You Can’t Fool Mother Nature

When I entered this world, in the mid-1950’s, the earth held about 2.7 billion people. This is the wondrous time people are calling for the US to return to, since we were “great” then. As of today, we are nearing and may have gone over 8 billion people on this planet. Unfortunately, the rules that were possible with a population of 2.7 billion, become unmanageable when there are 8 billion people on the planet.

Just think of the issues we face now which were not problems in the mid-1950’s. We now face many existential crises, and even still face the one we thought we had put behind us, that of nuclear conflict. The seas are becoming deserts as huge trawlers scrape all living creatures into their maws. The lungs of the planet are now succumbing to clear-cutting and soybean cultivation in Brasil, led by a mad-man who refuses to acknowledge the limits of our planet. In the US, population pressures in distant lands have led to an unstoppable tide of those wishing to claim refugee status within our borders. And everywhere we suffer from the natural byproduct of civilization, that is carbon dioxide, along with a refusal by many to believe in the laws of thermodynamics. So be it. Those who claim college educations are worthless deserve to come up against the inexorable power of nature, and suffer the inevitable horrible consequences. All that is left is for those of us who are educated to say “I told you so”. A poor response to deal with the human carnage set to come when the effects of global warming become more pronounced.

In so many ways, we are dealing with national governments which refuse to take a holistic view of the world situation. So many folks still believe we live in a world with only 2.5 billion people, rather than the real world which holds 8 billion humans. Whether it is the retrograde Republicans in the US, or the near-sighted populists of Brasil, or the newly-minted electoral majority in Italy trying to channel Mussolini, political movements across the globe are imitating flightless birds sticking their heads in the sand. By refusing to admit the world has changed, they are subjecting their followers towards the inevitable crisis as they drive their car off of the mesa and do a swan dive towards the ground below. So where do we find those who are really trying to deal with the problems of the present which will make our future untenable?

First, we must begin to listen to those of us who are screaming about physical limits inherent on the earth. There are certainly folks who recognize limits to systems on the earth, though their voices seem swallowed up by those who preach the gospel of prosperity. Many people renounced the mantra of bigger is better, and have gone towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Back in the 1970’s, those folks were characterized as tree-huggers, since they advocated and lived a simplistic lifestyle off of the grid. Now it is possible to be off-the-grid, yet still be connected to the world through solar cells. Yet we still see those new subdivisions built in places never intended to house large numbers of humans, places where the first unpleasant reality is a lack of water. A small encouraging sign has appeared in states like Arizona and Nevada. There legislation was enacted which removes the abilities of Home Owner Associations to require grass lawns. Note there is nothing that requires a more sensible landscape for desert cities, just that people may not be compelled to use immense quantities of water to maintain grass. I am quite certain that those who opt out of a green lawn still may face peer pressure to keep up their conspicuous consumption of water, and their spigots turned on.

If we are having to fight for common sense through legislative actions even for a resource as limited and as visible as water, what hope do we have in convincing large segments of the population to repudiate ongoing use of fossil fuels? Well, we can try to educate. At least some people may be convincible, especially since the world is changing in more visible ways. People look at fossil fuels as being the only effective sources of energy for humanity. But those who claim that do not have a clue that any combustion process has a thermodynamic limitation of efficiency. No combustion process can have an efficiency much greater than 50% due to the laws of nature. Therefore, in all combustion processes, whether an internal combustion engine used for transportation, or a steam power plant, fully half or more of the energy of combustion gets transformed into waste heat. Maybe you can harness some of that waste heat for other human needs, but that costs additional money, and is seldom used on a year-round basis.

Renewable energy is decried for being unreliable and diffuse, and requiring energy storage devices in order to ensure energy availability when needed. Maybe so, but an electron generated from a solar cell does not have the same thermodynamic limitation as energy from fossil fuels. And when it is produced at the same location as it is consumed, transmission losses become minimal. Only the inverter loss (about 10-20%) represents energy lost from solar cells vs. 50% from combustion. So solar energy has a head start on other energy sources used in mass plants and then distributed.

