Saturday, 2 June 2018

A Picture of Transition

This article serves as the full and extended notes for my presentation to the 10th annual London Zeitgeist Day, 2018:
Finally ready, with big thanks to Olli the cameraman, and especially David Dann for splicing this together with my slides and backup audio on a part where the main recording broke. Please see talk errata at the end to clarify verbal slips.

These notes include points that I wanted to mention but couldn't squeeze into the time-slot offered, and full explanations for topics that I had to breeze over. Any later town hall style presentations are likely to benefit from the full story.

I will be exploring the challenges that we face in transitioning to a 100% renewable-energy economy, how this may impact on society, how we can adapt in such a way as to not only ease this transition but end up taking an improved quality of life out of it, and some practical actions that you and I can take in order to move this transition along in a healthy direction.

Free books:
The parts on energy borrow a lot from two books that I highly recommend on the topic as they have done a great job of making this complex subject more approachable. Best of all, as the authors knew just how important public understanding of this topic is, both are available to read completely free online!

The first, referenced more briefly, is “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” by the late Professor David J.C. MacKay of Cambridge University, which one decade ago took a focused look at whether the people of Britain could support themselves with their local renewable energy resources, based upon their current consumption patterns. While it is of limited use for examining our global potential and now slightly out of date, it features many great examples and “back-of-envelope calculations” that serve to make the scale of each topic easier to grasp.
Amongst appraisals of a wide variety of technologies (for 2008) and their practicality, the book looks at local cultural resistance to the adoption of these technologies as a major barrier to change.

The second and more recent book of the two is “Our Renewable Future – Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy” by Richard Heinberg and David Fridley of the Post-Carbon Institute. It takes a more global look at our energy supply, although slightly USA-centric in places with its statistics, and considers some more physical factors restricting our ability to transition.
There is a focus on solar and wind power, since those sources present the greatest opportunity for growth, and are the most tried-and-tested means of harvesting renewable energy.
This book may be the most important one for anyone to read at this point due to some shocking points it covers that I will come back to shortly. Referred to as ORF here where I have borrowed their images.

Also worth noting is “The Winning of the Carbon War” by Dr Jeremy Leggett, which looks more at the cultural struggle between vested interests in fossil fuels versus environmental advocates and activists while pointing out large-order trends that will inevitably put those fossil fuel giants out of business.
I do think he tends to be overly optimistic, which makes sense as he runs a solar power company and needs to be optimistic in order to get investors, but if you want to stay up to date on what is happening in the energy industry, then there's nowhere better to look than his blog.

If I'm going to talk about something as big as our economy, a term too loosely thrown about by politicians and journalists alike, then I feel that I should define what I mean by that, and when you look at the common definitions given to this word, you can see one of the core pieces of 'doublethink' in this society – holding two mutually contradictory ideas without recognising the conflict.
First on Oxford Dictionary's list is the way it is used to describe our industry and how we organise trade, which seems to be a given at this point, while the third definition is closer to its original meaning (given by its etymology from Greek “household management”), referring to using resources in such a way as to avoid waste. Yet if we examine our current industry and how it uses resources, waste and mismanagement seem to be two of its most striking features.
So when I'm talking about an “economy”, I mean generally some way of managing resources, though our current methods could be better termed an “anti-economy”, and the latter meaning I would only use in a phrase to “economise” something.

The Scale of Our Anti-Economy:
If you've ever seen any of the brilliant artwork that came out of The Zeitgeist Movement, then you may have seen this poster before, giving a feeling for our industry's excessive environmental destruction:
It is an exaggeration of course, so I'd like to show you something that better represents our physical reality, because we don't really have some giant monstrous machine towering over us every day, do we?

Art or Reality?
So here's a picture of some giant monstrous machine towering over us, with some kind of huge saw-blade looking thing on the front of it, and I have to wonder, in this age of easy photo-manipulation, how many people would suspect that this is fake or just yet another piece of original artwork.

Can you guess?

I'm sad to break it to you that it is a real photograph, of just one of a set of the largest & heaviest land vehicles that humanity has ever created, bigger even than the crawlers that used to move NASA's Space Shuttle systems onto their launch pads, and what we have dedicated our largest vehicles to only makes it even more sad.
These are bucket-excavator machines, which scoop up huge volumes of topsoil in order to access underground resources, chiefly coal, in area-mining operations. Each one of those scoops is big enough to pick up a small car, and it can shift over 23 million cubic metres of soil per day.
Bagger 288, the pictured example crossing the road, doesn't get the record for biggest self-propelled vehicle, as it gets fed external electrical power in order to help it run that huge wheel and conveyor belts that feed into processing machinery.
So if you're going to use electrical power to dig up coal, then transport it to plants that burn it in order to produce electrical power, obviously you must be getting more energy out than you're putting in, in order to make it worthwhile, which is a concept that I'll come back to shortly.

Not In My Back Yard”:
So when you see scenes of devastation like that, and I'm sure you've probably seen the mess that is the Canadian oil sands by now
Athabasca Oil Sands. Photo: Garth Lenz

it makes it a bit hard to sympathise with these guys:
Dafties. Photo via shining loch blog.
Look, I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but can someone please explain to me why it is that they don't mind getting the petrol to power their cars and coal to heat their homes from the aforementioned wastelands, yet they somehow see putting wind turbines such as these:
Ardrossan Windfarm. Photo: Vincent van Zeijst
...which I find quite beautiful, onto our highland moors, which were once covered in lush Boreal rainforests, now mostly barren from unsustainable logging practices and over-grazed by sheep & deer since we got rid of their other predators, as “trashing the highlands” or “destroying our scenery”?
This insane conservative mindset may seem quaint to an outsider, but I have to live around some of these people and sometimes interact with them when it comes to getting things done.

However, they did touch on one truth among their very silly placards, and that is how both energy costs and fuel poverty are rising. I can relate there having been in that kind of situation. Fuel poverty, for those unaware in milder climes, is what happens to people living in cold places where heating is necessary for survival, never mind comfort, when they cannot afford enough fuel to heat their homes. It is a daily fact of life for some people in Siberia with its regular cold weather, but here it happens most often to old people in Scotland, especially in areas of the highlands where there are no natural gas pipelines to heat people's homes, if for instance they're in cheap accommodation with wasteful electric radiators.
Where I last stayed, many people would burn anthracite coal delivered by truck, in filthy choked wood-stoves, because it's the cheapest way to heat your home there. The only reason they can get away with this is that the population density in the far northern highlands is so low, and the typical wind-speeds so high, that there is no opportunity for smog to settle. However, once you burn away the carbon, you are left with some quite toxic heavy elements in the ash, which made their way deep underground to these coal beds, such as mercury and uranium, which is why the areas downwind of old coal-fired power plants tend to be far more radioactive than anywhere near a normally-operating nuclear power station (yet still insignificant over a wide area).
This is also why the mercury concentrations in the oceans have grown so high that pregnant women are advised not to eat much of large fish high in the food chain, especially tuna, lest it cause defects in their children. Frankly, with that, plastic, and everything else nasty flowing downstream, you should probably stop eating any fish at all for the sake of your own health if not the fish stocks, which humanity has now cut in half in the last 50 years alone.

