An engineer, an economist, and an ecomodernist walk into a bar and order a free lunch . . .

by Stan Cox,
July 30, 2018 08:25 AM

Billions of people around the world need more energy than they can afford, while [m]illions of others can afford to buy far more energy than is required to meet their [basic] needs.

The ecological economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, in his 1971 book The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, and those who followed him have shown that no technology can repeal the Entropy Law — that there is not and will never be a free lunch. Today, those realities are being studiously ignored by innovators, disruptors, and other perpetual-motion specialists.

[Some] ecomoderns foresee humanity retreating entirely into high-tech, self-sufficient, nominally carbon-neutral urban areas connected only by bullet-train corridors, while ostensibly turning the rest of the Earth’s surface over to “nature.”

But…There is simply not enough land in and around cities even to grow the nation’s vegetable crop, let alone the cereal, grain legume, oilseed, root & tuber crops that cover the bulk of our cropland and make up the bulk of our diet (by comparison, vegetables occupy less than 3% of U.S. cropland).

Other ecomodernists support 100%-green-energy-for-growing-demand. It [might be] possible to achieve 100% renewable energy but only if affluent nations and regions come to operate on far less energy input. Those who were left out of the fossil-fuel bonanza will never be able to indulge in the kind of gluttonous consumption we now practice (although they — in fact all of us — could achieve improved life circumstances in a low energy economy, provided there is production for use rather than profit, greater equality, better public policy, and fair-shares rationing.)

I see the 100-percenters — Stanford’s Mark Jacobson,’s Bill McKibben, and others — as siblings of the ecomodernists in every aspect but one: that they want 100% renewable energy while the self-proclaimed ecomodernists want 100% nuclear energy. But neither variant of ecomodernism acknowledges the necessity for a low-energy, low-production economy that ensures sufficiency for all and excess for no one.

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By Shannon Osaka – Grist, via Other News, Rome, 2 August 201)

A 66-page New York Times Magazine with only a single article on climate change written by Nathaniel Rich and titled “Losing Earth,” is online now and makes for fascinating, if sometimes depressing, reading. Between 1979 and 1989, Rich writes, humanity almost solved the problem of global warming. The piece follows climate scientist James Hansen and environmental lobbyist Rafe Pomerance as they try to get pretty much anyone — politicians, the media, energy companies — to engage and act on the issue of climate change. But while they managed to move global warming onto the public stage, the opportunity for binding international action came and went with the 1989 U.N. climate conference in the Netherlands. The U.S. delegation, led by a recalcitrant Reagan appointee, balked when faced with an actual agreement. “Why didn’t we act?” Rich asks, almost plaintively, in his prologue. He argues that the primary barriers to inaction today — widespread climate denial and propagandizing by far-right groups and fossil fuel companies — had not emerged by the mid-1980s. “Almost nothing stood in our way — except ourselves,” he writes. Garrett Hardin’s 1968 “Tragedy of the Commons” — another dark theory on collective irrationality argued that, as a species, we would always tend towards overuse of shared resources and overpopulation. His thesis was hugely influential, and continues to be a staple in environmental research. This idea — that the long timescale of climate change has made it difficult for us to act on it — is the theoretical underpinning of “Losing Earth.” It’s no one’s fault that we didn’t act in the 1980s. But at the same time it’s everyone’s fault. But forty years after Hardin’s paper debuted in Science, economist Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel Prize for showing that communities around the world do successfully manage and share resources — even over many generations. They do it through cooperation, communication, and small-scale local institutions. She was famous for showing that environmental problems can be solved from the bottom-up.

So did we really “lose Earth” in 1989? Of course not writes Osaka. But it is a sobering reminder of how much work we have left. “Human nature has brought us to this place,” Rich writes. “Perhaps human nature will one day bring us through.”

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The Entropy Wars: Five Financial Uncertainties of 2018 (So Far) By Nomi Prins

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, entropy is “a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder.” With that in mind, perhaps the best way to predict President Trump’s next action is just to focus on the path of greatest entropy and take it from there.

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A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things review – how capitalism works

In the early pages of their book A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, Raj Patel and Jason W Moore ask us to consider the McNugget as the reigning symbol of the modern era. One of their central contentions is that we are no longer living in the Holocene, but in a new geological era they refer to as the Capitalocene – the currently fashionable term “Anthropocene”, they argue, suggests that our current state of ecological emergency is merely the result of humans doing what humans do, whereas the reality is that it flows out of the specific historical phenomenon of capitalism

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A Synthesis of the Findings of P2P Theory: Ten Years After | P2P Foundation

“The object of P2P Theory is to investigate the specific phase transition from social forms based on the domination of the market form (aka capitalism), to social forms based on the peer to peer network form.”

Different historians and anthropologists have posited the existence of dominant social forms, which evolve over time, though should not necessarily be seen as a univocal evolution.

Just as capitalism consists of Capital-Nation-State under the domination of the capitalist market logic as the main mode of exchange, so we posit the Productive Commons Community, the generative Entrepreneurial Coalition, and the For-Benefit Association as the seed form for a society that consists of a Productive Commons-Centric Civil Society, a Ethical Economy, and a Partner State, but under the dominant exchange form of the Commons.

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Herman Daly, Benjamin Kunkel: Ecologies of Scale. New Left Review 109, January-February 2018.

A Steady State / Ecological Economics / Degrowth 101 review, or long read, with Herman Daly. Whatever your views within this (these) stream(s), this is an overview combining his personal subjective roots with a discussion of historical theoretical approaches that amounts to a good introductory tutorial.

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Making the case against geoengineering

The Big Bad Fix powerfully exposes the dangers of deliberate climate modification, and presents alternatives. A deeper focus on fighting the fossil industry would strengthen the argument.

The role of degrowth doesn’t appear in this review (or the book?) but it’s a good summary of the problem. Bob

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