Guy McPherson: Beyond the “hopium pipe” to reality?

In this jeremiad against proponents of the “Third Industrial Revolution,” Guy McPherson articulates the assumption and vision of both permaculture and the Transition movement, namely, that no technological fix can save us. That what we call “sustainability” is a myth, because we who live on a finite planet cannot continue down the same path of heavy, oil-based resource use — no matter how “green” or “renewable” — without crashing; that while civilization as we know it cannot be saved, a living Earth might be.

In the first few minutes of the video that follows, McPherson points to the second law of thermodynamics (entropy) to back up his claim. But might not the “laws” of thermodynamics be localized to just this particular space/time framework? If so, and if there is no impermeable boundary around the living Earth, or solar system, or galaxy, or —; if, in short, “energy” is always streaming in and through from what might be an infinite number of universes all bleeding through one another, then it seems to me any “certainty” about what will or will not “work” to ensure a future for Earth and humanity might be both myopic and arrogant.

The Third Industrial Revolution

November 17, 2012

by Guy McPherson


As Derrick Jensen points out, this “culture as a whole and most of its members are insane.” I continue to be surprised at the number of people who believe in infinite growth on a finite planet. I continue to be amazed at the number of people who believe a politician cares about them, and that their favorite politician will act in their best interests. I continue to be surprised at the number of people who actually believe in the political process. I continue to be amazed at the number of people who support civilization, knowing it is killing us all. I’m even more surprised, though, at the number of people who claim ignorance about the costs and consequences of industrial civilization.

As pointed out by French author and Nobelist in literature André Gide: “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” So, here I go, saying it again.

Apparently I’m a very slow learner. It’s a bad, sad time. I hate this culture.

It’s worse than all of the above, though. There are a significant number of people who believe we can continue the omnicide, and that doing so is a good idea. Consider, for example, proponents of the Third Industrial Revolution.

The five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure are listed below. After pasting a brief description directly from Wikipedia (in italics), I dismantle each of the pillars.

1. Shifting to Renewable Energy: Renewable forms of energy — solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, ocean waves, and biomass — make up the first of the five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution. While these energies still account for a small percentage of the global energy mix, they are growing rapidly as governments mandate targets and benchmarks for their widespread introduction into the market and their falling costs make them increasingly competitive.

“Renewable” sources of energy are derivatives of oil. Oil is the master material. The availability and price of oil control every other “resource.” I’ve pointed out the absurdity and hopelessness of switching the extra-oil sources here, here, here, here, here, and here(in chronological order).

2. Buildings as Power Plants: New technological breakthroughs make it possible, for the first time, to design and construct buildings that create all of their own energy from locally available renewable energy sources, allowing us to reconceptualize the future of buildings as “power plants”. The commercial and economic implications are vast and far reaching for the real estate industry and, for that matter, Europe and the world. In 25 years from now, millions of buildings — homes, offices, shopping malls, industrial and technology parks — will be constructed to serve as both “power plants” and habitats. These buildings will collect and generate energy locally from the sun, wind, garbage, agricultural and forestry waste, ocean waves and tides, hydro and geothermal — enough energy to provide for their own power needs as well as surplus energy that can be shared.

First, see my comment above regarding “renewable” energy sources. They are a well-promoted myth. Second, consider if you will, the reality of our collective situation 25 years from now. If human beings persist on this planet — and that’s a significant if, based on thevarious paths by which we are vigorously pursuing human extinction — then it’s difficult to imagine a scenario that includes an industrial economy at the scale of the globe. We can have an industrial economy or we can have a living planet, but we cannot have both over another quarter century.

3. Deploying Hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies. To maximize renewable energy and to minimize cost it will be necessary to develop storage methods that facilitate the conversion of intermittent supplies of these energy sources into reliable assets. Batteries, differentiated water pumping, and other media, can provide limited storage capacity. There is, however, one storage medium that is widely available and can be relatively efficient. Hydrogen is the universal medium that “stores” all forms of renewable energy to assure that a stable and reliable supply is available for power generation and, equally important, for transport.

As a carrier of energy — but definitely not a source — hydrogen is neither stable nor reliable. The notion of stability is dismissed with a single word: Hindenburg. The hype about hydrogen is extreme and extremely ridiculous.

Transporting hydrogen is prohibitively expensive and requires distillates of crude oil. In addition, automakers will not make hydrogen fuel-cell cars until the hydrogen infrastructure is in place, and the infrastructure will not appear until there are a sufficient number of fuel-cell cars on the road.

4. Using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy sharing intergrid that acts just like the Internet. The reconfiguration of the world’s power grid, along the lines of the internet, allowing businesses and homeowners to produce their own energy and share it with each other, is just now being tested by power companies in Europe. The new smart grids or intergrids will revolutionize the way electricity is produced and delivered. Millions of existing and new buildings — homes, offices, factories—will be converted or built to serve as “positive power plants” that can capture local renewable energy — solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydro, and ocean waves — to create electricity to power the buildings, while sharing the surplus power with others across smart intergrids, just like we now produce our own information and share it with each other across the Internet.

Never mind the endless hopium associated with producing “renewable” energy for more than seven billion people. Never mind the war-based industrial economy of the world’s sole remaining superpower. If we’re counting on technology currently under testing in Europe, we’re also assuming Europe will exist as a political entity for a long time. We’re also assuming Europeans will continue to play nice with each other as well as people in other countries. The very idea of surplus power is being revealed as a horrifically bad joke as the Middle East and northern Africa come under daily attack from several more-industrialized nations.

5. Transitioning the transport fleet to electric, plug in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell electricity on a smart continental interactive power grid. The electricity we produce in our buildings from renewable energy will also be used to power electric plug-in cars or to create hydrogen to power fuel cell vehicles. The electric plug in vehicles, in turn, will also serve as portable power plants that can sell electricity back to the main grid.

Car culture is a huge source of many of our worst problems. Cheering for the never-ending continuation of car culture is a death sentence for the living planet. In addition, as indicated above, transporting hydrogen is unsafe, expensive, and dependent upon distillates of crude oil. And then there’s that chicken-and-egg issue associated with construction of infrastructure to support hydrogen fuel-cell cars.

When these five pillars come together, they make up an indivisible technological platform — an emergent system whose properties and functions are qualitatively different from the sum of its parts. In other words, the synergies between the pillars create a new economic paradigm that can transform the world.

When these five pillars of sand come together, they make up an undistinguished pile of dysfunctional hopium — a pile of sand whose properties and functions are qualitatively and quantitatively irrelevant to the industrial economy. In other words, the synergies between the meaningless pillars create a new pile of false hope for those who wish to continue destroying the living world. Fortunately, the hopium is running out.

Contrary to conventional wisdom among civilized humans, we don’t need an industrial economy to survive. In fact, all evidence indicates the opposite is true, yet we keep cheering for this culture of death, cheering for continued destruction of all we need for our survival. Insanity has won, proving Ralph Waldo Emerson correct: “The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.”

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