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A simple route to climate disaster

October 12th, 2014

I’ve mentioned quite a few times the spurious calculations offered by Ted Trainer of the Simplicity Institute, purporting to prove that renewable energy can’t sustain a modern lifestyle. But I haven’t looked hard at the other side of the coin; the idea that ‘degrowth’ could provide us with a sustainable, low-tech but still comfortable way of living, based on local self-sufficiency.

Samuel Alexander, also of the Simplicity Institute, has a piece in the Conversation, making this claim. Presumably, unlike energy technology, this is an area where the Institute ought to have some special expertise. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case.

Alexander makes two points of particular interest.

First, he suggests that we (that is, urban dwellers) could meet our food needs through a combination of suburban gardening and trade with nearby farmers. This is illustrated by a picture of a community garden in San Francisco.

Second, he observes that this is not a process that should be sought through top-down measures from government, but rather through ‘bottom-up’ initiatives from individuals and groups.

I’ll deal with the second point first. Rather than putting this discussion in the future tense, why not look at attempts to move in this direction, which have been going on for at least forty years (there was a big movement to Nimbin on the NSW North Coast in the early 1970s, for example). As far as I know, none of these have got anywhere near achieving self-sufficiency in food, let alone fibre for clothing, timber for building and so on. And, as far as I can see, there is less going on in this direction now than there was 40 years ago.

That’s not to say of course, that self-sufficiency is impossible. For thousands of years, the majority of the world’s population lived by subsistence agriculture, and a billion or more still do. The only problems were
(i) It’s a life of miserable, back-breaking work from which people have always fled at the earliest opportunity, even when the alternative was near-starvation in a disease-ridden urban slum or shantytown
(ii) The current world population could not possibly be fed (even on a meat-free diet) with the yields typical of traditional subsistence agriculture

Perhaps the Simplicity Institute is counting on using more modern (but sustainable) technology to achieve high food yields. At one level, this might just be feasible. ‘Organic’ farmers have shown that it’s possible to achieve commercial yields without using pesticides or manufactured fertilisers, though other costs are higher, so that it is necessary to charge a premium price. But this only works on a significant scale if, in other respects, standard energy-intenisve industrial technologies (farm machinery, food processing and so on) are used.

Alexander makes it pretty clear that (as with the Institute’s attacks on renewable energy) this kind of modest tinkering is not what he has in mind. So, let’s take a look at the community garden he uses to illustrate the simpler approach. The photo shows about 20 people and a dozen or so garden beds, each about 1-2 sq m in area.

I’m not much of a gardener, but the total area looks pretty comparable to the backyard patch we had when I was a kid, which certainly didn’t feed our family. Rather than rely on such impressionistic stuff, though, it seems better to look at some proper data. Alexander doesn’t offer any and neither does the Simplicity Institute website, but the Internet has plenty of information.

Typical estimates seem to be that you need somewhere from 100-400 sq m to supply enough vegetables for a single person.

That includes a carbohydrate source such as potatoes, and perhaps fruit, but no meat, eggs, milk, grain or plant protein sources like soybeans.

Taking the most optimistic numbers possible, the garden plots illustrated by Alexander would meet less than half the vegetable needs of one person. This isn’t a remotely serious analysis: it’s more like claiming that a household could supply its own electricity by pedalling a stationary bike.

A more immediate objection relates to the transition path. Suppose that the Simplicity Institute managed to convince everyone that it is necessary to adopt the ‘degrowth’ approach they advocate. This would require a comprehensive restructuring of the entire economy: food production and distribution systems are just one example.

How rapidly could such a transformation be achieved? An obvious answer is to run the tape in reverse. The shift from a largely agricultural economy to our current post-industrial economy took about 200 years in the leading economies, and has nowhere been achieved in less than two generations (say 60 years). It seems reasonably to assume that reversing the process would take just as long, even granting the improbable premise that we started tomorrow[^1]

We don’t have 60 years to spare. If the world economy isn’t thoroughly decarbonized by 2050 (a little over 30 years away), the chance of holding global warming to 2 degrees C will have been lost.

The only chance of decarbonization is an approach that is focused much more narrowly on reducing CO2 emissions, through energy efficiency, renewable energy and a shift away from the most energy-intensive forms of consumption. As has been repeatedly demonstrated, this can be done at very low cost, but we need to move much faster than we are doing.

Those, like Trainer and Alexander, who oppose any effective action to reduce CO2 emissions, while demanding a massively larger agenda reflecting their social and ideological preferences, are effective (and sometimes actual [^2]) allies of the rightwing denialists.

fn1. The UN Climate Change Framework Convention process started more than 20 years ago, and is only now producing any significant (though still inadequate) action. ‘Degrowth’ isn’t a process or even the basis of a movement, it’s just an idea.

fn2. One notable meeting place was Barry Brooks’ Brave New Climate site, where denunciations of renewable energy from Trainer and Peter Lang, a denialist who used to comment here, sit side by side

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  1. October 12th, 2014 at 16:54 | #1

    That’s not to say of course, that self-sufficiency is impossible. For thousands of years, the majority of the world’s population lived by subsistence agriculture, and a billion or more still do. The only problems were
    (i) It’s a life of miserable, back-breaking work from which people have always fled at the earliest opportunity, even when the alternative was near-starvation in a disease-ridden urban slum or shantytown

    Ah, no, it isn’t, and they don’t – unless certain further features also apply. Maintaining a household usually only takes about twenty hours of work per adult per week on average, with seasonal bursts for harvests etc. (it may need more to clear and break in new land as well, but that’s transitional). Of course, a household that has to do further work to pay rents and/or taxes can get up into the range of “miserable, back-breaking work”, but that isn’t down to the subsistence agriculture – and that’s what the history is generally describing. About the only time that overwork issue comes up is with marginal land that needs regular work to maintain its fertility, like the farmers in the west of Ireland who farmed rocks by collecting and piling up seaweed on them. Apart from that, people can get poor from not having enough subsistence resources – but then they don’t have much work to do on the little they have, either. Flight from the land is associated with poor information, with land loss, and with disruptions from wars or from local big men taking all the water or similar (that’s why “fair trade coffee” is a bad thing – the coffee farmers are usually big men who do well out of it at the same time as using much of the water that the subsistence farmers can’t get any more).

    (ii) The current world population could not possibly be fed (even on a meat-free diet) with the yields typical of traditional subsistence agriculture

    Actually, it probably could, given that it is being fed by agribusiness right now. Traditional subsistence agriculture wouldn’t have the fossil fuel inputs for farm equipment and fertiliser manufacture, but then again it wouldn’t need the power for the equipment and it would be very practical to apply local measures to maintain fertility and to add to it slowly over time; all you really need is a combination of nitrogen fixing plants, ash and waste retention, and some seafood acquired from outside to bring in added stocks. Of course, a transition to that could well have many casualties if it were not done well.

    I suspect some people are going to pooh pooh that rather than looking for evidence one way or the other. They should consider that, if this is wrong, it was physically impossible for there ever to have been an elite supported by the working base. For those who are willing to look, the mutualist Kevin Carson has gathered together a lot of source material for his own work; google that.

  2. Salient Green
    October 12th, 2014 at 18:11 | #2

    http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2014/s4104925.htm
    Naomi Klein on degrowth. There is a transcript and the degrowth part starts about a third of the way down.
    “I think just a strategic economy or a deliberate economy is what we’re talking about, because they don’t think all aspects of our economy should contract. When they say strategic they mean we need to… we need to shrink the parts of our economy that use up the most natural resources that are just based on mindless consumption and we need to expand the parts of our economy that are already low carbon and that are going to get us off fossil fuels.”

  3. Ikonoclast
    October 12th, 2014 at 18:17 | #3

    I doubt that few people over 30 who weren’t born to a life of subsistence farming could adjust to it. If subsistence farming, fuedual farming etc. was easy I wonder why these events occurred.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_famines

    Some might say but these were caused by droughts, pests, floods, frosts, plagues, storms and so on. To which I would say “Precisely!”.

    Subsistence farming might seem pleasantly viable and almost bucolic in a very good year. However, have one bad year and you are on starvation row. And some places, like Australia, can dish up 5 bad years in a row very easily.

    Our modern system, as well being far more productive, is far more distributed and connected. Local famines need not occur and do not occur in developed countries. Having said all that, there are plenty of aspects to the industrialisation of food that I do not think are good. However that might lead off topic.

    When it comes to de-growth some forms of selective de-growth will have to occur. The fossil fuel economy will have to de-grow. The number of IC engine cars on the road will have to deogrow. I do think the economy and people will have to become leaner and meaner. But a “lean” economy by current standards (less outright luxuries, less waste, less extravagance) could still employ, feed, educate and care for everyone if it was done correctly. Wealth disparities would have to reduce a great deal for instance.

  4. Hermit
    October 12th, 2014 at 18:18 | #4

    A person told me with a straight face that their double decker sandwich was an example of food self sufficiency because it contained a leaf of homegrown lettuce. Therein lies Trainer’s central point; that we like to kid ourselves a fair bit. The IEA tells us that 83% (if I recall) of our primary energy comes from burning fossil fuels. Surely that will be hard to turn around.

    My garden has about 20 mature fruit and nut trees, a shade house, a greenhouse, a dozen raised growing beds, a vegetable cellar and a solar irrigation system. The compost heap is as big as a car. No permanent animals. I live in 1200mm rainfall country on rich soil and I’m nowhere close to self sufficiency. Considered as fuel supermarket food is said to have an EROEI of 0.1 ie 10 calories or kilojoules (mostly petroleum derived) in for every one out. Volumetric peak liquid fuel is expected before 2020 with peak crude oil already having passed without concern. Based on personal observation and official predictions I think we should worry. On our present path I expect our future will be like Cuba.

  5. ZM
    October 12th, 2014 at 18:26 | #5

    John Quiggin

    “Those, like Trainer and Alexander, who oppose any effective action to reduce CO2 emissions,…”

    I don’t know anything about Ted Trainer – but this is not true of Samuel Alexander as far as I know. His main area at uni is on voluntary simplicity – so that is his area of research and also what he practices to a degree in his life (I think he lives in the city but does work with sustainable simple vernacular building practices in the country as well ).

    Also complaining that he overstates his case in the article is unfair since everyone was overstating that Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation low cost report (that exceeded 2 degrees when you would go to the effort of reading it) just the other week – and both my complaints to Climate Spectator and The Conversation have to so far resulted in any sort of corrections for the overstating of the report. You need to complain about overstating of things consistently – so then you should complain about the Deep Decarbonisation Report as well as the Simplicity Institute reports. Possibly the editors of The Conversation and Climate Spectator would listen to you since you are a Professor .

    I think you are expecting a bit much from him that he should invent a program of transition to sustainability with all the numbers and steps of implementation for the whole of Australia by himself – this would be too big a task for one person or for an institute of the size of the Simplicity Institute. At his recent book launch he said he thought the voluntary simplicity movement would be helpful in finding ways to live contentedly with restrained consumption – and be an example to others – but that in our society it is difficult given the infrastructure and social systems in place at the moment – so it is hard to live a ‘pure’ simple life. His earlier book I think (not having read it) envisioned a utopia of simple living after a great collapse so the population had decreased a great deal. So at the moment he is looking at positives of simplicity as a counter to our current great over consumption of resources globally.

    “We don’t have 60 years to spare. If the world economy isn’t thoroughly decarbonized by 2050 (a little over 30 years away), the chance of holding global warming to 2 degrees C will have been lost.
    The only chance of decarbonization is an approach that is focused much more narrowly on reducing CO2 emissions, through energy efficiency, renewable energy and a shift away from the most energy-intensive forms of consumption.”

    I am certain you know very well that decarbonisation needs to be accompanied by de-methanisation and de-nitrousoxidation – as well as de-[those other less prominent ghgs] – to stay within the whole ghg budget to keep within 2 degrees (or less for lower targets like returning to 350ppmco2e).

    In terms of stationary energy where the most technical work has been done – Mark Diesendorf’s book says we also need to conserve our use of energy – as well as having more efficient technologies and 100% renewable energy technologies.

    In terms of transport energy – I have not seen a zero emissions transport energy plan for Australia – BZE are working on one and have said it is proving technically very difficult. I have not heard of a zero emissions transport plan for any other state or country either. Air travel simply needs banning – but no-one prominent ever mentions this except Dick Smith who says it should be banned except for some Very Important People like himself – which is sure to go down well in the community :/

    There is also energy for farm and mine and forestry and construction machines – this might be included in transport energy but I am not sure? Anyway – I have not seen a technical report on this either.

    Then there is methane and nitrous oxide – so animal farming needs to be banned or severely constrained – waste management systems need a complete overhaul – and farming needs to stop using artificial fertilisers producing nitrous oxide (does this mean 100% organic fertiliser ? I don’t know because no one has done a technical report on zero emissions farming and food production. Waste management is a huge issue – because presumably it is going to entail not just making a new system – but dealing with currently existing landfill to prevent ghg emissions from it over time as everything in landfill breaks down at different rates and with different sorts of emissions.

