Michael Shermer: The Importance Of Skepticism

I finally got a chance to install one of these things - and WOW - in Texas it works like a new car.  It is producing so much hot water, that we had to build a roman shade device for it that will partially shade the tubes!  It was heating water well in excess of what could be used.  It is such a simple device that I am embarrassed that I have waited this long to put one in.  Really like it for a family of six.

You finally, barely mentioned the elephant in the room, POPULATION.  

There is an easy, quick, inexpensive, low energy, partial solution to climate change.  Produce 7.3 Billion identical pills, half of them lethal, half of them placebos.  See that everyone takes one…

I'm obviously not serious, but dealing with the population issue, if we ever do, is going to cause more of a ruckus than getting people to voluntarily reduce their energy consumption.

Rarely, does anyone talk about population, in a climate change debate and yet, population is one of the two components of the ecological foot print.  Consumption changes are always discussed, but never population. Even stopping continued population growth, rarely gets honorable mention.

If AGW is legit (and I won't join that fray), population has to be addressed.  It simply has to, or there is no real solution.

I don't agree that partial solutions aren't the answer.  An adequate mix of partial solutions can change humanities path.  I've cut my oil consumption dramatically, but sadly only compare favorably to other U.S. Citizens.  If everyone else worked toward the same goal, we could perhaps double the life span of remaining petroleum reserves, giving us twice as much time to employ alternatives.

My wife and I just spent a couple of days with some close friends at their lake cabin.  We saw them using SUVs, ski boats and other gas powered toys and tools.  In retrospect, I didn't see them having a greater amount of fun, or accomplishing more than I do.  My hybrid gets me just as far, just as fast as their Suburban.  I believe I have just as much fun, or perhaps more, riding my scooter to the hardware store as they do water skiing or riding an tube behind a boat.  In fact, they spent and spend a lot more time maintaining their lake cabin, ski boat, fishing boat, pontoon boat and other toys, than they do "enjoying" them. It is not a lifestyle that I want to duplicate.

Humans are "monkey see monkey do."  Every person who demonstrates that you can truly enjoy an alternative lifestyle helps.  If Hollywood ever started selling alternative lifestyle, instead of what it tries to sell today, Katie bar the door. 

Way to go!  Doesn't endless free hot water feel good?  Free after installation I mean.

People could also, should they choose, built net zero, or even net negative structures.  Nothing stopping us but the faith that fossil fuels will always be there.



Could those of you who are familiar with this technology point us to a turn-key unit that would be suitable for a climate where winter freezing occurs.  (We have ~20 days where temps are below-freezing each  year in central Virginia.)
Just a note of appreciation to rector above for pointing out a specific product that he has used.  Very helpful for those of us unfamiliar with the technology.  It looks like this particular product is best suited for warm climates, though.


Does anyone have experience using a barrel or tank of solar heated water to sit in a greenhouse in winter to keep temps stable and well above freezing?
I have seen gardeners put several large (50 gallon) barrels full of water inside greenhouses to function as a "heat mass" that absorbs heat in the daytime and releases heat at night to even out daily temperature fluctuations inside the greenhouse.

But to really garden during a prolonged cold spell, we would need active heating of the water.  Anyone have experience with heating a large tank of water that would sit in a greenhouse?

at the Rowe Conference this year, that a devastating war or pandemic that killed off half of humanity's 7 billion people would still only set the population levels to those seen in the 1960s. 
Such is the deceptive nature of the steep part of an exponential curve.

Suppose you make a concrete building, with concrete vanes that spiral inwards, and a "floor" that goes from perhaps 10' high up to 50' high.  On the outside of the concrete fixed vanes, place adjustable metal vanes.
Now, the metal vanes control flow; the fixed vanes and the sloping floor concentrate the velocity.  At the center, it all funnels into a small tesla turbine that dumps to the top. The tesla turbine, in turn, drives a shaft that operates one of 6 generators (2 @ each phase) down below.  At this point, you can take out of service 1,2,3 or 4,5,6, and repair/replace them. 

So I suspect that this turbine will be easier to replace.  Moreover, the number of moving parts are greatly reduced:  the turbine is small, and not at risk of explosion or disintegration; the venturi is without moving parts. 

Now, to make the thing less sporadic and more efficient, paint your concrete vanes with carbon black, and use mirrors to direct sunlight in to the interior of the windmill.  The solar will heat the air as it increases speed, resulting in an increase in pressure, that makes even a small wind much more effective.