But I digress (enormously). Back on our economy, this time with a wetter theme, here's another teaser to give you a feeling for scale.
Fake? Although I haven't found the original source of the photo that spawned this image macro, I'm afraid the ship is very much real. This big hauler is MV Blue Marlin, capable of delivering cargo ships, so that they may bring you the latest iPoop from Santa's Sweatshop, or even capable of moving oil rigs out to cause another big catastrophe:
The regular sized cargo ships themselves, whether moving containers of electrical goods, tanks of gas or oil, or open holds full of loose bulk materials such as coal and minerals, are the backbone of global trade, and are almost entirely dependent on oil as fuel.[1]
While these tend to be used for delivery of things that don't break down quickly (including our solar panels!), the international trade of food tends to use flights and refrigerated trucks, which are also currently dependent on oil, with large flights especially having no viable replacement on the horizon; more on that later.

Total Energy Use:
So you must wonder with things going on at this scale, how much energy are we using?
This graph[2] from 1850 onwards shows how much energy humanity as a whole has used each year from various sources:
ORF Figure i.3
As you can probably guess, a lot of this gets wasted.
Notice how our entire economy used to be based around wood, later taken over by coal, yet towards the right-hand end of that graph the use of wood started growing slightly before levelling off?
Some of that increase shows why deforestation has been accelerating over the last century, but in later years there has been a push for more responsible, efficient and sustainable forestry practices, so we have managed to do more with less land.
However, the human population has been growing during that time, so this may be a little deceptive.
Some good news is that the rate of global population growth has been declining since the 60s, slowly creeping to a plateau predicted by 2050, but what do you suppose this looks like when population is taken into account? You may be surprised.
ORF Figure 2.1
When we divide by the world population at the time, you can see that per capita energy consumption[3] has still grown enormously, and most of that change occurred in the decades immediately after world-war 2.
This was the age of consumerism, as advertisers learned to apply the science of psychology as a dark art to persuade masses of people to buy things that they did not need, by tying consumption to their social status and personal image.
For perspective, there was a great example given in chapter 2 of Our Renewable Future, where it was calculated that the total at the end today is roughly equivalent to having over 700 billion humans working full-time hard labour, assuming that they can keep up an average of 100Watts for 40 hours per week. Or in other words, the energy equivalent of every person having about 100 servants each.
An oft-quoted very rough statistic that goes along with this (as in the Story of Stuff) is that during the last half of the 20th century, the amount of resources consumed by the average US citizen more than doubled, while measures of their happiness have declined, and their government have also been pushing that culture on the rest of the world at the same time.
If you want to know more about that transition, I would highly recommend reading “The New Human Rights Movement” by Peter Joseph. Although there may be more dedicated books to the subject, this one still goes over it at length around chapters 2-3, puts it into a larger context, and is very up-to-date.
You can also see here that the share of wood used as fuel per person has actually been declining, whilst its overall use grew due to the aforementioned population growth.
But it's hard to tell in those squished-together layers, did Peak Oil happen?
Source: Energy Watch Group[4]
So there has been a strange level of scepticism lately regarding peak oil, due to some recent developments in its extraction, but in many oil-producing nations in the world, production has already peaked decades ago and has been declining ever since, and this is a matter of history.
The denial has come from one fact in the most media-dominant English-speaking nation…

From Jeremy Leggett's 2018 Q1 chronology in pictures.

There was a sudden resurgence in US oil production, due to the recent development and rapid roll-out of hydraulic fracturing technology, used to force out what is known as “tight oil” (narrow pockets of oil trapped between layers of impermeable rock), but as the global market price of oil dropped in recent years, fracking proved to be too expensive to compete, and thousands of jobs in the sector were lost almost overnight.
It has since come to light that after 10 years of investment, most of the US fracking industry is nowhere near making a profit, while most of the wells used have already peaked or are about to reach peak production.
According to Professor David Smythe, their costs and debts amount to roughly double their revenue so far, and the uneven geology of Britain compared to Texas makes the process far more dangerous, as the water table is more likely to be polluted along fault lines. See his talk at TEDx Findhorn.
If you want to know more about this and have the latest news on the collapse of the oil industry aggregated for you to easily read, then you should definitely follow Jeremy Leggett's blog, as he loves that stuff.

Peak Consumption and Resource Scarcity:
But what is “Peak Oil” or a 'peak' of any resource?
When our distant ancestors first walked the planet they would have found nuggets of gold, silver and even copper in their native forms as shown here:
Native Gold Nuggets. Photo: Aramgutang
Native Copper Nugget. Photo: Jurii
As such obvious deposits of scarce resources were quickly snatched up, what we are left with today tends to involve moving aside hundreds or thousands of times as much rock as whatever we are trying to get at. So we will look for types of rock formations that are typically associated with the exact element that we are looking for, such as prospecting quartz to find a vein of gold:
Gold Vein in Quartz. Photo: Dr. Marli Miller
The extra time and energy required to extract those resources, along with their perceived scarcity, makes them cost more money per ton.
A peak in production occurs when so much of the easiest-to-mine deposits have been used up, that the increasing difficulty of mining whatever disperse bits are left accelerates faster than technology can advance to improve extraction.
This becomes a huge problem when a society has been built around an expectation of industrial growth, only to meet a decline in what they can use, where further growth on a finite planet is physically impossible.
A great old talk that explains this point thoroughly is “Arithmetic, Population and Energy” by Professor Albert Bartlett.
Al famously states that “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function”

Another good book to plug, sadly not a free one, and this one is more of a reference manual: Scarcity by Christopher Clugston makes a strong case for the threats posed by some of our most critical non-renewable resources becoming scarce.
You can also find a shorter and more optimistic appraisal of the subject in TZM Defined, pages 217-222.
Imagine the implications if we couldn't make half as much concrete as we used to, or hit a limit on the rare-earth magnets used to build generators of all types, or a rare element critical to efficient solar panels or computers…
All while we need to revamp our whole economy as quickly as possible!
This decade's daftest market bubble: Asteroid Mining, supported by people who either have no idea just how much energy it takes to bring things into and out of Earth's gravity well, or expect us to have a working space-elevator sometime in the next decade rather than century.

The challenges with renewable power that we hear about most often are things like the intermittency of wind power and the range of electric vehicles, but I'd like to talk about some of the larger-order economic-scale problems that don't get discussed, boiling down to supply and demand.
While we hear plenty about how there is enough solar or wind potential to meet our current needs several times over, (see TZM Defined, p190 onwards) little is said about how easy it will be to actually put the generators in place, due to popular ignorance on the energy cost of doing so, as I'll get to shortly.
I don't discuss climate change here, partly because it won't fit into the presentation, but mostly because it's unnecessary to make my case, and only makes the situation even more urgent.
Peter Hadfield's YT channel already does a fantastic job of providing clear explanations on some of the confused 'controversy' surrounding climate science.
If you want to know how bad the situation with our climate could possibly be, for instance with methane hydrate deposits in the Arctic coastlines now evaporating and causing localised warming that could soon melt what is left of our thinned northern ice cap, you should have a look at Arctic News blogspot.
However, be warned that while presenting some hard evidence that they claim is overlooked by the IPCC, I think their outlook for human society (possible near-term “extinction”) is overly pessimistic, even for 10 degrees average temperature rise from pre-industrial levels, causing famines via desertification, and world war driven by mass climatic exodus; because they discount human ability to adapt and support a lower population (which could still mean a lot of dead people) in desertified regions with climate-controlled spaces using existing greenhouse and heat-pump technology, or the efficacy of desert greening, in an opposite extreme to the kind of futurists who assume that carbon capture technology will make everything rosy for them with no effort required on their part. We must avoid assumptions, but reality could easily look more like one extreme than the other depending on how effectively we change minds.
If there is much truth to their hypotheses then I'll say again, the situation becomes extremely urgent.

