Humankind cannot bear very much reality

August 22, 2009 Sustainable Planet Comments Off on Humankind cannot bear very much reality
Tony Noerpel

Tony Noerpel

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality”
-T. S. Eliot, the first Quartet “Burnt Norton”

This is the first of a series of articles exploring human society and sustainability. To be blunt, in its current configuration, human society is not sustainable. That means it will change. In this series we will explore the problems we’ve created for ourselves, i.e., why our society is not sustainable, and what we might be able to do to address these problems. The first task is painful and unpopular, hence the relevance of the Eliot quote, but necessary. President Jimmy Carter, understanding reality, tried to explain it to us and we booted him out of office. Much of what we needed to understand was well known at the time. Donnella Meadows and her colleagues had written “Limits to Growth”. M. King Hubbert’s 1956 prediction that peak oil production in the United States would occur in 1970 had come true. And Svante Arrhenius’ 1896 theory of anthropogenic global warming had been confirmed.

In February, 2005, the Department of Energy published a report written by Robert Hirsch, Roger Bezdek, and Robert Wendling, which estimates that the transition from oil to some replacement fuel would have to be initiated 20 years ahead of the peak oil production date if a world wide liquid fuels shortfall were to be avoided. The world peak production of regular oil appears to have occurred in 2005. Thus Jimmy Carter was giving us five years of advanced warning. Sweet, but did we listen?

One cannot do reality justice and be shy with numbers. That may be part of the reason reality is so unpopular. Petroleum geologist Colin Campbell’s estimate for ultimate recoverable reserves (URR) of regular oil is 1900 billion barrels. This is the estimated total regular oil that will ever be pumped out of the ground. His estimated total for all liquids is 2425 billion barrels. The Earth produced all of this petroleum since the Cambrian Explosion 543 million years ago. The Earth’s average production of URR has been about 4400 barrels of oil every year. We currently burn 31 billion barrels a year. Thus we are burning buried sunshine at the rate of about 7 million years worth of Earth’s production every single year. This has obvious consequences.

Our society is made up of three components. The first is the input or the Earth’s resources. The second is the output or wastes. The third is our economy which is what we accomplish with the flow of matter and energy from resource to waste. We have thus created three classes of problems for ourselves. We are running out of good quality resources, the best known example being peak oil. We are overwhelming our environment with our wastes, anthropogenic global warming being the most obvious consequence. And our priorities, what we do with those resources as they flow through our economy, are badly misplaced. Instead of investing for the future, like good stewards, we steeply discount the future, like desperate drug addicts.

Our economic problems are perhaps most acute but actually the least catastrophic considering we did survive the depression. While they were predicted well in advance by many generalists, including the aforementioned Colin Campbell, most economists were taken completely by surprise. The economist Nouriel Roubini’s prediction of recession caused by the housing bubble and financial malfeasance which earned him the nickname Dr. Doom was not at all remarkable but the reaction of mainstream economists, of disbelief and surprise, was. The study of economics must be fundamentally and rather tragically flawed if a consensus view of the recent economic collapse did not clearly emerge many years ago among the very experts specifically educated to be able to foresee it. The ecological economist Herman Daly points out that this is indeed the case as economic theory does not take into account the thermodynamic limits on resources and wastes described above. Physical reality turns the economist’s world view on its head.

In his second Quartet, East Coker, Eliot writes: “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility.” Humility requires us to be willing to abandon preconceived opinions and ideologies. This is the only way to do good science and to learn. I recommend four prescriptions: we must not be afraid; we must not be dogmatic, we must be humble and we must be skeptical. A minister friend of mine would add a fifth tenet: we must be kind.

