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

Pie in the Face (with remarks from Ron Paul)

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“In any field, the establishment is seldom in pursuit of the truth because it is composed of those who sincerely believe that they are already in possession of it.” E. T. Jaynes. Everybody prefaces Bernie Sanders name with “pie in …

Asterisk No More

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By Samuel Moore-Sobel “Moods come and go, but greatness endures.” These prescient words were uttered by President George H.W. Bush, a man who knows firsthand the truth of his own saying. In 1992, President Bush garnered only 37 percent of …

Second Bull Run

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It may not have been a battle, but – seeing as how it was my second attempt at getting a good look at Bull Run Creek – coupled with the fact that I’m a native Northerner – I felt a …

Snowmageddon III?  Seven Survival Tips for Parents

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By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. “snOMG,” “snowmageddon,” “snowpocalypse,” and “kaisersnoze” are a few terms to describe what just happened in Northern Virginia. The storm was reported to be the second worst storm on record. And while many children and teens gladly …

What Is a Sport?

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By Mary Rose Lunde On January 10, hundreds of talented dancers from across the East Coast competed at the Universal Dance Academy Regional Championship at West Springfield High School. Tensions were high and the stakes couldn’t have been greater. What …

Six Things to Know to Weather a Market Downturn

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It’s natural to be nervous when the markets head for negative territory. Keep a positive perspective with these six investing reminders. It can be very unsettling for investors when their portfolios and the markets start heading for the red and …

Editorial

Grief and Greed

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By Matthew Parse What would drive a single individual to cause so much emotional stress and financial burden on hundreds, if not, thousands of families? What would drive the Town …

Op-ed

Oh No, It’s the Christians!

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By Nicholas Reid In the hours and days following every massacre perpetrated by radical Muslims, there is one unifying theme across most news coverage of the massacre, wherever it may …

Dear Editor

Job Well Done!

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Kudos to Town Manager Rob Lohr and his awesome hard working staff. You did a fantastic job of snow removal throughout the Town of Purcellville this past week. Mr. Lohr …

View From the Ridge

An Open Letter to the Citizens of Purcellville

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Mark Your Calendar, They’ve Asked for Our Input So Let’s Give It To Them By Steady and Nobull The Purcellville Planning Commission has tentatively scheduled a series of public input …

Student News

Four Scouts Achieve Eagle Scout Rank

3 Feb 2016

eaglescout

Joel Gicker, Kyle Siecker, Sam Soltis and David Watson achieved the rank of Eagle Scout at a Court of Honor conducted at Blue Ridge Bible Church in Purcellville on January 9. The four Eagles are members of Troop 711 of …

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8th Grade Writers Honored At Blue Ridge Middle School

2 Jul 2015

blueridgemiddleschool

Sixty-seven Blue Ridge Middle School eighth graders have been honored for their writing during the 2014-2015 school year. Many students had their writing selected for publication by Creative Communication, a program for student writers, while others won county-wide writing contests. …

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Ben Kellogg Achieves Eagle Scout

1 Jul 2015

benkellog

Benjamin Robert Kellogg achieved the rank of Eagle Scout at a Court of Honor conducted at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Purcellville on March 29. Friends, family and troop leaders attended the celebration, including his parents, Robert and Deirdre Kellogg. …

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Calendar

February 2016
M T W T F S S
1 2 3

Loudoun Valley Boys Basketball Spirit Night at Coach's Corner

4

Music Together Classes - Winter Session

5

Loudoun Centre Theater: HAIRSPRAY

6

Loudoun Centre Theater: HAIRSPRAY

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

Loudoun Centre Theater: HAIRSPRAY

7

5K Race to Benefit Riverside High School Athletic Department

8 9 10 11

Music Together Classes - Winter Session

12

Notaviva Vineyards presents 5th annual "My Funny Valentine" comedy show feat. Jason Weems!

Loudoun Centre Theater: HAIRSPRAY

13

Notaviva Vineyards presents 5th annual "My Funny Valentine" comedy show feat. Jason Weems!

Chocolate & Cabernet

Sweetheart's Soirée at Breaux Vineyards

Loudoun Centre Theater: HAIRSPRAY

14

Notaviva Vineyards presents 5th annual "My Funny Valentine" comedy show feat. Jason Weems!