    Then we have the need to reforest to draw down emissions – since we need to ban or severely constrain animal farming this land will be free.

    I understand BZE are releasing their Land Use Plan now which should hopefully explore agriculture, waste, and reforestation – which they have said will be a game changer because they have found the amount of ghg emissions from land uses has been underestimated.

    However – someone who I spoke with who I think is more involved in Melbourne climate change activist network and likely to be familiar with BZE work as it develop- told me earlier this year that as he understood it the technical work at this stage has not showed a path to zero ghg emissions and draw down of existing ghg emissions which is sufficient to avoid climate change to the point where geo-engineering is considered because you will be in a scenario where lives will be lost at that point.

    I hope that this is because the technical work is like that overstated Deep Decarbonisations Report and has not been able to keep within 2 degrees because of wanting to please rich people – rather than because of technical reasons. If it is pleasing rich people – then this can be changed by not worrying about selfish rich people. If it is technical – then we are already at a point where it is not going to be possible to avoid going over 2 degrees and lives will be lost and geo-engineering will be being considered.

    “As has been repeatedly demonstrated, this can be done at very low cost, but we need to move much faster than we are doing.”

    Low cost estimates have not been demonstrated – they have been put forward while still having dodgy assumptions in them. We do need to move faster indeed.

    “Those, like Trainer and Alexander, who oppose any effective action to reduce CO2 emissions, while demanding a massively larger agenda reflecting their social and ideological preferences, are effective (and sometimes actual [^2]) allies of the rightwing denialists.”

    I would like to know how you reconcile your arguments on the unfairness of the discount rate used in mainstream climate change economics with your position on Australia maintaining growth in consumption at this time?

    Discount rates apply to the needs of people separated from us by space and time.

    1. Global consumption of resources is too high and not managed at the moment – we are denuding forests which maintain the climate as well as providing living spaces for animals and keeping biodiversity, our agriculture is ruining soil and losing biodiversity of food plants through monocultures , we are using up underground water and drying up rivers like the Murray/Dhungala, our waste management is increasing toxicity on land, air and in the oceans etc etc.

    2. Global consumption is unfairly distributed – some one in America or Australia consumes a high amount while billions of people are hungry and live in torrid conditions.

    3. Globalisation has increased consumption of goods produced in foreign jurisdictions – so someone in a rich country (R) consumes goods produced by people in a poor country (P) so the environmental damage from (R)’s over-consumption is felt by P rather than R

    3. Over consumption by R has negative consequences i. right now for (P) and ii. in the future for generations (F)

    4. Overconsumption has led to many Ps aspiring to have material consumption of a level similar to Rs – this has caused increase loss of forests and other land available for non farmed plants and animals/nature (N)

    4. So – We have a discount rate question – How much is the utility (R) gains by their overconsumption worth so much more than both the present and future utility lost to (P) and (F) and (N) by (R)’s over consumption?

    It seems to me if you think material consumption should keep growing in Australia – you disagree with your own critiques of mainstream discounting and value Rs utility much more highly than P F and Ns lost utility

  6. Salient Green
    October 12th, 2014 at 18:45 | #6

    Shortly before my father died about a year ago he told me how they survived through the depression and drought years of the thirties on their farm close to the Goyder line near Robertstown in SA.
    He said they never went hungry even though the cereal crops failed. They collected enough water in dams and from roofs to have a vegetable garden and fruit trees, household scraps were recycled through pigs and chickens and being Germans, nothing was wasted.
    They made bank payments and other financial commitments for many years by cutting the mallee scrub on the property for firewood and selling rabbit skins. Underground mutton was a frequent meal.
    Eventually they went broke but not hungry.
    I say all this as an example of what can be done in dire circustances to be nourished and how it can come undone due to finances.

  7. Ivor
    October 12th, 2014 at 19:00 | #7

    I think degrowth (in carbon part of economy) could still provide us with a comfortable standard of living, but I am sensitive to problems with this approach.

    1) how do you get hedge funds and pension funds etc to fall into line?

    2) if efficient renewables need dams, acres for wind farms and for solar, all of which are finite, how can renewables give the entire world’s population the same standard of living?

    3) how can you have capitalism with degrowth?

    Unfortunately degrowth will create a lot of red-herrings and enable deniers to run interference.

    I suspect the answer has to lie in population controls, massive public expenditure in research and development, and cooperative forms of economy.

    In this framework, it looks plausible or at least can be suggested. With no framework it is just a nice poetic concept for the chattering classes to congratulate themselves about.

  8. John Quiggin
    October 12th, 2014 at 19:30 | #8

    @Salient Green

    Have only read your quote, but I find this version of degrowth a lot more appealing than that of the Simplicity Institute

  9. wilful
    October 12th, 2014 at 19:51 | #9

    fn2. One notable meeting place was Barry Brooks’ Brave New Climate site, where denunciations of renewable energy from Trainer and Peter Lang, a denialist who used to comment here,

    I think you know perfectly well that Peter Lang was banned form BNC many moons ago. The link you are referring to is from 2010. Are you trying to start a blogfight? I thought you didn’t like them.

  10. Salient Green
    October 12th, 2014 at 19:59 | #10

    Yes John, our society is too complex for backyard solutions to be efficient without huge changes to infrastructure among other things. There is a lot of wasted food growing area within our urban and rural areas. I grow stone and some citrus fruit where the inter-row space is currently sod culture which could produce vegetables instead with the same water, in a pinch but my water is hugely less expensive than urban water which is treated to potable standard.
    There are currently way too many chemicals flushed into the waste water system to make sewerage sludge safe for use in food growing long term.
    Everything that needs to be done for sustainability can be done technically but the political and economic system need to change.

  11. Megan
    October 12th, 2014 at 20:00 | #11

    Free public transport would immediately make a huge cut to carbon emissions.

    The “cost” wouldn’t be that high when balanced against other savings (e.g. road building/repairs, congestion/travel time, air quality..).

    It has to be completely free rather than discounted fares. Most commuters would get out of their cars if it was free.

  12. ZM
    October 12th, 2014 at 20:06 | #12

    Megan,
    “October 12th, 2014 at 20:00 | #11 Reply | Quote
    Free public transport would immediately make a huge cut to carbon emissions.”

    In Victoria our public transport system is already overcrowded at peak times – so now metro trains skip stations at peak times fairly often. The transport system needs investment in to even keep up with current peak demand .

  13. John Quiggin
    October 12th, 2014 at 20:07 | #13

    @wilful

    The material is still posted on the site, as of now, and presented as authoritative – no reader would know that the author was banned. And this is far from unusual from BNC. Here, Barry gives a broadly favorable review of an anti-solar book, after noting that the author is a denialist.

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/03/18/the-solar-fraud/

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Howard_Hayden

  14. John Quiggin
    October 12th, 2014 at 20:11 | #14

    And if Lang was banned, it seems that the ban has been revoked

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2014/10/07/the-left-vs-the-climate/#comment-313683

  15. Megan
    October 12th, 2014 at 20:17 | #15

    @ZM

    The [public] transport system needs investment in to even keep up with current peak demand.

    Then massive investment it is!

    We’ll obviously need to hugely increase capacity to take all those single occupant cars off the road. So be it…. this is serious, and if we are to be serious we need to take that sort of action. But it’s very “doable”. Right now.

  16. ZM
    October 12th, 2014 at 20:43 | #16

    Yes – I agree we need to invest in public transport. But making it free right now would not help in Victoria – because it is already overly full and squashy at peak times. I think I remember there being reduced prices for going in to the city before peak time in the morning – but people didn’t appreciate having to get to work 2 hours before their workday began.

    They could make it cheaper at non-peak times in the afternoon and night to increase usage then. But because it is overseen by state government and run by private companies – making it free right now is tricky. Why should tax payers pay for the private companies to make money even more than they already do? And how can the state government collect extra revenue to make up for the ticket prices plus what is needed extra for investment?

    State governments revenue powers are limited – maybe they could make a new sustainability bond to be paid for through land value? Or they could charge for crown of [insert state name] environmental services like fresh air and climate (if this is constitutionally allowed)?

  17. John Goss
    October 12th, 2014 at 21:22 | #17

    My favourite example of the problems with self-sufficiency is the wholesale price of wheat flour – $690 per tonne. (75 cents per Kg in Coles. Don’t know why retail price only bit higher than wholesale price). 0.21 tonne of flour would supply the energy and protein requirements for one adult for a year at a cost of $147. I hate to think how many hours of labour (and human kJ expended) would be required for me to grow enough wheat in my back yard to make 0.21 tonne of flour. Much more economical to pay $147 to the wheat farmer to grow the wheat and to the miller to mill it. Although I’m sure there is some ecological damage (including climate change problems) because of the way wheat is grown on Australian farms, it wouldn’t require much of a higher payment to ensure that the growing of wheat was sustainable. Especially as because of the move to low-tillage methods, the ecological damage these days is much less.

  18. Megan
    October 12th, 2014 at 21:27 | #18

    @ZM

    Melbourne’s East-West link (huge toll-road project), according to Wikipedia:

    The cost of the project’s first stage is estimated to be between $6 billion and $8 billion, with the total cost estimated at $15 billion to $17 billion. The federal Coalition government has pledged $3 billion towards the project.

    Apparently it’s one of those discredited PPPs which means it will ultimately cost the citizens even more than the cost of building it, with the difference going to the private sector as profits – otherwise the private sector wouldn’t be involved.

    We could buy the extra busses, trams, trains etc… with that money NOW.

    It can work. There are plenty of cities around the world doing it already and reaping the benefits.

  19. BilB
    October 12th, 2014 at 21:29 | #19

    I think that we have to move forward in steps and within our fields. By far the most significant improvement can be made from roof top solar for both domestic and small to medium business.

    I’ve recently thrashed this out with Bruce of Newcastle at catallaxy. BoN was arguing that solar cannot possibly be cost effective, insisting that to be pure it should be of grid, and to that effect he produced an NPV “calculation” to demonstrate the grid equivalency cost would 40 cents per unit when the opportunity cost was taken into account. I produced a counter spreadsheet to of the system that I will ultimately install on my house this being a 4.5 kw pv and a 4.5 kw thermal compound system with 16 kw of battery power and a 2.2kw natural gas powered backup generator. In my model at costs that I am able to locate on the web I was able to demonstrate an 8 year payback at 7% interest, and a Aud 21,000 profit at 40 years with the the gains compounded at 7% and including battery replacement every 10 years and the generator replaced every 2600 hours of operation. With an additional 1.5 kw pv added the system would charge an 8.5 kilowatt plug in hybride car for 50 klms of commute each day. The offset electricity prices were 25 cents per unit main and 13 cents per unit off peak (against the solar thermal content).

    This calculation demonstrates that going renewables does not require loss of lifestyle or situation. Having gone this first step then other options can be explored.

    Once such panel systems are readily available in this format and offering these yields without subsidy then the systems will become attractive for bank financing enabling a rapid national rollout. The off grid component should be unnecessary where grid energy providers structure their assets properly with a national energy strategy in mind.

    As far as the food component is concerned I believe that 2/3 of an acre are required per person. this is impractical for urban back yards, and who wants to plant out the pool area with wheat. I think the most likely solution is community food cooperatives in which farmers get to be farmers and consumers have a direct connection to produce with a minimum of overhead in between. Inter coop trading would set the price bench marks.

    fn1 Solar PV/Thermal are regular panels with a thermal energy absorbing back panel. Therefore the same roof area collects more than twice the energy where the thermal energy can be efficiently used. Other advantages are that the PV part of the panels run cooler during the mid day, making them electrically more efficient (more electricity) and less thermally stressed (longer life).the total energy collection efficiency goes from 15% to 40% for the same roof area.

  20. October 12th, 2014 at 21:40 | #20

    I just put up a post with two links which is in moderation. Anyway I’ve written about this on my blog recently (Different responses to Climate Action) having heard these two approaches at the Climate Action Summit. I think ProfQ is being disrespectful of some of the really good work that is going on in permaculture and local self- sufficiency. In particular I suggest it’s worth googling Morag Gamble of Seed International, who was an inspiring speaker.

    Basically I don’t think this (more local self sufficiency vs improved technology) is an either/or question and it seems misleading to present it that way.

  21. October 12th, 2014 at 21:46 | #21

    @Ivor
    Ivor, with regard to your point (2), Victoria’s Hazelwood coal power plant and mine produces an average of about 33 watts per square meter. Modern rooftop solar can produce an average of over 40 watts per square meter in Australia and we put them on roofs, not in what was arable land in the Latrobe Valley so they do not remove land from use. New wind power in Australia produces an average of 200+ watts per square meter of land removed from its original use. That’s over 6 times as much electricity per square meter as Hazelwood Power Station. So, in general, renewables reduce the amount of land required to generate electricity.

