Redefining Wants and Needs

Very few critical thinkers would suggest we can just keep going with our conspicuous consumption and extractive approaches to manufacturing goods and services for life here on this planet.  We no longer live in that bucolic world of grass-fed local animals, farmers, and artisans who lived lightly on the planet.

So, if we are not going to limit population growth or legislate against nice things with another form of “sin taxes” that ultimately might reduce the growth rate of expensive cars, boats, planes … how are we going to ever make this planet livable and sustainable?

Watching our 26-year-old son and his attitudes, I have a clue about what might work.  If we redefine life as water, food, shelter, and comfort we can redesign our communities to be more “clustered” so that people can walk wherever they need to go and provide cluster-to-cluster public transportation to move people beyond their day-to-day boundaries.  Right now, we are powering a 3-to-4-thousand-pound vehicle to get groceries, go to work, or to visit neighbors. Some cultures around the world use bicycles instead … here, if you do that you are going to the hospital or worse.

Yes, I grew up believing that owning a car gave me freedom, but I have come to realize it brings with it high insurance premiums, worries about others on the road causing a wreck, and so much wasted time getting here or there because we are not living in clustered communities.

I got this idea by watching our son who never wanted to drive but did so because his high school dropped the school bus to our neighborhood.  His car is about 10 years old and only as about 13,000 miles on it.  If I took the insurance costs alone and factored that into this mileage, it would have been cheaper to Uber anywhere he needed to go.  Plus, half the time, he used it to get groceries, which could have been delivered to our door at lower costs.

Of course, it is kind of fun to go out and shop for our needs.  It is so interesting to see all our choices, watch for sales, and pick out the produce that looks good to us: bananas at just the perfect ripeness, tomatoes that smell like they are fresh and juicy, and of course the perfect piece of fish, chicken, pork or beef for our intended meals.

We pack these into refrigerators 4-6 times larger than those found elsewhere in the world to eventually throw about half of it away because it spoiled.  My brother lived in Australia where they shopped daily for their meat, dairy, and vegetables because the fridge was smaller than a file drawer!

He also experienced garbage police who warned him that if he persisted in mixing his garbage with recyclable items, they would stop picking up his garbage. There are places in the world that assign your new building a fixed-size transformer and electric service.  You learn to live within that constraint … so thermal storage dominates the HVAC designs there, and of course all electrical uses are high efficiency.

We seem preoccupied with symbolic ideas that fail to move the needle in substantive ways.  Choices in the supermarket are plastic, paper, or bring your own bag. In the great scheme of things, that is inconsequential.

Are we ready to rethink our basic ways of living?

How sure are you?

Past blogs have pointed out that you can “bet against” NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center with very high confidence.  If they say it is going to be a higher-than-normal storm season you can rest assured that the exact opposite is pretty likely.  I have plotted predicted vs. actual storm statistics and they are very highly negatively correlated.  That should cause us to pause and question whether NOAA is able to predict anything… their models are clearly wrong.

And, once again they illustrated their inability this year with predicting and then seeing only 14 storms, 8 hurricanes, and only 2 major hurricanes.  Plus, if you check the actual storm paths you will see that some of the hurricanes, they say occurred would have never been discernable in the past since they only lasted for a few hours.  Poof… they showed up and were gone … nice to see them with high resolution radar but certainly not historically comparable to anything before this radar.

Even with this bias, the normal year would have 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes.  So, this year was very close to average.  Or, another way to summarize this past year was that it was milder than normal.  Now, that simply does not make news, now does it?

Least Carbon Planning

Do you remember least cost planning and how it was implemented in our energy supply system?  Do you remember that we considered both supply and demand side options, and made decisions on the long term, recognizing that there might be some near term more expensive items that, over time, would yield the best lowest cost options.

It was a rigorous analysis system that became the basis for regulatory proceedings.  There were gray areas where benefits were contestably uncertain, but the fact that it was a precise mathematical method offered everyone involved a transparent mechanism for negation and planning.  Yes, you could always second guess decisions after time passed, but it did offer some level of certainty to all involved.  That certainty offered utilities the ability to raise capital and be assured of cost recovery.

By contrast, we now live an uncertain world of carbon accountabilities, carbon credit uncertainties, and ESG abuse.  It is almost like we have transported ourselves back 150 years into the “wild wild west” once again with booms, busts, and almost half of the national currency being counterfeited.  Think about it:

If we accept that carbon dioxide release levels in the environment now replace the cost elements in this formula, we should be evaluating the energy alternative portfolio reflecting both the near term carbon emissions from these choices along with the longer-term estimates.  Under this type of thinking, beneficial electrification should be time phased: meaning promoting electrification in the short run may confound the end goal of carbon dioxide releases because the electricity today is far from green.

