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

Human Fingerprints on Climate Change

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Presented to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors – June 23, 2016 Recently I was asked whether humanity’s fossil fuel use was the cause of the current global warming. This is a good question and I’m not surprised that there …

Ice house, Hot House and Mad House

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Recently, I was asked: “I know we are putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and scientists say that will warm the planet but there were also ice ages and warmer climates in the past before humans so what caused those …

Sugar Crash

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Sugar runs inside our body and fuels our very being. In biology they teach us that sugar is really glucose which is broken down in the body to produce ATP (adenine tri-phosphate). So why bring this up? Well, sugar is …

The Art of Memory

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By Samuel Moore-Sobel Still Alice. A movie that not only elicits tears, but naturally incurs reflection. This heartrending movie was the starting point of a personal wrestling with the implications of human memory. Remembering can bring us back to a …

Living in Debt

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Dr. Mike, My husband has issues with money that are hurting our relationship and family. He makes a lot of money, but he spends more than he makes and we are in debt. He can’t just have a luxury car, …

June in the Garden

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Conserve Water, Beat the Heat and Keep Things Blooming By Andrea Gaines It’s getting hot out there. And, there’s nothing more discouraging for a gardener that to come home after a weekend away – or miss a regular watering schedule …

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

Thank You

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It is with great anticipation that I look forward to Monday, June 27, 2016. On that day new Purcellville Town Council members will be sworn into office, at Town Hall. …

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

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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

July 2016
M T W T F S S
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It’s a Beach Thing . . . featuring lamp-work glass artist Julie Bahun and abstract painter Karen Hutchison

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It’s a Beach Thing . . . featuring lamp-work glass artist Julie Bahun and abstract painter Karen Hutchison

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It’s a Beach Thing . . . featuring lamp-work glass artist Julie Bahun and abstract painter Karen Hutchison

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It’s a Beach Thing . . . featuring lamp-work glass artist Julie Bahun and abstract painter Karen Hutchison

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Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

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Moon Music Live at North Gate Vineyard

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Lifestyle

Rummage Sale Trailers Open July 9

27 Jun 2016

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78th Annual Ladies Board Rummage Sale Ready For Donations The Ladies Board of Inova Loudoun Hospital is officially accepting donations for the annual Rummage Sale. The first Donation Day of the summer will be on Saturday, July 9 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Inova Loudoun Hospital, 44045 Riverside Parkway, Leesburg, and at Inova Loudoun Medical Campus – Leesburg, …

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Troy and Paula Haag Perform at Old Stone School

9 Jun 2016

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Troy and Paula Haag, will appear on The Gap Stage at the Old Stone School on Saturday, June 18. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Dinner will be sold by Big Mike’s BBQ, drinks will be sold by the glass, and there will be desserts at intermission. Troy and Paula will be joined by Max Haag …

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Here’s To the Colorists, Manicurists and Blow Dry Mavens… Thanks for Listening!

1 Jun 2016

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Sunday, June 26 is Beauticians Day, celebrating the cosmetology and other experts who keep us looking and feeling our best – whether it’s with a haircut and style, a facial, a manicure, or just some quiet and light conversation.

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Around Virginia

HUD Awards $2 Million in Housing Counseling Grants To Virginia

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Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced today that Catholic Charities USA, headquartered in Alexandria, will receive $951,150 in federal funding, and the Virginia Housing Development Authority, located in Richmond, will receive $1,040,918. This nearly $2 million grant by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) …

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Four Hop, Skip and a Jump Local Destinations

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Last month we encouraged our readers to consider visiting any one of five great destinations within just a stone’s throw of Loudoun’s history-lined borders – Berryville and Harper’s Ferry among them. This month we feature four destinations – two right here in our much-celebrated county, and two just over the …

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Out and About Loudoun and Beyond

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Five Stone’s Throw Spring and Summer Destinations By Andrea Gaines Bordered by the Potomac River to the north and beautiful mountains to the west – and with easy access to Rt. 95, the Dulles Toll Road and Route 66 – Loudouners have no short list of fun spring places to …

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Sports

The Lady Vikings Earned Back-to Back Conference Title

1 Jun 2016

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The Lady Vikings earned the back-to back conference title with a 4-1 win over Heritage in late May. The team earned a first round playoff bye finishing first in the conference and then went on to defeat Rock Ridge 12-0 in the conference semi-finals. The Lady Vikings ended their regular …

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Big Baseball Coming To Fireman’s Field

1 Jun 2016

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Got Your Father’s Day Gift Lined Up Yet? The Purcellville Cannons’ Brett Fuller couldn’t be happier. He’s the owner of one of the most popular teams in the Valley Baseball League. The team, up until recently was called the Charles Town Cannons but now calls Purcellville its home.

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