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Apocalypse How? Climate Change or Peak Oil, Pick Your Poison!

General Ideas

I don’t know about you, but this wretched summer has burned the climate change denier right out of me, and just in the nick of time, too. Apparently, skeptics who question whether anthropogenic global warming causes more intense hurricanes and heat waves are killing us and should be locked up. They are also — according to Stevie Wonder, the Pope and numerous other celebrities and authorities — stupid.

In the past, I might have rushed to defend climate change deniers from such attacks, if only because I strive to consider all sides of any debate. But not after this scorching summer.

I’m not just talking about the wildfires that are still burning across western North America, or the millions of people recovering from hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the southern United States, or the millions of other people recovering from typhoons and monsoons in China, Nepal, Bangladesh and India.

Mainly, I’m talking about the annual raging inferno known as summertime in Shasta County.

What the hell was that we just lived through? (It is over, isn’t it?) I’ve resided in the warm part of northern California all of my adult life, including the past three years in Shasta County, and I can’t recall a hotter summer than the one that’s just passed. Am I just getting old? Or is it really getting hotter? Sure, I know, we live in a Cadillac desert, it’s supposed to be hot like this, but this summer seemed super extra crispy to me, even though we apparently didn’t break the record for consecutive days of triple-digit heat.

Even where I live, 2500 feet up in the eastern foothills, where it’s usually considerably cooler than Redding, the heat was infernally relentless from June to early September. Half the garden fried without bearing any fruit or vegetable. Even the weeds, including the star thistles, burned to a crisp. The hummingbirds stopped flying in midday. A two-point buck camped out underneath the shade of our deck, occasionally emerging from the shadows to slake his thirst from our small fish pond. Eventually a spike and a fawn joined him. They’ve become quite territorial and have gotten more use out of the deck this summer than me.

This guy think’s it’s his deck. Note dead flowers to right. Photo by R.V. Scheide.

I followed the hummingbirds’ lead, doing my outside work in the mornings and early evenings, confining myself to the air-conditioned home office during the ferocious sunlit hours, when it was too hot to work, play or do anything meaningful outside. That’s how I spent much of the summer, holed up like those astronauts on the International Space Station, who last week had to move to a special compartment in order to shield themselves from a particularly violent solar flare. The few times I dared venture outside without a shirt on, I came back inside with sunspots on my skin.

Hats off to the firefighters, farmers, fruit pickers, ranchers and other outdoor workers who have to endure this heat on a daily basis, for I have given up. This summer has broken me. I can recall the precise day it happened.

It was mid-July, the valley was filled with smoke from wildfires in Oregon and the temperature was 110 degrees in the shade. I was making a rare run into Redding for supplies when the alternator on the Toyota started crapping out. I had to bump-start it several times in the dizzying heat, the sheet metal was so hot it sizzled to the touch. Finally, the truck died completely on Whitmore Road just outside of Millville.

I was exhausted from pushing the truck and dehydrated from not drinking enough fluids. Foolishly, I hadn’t brought any water. I don’t have a cell phone, so I was going to have to walk to the nearest house, a good distance away. I looked out across the hazy California Serengeti toward Redding, which was vaguely discernible in the ashen distance. The landscape seemed to shimmer in and out of existence. “You’re going to die out here,” I heard a voice say. I chuckled, realizing the voice was my own.

It was a rueful laugh, because there’s just really nothing funny at all about this heat, is there? How many people do you figure would live in Shasta County if air conditioning didn’t exist? How about Sacramento? Fresno? Bakersfield? Las Vegas? Phoenix? Without electricity, much of the inland western U.S. is a mirage. Climate change exists alright, we’re changing the climate all the time, on purpose and inadvertently, expending enormous sums of energy to cool ourselves down and warm ourselves up, sums of energy that at the same time have been unequivocally proven to exacerbate … climate change.

There’s no point in denying it. The apocalypse is already upon us, we just haven’t noticed because it’s been air-conditioned, up to this point. Even worse, according to author and Post Carbon Institute co-founder Richard Heinberg, a nationally recognized expert on renewable energy, climate change is just one symptom of the apocalypse, which is a systemic crisis brought on by what he calls an overshooting of the earth’s long-term capacity to carry the human species.