Tony Noerpel


 

 

 

 

 

 

Columns

The Holocene Climate

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(Public Input Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, 7 March, 2017) Figure 1 shows the climate variation over the last million years. The low points on the curve correspond to ice ages when glaciers up to a mile thick covered New …

Choosing To Forgive

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By Samuel Moore-Sobel “Truly forgiving is the ability to say, ‘Thank you for giving me that experience.’” James Arthur Ray vaulted into fame on the Oprah Winfrey Show back in the mid-2000’s. Stunned hearing these words while watching The Rise and …

Five Key Retirement Questions

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Beyond asking yourself where you see yourself and even what your lifelong goal are, effective retirement and longevity planning begs some very big questions. Review the points below and consider how housing, transportation and health considerations all play a role …

Work Woes

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By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. Dr. Mike, I’m a manager at a large tech company and my boss has directed me to fire someone on my team, but as a Christian, I just can’t do it. It’s true that the employee …

Joy or Suffering

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By Mary Rose Lunde No one likes to suffer. When given the chance, many people would choose to laugh rather than cry, to sit in silence with their friends rather than talk through their feelings, because not even their friends …

Wage Radio

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I will always remember – very fondly – the first time I ever set foot on the property at 711 Wage Drive Southwest in Leesburg, Virginia. It was a warm, sunny July morning in 1997, and I’d driven all the …

Speaking Truth to Power

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“With public sentiment nothing can fail. Without it nothing can succeed.” Abraham Lincoln On Thursday evening, February 23, I requested the Board of Supervisors pass a proclamation resolving to support the March for Science on Earth Day, April 22 [1]. …

Student News

Congratulations, Class of 2016

6 Jul 2016

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Woodgrove High School’s Class Of 2016 Graduation – By Amanda Clark On June 16, Woodgrove’s Class of 2016 was the 5th graduating class to walk the stage and accept their diploma. The ceremony was filled with anticipation as the chorus, …

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Buckland Earns Degree In Medicine

6 Jul 2016

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Molly Buckland, D.O., graduated from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine with a degree of Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine on May 28. While at WVSOM, Dr. Buckland received the Dr. Roland P. Sharp President’s Award and the James R. …

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Adams Promoted To Lieutenant

6 Jul 2016

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Lt. James Adams, from Sterling and a Potomac Falls Halls Graduate, earned the promotion to the rank of Lieutenant. Adams is a Navy Week and Executive Outreach Planner for the Navy Office of Community Outreach in Millington, Tennessee. U.S. Navy …

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Calendar

March 2017
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February 27, 2017 February 28, 2017 March 1, 2017 March 2, 2017 March 3, 2017

LAST HAM STANDING COMEDY IMPROV

LAST HAM STANDING COMEDY IMPROV
March 4, 2017

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event
March 5, 2017
March 6, 2017 March 7, 2017 March 8, 2017 March 9, 2017 March 10, 2017 March 11, 2017 March 12, 2017
March 13, 2017 March 14, 2017 March 15, 2017 March 16, 2017 March 17, 2017 March 18, 2017

Wine & Chili Weekend

Wine & Chili Weekend
March 19, 2017

Joshua Carr River Safety Foundation Rummage Sale

Joshua Carr River Safety Foundation Rummage Sale
March 20, 2017 March 21, 2017 March 22, 2017 March 23, 2017 March 24, 2017

March Fourth Friday

March Fourth Friday
March 25, 2017 March 26, 2017

Spring Brunch

Spring Brunch

Spring Brunch

Spring Brunch
March 27, 2017 March 28, 2017 March 29, 2017 March 30, 2017 March 31, 2017 April 1, 2017

”Homage to Mother Earth”

”Homage to Mother Earth”

Nebbiolo Vertical Tasting

Nebbiolo Vertical Tasting

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event
April 2, 2017

”Homage to Mother Earth”

”Homage to Mother Earth”

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Readers Theater, “One Slight Hitch”

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Readers Theater, “One Slight Hitch”
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Lifestyle

Loudoun Workforce Resource Center Presents STEM Career Fair March 28

16 Mar 2017

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Anyone interested in a career in the rapidly growing field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is encouraged to attend an upcoming STEM Career Fair in Loudoun. The Loudoun Workforce Resource Center, in partnership with Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC)’s Loudoun campus and NOVA SySTEMic Solutions, is holding a STEM Career Fair Tuesday, March 28, from 1:00 to 4:00 …

