Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Epoch of The Straw That Broke ...

People are struggling to find an appropriate name for the times we live in.

One candidate is "The Criminally Insane Epoch", another is The Anthropocene Epoch (ibid).

I offer the name The Epoch of the Straw That Broke The Camel's Back.

Environmental scientists use a term "the tipping point", another form of the ancient folk concept "the straw that broke the camel's back".

There is a place at the edge, the boundary, the twilight zone, where the tiniest, infinitesimal, possibly even unmeasurable force will become the trigger that starts a catastrophic cascade that is incomparable in size and effect to the tiny trigger that "caused" it to happen.

The trigger of course does not "cause" that catastrophic cascade to happen, it only triggers it.

This leads some folks to mock the notion that a single, small, but out in the open disaster can trigger mega-catastrophes.

Military folk know that we have come to the verge of catastrophic nuclear war by accident and on purpose over the course of The Nuclear Weapons Daze.

A small rogue and mavericky nation could trigger that nightmare under certain circumstances.

We all have our own tipping point where just one more word, the straw, the trigger, can "cause" us to "fly off the handle" and say or do things we would not otherwise do, if the stage had not been set.

That is the point, to avoid the straw that breaks the camel's back, we must not allow the stage to be set.

The focus of this post is not the nuclear war problem, but the environmental disaster problem that could wipe out the current civilization.

The stage is well set for that, but it is not as easy to discern that stage as it is to discern the tipping point for nuclear war, or one individual's angry outburst.

The flora and fauna of the earth are well aware that the stage is set, scientists are well aware that the stage is set too.

To add to the drama, we will not know when the final straw is added, because then it will in fact be too late to take that straw back to avoid the catastrophe.

Our only play, our only card, our best shot is to take down the stage quickly by radical, effective, and comprehensive moves to renewable energy sources.

Otherwise, even a straw thrown onto the load by a foreign nation far away can hold us accountable.

As long as the stage is set we are hostage to the whims of the collective madness.


  1. Unfortunately, there's no sign of us backing away from the precipice anytime soon. Joe Barton's statement the other day was indicative of the current mentality. The only thing that got him in trouble was that it was a politically incorrect/inconvenient reminder of the prevailing opinion within the GOP, and likely much of the Democratic party as well. I'm really surprised he retracted the statement, as that's simply not something you can retract. I actually applaud the guy for honestly speaking his mind. Now if we could just get them all to do that we could vote them in or out accordingly.

    Big oil will continue to enjoy priveleged status for one basic reason: there is no credible alternative fuel replacement even ON THE HORIZON for use in transportation - autos, trucks, & airplanes. NONE! That's a very sobering fact for a world utterly dependent on those modes to support 6.8B people, who would otherwise start dieing off almost immediately. And of course as we continue to deny that fact, the population continues to grow and the finite supply of economically accessible oil continues to deplete. There's a train wreck coming of epic proportions, and every day we wait to get off oil it grows more inevitable and consequential.

    The Gulf spill is just the latest, albeit greatest, natural signal we've received that it's clearly time to rethink our current way of doing things. Has it worked? From all appearances, just the opposite. Obama has already been pilloried for imposing a 6 month drilling moratorium to reassess safety issues and suggesting that the spill be linked to new energy legislation, which is in itself a joke, going only so far as carbon cap and trade, another Wall St bonanza. Having lost the entire 8 years of Bush the Shrub, environmentalists might have hoped that Obama signaled a clear break from the past and an actual start at effectively tackling our energy/environmental problems. As the idiot Sarah Palin - who could well be our next President if the Dems don't start showing some backbone - might say, "how's that hopey changey thing workin' out for ya?"

    Bottom line, are we going to fix our oil addiction problem anytime soon? No, and in fact we'll actually accelerate the process as the gravity of the situation becomes obvious to all. The so-called "green economy" is and will continue to be turned into just another marketing opportunity to sell us more marginally more energy efficient crap we don't need, but it will never do more than nibble at the margins of the underlying problem, and like improved fuel efficiency standards in the 1980's and 90's, will actually be used to increase overall energy use through increased consumption. The die has been cast, there is no turning back at this point. Our descent off of Hubbert's peak is going to be long, steep, and painful, and it's the kids who will pay the largest price of all. Hopefully we've got a choice before reincarnating again, but I'm not counting on that either.