Item number 3:  place a giant underground concrete flywheel, with permanent magnets down below.  Use that flywheel to store excess daytime energy, and release it as needed.  At this point, you are not sporadic.

There's one more, for an item #4, but I'm going to reserve that for now… it's a much better design for electric motors and generators in general.


Hi Sandpuppy
I don't have an answer to your question, but here is a very interesting, well-tested tangent that's working for market farmers and homesteaders in N. Minnesota.  It it a greenhouse model that keeps temps high enough even in Minnesota to grow baby greens throughout winter.  It uses heat sinks like water, but adds some other construction elements to capture and store solar heat for the plants.

I have not built one yet and may not because I'm north of 49, and every degree north reduces sunlight in winter.  The folks I contacted at the university were not sure it could work any further north because of the low angle of sunlight in winter.  Anybody else here have experience with this?  Canadians? Northern Europeans?

There is an excellent how-to book, The Northlands Winter Greenhouse Manual

As well, the U of M has taken the building technology on.  Super interesting.





I've mentioned this several times in the past. I agree with you that it is the elephant in the room. Because we can't actually address it, nothing can be done to solve our situation. I don't know what the final global population should be. I contend that when everything is reduced to local sustainability, some areas will turn into ghost towns and some areas won't notice as much disruption. Las Vegas is a leading candidate for future poster-child ghost town. Small towns with sufficient local food should weather the inevitable storm better.

I used to drive a Prius myself. It got great gas mileage. I haven't checked into how much energy was needed to manufacture it, but that needs to go into your mental calculation as well. The roads you drive on, the hardware store, the supplies you buy, etc. all have embedded energy. It isn't just the gas that powers you that matters.

There aren't enough partial solutions to overcome the elephantine problems. Some can be scaled up, but we need to know (or assume) how much time we have to do so. If you think we have centuries, there isn't any urgency. If we only have years up to a decade or two, it is already too late. Currently, these solutions are marginal at best. As people drive by giant wind farms in their SUVs towing boats and other gas powered toys, they get a false sense that we're actually solving the big problems. It keeps them off the politicians' backs; therefore, the politicians win.

I'm glad that you are enjoying yourself. I've found that frugality is its own reward. Of course, the economy would collapse if everyone followed our example.


I placed 8 55 gallon drums in my 16' X 16' greenhouse one year to help overwinter plants. We had a cold snap with temps dropping to near or below zero for a week. The barrels all became ice cubes and I lost my delicate plants. That wasn't sufficient to keep it warm for this long. I've considered building a rocket mass heater, but haven't done so yet. It will take a while to learn how often it needs to be fired, but I think it is a promising solution for keeping a small space warm enough if you have enough woody debris and have the time to tend it.


Hello Grover,
Not quite sure we are seeing this the same way:

Grover wrote:
Mark Cochrane wrote:
In terms of global climate change we need to just start doing something, anything, and then evaluate if it is making enough of a difference or if we can do more or need to change direction?
This statement is totally contrary to accepting climate change as a "predicament." When you implore people to just start doing something, anything ... you build on the worry that there is a solution, but we're just not smart enough to find it. There is no solution - only outcomes to manage. Why do you make statements like the above quote?
I do not agree with your interpretation. When you are diagnosed with diabetes (type II) you are not stuck with either curing it (solution that isn't forthcoming) or doing nothing. Diet and exercise can go a long way to managing your predicament, as my own mother has shown, or you can move on to insulin injections. You could use the same analogy with the predicament we all face, namely the terminal predicament of aging. There is no cure but plenty of ways to manage the situation, some more effective than others.

With climate change we can't put the genie back in the bottle (cure/solve). We can manage the predicament through either cutting greenhouse gas emission levels (mitigation) so that things don't get as bad as quickly, or through adaptations like moving to cooler climes or building higher and higher sea walls. Mitigation is analogous to the diet and exercise for the diabetic (all of us actually), while adaptive actions are like taking insulin to help mask the symptoms. It is not an either/or proposition, we can and should do both at this point. Business as usual is clearly not viable, we need an adaptive strategy moving forward where we cut emissions and determine if we can and need to do more every several years, we also need to engage in adaptive behaviors (sea walls, crop shifts, water management) but again evaluate when to change approaches (do we raise another higher sea wall or finally abandon London?).

