Buddhism and Peak Oil

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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby justsit » Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:49 pm

How long do you think we can keep this up?
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby KeithBC » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:52 pm

Challenge23 wrote:
Huseng wrote:
Aemilius wrote:People seemed to be quite capable and willing to chop down lots of trees in 1895. We also had Sears catalogs and all sorts of things. True there were less people, more of them had to work on farms, and they didn't have kindles or ipads but that didn't mean that it was a Dark Age.

Yet, if you try to tell people that they will have to adapt to a 1895 lifestyle in order to survive, that is exactly what they will accuse you of: going back to the Dark Ages. For most energy-addicted people of today, even the 1950s are the Dark Ages.

They can't give up any of it, thus ensuring that instead of going back to 1895, we really will go back to the Dark Ages.

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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby kirtu » Wed Jun 20, 2012 11:21 pm

justsit wrote:How long do you think we can keep this up?


The thing is that in the global north and Australia and New Zealand the birth rate is at or below replacement levels. This is also true of urban South America and parts of Asia (dictated in China in fact). Birth rates are slowing also in Africa and most of Asia. However the population will still increase until we hit at least 8 B and probably 9 B. It is possible for world population to level off at 8.5 B although this seems wildly optimistic. More likely the population will level off between 9 -10B but possibly as late as 12B.

It's a complete disaster but not necessarily a civilization ending one although it will become civilization ending if population growth doesn't level off or if it levels off too late (like > 11 B).

I wrote something on this on FidoNet back in the mid-90's and predicted something like population levelling off around 9.5 B (from memory). Later a couple of UN reports came to similar numbers although these were more like better case projections.

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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jun 21, 2012 12:46 am

kirtu wrote:
justsit wrote:How long do you think we can keep this up?


The thing is that in the global north and Australia and New Zealand the birth rate is at or below replacement levels. This is also true of urban South America and parts of Asia (dictated in China in fact). Birth rates are slowing also in Africa and most of Asia. However the population will still increase until we hit at least 8 B and probably 9 B. It is possible for world population to level off at 8.5 B although this seems wildly optimistic. More likely the population will level off between 9 -10B but possibly as late as 12B.



This assumes it will be possible to feed so many people over the next fifty years.

We need oil for industry, and industrial agriculture in order to have such populations.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jun 21, 2012 12:49 am

KeithBC wrote:Yet, if you try to tell people that they will have to adapt to a 1895 lifestyle in order to survive, that is exactly what they will accuse you of: going back to the Dark Ages. For most energy-addicted people of today, even the 1950s are the Dark Ages.

They can't give up any of it, thus ensuring that instead of going back to 1895, we really will go back to the Dark Ages.



Try telling people the internet is unsustainable.

It uses more energy apparently than the US automotive industry, or so I recently read.

Not surprising given that server farms eat a lot of energy, not just for computing but for cooling as well. Nevermind the fact it all has to be running 24/7 on stable voltage.

Also, so much of the internet depends on advertising revenues to sustain itself. Advertising is non-essential.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby Aemilius » Mon Jun 25, 2012 10:12 am

KeithBC wrote:People seemed to be quite capable and willing to chop down lots of trees in 1895. We also had Sears catalogs and all sorts of things. True there were less people, more of them had to work on farms, and they didn't have kindles or ipads but that didn't mean that it was a Dark Age.
Yet, if you try to tell people that they will have to adapt to a 1895 lifestyle in order to survive, that is exactly what they will accuse you of: going back to the Dark Ages. For most energy-addicted people of today, even the 1950s are the Dark Ages.

They can't give up any of it, thus ensuring that instead of going back to 1895, we really will go back to the Dark Ages.

Om mani padme hum
Keith


You dinosaurs are only resisting the inevitable change! It is neutral in itself.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby treehuggingoctopus » Mon Jun 25, 2012 3:49 pm

Aemilius wrote:
KeithBC wrote:People seemed to be quite capable and willing to chop down lots of trees in 1895. We also had Sears catalogs and all sorts of things. True there were less people, more of them had to work on farms, and they didn't have kindles or ipads but that didn't mean that it was a Dark Age.
Yet, if you try to tell people that they will have to adapt to a 1895 lifestyle in order to survive, that is exactly what they will accuse you of: going back to the Dark Ages. For most energy-addicted people of today, even the 1950s are the Dark Ages.

They can't give up any of it, thus ensuring that instead of going back to 1895, we really will go back to the Dark Ages.

Om mani padme hum
Keith


You dinosaurs are only resisting the inevitable change! It is neutral in itself.