  22. Catching up
    October 12th, 2014 at 22:52 | #22

    @Megan Taking cars off the road would be much more doable now this government has closed down the auto industry. No jobs left to lose. The fact that we would not have to import cars would help balance of payments. Irony meter in play,

  23. Ivor
    October 12th, 2014 at 23:12 | #23

    @Ronald Brak

    A data source is necessary here.

    Coal fired plants capacity is in the neighborhood of 33,000 MW.

    So this implies Australia to have 1,000 square Km for mines and plant.

    Its seems to me that this figure is more like land area owned by such firms – not production itself per sq. meter.

    Has anyone actually produced “average solar production per sq meter per day, or per year” data?

  24. ZM
    October 12th, 2014 at 23:32 | #24

    Another thing – there is an issue even if we just stick to decarbonisation (although we cant do this we have to address the other ghg too) and energy.

    In Australia we have a lot of land in relation to our population – and a lot of sunlight. Not all countries are in this position. We have also deindustrialised, and not all countries have done that (or we would have no industrial consumer goods).

    Samuel Alexander writes “Renewable cannot sustain an energy-intensive global society of high-end consumers. A degrowth society embraces the necessity of “energy descent”, turning our energy crises into an opportunity for civilisational renewal.”

    Professor Quiggin says in the OP that this critique of renewable energy is wrong.

    But thinking about this – around 30% of our energy use is embodied in consumer goods (not including foods which are have another 30% embodied in them) . But since Australia has deindustrialised lots of our embodied energy is generated in other countries with more industry.

    I asked a panel at a conference at uni a question : being that we are largely deindustrialised in Australia our decarbonisation RET technical reports do not look at energy generation and systems needed for an industrialised country — so what are the reports saying for countries like China that have a lot of industry and how all countries decarbonise energy?

    The CEO from the Climate Authority’s answer said that some countries would have nuclear energy – not just renewable energy technology.

    Leaving aside that this is unfair (making poor countries do all our manufacturing and then have to have nuclear power as well) (and also leaving aside that other countries keep asking us in Australia to mind their hazardous nuclear waste for them even though we don’t need more hazards here when we already have plenty of fires and floods) — this statement implies that the Climate Authority CEO would think the basic claim of both Samuel Alexander and Will Boisvert is correct : that renewables can not provide the amount of energy globally for consumption at current levels and/or as projected.

    I write and/or because I am unsure because of the technical nature of this problem. And the technical work is still more pioneering than it is thorough and well trodden on this matter in Australia and globally. I think renewables would generate quite a bit of energy in Australia (although we need to do a fair bit of reorganising of things, worry about storage, and address other ghg). But, say the whole world was to go to renewables — then how much energy could be produced and in what sort of scenarios in terms of the production, mobility, land use, and material use implications of RET?

    If the CEO, Samuel Alexander, and Will Boisvert are right — it seems there is now a fairly big choice to be made — either:

    1. To manage/decrease the use of energy globally to be at a level that 100% renewable energy technology can provide and so also alter our production and consumption and mobility etc to fit in with this aim (appropriately managed production and consumption and mobility could also fit in with other ghg management and sustainability issues such as changes to agriculture, forest management and biodiversity, waste management etc) – we can call this The Technically and Administratively Enhanced Samuel Alexander Scenario

    Or

    2. We globally increase the amount of nuclear energy generation to provide current demand and projected future demand of energy without fossil fuels and keep growing material consumption. As consumption requires materials as well as energy — we will continue over-exploiting natural resources and causing loss of biodiversity and extinctions etc . How are methane and nitrous oxide dealt with in this scenario? Proponents of this growth based decarbonisation idea tend to ignore other ghg. We can call this The Nuclear Powered Uber-Growth Will Boisvert Scenario* (*with or without uncertain unmentioned other GHG management techniques).

    I suppose there is also another option if the basic claim of renewables not being able to meet high and increasing global energy demand is wrong:

    3. Renewable energy technology can provide enough energy globally for everyone to consume at least as much energy as Australians do today or even more — so decarbonisation of energy does not require conservative energy use. Remedies for other GHG emissions and sustainability issues remain To Be Advised. We can call this The Awaiting Confirming Technical Reports and Further Advice Scenario.

    I bring up Will Boisvert because the article linked to above (with the comment of Lang in) is by Will Boisvert in response to Naomi Klein’s recent book. The article promotes high energy economies based on nuclear power — which we know he promotes as much as is humanly possible for a freelance writer .

    Since I read the whole article since it was linked to – I will sum it up with commentary to save anyone else the trouble:

    Mr Boisvert deplores the idea of anyone thinking that “the fight for a sustainable economy is also the fight for a fair and humane one” (I do fear for his chances to earn a living if he ever seeks to take up advertising: “Our [Product] – furthering the pursuit of unfair and inhumane economies everywhere” )

    The article complains grievously of Naomi Klein’s “myopic boosterism of renewables and an unthinking rejection of nuclear power and other low-carbon energy sources” and Mr Boisvert is mightily outraged at the wrong done by arguments that “the fossil fuel sector has pervasively thwarted sustainability reforms by bribing politicians, defanging environmental groups, sponsoring fraudulent science, and plowing ahead with monstrous projects that will grind on for decades to amortize their huge costs. ” Of course – since he requires of Naomi Klein that she “needs to know how everything works and interacts” – you would think Mr Boisvert would provide us with an account of how this terrible defamation of the fossil fuel companies came about and some detail about their great innocence — but Mr Boisvert here falls short of his own high standards.

    Mr Boisvert forgets his own Higher Self again in the next sentence where he outlines the great injury done to Capitalism by the assertion that it “is allergic to the strict regulation, public investment, growth constraints and redistributive cost-sharing that decisive climate policy requires.” If only Mr Boisvert after making this lament would have been so kind as to furnish us with an account of how corporations always are pleading for more regulation, how corporations are always asking the government to invest more in public goods, and are always so joyous to encounter constraints on growth while also being the loudest voices in the world in favour of redistribution. But, cruel world, there is nothing showing Mr Boisvert “know[s] how everything works and interacts” to prove to us fulsomely that corporations have a stedfast and hearty over-enthusiam for regulation and redistribution.

    Sadly – what the article lacks in “know[ing] how everything works and interacts” is made up only with historical inaccuracy when Mr Boisvert further complains that Ms Klein writes that “coal and other fossil fuels enabled the capitalist West to control everyone and everything” in the period of European colonialism. Taking umbrage — this claim — he writes — “makes as much sense” as if Ms Klein were “condemning wind turbines because sailing ships carried the conquistadors”. I hope some one can tactfully mention to inform Mr Boisvert that coal was indeed used in the European colonial-industrial enterprise but wind turbines were not however used by conquistadors — perhaps he has read a steam-punk book instead of a history book to acquire this “know[ledge] of how everything works and interacts”.

    Mr Boisvert goes on to criticise Ms Klein for not being critical enough of the literature on the feasibility of Renewable Energy Technology “especially Mark Z. Jacobson’s controversial papers” and is most upset at the lack of discussion of “the real-world performance and feasibility of renewable generators”. As we readers here know — Mr Boisvert is famed for his own most critical readings of the literature written in favour of nuclear energy technology – and is always discussing the real performance of nuclear power giving particular attention to disasters, hazadous waste, and realistic insurance costs. I am being sarcastic of course, because Mr Boisvert’s assertion in his article of “the chaotic unreliability of weather-dependent wind and solar power” will sound most familiar and wearisome to regular readers, as will his complaint that Ms “Klein simply doesn’t understand” “the risks of nuclear waste and the allegedly high costs and slow roll-out of nuclear power” so she “can’t discuss them intelligibly”.

    Mr Boisvert — reverting back to his Higher Self again — has his sensibility most offended by Ms Klein’s “shallow and one-sided” style of discussion of the costs, roll out times, and risks of nuclear waste — so I had my hopes raised to think I could expect some depthy fair-minded discussion on these matters — but these hopes came to naught and were cruelly dashed upon the rocks as the author quickly just skipped on to praise nuclear “reactors [as] prodigious sources of clean energy” and telling us “Nuclear power is… among the least environmentally intrusive of energy sources” while “Renewable technologies…would require an unprecedented industrial reengineering of the landscape. ”

    While Mr Boisvert begins to end on sturdier ground in his agreement that a “thoroughgoing mobilization of public resources is necessary to confront the challenge of climate change” – he loses ground again when he says part of this would require the Left “redoing its risk assessments and rethinking its phobic hostility to nuclear power”.

  25. BilB
    October 13th, 2014 at 00:22 | #25

    The area point is a good one, Ronald B. The coal mine that fed Munmora Power station was a 40 square kilometer chunk of land for instance. That at 50 megawatts per square kilometer equals 2 gigawatt or about two thirds of Munmora’s baseload delivery, assuming it was in the optimal location for CSP.

    The Hunter valley open cut mines cover an area of some 600 square kilometers and are up to 200 meters deep (60 meters avarage). The same area covered with PV panels would generate most of Australia’s electricity needs.

    Its a simple calculation. 600 million square meters with 20% efficient panels time 275 days of 7.5 hour exposure (average) is 600,000,000 * .2 * 275 * 7.5 /3 times 2 (spacing) gives 165 billion kilowatt hours per years or 73% of Australia’s current electricity consumption.

    Obviously it is very hard to find a fair figure for excavation. the swimming pool figure is around $200 per cubic meter. even if you divide that by four that gives a per meter of depth of $50 so to excavate to 100 meters would be $5000 per meter area, or 5 billion dollars per square kilometer to get to the coal at 100 meters down.

    Economies of scale are going to mean that they excavated those huge holes for less cost that that but no matter how you discount the cost it comes to nothing like as little as the cost of covering that hole area with solar panels. Even if we use a high figure of $500 per square meter (5 per watt) the cost to fit out the Hunter is $200 billion dollars and would have an annual earning value of $8.25 billion with a retail value of $31 billion (19 cents per unit average).

    Perhaps the best way to calculate the the comparative value of solar against mining is compare the cost of covering the holes with solar to the cost of filling in the holes.

    http://www.theherald.com.au/story/1242461/hole-truth-after-the-coal-is-gone/

    These are all figures that the mining industry never want the public to know about, so once you have read this information and understood it, shoot your self in the head.

  26. BilB
    October 13th, 2014 at 00:30 | #26

    …50 megawatts per square kilometer for CSP…

  27. BilB
    October 13th, 2014 at 01:01 | #27

    Some further inconvenient truths.

    Going on this 2010 NSW Mining fact sheet, the earning power of the Hunter valley from coal is only twice the earning power of the equivalent area put to the generation of electricity from PV panels at 5 cents per unit (coal equivalent cost).

    8.25 billion PV electricity versus 15 billion coal sales.

    Will Boisvert has a lot of catching up to do.

    “Mineral Resources in the Hunter
    The Hunter is currently the biggest coal producing
    region in the NSW, providing 64% of production. In
    2008-09 the Hunter produced 97 million tonnes (Mt)
    of saleable coal.2
    90Mt of coal worth nearly $15
    billion was exported from Newcastle to international
    destinations like Japan, the Republic of Korea,
    Taiwan and China in 2008-09.3
    The Hunter Valley
    Coal Chain is made up of 14 coal producers, 35
    mines, 24 rail load points, and 15,000 loaded rail trips
    each year, ending at the Port of Newcastle, the
    biggest coal port in the world.”

    http://www.nswmining.com.au/NSWMining/media/NSW-Mining/Publications/Fact%20Sheets/Fact-Sheet-Mining-and-the-Hunter-Valley.pdf

  28. John Quiggin
    October 13th, 2014 at 05:35 | #28

    Basically I don’t think this (more local self sufficiency vs improved technology) is an either/or question and it seems misleading to present it that way.

    Agreed, but that’s definitely the way that Trainer and Alexander present it, so it’s appropriate to assess it that way.

  29. Will Boisvert
    October 13th, 2014 at 06:03 | #29

    @ ZM 24:

    Thanks for your comments on my review of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. I Just want to correct a few misperceptions (without getting into certain topics that might get me censored):

    1. In the review I actually agree with much of Klein’s critique of the failures of neoliberal approaches to sustainability. I largely agree with her argument that “the fossil fuel sector has pervasively thwarted sustainability reforms by bribing politicians, defanging environmental groups, sponsoring fraudulent science, and plowing ahead with monstrous projects that will grind on for decades to amortize their huge costs,” and that it ““is allergic to the strict regulation, public investment, growth constraints and redistributive cost-sharing that decisive climate policy requires.” In these passages I was restating Klein’s argument, not disputing or “deploring” it.

    2. I do, however, write that Klein’s grasp of energy policy is extraordinarily weak and biased, and that her anathematization of some clean-energy sources–including hydro–is counterproductive to decarbonization efforts. I give several detailed examples of how this leads to distorted and deceptive analysis on her part.

    3. Most pertinent to this post, I also criticize Klein’s austerian impulses. Her prescription for a sustainable civilization and economy contain strong, though vague and confused, calls for austerity, including an endorsement of “selective degrowth”–the very nonsense that John Quiggin rightly denounces here. Like him, I believe that feasible sustainability is to be found in technologies that accommodate economic growth and a high standard of living for everyone–but cleanly–rather than in retrenchment, austerity and a reversal of growth.