The Supply vs Demand Stack:
In more bad news of debatable pessimism, the climax of Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air asks whether we in Britain can live on only renewable energy available within our borders, by stacking up and comparing our current energy consumption with those potentials, and the summation is grim, but makes clear some areas to make savings:
The estimates indicate that Britain is using more energy than it could plausibly generate renewably with current technology, making the island over-populated and dependent on energy imports.
However, a lot of that energy use is wasteful due to consumerism, inefficient old heating systems, a medieval transport system (why do you think they call it a carriageway?) messily hacked together with digital-age technology, and space-wasting agricultural conventions.[5]
This provides a useful examination of what is possible and practical, but barely touches on what is affordable with our existing resources.
For an example of wasteful imports, can someone please tell me why some of the cheapest apples that I see on supermarket shelves come from South Africa or even New Zealand?
What kind of mercantile trade deals must be put in place to make such absurdity possible?

Embodied Energy:
But as you can see there, transporting stuff around isn't the only energy that goes into production, nor even anywhere near the largest portion.
Whether reducing ores then casting or forming metal, polymerising organic fluids to then mould into plastic goods, or sawing up trees into planks, energy has been used to produce the material for every object around you.
Pouring recycled steel. Photo: US Navy. Note the almost white-hot sparks – reaching any steel's melting temperature of well over 1000°C requires either a blast furnace or graphite electrodes and a lot of electricity.
Rip-sawing wood into planks. Photo: Andrew Dunn

Embodied Energy (EE) is the amount of energy needed to make and bring these materials to a factory, before turning them into products.
Here are just a few examples of the embodied energy of different materials that I've put together from Bath University's Inventory of Carbon and Energy:
*Where densities were not included in that text, I took rough values from wikipedia. The 'feedstock energy' is the amount of energy that would have been contained in what the plastics were made of, whether oil or sugar, if it had been burned as a fuel.
Most of these values are fairly close averages, being quoted as about ±30% at worst, but notice that for timber I have included the range of values they found where this was significant, as it varied by a factor of nearly 20!
This difference was due to the delivery cost of wood, which shows just what an excellent material it is when used locally, and hints at another concern – how sustainable is wood-chip for a fuel if it has to be delivered?
A good rule of thumb could be that right now if you need to get fuel shipped from another state, then getting a wood-fired boiler for heat as a way to lower your carbon footprint would probably be some moronic greenwashing.
Also note that these materials have vastly different applications due to a huge variance in things such as strength, conductivity and ability to be recycled.
For instance, typical structural steel is roughly 10 times as strong as HDPE bottle plastic, which is why, as with the concrete bridge that recently collapsed in Florida when a crack was visible before its steel suspension cables had been installed, conventional steel-framed buildings can have high safety factors (ability to safely hold a few times more weight than they are designed for), do not collapse until you have cut through the beams holding them together, and being more ductile, steel bends visibly when over-loaded, long before cracking and breaking apart.
So although a lot more energy may go into forming metals; if properly applied in design so that you have more than twice the strength necessary, products can end up lasting hundreds or thousands of times longer than if they were only barely strong enough.
This is regularly abused by companies in order to produce cheap items that barely work, but break down quickly, creating a poverty trap for those who can't afford better implements.
Anyone who still doubts the existence of planned obsolescence should try using goods from a pound/dollar shop, as we did in my student days.[6]

Energy Investment:
This energy cost is related to the energy industry by the term “Energy Return On Energy Invested”, which if you are familiar at all with investment jargon, contains the commonly used term “Return On Investment” or ROI, referring to a ratio of how much money a parasite expects to gain via different types of stock or usury.
In this case the term EROEI, as used in Our Renewable Future, refers to the amount of useful energy that you expect to generate after expending some to access it.
So whether you're drilling a well to access a geothermal potential or fossil fuel deposit, then refining and transporting that fuel, or processing various materials to make solar panels and wind turbines, you need to first use up some energy to get any back, and the relative amounts vary with each type of system and its location.
PV Solar Panel Manufacture Process. Diagram: Cheetah Exchange

What's especially important about this is that in light of previous points, with the likelihood of oil taking increasingly more investment to obtain, combined with the continually growing demand for energy, we have potential for a severe crisis situation on our hands.

According to a 2013 study at Stanford University, all solar PV installed until 2010 was a net energy sink, due to the energy cost of manufacturing and installing it.[7]
That sounds strange; you might think “hang on, but solar panels pay off over a matter of years, and we've been making them for decades”, and that is true financially, but earlier panels had a relatively poor pay-back period, the rate at which panels have been produced has been slowly accelerating, and they were built using fossil fuel energy, keeping the price down and enabling that fast growth.
If you think about it, some PV panels might never generate more energy than it took to make them, for instance those tiny ones on scientific calculators, and that's fine, as they are just there for the convenience of not having to change batteries, which are overall an energy sink to the economy.
How fast would we be able to increase our solar capacity if we had no oil or gas left to heat the furnaces used to make them?
For any energy source to be useful, it needs to have an EROEI of at least 3:1,[8] whereas back in the days when you could drill a hole in a field in Texas and oil would gush out, prospectors got an energy return of about 100:1, which decreased as wells dried up and had to be pumped, and people had to drill deeper.
These days we can get ratios of about 19:1 and 10:1 from wind[9] and solar[10] respectively, but that is heavily dependent on location.

Now, the most commonly referenced problem, intermittency, is quite self-explanatory so long as you know what is meant by the word.
Simply put, harvesting energy from earth systems that vary in output from one hour to the next makes them unreliable on their own, at least compared to 'dispatchable' gas generators and hydro-electric turbines that can meet grid demand at almost a moment's notice.
This chart[11] shows how chaotic wind and solar power are in particular:
ORF Figure 1.4. Wind and solar power supplied to the German electric grid over 2013; averaged over months, weeks and days.
As you can see here, there is a lot more solar power available during summer months, as to be expected, which is good if you need to cool your home in a hot climate, but not so useful if you more often need to heat your home in a cold climate. Meanwhile, wind followed the opposite pattern, which almost balanced that out on the monthly chart, except for a couple of periods during winter when there was a lull in the wind lasting for weeks at a time, and it is during these periods that stored energy becomes crucial during cold winters as mentioned previously.

Storage and Adaptations:
But of course, storing surplus electrical energy for later use tends to involve yet more investment of energy.
Pumped-Hydro Storage - Wikipedia
This brings us onto the concept of Energy Stored On Investment:
ESOI (as used in ORF) means how much energy can be stored over a system's lifetime for each amount used to build it.
Chapter 3 of ORF gives example ESOI ratios for a few storage technologies:
  • Pumped-hydroelectric reservoirs: 210:1[12]
  • Hydrogen fuel cells: 59:1[13]
  • Lithium-ion batteries: 10:1[14]
  • Lead-acid batteries: 2:1[14]
As you can see, old lead-acid battery technology is abysmal in this regard. However, while hydrogen storage may be cheaper to build, its operation is far more wasteful, with a round-trip in the best hydrogen systems leaving you with less than a third of the energy originally fed to it.
Compare this to lithium batteries with about 90% round-trip efficiency.[12]
Grid-timed tariff schemes (like my current storage heating) can help people and more importantly (due to their bigger share of per-capita usage) businesses to save money while using energy effectively. When paired with more efficient systems, such as heat pumps, the savings are even greater.
Alternatively, surplus energy can be transmitted between distant regions experiencing entirely different weather, requiring yet more infrastructure investment.