Which change have you got in mind?
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 25, 2012 4:21 pm

There was a conference held on peak oil recently. Some academics discussed the relationship of high oil prices to stagnant economic growth. The following brief notes might be of interest:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9251

This was particularly interesting to note:

A wide consensus emerged that the financial system will inevitably collapse, because outstanding debts are borrowed future growth, which will not happen anymore as it was fueled by cheap resources. Fiat money is no longer working if energy prices increase constantly. Hence many European countries are now printing money for buying the oil they can no longer afford – the EURO crises being a direct effect of the oil crunch.


Let's assume there will no longer be real economic growth and from here onward we can expect economic stagnation and contraction as high oil prices damage economies.

That means a lot of social unrest as the level of comforts and prosperity expected by many become simply unreachable for most of the population in the first world. Elsewhere a lot of places like Pakistan for example will have to contend with angry (and armed) dissidents who see the government's failure to provide simple electricity as another reason for violent resistance against the state. Many partially industrialized nations will also have to contend with the fact that they took countless people off the land and put them in cities which won't make economic sense for the long-term. Again, social upheaval can be expected.

In my personal world I expect academic funding to drop (the system for the arts and humanities is already crumbling in the west). That means less money for research, publication and conferences. Anything that can't be weaponized will get the axe (so there goes Buddhist Studies). Fortunately, I think Buddhist colleges in Asia will pick it up, but they won't have the same resources as national universities.

Given the bleak future (peak oil, climate change and overpopulation), I don't expect to retire or live out my current life expectancy. Few countries will be able to provide current levels of first world healthcare for much longer.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby underthetree » Mon Jun 25, 2012 5:05 pm

That's basically what the religion of progress and the machine promises.

Despite reaching ecological limits, people believe technology, driven by humanity's unstoppable progress from the caves to the stars, will be developed just in time to save us from the consequences of our past collective actions.


The strange thing about progress is that it hasn't happened along the lines that were predicted even when I was young (1960s and 70s). Where's the science fiction become fact? Where are the jetpacks? Where are the colonies on the moons of Jupiter? Never mind all that: where's the alternative to the internal combustion engine? Cure for cancer? We are always being told, by our own self-perpetuating cultural noise-machine, that we're hurtling into the future, carried along on all this progress. But what progress seems to mean is novelty. Toys. Miniaturisation. There's not much difference between a car from the 1950s and a car that rolled off the line yesterday. The personal computer was a massive invention, but the ipad, the iphone, the wii... it's just rolling an idea over, again and again. They promised us teleportation, and we got the xbox and e-trading of derivatives. It seems a lot like bread and circuses. Unless there really is no alternative to the internal combustion engine, and fossil-fuel generation of electricity, which I refuse to believe.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby anjali » Mon Jun 25, 2012 8:09 pm

justsit wrote:How long do you think we can keep this up?

When these kinds of discussions come up, I think of Boulding's three theorems. Kenneth Boulding was an evolutionary economist, applying ideas from evolutionary biology and ecology to economics. He was a pioneer in the field. I read his theorems many years ago now, but they made an impression on me at the time that has remained. They are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but with a serious undercurrent. Here are the theorems:

    1. "The Dismal Theorem": "If the only ultimate check on the growth of population is misery, then the population will grow until it is miserable enough to stop its growth."
    2. "The Utterly Dismal Theorem": "Any technical improvement can only relieve misery for a while, for so long as misery is the only check on population, the [technical] improvement will enable population to grow, and will soon enable more people to live in misery than before. The final result of technical improvements, therefore, is to increase the equilibrium population which is to increase the total sum of human misery."
    3. "The moderately cheerful form of the Dismal Theorem" : "Fortunately, it is not too difficult to restate the Dismal Theorem in' a moderately cheerful form, which states that if something else, other then misery and starvation, can be found which will keep a prosperous population in check, the population does not have to grow until it is miserable and starves, and it can be stably prosperous."
Boulding notes that, "Until we know more, the Cheerful Theorem remains a question mark. Misery we know will do the trick. This is the only sure­fire automatic method of bringing population to an equilibrium'. Other things may do it."

To bring the discussion back to Buddhism and peak oil, these theorems bring to light a whole different perspective on technology, population growth and the four noble truths. It's odd to note that well-intentioned short-term efforts to relieve suffering (via technological improvements) might be the cause of more widespread suffering later.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 26, 2012 12:53 am

underthetree wrote: Unless there really is no alternative to the internal combustion engine, and fossil-fuel generation of electricity, which I refuse to believe.


There are alternatives, but they won't provide a middle-class American or even European standard of living.

Alternative energy sources, like wind and solar, do not pack the same power punch as liquid fossil fuels do, which consequently means that unless a small group monopolizes the energy derived from said sources, we will not collectively have access to the same amount of energy as before.

Do you think, for example, the vast network of cement / asphalt highways, roads and streets across North America could be built, let alone maintained, with solar powered machinery? Unlikely.

