64 Comments
Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

You’ve amassed some damning evidence of our complete and utter failure to change things. Our need to consume and advance is pathological, especially here in my country. As you articulate here, the only answer is to want less. What’s not clear to me is how we get off that conveyor belt. Thanks for providing a continuous wake up call.

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Hi Ben, thanks a lot for stopping by and leaving a comment. Great hearing from you not his topic. I'm also not sure how to do this. Perhaps we can start with some obvious things, like less fashion, eating regional food that was not shipped by airplane, less cars, etc. At the same time, how do we control people who are massively rich from plundering the planet in the pursuit of getting even richer? Do we need more Amazon deliveries? I do believe that we should advance technologically as a society but that we should so in another form of society. Not capitalist. Is that possible? It's something that I'd like to explore more here on Story Voyager.

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

I think winner-takes-all capitalism is so deeply entrenched in the fabric of the U.S. that nothing can curb it. We seem to be insatiable and it saddens me. Our country could very well re-elect a man who is a devourer of worlds just because he's perceived as a "winner" in the world of material worth and that seems to be all the majority cares about here.

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This is exactly the mentality that I think needs to change. The current definition of a 'winner' is not absolute, it's something we invented. We can change our mind about what it means to be a winner in this unique life as a human on this planet. It might not happen today or tomorrow or within our lifetime, but it will happen. We have changed the way we think many times during our time as a species on this earth. Nothing is forever.

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Just like personal change, corporate change often happens as a result of a rock bottom. Changing before it’s terrible is so difficult. I don’t think we’ve hit that point yet. I hope we are close.

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Mar 24·edited Mar 24Author

I also don't think we've hit that point yet. What do you think about the ideas of Bezos and Musk of colonising other planets? I loved reading Octavia Butler's 'Parable of the sower' and the follow-up book and I was fascinated by the religion she created there. I wonder if they take part of their ideas from her. In any case, I don't trust that men like these two will lead us into a better future. We'll be like the belters in The Expanse working as miners on the satellites of Jupiter depending on Bezos to give us air to breathe.

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

We have the tech to change our world here. I think we have to invest in what we can already do, and invest to develop new tech to help earth. To say we can colonize another place that is currently uninhabitable by natural methods, as compared to changing here and fixing the mess we’ve made is for men with delusions of grandeur.

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It could be a new mission for humanity to populate the stars but for sure not under these two. Like this, more people could be born but we wouldn't put so much strain on one planet. However, there is evidence that it's almost impossible for the human body to survive and be healthy in space for a long time. We're still deponent on this planet and we need to do everything we can to keep it healthy and thriving. It's still the only living planet that we know of.

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Mar 26Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

This is such an important essay, and I feel so at a loss for how to fix it. It feels so clear that we need to transition to green energy (which does appear to be happening rapidly) but we also need to drastically reduce livestock production (which doesn’t appear to be happening at all). There are also whole industries that are excessive and need to be eliminated (fast-fashion, etc.) I’d be very curious to learn your ideas for a post-capitalist society that would achieve this because I definitely think we need a huge overhaul of the capitalist system but I need to think through what that might look like in practice.

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Thanks for reading, Elle. I think that it's good to know where we stand so that we can think of possible solutions. I have no idea how the future could look like. But I had a thought today: if we want to have more technology and use our energy budget for that, perhaps we should give up some other human activities that also use a lot of energy: working for home more so that we don't have to commute so much on a daily basis, more public transport and less cars, less fashion, less food that flies around in airplanes and more regionally grown stuff. What can we trade off from our current existence to achieve the future that we want? Where does it make sense to invest our energy and where does it make sense to stop wasting? Also, I ask myself again and again, how can we change the way wee see nature and our relationship with it? These are some things that I would like to write about more in the future. Changing the way we think will be a collective effort.

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

So important that information like this gets out there in such a clear, concise, easily consumable way. Thank you.

