Blow-Back to Collapse

August 31, 2011

Order was being attempted in the northeastern US this morning as peoples work their way out of the massive natural disaster called Hurricane Irene — Vermont, New Jersey and upstate New York are flooding nearly out of control as rivers pour over their banks, washing away a lifetime’s work of many, many lives.
Scenes incomprehensible, but yet part of the ‘new normal:’ In Grafton, Vermont, 800 residents were stranded. “It’s one massive mess,” said Tara Taylor, who came out of Grafton to nearby Rockingham, along with her family. “There’s no words to describe this.”

And the bad news — life as we know it is going to get worse, and most likely to get worse fairly rapidly.

(Illustration found here).

One item that’s been placed on a way-back burner is the horror is still unfolding at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant — the news media laps up disaster and went way-out-of-control covering Irene, though, some pundits have said the whole event was over ‘hyped,’ but tell that to the people in Vermont, and, the storm is likely to rank among the 10 most expensive catastrophes in U.S. history, costing between $7 billion to $10 billion.
Meanwhile, a nuclear disaster would make Irene seem like a walk in a soft, spring rain.

Japan has been in trouble for awhile — they just selected their sixth prime minister in five years — and the ongoing, seemingly unending problems at the Fukushima plant ain’t helping any.
The newest piece of shit is radioactive waste from the plant.
According to Aljazeera English: Environmental experts in Japan are warning of new fallout from the country’s nuclear crisis. Radioactive waste is piling up at several sewerage plants, well away from the crippled Fukushima reactor. Months after the tsunami and earthquake that triggered the nuclear meltdown, the government still has no policy on what to do with the waste.
All these sewage plants have a major problem — workers with no proper training have had to store this real bad literal shit in big barrels and vats (material usually used by others like construction companies, but not now).
This situation is one of those with no end:

According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the amount of accumulated dehydrated sludge stored in water treatment facilities in 14 prefectures in eastern Japan was 92 000 tons as of July 28, while sludge from sewage treatment plants topped 35 000 tons as of August 12.
Press reports said some 37 000 tons of this total was judged to be radioactive.
More recently, NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, conducted its own survey of 17 prefectures and says the figure for radioactive sludge has now grown to about 50 000 tons, with over 1500 tons “so contaminated that it cannot be buried for disposal.”
It added that another 50 000 tons had still to be checked.

A lot of ugly, ugly shit.

Fukushima is just another knotty problem, but even as horrendous as it may be, the situation pales next to the biggest issues facing all of mankind — climate change and peak oil.
Climate change speaks for itself and is manifest in our daily lives — Irene is an example.
Peak oil, however, is one of them slow crawling disasters that people don’t pay much attention to until it’s way, way too late.
We watch oil prices as they’re reflected at the gas pump, but the nasty, down-low business of running out of the black shit is still hidden behind a screen, pretty-much unknown except to a few.
And the down-side to the peak is already here: Of the 16 big U.S. and European oil companies studied by Deutsche Bank analyst Paul Sankey, 14 of them saw their production of petroleum decline in the quarter. Collectively, the drop amounted to 12 percent of total liquids volumes, or 1.2 million bpd. Their average output for the quarter totalled, 14.67 million bpd. Even excluding the effect of Libya’s issues, the decline was 8 percent.
The US peaked in 1970.

And make no bones, the world’s current civilized life is fully based on oil.
Which means there’s gonna be a bad end to this.

In a related piece, energy writer and chemistry professor, Ugo Bardi, has a post up this morning at The Oil Drum about how this end will come about — swiftly.
Bardi’s article is inspired by comments from Lucius Annaeus Seneca, a Roman empire-era philosopher, who in a letter quipped: “It would be some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”
Yes, the way to ruin is rapid.
Using models, graphs and science texts, Bardi explores the possibility of a hard, quick collapse to the way nowadays be.
He concludes:

Very often, we fail to understand the delayed effects of our actions.
John Sterman reminds us of this point in a talk on global warming quoting Robert Louis Stevenson as saying, “Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
The models shown here tell us that the Seneca cliff is the result of delayed consequences.
As always, the future is something that we build with our actions and the models can only tell us what kind of actions will lead us, eventually, to a certain outcome.
Used in this way, models can be extremely useful and can even be applied to systems which are much more modest than an entire civilization, for instance to a single company or to our personal relationships with other people.
In all cases, the Seneca effect will be the result of trying hard to keep things running as usual.
In that way, we may run out faster of the resource that keeps the system running: be it a physical resource or a reserve of goodwill.
The way to avoid this outcome may be to let the system run the way it wants, without attempting to force it to go the way we want it to go.
In other words we need to take things in life with some stoicism, as Seneca himself would probably have said.
Thinking of the worldwide situation and of the problems involved, global warming and resource depletion, what the models tell us is that the Seneca cliff may be the inevitable result of putting too much strain on already badly depleted natural resources.
We should try, instead, to develop alternative stocks of resources such as renewable (or nuclear) energy. At the same time, we should avoid to exploit highly polluting and expensive resources such as tar sands, oil shales, deepwater oil, and, in general, applying the “drill, baby, drill” philosophy.
All those strategies are recipes for doom.
Unfortunately, these are also examples of exactly what we are doing.

Bardi notes in his piece an article by Dmitry Orlov, called ‘Peak Oil is History.’
Orlov says:

Let us look at it another way.
As I mentioned, Peak Oil theory has been quite good at predicting the depletion profile of certain stable and prosperous countries and provinces.
But these predictions become meaningless when extrapolated to the world as a whole, for one very obvious reason: the world cannot import oil.
Let me say it again, this time in title-case, bolded and centered, to emphasize the significance of this statement:
Planet Earth Can’t Import Oil
When faced with insufficient domestic oil production, an industrialized country has but two choices:
1. Import oil
2. Collapse
But when faced with insufficient global oil production, an industrialized planet has just one choice: Choice Number 2.

That’s just great, bro.

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