Michael Dowd: Standing for the Future, Part 2

As a follow-up from last week’s post, I share with you Part 2 of Michael Dowd’s video series, “Standing for the Future.” You can view Part 1 here.  The text right above the video is just copied and pasted from Dowd’s website.

There are two quotes from this video that I found especially important and meaningful. First on The Importance of Personification.

The words ‘God’ and ‘evolution’ are both pointing to the same divine creative process. Both answer the question ‘How did we get here?’ One uses the mythic language of religion, the other uses the literal language of science.  Arguing whether it was God or evolution that created everything is like debating whether it’s Uncle Sam or the U.S. government that insists we pay taxes every year, or like quarreling over whether it was Gaia or plate tectonics that created the oceans and mountains. Such silly and largely unnecessary confusion will remain the norm until we get and celebrate what I think is the single most important scientific discovery about religion in the last 500 years: personification. – Michael Dowd

The second quote is in support of Michael Dowd’s conviction that Ecology is the new Theology

Every characteristic that we attribute to the divine derives from our experience of Nature. If we imagine God as beautiful, gracious, loving, awesome, powerful, majestic, or faithful, it is because we have known or experienced beauty, grace, love, awe, power, majesty, or trustworthiness in the world. – Michael Dowd

“If we lived on the moon and that’s all we and our ancestors had ever known, all of our concepts and experience of the divine would reflect the barrenness of the lunar landscape.” – Thomas Berry

Standing for the Future (2/3) — “Reality Is Lord: A Scientific View of God on a Rapidly Overheating Planet”

“We each have experienced times of trouble that threaten to overwhelm our individual lives. In such times, a vision of possibility is essential. The same holds for the punctuations in history when whole societies face troubles of an immense and uncharted variety. Truly, we have arrived at such a time. Humans, unwittingly, have become a planetary force. We are irreversibly changing the very climate of our world. Henceforth, any actions we take as individuals and societies will be done in the new light of climate change.

What vision will carry us forward through such times and inspire us to work together? How shall we frame the need to shed our business-as-usual outlook on life and take on a new vision of possibility that can unite us as a species in joyful self-sacrifice and service? What vision will charge us with a sense of heroic purpose that the future is, indeed, calling us to greatness?”

In the video above, Dowd includes some of the amazing examples of nature personified that have been created by Conservation International in collaboration with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, all available at the Nature is Speaking website, which emphases the point that nature doesn’t need people, but people need nature. Here is Kevin Spacey as the Rainforest:

 

 

Michael Dowd: Standing for the Future

Michael Dowd

The former pastor, Rev. Michael Dowd, is best known as the author of the best-selling book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. Dowd is a religious naturalist (“Religious naturalism (RN) combines a naturalist worldview with perceptions and values commonly associated with religions”), an eco-theologian and a pro-science evangelist. His passion for proclaiming a nature-honoring message of inspiration – what he calls “Right Relationship with Reality” – has earned him the title “Rev. Reality.”  Michael and his science writer and climate activist wife, Connie Barlow, have dedicated themselves to an itinerant life of permanent travel across North America, speaking out about our sacred responsibility to future generations.

According to their website, their core message is this: “What matters most now, individually and collectively, is to honor Grace Limits, and be a stand for the future, in word and deed.”

What does it mean to honor Grace Limits? Dowd considers Grace Limits to be “the inescapable, geological, ecological, and thermodynamic constraints to which humanity must rapidly adjust.”  He explains:

Both the nonrenewable (“stock”) resources and the renewable (“flow”) resources upon which we depend I call natural grace. The one-time endowments of stock resources and the sustainable use rates of flow resources are both necessarily constrained on a finite planet. These constraints I call grace limits. These are the limits that ecologists point to when discerning carrying capacity. When we overshoot Earth’s bounty and renewal capacities, we effectively remove ourselves from paradise and put ourselves on the path to hell. To learn to recognize and then scrupulously honor carrying capacity as Reality’s grace limits is a task to which the authors included [on his Grace Limits Audios page] are devoted. I think of these advocates as prophets of sacred realism, or factual faith. Each one, in his or her own way, reveals how the future is calling us to greatness. If we hope to spare our grandchildren from hell and spare ourselves their condemnation, we must now urgently attend to, not just personal piety, but systemic piety. We must immediately begin measuring ‘progress’ and ‘success’ in long-term, life-centered ways, rather than short-term, human-centered ways; nothing is more important than this.