Almost There”?
So what do you think when you hear that a country is now getting nearly all of its electricity from renewable sources?[15]
ORF Figure 11.1. Percentage of electricity generated by renewables in selected countries, 2014.
They're already self-sufficient, or at least almost there and way ahead of us?
Well I have some bad news for you, because it means very little due to how we use fuels…

ORF Figure 3.1. U.S. final energy consumption by fuel type, 2012. NGL = natural gas liquids; LPG = liquefied petroleum gas. Source: IEA and U.S. EIA
Most of the energy used in the world is not used in the form of electricity, but burned fuels. Similar to the breakdown of US energy consumption here, the world average is about 19% of all energy delivered as electricity, with a higher fraction in industrialised countries, and a lower fraction in poorer countries that have not fully rolled out an electric grid yet.
This means that most of our industries have yet to adapt to using electricity, hydrogen, solar thermal power or some other form of renewable energy.
In Our Renewable Future, the authors raise a very important point of referring to electricity as “high-grade energy”, as it is so easily transported and applied to many uses, and that anywhere we are using electricity to directly heat something, as in an electric radiator, is an unfortunate waste, since so much of our electricity is generated from some heat source in the first place, and the conversion to and from electricity appears pointless.
So in order to have a future at current energy consumption levels, not only would we have to replace all of the fossil fuels powering our electricity grids, but 5 times that much by various energy sources!

Heat Industry:
As it turns out, a lot of that fuel is used to produce heat, and most of that is for high temperature applications such as producing cement, metals and firing bricks.
ORF Figure 5.1 – Temperatures used in industrial processes.[16]
Some high-temperature processes can be fed directly by concentrated solar energy, however very few of these facilities exist, they will again take a huge energy investment to construct, and for processes such as cement, ceramics and some chemical production that require the temperature to be kept very stable, you can only do this somewhere with no clouds! That restriction would then mean more energy costs to deliver the products.
Charcoal can be used to smelt steel; the temperature you reach depends not so much on the fuel as on having high-pressure air fed to it, hence the name “blast furnace”. However, there is nowhere near enough wood to meet current steel recycling needs.

To quote Our Renewable Future, Chapter 5:
charcoal-based smelting still flourishes in Brazil, which has large iron deposits but little domestic coal. It is the world’s largest producer of charcoal and the ninth biggest steel producer. About half of Brazil’s charcoal industry relies on plantations of fast-growing eucalyptus, cultivated specifically for the purpose, with the rest sourced from native forests through deforestation and from the use of sawmill by-products. While in medieval Europe charcoal-making was a cottage industry, Brazil has scaled up the process to encompass thousands of charcoal kilns operating at any one time.
But could other countries do what Brazil does? Probably not. During the nineteenth century, when charcoal was still widely used industrially in the United States and elsewhere, forests were being cut at a rate far above that of regrowth. Meanwhile, we were producing only a small fraction of the steel being made today. There is, quite simply, not enough forest in the world to enable this option to be deployed on a large scale. Just compare China’s annual steel production (over 800 million tons) with Brazil’s (34 million tons) and consider the fact that Brazil’s carbon emissions from steel production have increased in recent years due to deforestation, even though the proportion of coal
used declined. To supply the charcoal needed by the steel industry entirely from renewable, plantation-grown trees, an additional 1.8 million hectares of land (4.4 million acres) would need to be dedicated to charcoal production. 9 And we haven’t even considered using charcoal for production of cement and for other high-temperature processes.”
This means that either far more electricity would be needed to provide this heat in future, or we will have far less steel available, and we must repurpose some of the vast majority of our agricultural land that is wastefully used to feed cattle, into managed forestry, as orchards can produce not only an easily-sustainable protein & oil source from nuts, but can also yield high-quality hardwoods at the end of a tree's useful life, substantially stronger than fast-growing pine.

Now let's look at transportation, and you might think “that's easy, electric cars are already practical”, but I'm not talking about cars here. Although they make up the vast majority of road vehicles, they barely make up half our energy usage in transportation, if that, while the rest comes from moving goods and materials around, whether by the huge cargo ships shown earlier, heavy trucks, or via planes for faster delivery times.
ORF Figure 1.3. Volumetric and Gravimetric Density of Fuels
This graph compares the energy density by volume and by weight of different fuels and storage media, which means that points on the left side of the graph tend to be very heavy for a given stored energy, and so could not be used in aircraft, while points at the bottom take up a lot of space for a given energy, and so would force any vehicle to be built bigger to accommodate, or have most of its space taken up by fuel tanks with very little left for passengers or cargo.
Important caveat: this does not include the system used to store the fuel, so while hydrogen alone may have great weight efficiency, the tanks used to store it at such pressure as to keep it in liquid form without exploding have a considerable impact on its energy density, depending on the size of the tank.
I should also re-iterate the difference in operational efficiency – batteries running motors lose 10-20% of the energy they are charged with, while hydrogen engines lose about 70% of the energy input, mostly from the process of producing it by electrolysis, and combustion engines lose about 60% through heat and noise.
Meanwhile, there is something important missing here because it's so far off the graph that putting it on even a logarithmic scale would mean squashing these until it's hard to make sense of them, so I rather prefer this bar chart to drive the point home:
This difference in energy density in is why it has made sense to displace enormous amounts of earth, grind it up and separate it in centrifuges in order to obtain the right isotope of this one rare element, uranium.
To be clear, that is, the process of controlled fission in a nuclear reactor provides literally over a million times more energy per kilogram of fuel than a petroleum combustion engine does.
You might be wondering why I bring this up in a section on transport, when nuclear reactors tend to be heavy, expensive machines buried underground, requiring a lot of time and resource investment, which brings me to nuclear shipping.

Nuclear Shipping:
When most people think of nuclear power at sea, they probably think of nuclear submarines, and even then might be thinking of missiles and not propulsion systems.
However, nuclear-powered ships have been operating successfully for decades now, in roles that demand long endurance between refuelling, such as on icebreakers and aircraft carriers.
Sevmorput, an icebreaker-cargo ship.
These were designed to provide more fragile ships with passage through thick sheets of Arctic and Antarctic sea-ice, but a major milestone in global warming was already achieved in the winter that just passed, as the Arctic sea-ice has thinned so much that a normal cargo ship was able to make the northern passage in winter without an icebreaker for the first time.