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Thank you, Shoni. I tried to keep it to 1,000 words as Elle recommended but it turned out 1,500. In any case, I found the limitation beneficial, otherwise this would be again another piece of 5,000 words that nobody would read. (I wouldn't read a 5,000 words newsletter!) Happy that it work and it was an easy read. 🙏

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Well, it depends. The newsletter that I edit (Uncharted Territories) often crosses the 5k word mark, as does something like The Age of Invention. From what I can see, your longer posts still got plenty of engagement, so lots of ppl really enjoy those deep dives. But it's an art to fit more into less, and it works well here. I agree the limit from Elle is useful (and difficult!).

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Do you mean Uncharted Territories by Tomas Pueyo?

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Yeah. Love it.

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You edit the newsletter?

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Yes. For over 2 years now. You read it, I take it? All 5k words hahaa.

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Very discouraging, but an important and well laid out essay.

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Hi Brian, thanks for reading and leaving a comment. The information has always been there, it's discouraging only if we look at it 😅. But it's also a chance to reflect on what we could change, what else we could try that would really make a difference. For once, maybe stop being such a materialistic species. Can't we have other values in life? I'd like to explore more how we could shift our mindset for a better world.

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

I have a friend who is an architect who is focused on revitalizing and repurposing old buildings instead of building new as the environmental impact is so much higher for a new build. I work as a consultant and am working to do more virtually to minimize my time spent in airplanes. The little things add up. But I do believe unless we legislate to force change, it will be too slow as we’re seeing.

Also interesting to see the total carbon output from the last 250 years. I’m a believer that the higher the offender the more responsibility you have to curb your carbon appetite and to finance those that have been lost impacted (usually the lowest total emitters)….

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It's great to see or read examples of people trying to chip in their contribution to this issue. Companies like face-2-face meetings and rightly so but going virtual is a good solution especially when travelling long distances is involved. But it's hard to avoid it. As you rightly mentioned, legislation is needed to regulate CO2 emissions, it cannot be left to me and you to save the world. It doesn't work like that. I remember reading in one book that one of the best way for regular citizens to contribute to solutions is by putting pressure on governments for proper legislation. Would be interesting to dive deeper into this and learn how it can be done. It's a good idea but normal citizens like me don't know how to even start doing this.

I thought that the cumulative CO2 emissions since the beginning of the industrial era would be an interesting metric to see. Agree that the biggest polluters should do more.

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

I agree so much. Time after time, we prove to ourself that materialism/consumerism doesn’t bring real satisfaction, but time and time again people still go towards it.

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Yes, it's a curse! We see it all around us and we're taught to live in a certain way. It will take a huge effort to change. And judging by how we humans function, we won't change until the status quo is too painful to maintain.

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Mar 27·edited Mar 27Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Thank you for writing this, and for your work.

I am reminded of the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Published in early 90s yet so relevant still. You may have read it already, but it’s a fantastic tale with a message about humanity’s current path. In particular I was blown away by the points about how one day we just started being ”agriculturally maximal” (the only term i can come with to describe it). We always want to grow more, so we eat more, reproduce more, which makes us need to grow more…

So much more to the book but I feel like the essence of it resonates with what you’ve said (in other comments too): It’s not just about less CO2, it’s about changing how we view life itself, what we aim for as humans, and thus how we operate as societies.

No idea how to achieve that change though 😂 Quinn wrote a sequel which is meant to be more solution oriented but i have not read it.

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Thanks for reading, Salman, and for taking the time to leave a comment.

I don't know Daniel Quinn, I'm adding the books to my Goodreads cli-fi list. I read 10 books last year and this year I have another list of 10 books. This will most probably go on next year's list. I'll mention that you recommended ;).

I absolutely believe the we must change the way we live our lives, reconsider our values and our view of nature and human civilization and progress. We too stuck on material growth and exploitation and consumption. I think it's time to leave these ideas behind.