Dowd’s Grace Limits Audios are an amazing resource. He’s spent innumerable hours recording in downloadable audio format the best work of a wide array of the most important sustainability and resilience authors – and all available for free download. Some of the authors represented include William R. Catton, Jr., John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, Thomas Berry, JoAnna Macy, Lynn Margulis, Samuel Alexander, Tom Wessells, Erik Lindberg, Walter Youngquist, Theo Kitchener, and more.  In addition to his own audio recordings of these works, he also provides a plethora of links to online information and presentations of others. A wealth of education is available here.

standing-for-the-future

Dowd’s own recent work is perhaps best summarized in a 5 page essay, Evidential Medicine for Our Collective Soul: What’s Inevitable? What’s Redemptive?,” published in “Oneing” (Aug. 2016, Vol 4 No. 2), the quarterly publication put out by Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation.  A 19 minute audio recording of this essay is also available.

In this essay, Dowd notes that a new “Evidential Reformation” is coming into being, where all forms of evidence are coming to be valued equally and religiously. This includes scientific, historic, cross-cultural, and experiential evidence and includes, as Pope Francis has declared, ecology becoming integral to theology. Faith leaders such as Pope Francis (Roman Catholic), Patriarch Bartholomew (Easter Orthodox), and the Dalai Lama (Tibetan Buddhist) are all at the forefront of this reformation that Rev. Dowd is calling “Religion 3.0.”

However, Dowd warns us that “the noble sentiments that spawned care for Creation are no match for the crises now spinning out of control.” He writes that “It is time for a prophetic turbo-charging of our religious traditions. Foremost is the need to expand beyond the self-focus of individual salvation of enlightenment to also include vital community concerns – notably, survival.”

In the section of the essay addressing “What’s Inevitable?,” Dowd outlines a series of predicaments.  Not problems that can be addressed and solved, but predicaments that we must live through and deal with – hence, what is inevitable. He discusses climate chaos, sea level rise, the end of the fossil fuel era, political unrest, toxic legacy, biodiversity catastrophe, cultural loss, and the unraveling of worldviews. He states that to stay relevant, religions will need to foster not only personal wholeness, but also social coherence and ecological integrity. Dowd prophetically calls us as individuals to “voluntarily sacrifice [our] own comfort and security in service of safeguarding cultural treasures through a dark age.” He invites us to embark on legacy projects that are meaningful to us:

“Love something, learn something, let something go, and pass something forward.”

In the next section on “What’s Redemptive?,” he advises that we can’t compensate for the ecological devastation that has already occurred, nor can we fully reverse the ongoing effects of past behavior. He calls us, as a prodigal species, to come home to reality and set a new course.  “If we treat primary reality as anything other than primary, there will be consequences.”

To realign with Reality means that we must redefine “progress,” and learn that the success of any species depends upon learning to thrive within the limits of carrying capacity of the ecological system that we inhabit. He writes:

It is time to integrate carrying capacity into our theologies. Toward this end, I now speak of “grace limits.” The bounds that delimit safe levels of human use of other creatures and their habitats are there by natural grace. By staying within those bounds, we experience the grace of God’s nature. To venture beyond – which we have done, excessively – we suffer “God’s wrath” via storms, drought, floods, wildfires, rising and acidifying oceans, and in a great dying.

The call to action for religious adherents is this: to first learn about, then reflect upon, and finally evolve our worldviews. Henceforth, the unbending grace limits of God’s nature, combined with carrying capacity deficits inflicted by a century of human overpopulation and extravagant consumption (i.e. “overshoot”) will constrain even our noblest aims and thus the bounds of our efforts.