  30. October 13th, 2014 at 06:28 | #30

    @Ivor
    Ivor, the Hazelwood Power Station and mine is probably exceptional given it is the least efficient coal plant in the developed world and has a large cooling pond (which is chock-full of tropical fish). But the point I am trying to make is that rooftop solar removes about infinity times less land from its original use than coal power, and wind power can remove significantly less land from use than coal power, so you don’t have to worry about:

    “2) if efficient renewables need dams, acres for wind farms and for solar, all of which are finite, how can renewables give the entire world’s population the same standard of living?”

    Has this information I’ve kindly provided you with helped put your mind at ease? If so, a simple thank you would be appreciated.

  31. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 06:46 | #31

    I want to take up a point John Quiggin made.

    “How rapidly could such a transformation be achieved? An obvious answer is to run the tape in reverse. The shift from a largely agricultural economy to our current post-industrial economy took about 200 years in the leading economies, and has nowhere been achieved in less than two generations (say 60 years). It seems reasonably to assume that reversing the process would take just as long, even granting the improbable premise that we started tomorrow.”

    The transformation John refers to is the de-growth transition path that “would require a comprehensive restructuring of the entire economy: food production and distribution systems are just one example.”

    I agree with John’s point and now want to raise this same point of “comprehensive restructuring of the entire economy” in relation to the transition from an 80% fossil fuel powered economy to a 0% fossil fuel powered economy. In that form it sounds somewhat silly so let’s reverse it. We need to go from a 20% non-fossil fuel powered economy to a 100% non-fossil fuel powered economy.

    Do we not face exactly the same issue here as John referred to in relation to de-growth? This issue is a “comprehensive restructuring of the entire economy: food production and distribution systems are just one example.” The choices for, say the rest of this century, are “de-growth” or “alternative growth”. Let us assume that “alternative growth” ecapsulates the idea of at least a partial move from quantitative growth to qualitative growth. This is so people like me won’t loudly squawk on about limits to growth.

    Removing the 80% of energy from fossil fuels from our energy mix will entail a “comprehensive restructuring of the entire economy: food production and distribution systems are just one example.” There will need to be a massive re-tooling of about 80% of our manfuacturing, farming and transport industries and the massive retirement/transition of not all our infrastructure but of that proportion that relies upon or supports fossil fuel motive energy.

    Nuclear power will do about what it does now (provide about 5% of our total energy needs) until about 2050 when it will tail off due to uranium exhaustion. This will remain true without moving away from mostly once-through fuel cycles and without some Gen IV breakthrough. I don’t want to re-start this argument but I agree with John that a nuclear renaissance seems unlikely at this point.

    This is my question set for John and others. How difficult substitionally, technically, industrially, socially and economically will this transition and transformation be? Do we have 2 generations (60 years) to complete it? Would it be acceptable to reach zero fossil fuel use by January 2075?

  32. hix
    October 13th, 2014 at 06:54 | #32

    Producing 100% of Germany`s current electricity consumption from solar would requires arround 2% of the aviable land. Thats without trying to build dense or particular efficient installations. I can see the problem in 100 or 200 years. For now, it shouldnt be much of a concern, even in say Japan (they`ll have to build longer transmission lines and build at suboptimum northern locations, but that should still be quite cheap if prices move as they did so far). The land wont be damaged either. One could even keep using it for agriculture if one absolutly wants. (Calculation base: 700 billion kwh consumption, 1000 kwh per kwp, 10 square meter per kwp, 357000 square kilometer land)

  33. hix
    October 13th, 2014 at 07:00 | #33

    @hix
    Addition: Note that swiching to 100% electricity for heating and transportation purpose would require far less primary energy than the current fossil fuel dominated system, so additional electricty demand would not even increase twofold in this case. Space just isnt a serious constraint in the next decades.

  34. Ivor
    October 13th, 2014 at 07:16 | #34

    @Ronald Brak

    You gave 4 figures – 33, 40, 200+, 6 – with no source.

    You were asked for the data. It is possible to skew data if no source is provided.

    If these numbers exist (other than with you) then where?

    How does proposing solar at 40 watts per square metre fit in with my issue at the earlier point 2)?

  35. Hermit
    October 13th, 2014 at 07:35 | #35

    A reality check to those who think we are on the cusp of revolutionary change is to look at some official statistics
    http://www.bree.gov.au/sites/bree.gov.au/files/files//publications/aes/2014-australian-energy-statistics.pdf
    We see for example from Table 2 that fossil fuels account for 94.4% of our primary energy input (transport, direct heat and fuel for electricity generation) while renewables (mostly 20th century built hydro) account for the other 5.6%. Good luck turning that around anytime soon.

    I see little point in claiming that large energy fluxes like sunlight are largely untapped. It comes down to cost and convenience. We could irrigate the Simpson Desert by desalinating abundant seawater but for some reason it’s not happening.

  36. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 07:50 | #36

    @hix

    I am not looking at physical space as the constraint although you might not be answering my post. I am asking about;

    (1) substitutability (enough lithium, neodymium etc. to substitute an electrical economy for a fossil fuel economy)

    (2) technical constraints (Eg. Will Gen IV nuclear power ever be feasible and safe? Or will it ever be possible to have electric tractors, electric earth moving etc. on a large scale?)

    (3) industrial constraints (How do we reconfigure or replace cement making which is a big CO2 emitter?)

    (4) social constraints (Not an absolute problem but definitely a transition problem involving a huge changes in expectations. When people en masse realise the giant-SUV-for-every-family dream is over forever how do they take it? Do Bogans riot when they realise they can’t have their petrol-head V8s for ever? Ok, I am joking a bit here but there will be serious issues in re-aligning our workforce, soaking up mass unemployment from layoffs in the old industries and so on. Suburban sprawl will have to be re-configured. The issues go on and on.)

    (5) economic constraints (and energy constraints) – The re-tooling of our entire economy and the re-configuring our entire infrastructure are going to have to occur. This is a gargantuan unertaking. Economic management of this and attendent social issues will be enormously challenging. The energy problem might be a changover problem. We still need to burn a certain amount of fossil fuel to build the renewable energy infrastructure to a point where it can fund its own further growth energetically and financially speaking as well as meeting our other needs. It’s a fixed capital transformation problem. (I hope economists understand me here as it is a very important point and I don’t know the proper technical terms economists use.)

    Existing fixed capital must be dynamically transformed into new fixed capital. The way this happens is that existing fixed capital is initially employed to build the new fixed capital (infrastructure, power generation etc). As it does this the existing fixed capital is slowly, retired; de-commissioned, dismantled. Progressively the new fixed capital takes on the task of replicating itself.

    We have a good analogy in mammalian biology. A healthy polar bear can bring up a cub until the cub matures into at least a sub-adult and becomes self-maintaining (accidents and mischance aside). An old, ill or injured mother will struggle to do this and may die when the cub is too young. The cub then dies too. Our fossil fuel economy not only could die naturally before the renewable cub is sub-adult but we will almost certainly have to deliberately strangle the fossil-fuel mother economy whilst the renewable offspring is still quite young. Can it survive and grow after that point?

  37. October 13th, 2014 at 07:54 | #37

    @Ivor
    Ivor, go find a rooftop solar system. It shouldn’t be difficult if you are in Australia. If you look carefully at it you will see that it removes no land from its original use. So if rooftop solar removes no land from its original use and coal power removes some land from its original use then rooftop solar removes much less land from its original use than coal power. You can determine this for yourself mathematically by dividing zero by some. If the information I’ve just provided helps you to determine that determine that rooftop solar removes less land from its original use than coal power, please let me know.

  38. Collin Street
    October 13th, 2014 at 07:55 | #38

    hix :
    The land wont be damaged either. One could even keep using it for agriculture if one absolutly wants.

    One could, but building commercial/industrial/residential structures underneath the solar panels lets you build synergistically on the “blocking out the sun” effect that solar panels offer.

    [if one wanted to be particularly fancy, one could do the whole thing backwards, building solar panels on “brownfield” sites, those already occupied by structures.]

  39. BilB
    October 13th, 2014 at 07:57 | #39

    Hix,

    Germany needs only 3,500 square kilometers of gross area to produce their 700 billion kwhrs using 20% efficient panels.

    3500 * 1000000 * 200 (kwhrs per square meter annually)

    That is without spacing and seasonal fluctuations.

  40. John Goss
    October 13th, 2014 at 08:01 | #40

    Dear Hermit. You are not seeing the power of exponential growth. The graph at the attached reference shows wind and solar growing at enormous rates, so although they were insignificant a few years ago, they are now leaving poor nuclear in the dust. So luck won’t be needed to decarbonise the economy.
    By the way if you go on the reneweconomy mailing list you will daily get lots of good information about the renewable revolution.

    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/wind-solar-energy-generation-capacities-catching-nuclear-23306

  41. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 08:02 | #41

    Footnote: What I have called a “fixed capital transformation problem” might well be different from the so-called “transformation problem” in classical and even possibly Marxian economics.

    I am literally saying we may have a problem in transforming exisiting fixed capital (coal power stations, oil based transport) into new fixed capital (solar and wind power generators and all-electric transport) because of problems related to substitutability, technical constraints, industrial constraints, social constraints and economic constraints including the problem of “fixed capital transformation” (my ideosyncratic term) itself.

  42. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 08:17 | #42

    @Ronald Brak

    I have developed the simple formula that if we can “roof it” we can “solar-panel” it. If we can find the materials for one, we can find the materials for the other. The common materials of the two processes are close to superabundant (steel and aluminium or iron ore and bauxite). The major new material required (silicon) makes up 25.7% of the earth’s crust so it is superabundant. Trace elements required might be an issue. These are the rare metals or so-called “rare earths”.

    Roofing has now been developed that is a roofing-panel and solar-panel all in one. The “rare earths” constraint has been exaggerated by many critics but there is still some reality to it. I suspect however that technical advances will obviate this limit. The most likely areas are nano-engineering including but not limited to nantennas based solar panels which will produce power from all spectra of elctro-magnetic radiation not just the visible spectrum.

    (Note: This does not obviate my concerns about the overall “fixed capital infrastructure tansformation problem” as I term it.

  43. Hermit
    October 13th, 2014 at 08:26 | #43

    @John Goss
    Yairs it’s quite strange how I how haven’t drunk the renewables Kool Aid since I’ve had PV since 2005, make my own car fuel from used cooking oil, cook on a wood stove and I’m involved in several district renewable energy projects. After all that I’ve come to the conclusion that renewables will not make a serious enough dent in our fossil fuel dependence.

    I think wind and solar still have room to grow even without mandates. In Australia they represent 2.9% and 1.5% of our electricity according to BREE. Beyond currently unknown levels of penetration without Gwh scale energy storage I think they will hit diminishing returns (to cost or emissions) as Germany vividly demonstrates. I suspect we will not have enough low carbon energy be it renewable, nuclear or CCS to replace unhindered fossil fuels therefore we are unwittingly on an energy descent path.

  44. Collin Street
    October 13th, 2014 at 09:03 | #44

    > without Gwh scale energy storage

    We don’t actually need 100% reliable electricity, you know. We’ve got pretty good real-world examples of how unreliable electricity affects society [third world, etc], and it really doesn’t seem to cause any more than marginal problems until you hit pretty high levels, short-notice cutoffs of hours-per-week for industrial/commercial, or even higher for residential.

    [any place that needs/wants 100% reliable electricity _already_ has backup power, you know. Equipment failures mean that our current electricity distribution process is already noticeably unreliable.]

  45. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 09:09 | #45

    @Hermit

    You are still doing the right thing with respect to your own situation. You are becoming as energy self-sufficient as possible. I take it you are in a rural or semi-rural environment. Your lifestyle can putter on while (and if) the cities struggle. Just watch out for carloads of bogans coming in the farm gate to steal you biodiesel, chickens, lambs and vegtables.

  46. October 13th, 2014 at 09:16 | #46

    @Ikonoclast
    Ikonoclast, I certainly agree there isn’t any shortage of materials to make solar PV. Even rare earths aren’t even really an issue for silicon PV as common doping elements boron and phosphorous are used in such small amounts that boron’s rareness isn’t a real problem and phosphorous isn’t rare at all. (And I’ll mention that neither are expecially toxic.) Neither boron nor phosphorous are technically rare earths, but that’s okay. And I’ll just stress how little material is required for doping. Depending on the desired effect, one atom of dope per million other atoms can be sufficient.

  47. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 09:20 | #47

    @Collin Street

    I was in Kashmir in about 1983. The lake near Srinagar had houseboats all along the shore and it was obvious the lake was eutrified from unproccessed sewerage waste. The hash we got hold of was VERY strong and Indian rum is real rotgut. That’s just to set the scene. 😉

    Electricity was an interesting case. All along the roads around the lake and in town, people would throw wires with hooks on the end up to the power lines to steal power. Early evening, lights and electric cookers would glow dimly because of the serious voltage drop. As the evening wore on the lights would become brighter and brighter. One would pass out in dim, pleasant light on the houseboat and then wake up at 2 am with all the same lights blazing away at full intensity. The first time that happened it was a real WTF moment!

