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

Pearl Harbor

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By Nicholas Reid Seventy-five years ago this December 7, to quote President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” It will have been 75 …

Early Returns: How U.S. Markets Reacted to the Presidential Election

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On November 8, 2016, Republican candidate Donald J. Trump won a closely contested election for president of the United States. Late on election night, when it became evident that Trump was likely to win, despite consistently trailing in the polls, …

America: Worthy of Our Trust

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By Samuel Moore-Sobel My friend and I sit in a bar near our office. He is upset, bags under his eyes due to lack of sleep. Thursday, our weekly night to meet is usually a happy hour filled with intellectual …

South Riding

South Riding

I should have known that this one would take me far from my contemplative, Zen-inspired comfort zone; after I’d traversed more construction projects than I wanted to tally, competed with hurried, coffee-driven commuters with no time for mere existence, and …

Support Group Help Needed

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Dr. Mike, My son was diagnosed with ADHD two years ago, and his pediatrician at that time recommended we try a social skills group for his “immaturity” and “impulsivity.” We did that, and our experience was horrible. The kids in …

The State of Corals

Figure 3 close up view of healthy coral polyps. [9]

(Presented to the Board of Supervisors December 6, 2016) “Events as severe as the 1998 event, the worst on record, are likely to become commonplace within 20 years.” – Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, 1999 [4] Tony Noerpel

Reply to Nicholas Reid – What is Science

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“The word “cult” has always been controversial because it is (in a pejorative sense) considered a subjective term, used as an ad hominem attack against groups with differing doctrines or practices, which lacks a clear or consistent definition.” “[Dogma] is …

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

December 2016
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
November 28, 2016 November 29, 2016 November 30, 2016 December 1, 2016 December 2, 2016 December 3, 2016

Holiday Open House

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

December 4, 2016

Holiday Open House

December 5, 2016 December 6, 2016 December 7, 2016 December 8, 2016 December 9, 2016

Christmas Market and Trolley Tours

December 10, 2016

Holiday Open House

13th Annual Purcellville Christmas Parade

Barrel Tasting Event Saturday

December 11, 2016

Christmas Market and Trolley Tours

December 12, 2016 December 13, 2016 December 14, 2016 December 15, 2016 December 16, 2016 December 17, 2016 December 18, 2016
December 19, 2016 December 20, 2016 December 21, 2016 December 22, 2016 December 23, 2016 December 24, 2016 December 25, 2016
December 26, 2016 December 27, 2016 December 28, 2016 December 29, 2016 December 30, 2016 December 31, 2016

Family New Year’s Eve Celebration

January 1, 2017

New Year's Day Musikabend

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Lifestyle

Farm Bureau President Hopes for Immigration Reform

5 Dec 2016

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Virginia Farm Bureau President Wayne F. Pryor told county delegates at the organization’s annual convention in Hot Springs that immigration reform “is an issue that has been delayed too long.” He noted that: “Work will begin on the 2018 Farm Bill next year. This is the most complex federal legislation farmers face, and it typically takes at least two years …

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Northern Virginia Chamber To Host Congressional Roundtable

5 Dec 2016

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The Northern Virginia Chamber will host its annual Congressional Roundtable on Monday, December 12, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Northern Virginia Chamber in Tysons (7900 Westpark Drive, Suite A550). The dialogue will cover several issues at the intersection of federal policy and business – federal spending, energy, trade policy, the sequestration and the effect on Northern Virginia, transportation, …

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Ugly Christmas Sweater Fad Keeps Growing

30 Nov 2016

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Since 2012, the Re-Love It consignment shop, at 138 N. 21st Street in Purcellville, has developed the reputation as the place to get your Ugly Christmas Sweater in the Metro D.C. area. In that time, Re-Love It has sold more than 3,000 vintage Ugly Christmas Sweaters.

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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

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

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 …

It’s Our Right

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On December 6, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a “Minor Special Exception” proposal we submitted earlier this year concerning our Catesby Farm property. Unfortunately, our limited …

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

Warner Introduces Bill To Help Wells Fargo Victims Get Their Day in Court

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U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Banking Committee, introduced legislation to give Wells Fargo customers who were victims of a fraudulent account scheme their day in court. The bank was involved in a scandal this year after it was revealed that Wells Fargo employees secretly …

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History’s Holy Places: Four Local Sites Worth Exploring This Fall

outandaboutloudoun

The Journey through Hallowed Ground is a 180-mile long, 75-mile wide trek from Gettysburg to Monticello, encompassing nine presidential homes and places, 18 national and state parks, and thousands of small and large historical sites. Dozens and dozens of these sites and related museums are short ride from just about …

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Land Trust Receives Large Donation

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On August 22, The Land Trust of Virginia received a $10,000 gift from the Sharon D. Virts Foundation, based in Herndon. The presentation of this grant was part of the Foundation’s official launch event, held at Selma Plantation in Leesburg. Notable speakers included Sharon D. Virts, FCiFederal Founder and Chair, …

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Sports

Accepting Applications for Sports League Funding

30 Nov 2016

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Purcellville is accepting applications from local organizations for its annual sports league funding program. Organizations must serve the Town of Purcellville area, have citizens of the Town of Purcellville as players, and provide a letter to the Town from the IRS confirming the organization’s tax exempt status in order to …

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Woodgrove High Student Will Pursue Track and Field at George Mason

30 Nov 2016

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Puneet Kaur of Woodgrove High School has signed a National Letter of Intent to continue her track and field career at George Mason University. Kaur has held the school record in shot put since her sophomore year and is looking to throw shotput, hammer, discus and maybe even the javelin …

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