Dowd concludes the essay with his own ‘top ten’ list: “Reality’s Rules: Ten Commandments to Avoid Extinction and Redeem Humanity.” These are what he considers to be “the limitations on our behavior essential for human communities to persist over the long term,” or the “constraints that our species must now impose on itself while navigating crises of our own creation.” The first five commandments help to disabuse us of an unreal notion of God, and the last five offer a way back into a right relationship with primary reality. The “commandments” are framed in traditional religious language:

“Thus sayeth the Lord”

  1. Stop thinking of me as anything less than the voice of undeniable and inescapable reality.
  2. Stop thinking of ‘revelation’ or ‘divine instruction’ without including evidence.
  3. Stop thinking of Genesis, or your creation story, apart from the history of the universe.
  4. Stop thinking of theology apart from ecology: the interdisciplinary study of my nature.
  5. Stop defining and measuring ‘progress’ in short-term, human-centered ways.
  6. Stop allowing the free or subsidized polluting of the commons.
  7. Stop using renewable resources faster than they can be replenished.
  8. Stop using non-renewable resources in ways that harm or rob future generations.
  9. Stop exploring for coal, oil, and natural gas—keep most of it in the ground.
  10. Stop prioritizing the wants of the wealthy over the needs of the poor.

* * *

 A 17 minute video is available that sums up the message of the above essay: “Ten Commandments to Avoid Extinction: Reality’s Rules.”

A full and expanded presentation of the ideas presented in the essay is also available as a 3-part video series.  I highly recommend this. I feel it is well worth the investment of time.  Part 1 is below, and runs for 55 minutes.  Standing for the Future (Part 1 of 3): “Evidential Reformation: Facts as Scripture; Ecology as Theology”

Michael and Connie are currently engaged in a speaking tour in the northwest U.S., with upcoming vists to Edmonds, Whidbey Island, Seattle, Orcas Island, and Bellingham, WA, in January 2017.  Check out their itinerary here. Our Transition Whatcom event listing is here – Jan. 22nd (Sunday morning) and Jan. 23rd (Monday evening), both at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship.

 

Chaos, Havoc, and The American Abyss

“If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst.” – Thomas Hardy

In the final days before the 2016 American presidential election the pundits were out in force, engaged in collective hand-wringing.  Glancing through lists of commentaries and op-eds, here are some of the titles:

Don’t Trust the Future to President Havoc, America and the Abyss, An Order of Chaos, Please, Venomous 2016 Race Slithers to a Finish, Who Broke Politics?, Democracy’s Majesty and 2016’s Indignity, Final Days – Awful Choice, Europe on Pins and Needles, The First 100 Horrific Days of a Trump Presidency, America’s Descent into Banana Republican-ism, An Election is Not a Suicide Mission, Liberals Cried Wolf about Bush and Romney and We Were Wrong – Fascist Trump is Different, and The Post-Truth Presidency.

How did it come to this? And where are we headed after the election?

Many have speculated on the reasons for the current crisis in American politics, and surely there are many facets that have played a part, and there are many angles to cover.  Richard Heinberg’s recent analysis (An Order of Chaos, Please) covers much of the same ground  I was intending to cover here, and serves as a good introduction.  He begins by disabusing us of the notion that things will return to normal once the election cycle has concluded. He then shares the somewhat conventional wisdom that many Americans these days, formerly of the middle class, do not have things as well as their parents did. The “wage class” has declined in both income and political power, thanks in part to globalization and other forces. Backs are up against the wall, and people are ready for change. The same-old, same-old doesn’t cut it.

collapse

Heinberg then takes it a step further, telling us that “American civilization was destined to unravel anyway.” He mentions Joseph Tainter’s work, “The Collapse of Complex Societies,”  and offers the sobering analysis that “social pressures from unsustainable debt levels, increasing inequality, and rampant corruption” are the new normal, thanks to “deeper infrastructural issues having to do with resource depletion, pollution (in the form of climate change), and the essential unsustainability of economic growth.” The current election cycle is merely the prelude to an unfolding spectacle of America’s fabric coming apart.

