Bright Green Lies

I believe several people are reading this lately, which more or less points out the awkward truth that if you want to go “green” in terms of energy, you have to remove an awful lot of mountains and create a few more out of mine tailings, at a minimum.

The basic thesis is that a renewable energy future is not possible, and that even if you try, you end up doing massively catastrophic environmental damage in the process - and that “environmentalists” have, in recent years, largely moved from “Protect nature” to “Protect industrial civilization.”

It’s an interesting read so far…

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You can’t ‘protect everything’. Change happens.

In a modern liberal society we individually are tasked with too much - it takes decades of study just to understand a single aspect of a single issue - and we’re to make intelligent decisions on thousands of them.

No wonder people take the easy way out and pick a “team”.

Environmentalism was easy when it was “LA is full of smog” or “this river is on fire” - but now it’s become “which foreign country shall we destroy, and shall it be directly or indirectly”.

I think the main takeaway is that “reduce” and “reuse” are the most important things that we as individuals can do - and doing so far outweighs any other effect we may have.

As an aside, here’s a link about how absolutely complicated a text editor can be: Text Editing Hates You Too – - it helps to realize that any non-simple problem (i.e, anything that hasn’t been solved) is similarly complicated, and thinking you have a solution after studying it for a few hours is laughable.

A few thoughts (haven’t dove into the book yet)

  1. It seems like over population is a problem, yet no US politician would dare suggest maybe it’s not environmentally friendly to have more than 2 kids?
  2. Computers have not only gotten faster, they’ve also gotten more efficient (at least if you consider a raspberry pi uses way less energy than an equally powerful computer from 10 years ago). I guess I wonder if energy efficiency will become most important in terms of reducing waste and pollution.
  3. Ground source heat-pumps seem like the way of the future, I would imagine they could reduce energy-demands

In New Zealand cost of trash pick-up is related to the amount of trash you produce. In the US (at least where I am in Boston) you can produce 10 bags of trash and pay the same as someone who is mindful of their waste. It’s curious why we don’t incentives people to create less waste like trash, but we’ll set-up recycling infrastructure (which as I understand it doesn’t always end-up with products getting recycled).

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Well, most of what you’ve covered is dealt with in the book, but I’ll give a few summary comments here to whet your appetite:

Jevon’s Paradox suggests no, it will make it worse.

But their manufacturing has gotten more toxic and destructive, and their supply chains have gotten longer. The efficiency gain is sort of a distraction. We need to just stop using computers for everything.

Only in areas that have stable geothermal, and then you’ve got many of the same environmental and ecological concerns as fracking. Also there’s only so much you can do with geothermal as well.

Well if you don’t replace your population, you can’t grow now, can you? And it’s all about GROWTH! (/sarcasm) Yes, I agree we need to lower the (global) population (or it will be lowered for us, not too long from now), not grow it. That’s absolutely essential. But nobody will try it because it’s one of those dilemmas where the more populous nations in the squabble for the last resources will usually end up on top of them due to having so many slaves to serve in their militaries, etc. The tools which permit you to dominate the resources end up being the defining reason you need to extract them, and that’s the cycle we’re presently stuck in, globally.

To make something like this work it’d have to be a huge amount of money to make people change their habits - the “large can” vs the “small can” was a difference of something like $20/yr. People aren’t going to change much over that; maybe if it was $200/yr.

I agree that counter-productive feel-good activities like single-stream recycling should probably just be ditched (or intentionally landfill the result until such time as it becomes cost-effective to mine said landfill).

Another problem with pay-per-kg garbage services is that most people in the US do not have the choice of how much garbage they produce for a given amount of food and typical consumption pattern - the packaging is ridiculous, it’s excessively voluminous and quite often types or combinations of plastic that prohibit recycling later anyway. In many (most?) other parts of the world, buying bulk (in the bring-your-own-reusable-container sense, not in the big-lots sense) is quite normal for staples, and many more things come in reusable containers with a deposit. This can massively reduce the single-person waste quantity, in addition to packaging choices that ensure maximum reusability of the packaging itself.

In the US and increasingly in Europe (at least from my experience) this sort of packaging-free or packaging-reduced distribution is just not available except to people who have the luxury of going well out of their way (and often paying ridiculous premiums) for it.

