Straight Talk with Paul Kedrosky: Don't Count on Technology To Save Us

Wow!  Thanks for the interview!  I’d never heard of Paul Kedrosky, but am now a new fan.
The whole entropy thing is so well framed.  Life itself is a battle against entropy only made possible by momentarilly burning and consuming energy sources for life’s sake, faster than natural entropy would have them done away with anyway.  Depressing, but true.  Thank goodness this all takes billions of years.

Tim_P,Spot on.  Communes fail because the few that work get tired of supporting those that don’t.  Society isn’t different in that regard.  JO gets it - it boils down to human behavior.

The first one to get the milk is the one who milks the cow.  robie
Heinberg’s New Coal Question

Ryan Wishart

Richard Heinberg, Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2009), 208 pages, $18.95, paperback.

Coal today lies at the very center of the world predicament over the future of energy and the climate. An indication of this can be found in the November 18, 2010, issue (vol. 468) of the leading scientific journal Nature, which includes an article by Richard Heinberg and David Fridley entitled “The End of Cheap Coal.” The article opens with the startling words: “World energy policy is gripped by a fallacy—the idea that coal is destined to stay cheap for decades to come.” What follows is a short, dramatic discussion of problems (geological, economic, and environmental) constraining future coal production and consumption. Heinberg and Fridley’s argument here has been developed more extensively in Heinberg’s recent book Blackout: Coal, Climate, and the Last Energy Crisis, which provides us with yet another indication of the momentous challenge and burden of our historical time.

Heinberg is best known as a peak oil theorist, but is probably better viewed in his role as a leading Green activist for a post-carbon world. His newest book (following Blackout) is The Post-Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises (co-edited with David Lerch), the contributors to which include such leading environmental thinkers/activists as Bill McKibben, Wes Jackson, Stephanie Mills, David Orr, and William Rees.

The most serious carbon issue today, as scientists like NASA’s James Hansen emphasize, is not oil but coal. To avert a disastrous climate change tipping point, Hansen argues, peak oil must be accompanied by peak coal, and in fact coal-fired plants must be rapidly phased out to protect the earth.1 Yet coal exploitation is commonly presented by the vested interests as a solution to energy scarcity. Indeed, some, such as James Fallows in the latest issue of Atlantic Magazine, even promote the erroneous idea that “clean coal” (an oxymoron) will save the earth from climate change!2

Heinberg wades deeply into these issues in his book, focusing on estimates of coal reserves and of peak coal production. He concludes that there is far less energy to be had from world coal reserves than is typically thought by policy makers. Yet, as Hansen has stressed (and Heinberg acknowledges at one point), the greatest immediate threat from coal is not its scarcity but its consumption, which threatens to push the climate past dangerous tipping points. Though the ecological considerations of coal are, unfortunately, something of a secondary consideration in Heinberg’s book—he is perhaps too directly concerned with the issue of peak coal rather than how this fits into climate change—there is nonetheless much that is important in Blackout, for those who see climate change and ecological crises more generally as our most pressing planetary problems.