Wind energy is truly variable, and at the scale it is built at, either large energy storage systems are required, or alternative sources of energy aimed at load leveling are required in order to take advantage of this energy source. Once more though, electrons produced through wind energy are fully available to the electrical grid after going through an inverter.

Yes, but fossil fuels are macho! That seems to be the argument underpinning many of those who champion continued and unlimited use of fossil fuels. I don’t know about you, but climbing up some of those 300’ towers to service a windmill seems macho enough to me. Fossil fuels are somehow viewed as our right to use, regardless of any ill effects. Well, it seems we now know it is not a good thing to rejigger our atmosphere and reintroduce all of the carbon sequestered over the millions of years in a blink of a geological eye. But to those who say, we were given dominion over this planet, I say, I agree. And it is about time we use what we have learned to prevent a giant bollocks while we still have time.

Money Makes the World Go Round

And now it is clear what the economy of the US depends upon – it is advertising. Ad revenues drives the internet, it has caused newspapers to be bereft of sustenance, and it will inexorably be withdrawn from television once streaming becomes an unstoppable force. Those who have the highest profit margins appear to advertise the most. Hence the proliferation of pharmaceutical ads intended to draw consumers to the latest pill or injection allowed by the Federal regulatory bodies. You also see advertising for automobiles blanketing the airwaves. That is due in part to the business model requiring local dealerships. The local dealerships keep trying to wrest market share from other dealers (and car brands). Of course, the ads for the car brands are meaningful reflections of the American public. Who doesn’t want to be highlighted as the most masculine consumer out there, and the high energy products of the Dodge division will be sure to rub off on you if only you buy our cars.

Now, we see the next phase of advertising. All of the sports betting sites are showing off how much fun you can have by throwing your money down a black hole by selecting their site as your bookie of choice. I feel sorry for the underworld. One by one their markets are being usurped by legal ways to lose your own money.

Another area of the economy where money appears to be sloshing around is in the world of Medicare supplemental insurance. How many older celebrities can be resurrected on ads convincing gullible seniors to turn all of their health care needs over to a local HMO, who will be sure to have your best interests at heart as they try to glom onto yet another sucker. This is one where both the advertising dollars are at work, and the phone banks work actively too. We are some of the rare individuals who will answer calls on our landline for unfamiliar numbers. Since my wife is just about to become Medicare-eligible, we are receiving a large number of calls offering to assist her in her choices. My experience has shown the more effort made to separate you from your money, the more money is available to be made. With the plethora of people actively involved in trying to steer your decision, it is obvious Medicare is a gold mine for many companies.

For decades, the American economy has been dependent upon consumer spending. It was things that drove the economy, things manufactured in this nation. Now? As much money is spent on transient things as is spent on real items. Look at cell phones. The service that is sold can afford to underwrite the hardware (actual cell phone), and you end up paying the service a multiple of the price of the physical hardware. Of course, you are also paying for the signal being available, so energy and materials are used to build and maintain transmission towers. This is the hidden portion that backs up the handy signal you depend upon.

Just this year, we’ve seen the first crumbling of the “everything is available whenever you want it economy”. We’ve all been exposed to the barren shelfs in supermarkets, where product is totally unavailable at any price. From cream cheese, to canned cat foods, to infant formula, and toilet paper, we’ve seen what can happen when demand exceeds the ability of companies to deliver product in an efficient manner. In our spoiled society, we grow petulant when we are told we can’t have something the instant we want it. We look for scapegoats, and often it is the politicians in power who are blamed for any and all failures in supply chains. It is surprising how much we are in favor of free-enterprise solutions up until the time of a failure. Then we expect the government to have been anticipating problems, and are ready to throw the rascals out of office if they failed in their response.