I do think that it would take quite a while to get back to the stone age through energy starvation unless we really do something apocalyptic since there is a lot of embodied energy left to mine from our existing systems (ala John Michael Greer) and we'd need to either use up all of our accessible coal or lose all of our knowledge-base. This doesn't mean that our economy would look anything like it does today. The economy we have has no independent reality, it is a construct of our belief system. Our species will continue whether or not this economic model continues to exist, however, our way of life will not continue without it. The current social systems that we enjoy are predicated on lots of nearly-free energy from fossil fuels. Without that bounty of extra energy we drop back into something more akin to the 1750-1850 era of energy dynamics. It doesn't mean we have to recreate a feudal system but that is one model that has been shown to work under lower energy availability. I am not arguing for its moral desirability just its proven track record. Other options are possible.

The fly in the ointment of everything is population as Les keeps banging home. Our climate problem is primarily a function of population in the current economic system and our economic system's survival (growth!!!) is primarily a function of population growth. We can try to live poorer and poorer lives (in terms of energy consumption) but if the population keeps growing we will only delay the inevitable. Our economy dies without growth of consumption, growth of consumption (of food if nothing else) dies without growth of population, but ultimately our environment collapses without a decrease in our consumption levels, taking out humans and our beloved economy if we don't act. The only choice we have is when and how we will address this catch-22.

There are other ways to live, even if we have a hard time imagining doing so. This can be forced upon us (see Kunstler's World Made by Hand series for an illustration) or it can be done by choice. I think Les hits the nail on the head!

Humans are "monkey see monkey do."  Every person who demonstrates that you can truly enjoy an alternative lifestyle helps.  If Hollywood ever started selling alternative lifestyle, instead of what it tries to sell today, Katie bar the door.
If enough of us embrace our personal collapse and beat the rush (Orlov) mentality we will lead by example and eventually drag the rest of the world with us since once enough opt out of the current growth of consumption at all costs mentality the economy will face its own adapt or die moment. Let's not kid ourselves, this process is underway right now whether or not we front run it by creating alternative lifestyles. Squeezing the blood out of everyone outside of the few 'elites' is killing consumption and driving 'growth' lower and lower by the year already. Wealth concentration and rising energy costs would kill the current economic model even if we did not face climate change issues.

The only way to manage our populations lower is for death rates to exceed birth rates over the long haul. For example, if death rates exceeded birth rates by 7% per year we would drop our population by half in just 10 years. The ways to accomplish this are a moral quagmire of choices for selecting winners and losers though. We manage the populations of other species all of the time so, objectively, we know very well how to do this. The mind (at least mine) is revolted by the prospect of implementing such a process on our own kind though and that is why no one really discusses population control.

Anyone care to take that on?

We entertain such a variety of belief paradigms, even in the US alone, I see no way forward on a global scale to stabilize population.

After all, it is a well- established practice to encourage reproduction among your 'membership'  (however that is defined) so that over time, your tribe, your belief system becomes the dominant one, and therefore the one in power.


If the rate of increase of population per year was R, and it was exceeded by a death rate that was 1.07R, then the population would decline exponentially with a half time of .693/(.07R). That would be ten years only if R=0.99 rather than something more like the actual R of approximately 0.01.


Hello Stan,
If the Death rate (D) exceeds the Birth rate (B) by 7%, for example B= 3% but D = 10%, this signifies that the population (P) after year 1 will be P*(100%+(B-D)) = 1*93% of what it was, 86% after year 2, 80% year 3, 75% year 4, 70% year 5, 65% year 6, 60% year 7, 56% year 8, 52% year 9, and 48% year 10. So between years 9 and 10 you would reach 50%. If you really want to land on 50% after 10 years you need a net decay rate of 6.7% if we are picking nits. This is exponential decay.


Chris Wrote:
"People could also, should they choose, built net zero, or even net negative structures. Nothing stopping us but the faith that fossil fuels will always be there."

For starters, most people do not have the resources to build a net zero home. The cost of a net zero home can be 50% or more higher in cost to build. Retrofiting exising homes can be even more expensive than to build a new home.

I am working on building an really good enegy efficient home, but its not going to be true net zero. My goal isn't to save the planet, but to be self-reliant and avoid dependence on external resources that may face shortages. I also don't want an overly complex home that is dependent on machinery or parts that probably may become impossible to obtain. I am looking to build a home that is livable in a 21st century enviroment as well as a 18th century environment. 

There is no chance to avoid a collapse. The population is in deep overshoot and is causing large amounts of resource depletion and pollution. I am not talking just about the pending energy crisis and global warming, but that the oceans have been nearly depleted of fish stock, heavy polluted with industrial waste, Sewage and Ag. runoff. We also have problems running out of water to feed the ever growing global population. 