The first and most famous example of a nuclear-powered cargo ship was the NS Savannah, proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower to showcase peaceful uses of nuclear power.
NS Savannah passing under the Golden Gate bridge.
A dual role of cargo and luxury cruise-liner made operation expensive, and she was only in service from 1962 to 1972, right before the 1973 Oil Crisis that could have made nuclear cargo ships price-competitive with diesel vessels.
For more info on the relationships behind that oil crisis, see the fantastic documentary Bitter Lake by Adam Curtis (BBC iPlayer alternative link).
Now, I'm not proposing this as a solution, but merely pointing out that as oil becomes more scarce, air transport becomes unaffordable, and after we have solved most land-transport with some combination of rail and road, until a hyperloop/et3 vactrain system can be built, we need something to fill that gap for international transport. It is quite likely that we will see a resurgence in this technology as corporations cling to global trade. This could lead to a security risk with increased payoff for pirates, causing more LRAD and ADS weapons to be used on them.
However, there is of course a clean renewable alternative to this with wind power, but I don't mean the good old fashioned wooden tall-ships famous of the age of sail.

Wind Shipping:
A modernisation of this is the Kite Rig, which is exactly what it sounds like, where you fly a kite from a ship:
I can't even see the wires at this resolution O_o Photo: Reederei Wessels
By the same reason that turbines are fitted atop high towers (because the wind is faster up there where the ground is not slowing it down), a much smaller area of kite than sail is needed for the same thrust, with an overall material saving compared to heavy masts rigged to the deck. A similar concept has also been floated for direct power generation.
Another example is the rotor-sail or Flettner rotor, a system where the Magnus effect, that is, the lift generated by a cylinder rotating in a crosswind, can be used to add thrust without any complex rigging arrangement, by simply controlling the speed and direction of the cylinder(s) rotation.
Wind power, (partially) delivered by wind power. Photo: Alan Jamieson
Better yet, both of these systems are highly automated, so even though they may only offer power while the wind is blowing, there is opportunity to save a lot of energy and man-hours with a fleet of automated ships bringing bulk cargo, if it makes sense to trade off delivery time.
Unfortunately, with modern corporations obsessing over their schedules and profit, these are currently only used in tandem with conventional combustion engines, in order to provide around 15-25% fuel savings.
Whatever propulsion is used, so long as we want to move things between continents then shipping is very much here to stay until we build something better, as MacKay showed, shipping is one of our most efficient modes of transport in terms of energy used per ton-kilometre, alongside conventional rail, which is a bit faster.

Just a couple of centuries ago it used to be the case that a quarter of our farm land fed draft animals, who then ploughed the fields for us.
This quaint image to us is still a reality in poorer southern nations where people cannot afford tractors. Photo: Muni-Muti
Now we use more than 7 calories of fossil-fuel energy for every calorie of food that we produce:[17]
ORF Figure 2.7. Energy Inputs and Outputs in the US Food System
I am not implying that energy usage in food production has become worse, as energy content is not a great gauge of nutrition, refrigeration reduces overall waste and has gradually become more efficient, and because of that saving, per person, less land is being used for most foods (except for meat, where most of the energy gets lost, as animals wander around doing what animals do before getting butchered).
However, this chart highlights the impact of our food production industry and just how dependent it is on fossil fuels right now, never mind that conventional fertiliser-based monoculture (single-crop) farms are turning land into desert with this method, as flattened planes of soil experience high run-off during heavy rains, both losing topsoil and poisoning waterways at the same time.
A Farmer Tilling His Field in Norfolk, using conventional methods. Photo: Evelyn Simak
These methods have been found to deplete topsoil at a rate over 10 times greater than natural processes are replacing it, compared to no-till methods, which are much closer to replacement rate and more easily sustainable.[18]
We can now save a lot of water, fertiliser and energy with hydroponic growing, but not all of our foods are suitable for this kind of system, especially tree crops, and the energy investment cost just for greenhouses is enormous, never mind to build new urban vertical farms (so perhaps we should retrofit some glass towers after kicking out the office drones?).
Tomatoes grown hydroponically in a greenhouse, on straw bales. Photo: Giancarlo Dessì
So again, our quickest savings here can be made by eating less meat and dairy, but in the long run, we need to localise our food production with the above systems and polyculture methods that minimise pest problems, and better application of hydrology with Permaculture design, so as to retain water in the ground and ponds instead of allowing it to run off from flat areas, which damages topsoil and makes floods worse.
Then, if we can find an interim solution to the inefficient distribution of market systems that leave billions malnourished, such as a Universal Basic Income, we might get a handle on the remaining food waste.

Yuck. That could at least have been diverted and preserved as marmalade if real local demand information (online orders) controlled distribution instead of price/profit-based central planning. Photo: Wormsandstuff

How much do we waste?
You've probably heard plenty about how much we are wasting from various charities that go on about it every day (or one of the many reports in recent years from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation on how we keep producing enough food (on a crude energy-based measure) for about 10 billion people, but waste lots of it and still leave around a billion people starving or severely malnourished), so I won't waste space feeding you all the statistics, but just for a brief flavour:
Only 9% of our waste plastic is recycled worldwide, after creating 8.3 billion tons of it, of which 6.3bn now exists as waste.[19]
Electrical items at a dump. Photo: Wikiworld2
Only 16% of our electrical waste is recycled, despite a strong legislative push to end this.[20]
There are about 1.2 billion cars in the world, and car-sharing schemes (not that unregulated-taxi 'uber' nonsense) have shown that each car included tends to take 15 off the road.[21]
Original source unknown

A certain level of hoarding is seen as normal in this culture, whereas most of humanity's time on this earth as nomadic hunter-gatherers involved keeping as few possessions as possible.
Market economies are founded upon an assumption that was valid a few hundred years ago, that goods were scarce and therefore few people could own them, while resources were abundant, and therefore entrepreneurs ought not to be restricted from exploiting them.
The evolution of capitalism has now produced the opposite reality, where due to the insanity of trying to make one of everything for everyone, there are far more goods than we can possibly use at once, and the gigantic industrial system that has produced them now threatens its own existence with resource shortages.
However, when looking at the enormous waste of unused goods around us, you can begin to take a different perspective on scarcity, that in fact there may not be many resources left to dig out of the ground, but plenty of them all around us to be recycled, if we can just muster the energy and collective will to do so.

So now I'd like to transport you to a distant point in space-time, a wondrous place where you can get your most basic needs met for free:
"Water", Limmy's Show (Except some git has now blocked it here on copyright grounds. You can probably still get to it on a YT download site.)

Of course, the situation shouldn't be over-simplified, as in reality we wage-slaves pay a flat rate to Scottish Water in order to use however much we need without metering, because it is an abundant resource here, while anyone on a job-seeker's pittance gets a reduction in the rate.
But who tries to hoard and sell something just because is has no marginal cost, that is, all additional water comes for free?
Well, not humans and not here, but in California they recently had a problem with mega-corporation Nestle bottling water in the middle of a drought, while Coca Cola have been destroying some of India's groundwater resources for years.

What I want to talk about is creating social arrangements where our different needs are met by voluntary associations at no necessary financial cost, due to the practically zero marginal cost of their upkeep using renewable energy.
Some of the biggest differences could be made by changes in government policy, for instance in ORF, the authors gave many examples of ways that governments can support a renewable transition, through Feed-In Tariffs (with examples of where and why that failed or succeeded such as Spain and Germany respectively), or various carbon taxation schemes where some of the revenue is dedicated to renewables projects or fed back to citizens and community initiatives.
However, since the current conservative government around here have shown their stupidity by cutting feed-in tariffs, I have little to no hope in them being of help any time soon, and I want to talk more about projects that we can all start up and get involved in, seeing results on the ground long before established parliamentarians learn that they have been lied to by fossil fuel lobbyists.

