In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

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New decade thoughts

We’re just two weeks into a new year and a new decade. I’m not about to regale you with all my new year resolutions, because I have none. The change of a number on the calendar doesn’t make me any more likely to make successful changes in my life. In fact, I hold the very thought in disfavour because if you see the need for a change, you should make the change rather than wait for the end of the year to do it. Why wait?

What has me thinking is not the change of the last digit of the year, but the second last. The 2010s have given way to the 2020s. What’s coming?

I’ve been thinking a lot about climate change. I was going to tell you what I think will happen if we continue along the road of lip service to the changes we need to make, and also what will happen if we get down to business and make the changes we really need to make. But frankly, there’s no need to lay out two scenarios because we’re not going to get down to business. Individuals feel inertia in their habits, and the more people you consider, the larger the inertia gets. This is before even considering that our current way of doing things is very profitable to many people. As a result, they’re actively putting the brake on changes. As a result, change is slow.

With our foot-dragging, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. I’m not sure, but the rate of increase may be increasing as well. The weather is growing more severe, climate is changing, seas are rising. The pleasant inter-ice-age climate in which we developed civilization will soon be over. There will be fewer comfortable places to live and less arable land. Less arable land means less food. Wars will break out over food and water, squandering the precious resources remaining.

A century from now, things will be very different than today. I just can’t decide how different. Either civilization will regress, leaving behind the highest technology we enjoy today, or civilization will completely collapse. Either way, population will drop significantly. I’d suggest the worldwide population will drop by half, with large cities being the most affected. Whether this is a best-case, or a mid-way between the extremes, I can’t decide.

By 2250, I would be absolutely stunned if the world population is significantly greater than 20% of what it is today. And it won’t get better from there. Unless we discover an easy and energy-efficient way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in a deep-time durable form, there won’t be any coming back from this new normal any time soon … and ‘soon’ is geologically speaking. It’ll take millions of years for natural processes to bring the carbon dioxide levels down. The question is whether we can develop the technology to do it ourselves before we lose the technical and manufacturing means to put it into action in a meaningful way.

I would suggest that biggest impediment to taking action today is the average adult’s inertia. Things seem okay so people go about their business. Although most people are in favour of reducing their nation’s carbon footprint, they are not so enthusiastic when confronted with the bill. I really think a few things have to happen before people change. In no particular order, everyone over 40 has to age and die. People currently younger than 40 have far more skin in the game and were therefore more willing to make a greater sacrifice. Also things have to get worse. To my amazement, there are still deniers out there. All but the most hard-core will come around when things get much worse and there’s no denying the truth. At that time, the tide will carry those hard-core, regardless.

It’s our habits and what we consider problematic. No one I know would think of not recycling. At the same time however, most people I know don’t consider the carbon dioxide created by a trip via aircraft. This has to change and it won’t while the older among us are still around. I do wonder how much it will change as you young age, however. When I was very young, the first energy crisis struck. We all learned to turn lights off when we weren’t in the room. A small thing, to be sure, but the young don’t worry about even this any more. And by young, I mean anyone under 30.

I’m thinking things will have to get much worse, far past the point of no return (if we’re not there already) for people to change their habits.

So severe climate change is coming. In my mind, there’s only one question. Will it damage civilization and set technology back a few centuries? Or it destroy civilization and set technology back a millennia or two? Either way, a lot of people are going to die and everything is going to be a hell of a mess for a very long time to come.

Food for thought

The success of the modern food industry lies in its ability not just to provide us with hitherto unimaginable quantities of food, but to deliver it in good, or at least edible, condition. Most of it doesn’t taste as nice as it might have done straight out of the ground, but since most of us rarely eat really fresh food, we’ve forgotten what it’s supposed to taste like anyway.

Carolyn Steel, Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives, 2008

Good news and bad news about Niagara Falls

I read an article a few days ago titled, “American Side of Niagara Falls Will Likely Be Completely Dry Within Three Years“1. That sounds like some bad news! An environmental catastrophe in the great lakes perhaps? The good news is it’s just journalistic sensationalism. The New York State Parks System needs to replace two bridges to Goat Island and two of the three proposed plans require that all the water heading for the American Falls be redirected to the Canadian Falls, leaving the American Falls entirely dry. The plan that doesn’t require stopping the water has already been deemed too expensive and is unlikely to be selected.

You may recall that I posted briefly about how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “dewatered” the American Falls in 1969. They were studying the erosion on the Falls and wanted to determine if all the rock rubble at the base of the falls should be removed. They decided to leave it as it is.

If things go according to plan, sometime in the next three years, the American Falls will again go dry while the bridges are replaced. I’ll be there, camera in hand!


  1. American Side of Niagara Falls Will Likely Be Completely Dry Within Three Years,” Epoch Times, retrieved on 2016-01-24.

Make up your mind!

According to the CBC News article, “Hike water prices to stop waste: expert,”

The former UN climate chief who has advocated putting a price on carbon emissions says water also should carry an appropriate cost.

In a world where supplies of fresh water are shrinking, countries, companies and individuals should be aware of the value of water, Yvo de Boer told a water seminar in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday.

It’s logical and reasonable. There is a problem, however. In 2002, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognized water as a human right. Surely it would be wrong to use market pressure on something they’ve deemed a fundamental human right. Right?

This is yet another reason I think it was ridiculous and ultimately counter-productive for the UN to recognize water as a human right.

Now you’re talking!

According to a Left Lane article, Volvo is planning not only a hybrid car, and not only a plug-in hybrid car, but a diesel plug-in hybrid car. Their schedule calls for this vehicle to be ready for the 2012 model year in Europe.

According to the article,

Volvo confirmed that it expects the vehicle’s total range to be about 1,200 kilometres, or about 745 miles. CO2 emissions would be around just 49 g/km, about half of what is considered to be low today, and Volvo says that fuel economy would average out to around 125 mpg.

Volvo did not say how long the vehicle would take to charge, but the automaker did say that the plug-in hybrid will be capable of about 31 miles on purely electric motivation.

Now this is more like it! I really hope not to be in the market for a car until at least 2015, but 1.9 L/100 km sounds pretty good to me! Perhaps some advances will be made in battery technology that will make a hybrid a more attractive option by that time.

And I hope we’ll have the option of purchasing cars like this in North America. Diesel cars have never caught on here as they have in Europe.

Sales of the diesel version of the VW Jetta are strong in Canada, where nearly half of the Jettas sold run on diesel fuel. With the new clean diesel engine in the 2009 Jetta being emissions-legal in all 50 U.S. states, American diesel sales are climbing. In the first month of U.S. sales, 40% of all Jetta sedan sales were for the diesel version, and 60% of all Jetta Sportwagen sales were for the diesel version. This may not be a representative sample because there was no 2007 diesel Jetta. A temporary surge in demand may be behind these numbers. Time will tell.

I expect diesel powered cars will become more popular in North America. They do currently carry a price premium of a few thousand dollars, but they also are about 30% more fuel efficient than the average gas-powered car. Diesel fuel prices vary in relation to gasoline but they’re usually not very far apart. People with concerns for the environment will appreciate the lower CO2 emissions.

I look forward to a greater variety in auto power-plant options.

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