There is no chance that Asia will cut back on its ever increasing demand for resources. The policies in the West intended  to cut back polution and greenhouse emissions have caused the opposite effect. World wide consumption has soared as industrial production shifted to Asia to avoid regulations and taxation. Instead of the world coping with about 450M to 350M middle class lifestyles in the the North America and Europe, we now have over 1B people chasing the Middle class lifestyle. In less then 20 Years, China has gone from nearly zero personal vehicles to more or nearly more personal vehicles than the US. The more the west tries to regulate economic development, the faster Asia will grow as even more western production shifts to Asia. 

To top it off, nations are beginng to grow belligerent, either to obtain external resources (ie China & USA), or stable peaceful gov'ts are being toppled and replaced by extremists (Middle East, Asia). We can see the same problems occur nearly 100 years ago that lead to WW 1. The Odds favor that another World War is in the making. At some point a resource, Debt, demographics, etc, or a combination of all of them is going to destablize the Industry world resulting War.

The World as we know it, cannot be saved. Expecting the the majority of western population can switch over to NetZero homes when most are living paycheck to paycheck, is just silly.Even if everyone in the West somehow managed to convert there homes to NetZero its not going to make a difference as Asia will continue to grow and consume any energy resources saved in the West. The only way grow is constrainted is when resources are constraited. This applies to Biology & and physics, Its pretty much a fundimental law like gravity.

I suppose some outfit could release some designer-virus every couple years to stagger a population reduction incrementally in selected areas.  I imagine Wall Street might not be on that list.  But maybe Asia, or L.A., or M.E., or Russia.  Depressing thought, but as Jim Morrison said- "Nobody here gets out alive…".  Then again a cyber-crash could take us moderns back to the 19th century.  If we survived the Nuke plant meltdowns…When all us here today are gone, will it matter?  "Of course!" most would say.  But few will consider the future in their daily life decisions.  Nature bats last.  Friday night ramblings…tough week.  Aloha, Steve.

Hello Mark,
I am not advocating the "do nothing" alternative unless it makes sense. At a society wide perspective, it doesn't make sense to "just do anything, something" without a serious analysis of its likelihood of success. When I was working as an engineer, projects would filter into the office. Management would look at the particulars to see which specialists were needed, see who was available, and form a team.

Depending on the complexity of the project, the team would review the proposal, review similar designs and relevant information, and/or schedule a site visit. After our initial review, we would get together and discuss problems from each specialist's perspective and brainstorm solutions. During the brainstorming, there (literally) weren't any bad ideas.

For instance, if Doug were the client and wanted to build a wind turbine on his site but didn't want a traditional reinforced concrete foundation due to corrosion issues, during the brainstorming phase someone might suggest giant helium balloons. It may sound idiotic to consider such a solution, but it triggers other thought patterns. Helium balloons need tethers. Someone else might run with that and suggest using guide wires and a smaller base. That might trigger another thought to use a truss structure to spread out the loading requirements. Someone might suggest fiberglass reinforcement rather than black steel. That might trigger someone's memory about basalt reinforcement. After a while, the team has exhausted creative solutions and we moved to the next phase.

During the next phase, we'd take a critical look at each of the brainstorming suggestions to ascertain the feasibility and problems created by the suggestion. For instance, with helium balloons, we'd need to keep them in place (after all, it is a windy environment.) Also, the tethers would need to be protected from the wind turbine blades. The team would then vote on the likelihood of success (in this case extremely low.) Those proposals deemed to have high likelihood of success moved to the next phase - a very rough estimation of costs and impacts according to each specialist. Then, the team would disperse to work on other projects while the project manager would summarize the information - talking to individual specialists as needed.

The project manager would then contact Doug to report the findings and find out which ones sound intriguing enough for further consideration. Doug may find the basalt reinforcement idea appealing, so the team would be tasked with developing a more detailed estimate of traditional steel reinforcement vs basalt rebar reinforcement. When completed, the project manager would contact Doug and give him the information. Because basalt rebar is more expensive than steel but stronger, it may work out to a rounding error, or it could be considerably more/less expensive. There may be other impacts - like a larger foundation, etc. As soon as Doug decides which way to proceed, we would proceed with developing the end product.

Of course, this description of events is simplified for this discussion, but I hope you can appreciate the process. It allows for creative solutions and limits the time and expense of chasing down dead ends.

