Overshoot

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tennpaga
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Re: Overshoot

Post by tennpaga » Tue Feb 09, 2016 9:15 pm

MediumTex wrote:
TennPaGa wrote: My dad was nearly 30 when I was born.  That was old at the time, I think (at least, I seem to remember my dad being old compared to my friends' dads).  But, as we both know, 30 is nuthin'. :)
My understanding is that a lot of Millenials are projected to just be reaching puberty by age 30.
That sounds about right. :(
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Re: Overshoot

Post by Desert » Tue Feb 09, 2016 9:30 pm

TennPaGa wrote:
Desert wrote:
TennPaGa wrote: I often think about that myself.  I'm the oldest of five -- the fourth (and third) were born only 2.5 years after the first.  I wonder how my parents managed (my mom especially).
The fourth and third were twins? 
Yep.  Plus my mom had a miscarriage between the second and the twins.  It's simply mind-boggling for me.  I wish it weren't.
I was the last of three, born 15 months after my older brother.  Crazy old parents.  Little did they know what sort of black-sheep heathen they'd unleashed on a decent planet.
My dad was nearly 30 when I was born.  That was old at the time, I think (at least, I seem to remember my dad being old compared to my friends' dads).  But, as we both know, 30 is nuthin'. :)
Yeah, that was old.  And my poor old mother was 35 when I was born.  She was a bit of an outcast for being an old lady with a bunch of little brats. 

My parents have gotten their revenge by living ridiculously long.  They both turned 86 this year.  They find it humorous to have an 8 year old grandson that grills them like a trial lawyer. 
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Re: Overshoot

Post by Pointedstick » Thu Feb 25, 2016 11:09 am

Okay, back to this topic!

Here's an article more or less explaining my feelings on the matter: http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-ev-oil-crisis/

In a nutshell, I acknowledge the apparently sound theoretical underpinnings of the theory, but simply put, none of the predictions that Catton made--either long term or short term--have come true. We've had 43 years to see. That's longer than a lot of people currently living have been alive for. This is why I said I got a very "Austrian Economics" vibe from the book. There are a lot of parallels:
- An intuitively appealing, intellectually rigorous theory explained by a persuasive writer
- The notion that one of our fundamental, foundational institutions is corrupt and rotten
- Assurances that the system is unsalvageably bad, and must be entirely thrown out and replaced with something from our past that we have already rejected
- No individually actionable solutions; the only option is total societal reversion to a past state of existence when it comes to the described problem
- Dire predictions of terrible consequences stemming from a failure to remedy this deficiency by following the author's un-implementable advice
- A total lack of those consequences actually manifesting in the multiple decades since the prediction was made
- The only way the theory still makes sense is if the consequences are simply farther off, perpetually over the next hill… anywhere off into the future in such a manner that makes the theory unfalsifiable

In this particular case, the longer the dire predictions fail to materialize, the stronger a case is made for "cargoism" as we innovate our way out of the problem. Simply put, if in 50 years we've almost completely weaned ourselves off oil by transitioning to electric power and renewable energy source electrical generation, then Catton's thesis will no longer apply.

Clearly that hasn't happened yet. But the world is just as clearly moving in that direction for many reasons, and the more time goes by, the closer we get to that point.
Last edited by Pointedstick on Thu Feb 25, 2016 11:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Overshoot

Post by Pointedstick » Wed Mar 02, 2016 6:14 pm

Bump, now that MediumTex is back. :)
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Re: Overshoot

Post by MediumTex » Wed Mar 02, 2016 6:36 pm

Pointedstick wrote: Okay, back to this topic!

Here's an article more or less explaining my feelings on the matter: http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-ev-oil-crisis/

In a nutshell, I acknowledge the apparently sound theoretical underpinnings of the theory, but simply put, none of the predictions that Catton made--either long term or short term--have come true. We've had 43 years to see. That's longer than a lot of people currently living have been alive for. This is why I said I got a very "Austrian Economics" vibe from the book. There are a lot of parallels:
- An intuitively appealing, intellectually rigorous theory explained by a persuasive writer
I think part of Catton's analysis isn't intuitive to people who have grown up in a world where endless growth was a given.
- The notion that one of our fundamental, foundational institutions is corrupt and rotten
I think that Catton would say that it isn't the institutions that are corrupt, but rather that the beliefs they are premised upon are simply wrong.
- Assurances that the system is unsalvageably bad, and must be entirely thrown out and replaced with something from our past that we have already rejected
I think that Catton's premise is actually a bit darker than that.  My reading of Catton is that there is basically a virus in the human thought operating system.  Evolution shows us that you typically don't "fix" things like that.  You just see an extinction event and Mother Nature moves in a different direction.
- No individually actionable solutions; the only option is total societal reversion to a past state of existence when it comes to the described problem
Unfortunately, I think that's right.
- Dire predictions of terrible consequences stemming from a failure to remedy this deficiency by following the author's un-implementable advice
Right, and that's why it is disturbing.
- A total lack of those consequences actually manifesting in the multiple decades since the prediction was made
It hasn't been nearly long enough.  I read Catton's thesis as unfolding over several centuries.
- The only way the theory still makes sense is if the consequences are simply farther off, perpetually over the next hill… anywhere off into the future in such a manner that makes the theory unfalsifiable
Not perpetually beyond the horizon, just beyond the horizons we are conditioned to think about.
In this particular case, the longer the dire predictions fail to materialize, the stronger a case is made for "cargoism" as we innovate our way out of the problem. Simply put, if in 50 years we've almost completely weaned ourselves off oil by transitioning to electric power and renewable energy source electrical generation, then Catton's thesis will no longer apply.
I'm not against using our cleverness in every way we can to solve the problem.  The question is whether we overestimate the impact of our cleverness without the tailwind of cheap and easy energy.
Clearly that hasn't happened yet. But the world is just as clearly moving in that direction for many reasons, and the more time goes by, the closer we get to that point.
I agree that the more time that goes by, the closer we get to the point where we will find out if an economic system premised upon endless growth is viable in a world of finite resources.