Richard Heinberg, co-founder of the Post Carbon Institute. Photo courtesy PCI.

“Our core ecological problem is not climate change,” Heinberg writes in a recent essay. “It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue. Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing, and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution, and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity. The human system expanded dramatically, overshooting Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for humans while upsetting the ecological systems we depend on for our survival.”

I met and interviewed Heinberg several times during the Aughts, when “peak oil” – the theory that global petroleum reserves are finite and will ultimately peak then decline at a much faster rate than they were accumulated – was heavily in vogue. Although the peak oil theory has fallen out of fashion, thanks to hydraulic fracking in the United States and elsewhere extending the production peak past the earliest predicted date, Heinberg maintains most of the “easy oil” is gone and the “tight oil,” fracked from existing fields that quickly dry up, has only delayed the inevitable decline by years, not decades.

In Heinberg’s view the focus on climate change has distracted us from a more pressing issue: Modern civilization is addicted to petroleum at nearly every level and the supply, within a matter of decades, is about to be severely curtailed. Transitioning to a worldwide renewable energy economy is an enormous undertaking that requires wise use of our existing fossil fuel supplies. We must limit the impact on the environment, but we must also move quickly, or there will not be enough petroleum to fuel the transition.

Complicating matters further, no one knows exactly what the renewable energy future looks like. One current hot topic of academic debate is whether intermittent sources such as wind and solar can reliably power the electrical grid we depend upon for, among other things, our air conditioning. Some scientists say intermittent sources can do the job—if we make an enormous investment in energy storage technology. Others say it can’t be done without nuclear power. Scientists at MIT have proposed the construction of 300 reactors to power a worldwide electrical grid as the only real solution to significantly reducing the level of carbon we’re pumping into the atmosphere.

I recently rediscovered Heinberg after learning the city of Redding was entertaining a bid from a company that wants to build a small scale hydrogen production plant at Stillwater Business Park. I wrote about a similar facility in Sacramento more than a decade ago, when peak oil and the hydrogen economy were all the rage. Quoting Heinberg’s work, I noted that manufacturing hydrogen is an inherently inefficient process that uses more energy than it produces, thus making hydrogen an unlikely replacement for fossil fuels.

That’s still somewhat true today, but hydrogen fuel cell technology has increased dramatically in the past decade. There’s also interest in using hydrogen as an energy storage device, by using excess intermittent electricity generated by wind and solar to manufacture hydrogen from water via electrolysis. The hydrogen can then be used to power fuel cells; it also has other industrial uses. Hydrogen energy storage projects would have to be massive in scale to make a difference, but they are one possible piece of the puzzle. In that light, the small hydrogen production facility proposed for Stillwater, should it be approved, can be seen as a bridge to a renewable energy future that includes hydrogen as a vital component.

It will make a nice addition to our wind farm and Shasta Dam, both of which are renewable energy sources, not to mention the ever-increasing solar panels that keep popping up in Shasta County. Living in California, which has long led the nation in renewable energy and more importantly energy conservation, it’s easy to get the impression we’re well on our way to the renewable energy future. However, as a state, we still depend heavily on fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, to generate much of our electricity, and the internal combustion engine remains a dominant feature of our culture. The hard part of the transition hasn’t even begun, and according to Heinberg, we can’t depend on technology alone to save us. We’re going to have to learn how to do more with less—or maybe just do with less, period.

The fear of this reality—that individually and collectively we’re going to have to sacrifice our accustomed standard of living—is at the root of climate change denial in our public discourse. It’s a legitimate fear, particularly for the bottom 80 percent of the U.S. population, who according to various metrics have already seen their standards of living decline significantly during the past four decades. That’s one reason why many voters didn’t think twice about putting an admitted climate change denier in charge of the country.

President Donald Trump and some of his crew may be deniers, but from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on down, Trump has also surrounded himself with oil men and Goldman Sachs bankers, and they are certainly aware of the gravity of the situation, particularly concerning the global petroleum supply. Virtually every conflict we’re currently involved in, from the Ukraine to the Middle East to Africa, concerns the control of oil and/or natural gas fields and pipelines.