From Overshoot to Steady State:
Earth Overshoot Day, the point in a year when we have used all the resources that this planet can renew in one year, was 2nd August in 2017, and creeps ever closer.
There are two main parts to this problem: how much each person uses, and how many people there are.
ORF Figure 11.2. How Many Earths
The best way for us to curb population growth is to lower the death rate. If that surprises you, as it is quite counter-intuitive, then you should have a read up about the Demographic Transition theory. Wikipedia is a fair place to start, and Hans Rosling's TED talk makes a quick intro.
You might have heard a specious claim that African parents having multiple starving children are being irresponsible, but the stereotypical emaciated kid in an Oxfam advert tends to look like a skeleton with skin on not because they don't get enough calories, though they may be malnourished (masses of people forced into actual starvation have a tendency to riot, as seen in the many food riots that began the 'Arab Spring'), but because they are suffering from diarrhoeal diseases, which cause the body to lose most of its fluids. This is caused by poor sanitation infrastructure providing tainted drinking water, or lice infestation.
Parents in those situations are not being irresponsible, just logically improving their chances of having some kids survive disease, as our ancestors once did as recently as two centuries ago, but some good news is that countries are now going through that transition much faster than we did as the first nation to industrialise and defeat most diseases:
Even with a stable population, we have the problem mentioned earlier of how our per-capita consumption has grown over the last century. Due to the way our money supply is mostly created in the form of interest-bearing loans from private banks (see Positive Money – Ben Dyson, Z-Day 2015 London, or Khan Academy's free course on Banking and Money) this requires constant growth to service the interest and prevent this unstable scheme from collapsing or suffering runaway inflation.
One of our best options to escape this short-sighted scam is to take away private banks' ability to create new money when they loan it, and start creating it interest-free in the form of a Basic Income.
However, this will take a long drawn-out political battle, and today I want to talk more about what we can do to make an immediate difference in our own communities.

Libraries of Things:
The biggest difference that we can make is on the demand side. Undoing the current culture of consumption may require millions of parents to stop leaving their kids in front of ad-funded media, and could take years for those already indoctrinated to adapt, but they need something to adapt to and learn from, and that's what we need to create today.
Tool libraries are a way for you to get access to all the kinds of things that we use infrequently, but have been told by advertisers are Thneeds that we should all buy one each of, made at the lowest possible quality so as to be affordable.
Ideally for this we should get the highest-quality items to share, as they will last the longest and be the most repairable.
Some storage at Edinburgh Tool Library, the UK's oldest established tool library.
But it's not enough just to share what we already have, if our community needs access to something vital machinery that is expensive on the market, typically being hoarded by someone to extract rent.
The usual Marxist approach to this was “hey guys, let's go murder the capitalists hoarding those machines”, and what a bloody mess that divisive notion created in the last century.
We need new methods of democratising access to means of production, that don't divide and antagonise people by wealth class, especially given the dawn of autonomous killer robots that now defend the status quo.

Wealth Without Money:
The title of the second part of my presentation comes from an initial proposal written by Prof. Adrian Bowyer when he launched the RepRap project at the University of Bath in 2004.
There he points out that although socialist critique (that capitalism tends to produce inequality and a desperate dispossessed class with no means to improve their situation, where the means of production is restricted by a minority) is correct in diagnosis, the Marxist-Leninist prescription of violent revolution has turned out to be a terrible idea in practice, leaving hardly a dent in the prevailing market system and a lot of dead bodies in its wake.
His alternative stems from a mid-20th century concept by John von Neumann – the Universal Constructor, a self-replicating machine, but all attempts at realising that by then had involved complex pre-made parts, and the proofs-of-concept did not manufacture anything useful afterwards.
Self-assembling robot concept - NASA, 1982
Instead of having the machines self-assemble, the Replicating Rapid-prototyping machine focuses on producing usable parts which human users then put together, assuming the availability of some common electro/mechanical parts such as motors, electronic chips and a power supply.
By making the designs freely available online, this also meant that the machine could evolve rapidly through a process of artificial selection.
RepRap Darwin's first child, 2008
A milestone end result of this was that a type of 3D printer that cost tens of thousands of pounds before the turn of the century, became available at a cost of a few hundred pounds.
Reprap Family Tree, impossible to read here, and impossible to keep track of after 2012 without a worldwide team of conservationists on the case.
And so this experiment was a success, as the RepRap has taken off as a wide range of technology evolved via human selection, and somewhat intelligent design.
The diversity of these 3D printers has exploded so far that it would be extremely difficult to complete this chart now, which cuts off in 2012.
If you want to know more about how all this started and evolved, you can read my article Evolution of 3D Printing, from 2013, formerly on the now-defunct TZM Blog.

Replicators Become Reality:
I would like to propose to you that high-tech replicator systems in both of these senses (of self-assembling replication, i.e. the Star-Gate SG-1 'Replicator' and replicating complex supplied patterns, i.e. the Star-Trek Next-Generation 'Replicator') already exist in the world today, but in the same way that programmable computers existed in the 1940s – they take up a whole room and some of their moving parts are humans:
Hackerspace Charlotte, NC, USA
I am of course talking about Hackerspaces, a global movement of shared creative spaces where people share ideas and tools. The most developed examples have the equipment and knowledge necessary for small-scale electronics manufacture, so they could technically reproduce any tool in their workshop.
In that way, the 3D printer is just one organ within a larger organism, as other technologies are required to produce standard metal parts for its construction.

Tools for Self-Replication:
At the start of David Gingery's 1980s book series Build Your Own MetalWorking Shop From Scrap, he recounts someone saying that “The metal lathe is the only machine in the shop that can duplicate itself or any other machine in the shop.”
A metalworking lathe of over 100 years ago, preparing weapon parts for WW1. Photo: Tyne & Wear Archives
This is largely true, as being able to turn accurately-sized shafts to transmit power is crucial to many other machine tools. If you want to make the dies that cut threads into mass-produced bolts, you need a lathe. If you want an accurate barrel to blow someone's head off from a safe distance, you need a lathe. But how do you make the lathe without one?
That's the start of a book on a bucket-size charcoal-fired foundry, which many people have now been using to recycle scrap aluminium into sturdy cast-metal objects, such as the body of a lathe.
Sand-casting aluminium from 3D-printed moulds, note how molten aluminium doesn't even glow at all in daylight, as a relatively low-temperature, passing 600°C, is needed to melt it. This still requires forced air to get the fire hot enough – sometimes hacked together with a hair-dryer by these experimenters. Photo: Haus Page
The book talks about cutting wooden moulds with hand tools to form the parts, but now of course you know that we can do the same with far less effort and potentially greater accuracy using a 3D printer.