Catton was essentially describing a historic tailwind to human progress turning into a headwind in the future.  It will be fascinating to see how humanity responds to it, but Catton's analysis of ecological constraints on growth was IMHO pretty sound.
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Re: Overshoot

Post by BearBones » Wed Mar 02, 2016 6:57 pm

Nice point, counterpoint!
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Re: Overshoot

Post by Pointedstick » Thu Mar 03, 2016 8:46 am

MediumTex wrote: I think part of Catton's analysis isn't intuitive to people who have grown up in a world where endless growth was a given.
That makes sense; I can see how it would make intuitive sense to someone who lived through the 70s. But how much intuitive sense it makes is irrelevant. It is accurate or not regardless of how much or how little it appeals to any given person.

MediumTex wrote: It hasn't been nearly long enough.  I read Catton's thesis as unfolding over several centuries.
[...]
Not perpetually beyond the horizon, just beyond the horizons we are conditioned to think about.
[...]
I'm not against using our cleverness in every way we can to solve the problem.  The question is whether we overestimate the impact of our cleverness without the tailwind of cheap and easy energy.
[...]
I agree that the more time that goes by, the closer we get to the point where we will find out if an economic system premised upon endless growth is viable in a world of finite resources.
Now we're getting somewhere. If I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying that Catton's book can be distilled down to the idea that over the next few centuries, the idea of limitless growth will be revealed to be a dangerous sham that has ill-prepared us for reality without infinite cheap fossil fuels.

Basically, I accuse Catton of building a strawman argument by extrapolating the course that the USA was on in 1973 out into the indefinite future and declaring that we humans will not change course even if it leads to disaster or potentially even extinction. This is a ridiculous argument, and the reason why I feel comfortable dismissing it after only 43 years is because we have already made very meaningful changes to the problems Catton identified and altered our trajectory in that time. As I keep bringing up, solar and wind are now cost-competitive with gas. This is a titanic change from the world Catton inhabited. And we are already adding more solar and wind generation capacity than gas!

Do you think that this process is going to stall out or something? To me, it really seems that this fundamentally challenges the fossil fuel leg of Catton's argument. If so, that leaves only the "infinite growth is impossible" leg, making it much more obvious and weak argument.
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Re: Overshoot

Post by MediumTex » Thu Mar 03, 2016 12:26 pm

Pointedstick wrote: Now we're getting somewhere. If I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying that Catton's book can be distilled down to the idea that over the next few centuries, the idea of limitless growth will be revealed to be a dangerous sham that has ill-prepared us for reality without infinite cheap fossil fuels.
Yes, I think that's a good summary.
Basically, I accuse Catton of building a strawman argument by extrapolating the course that the USA was on in 1973 out into the indefinite future and declaring that we humans will not change course even if it leads to disaster or potentially even extinction.
I don't think it was just the 1973 course, but rather the entire 20th century course.

I think that Catton would say that humans WILL change course, but that it might happen later rather than sooner.
This is a ridiculous argument, and the reason why I feel comfortable dismissing it after only 43 years is because we have already made very meaningful changes to the problems Catton identified and altered our trajectory in that time. As I keep bringing up, solar and wind are now cost-competitive with gas.
Next up is the scalability problem.  Even if solar and wind are cost competitive as niche applications, they would not be cost competitive if you tried to scale them up beyond niche applications because you would start to run into all sorts of problems like scarcity of rare earth materials, the environmental damage associated with wind turbines, the down time when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing, etc.
This is a titanic change from the world Catton inhabited. And we are already adding more solar and wind generation capacity than gas!
In Catton's time renewables were a niche segment of the energy market, and they are still a niche today.  When electricity generation is 30% wind and 30% solar, the world you are describing will have arrived, but not when it's closer to 3% and 3%, which is where we are today.
Do you think that this process is going to stall out or something? To me, it really seems that this fundamentally challenges the fossil fuel leg of Catton's argument. If so, that leaves only the "infinite growth is impossible" leg, making it much more obvious and weak argument.
It won't stall out.  It will simply start to bump into things like lack of suitable places to build more wind turbines and solar farms, the fact that battery technology still isn't all that great when it comes to using electricity for transportation, the fact that planes will always be fossil fueled, the need for fossil fuel inputs for modern agriculture, etc.