  48. Luke Elford
    October 13th, 2014 at 09:23 | #48

    I enjoyed the critique, but are these degrowth people really likely to have a serious impact on policy, rather than simply waste their own time entertaining a ridiculous fantasy?

    What struck me about the article is how little effort is made to justify the core idea of self sufficiency in terms of the need to reduce environmental impacts. If we have to live in mud huts–I mean cob houses–why do we have to build them ourselves rather than engage in specialisation and (local) trade? If we have to recycle rather than make new clothes, why does it have to be do-it-yourself? Why do fashion and marketing industries have to die? What’s the environmental benefit from substituting home production in place of traded products?

    I think most people can see through the degrowthers’ marketing spin. I mean, it’s pretty good–I’m sure there’s an advertising job for Samuel Alexander somewhere (perhaps selling Coalition budget cuts?), with impressive-sounding but meaningless phrases like “in our simplicity, we would be rich” and ”a life of frugal abundance”.

    But the reality of the degrowth he envisages is revealed in Alexander’s other work (http://simplicityinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/TheSufficiencyEconomy3.pdf). For example, on housing he writes:

    “…This might involve things like taking in boarders or putting a caravan in the driveway to help resist further urban sprawl…”

    “‘Retired’ shipping containers can be easily converted into humble abodes, and students could easily spend their student years or beyond living simply in a shed or a tent in someone’s backyard”

    This makes the excuse he relies upon for the failure of people to embrace degrowth–that capitalism makes the cost of decent housing so expensive that people have to spend their lives working to pay for it–seem utterly bizarre. His alternative–for people to live in caravans or sheds or tents–is already highly affordable, especially when combined with his penchant for re-ruralisation. It’s just rejected by almost everybody as grossly inadequate (for others, as well as themselves) for some strange reason.

  49. Ivor
    October 13th, 2014 at 09:26 | #49

    @BilB

    I assume your figure of 3,500 square kilometers relates to just the panels and assuming they are all facing the right way (azmith) at the correct angle (elevation). The actual roof area would be greater.

    If the panels are not perfectly aligned and are not unobstructed – presumably you could double your figure.

  50. Hermit
    October 13th, 2014 at 09:31 | #50

    @Ikonoclast
    So far the only raiders are for firewood and they get the evil eye. Not sure where future thieves will get petrol for their vehicles. Nor can bushies get to distant supermarkets. I’ve mentioned this before but some people with a bush block nearby were looking at $10k + for grid connection so they went for tracking PV, microwind, battery bank and generator, all trouble plagued. One of them said ‘I’m getting too old for this sh#t’. Without prompting then said it would be much simpler if we were all on a nuclear powered grid. Dare I suggest that keen readers of Renew Economy don’t have the character building advantage of actually doing this stuff.

  51. October 13th, 2014 at 09:44 | #51

    Ted Trainer’s economic analysis of renewable energy is indeed spurious, as John Quiggin says. Ted has also misrepresented studies of 100% renewable electricity, such as the global scenario by Jacobson and Delucchi and the UNSW hourly simulations of Australia’s National Electricity Market with 100% renewable energy based on commercially available technologies.

    This is also good reason for questioning whether Degrowth has to be tied to Ted’s recipe. A growing literature on Degrowth and the Steady State Economy (SSE) (defined by low throughput of materials and energy and zero population growth) addresses scenarios for an industrialised society. Modern research on SSE commenced with Herman Daly’s work in the 1970s and moved to Peter Victor’s macro-economic modelling of the Canadian economy with SSE and Graham Turner’s biophysical modelling scenarios of Australia with SSE. Presentations at the 2014 Fenner Conference on the Environment, which was on the theme of SSE and held at UNSW on 2-3 October, will be uploaded soon on the Institute of Environmental Studies at UNSW website: http://www.ies.unsw.edu.au/.

  52. Geoff Mosley
    October 13th, 2014 at 10:01 | #52

    People get very mixed up about proposals in terms of whether they are either for 1) the economic growth economy we have now (i.e. continually expanding) ,2) the transition to an alternative economy, or 3) the vision for the alternative (e.g. the steady state). So for instance you might get a criticism that trying to reach 100% renewable in an economic growth economy is not a good idea because, if there is to be no overall change in the system that help to increase its’ life span its lifespan and the various other forms of damage it is wreaking on the planet. However it obviously a good course to follow if it is coupled with measures that lead to contraction of the economy including reduced population and consumption as part of a planned move to a steady state economy, so that needs to be made clear. The other major example of this failure to understand the context of the suggestions is this idea that self sufficiency could not work because of the large number of people on this planet and the over 50% that live in cites. Once again these ideas of full self sufficiency are part of the vision for an alternative economy many generations into the future where the number of people on earth is greatly reduced and the huge cities of the present no longer exist. But, just like renewable energy, they have an important part in the transition. I am by the way a professional gardener and did my bit in community gardens and on farms during World War Two when British agriculture and food supply went through a major transformation in two short years.

  53. Newtownian
    October 13th, 2014 at 10:06 | #53

    Many of these issues were considered at the CASSE ‘Addicted to Growth’ conference 10 days ago.

    A few comments:

    1. The conference presentations should be on the net shortly. I’ll throw a link onto one of these posts shortly if someone doesnt beat me to it.

    2. All the issues above were raised – and a lot more – and happily it wasnt an acrimonious forum at all despite the differences in opinions. As Mark’s comments indicate it wasnt a case of whether or not to ‘degrow’ but how to do it sustainably equitably and without creating hell on earth. Both local production (reduces transport energy) and global/national scale things were needed.

    3. The arguments above are to a fair extent a bit selective if only due to length. The mood of the conference in the end I’d gauge as “We are so ‘[email protected]#ed but hopefully we are wrong so lets do something about it’. What the presentations largely lacked – though there were important exceptions – was serious numbers with some exceptions – along the lines of Mark Diesendorf’s book. (Part of the problem I have with Ted is he doesn’t seem to like numbers which could provide a test of his proposals. This is also a failing of Barry Book although he tends to be more selective and gloss over the implications of his proposals – which seem all about nuclear and crucially forget all the interesting social and economic transformation stuff – looks a bit like we can have business as usual with a technological fix alone. And he calls himself an ecologist of sorts.

    4. Regarding small is beautiful v. what I guess you might say has been called in the past ‘appropriate technology’ – I think the consensus was that neither will make much headway until the neoliberal economic system changes.

    5. There were a lot of good speakers including via (as appropriate) internet links. Dick Smith impressed me again – in addition to providing supporting funding he again raised better than anyone the problem that we operate so far in a capitalist paradigm – like mum and dad investments – that extricating ourselves from the growth addiction will be exceedingly difficult. But he is still looking to ideas people to provide the basis and is not subject to delusions of grandeur.

    6. Ted Trainer didnt turn up – not sure why as he would have found plenty of friends as well as debating partners. The point was both the large scale and small scale approaches were canvassed. The guy from the Worldwatch Institute seemed to push the small scale almost to the verge of despair – maybe the depressing stats had got to him and his fear for his children was driving his mood.

    7. There was a very interesting presentation on ‘not for profit’ capitalism. Maybe its an oxymoron but it did make the point that there are a lot of good historical models which were successful so you cant really use Nimbin’s limitations to prove the rule that small is not viable.

    8. It wasnt clear when the crunch will come – that will make this stuff academic flavor of the month in a way it hasnt been since the original LtG. But at a guess its looks like it might be described by a triangular distribution with limits of between 1 and 15 years.

  54. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 10:12 | #54

    @Mark Diesendorf

    Since we have a genuine expert in the field commenting, can we have an opinion on the “fixed capital transformation” problem? This is my ideosyncratic term, but not my concept, and not to be confused with the the “transformation problem” in classical or Marxist economics.

    By “fixed capital transformation” I mean the necessary and extensive process of phasing out all fossil fuel generating fixed capital and all equipment that uses or supports the fossil fuel economy, especially the fixed assets of infrastructure, tooling, equipment and fleets. I also include the process of building and phasing in the new fixed assets etc. for a renewable economy.

    The changeover is a process where the old fossil fuel infrastructure must energetically drive the building of the new infrastructure until the new infrastructure reaches a critical mass where it can supply both the energy needed for all other industrial, commercial and residential demands and the energy for its own maintenance and growth.

    If we could burn all fossil fuels safely, I don’t think there is any doubt that there is enough energy available for the changeover or bootstrap up, if you like, to a renewable economy. However, it is clear that we are going to have to deliberately strangle (or price out) the fossil fuel economy welll before this point if we are to avoid dangerous warming. Does this leave enough energy leeway to bootstrap the renewable economy? That is a key question I think.

  55. BilB
    October 13th, 2014 at 10:40 | #55

    I made the comment because I thought that hix had the area required at 357,000 sqklm, but I see now that is the total area of Germany and his 1 to 2 percent figure is more or less correct. Yes, of course there are spacing and facing issues.

  56. Newtownian
    October 13th, 2014 at 10:41 | #56

    Luke Elford :
    I enjoyed the critique, but are these degrowth people really likely to have a serious impact on policy, rather than simply waste their own time entertaining a ridiculous fantasy?
    What struck me about the article is how little effort is made to justify the core idea of self sufficiency in terms of the need to reduce environmental impacts. If we have to live in mud huts–I mean cob houses–why do we have to build them ourselves rather than engage in specialisation and (local) trade? If we have to recycle rather than make new clothes, why does it have to be do-it-yourself? Why do fashion and marketing industries have to die? What’s the environmental benefit from substituting home production in place of traded products?
    I think most people can see through the degrowthers’ marketing spin. I mean, it’s pretty good–I’m sure there’s an advertising job for Samuel Alexander somewhere (perhaps selling Coalition budget cuts?), with impressive-sounding but meaningless phrases like “in our simplicity, we would be rich” and ”a life of frugal abundance”.

    Luke you need to look at this slightly differently:

    1. Short of some Star Trek fantasy we are being faced with diverse limits to growth to the material status of global society. This has been known a long time to people with a biological sciences bent but the modern version is traceable to the late 60s/early 1970s aka Limits to Growth.

    2. At that time economists dismissed this based on such ideas as the Jevon’s Paradox. And for a time that piece of empirical extrapolation seemed to work. But now here we are and original LtG crude models are looking increasingly pretty damn good.

    3. But what to do? – What happenned earlier was the environmental movement splintered a bit like the People’s front of Judea v. the Judean People’s Front – so you got Deep Ecologists, Shallow Environmentalists, Technological cornucopians all pursuing different alternatives as best they could. Some successes are well known – Photovoltaics is one magic example but there are others like composting toilets and urine recycling which have moved from Hippy toys to serious technology.

    You also has the socially oriented people like Ted Trainer pursuing the idea of alternative living – much harder nut to crack.

    Unfortunately this idea development period is cast is a negative light by too much selective quoting without understanding of the context.

    4. Since those halcyon days we appear to have moved from the theoretical to the real – i.e. climate change and out of control carbon emissions is reality, not just a projection of ‘what if China started seriously industrializing……what if we dont stop fishing for Arctic Cod’.

    5. The overall issue is whether our ecological footprint is now so big we need to shrink extractive economic activity and replace it with less quantifiable but more pleasant ways of living? – The estimates (which are slightly rubbery, though not at an exponential scale) say – Yes – and so you get to this whole emerging debate/discussion of degrowth – which means degrowth of destructive resource gobbling economic activities – because it will certainly happen in the lifetime of children just born or more likely in the next 1-20 years (the numbers arent good enough to be sure) one way of another.

    6. So change is inevitable – if nothing is done it will likely be through some kind of collapse where the energy and materials we can put in just to stand maintain the status quo are no longer sufficient and negative feedbacks kick in leading to a dystopia possible similar to various well known soaps like the hunger games.

    Or we can try and do better via the middle road of change based on alternative sustainable technology. And/or we can try for societal change – which will happen in some form. Geoff says it nicely above I think.

    In conclusion degrowth is coming one way or another – and its not just spin or millenial greenies. What the debate is about is how to do it equitably and without gross impoverishment while keeping some semblance of democracy and freedom at the same time. Its a big ask and is not guaranteed but its the only alternative on offer between delusional growth economics and the hard logic of the medium terms resource numbers.

  57. Newtownian
    October 13th, 2014 at 10:50 | #57

    @Ikonoclast

    If you havent you might want to get a copy of Mark’s recent book.

    Separately if you are interested in changeover problems this recent offering on the dreaded car may be of interest.