With the U.S., Russia and China now squaring off to determine who controls the world’s remaining fossil fuel stores, the apocalypse could get a lot worse. War is just a shot away.

The good news is, summertime appears to be over in Shasta County. The temperature broke two days ago and the 10-day forecast is signaling fall’s arrival. I realize I’m probably jinxing all of us with this pronouncement, but I needed a happier ending to this otherwise bleak report.

69 Comments on "Apocalypse How? Climate Change or Peak Oil, Pick Your Poison!"

  1. Anonymouse1 on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 6:56 pm 

    Narrativemans primary ‘contributions’, consist of well-worn, and patently false, oil-industry talking points, interspersed with occasional reminiscing about all the dry holes he has poked in the ground in years gone by. Pretty powerful stuff indeed.
    His ‘job’ here, is not educate retards on minutiae of oil extraction, but to make the uS oil cartel look as saintly, law-abiding, and compliant to ‘consumers’ as possible. He spends a lot effort trying to square those circles, far more than providing any ‘intelligence’, however you define the term.

    FYI exceptionalist, this is hardly the only place you can find shills you know. They are literally *everywhere* on this ‘internet’ thing. Possibly exceeded in sheer volume, only by retards.

  2. Davy on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 6:59 pm 

    And what is your contribution millennial slut? I mean what kind of young dumbass would think Canadian Tar sands are an American travesty. LOL.

  3. DerHundistlos on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 7:49 pm 


    Come on. You’re blowing smoke again.

    It matters not the disingenuousness of Rockman’s comments. All that matters with you is that he attempts to challenge Ape and others on this board with whom you disagree.

  4. Davy on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 8:00 pm 

    Oh sure der H you would know about those games being a primary part of them. How about the fact that Rock and I have been friends for years and he has enlightened me on the industry in ways that others here are not capable of? For someone like you that is not important. I am not going to listen to hypocrites like you that live fake green lives put down someone like Rock. I don’t need Rock to be a reason to fight anti-Americans. I fight them on my own accord. BTW, you are an American that hates America or basically an anti-American.

  5. makati1 on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 8:13 pm 

    The gang is shrinking Davy. Your ‘supporters’ are seeing behind the bullshit curtain, just as the world is seeing behind the US bullshit curtain and moving away. You attack at the slightest hint that someone does not totally agree with your deluded view of the world. Ditto for the country you so viciously defend. You are a perfect example of the cause, not the cure.

  6. Davy on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 8:33 pm 

    Stupid, what supporters? I think what we have is the old man forgetfulness thing again because I have very few friends her mkat. You know that or you should but who knows anymore with you being 75. This site is replete with people that hate Americans including Americans that hate Americans. That would be you stupid. There are a few balanced fair minded people here but they don’t comment much. It is mostly extremist regulars that speak like you stupid. Got it?

  7. Apneaman on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 9:23 pm 

    East Coast Swelters Through Record-Breaking Heatwave

    Records have tumbled across the country.

  8. Apneaman on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 9:24 pm 

    Record-breaking heat wave hits Windsor

    Windsor’s stifling heat wave shattered records over the weekend, and there’s more hot, humid weather expected for Monday.

  9. Apneaman on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 9:25 pm 

    September heat wave breaking records in mid-Michigan

  10. Apneaman on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 9:50 pm 

    This should make the nihilist denier scum happy – fruits of their labour and all that.

    Hot, isolated, and running out of supplies, parts of Puerto Rico near desperation

    “For federal agencies trying to respond to Maria, the situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is inescapably more challenging than the situations in Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It’s difficult to get into the islands.

    The airports and harbors here were severely damaged. That means the islands are more isolated than ever, even as the humanitarian crisis has worsened by the day.”

  11. Apneaman on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 10:02 pm 

    As hurricanes and wildfires rage, US climate politics enters the realm of farce

    Climate denial is less credible, but more powerful, than ever.

    “The two consistent trends of the era of climate politics

    Though it’s somewhat arbitrary, I date the era of US climate politics back to June 1988, when NASA climate scientist James Hansen testified to Congress about climate change. Scientists had known about the greenhouse effect for a long while, but that is the moment when the subject entered US politics in earnest.”