Heinberg eloquently sums up the depressing scenario that seems all too likely:

“The government of the United States of America has developed increasing numbers of tics, limps, and embarrassing cognitive lapses during the past ten or 15 years, but it has managed to go on with the show. Yet as dysfunction snowballs, a maintenance crisis becomes inevitable at some point. When the crunch comes (most likely as a result of the next cyclical economic downturn, which is already overdue and could be much worse than that of 2008), we will reap the fruits of a system that is simply no longer capable of acting cooperatively to solve problems.”

“…The nightmare of the election itself will end soon.  But we may not like what we wake up to.”

Indeed. We are now being forced to wake up today to a Trump presidency and a divided country.

There is another writer who had a perspective that I have found to be unique, timely, and insightful. His name is Peter Pogany.  One of his last major papers, written in 2013 (Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order) before he passed in 2014, was about havoc, chaos, and the abyss, and it was turned into a book published in 2015: Havoc, Thy Name is 21st Century.

Havoc

As dismal as his short term outlook was, Pogany wasn’t all doom and gloom. Like Michael Dowd, Pogany was a short term pessimist, but a long term optimist (Dowd calls himself an “apocaloptimist,” listen to his interview discussing with Terry Patten The New Ten Commandments and the Coming Apocaloptimism here).

Pogany was an economist who saw that “a stagnating economy is civil discontent waiting to happen – especially at a time when government spending must be curbed.” Our current world economy is structured so that it requires continued growth at unsustainable rates just to maintain our standard of living.  We’ve hit the wall, and the wage class around the world is responding – Brexit and President-elect Donald Trump are two corresponding results. According to Pogany, the world is in the beginning phase of a “nonlinear macrohistoric episode” – a chaotic transition, which he saw as a necessity to precipitate a crisis of consciousness that would eventually lead to the wide-spread “integral a-rational” consciousness structure, as based on the thinking of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser

“What will it take to go from considering tightened modes of multilateral governance a monstrous dystopia to people around the world on their knees begging for a planetary Magna Carta that is more detailed, focused and enforceable than the United Nations Charter of 1945? It will take nothing less than a mutation in consciousness, as outlined by the Swiss thinker, Jean Gebser (1905-1973). But a mutation of the implied magnitude amounts to nothing less than a break with centuries of ingrained habits, values, and expectations. It is simply inconceivable without the hard fate of macrohistoric turmoil.”

Darkness must come before a new dawn. It is Pogany’s work that we’ll continue to discuss in more detail in posts to come. An overview of his work can be found on our Peter Pogany page. Many of his older essays are archived at Resilience.org here.

Read Part 2 of this series here: Consciousness and the New World Order

In Praise of Peter Paul Pogany, an Integral Economist

I’ve just completed a new page on my website dedicated to promoting the work of Peter Pogany, which you can find here, and I’d like to use this post as a way of alerting everyone to this new page, and to provide a brief summary of what you’ll find there.

Peter Paul Pogany (1936-2014) was born in Budapest, Hungary, and later moved to the U.S. to continue his education and begin his career. He worked as an Economist for the U.S. International Trade Commission (where he contributed to many high-profile U.S. government studies on foreign economic issues), and was an Adjunct Professor at George Washington University.

My impression is that it may have been after his retirement that he felt free to more deeply explore and begin writing, relating his expertise in economics to thermodynamics, history, philosophy, and other big picture ideas.

It is my belief that Pogany’s work is essential for anyone wanting to grasp the implications of integral economics, of which I’ll be writing more about in the future.

In 2006 Pogany’s major work was published: Rethinking the World, “the result of several years of full-time, independent, transdisciplinary research.”Rethinking the World

In Rethinking the World, Pogany delved deep into his understanding of history as a thermodynamic process.