My proposed solution (for this specific problem) would be to excessively tax packaging on a material, mass, and volume basis, and to give exemptions for reusable containers in conjunction with an active deposit and return/reuse system (in other words just using glass jars alone doesn’t count, you have to take them back and clean them and reuse them in your production stream for it to count). This tax would apply to the manufacturer and cannot be counted as a deductible expense.

I’d love to see a “waste” tax like that - if the gross weight of your foodstuff is 1lb but the net weight after unwrapping it is half a pound, you pay more tax than if the packaging is a smaller percentage.

And it’s getting worse here! Apples used to come in giant piles in the store, which you could put in your own bags if you wanted; then they came in plastic bags already bundled, now they come in these weird individual packages.

I bet someone somewhere argued that they “reduce waste” as the fruit isn’t bruised and then thrown away - but if people compost even throwing away a whole apple is nothing ecologically compared to the plastic used in a package.

It’s sad how many good ecological choices are downplayed or ignored “because it’s what poor people do”.

On paper, yes, it’s faster. In reality, is it really? I use computers to write code, talk to other people, post on forums, connect to other computers, and… well, admin the servers I use to accomplish most of the first. It’s rather self referential and circular when you get down to it.

Computers have gotten radically faster in the past 25 years, except for the fact that they’re objectively slower to do all those things than they were 25 years ago. We’ve taken the surplus and gone with big, bloated, CPU-intensive solutions to things that now mostly talk to cloud data centers using ungodly amounts of energy in the invisible backend.

Element (flagship Matrix client) has a discernible lag between keyboard stroke and character appearing on screen, on a Raspberry Pi 4. AIM somehow managed to accomplish the same thing back on a 486 with 24MB of RAM and Windows 95/98 - but with less keystroke lag. At least there are “actual application” IRC clients still existing, as opposed to the electron/Node mess that most modern “desktop applications” have become.

Cell phones are light, small, and sip power… as long as you don’t look behind the curtain to the ever-increasing power of the cell networks and datacenters that power all the heavy lifting that phones appear to do.

The little “Clank” netbook I have struggles with most modern chat clients, and while it was a gutless wonder a decade ago, it was far from as challenging to use as it is today, because things have just gotten heavier.

Relevant from Greer: Rice and Beans in the Outer Darkness | Ecosophia

Computer latency: 1977-2017 - this has been true for awhile and is getting worse I feel. There’s an online order screen I use to order lunch sometimes and the text box for the “special requests” lags NOTICABLY on every keystroke.

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This reminds me of today’s HN discussion on the electric F150 - which seemed to mainly consist of people wondering how and why anyone would ever buy a pickup truck at all and how evil they must be to do so.

It was really kind of sad, in a way.

This is a perfect example of Jevon’s Paradox in action, in fact!

In part, both the initial topic, and later one around computer responsiveness is likely due to human (or at least western cultures) bias towards adding complexity rather than reducing it (see recent research below ^). It’s very hard to make things faster and or more efficient (time or energy wise). When approximately 90% of peoples default solution to any problem is to add additional things (with it’s associated increased resource cost) to solve the issue, rather than taking away things that are causing the problem (even if they’re not needed or of minimal value).

I wonder how more efficient things would be if the initial response to any issue (climate change, computer performance, environmental/societal collapse) was, what do we not need (personally or as a society), that thus can be removed to reduce/solve this problem?

^ Summary of the paper for those who don’t have access to nature: , full article for those that do:

While I don’t think “how more efficient” is the goal here - efficiency on its own is not necessarily a good thing - I think the stated concept of “reduction as first instinct” is indeed an essential statement of precisely the problem. Industrial civilization fundamentally cannot do this, in a sense by definition - the intent and purpose behind industrialization at all is to scale up - to utilize economies of scale and complexity to increase whatever the thing is that the industry is about. So, also by definition, if we were to adopt this philosophy on a societal scale, we would be de-industrializing.

To me, this is a (very straightforward) restatement of precisely the point of the book.

Isn’t a heat pump just AC in reverse? Should work anywhere, although some scenarios (like vacuum or cold, rarefied air) would be less efficient.