The bottom line is that I just don't think we will be able to concentrate solar energy as intensely as Mother Nature has done for us in the compacted ancient organic material that we know as fossil fuels.  We think we can, and maybe we can, but I think it will be more like the comparison of a human hand and a prosthetic hand.  The latter will never have the elegance of the former.

All I would suggest is that people put Catton's arguments on their short list of serious threats to our way of life that could present themselves within our lifetimes.  If it turns out that energy isn't that big of a deal and solar, wind, nuclear, hydro, etc. can gradually replace fossil fuels, then good for us as humans.  If, however, it turns out that an economic system premised on continual growth will eventually bump into hard ecological limits, then we are going to have some tough times to deal with at some point in the future.

Interestingly, von Mises touched on this topic in a very brief way in Human Action.  What he said was basically that he could imagine resource constraints pinching economic growth at some point in the future, but that it would be a long long time before anything like that happened, and basically left it at that.

Remember, too, that expensive oil is basically the same as expensive alternative energy sources.  What the world needs is cheap energy for business as usual.  In 2008, we found out how the world economy responds to expensive energy (e.g., $150 per barrel oil)--everything basically shut down until the price of energy fell to levels where things could function profitably again.

The relationship between energy prices and the financial markets is really fascinating.  Basically, the premise behind all debt is that people and businesses will have more money in the future than they have today, but this premise has certain energy input assumptions built into it, and once those assumptions are invalidated through experience, the entire rationale for debt starts to fall apart as well.  In a post-peak oil world, many believe that the only reasonable assumption will be that people will have less surplus in the future than they have today, since the cost of energy inputs will be higher at almost every level of production.
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Re: Overshoot

Post by BearBones » Thu Mar 03, 2016 8:01 pm

Great discussion! Keep going...
:)
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Re: Overshoot

Post by Pointedstick » Wed Mar 23, 2016 11:33 am

http://www.utilitydive.com/news/solar-a ... 35/411813/

Solar and wind comprise 61% of 2015 capacity additions, gas contributes 35%

Capacity additions in the United States slowed last year, but renewable generation made up more than half of the 14,468 MW completed in 2015, according to an analysis by SNL Energy.

Wind accounted for 47% of new generation capacity, followed by natural gas (35%) and solar (14%).

Last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that capacity additions would begin to slow, and from 2018 to 2024 the agency believes additions will average less than 4 GW annually.


And take a look at this:

https://www.lazard.com/media/2390/lazar ... sis-90.pdf

[img width=650]https://i.imgur.com/9ahpCCD.png[/img]

Observe how the only fossil fuel that still has the potential to be cheaper than any of the renewables is combined-cycle natural gas, and it is already being beaten out by wind in many markets.



I hear what you're saying about things like limited landmass available for wind and solar plants, rare earth metals being rare and the like. It is true by definition that nothing is literally limitless. But Catton is (was) much more worried by the overshoot. Not as much by the limitation of human carrying capacity but the fact that he believes we've overshot it with fossil fuels.

After 10 or 20 years of new capacity being more renewable than fossil-fueled, and with the closure of old fossil burners and replacement with this cleaner, more renewable new capacity, that overshoot is going to shrink. It already is. As renewables come to make up more and more of the grid--they already are--the overshoot will diminish and eventually disappear. And with no overshoot, there's really no problem; no mass die-off, no destruction of the standard of living, nothing traumatic like that. We can live with a limited carrying capacity. Cotton acknowledged that we did just that before fossil fuels. Population growth will fall, real estate will become expensive, things like that. That's basically Japan! We humans can clearly manage.

The growth of renewable fuel sources as economically competitive with fossil-burners gives me great hope, honestly. It's not a theory. It's happening before our very eyes.
Last edited by Pointedstick on Wed Mar 23, 2016 2:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Overshoot

Post by Mountaineer » Wed Mar 23, 2016 1:58 pm

MediumTex wrote:
<snip> ..... the down time when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing, etc.
All we need are a bunch of superconductors circling the earth - zero resistance.  The sun is always shining somewhere.  Or perhaps a perpetual motion machine.  Maybe Al Gore has already invented them.  ;)

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Re: Overshoot

Post by Desert » Wed Mar 23, 2016 6:30 pm

It is indeed exciting to see the alternative energy costs dropping so fast in recent years.  I've been pretty surprised to see just how dramatic the cost declines have been, particularly in solar.  We owe a lot of that to a combination of U.S. ingenuity and the Chinese government's support of manufacturing. 

One thing to keep in mind, however, is the upper limits on percentage of power production from intermittent sources (e.g., solar, wind) in the absence of affordable grid-scale storage.  Millions of cars plugged in at night can help incrementally, but we need true bulk storage to displace a high percentage of fuel-based generation.  Denmark is making a huge effort, but is still searching for that ever-elusive bulk storage technology. 

If a few of us could get together and solve that issue, we'll be rich, famous and morally superior. 
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