Open Source Ecology was created to provide easy-to-follow designs and documentation for such machines built in a modular way so that they would also be easy to repair, and chiefly using metals, as they are endlessly recyclable.
For instance, here's a working prototype of their plasma-cutter table, able to cut forms out of inch-thick plates of steel:
It may sound like tech from a Star-Something franchise, but a Plasma Torch is quite simple in principle once you understand Arc Welding, and Wikipedia now does a far better job of explaining it than my lecturers ever did. Photo: Nikolay, OSE
Their 'Global Village Construction Set' is only partially complete, but already features such well-tested foundational machines as a Compressed-Earth Brick Press for building houses in clay-heavy landscapes, and a modular tractor named LifeTrac:
Lifetrac v6. To enable not only conventional agriculture, but more importantly the kinds of earthworks used in Permaculture's famous passive irrigation systems. Photo: Audrey Rampone
Resource Recycling – Waste Materials:
A major problem with electronics recycling in a marketplace is that of course the materials that have a significant monetary value per ton, such as gold and copper, tend to get recycled first, whereas bulk engineering materials that were originally chosen for their low cost so as to sell devices to as many people as possible, such as common casing plastics ABS and PolyCarbonate, which make up the majority of most devices' volume, often end up sent to landfill by the ton once they are separated in a time-consuming or energy-intensive process; a slight improvement from when the whole lot was simply dumped on somebody else's doorstep.
Useful materials being recycled by hand by low-wage workers. Now this ends up being done here either by volunteers or very expensive machines, limiting our recycling capacity. Photo: Matthias Feilhauer
Why does this happen? It has to do again with embodied energy, transport energy and a problem with globalisation.
Even though it takes less energy to recycle polymers, the monetary value that can be recovered from doing so drops below zero as soon as you try to transport it very far, because these were chosen as the cheapest practical materials to begin with (due to the low cost of oil), so the market price per kilo of chopped up granules is low, that without machinery to chop up casings you end up paying for someone to remove your plastic. Such is market logic.
However, if you can get systems in place to process the plastic locally, its use value in local production is far greater than its market value…

Recycling Into a Resource-Based Circular Economy:
Back in 2012 I drew up a very rough systems design flow diagram of what a Resource Based Economy could look like, for the now-defunct Zeitgeist Media Project (another victim of funding shortages in an un-incorporated social movement).

Back then, just fresh out of university, I imagined that in a more or less business-as-usual-til-collapse scenario we might end up doing widespread landfill mining for precious minerals, due to the sheer reckless waste of end-of-life electronics for the first few decades of computer use, until recently when the EU's WEEE recycling requirements have just started to get a handle on this.
To use an old idiom, there's gold in them thar landfills!
I also figured that if you wanted to start a resource-based economy in microcosm, it could be a good idea to situate yourself on a landfill or other waste disposal site, so that people would simply bring you resources for free, which you could then sort and recycle into a small local economy.
But as with most good ideas, I later found that some people were already doing something similar, and I was glad to find them!..

Having just got involved in the RepRap project by building one myself, I learned that these wasted plastics included some of the practical ones that could be used for the type of filament extrusion process used in desktop 3D printing.
Waste plastic electronics casings, collected in the yard of an electronics recycling charity in the Scottish highlands, where it was not affordable to have the plastic picked up for recycling until there was enough to pour it into a an extra-tall open-top container lorry.
Unfortunately, the processing machinery has such a high monetary cost, due to its high energy cost, that such charities can't afford it without big grant funding, which takes a long and painful process to acquire, hampered by the fact that grants almost only support brand new equipment.
Thankfully, there has recently been a project similar to OSE, focused on creating open-source hardware designs for machines to recycle plastics:
Precious Plastic machines - left to right: Shredder, Extruder, Injection Moulder, Compression Moulder.

Likewise, these machines are low-cost, but tend to come with no warranty.
Meanwhile, if you want an example of people making do with little, we have a more raggedy looking setup where some waste consumer plastic was being recycled:
Can you guess where?
A hint is all those spots of sunlight peeking into the warehouse – those are holes created by shrapnel, because this operation is located on the Gaza strip, where some people fearing for their lives every day have managed to get recycling with second-hand hardware.
Somewhere secret around the corner they had a lab with a few RepRap 3D printers brought in. Let's hope that wasn't shelled since this photo was taken:
3D printing lab in Gaza
These two photos were taken by Kliment, a lead programmer on RepRap software, and Dr. Tarek Loubani, who gave this extremely inspirational talk on developing low-cost open-source medical hardware as good as western standards, for poverty-stricken regions.
So if they can do that under such difficult conditions, you must wonder, why do we have any trouble with every amenity available to us? The answer as usual is the grant money for new equipment problem mentioned previously, and I'll come to ways of addressing that at the end.

Dirt-Cheap 3D Printing:
Not only can 3D printers create objects made out of the very mud under your feet:
3D printing a bunny in porcelain clay. Why not. Photo: Richrap
...(which is part of a whole 'nother presentation that I gave to a club back in 2015, and should really get round to doing this turning-into-an-article thing with) but many of the parts needed to build a RepRap that it can't easily make itself, such as motors and steel rods, can be scavenged from old office printers and scanners:
Just a small selection illustrating some of the variety among parts that I have scavenged from old hardware since this article, awaiting support and funding for the last few bits (control electronics) to make more RepRaps for a hackerspace. Older printers/scanners and big laser printers or photocopiers tend to be the best source of high-quality stepper motors.
...which as you are probably all aware, seem to regularly be at the cutting edge of the insanity that is planned obsolescence, with their cartridge-sales business model.
Here is an example of a RepRap that someone built mostly out of cast-offs and waste electronics, bringing the total bill to $65:
For an example of a successful group making a difference on this, here's one that I know.
Moray Waste Busters take old home goods, from furniture, books and crockery, to bikes and electrical appliances, check them for quality and sell them back on to the public at a low price.
Now, re-selling old stuff is nothing new, as high-street charity shops up and down the country do it all the time, although you may have noticed lately many of them also selling mass-produced tat from China in order to increase their profits, as the pursuit of more revenue for their owning charity gives them a kind of tunnel vision to the damage that can cause.
What's special about Waste Busters is that their core purpose is to reduce waste, and in a partnership with their local council, they are one of only a handful of such groups in Britain who are actually sited on a municipal recycling centre.
The model is extremely successful, showing steady growth, and they have reported an increase in sales of 250% over the last 5 years:
MWB's Total Sales in GBP, from 2004-2017, split up by month. With poorly labelled series, I couldn't tell ya whether those months start on January or the financial year, but I guess the latter.
As an excellent transitional initiative, ideally we need a presence of one of these kinds of organisations on every town's recycling centre, and if you want to know more about such organisations, you can check out some of the others that fall under their national quality-certification scheme, Revolve.
MWB have also recently started running creative upcycling classes, using scrap materials from items that couldn't be put back into re-use.

Sharing Cities Network:
For lots more great initiatives as part of a Commons Transition, check out these maps of your local area on
...and if there isn't one for your area? Get together and make one!

For this presentation I wanted to showcase a nice initiative that sprung out at me from London's map:
Save The Date takes edible waste food from suppliers who couldn't sell it fast enough, and uses it to cook restaurant-quality meals, offered to the public on a pay-as-you-feel basis. Delicious.

Transition Network:
If you want a brief course in how to organise projects like these, you should take a look at Joe Duggan's talk from London Z-Day 2016, “A Transition Town in Action”, and if you're inspired by that, either find a local group to get involved in, visit one in another town, read one of Rob Hopkins' books such as “The Transition Companion”, or other materials on Transition Network and get organising in your local community!

