kinetic”?

As always, there are many questions.

 

 

 

 

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You can’t make this stuff up

Amblyomma_americanum_tick.jpg
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amblyomma_americanum#/media/File:Amblyomma_americanum_tick.jpg ; in the public domain.

As the old quip goes, “Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense.”  Last year, with the picture of a tick, the post “The Troubled Northeast,” was put up,  bringing up the tick/disease problem that might exist in what some might think was the ‘safer and saner’ region of the country.

It took a while for me to be clued in, but as reported here, here, and here, it seems that again, truth is stranger than fiction – there are tick bites that can lead you to become allergic to meat and dairy.   A pretty quick and brutal way to become vegetarian/vegan, but one wonders if the Gaia Hypothesis has a bit of truth to it.  Some of the best ways to reduce your carbon foot print are to have few children, and stop eating meat.  With human male sperm counts dropping, we are two for two.

Questions:

  • What else can the Earth/Gaia do to us?  As Saint George Carlin has stated, “The Earth’s going to get rid of us like a bad case of fleas.”
  • Saint George, in the same clip,  even mentioned other diseases.  We seem to have a handle on that particular issue nowadays, but dropping sperm counts and allergies to meat might have more of an impact.   Is it long before something comes along to make transcontinental and transoceanic airline travel dangerous/allergy inducing and/or impossible?  Will Cthulhu develop a taste for Boeing and Airbus aluminum?

 

 

 

Long term planners, Part 4

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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_College%2C_Oxford#/media/File:New_College_Oxford_Coat_Of_Arms_(Motto).svg (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A while back, a three part bit on long term planners was written.  A bit fanciful, vampires, royal families, and long lived individuals were all tossed around as ways to get us back on track (or at least hitting a wall) with some much needed long term planning.

This weekend, while discussing this with a few folks, a tangential question was put forward – how did we lose the long-term planning meme in society, or how did it get so edged out by short-term thinking?   For sure, long-term planning by societies has been done in the past.  Some prime examples:

Some may cite your own 401K as evidence of long term planning, but this may not really qualify, for two reasons.  For one, the 401K, although useful to some, has only been around for a few decades.  The second, is that the growth of one’s 401K might be predicated on a growth mechanism rooted in the stock market, and the emergence of corporations in the 19th century – and one that ironically may be implicated in the lack of long term planning.

The theory that was put forward was that when corporations came on the scene, (especially when it became enshrined in law to report things on a quarterly basis), companies tended to focus on just that – quarterly, rather than quarter century results.  As a predictable result, companies (and especially, the people up the food chain) didn’t care, so long as the stock price kept going up, no matter what the long term consequences.

Questions:

  • Do you think this theory makes sense?
  • Did the existence of fossil fuels cause a foreshortening of time scales, as ‘apparent’ payback periods on any particular project become shorter?
  • Family owned and private businesses seem to be better run, because they don’t have to worry about quarterly reports.  However, they might suffer other effects, such as kids getting “soft” and used to a cushy lifestyle.   Is this possibly another way forward, in solving the short-term thinking epidemic?
  • Will a stock market crash cause short term thinking to die out?  Or will so many people be scrambling for resources, that we may become even more short sighted?

 

 

 

If you have the energy…

 

Petroleum_field_at_Moreni.jpg

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Petroleum_field_at_Moreni.jpg, Public Domain (commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Template:PD-1923)

Yesterday, JHK wrote an article titled “What It’s All About: Coercion.”  A link to the semi-annual Munk debates was given.  Early on in the talk,  one of the speakers, Jordan Peterson, said the following, “our societies are freer and functioning more effectively than any other societies anywhere else in the world and that any other societies ever have.”

My initial response to the article was to ask who could counter Jordan Peterson’s worldview (without namecalling and vitriol), and how such ideas came to be in the first place.  I also wrote, anticipating the kind of arguments that might be made:

“Off the top of my head, one possible reason is that in the sixties, in the era of (apparently) limitless energy and ‘anything is possible’, these ideas were allowed to flourish. Who cared if they were right or wrong; they were just ‘ideas’, and they had no (apparently) adverse effects. Of course, when resources get tight, you can’t screw around, so ideas that cause bad resource management/non-optimal decisions to be made start to be problematic.”

My original thought was thinking that the left might have been enabled by cheap energy, but from Jordan Peterson’s remarks, this might apply to the right as well.

One commenter gave a link to ContraPoints, and I watched a bit.  I was lucky to find a bit on What’s Wrong With Capitalism (Part II), and in it, the complaint I have about Peter Singer (millennials, become hedge fund managers, and donate your wealth!) was echoed.  From what I saw and heard, it was nice to find someone putting together a well produced and relatively non-ranty/non-predictable tack on the world.   Major points for stating “I could be wrong,” which is a mark of someone honest about their worldview.

Deep down under all the back and forth, which was perhaps tangentially mentioned in a What’s Wrong With Capitalism, is that much of the worldviews that both sides have set out may be invisibly predicated on our cheap and very much temporary fossil fuel bonanza (a comment was made on a post-scarcity economy but this wasn’t expounded upon).   The right may think that all of wealth that was created was due to individual brilliance, drive, and capitalism; the left may say that people can be whoever they want to be, because we have the capability to do so.  Both may claim that individuals can do what they want to do (in different ways), but a good deal of this can only be allowed when there are enough resources to do so.