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Keep Loudoun Beautiful—Greater Lovettsville Area Volunteers Needed

16 Mar 2017

Lovettsville Boat Launch 7-26-09

The Keep Loudoun Beautiful spring clean-up takes place the entire month of April and greater Lovettsville needs volunteers. Bags, vests, gloves and grabbers are available at the Lovettsville Community Center during normal business hours, Monday-Friday. This is a great group or individual activity that can be scheduled around your availability. E-mail Lovettsville Area Leader, Laura Lieberman, for details and to …

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National Awkward Moments Day

8 Mar 2017

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?Laughing at Yourself Is the Best Medicine No one knows who invented National Awkward Moments Day, Saturday, March 18. That’s no surprise, since it probably came about as the result of one stunningly awkward moment that the owner of that moment was hoping to forget. We surveyed our readers and friends to ask them about their most awkward moments, sharing …

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Editorial

Priscilla Nabs Plum Planning Commission Post

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Appointment Shocks Many On January 3 Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) nominated Tom Priscilla for the Loudoun County Planning Commission to represent the Blue Ridge District. Priscilla was …

Op-ed

Opinion: Terrorism, Debt, and China: Oh My!

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– By Nick Reid world can be a very dangerous place sometimes, especially for a nation state such as the United States. Although danger is always present, the number and …

Metro Money Mess Pushing West

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– By Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33rd) A local paper recently quoted Loudoun Board Chair Phyllis Randall as saying that in her observation “some of the concerns raised by the people …

Dear Editor

Why Williams Gap Road Should Not Be Paved

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Today, most residents of Loudoun County know nothing about Williams Gap, even those living on Williams Gap Road (Route 711). Knowing who “Williams” was, why a gap in the Blue …

Vote No To the Minor Special Exception

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We are a group of Loudoun County citizens who will be adversely affected if the board grants a special exception for the Catesby Farm property at your upcoming meeting. You …

View From the Ridge

Broken Promises, Hidden by a Six-Foot Berm

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By Andrea Gaines On August 9, 1825 at the age of 69, French military officer the Marquis de Lafayette was honored in Leesburg by former President James Monroe. The French-born …

Around Virginia

Protecting Free Speech

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By Dave LaRock (R-33) As elected officials and members of the legislature, our most fundamental responsibility is to protect God-given constitutionally protected rights. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the government, including governmental public colleges and universities, from infringing on free speech and the free exercise of …

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Walbridge To Run for State Delegate in the 33rd District

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Tia Walbridge announces her run for the District 33 seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Walbridge is a wife and mother of two daughters and an active member of the Round Hill community. “Like many people in our district, my family has found its prosperity in a Virginia-based small …

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Office Building on Capitol Square To Be Named After Civil Rights Pioneer Barbara Johns

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Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the newly renovated state building located at 202 N. 9th Street on Capitol Square in Richmond (currently known as the 9th Street Office Building) will bear the name of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns. The building, which reopened last year, houses the Virginia Attorney General’s …

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Sports

Vikings Runner-Up at the State Championship 

8 Mar 2017

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The Loudoun Valley Vikings are the boy’s runner-up at the VHSL 4A State Indoor Track and Field Championships at Roanoke College.  During the 2015-2016 school year, the Loudoun County School Board approved Indoor Track and Field as a Tier 2 (self-funded) sport.  The seven boys competing scored 48 points, second …

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WLVBC U14 Boys Finish 3rd at VA Beach Event

23 Feb 2017

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The Western Loudoun Volleyball Club’s U14 Boys Team garnered 3rd place in their first travel tournament of 2017, the Virginia Beach Invitational. This event was held Feb. 18-19 and featured more than 24 teams from the U14 to U18 age group. The team was second on their net on day …

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