Therefore, banning internal combustion engines in cars makes no sense in the near term, and certainly not until and unless the electric grid is mostly carbon free.  Plus, when you consider that it can take 10-20 years before today’s high mileage EVs will ever have a net positive impact on carbon impact, all this push for EVs in the short run is escalating carbon dioxide releases.

Don’t you think it is high time we slowed down, stepped back from the edge, and took a cold hard look at our plans?  Why are we rushing to build our way out of the past rather than to also consider a softer path on the energy use side?

What’s really going on here?  Why haven’t we learned the lesson from the energy industry in the 1970s?


Promises, Promises

Perhaps the reason we use handshakes is to keep people from doing what this picture indicates: promising one thing and doing quite another.  The history for this superstition is a bit murky but all sources indicate it is a way of asking God’s forgiveness for telling a white lie.  While we males learn early on that answering the question, “does this dress make me look fat?” requires real care, the idea that answering a question where no harm is done by either avoiding the “truth” … in essence we are trying to protect the other person’s feelings.

We move away from a benign perspective when someone deliberately tells us one thing but has no intention of living up to the promise.  We often describe this by saying their actions speak louder than words.  Today’s greenwashing and virtue signaling prove this out.  We hear a lot of promises, but when we look at actual progress, we see the results coming up short.

Admittedly, some things can prove out of our control, so we promise based on our own heart’s intent, but we then run into the realities and unintended consequences.  Fair enough.  So, when you hear about large corporations making climate pledges, you should dig a bit deeper.  Here is a snippet from summarizing climate promises:

“You might remember last year’s announcement from Cargill, ADM, Bunge & Co, in which they promised to finally work together as an industry to eliminate commodity-driven deforestation and align their supply chain emissions with a 1.5 degrees Celsius climate pathway. The latter requires going beyond forests to end all native vegetation conversion, which is notably absent in the trader’s work. The commodity companies pledged to publish a roadmap on how they would achieve these goals within a year. 

And so they did. Unfortunately, that’s the only promise they kept since the roadmap itself fails to deliver the expected commitments to end deforestation and align their business practices with Paris climate goals. 

In response to the roadmap, WWF’s U.S. president and CEO Carter Roberts wrote that it “demonstrates progress on palm oil and steps forward on beef but falls well short of what is needed on soy and falls short on expectations that the roadmap delivers what’s needed for a 1.5-degree future.”

You could just say this is human nature.  You could just imply that we now know more about how Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions must be calculated and disclosed so we can truly monetize the longer-term perspectives.  Or, you could admit that we simply do not have the commitment in the first place … aka, we are hoping that this issue simply goes away if we sound like we care.

We just went through midterms … with lots of promises being made to “reach across the isle” and to move forward together as Americans.  One can hope.  But, are we really ready to bury the hatchets and work together?

History indicates it takes an external crisis to bring people together.  9-11 did that for a while.  The general rule in all of life is that you need a “common enemy” to rally public opinion.  So, we have seen Germany, Russia and perhaps now China take on this image.  But, the reality is that we all must “see” this common enemy.  The root problem in my mind is that we are not looking.


Bend the Curve?

Do you remember when COVID first hit and health professionals insisted we all work together to “bend the curve” or slow the growth so we would not overwhelm the health system?  We distanced, wore masks, and avoided large groups and to some extent we did slow the growth and total devastating impacts.  The curves tracking our progress did indicate we succeeded, but the notable exceptions were largely due to a belief that the government had no place telling us what to do in this, “land of the free and home of the brave.”

Even recently, I hear constant evidence that people are getting COVID again even after full vaccination and boosters after attending weddings, funerals, and large parties.  Even people who “isolate” themselves from general society fall prey to the occasional interaction with someone who is carrying the virus from a prior encounter with a carrier.  We know what to do, and even our vaccines are being invalidated by a disease that keeps mutating … it is what viruses do to survive.

It is interesting to see how other cultures approach this.  Totalitarian societies that track individual citizen movements shut down and purge the virus chemically to the extent they can.  Others simply suggest what people should do, and the citizens naturally do what they are told … without protest or fanfare.

But where is the anger over the origins for these maladies?  Why hasn’t the world come down on China like a ton of bricks for either weaponizing the virus in the lab and/or allowing unsafe “wet market” environments that breed them in the first place?

Are we that afraid of China?  Why are we left to “bend a curve” that is not a natural occurrence?  We know things like this are avoidable and, in this country, we act swiftly when we see an outbreak of anything in our food, water, or air systems.

If we are afraid of something as obvious as this, what hope do we have on a world stage of tackling long term existential questions that depend upon all of us working together toward a solution?  Today’s grandstanding, greenwashing, and ESG claims are a modern version of the great Shakespearian play Macbeth soliloquy:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Act 5, Scene 5