Celebrate Valentine's Day at North Gate Vineyard

Gallery Coffeehouse: READERS THEATRE "LOVE LETTERS" BY A. R. GURNEY

15 16 17

Mad Cap Puppets: UNDER THE BONSAI TREE

18 19

LAST HAM STANDING COMEDY IMPROV

20

CHINESE NEW YEAR EVENT: Year Of The Monkey

21

Loudoun Symphony presents A LITTLE CHAMBER MUSIC

Gallery Coffeehouse: THE COMEDY CULT IMPROV

Gallery Coffeehouse: THE COMEDY CULT IMPROV

22 23 24 25 26

Breaux Vineyards February Fourth Friday

27

THE EDGE: Malone Benefit Concert

28

Loudoun School of Ballet Winter Showcase

Our Love is Here to Stay

29 1 2 3 4

VSA of Loudoun Spring Musical: SPECTRUM’S JOURNEY

5

Merlot Vertical Tasting

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

VSA of Loudoun Spring Musical: SPECTRUM’S JOURNEY

North Gate Vineyard Wine Dinner with Chef Sebastian Oveysi

6

VSA of Loudoun Spring Musical: SPECTRUM’S JOURNEY

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Readers Theatre, 100 Lunches" by Jack Sharkey & Leo Sears

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Lifestyle

Creation and Evolution in Native American Spirituality

9 Feb 2016

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In celebration of Evolution Weekend, an annual event led by clergy to encourage serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science, St. James United Church of Christ in Lovettsville has invited Roger and Deborah “Turtle” Swartz to guide a discussion of traditional Native American Spirituality and its wisdom in celebrating human relationship to the earth. In a …

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Run and Walk To Your Nearest 5K Pregame Event Happening on Super Bowl Day In Leesburg

3 Feb 2016

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There is a new Running Company, the Pace Makers Running Company, in town and they are on a mission to help the local population with their health goals while raising money for selected charities. The race at The National Conference Center in Leesburg on February 7, is to help benefit the Riverside High School Athletic Department. The upcoming race on …

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Lovin’ Leesburg for All Its Beauty

3 Feb 2016

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By Hannah Hager We may be in the thick of winter, but this home on Cherry Spring Lane will melt your heart. Come spring you’ll fully be able to enjoy this simple, yet elegant brick home and its surrounding green pastures enclosed by miles of black wooden fences. Beyond your immediate yard are sweeping views of the mountains and valleys …

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Around Virginia

Education Savings Accounts Make Big Move in House

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The Virginia House of Delegates gave a strong push to House Bill 389, Delegate Dave LaRock’s (R-33rd District) innovative Education Savings Account legislation, as the House Education Committee voted 13-9 in favor of advancing the bill forward. “This is definitely an exciting development for parents and students in the Commonwealth,” …

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Kaine to Hold Hearing on Opioid Abuse

Kaine

On Monday, February 1, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, will hold a field hearing in Loudoun County to examine the ongoing fight against opioid misuse and abuse among older Americans. Kaine has met with families, law enforcement and business leaders across Virginia …

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Youth Can Apply for 2015 Livestock Exhibitor Scholarships

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Youth who exhibited beef cattle, sheep, meat goats or swine in the 2015 State Fair of Virginia 4-H and FFA youth livestock program are eligible to apply for 12 new scholarships being offered by the State Fair of Virginia. Scholarships will be offered in three age groups: Juniors (9-12), Intermediate …

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Sports

Western Loudon Volleyball Club “Hitmen” Team Finishes Second

3 Feb 2016

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The Western Loudon Volleyball Club U14 boys team, called the “Hitmen,” finished second in a tournament held January 17. This is the first ever boys team for the WLVBC (and only the second boys club in the area). Coach Allan Kotmel led the seven-member team. WLVBC started eight years ago, …

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ODFC West Travel Soccer Program Shines

2 Dec 2015

ODFCsoccerpics

The Old Dominion Football Club West boys and girls middle school travel soccer program scored big the weekend of November 21 and 22.  The girls Quest Premier 22 team took home the championship in the U12 Girls Premier Division of the Hunt Country Classic located in Fauquier County. The boys …

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