    “Second, the US conservative movement has become increasingly tribal, insular, and disconnected from the institutions and norms that bind American democracy together. As part of that process, it has rejected climate change and the need to address it.”

  12. Apneaman on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 10:08 pm 

    Make the oil companies that profited from climate change denial pay for disaster relief

    “Who should pay for the damages, cleanup and restoration? The usual source is, of course, taxpayers.

    As you have reported, fossil-fuel companies have conducted a campaign of denial and deception about climate change. Their products’ release of massive amounts of greenhouse gasses heat up the atmosphere and oceans, leading to bigger, more frequent and more powerful storms. But instead of investing heavily in new clean energy, they funded denial so they could squeeze more profits out of their polluting products.”

    I guess they’ll come up with a price list. I wonder what the fine for a dead baby floating face down will be?

  13. Apneaman on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 10:14 pm 

    Record hot temperatures causing increased air pollution in Hamilton

  14. Apneaman on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 10:16 pm 

    Sunday’s 90-degree record high is also warmest day of 2017

    “It took a while, but the warmest day of 2017 officially came on Sunday — two full days into autumn.”

  15. GregT on Sun, 24th Sep 2017 10:24 pm 

    “Stupid, what supporters? I think what we have is the old man forgetfulness thing again because I have very few friends her mkat. You know that or you should but who knows anymore with you being 75. This site is replete with people that hate Americans including Americans that hate Americans. That would be you stupid. There are a few balanced fair minded people here but they don’t comment much. It is mostly extremist regulars that speak like you stupid. Got it?”

    Get help Davy, your condition continues to deteriorate. Nobody else can help you, until you make a concerted effort to help yourself.

  16. Hello on Mon, 25th Sep 2017 6:44 am 

    >>>> Who should pay for the damages, cleanup and restoration? The usual source is, of course, taxpayers.

    Since the vast majority of fossil fuels are used by the taxpayer it’s only rightful that the taxpayer takes responsibility for their effects.

    I would welcome a bold step by oil companies, to just stop supplying oil for a month or 2. I’m sure that will have a very educational effect on people.

  17. Davy on Mon, 25th Sep 2017 7:32 am 

    “I would welcome a bold step by oil companies, to just stop supplying oil for a month or 2. I’m sure that will have a very educational effect on people.”

    LOL, hello, all those bleeding heart fake greens here will be whining up a storm blaming someone, anyone but themselves and their dear to their heart hate of oil. We are all part of an oil derivatives civilization in its late term. We definitely should make an effort to conserve and extend out the use of fossil fuels which alternatives. Alternatives are a big part of transforming our unsustainable consumption but stopping fossil fuels abruptly will be like the killing fields of Cambodia, literally. We are not going to make our consumption sustainable but going renewable. Demand management and population control must be part of the equation and if they are not then you are just pissing in the wind with an alternative dirty growth. Maybe slightly less dirty but still dirty nonetheless. It is unclear whether we can limit population and control demand and not destroy globalism that powers our productive efforts. IMA, alternatives have not proven they can go to 100% nor proven they can reproduce themselves. Further it is unclear how far over 50% they can go in a large region. Small statelets don’t count. You can’t reduce carbon and be cleaner if growth continues. There is no green growth. There is only less dirty growth.

  18. Hello on Mon, 25th Sep 2017 7:41 am 

    >>> blaming someone, anyone but themselves


    It’s never one’s own fault. The fault is with the governement, the corporation, the rich, whatever. Whoever is a tad more powerful than oneself, is the culprit.

    Same goes with increasing the taxes on the rich. Rich is everybody who makes more than oneself. And lowering taxes on the poor. Poor is anybody who makes less or the SAME as oneself.

  19. makati1 on Mon, 25th Sep 2017 8:15 am 

    “I’m sure that will have a very educational effect on people…”

    Yep! It would end the US the first week. The gas stations would close the second day. The Stock Market would crash and that would be the end of the US. Therefore, it will never happen. You do not cut off your nose to spite your face. Oil companies are all about $$$ not what is good for humanity.

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