    “Author: M. A. Delucchi, C. Yang, A. F. Burke, J. M. Ogden, K. Kurani, J. Kessler and D. Sperling
    Year: 2014
    Title: An assessment of electric vehicles: technology, infrastructure requirements, greenhouse-gas emissions, petroleum use, material use, lifetime cost, consumer acceptance and policy initiatives
    Journal: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
    Volume: 372
    Issue: 2006
    Date: January 13, 2014
    Short Title: An assessment of electric vehicles: technology, infrastructure requirements, greenhouse-gas emissions, petroleum use, material use, lifetime cost, consumer acceptance and policy initiatives
    DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2012.0325
    Abstract: Concerns about climate change, urban air pollution and dependence on unstable and expensive supplies of foreign oil have led policy-makers and researchers to investigate alternatives to conventional petroleum-fuelled internal-combustion-engine vehicles in transportation. Because vehicles that get some or all of their power from an electric drivetrain can have low or even zero emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and urban air pollutants, and can consume little or no petroleum, there is considerable interest in developing and evaluating advanced electric vehicles (EVs), including pure battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles. To help researchers and policy-makers assess the potential of EVs to mitigate climate change and reduce petroleum use, this paper discusses the technology of EVs, the infrastructure needed for their development, impacts on emissions of GHGs, petroleum use, materials use, lifetime costs, consumer acceptance and policy considerations.”

    The point here is people are thinking about it and tools are emerging to do the sums though how you would incorporate this into the market without jettisons ‘free markets’ beats me.

    A particular problem in a world that is not globally coherent is the way carbon trading can be used to inhibit real change. In recent years the footprint of the US and UK has in fact gone down – by virtue of exporting emissions indirectly to China. But to do something about this would need to involve killing the evil TAP and TPP now in the offing.

  58. peter
    October 13th, 2014 at 10:58 | #58

    @Newtownian
    Newtonian in relation to your Point 7 ‘not for profit capitalism’ Guy Rundle has a very interesting book ‘A Revolution in the Making – 3D printing, robots and the future’. I’m wondering if any similarities. Any takers?

  59. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 10:59 | #59

    “Education Minister Christopher Pyne describes ANU decision to ditch mining company investments as ‘bizarre'” – ABC News.

    What is really bizarre is Pyne’s and the government’s total lack of understanding of these issues. They are supposedly intelligent people but their wilfull ignorance on these issues knows no bounds. We can rank Pyne’s asinine comment right up there with Hockey’s comment about being offended by wind generators. I note that Hockey never said he was offended by the brown coal pit blaze and pollution at Morwell, Victoria.

    This kind of highly simplistic, selective and distorted representation of a complex and crucial reality (AGW and fossil fuels) by these rank idiots in the LNP (no other term for them) makes my blood boil. I can’t let myself be knowingly within 5 kilometers of any of these pollies or I might do an “Andy Flowers” on them. I am not built like Andy Flowers but it could still get pretty ugly.

  60. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 11:01 | #60

    Correction: I meant Ben Flower, the rugby league player. I might be tempted do a “Ben Flower”. I would resist but it would take all my self control.

  61. Luke Elford
    October 13th, 2014 at 11:34 | #61

    @Newtownian

    I disagree with the idea that adjusting to environmental constraints–most importantly avoiding climate change–means degrowth of the form that Alexander trumpets (which is certainly not to say it doesn’t require very significant changes).

    But the spin I’m criticising is the idea that Alexander’s degrowth would be the joyous experience he sells it as. For example, if Alexander really believes that to adjust to environmental constraints people will need to start living in sheds, tents and shipping containers, fine, but don’t try to sell it as ‘frugal abundance’. If we shouldn’t be optimistic about the prospects of technology or global political action to facilitate economic growth in the face of environmental constraints, as degrowthers assert, why should we be optimistic about the prospects for a near-subsistence economic future that is in any way less hellish than those of the past and present?

  62. October 13th, 2014 at 11:36 | #62

    What Ikonoclast calls ‘the fixed capital transformation’ is currently the subject of research by several groups around the world, including some of us at UNSW. At this stage the following brief preliminary general comments are offered:
    (1) If we phase out fossil fuel power stations and other fossil infrastructure and replace them with renewable energy and energy efficiency, the new infrastructure will require somewhat more materials than replacing the old fossil power stations etc with more of the same.
    (2) Offsetting this is the fact that most of the energy efficient and renewable energy technologies of interest (e.g. solar PV, concentrated solar thermal and wind) have short energy payback periods (defined in terms of energy, not dollars) and so increasingly during the transition to a sustainable energy future the new technologies/infrastructure will be built with inputs from renewable energy.
    (3) Since most of the renewable energy technologies can be mass-manufactured and hence installed very rapidly compared with coal or nuclear, the transition to renewable energy breeders could occur rapidly, given the political will and mobilisation of capital.
    (4) Since there are no GHG emissions from most sustainable energy technologies during their operation, over their life-cycles they will emit much less GHG emissions, possibly one hundredth, compared with fossil fuels. (Large dams flooding dense vegetation are exceptions.)
    (5) Sustainable energy also has less life-cycle emissions than nuclear, although not by such a huge factor as for fossil fuels. Taking account of the increasing inputs of fossil energy (diesel) needed to mine lower and lower grade uranium, and assuming that fast breeder reactors continue to fail to become commercial technologies, sustainable energy could soon have roughly a factor of 5-10 advantage over existing nuclear energy technologies in terms of life-cycle GHG emissions.

  63. Newtownian
    October 13th, 2014 at 11:36 | #63

    @peter

    The person who presented was Jennifer Hinton. See http://postgrowth.org/learn/how-on-earth/

    She seemed convincing but it would be good if John or another economist here could critique their models and ideas directly – constructively of course.

  64. Hermit
    October 13th, 2014 at 11:38 | #64

    With our eyes wide open we have opted for reduced per capita energy use due to the combination of oil and gas depletion, population growth and lack of long term investment. Specifically
    2015-2016 eastern Australia is expected to have shortages of reasonably priced gas
    2016-2018 decline of US fracking will make Peak Oil blindingly obvious.
    I also predict that Germany will still have nuclear power (currently 15% of their electricity) by the phaseout date of 2022.

    Financial hardship aside I think as a bonus world emissions may follow the low RCP 2.6 scenario whereby land warming maxes out at 2.3C. We’ll drive less but as IEA predicts coal will still be our largest single source of electricity til 2050. This is somewhat more grimy than the nirvana some hope for.

  65. jungney
    October 13th, 2014 at 11:47 | #65

    A very interesting read. Degrowth in a specifically capitalist economy will happen as a function of ecological disruption to systems of production and distribution: heat waves, floods, mega-storms, water shortages and subsequent flow on effects for the human population will account for rapid degrowth. This will likely happen well before 2050. Alternative mixed economies based on co-operation will develop. Necessity will be the mother of invention as it was in Cuba after their loss of Soviet fuel and fertilizer subsidies. The organopónicos of Havana are making a fair fist of things.

    In the meantime, state planned degrowth is an excellent idea but it needs to be coupled to social policies designed to sustain people during this period. A reasonable cost of living allowance would be sensible for those whe either choose to opt from from a capitalist economy or those who are simply unable to participate due to the absence of jobs and infrastructure.

    In the meantime my own quarter acre block garden is seasonally highly productive. It doesn’t provide near enough for two people but it certainly takes the strain off the wallet and the wallet away from paying for the available cornucopia of goods air freighted into the country, an absurdity, that most people take for granted.

    As to roof top solar: installation costs should be heavily subsidized as a matter of urgency. This could be better managed than the insulation scheme.

    Work patterns will need to be reassessed. Summer heat will soon make it impossible to do outdoor work during extended and severe heat. The Spanish approach, midday shelter and nighttime work, may provide a solution.

    The gist of what I’m getting at is the need for emergency measures and appropriate thinking. Klein’s austerity is the reality for many of the world’s poor. Most people in Australia on social security are already living in austerity, including me. I don’t have a problem with an austere economic life, far from it, it is a puzzle to solve and involves creative thinking and living. But austerity, one way or the other, which is to say voluntary or imposed by conditions, will be necessary.

  66. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 11:58 | #66

    @Hermit

    The IEA has a bad track record with its long term predictions. Or am I confusing it with the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)? I know at least one of them (probably the EIA) had a woeful track record in denying peak conventional oil as a possibility right up until it happened.

    I really do not think coal will be our largest source for generation of electricty in 2050. This completely defies current trends. There is no reason why thermal coal use cannot be zero by 2050. Solar power, wind power and a few others will cover this. The more difficult issue will be getting oil out of the economy, especially but not only in the transport sector.

  67. Newtownian
    October 13th, 2014 at 12:05 | #67

    Luke Elford :

    Hi Luke

    Regarding Alexander I confess I havent looked closely at his stuff because I’ve been watching Ted’s back to basics approach for many years including a couple of visits to his place down on the George’s River. I am presuming that Alexander has something similar in mind which to judge by your comments is the case.

    Personally I dont see Ted’s current Simplicity approach as adding up as a sustainable system for 7 billion souls. But I think his/Buckminster Fuller’s eco-asceticism is still worth exploring as I’ve seen how ‘hippy’ friends were able to live quite full lives on resources and recycling at a level approaching Ted’s. It wasnt a recipe for a total society but it was still worth looking at, and I learned much from them about efficiency, alternative technology and our grotesque scale of waste decades ago about things which are now becoming mainstream.

    Regarding the ‘joyous experience’ issue I really dont think Ted despite his sociology understands people sufficiently and conversely your skepticsm is certainly worth addressing – at least from what I’ve heard so far. But I need to look at things like Transition Towns a bit more. There is a lot going on and I think its a mistake to use people or statements which are out there to tar whole search for a whole alternative way of living.

    Also after flip flopping a bit between the big smoke and a treechange its pretty clear that city life has big loads of insanity (e.g. the financial advice industries) which are unnecessary and we could degrow in the conventional sense with little impact.

    Another example is an issue that arose in the Addicted to Growth conference. This was agreement that in a degrown economy people would need to ‘work’ less in the formal sense and would benefit from this. This could also lead to improved efficiency (people not so burnt out from work) and lead to energy savings. An observation by way of support made intriguingly was that during Heath’s ‘3 day working week’ in the 1970s UK production didnt actually drop ???!!! (this needs verification of course but it is intriguing).

  68. October 13th, 2014 at 12:33 | #68

    Ikonoclast: “What is really bizarre is Pyne’s and the government’s total lack of understanding of these issues. They are supposedly intelligent people but their wilfull ignorance on these issues knows no bounds. We can rank Pyne’s asinine comment right up there with Hockey’s comment about being offended by wind generators. I note that Hockey never said he was offended by the brown coal pit blaze and pollution at Morwell, Victoria…..This kind of highly simplistic, selective and distorted representation of a complex and crucial reality (AGW and fossil fuels) by these rank idiots in the LNP (no other term for them) makes my blood boil.”

    The point was made by Richard Denniss and several other speakers at the Addiction to Growth conference that these ‘idiots’ are actually highly intelligent and competent people with different principles from some of us. They would not have reached their positions of power if they were stupid. We should not underestimate them. When Hockey says he dislikes the distant view of wind turbines across Lake George, he is unlikely to be expressing a personal opinion. He is much more likely to be making a political statement, implicitly reassuring the fossil fuel industries and the big electricity generators that they can count on the Coalition to slow the growth of renewable energy.

  69. October 13th, 2014 at 12:53 | #69

    It’s interesting reading the conclusions made by a cherry picking theoretician (honest enough to admit he knows nothing about gardening) whilst demolishing the argument for sustainable living made by another theoretician.

    By all means play humourous games while the world we used to know has already ceased to exist, but if – at any stage – you feel you would like to see, touch, taste or grow something real, like sustainable food, come and visit.

    Here in rural Wynnum (QLD 4178) three people have been living sustainably on 300 square metres of good soil.

    Since 2003, I’ve been teaching a nation of gardeners, hiding in full view on television almost weekly, and weekly on talkback radio in Qld and NSW. I’ve shown German TV, Channel 7, Channel 9, the BBC’s Radio 4 how to use Australian technology to do it.

    At Bellis, Brisbane’s award-winning, thrifty sustainable house and garden, one ten year old fruit tree pays my mortgage for a month, I’ve won a national Save Water Award and an award for the best technical television gardening segment.

    If you want to get on the winning side, come and see my yams and I’ll make scones while I set you straight 🙂

    Jerry Coleby-Williams Dip. Hort. (Kew), RHS, NEBSM, HMA

  70. ZM
    October 13th, 2014 at 13:53 | #70

    Mark Diesendorf,
    “When Hockey says he dislikes the distant view of wind turbines across Lake George, he is unlikely to be expressing a personal opinion. He is much more likely to be making a political statement, implicitly reassuring the fossil fuel industries and the big electricity generators ”

    The pressure being put on ANU after its announcement of some divestment in another example of this. Implicitly the politicians are not only responding to ANU but putting pressure on all the other universities and organisations such as churches that are considering divestment.

    ““I would suggest they’re removed from the reality of what is helping to drive the Australian economy and create more employment,” Hockey told the Australian Financial Review.

    “Sometimes the view looks different from the lofty rooms of a university.”