In the coming years, many more things will either be unavailable, or only available at a price well above what we remember. We will see more things manufactured in the US, but will find out the cost is greater due to the higher costs in this country. The short-term memory of the US consumer and voter will once more blame the government for the higher prices, blissfully ignoring their previous desire to locally source the manufacture. We will have many chances to learn patience, and learn to be grateful for what we do have. I’m afraid, though, that we are so spoiled we will strike out in anger if we are told something is not available, or is much more expensive. Look at our experience with gas prices. People were not willing to take responsibility for their decisions to buy ever-larger vehicles. No, it became a huge crisis when the price of gas deviated from what people viewed as their right – to keep consuming energy without dealing with the true costs. We in the US are particularly spoiled – we view the rest of the world as our pantry, and expect all others to bow down before us since we are so exceptional. Except we are no longer that exceptional nation sharing our cornucopia with the rest of the world. No, we view it as our due to be able to consume on demand with no limitations. It will be difficult to adjust to a world with limits, but that is where we are.

It Was A Perfect Raid

So, it is possible that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were correct back in 2016. Donald, for his infamous claim about being able to shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any followers. And Hillary, for her astute observation about the nature of many Trump followers – that they were truly deplorable people. Of course, being as that statement came from the enemy, it was adopted as a badge of honor. I still remember middle-aged women wearing Adorable Deplorable t-shirts to announce their affiliation. In the end, it was a statement that undoubtedly contributed to her defeat. It doesn’t detract from the veracity of the observation.

If nothing else, the events of this past month show that Donald truly does not care about anything but himself. No one else would take the issues about secret files and weave them into a conspiracy blanket of victimhood for himself. As Maya Angelou said, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Donald Trump has shown himself to a national audience since the 1970’s. The prime example of someone who has failed upwards, he never has had to face consequences for his actions. His multitude of business failures occurred upon piles of borrowed money, so once the debt was restructured, Donald ended up in a nominally better position than when he started. That the epitome of his success is a private club in a soon-to-be submarine barrier island is fitting. He doesn’t even realize his peril in the future. Of course, for him the future is irrelevant.

What we see in his frenzied communications is a refusal to accept responsibility for any problem he faces. In fact, he seems bound and determined to deny he has transgressed at all. And his quislings are more than happy to provide ever more fantastic justifications for his actions. No, there is no problem with storing top secret information next to a country club ballroom. What could go wrong? And in legal filings, we see that we should consider the entire matter as nothing more serious as overdue library books. Gaah!

Of course, the world view of the cult leader and his followers is totally consistent. When you look back at the pitched battle to gain access to the Capitol Building on January 6 as normal political discourse, then seeing top secret information stored at a country club is nothing more than an overdue book. At least he is consistent, although many view him as a self-caricature He thinks he is an alpha male, and his strutting and preening emphasizes his manliness to his fallen admirers. They are the ones with the Rambo images, that head affixed to an assault-weapon wielding savior of the race.

All of these admirers are so far beyond the pale that they perceive any criticism as “divisive”. As if his words and actions brought people together. No, these people not only do not accept criticism, they have convinced themselves that criticism is blasphemy. How do you reason with people who share no elements of rationality with you? You can’t, that’s how. The only way this cult will go away is through repeated repudiation at the ballot box, though the stage has been set for the cult members to reject any such repudiation as just another stolen election.

Indictment is coming. Like it or not, the event that can draw his followers into forming an army of brown shirts with MAGA lettering is just ahead. We know what actions his deluded followers will take, they’ve announced their intentions on all media forums where they hold sway. Those in charge at a Federal or State level must hold firm to their convictions so that we can finally get a conviction for the egregious behavior we’ve seen over the past 7 years. His true followers? They are so far gone it may take a generation for the damage wrought by the orange one to disappear. After all, we have a world full of real problems to face as a nation.  We’ve lost far too much time worrying about the actions of the unhinged. It is time to move on.