[quote=“Vertiginous, post:6, topic:464”]

I’m of the opinion that ground source heat pumps (HPs) don’t make sense for an individual home owner in the USA. Maybe some places in Canada, but even then you can throw the 20-40k of digging or drilling costs into a whole lot of insulation and air source HPs (doubled or tripled so you have enough capacity in really cold climates).

But here in Idaho, it gets to 0F once every few years for a few hours. Which means a $4000 air source HP can do most of my heating, only reverting to the backup (currently natgas) for an hour or so a day. If the backup were electric heating coils, it’d amount to 10-20 kWh a day. $1 a day can go for a long time before you make up the $15-35k difference in cost.

Cost in dollars, carbon footprint, and overall environmental impact correlate, roughly. You get what you pay for. There are cases to be made that a Prius for $25k is better than a civic for $18k, but it’s not a slamdunk (if you drive 20k miles per year, sure. 5k?). A first class plane ticket is (at least) 5x more impactful than economy/coach/cattle class. I wonder if all the carbon offset companies ask you what class you’re flying and charge you more if the airline could have seated 5x more people in your square footage.

I am putting this book on my reading list.

No surprises there. I’m taking another Ars break after similar weeds informed me that “I’m an edge case who lives with other edge cases on the edge, nobody actually makes dump runs, and self driving trailers will totally solve the problem anyway.” The supported range of conditions one is allowed to live in has gotten stiflingly narrow. Live in suburbia in a 5k sq ft home, drive 100 miles a day to work, buy a Tesla (with Autopilot, of course - driving long distances is way more convenient that way), well, no problems, you’re super awesome. Live in a smaller rural home, work from the property, own a pickup that you rarely drive, and… well, sorry, nobody cares what you think, by the way, you realize you can buy pills to solve your “little problem” without a large pickup, right? I mean, nobody actually needs a pickup truck so you’re obviously compensating for something. (rolleyes goes here)

Meanwhile, I actually know how much trash we generate, because I deal with it (about 600lb/yr for a family of four, though we’re running a good bit under that rate this year based on trailer fill). Recycling too, though I don’t weigh it. Way more plastics than I really like, but at least I can get the weird ones burned. In a cement plant. :confused:


I think the response is that you’d get told that you can’t shrink your way out of a problem caused by growth, that you obviously have to grow your way out of the problems caused by growth, and besides, someone needs that feature.

Interesting paper, thanks - certainly matches my experience across a range of topics. Problems caused by complexity? Add more complexity! Then automate the complexity so it’s manageable. And then when it breaks down entirely, find the guy who ran the system before automation because he’s the only person who actually understands what makes it work.

The various “Degrowth” movements are trying to work out the details there. I’m not too familiar with them, beyond knowing they exist. I should hunt down some of their literature when I get through my current high priority queue…

Air source heat pumps work just about anywhere. The problem is that in the extremes, they get far less efficient. I’ve looked up the chart for ours, and while it holds a COP (coefficient of performance, how many units of heat get moved for one unit of electrical input) of >1 down to -15F, it’s really falling off a lot below 10F or so.

If it’s 40F and you want to heat the house, yeah, they’re super efficient. If it’s 0F, they grind for a lot of the day. Plus, if it’s foggy, they tend to ice up badly. Short of a demand based defrost timer retrofit, I can either have it run efficiently most of the winter on a long defrost cycle and ice up in the fog, or I can have it constantly turning the backup coils on and defrosting, even though it doesn’t need it 95% of the time. I’m seriously debating a rotary switch to change the defrost timing on demand…

Peak demand in regions is either in the peak summer heat (air conditioners are having to “push uphill” rejecting heat into 100+F to cool the house which has a large heat flux in), or the dead of winter, with the reverse problem. In mild conditions, they’re great, but they do chew a lot more energy in the extremes.

Ground source helps because you’ve got a more or less constant 50F or so heat source to pull heat from or reject heat to. Plus, if you heat the ground during the summer, you can extract a bit of that heat during the early part of the winter. But they’re not cheap to put in, and require either a ton of earth moving (think “dig your yard down a few feet, lay coils, cover it back up”), or basically punching a well down, sealing the casing, etc. They’re a lot of work.

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@tomjleo @Vertiginous What do you see as “overpopulation”, as distinct from “any population will incur costs”?