    Hockey is one of several politicians to publicly rebuke ANU over its fossil fuel divestment. The assistant infrastructure minister, Jamie Briggs, said he would write to the ANU vice-chancellor, Ian Young, to ask him to reconsider the blacklisting of coal seam gas company Santos.

    “To publicly denigrate the reputation of one of South Australia’s finest companies is a disgrace,” Briggs said. “This seems to be taking green activism to a new level where it is damaging Australian companies and potentially job creation in the country.”

    The South Australian premier, Jay Weatherill, said the divestment from Iluka Resources and Santos was “very strange”, while Queensland’s resources minister, Andrew Cripps, said the divestment was “narrow-minded and irresponsible”.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/oct/13/coalition-accused-of-bullying-anu-after-criticism-of-fossil-fuel-divestment

  71. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 14:00 | #71

    @Mark Diesendorf

    I agree they are not “idiots” in the literal sense. They are, pretty much as you say, “highly intelligent and competent people with different principles from some of us.” Though, I would in quite a few cases dispute the “highly” part. At times also, too much intelligence like too much empathy is probably counter-productive in seeking power over others. You need to be just smart enough to fool the opponents and the public but not smart enough to ask yourself any certainty-distrubing questions or to become “unsound” in the eyes of your “tribe”.

    What we are dealing with is the phenomenon which J.Q. sometimes calls “tribal loyalty” where intelligent people adhere to stupid principles, denialism and anti-science propaganda. It’s to do with our vulnerability to groupthink and social pressure. The problem is that our system is idiotic even if the people running it are not. My definition of “idiotic” in this context is a system trying to grow indefinitely in a finite space with finite resources (the biosphere); a system which is so maladaptive it threatens to destroy the sustaining benignness of the environment. I am sure you agree on these last points.

    Our key problem is to ditch the intelligent people who buttress an idiotic system and find the intelligent people who will support an intelligent approach to these real issues. I will admit I really don’t know how we are going to do this. Our current two-party / one-ideology system of Tweedlelib and Tweedlelab is not going to deliver a solution.

    I am waiting and on relying on a demonstration from nature. I believe we will need (unfortunately) a few of what I call “salutary disasters” which are unmistakably attributable to AGW and/or ecological overshoot. These disasters will, again unfortunately, have to affect millions (not necessarily fatally) in the developed world. That will be a paradigm changing moment or series of moments. Sadly, that is what I think it is going to take.

    I can say these kind of uncomfortable and almost misanthropic things because I don’t have a professional reputation to be concerned about. I understand that others might be need to be more circumspect or they might be more genuinely hopeful about human nature than I am.

    It’s all very well knowing theory. Someone in my household knows plenty of physics (7’s mostly as an undergrad, yet took a large weight off one end of a racked but unpinned (and unpinnable) barbell so that the light end flew up just missing his chin and the heavy end weights crashed to the mat just missing someone else’s toes. In the end, nature (via the inflexible laws of physics, biology and ecology) is going to have to slap us about the chops severely. Then we will take notice and do something.

  72. October 13th, 2014 at 14:25 | #72

    From a public health perspective, can I just remind anyone who thinks we are currently living in the best of all possible worlds that we are going to have to “lose” – we’re not. We are too sedentary, too inactive, generally overweight, we eat too much junk and processed food, we’re often socially isolated and we are extremely unequal (bad for health, in case anyone has forgotten).

    All the evidence suggests it would actually do us good to be more physically active, to walk more, to drive less, to watch less TV, to eat more fresh locally grown food, to reduce the amount of processed food and meat we eat, to get to know people in our local neighbourhoods, to share our resources and wealth more fairly.

    A lot of this is a recipe for ‘de-growth’ as well, but it’s not a recipe for a worse life. There are a lot of reasons to ‘de-grow’, the issue is facing the need and working out how we do it with minimum pain.

  73. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 14:25 | #73

    @Jerry Coleby-Williams

    Very interesting, I might have to visit Bellis on your next open day. I will remain incognito and one of the crowd. I have over 1 acre beyond my house footprint producing nothing at the moment but self-sown eucalypts, wattles and a few dry rainforest species. Okay, I get a lot of bunya nuts about once every 3 years from a tree I planted nearly 20 years ago now.

    My block slopes over so that about 1/3 is north facing and 2/3 south facing. It is very rocky, barren and eroded. Such soil as there is hard-packed dirt, clay deeper down and lots of rocks on the surface and in the matrix. Don’t really know what I am going to do with it. I am 60 anyway, 2/3 over the hill like my block.

    As a side note, would there be any benefit in trying to grow plantains instead of or as well as bananas? I see that plantains are the tenth most grown staple crop in the world. The Cubans grow a lot of them and they are eaten cooked for the starch content and not eaten raw as a sweet fruit like banana (as I am sure you know).

  74. October 13th, 2014 at 14:27 | #74

    When I say “we” of course, I mean people in Australia in general – not necessarily everyone reading this!

  75. October 13th, 2014 at 14:31 | #75

    @Ikonoclast
    There’s a lot of edible indigenous plants you could grow (as well as Bunya nuts) in Queensland – maybe you should look into those.

    Wattle seeds are something I’m extremely interested in as a potential staple food, but it’s hard to get much good information about them (The CSIRO used to do some of this, I wonder if they still do!). Although many experts seem to say that many species are ‘probably’ edible, they usually only say that a very limited number definitely are, and I don’t want to be a guinea pig!

  76. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 14:37 | #76

    @Val

    I agree. When one starts to feel that food is an enemy there is clearly something dysfunctional going on. It’s not all down to personal volition. Endless temptation and endless opportunity in an over-producing, over-consuming culture has a long-term effect on people. The end of over-production and over-consumption will be a good thing.

  77. Newtownian
    October 13th, 2014 at 14:38 | #77

    @Jerry Coleby-Williams

    Interesting claim which would seem to fly in the face of biomass production figured. It suggests we can feed 100 people per Ha, and hence the planet, on 70 000 km2 – i.e. Tasmania or more realistically the North Island of New Zealand. Is this so? Can a 10 X 10 m plot of land feed a person for year?

    Ideally and assuming high yield kumera (sweet potato) you might presumably producing 300 to 800 kg/year/person which seems on the edge of plausability food energy wise.

    But while food is critical there is more to sustainability which needs to address issues like the following:
    – safe clean drinking water? – rainwater tanks are a partial solution but as Queensland and Australia knows drought can cripple supply beyond storage arrangements.
    – sewage disposal? – are you connected to the mains? wastewater needs a lot of land to work locally and sustainably and spray/leach fields would use 100 m2 easily. And too often they dont work because of inappropriate soil. I remember the old 1/4 acre (1000 m2) blocks. They couldnt absorb the phosphorus so the streams became terrible polluted.
    – education, health and many activities arising from the art of living in cities and labour specialization – how are such people to be catered for?
    – tools for cultivation? – do you use a human pulled plough? Do you use metal implements? Do you use any petrol or electric powered tools needing major manufacturing infrastructure
    – construction materials for house building replacement ? Do you have glass windows which periodically break (hail, cricket balls).
    – weather satellites ? to warn up of bad weather/cyclones coming you need a space industry or an extensive monitoring network.
    – clothing? – do you have a hemp farm and dye you own clothes using materials sourced in the 100 m2?

    My point here is this – the food area needs are an encouraging and interesting tale for would be sustainability farmers – but this battle is not just about sustainable food its about a total ecological footprint and that is much greater and not so easily addressed – a fact sadly Ted doesnt seem to address well from what I’ve seen.

  78. October 13th, 2014 at 14:38 | #78

    @Jerry Coleby-Williams
    Oh you’re Jerry from Gardening Australia! Fabulous.

    Can you tell us much of your own food you produce and what are your staples (if you have them)?

    I had a quick browse of your website but it would be great if you shared more of your wisdom with the doubters here!

  79. Newtownian
    October 13th, 2014 at 14:54 | #79

    @ZM

    This ANU stuff is fascinating and indeed confirms the indication that the coalition are not fools but fully recognise this is a greater challenge to their belief system that Marx.

    But at the same time they are caught in a bind of their own making – capitalisms contradictions I guess.

    They probably recognize the hidden power/danger in the 2+Trillion dollar superannuation funds propping up our rotten fossil fuel industries which could be exercised if people actually were to follow the exhortations to use their ‘free choice’ and leave the funds who are market hacks – or perhaps take control of these organizations and directly force change.

    They also are in a bind here too as since 2008 people dont trust the finance industry as far as they can throw them. So the likelihood is people will increasingly opt out and invest overseas.

    And if there is a crunch or a major ‘correction’ the trend will accelerate.

    Interesting times indeed.

  80. ZM
    October 13th, 2014 at 15:24 | #80

    It just gets worse and worse – the Prime Minister seems to be like Elizabeth Bishops’s The Gentleman of Shallot who has a mirror down his middle and can’t decide which side of himself is real and which only a reflection

    “The prime minister, who describes himself as a conservationist, said coal was vital to the world and that fossil fuel should not be demonised. “Coal is vital for the future energy needs of the world,” he said. “So let’s have no demonisation of coal. Coal is good for humanity.”

    Abbott said the opening of the $4.2bn Caval Ridge coalmine in Moranbah, operated by BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), was “a great day for the world”. “The trajectory should be up and up and up in the years and decades to come,” Abbott said.

    “The future for coal is bright and it is the responsibility for government to try to ensure that we are there making it easier for everyone wanting to have a go. “It is a great day for the world because this mine will keep so many people employed … it will make so many lives better. “This mine epitomises the have-a-go spirit,” he said.

    In May, Abbott told a minerals industry parliamentary dinner he could think of “few things more damaging to our future” than leaving coal in the ground.

    A month later, after a meeting with Barack Obama in June this year, Abbott said he took climate change very seriously. “I regard myself as a conservationist,” he said. “Frankly, we should rest lightly on the planet and I’m determined to ensure that we do our duty by the future here.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/13/tony-abbott-says-coal-is-good-for-humanity-while-opening-mine

  81. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 15:24 | #81

    @Val

    The question is how to get a steady, balanced and sufficient diet from a 1/4 acre, 1/2 acre or 1 acre area (say). I guess Jerry Coleby-Williams can provide ideas on that. In my case I would have to do extensive work building up my soil somehow. If I used machinery (get in a ripper then tip trucks of mulch, sand, loam, dolomite etc) then consider all the fossil fuel energy (and money) I would use. Would I ever save that energy and money in not buying store vegies even in the long run?

    If I do the work myself it will be almost back-breaking at 60. Consider also that I cook, clean, shop, wash and chaeuffer for a family of four adults (yes, I chaeuffer adults) and mow, trim, prune (1 and 1/2 acres) plus do much of my indoor and outdoor painting and handyman work on a wooden house with extensive decks and verandahs. But overall, I still don’t work as hard as a person going to full-time paid work, I admit that.

    Another issue seldom canvassed in the bucolic self-sustaining scenario is pests and all the other problems. I have tried growing some food from time to time in beds I created by turning over rock hard soil with a garden fork, breaking it up, removing rocks by hand, adding mulch, chicken poo, dolomite and so on.

    Tomatoes suffer wilt. Some of brassicaceae family (cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower get grubs. I admit turnips and radish are east to grow but does one want to live on them? I need lighter, loamier soil if I want to grow carrots… maybe in planter boxes. Lettuce are a pain in the **** to attempt to grow in our hot climate. You have to water daily or everything, not just lettuce wilts. Try that on water rationing when S.E. Qlds dams were nearly dry. Check out the cost of water tanks (which don’t acutally hold that much water compared to veggie garden watering needs.

    Your corn looks good until those crows that are just high up specks in the sky notice that it will be ripe for humans in about another week and swoop down to tear it all to pieces. The possums and fruit bats notice your mangoes or bananas will be ripe in about 2 weeks and scamper or swoop in at night and destroy them.

    On the other hand, you have a few weird victories. I put zucchinies into some of those unforgiving beds I mentioned but without all the mulch and fertilizers and leaving the rocks (being semi-fed up with veggie gardening by that stage) and lo and behold the most enormous and perfect zucchini plants and zucchinis. But the pumpkin vines failed to produce anything of note very possibly because of a pollination failure. I didn’t pollinate by hand and guess there were no bees around.

    If you try to keep chickens you will likely very get wild bird problems and rat problems (from gain sacttered around) and also as is quite common carpet snake problems. If you don’t have a dog and a cat (we don’t really like domestic animals) then these pests all approach and set up shop with impunity.

    I really do wonder how those advocates of the bucolic ease and wonder of food gardening in a sub-tropical climate deal with all this. Of yes, dont forget the storms that flatten your banana trees and the hail that mashes everything.

    Oh yes, I have had every one of these events and pests where I live. I mean is it really easy and only easy if you have a horticultural degree, enormous knowledge and dedication and you atually love the whole process to bits? Just askin’.

  82. Newtownian
    October 13th, 2014 at 15:38 | #82

    @Ikonoclast

    This is why some people are looking at NZ Northland despite the supervolcanoes and earthquakes.