  2. "no credible alternative fuel replacement even ON THE HORIZON for use in transportation - autos, trucks, & airplanes. NONE!"

    That is by erroneous and disaster producing choice, not because we can't do it.

    We started the industrial revolution with steam, the the first automobiles (e.g. Model A, T) were flex fuel, 95% of Brazil's autos (made by GM etc) are flex fuel.

    Methanol will work in them and in diesel, and it can be made from the atmosphere via electricity, and it can run the diesels that run the generators.

    Coal can be phased out. There are already more people working in wind technology than in unclean coal.

    These "debates" should have ended a generation ago.

    Nuclear is not cheap, fossil fuel is not cheap, in fact, the price is the death of civilization, which is way too much to pay.

    Here are some Ecocosmology Blog links: Texas Wind, A Way Out ...

    The propaganda of the oil barons is that "we can't do it, we can't kick the habit, we must all die"!

    It is a choice to be addicted, not absolutely required.

  3. You need to do your homework Dredd. Methanol is woefully dependent on fossil fuels both for the fertilizer to grow the crops as well as to fuel the equipment used to grow and harvest them until that is converted. Methanol also diverts crops away from feeding people - another urgent need as the population marches north of 7B - to fueling vehicles, AND it is only marginally less destructive as a green house gas producer tha oil as well as being a net energy loser. Methanol is a mere pipe dream as a large scale petroleum replacement, or it would have been adopted widely long ago. Coal, wind, solar, hydrogen, and nuclear are also non-starters for replacing oil to fuel transportation on any significant scale at all.

    The problem is far graver than anyone is willing to admit, and for good reason. If the delusion that significant amounts of oil are still available and that we've got a century or more left before being forced to find an alternative were popped tomorrow - don't worry, it won't be - we'd have mass panic on a worldwide scale. As it is, we'll just have a very tough time of it coping with our denial as the supplies dry up. The inevitable wars - as we're seeing already - will take care of the overpopulation problems soon enough.

  4. Someone is confusing ethanol with methanol and it isn't Dredd.

    The link "A Way Out" in Dredd's comment links to a Wikipedia article about a methanol economy.

    Methanol can be made from water and CO2 in the atmosphere, or anywhere else, using electricity.

    Ethanol is a totally different liquid.

    This 2006 article in "The Technology Review" also discusses it some The Methanol Economy, and mentions the book by that name.

    The Wiki article explains that methanol will run in existing E-85 vehicles the same as Ethanol does.

    It is just a matter of doing it.

  5. Here is a more recent article about methanol and how different it is from ethanol.

    It is from Chemical & Engineering News titled Methanol's Allure, 2007.

    Here is a .PDF from USC in 2008 that describes the ideas: The Methanol Economy ...

    Methanol would have worked in the Model A thru any M85 flex fuel vehicle today.

    It will run in diesel engines too.

    Read up.

  6. infinite mysteriumJune 25, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    99.99 percent of all Earth species that have ever existed are now extinct -- and humans will be no exception. It's no big deal, really. There's no cause for such mawkish geo-centrism, which is merely a remnant of our reptilian egoism, which unfortunately, we have not managed to transcend. (All Buddha and Christ and Maharshi prophets aside.)

    The universe(s) are infinite and eternal, and so is life, for it is as intrinsic to the space-time continuum as matter and energy. Life is not ours, we are its. And there are trillions of inhabited planets just like this one, so it matters very little that the primitive biped known as humankind destroys one of the countless billion-year paradises in just a few millennia. Hell, a couple hundred years ago we were still burning witches. In toto, we're a joke, and a poor one at that. (All Einstein and Mozart and da Vinci geniuses aside.)

    Plus, after we've trashed it, the Earth will recover perfectly well, thank you very much -- in a few million years -- just as it has from numerous mass extinction events, such as asteroid impacts and super volcanoes. As Bill Hicks once said, "We're a virus with shoes". And the sooner we puny humans exterminate ourselves, the better it will be for all involved. Get over yourselves, stupid humans.

  7. infinite mysterium,

    Some of us are human, are intelligent, have love for fellow humans, and have children, grandchildren, and friends.

    We do not want harm to come to any of them.

    You sound like you are not human.

    When we eradicate the dementia that leads people to think like you do, a demential that keeps us from being humane, we will have a better shot at being a species that will thrive in this cosmos.