When you are saying to just do something, you are jumping the gun and going from individual brainstorms straight to the end product. Some individuals will unknowingly do things that counter others' things they are doing. They begin by being motivated to solve the problem of climate change, but are quickly overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and the miniscule (nanoscule) results. They still see climate change as a, or possibly the biggest problem humanity faces, but they don't have a ready answer for it.

Enter the charismatic politician who proudly proclaims that he/she has the answer and produces glitzy information tailored to show an achievable outcome that sells well - results that will remove your personal angst about climate change, and everything will be paid by others. It really doesn't matter if the proposal is workable - it only has to appear workable. People have spent their votes for smaller causes. (I suspect you already know how I see this playing out.)

Mark, you are a respected and admired writer on this site. There are those who contribute their own thoughts, many who may only give an occasional approving "thumbs up," and a large contingent of lurkers who won't register but still read these writings. Then, you have your students and your presentation audiences. In essence, your voice carries. If you start treating climate change as a predicament and realize that there isn't a society wide solution possible, you can focus on things that people can do for themselves and loved ones to personally mitigate the inevitable outcomes.


You need to document your data, and better explicate your calculations.


Grover made an insightful comment: "If the real problem is human overpopulation, then any society wide solutions will fail. Perhaps we should focus on individual solutions. What can you do to avoid the peril that will strike the masses? Isn't that better than nothing?"   I note that many issues discussed here arise or focus at least in part on "human overpopulation."  

The good news is that (outside of Africa) we are rapidly approaching stationary growth without individual solutions…  See the data graphed at http://www.aihw.gov.au/uploadedImages/Subjects/Food_and_nutrition/world-population-growth.jpg?n=2426  This graph shows that except for Africa (and immigration from Africa to Europe), the population problem is being solved now.  The population is dropping or (because of demographics) will start to drop in a number if not most countries.  
The population of Japan, for example already has dropped the last few years and likely will drop in half over the next 20-30 years.  This is a very welcome development in a world of vanishing resources and vanishing jobs via robotitization of work.  If we stay away from Africa and Africinizing locations (Paris, London, Sweden etc) we should do fine.
This historical fact (shift from exponential to stationary growth) is anathema to the banker exponential fiat growth religion.  Their (MSM) media is filled with warnings about all the bad effects of abandoning the Ponzi scheme of an increasing size later generation paying off Rentier Elite managed debts of the present.  Old people will be miserable and die because a larger number of young people will not take care of them.  Debts (transfer of wealth to the Elite Rentier Class) cant be paid!!!
The end of exponential growth (insufficient young people to care for the old for the next 10-20 years) could be handled peacefully by allowing/encouraging elderly to take part time jobs, strengthen multigeneration family life, community based solutions etc) particularly in countries that have a sense of community and shared purpose.
 I am optimistic that population will stop growing and fiat money will die without requiring any personal action on our part.  Instead of wasting limited energy and time pandering to the issues faced by the Elite Rentier class, we will instead prosper through the resilient communities that we are building with our personal actions.   The answer to OUR problems is resilient community development.  The Elite on the other hand, I am not so optimistic about.   



Japan, by the nature of its xenophobic isolated island existence will be a good model for our return to stability. We are choosing the late 19th century. We will, however take better primary medical care and include some solar, very little, to provide small refrigeration into our future past…



I recall a talk by Paul Ehrlich where he suggested using simple mechanisms that align an individual's desires with the collective's. 
1.  One example given was on regulating sewage treatment standards.  Rather than place explicit limits on chromium, nitrates, pH, etc. simply require that the sewage outflow pipe be deposited into the river 100 yards up stream of the cities drinking water inflow pipe.  Cities will then only discharge material that they are willing to pull into their own drinking water supply.

2.  Chris suggested one on limiting police brutality cases:  Have the police retirement fund pay settlements to victims.

3.  Over-breeding, environmental destruction and predatory resource exploitation would be reigned in if it were impossible to move to new locations and all of a person's resources and waste were harvested and managed locally.   Imagine that you knew that your family and all of your descendants would be living in this same 5 mile by 5 mile space for all time.  No immigration was possible (unless you could find someone who wanted to trade homes).

I imagine that we would care for our 5 mile x 5 mile plot of land very carefully and would be very attentive to the numbers of children we were all making.

Science fiction stories of outpost colonies on distant worlds all have reproduction closely tied to resource availability and space.   This is because emmigration is not possible when you live in the only domed settlement on one of Jupiter's moon's.