    No foxes and you can terminate possums with impunity. The worst pest is the pukeko (swamp hen). The rain is reliable. No snakes. The climate is temperate maritime. The soil is deep and fertile and clay – so mud bricks. There are few bugs.

  83. October 13th, 2014 at 16:04 | #83

    @John Quiggin
    I just went and re-read that Alexander article again (I had read it before but had forgotten). I read some of the comments (not all, there were nearly 500 of them, which shows how interested people are in the topic).

    I am even more convinced, Prof Q, that your post is quite unfair, in spite of your claim. You took the discussion of the community garden as a main point of attack, but Alexander actually says in the comments that he didn’t choose the picture or write the caption, and that he thinks suburban community gardens are more about education and community building than food production.

    (I actually get quite a lot of my food from my local community garden plus my own small plot at home, though I haven’t tried to quantify how much. A lot of it is leafy greens, but they are highly nutritious)

    I also didn’t see anything in the article that said we have to choose between technology and local self-sufficiency. You apparently read it that way, but I’d be interested to know why, as it didn’t appear that way to me.

    Many of us enjoy growing and making things. Ok, some people don’t, but those who don’t shouldn’t generalise their feelings to everyone. Also, it’s not necessarily a quick process to increase soil fertility, it may take a few years, but it’s not impossible. “Transition” to me means a process of change, not overnight change.

  84. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 16:06 | #84

    I used to have a quote from a Roman writer (maybe the Elder Cato, Varro, Vergil, Columella, Pliny the Elder or Palladius). He wrote in effect;

    “A vegetable garden will never pay for itself unless it abuts the wall of an orchard. Then it will gain shelter from the wall and may be worked by the servants who work the orchard.” or words to that effect. It’s a bit interesting ancient wisdom about vegetable gardens.

    You might track the quote down in;

    The Private Life of the Romans by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston
    Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932)

    Here are some interesting excerpts;

    “Agriculture was the industry of early Italy. The great number of rural festivals in the calendar testifies to its dominating influence. The interests of the Romans of all times were agricultural rather than commercial. Agriculture was the proper business of the senatorial class. Writers of all periods looked back to the days when a Roman citizen-farmer tilled his own land with the help of a slave or two and when a dictator might be called from the plow.”

    “An Ideal Farm. Cato discusses carefully the purchase of an estate (fundus). He thought that an ideal farm would lie at the foot of a hill facing south. (Northern hemisphere of course.) It was important to choose a healthful locality and make sure of the water supply. The soil should be good, rich, not too heavy. The land should not be too nearly level, for that made drainage difficult. The farm should be in a prosperous neighborhood near a good market town, and on a good road if not near a river or the sea. Cato advised buying a farm in good condition and with good buildings. There should be a local supply of labor to be hired for the harvest or other times of extra work. He recommends a farm of 240 i?gera, about 160 acres, suitable for diversified farming. Pliny the Younger, when discussing land which joined his, says “The farms are productive, the soil rich, the water supply good; they include pastures, vineyards, and timberland that gives a small but regular return.” He speaks of the saving in equipment, supervision, and skilled service gained by the concentration of holdings—a good concrete instance of the rise of the great estates (l?tifundia) as small-scale farming became less profitable. On the other hand, he says, to own much land in one neighborhood is to be exposed too much to the same climatic risks.”

  85. October 13th, 2014 at 16:11 | #85

    @Ikonoclast
    I’m sure Jerry Coleby-Williams would be much better placed to answer your question than me, but I know enough about permaculture (I think!) to say that you don’t have to rip up the soil. Hopefully someone who knows more can advise you.

  86. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 16:15 | #86

    Footnote: Actually, the second sentence of my first pithy quote (from memory) probably should read;

    “Then it will gain shelter from the wall and may be worked by the slaves who work the orchard.”

    Let us not forget that bucolic estate possession was predicated on slaves, serfs and peons before the advent of modern machinery and the “energy slaves” embodied in trucks of coal and barrels of oil.

  87. jungney
    October 13th, 2014 at 16:25 | #87

    @Ikonoclast
    This is interesting as JQ’s post is turning into a gardening woes chat. My soil is basically shale with a thin overlay of accreted dust so I’v built garden beds with mushroom compost and straw bales using ‘no dig’ techniques. So far, only eighteen months in, all well. In the end there will be bigger and better raised beds once the soil has come back to life. Water is an issue, especially when the hot westerlies howl across the cleared cow paddocks at the back of the joint. It doesn’t matter how much water you apply, and there is a financial limit to that, the dry wind wilts everything. So, of late, while waiting for the shade trees to develop, at least five years away, the yard has sprouted a forest of recycled doors, as wind breaks, and scavenged shade cloth to minimise water demand in the hot months. I stay away from cabbages and their ilk, too many pests, but have had success with garlic, onions, spuds, pumpkin, asparagus, tomatoes, kale, silver beet, strawberries, corn, beans, snap peas and of course, the absolutely mighty zucchini! Don’t be afraid of weeds or chooks 🙂

    For mine, gardeners and foodies are deep radicals.

  88. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 16:26 | #88

    @Val

    I am sure Jerry has many answers. I don’t want to seem too negative. I let my sacrastic streak run away sometimes. I bet there are a 101 ways he could show me how I was working hard but not smart in my abortive attempts.

    At the same time, I believe the domestic food garden will be a useful supplement not a full sustainer. In my case, “1 acre plus of stoney ground, with weeds and prickles girdled round,” (apologies to Coleridge) would need quite a bit of work to turn it into a permaculture type set-up. There is no reason then I could not get virtually all my veggies, fruit and much of my starch from it (after about 10 years work which would make me 70). Fruit trees and corn will need full nets for crow, fuitbat and possum protection. Quite a bit of hassle and expense there. However, what about protein? I really don’t want to become a small-scale chicken rancher and I doubt my zoning would permit more than 6 chooks.

    Where would a self-sustaining vegetarian get their protein from I wonder?

  89. John Quiggin
    October 13th, 2014 at 16:28 | #89

    @Jerry Coleby-Williams

    Thanks for practical info, and for confirming that 100sq m is a good estimate of the minimum area needed to feed one person. That’s the number I used to do the calculation in the post.

    I’m intrigued by your fruit tree, though of course I don’t know how big your mortgage is. Back in the day, you could pay annual rates or a small mortage with a backyard mango tree in Townsville, but those days are sadly gone.

  90. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 16:31 | #90

    @Ikonoclast

    Well it is on topic as part of the discussion relates to local self-sufficiency and how easy or difficult that would be.

  91. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 16:31 | #91

    oops that was meant as a reply to jungney.

  92. John Quiggin
    October 13th, 2014 at 16:32 | #92

    And to be clear, “degrowth” can mean all sorts of things, some of which I support and some not. This post is only about the version being pushed by Ted Trainer and the Simplicity Institute.

  93. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 16:46 | #93

    @John Quiggin

    100 sq m (10m by 10m) is a scarily small area to feed a person over the year even at industrial monoculture production rates. Is it really right? Does it factor in crop failure years, pest losses and so on?

    We could say in round numbers that cereal crop yield per hectare is 5,200 kg for the OECD average. Actually, it’s a touch higher but that will do. A hectare = 10,000 sq. m. so 100 sq. m. would produce 52 kg of hard cereal, dry grain. Can a person live on 1 kg of hard grain (cooked) for a week? Be interesting to try it. Maybe I should try living on 2kg of brown rice (cooked) alone for a fortnight. Maybe some wish I would. 😉

  94. Newtownian
    October 13th, 2014 at 16:55 | #94

    I just had a look at the JCW set up. http://jerry-coleby-williams.net/bellis/vision-to-reality/

    I doubt whether this is what Ted has in mind. In fact it looks much closer to the typical sustainable house idea that has been around for a long time.

    Some important features of note:
    – its worth having a look at the wastewater system – its pretty high tech in fact. There is lots of plastic and piping needing high energy and technology inputs. This is a long way from subsistence technology. It doesnt even use urine diversion system as far as I can tell.
    – the solar system, which probably wouldnt work in Melbourne because of geographical differences, uses the grid as its effective source and storage which means for the moment they are tied into big energy. This was a good idea but its becoming more unviable as the coalition interferes with the REC and various other subsidies. Batteries may be on the way but they are not here yet economically though there appears lots of room under the house for something like you would see in Nimbin.
    – such a house is out of most young people’s price range I’d guess given its proximity to Brisbane (its in the burbs). Beats me how we get over that one.
    – I could not find any figures on productivity of various crops especially staples so I really do wonder about the reported productivity of the land.
    – Its evident from the other descriptions of materials used in the setup like high efficiency devices that this is even more high (appropriate) tech of the kind requiring if not a profligate income – then a high one relative to other parts of the world.

    In a word – Jerry’s place looks like a very good demonstration and experimental site and educational resource for appropriate technology and gardening. There is definitely a place for such facilities now to spread sustainability concepts. I say this happily as I’m trying to do similar things at my own place.

    But this is still far from a massive societal transformation model if you do an ecological footprint or an LCA. And I think the latter lies at the heart of JQ’s concerns about Ted Trainer and the simplicity movement. Its unclear whether full sustainability can really add up yet on a global scale beyond the well resourced burbs of Oz.

  95. Ivor
    October 13th, 2014 at 17:08 | #95

    @Ronald Brak

    Who is proposing that solar generation be restricted to existing roofs ???????

    Renewables cannot be restricted like this, particularly if the population increases. It does not even come close to addressing my concerns I raised near the top of the thread.

    While we can expect that future developments will improve solar panel efficiency to over 50%, (see for example:
    http://phys.org/news/2014-10-hybrid-materials-solar-efficiency-ceiling.html#jCp),

    this may not be relevant in the long run due to population doubling.

    Also, you gave 4 figures – 33, 40, 200+, 6 – with no source.

    You were asked for the data. It is possible to skew data if no source is provided.

    If these numbers exist (other than with you) then where?

    How does proposing solar at 40 watts per square metre fit in with my issue at the earlier point 2)?

    How do you run a supermarket, or office tower or factory or a truck or car, based on your solar on existing roofs?

  96. jungney
    October 13th, 2014 at 17:15 | #96

    @John Quiggin
    JQ: I took the time to read your links to Teds stuff; he’s still banging the same old drum although I must say that his property is fairly well run. The point is that unless the state supports Ted’s vision of how life can be, utopian for some but dystopian for many, then it won’t grow legs. It does have legs at the moment, but Corgi style, no distance in them. I didn’t know what a negative role he has been playing in relation to renewables. Still, that’s your old fashioned Stalinite, right there, committed to a vision no matter what the cost of reshaping the world to fit that vision.

    Let me express my gratitude for your blog. Don’t stop. It’s is obviously very important as a conversation among people who are still capable of shaping the future.

  97. October 13th, 2014 at 17:20 | #97

    @Ikonoclast
    Ikonoclast, one is more likely to average around 1,700 kg of cereal grains per hectare in Australia. However this is very dependant on water availability, weather, and other conditions. Technically soil quality can affect cereal production, but apart from a few limited areas we don’t really have any. About half a kilo of grain a day is sufficient to keep a person alive until they die. Which may not be long on account of various nutritional deficiencies that are likely to occur if that’s all they eat.

  98. Ikonoclast
    October 13th, 2014 at 17:28 | #98

    In reply to the last 2 entries. Jerry Coleby was probably not claiming total self-sustainability outside of food. His setup (which I have not looked at closely yet) is part way to self-sustainability without necessarily proclaiming it will or needing to get all the way there. If every household made half the energy it used and saved / recycled half the water it used this would make an enormous difference to what needed to provided by centralised infrastructure.

    If ALL roofs were solar panelled to the gills or rather to the gutters we would easily make enough electrical power for all the nation’s fixed residential and fixed commercial needs. Industrial electrical power and transport power might well be another issue. Suburban shopping centre and car parks have a very large footprint. Cover the building(s) with solar roofs and the car parks with solar-panelled covered parking (to help power the shops and the sometimes re-charge the cars) and it would cover needs easily. It would even cover refrigeration and air-con. Sure, energy storage for nights is an issue but this is eminently solvable with molten salt storage heat tanks. They can be under-ground bunkered in a park or reserve. It’s really not that hard in an engineering or financial sense. If we faced war conditions we would have undergound bunkers everywhere. This is a war or soon will be: “The War Against Dangerous Climate Change”. Once the elites coem round to realising this issue will take them out too you will be amazed by what suddenly becomes possible.

  99. October 13th, 2014 at 17:29 | #99

    @Ivor
    Ivor, did you look at a rooftop solar system like I suggested? Do you agree with me that it doesn’t take land out of use and so requires less land than coal power? Possibly even infinity times less land?

  100. Debbieanne
    October 13th, 2014 at 17:36 | #100

    @ZM
    This has to be one of the most frustrating articles. as discussed further up-thread, our PM is not an idiot, but damn it to heck, he sure is good at playing one.

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