Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2019

The Essence I Suppose - Part 2

When shown the images of two real donkeys, who used to be our adopted children, my little two year old grandson immediately pointed to his book, to a picture of a donkey with a sombrero and guitar.  He then carried on with the animals he knows, the mythical unicorns and other creatures, each endowed with different human traits.  He quickly lost interest in the real donkeys.

"Our children already live in a world where there are thousands of times more toy animals than there are animal animals. Animals are no longer objects of firsthand knowledge and acquaintance.... They are objects of mythology. And the day is not far off when the fabulous quality of animals in fables - the hare, the wolf, the bear -- will extend beyond allegory and take on the dimension of make-believe, like dragons and griffins." A quote from Andrey Bitov, "The last Bear."

Let's fast forward 26 years in age and move to Saudi Arabia.  Here is a final essay from Hussain A., a student in my fall…

The Essence, I Suppose - Part I

Our anthropocene world is rapidly becoming a post-industrial wasteland, where most people are impoverished, left behind, and may not know how to live with dignity. These desperate individuals need a framework to counteract the bad things that are happening in their lives, and they need basic means of survival: a functioning family, home, medical care and decent education for their children. In too many countries, including the US and UK, poverty and desperation lead to voting decisions that are suicidal. Similarly, so many of the educated and affluent people are disoriented and running scared, because they too do not understand the deep and complex connections between the human economy and nature.

Over the last twelve years, my small-scale solution to this overwhelming problem has been to teach a class that brings many of the elements of human-nature interactions together and roots them in science, mostly in thermodynamics. This semester I had 25 graduate students in my class, plu…

Global fossil fuel and US gas production and forecasts

The Amazon forest is burning. If you look at the satellite map in Figure 1, you will see that Brazil's tropical forest is being methodically plundered and destroyed by people who mean business. That Brazilian  "friend" of our own destroyer of the world is doing his best to encourage the burning and empower his criminal supporters. But on the multiple aerial photos of the forest, I also see drought. Parts of the rain forest are dry and ready to be burned. Global climate change is likely a contributing factor. In summary, a brutal liquidation of the priceless rain forest by the criminal farmers and ranchers running amok + climate change and drying of the forest = a global-scale calamity.

And so that you have a clearer concept of what is happening here, president Trump is directly and personally implicated in the big Amazon burn. By blocking the Midwestern farmers from selling soybeans to China and US ranchers from selling beef to China, he created a giant new market in Bra…

Global primary energy and US oil production and forecasts

Greenland's ice is melting 5-6 times faster than recently thought and Siberia's permafrost is belching giant quantities of methane into the atmosphere, see Figure 1. Perhaps then, it is time to consider seriously how we can alleviate the crushing impacts of the uncontrollable geologic forces we have unleashed by sheer greed and lack of imagination. For fun, please read my Paris OECD dinner speech I gave twelve years ago to the distinguished EU ministers of environment and transportation. This speech was (a) ignored despite presenting the most popular paper of the conference, and (b) got me blacklisted by OECD ever since. Myopia is our middle name.

Since global fossil fuel production makes for a long complex story, I'll split it into a few posts. My goal is to show you how we can lower the CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels from the current 36 billion tons per year to 10-12 billion tons per year in the next 10-20 years. My approach to decomposing into Gaussians product…

Green New Deal VII - Ideas Matter

This post has been precipitated by the following question Christoph Becker asked rhetorically in a comment to Part VI:

"Is education in our situation still of any use or is it just depressing, unwanted or even dangerous?"

My short answer to Christoph was that good education would always be necessary for a functioning democracy. We see great examples of this requirement in Denmark, Finland, Holland, Norway, Sweden and Germany, for example. Education is the necessary condition for a thriving democracy, but it alone is woefully insufficient. Democracy must also be antifragile in the sense of Nassim Taleb. That is, any perturbation that attempts to blow up an antifragile democracy, will only make it stronger. Churchill knew it well, as I told you in Part VI.

Good education can only do good when it exists inside of a democracy that is stable to large perturbations. The democracies I listed above still appear to be stable to large perturbations, but the UK and USA certainly no longer…

Green New Deal VI - Urgency and oil production constraint

Amid an ongoing Arctic heat wave, the Greenland ice sheet is in the middle of its biggest melt season in recorded history. It’s the latest worrying signal climate change is accelerating far beyond the worst fears of even climate scientists. This is how the RollingStone put it, following an unspoken rule of never discouraging too much the clueless and faint at heart.  The reason is clear, we don't want 299 million Americans to freeze like deer in headlights, and exclaim: "Let's have an insanely rich farewell party before it all ends!".

My take on this 100-year ice melt on Greenland that just happened for the second time in seven years is summarized by the cartoon below. And if this cartoon leaves you cold, get yourself launched to Mars by Elon Musk and Other Terminal Fools.

My Spanish friend, Pedro Prieto, reminded me in turn about this Churchill quote:

 “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its clos…