From the  blurb about Pogany’s book:

“The still expanding human biomass and mindlessly pursued economic expansion are straining against the planet’s physical limits. Oil! Energy! Ecology! Growing vulnerabilities in hyperlinked national economies! The transformation of the current global system, “mixed economy/weak multilateralism,” into a radically new one, “two-level economy/strong multilateralism,” looks like the only way to avoid drifting toward extinction…

His 2006 book does not once mention Jean Gebser, but from 2009 to 2013, Pogany wrote a number of insightful articles and essays relating ideas from Gebser’s magnum opus, The Ever-Present Origin, to the predicament the world is now facing, and the ways in which Gebser’s ideas about stages of consciousness, especially the yet to come stage of the integral structure of consciousness (a universal “intensified awareness”), support Pogany’s own program of New Historical Materialism.  Many of these essays were prepared for presentation to the International Gebser Society at their annual conference.

HavocSadly, Peter Pogany passed away on May 25, 2014. His final book, Havoc, Thy Name is Twenty-First Century! Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order was published posthumously in 2015.  This work is a slight alteration and expansion of a paper published in 2013 (see below).

Here is the blurb for this book:

“Just to maintain our standard of living, we need to grow the worldwide economy at an unsustainable rate.

As we seek to hit such lofty targets, we’re bound to deplete our resources and cause environmental crises on a scale that we have never seen before. Revolutions, terrorism, and wars will follow.

Peter Pogany examines the problems we face and argues that human culture is governed by thermodynamic cycles of steady states interrupted by chaotic transitions. Specifically, he postulates that a steady state was interrupted by World War I, with a chaotic transition following World War II, which has led us to the current world order.

His theory predicts that global society is drifting toward a new form of self-organization that will recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion – but only after we go through a new chaotic transition that will start sometime between now and the 2030s.

Havoc, They Name is Twenty-First Century, delivers sobering thoughts on where the world is headed, but it also offers a glimpse of a bright future that we can embrace once we get through the darkness to come.”

With the two books above, and the essays linked below, you’ll obtain a good understanding of Peter Pogany’s ideas, which I believe are unique, timely, insightful, important, broadly considered, and with wide application. Even better if you can read this material alongside Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin, and other works and ideas presented on this website (see here and here).

Below are a list of important essays and longer papers that I would like to highlight. Check the Pogany Page if you’d like to see descriptive summaries for each essay. 

Presentations to the International Gebser Society Conference:

“Fifth Structure” – emergence in economics: Observations through the thermodynamic lens of world history (presented October 2009) [Download pdf]

New scientific evidence confirms Gebser’s concerns about technological overreach (presented October 2010) [Download pdf]

Gebser’s relevance to the global crisis (presented October 2011) [Download pdf]

Reprinted as chapter 6 in “Filling the Credibility Gap” edited by Algis Mickunas and John Murphy

An Aperspectival Opinion on the Future of “Smart Money” (presented October 2012) [Download pdf]

Tributaries to Gebser’s Social Thought (presented October 2013) [Download pdf]

  • Longer Papers at Munich Personal RePEc Archive (MPRA):

What’s Wrong with the World? Rationality! A Critique of Economic Anthropology in the Spirit of Jean Gebser (2010)
[Available here: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/27221/]

Value and Utility in a Historical Perspective (2012)
[Available here: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/43477/]

Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order (2013)
[Available here: http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/49924/]

[This is the paper that the book Havoc, Thy Name is Twenty-First Century! is based upon.]

Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent

Integral Leadership ReviewIntegral Leadership Review (ILR) has published the paper I presented to the recent Integral Theory Conference 2015, “Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent” in their August-November 2015 issue.

Also in this issue is Tim Winton’s reflections on the conference that is worth reading: “A Note on the Field: Thoughts on Integral Leadership Post ITC 2015.”

Jeremy Johnson also did a great job as the official conference blogger. Some of you might be able to identify me in the first photo on this page (Jeremy and Tim were two of my five suite-mates, which also included Chris Dierkes, Gaby McDonald, and Trevor Malkinson).

 

ILR headingILR Patterns for Navigating Intro

Abstract

This paper considers current concerns about resource depletion (“energy descent”) and the unsustainability of current economic structures, which may indicate we are entering a new era signaled by the end of growth. Using the systems thinking tool of PatternDynamics™, developed by Tim Winton, this paper seeks to integrate multiple natural patterns in order to effectively impact these pressing challenges. Some of the Patterns considered include Energy, Transformity, Power, Pulse, Growth, and the polarities of Expansion/Contraction and Order/Chaos.