If the trillion dollar infrastructure we depend on becomes unsustainable and unmaintained, the movement of goods and services across such distances will largely cease.

There is no miracle technology. We're using up several hundred million years worth of concentrated solar energy, all in the course of two to three centuries. When the oil is gone our industrial civilization and all the goodies it has provided will be a peculiar page in history.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 26, 2012 12:57 am

anjali wrote:To bring the discussion back to Buddhism and peak oil, these theorems bring to light a whole different perspective on technology, population growth and the four noble truths. It's odd to note that well-intentioned short-term efforts to relieve suffering (via technological improvements) might be the cause of more widespread suffering later.


"Development" is equivalent to environmental destruction coupled with social disruption and all the resulting health problems.

Industrialization and modern healthcare might have got rid of numerous ancient diseases, but at the same time spawned countless new diseases like cancers and asthma.

The other thing that is often forgotten is how our beloved automobiles (and their drivers) kill about 2 million people across the globe annually.

In the old days maybe you died prematurely from polio or scurvy, but now you're hit by a drunk driver or end up with cancer due to industrial pollution.

In reality the nature of problems just changed, but were never really conquered.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby underthetree » Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:24 am

How much of our reaction to peak oil should be as 'Buddhists,' though? I'm dubious about environmentalism being considered under the Buddhist rubric a la engaged Buddhism/green Buddhism. That's not to say that our practice shouldn't lead us to concern and engagement in these vital areas, but aren't we then Buddhists who are concerned about the environment, rather than 'Environmental Buddhists?'

Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, but isn't Buddhism's connection with environmental activism synergistic rather than something inherent to Buddhism itself? I ask this because in my part of the world Green Buddhism is big, though it seems to me like two creeds that have co-opted one another in a typically Western, New Agey kind of syncretism and I'm not sure if it's helpful to either cause.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby Aemilius » Tue Jun 26, 2012 2:15 pm

treehuggingoctopus wrote:
Aemilius wrote:You dinosaurs are only resisting the inevitable change! It is neutral in itself.


Which change have you got in mind?


I have expressed my views in this thread plenty of times already,.. how to put it briefly? If you search the web with words "future energy", you will get a lot of information about the kind of change we are in at the moment.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 26, 2012 2:28 pm

underthetree wrote:How much of our reaction to peak oil should be as 'Buddhists,' though? I'm dubious about environmentalism being considered under the Buddhist rubric a la engaged Buddhism/green Buddhism. That's not to say that our practice shouldn't lead us to concern and engagement in these vital areas, but aren't we then Buddhists who are concerned about the environment, rather than 'Environmental Buddhists?'


Environmentalism and Buddhism go hand in hand for numerous reasons, primarily because concern for life on earth is equivalent to compassion. Concern for all the species in the world is quite agreeable to anyone who cares about the well-being of other beings. In our present day it is all the more a critical issue because of the scale of extinctions and human suffering.

Peak oil will mean that most of industrial civilization will be gone in less than two centuries, possibly sooner. That means preserving the canon, maintaining traditions through rough times and transmitting essential practices will be key. When the Roman Empire collapsed it was Catholic monks in places like Ireland that preserved parts of Roman civilization and classical knowledge. We will likewise have to preserve things for them to survive.


Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, but isn't Buddhism's connection with environmental activism synergistic rather than something inherent to Buddhism itself? I ask this because in my part of the world Green Buddhism is big, though it seems to me like two creeds that have co-opted one another in a typically Western, New Agey kind of syncretism and I'm not sure if it's helpful to either cause.


Buddhist organizations in Taiwan and their branch overseas institutions are all heavily invested in environmentalism. Everything from recycling to bringing your own metal chopsticks when you go to eat out (otherwise you might use disposable chopsticks).

That being said, I don't know if it is enough. At the end of the day most Buddhists and even monastics still lead ordinary consumer lifestyles making use of cars, plastic products, airplanes, oil or nuclear powered electricity, paper milled from the rain forest, etc... it is inescapable. Bringing your own bag to the grocery store just saves the company money, but doesn't negate the fact your plastic packaging is using a hell of a lot more plastic than your grocery bags would. Taking public transport is to be recommended, but for many people not owning a car is a social and economic handicap. Your cotton underwear uses plenty of freshwater that in many parts of the world (like India) is becoming scarce as the days go by. If you live a first world lifestyle, even as a penniless monk in a monastery, you're damaging the planet. Just using electricity from a nuclear power plant is contributing to the world's environmental problems.

This is why a lot of environmentalism is effectively futile. It is better to be an environmentalist than to not be, but the system is hard-wired to self-destruct. There is no way out of this sinking ship.