There’s a lot to digest in the Munk debate, but the best bits seem to be given by Stephen Fry.   He was very level headed, and brought up many good elements, but this bit by Bertrand Russell (also mentioned by ContraPoints, in the ‘we could be wrong’ statement) sums up a lot about how we might think about these topics:

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

Stephen Fry, like Ben Shapiro, also mentioned ‘decency’ as something missing from our discourse.   That, for me, is another element absent from a good deal of the discussion, and perhaps something to take up in a later post.  It, of course, is subject to debate (what is decency, anyway?).

Questions:

  • If cheap energy has allowed these right and left ideologies to flourish (or at least become possible), what happens when they are gone?
  • Is freedom dependent on cheap energy? Or does cheap energy allow surveillance and coercion (as well as advertising) to happen more readily?
  • Will decency go when cheap energy goes?
  • Who else should we look to for rational discussion of these topics?
  • Is there a middle ground in all of this?  Should there be?  Is there a ‘third way’?

 

 

 

Killing the planet, one flight at a time

airplanes.png

From commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Airplane-logo.png, in public domain.

A recent Rolling Stone article just blew my mind:

Up in the Air: Meet the Man Who Flies Around the World for Free

People are smart enough to find a way (or ways) to “beat the system;” that is understood.  But not one word in the article mentions fossil fuels, resources, carbon dioxide, or pollution.  This isn’t even going from point A to point B with even a smidgen of a decent reason, other than to enjoy the “comforts” of first class air travel.  A search on “carbon+per+airline+mile+vs+car+traveled” will give you a range of answers about the efficiency of cars vs planes, but this isn’t even using the travel for a good or useful purpose.

A long time ago, people might go for a Sunday drive, or go cruising along the boulevard ala American Graffiti.  But those days are long gone, and we should all know better.

Questions:

  • What surprises you more, that this kind of thing happens, or that the writers didn’t ask the people they were interviewing about pollution/carbon/greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Have you met people that are completely clueless about climate change, and their impact on it?  “No snowflake thinks it is responsible for the avalanche.”

 

 

 

 

What to tell/teach the elders

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commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Birth_Rates.svg

Last week, the question of talking to young people was brought up.  Young people have more energy, but generally, not a lot of resources to make things happen.   In the more-likely- than-not converging catastrophe future, whatever scarce resources that remain will need to be used wisely.  The folks that own and/or control these resources are generally the elders.  Of course, what you define as elders may depend on how old you are (we’d perhaps all like to think we are still young, to some degree?).

If you think teaching youngsters is hard, how about teaching one’s elders?!   For those born earlier than 1960 or so (especially in the US – the Baby Boomers),  life has been essentially a rocket ride up.  Lavish retirement benefits, rising markets, and a few other factors have made folks from that cohort a bit used to progress, and getting rid of that worldview is a very hard thing.  For anyone to recognize that we are in trouble is one thing, but it is another to recognize it late in life, especially when you’ve seen your world on a steadily upward trajectory.

Questions:

  • How do you talk to your parents about the coming mess?
  • Have you ever heard an elder state, without a hint of guilt, when talking about any dark clouds ahead, “Well, I’ll be dead by then…”?
  • Do you think they can change their worldview and act accordingly (downsizing, stop flying around the world for vacations, step out of the consumer buying frenzy)?
  • Are you not above bringing up the grandkids, and their world?

 

 

 

What to tell/teach the children?

One-room_schoolhouse,_Route_141,_Pound,_Wisconsin_LOC_23537979148.jpg

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:One-room_schoolhouse,_Route_141,_Pound,_Wisconsin_LOC_23537979148.jpg

Last week, we had high school student at my office, doing a “job shadow”, to see what life was like in the “real world” of engineering.  They toured our office and lab, sat in on an overly long meeting, saw some of our test equipment, did some basic data acquisition by hand with a bit of spreadsheet data crunching, and had individual meetings with a few folks in my office, including yours truly.   They luckily didn’t bring out their smart phone, but from what I understand, that was at least something they told them before they showed up.  All in all, they got a good quick overview of what engineers do, and all the logistical stuff that goes along with running a business.

When sitting down with the student in our one-on-one, I said at some point, words to the effect of, “Sorry for leaving the world in bad shape; you are going to have a rough ride.”  Now, that might have taken them by surprise (this was to be a simple job shadow), but we do have to start having these discussions with young people.   It is one thing for their parents or teachers to harp on them about doing well in school, but occasionally, they do need to hear to voices of folks outside of the mainstream, and those who can see a bit further down the road, to the resource limited, pollution amplified, likely overcrowded world they will inhabit.

As noted in the post before last week’s,  The Green Pill, there were some books that were in my parent’s library that got me thinking about The Future, but nothing was mentioned at the dinner table about a different world that I might inhabit.   Getting a college degree and working for a big firm for twenty or more plus years seemed like a distinct possibility many years ago, but things changed.   The price of a college degree has gone up wildly with respect to the CPI, and so that advice might not be the best you can give.   Even advice about getting a good civil service job might not look too good, given the pension crisis of a few municipalities.  Likewise, joining the military has a few drawbacks of its own.

There are risks everywhere, to every decision, but there must be good, common bits of knowledge that you can give.

Questions:

  • What do you tell the children/young people about the upcoming world?
  • What books, movies, or other things can give them a realistic snapshot of things to come?
  • What do you wish you had been told earlier on in your life/career?  Do you think it would have mattered, given that many young people ignore the advice of their elders?
  • As noted many times before regarding this darker world view, “We could be wrong,”; what counter-arguments and resources would you give to a young person to have them prepare for the possible everything-is-going-to-be-great world?
  • What other advice would you give?