We tend to have horrible visions associated with downturns and “collapse.” Can we even entertain the possibility that we might be entering a period of decline in energy and standard of living?  Can we re-examine our assumptions about “growth” and “development”? Jean Gebser’s emphasis that every mutation of structure is preceded by a crisis is considered and Howard T. Odum’s ideas about energy as the basis of man and nature informs the discussion. Edgar Morin’s dialogic Method of active inquiry in regards to the interplay of polarities assists in our understanding and response to the complex challenges we face.

Read the paper here.

About ILR, from their website:

Integral Leadership Review – the world’s premier publication of integrated approaches to leading and leadership.

Integral Leadership Review is a bridging publication that links authors and readers across cultures around the world. It serves leaders, professionals and academics engaged in the practice, development and theory of leadership. It bridges multiple perspectives by drawing on integral, transdisciplinary, complexity and developmental frameworks. These bridges are intended to assist all who read the Integral Leadership Review to develop and implement comprehensive shifts in strategies by providing lessons from experience, insights, and tools all can use in addressing the challenges facing the world.

Creative Navigation of Energy Descent: Opportunities for Spiritual and Social Transformation

This blog has been quiet for a little while, as I’ve been busy trying to do some non-blog writing.

I’ve been invited to present a paper at the upcoming Integral Theory Conference in the San Francisco Bay area (July 17-19, ITC), so I’ve been working away at that paper for a while. For a sneak peak on the topic I’ll be presenting on there, check out my presentation in Bellingham, WA on May 21 (see below).  At the conference I get 20 minutes to present.  Here, speaking at the local Bellingham outpost of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (BIONS), I get 1 1/2 hours.
The original title I proposed for my paper was “Patterns for Navigating Transitions in a Descending Energy World.” I’m using the systems thinking tool of PatternDynamics(TM) to address the issue of what David Holmgren calls “Energy Descent,” i.e energy depletion, or “peak oil” – and its association with the idea of limits to growth. And its relationship to integral theory.  The paper has turned out to be a bigger project than originally envisioned, and will likely become a multi-part project.
The blurb for my presentation in Bellingham on May 21, 2015 is below.  For a good introduction to the Integral Theory Conference, check out Jeremy Johnson’s post on The Unthinkable Present.

May 2015 Event

CREATIVE NAVIGATION of ENERGY DESCENT:

Opportunities for Spiritual & Social Transformation

David MacLeod

We will explore the world in crisis and chaos as an opportunity for social and spiritual transformation as we form stronger connections to the earth’s natural patterns and to each other.

This presentation will consider appropriate responses to current concerns about resource depletion, climate change, and the unsustainability of current economic structures; all of which are leading some to argue that we are entering a new era signaled by the end of economic growth and declining fossil fuel energy.

We tend to have horrible visions associated with downturns and “collapse.” Can we even entertain the possibility that we might be entering a period of decline in energy and standard of living?  Can we redefine “growth” to refer to our human potential rather than to our GDP? Perhaps we can learn to expand our consciousness and increase cooperative behaviors as we ride the wave down the peak oil curve.

This presentation will be supported by a new systems thinking tool called PatternDynamics™. Inspired by Permaculture’s emphasis on natural patterns and principles, PatternDynamics combines the patterns of nature with the power of language. The result is a tool which helps us understand and communicate ways of supporting resilience. We will learn some of the dynamic patterns that could assist us in creatively navigating our way through an energy descending world.

David_MacLeodDAVID MACLEOD is a member of the PatternDynamics™ Community of Practice and is committed to community resilience as a co-initiator of Transition Whatcom. He was named an “Environmental Hero” by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, and appointed to a city and county Energy Resource Scarcity/Peak Oil Task Force. He has contributed articles to Resilience.org, Integral Leadership Review, and Beams & Struts. David has been invited to present an academic paper on the topic of tonight’s discussion at the Integral Theory Conference this July in the San Francisco Bay area. David holds a BMus degree from Western Washington University, a Level II (b) accreditation in PatternDynamics™, and a Permaculture Design Certificate. He blogs at https://integralpermaculture.wordpress.com/.