Community Interest Companies and Community Benefit Funds:
If you find that your area is short on grant funding for sustainable and socially beneficial projects, then you could even turn to your community in order to start your own grant-funding body!
For example, a few motivated people within the small Sunart community in the west of Scotland identified an opportunity where an old dam on their local burn was not being used:
Existing dam on Alla na Cailleach burn, via Press and Journal
So they created a Community Shares scheme, where only local people could invest in and vote on the project (with a fairer democratic model of one-shareholder-one-vote instead of the typical corporate plutocracy one-share-one-vote), and they raised enough to install this hydroelectric turbine in a hut:
Turbine house ready, from CS article above.
The last I heard from one of the organisers involved, James Hilder of An Roth Associates CiC, they have already paid off the installation costs after a couple of years, and are now using some of the surplus from selling something like £100k worth of electricity per year, to support local projects on their Commmunity Benefit Fund.
...and if all else fails, there's always the Big Lottery Fund for most things.

So I want to conclude with David Mackay's mantra -
Every Big Helps:
  • Don't go around worrying about switching off every phone charger, as it makes no difference and you'll just be wasting your time. You can make big differences for instance with home insulation.
  • Demand grid-timed storage-heating/cooling from heat pumps, for a cheaper tariff and a balanced grid!
  • Stop buying stuff you don't need! Share locally. A tool library is much easier to access than organising with your neighbours, but while you don't have one, you should still join StreetBank.
  • Don't fly hundreds of miles away for a break, enjoy some local scenery;
  • If there's not enough nature to roam in your local area, you need to ask why!
  • Eat less meat to save vast areas of land to be re-forested, which can then give us more on-demand fuels from timber or oilseeds.
  • More importantly, campaign to end subsidies of meat and dairy that encourage people to eat artificially-cheap unsustainable foods, and have the subsidies shifted to support farmers to transition into providing more sustainable sources of protein and fat.[22]
  • Organise initiatives in your local community, and build a resilient local economy!

I'd like to give special thanks and dedicate this post to Michael Craig Ruppert (1951-2014): Cop, whistle-blower, writer, musician, investigative journalist, political activist, and peak-oil awareness advocate.
- For inspiring us to stay alert and rebuild communities to make it through these interesting times.

Bonus – My pet myth to bust this year:
None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use” - a hack journalist named David Roberts wrote this misleadingly-titled article for Grist, and it has since been parroted around a lot in TZM.
When you actually read the body of it you can realise that “top” didn't mean “biggest”, as most would assume.
Trucost Consultancy found the industries with the most environmental impact would be unprofitable if they were charged for those impacts, which should come as a surprise to nobody.
This simply shows that there are some industries that are causing criminal levels of pollution by avoiding regulations that would make it illegal.
Given the state of lobbying in the USA, again, are you really surprised?

1:If you want to see just how horrible things can get when logistical systems break down, have a look at the famine and disease that struck Germany when we bombed their infrastructure in the final years of WW2, Cuba and North Korea when the Soviet Union collapsed and their oil supply was cut off, or Iraq after the first Gulf War with UN sanctions. In all of these situations, the suffering of civilians was enforced by abstract political boundaries - trade embargoes and military fronts, and could have been alleviated by some compassion from outside. Alice J. Friedemann recently wrote a short but enlightening book on this delivery-dependent aspect of our society, titled "When Trucks Stop Running - Energy and the Future of Transportation".
2: ORF Figure 1.3 – Source : Data compiled by J. David Hughes. Post-1965 data from BP, Statistical Review of World Energy (annual), Pre-1965 data from Arnulf Grubler, “Technology and Global Change: Data Appendix” (1998):
3: ORF Figure 2.1 – Source : Data compiled by J. David Hughes from Arnulf Grubler, “Technology and Global Change: Data Appendix” (1998): and BP, Statistical Review of World Energy, (annual)
4: Image credit: Energy Watch group.
Found via a slide in Jeremy Leggett's presentation “The Winning of The Carbon War” given to London Futurists in 2015:
This copy is from
5: Hacking in an old programming sense, of improvising a work-around instead of taking a top-down design approach. Convention in the sense of a widely-used method.
6: I have even used what appeared to be a higher-quality can opener from a major supermarket, Morrisons if I recall correctly, which later snapped at the top of the handle, rendering it unusable with no leverage, and I found that the steel tang concealed under a plastic grip had a completely unnecessary hole drilled or punched into it near the top in order to weaken it.
Today I would weld it back together, but just like everyone else I had neither the skills or tools for that back then. Now I'm using a much older german-made can opener that I found in a skip, and has already outlasted the rest in the time that I've had it.
7: Michael Dale and Sally M. Benson, “Energy Balance of the Global Photovoltaic (PV) Industry: Is the PV Industry a Net Electricity Producer?” - Environmental Science and Technology 47, no. 7 (2013): 3482–3489.
8: Charles Hall, Stephen Balogh, and David Murphy, “What Is the Minimum EROI That a Sustainable Society Must Have?” Energies 2, no. 1 (2009): 25–47.
9: Khagendra P. Bhandari et al., “Energy Payback Time (EPBT) and Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI) of Solar Photovoltaic Systems: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 47 (2015): 133–41, doi:10.1016/j.rser.2015.02.057.
10: Ida Kubiszewski, Cutler Cleveland, and Peter Endres, “Meta-analysis of Net Energy Return for Wind Power Systems.”
11: ORF Figure 1.4 – sourced from Bruno Burger, “Electricity Production from Solar and Wind in Germany in 2013” (Freiburg: Fraunhofer ISE, January 9, 2014),
12: Charles Barnhart and Sally Benson, “On the Importance of Reducing the Energetic and Material Demands of Electrical Energy Storage,” Energy & Environmental Science 6, no. 4 (2013): 1083–92, doi:10.1039/C3EE24040A and:
Charles Barnhart, Michael Dale, Adam Brandt, and Sally Benson, “The Energetic Implications of Curtailing versus Storing Solar-and Wind-Generated Electricity”, Energy & Environmental Science 6, no. 10 (2013): 2804–10

13: Matthew Pellow et al., “Hydrogen or Batteries for Grid Storage? A Net Energy Analysis,” Energy and Environmental Science 8 (2015): 1938–52, doi:10.1039/C4EE04041D
14: Mark Schwartz, “Stanford Scientists Calculate the Carbon Footprint of Grid-Scale Battery Technologies.”
15: Source : J. David Hughes, Global Sustainability Research, Inc. (data from BP Statistical Review, 2015).
16: Source: Euroheat & Power, Ecoheatcool Work Package 1 (Brussels: Euroheat & Power, 2006).
17: Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan, “U.S. Food System Fact-sheet.” Pub. No. CSS01-06 (2015),
18: D.R. Montgomery, "Soil erosion and agricultural sustainability", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, no. 33,(2007)
19: 9% - Science magazine:, via National Geographic:
20: 16% - UN, via The Balance:
21: 15 vehicles per 1 shared:

22: Guys, when looking for vegan sources of protein, don't settle for soy rubbish; it'll just give you a nice big cancerous pair of tits in the long run due to its phyto-estrogen content. Excellent complete sources of protein and essential oils include pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and many others...
Verbal slips in talk: at 3 minutes I said "getting more out than they are getting in", which should obviously be "putting in", at 5:30 I said "oft-quoted" way too fast, at 6:15 I referred to saudi oil extraction as "consumption", and at about 13 minutes I said fossil fuel extraction would "gradually increase" after the initial boom, which should obviously be "gradually decrease" as wells are depleted. Only by adding new wells faster than old ones declined did overall production grow.

If you have any questions, suggestions, see mistakes, or need more clarity on some part of this, please leave a comment!

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