If humanity did what it had to do to prevent what is happening as we speak, economies would collapse and billions would die in a short period. Even if you took small steps, it would mean drastically less consumption, which again would mean economic contraction, which is not politically feasible because in a democracy you'll be impeached and in a totalitarian state your colleagues and/or people would kill you. To voluntarily contract the economy would also mean surrendering military power, which is not going to happen either.

Damage control is important. As times get worse and ecological payback punches us all in the jaw again and again, there will be a lot of neurotic people. This is why Buddhist practice becomes potentially life-saving. Strong religious traditions with robust communities and intelligent leadership will make things a lot easier for many people.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby Aemilius » Wed Jun 27, 2012 10:36 am

justsit wrote:How long do you think we can keep this up?


Looking at these data http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population, it doesn't seem impossible that the population of the Earth will continue to increase. There are many areas with a low population density on the Globe, so there is room for even more human beings.
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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby justsit » Wed Jun 27, 2012 2:02 pm

The point was to highlight the unsustainable nature of huge population increase in terms of impact on the environment, not to question the fact that population is increasing.

How long can we keep keep increasing population, given the fact that energy use is increasing proportionately and resources are not infinite?

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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby kirtu » Wed Jun 27, 2012 6:50 pm

justsit wrote:The point was to highlight the unsustainable nature of huge population increase in terms of impact on the environment, not to question the fact that population is increasing.

How long can we keep keep increasing population, given the fact that energy use is increasing proportionately and resources are not infinite?

Image


Population increase has a negligible effect of energy consumption in the 1st and 2nd world (in the 3rd world this can be a real problem though). Individual humans do not add stress to the energy consumption side.

Industrial growth is a near exponential consumer of energy and that is the real problem. The nonsense with groups like Enron manipulating power and thus causing shortages is totally another matter. Famous blackouts on the North American east and west coasts are a result of a poorly designed power grid system that was overloaded. This was not actually a result of a lack of overall electric power although it was a matter of excessive local peak demand for a relatively short period of time.

BTW could you please add the url for the chart? I cannot enlarge it and it is too indistinct for me to read properly. It seems to show yearly increased energy by source in TW. This by itself is not an indication of the energy source running out. For example we could be extracting significantly more energy per unit from some source (over time this is likely in fact and your chart runs from 1800-2006).

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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby KeithBC » Wed Jun 27, 2012 7:00 pm

kirtu wrote: Individual humans do not add stress to the energy consumption side.

That is the fiction that lies at the root of the problem.

If individuals are not the cause of energy consumption, then on whose behalf is the energy being consumed? If you double a population and they all demand the same lifestyle, then of course you double the energy consumption.

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Re: Buddhism and Peak Oil

Postby kirtu » Wed Jun 27, 2012 7:38 pm

KeithBC wrote:
kirtu wrote: Individual humans do not add stress to the energy consumption side.

That is the fiction that lies at the root of the problem.


No Keith that is a fact. Increased energy demand induced by population growth is not exponential. It may in fact be linear but more likely it can be represented as a polynomial function.

Increased demand due to industrial sources (so not necessarily industrial growth) is exponential or a higher order polynomial function than the human induced function.

These functions in fact have to be published somewhere. These functions will vary by factors like nation and urban area.

If individuals are not the cause of energy consumption, then on whose behalf is the energy being consumed?


Industry.

If you double a population and they all demand the same lifestyle, then of course you double the energy consumption.


Then the growth in energy demand as a result of population growth is linear. In fact for some places, especially advanced nations (think Norway), increased population will not have a linear effect because that nation is swimming in energy for non-industrial purposes.

These statements are measurable and falsifiable BTW. I'm working on a couple of projects but will try to find sources for the energy growth functions.

Unexpectedly no papers are coming up immediately with this information. This Wikipedia article says that per capita energy consumption in the US is constant which means that energy consumption in the US is a factor of US population growth. But the coefficient for the US is < 2. The CIA Factbook gives annual US population growth as .96%. Therefore if the assertion about per capita US energy consumption being constant is true then the energy demand function as a result of population growth in the US is:

id = 1.0096(p) ; id being increased demand and p being population.

At these rates the US will never run out of energy due to population increase (and I really do mean never). Solar and wind power build out alone can satisfy that demand.

That same article says that worldwide per capita energy demand has increased from 63.7 -> 72.4 million BTU from 1980 -> 2006. This means that world energy incease as a function of population is only:

id = 1.011366(p)

So aggregate energy demand as a result of population increase can be satisfied indefinitely as well.

The problem with population growth is a lack of developed resources in the global south as well as a failure of efficient agriculture in many areas in the global south. One could argue that population growth results in increased energy demand from agriculture. This is true but agriculture itself isn't energy intensive (this is true even of factory farms).

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