This month’s event is co-sponsored by Transition Whatcom! http://transitionwhatcom.ning.com/

THURSDAY, MAY 21ST

7-9PM (Doors open at 6:30)

Fairhaven Branch Bellingham Library

Fireside Room (Under Steps)         

$5-10 Donation   (No one will be turned away)

Visit the BIONS Facebook page where you can also list your programs and get updates on BIONS events.  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bellingham-Institute-of-Noetic-Sciences-Community/343430979582

IONS Websitenoetic.org
All views presented are not necessarily those of IONS or of the BIONS Team.

 

Richard Heinberg on “Our Renewable Future”

Today I would like to bring your attention to a recent essay by Richard Heinberg that has been received to high acclaim over at the Resilience.org. Resilience is a website operated by the Post Carbon Institute, for which Heinberg is a senior analyst. Heinberg has been writing about energy for 12 years, and is the author of books such as Cloning the Buddha: The Moral Impact of Biotechnology; The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies; Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World; Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines; Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis; The End of Growth: Adapting to our New Economic Reality.

In his latest essay, Our Renewable Future, Heinberg demonstrates that he is what I would call an energy realist. He does not demonize the fossil fuel industry, but he clearly lays out the formidable challenges we face as the climate crisis worsens and as easy access to these fuels continues to recede.  Nor does he communicate as would a lobbyist for the renewable energy industry, hyping the benefits and downplaying the problems in this field.

Instead, Heinberg approaches the problems from multiple perspectives and honestly conveys his own biases, and encourages us to broaden our thinking:

I consider myself a renewable energy advocate: after all, I work for an organization called Post Carbon Institute. I have no interest in discouraging the energy transition—quite the contrary. But I’ve concluded that many of us, like Koningstein and Fork, have been asking the wrong questions of renewables. We’ve been demanding that they continue to power a growth-based consumer economy that is inherently unsustainable for a variety of reasons (the most obvious one being that we live on a small planet with finite resources). The fact that renewables can’t do that shouldn’t actually be surprising.

What are the right questions? The first, already noted, is: What kind of society can up-to-date renewable energy sources power? The second, which is just as important: How do we go about becoming that sort of society?

As we’ll see, once we begin to frame the picture this way, it turns out to be anything but bleak.

I believe this to be an extremely important essay, and the embedded links provide even more depth, providing a great resource for essential 21st century energy literacy.

– David

Our Renewable Future

Or, What I’ve Learned in 12 Years Writing about Energy

(7000 words, about 25 minutes reading time)

Folks who pay attention to energy and climate issues are regularly treated to two competing depictions of society’s energy options.* On one hand, the fossil fuel industry claims that its products deliver unique economic benefits, and that giving up coal, oil, and natural gas in favor of renewable energy sources like solar and wind will entail sacrifice and suffering (this gives a flavor of their argument). Saving the climate may not be worth the trouble, they say, unless we can find affordable ways to capture and sequester carbon as we continue burning fossil fuels.

On the other hand, at least some renewable energy proponents tell us there is plenty of wind and sun, the fuel is free, and the only thing standing between us and a climate-protected world of plentiful, sustainable, “green” energy, jobs, and economic growth is the political clout of the coal, oil, and gas industries (here is a taste of that line of thought).

Which message is right? Will our energy future be fueled by fossils (with or without carbon capture technology), or powered by abundant, renewable wind and sunlight? Does the truth lie somewhere between these extremes—that is, does an “all of the above” energy future await us? Or is our energy destiny located in a Terra Incognita that neither fossil fuel promoters nor renewable energy advocates talk much about? As maddening as it may be, the latter conclusion may be the one best supported by the facts.

If that uncharted land had a motto, it might be, “How we use energy is as important as how we get it.”…

Read the full essay here.