I don't know how to do it, but I think that we should start by looking at our past. I'm writing a series of articles about climate change in the pre-industrial era to have a look at how it all started. Our modern view of the world was actually a result of a climate change episode that affected Europe in a massive way: The Little Ice Age. It tore the fabric of society as people know it and gave birth to humanism, enlightenment, colonialism and ultimately the modern world. I will explore that in episode 3 and in episode 4 I will explore historical societies and their values and views.

Once I'm done with this, I plan to focus on the human-nature relationship.

Let's see where this leads. In any case, we need a new philosophy of life. That's what I believe.

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Mar 25Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Another startling and confronting read, Claudia. Thanks for pulling all this data together and making it easily digestible. It's a bit alarming and sad to see clean energy seemingly not increasing since 2019 (unless I'm reading the graph wrong). I'd be curious to see those charts per country to see where any major shifts are being made.

I assume German's annual CO2 emission line trending down in the third graph is due to nuclear?

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Thanks for stopping by, Nathan. It didn't sound confronting in my head when I wrote it, but I do understand that it may come across as such. Unfortunately, it was easier than I thought to pull all the data together. It feels likes it's under our noses the whole time but we just don't look at it.

I love your questions, don't know the answers, but I would like to write a follow up about green energy and the current state. I hadn't noticed that the clean energy production hasn't increased since 2019. Worth doing a little research there.

Not sure about the current state of nuclear energy in Germany. But in Austria nuclear plants are not desired, though we do buy nuclear energy from Czech Republic. It's all very complicated and there's also a lot of green washing where energy that is not green can be bought and then passed through a process at the end of which it is green... Nobody understands anymore.

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Mar 26Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Complicated indeed. Appreciate all the insight. I should know more about where Australia sits in all this but without looking up some data I couldn't say for sure. There has been increased expenditure in green energy recently, which is promising, but it always seems to feel too little given the size of the country, how much space, sunlight, wind etc is available.

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I'm curious to look at all this data. Would be interesting to checkout especially the progress of the major polluters. Another thing that I would like to check but perhaps this is harder, is also how our energy consumption has changed over the past years. We introduced crypto, AI, there's more activity online since COVID. I assume that the renewable energy production goals need to be adjusted based on the energy needs. It's an exciting topic to research and it's cool that there's interest.

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I agree: we need a massive mind-shift leading to a values shift leading to a dramatic change in our aspirations and lifestyle. It may only come about the way it did in the SU, through "collapse" of the existing system. That collapse will be traumatizing to live through, but those who survive will have the potential to regenerate a new (and ancient, back to the future) form of sustainable society. I am curious to try to imagine what will survive that cataclysm. Will we retain access to our computers, to the internet? How will we travel? I don't think we will go back to the Stone Age, but who knows? It's a scary privilege to live in on the brink of tremendous systems change. Ready or not....

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Hi Jennifer, thanks for your insightful comment. You wrapped up in a single paragraph everything that I tried to transmit with my article and in such a beautiful and eloquent way.

I also fear that it will take a system collapse to wake us up from our slumber. I'm actually serializing a climate fiction book here on Substack in which I explore exactly what you mentioned, the end of the cataclysm and the beginning of a new world. I imagine the new world much more advanced technologically but zero materialistic. I also believe that it will be a 'back to the future' in the sense that we will get a lot of inspiration from ancient 'schools' of thought to rethink our place on this planet and what it means to be a human.

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You may be interested to read Arkan Lushwala's most recent book, where he is sharing just this kind of ancestral wisdom, explicitly with the intention of providing road maps into our uncertain future. He draws on his Andean/Amazonian ancestral knowledge (he's from Peru) as well as a lifetime of spiritual practice. It's called The Spirit of the Glacier Speaks.

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Thank you so much, I'm looking for this kind of readings. So far I have a book on world religions, it's called 'Ecological imaginations in the world religions: An ethnographic analysis' by Tony Watling, I'm happy to add another title to my list. Did you read the book already?

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I am reading it now. I read and enjoyed his previous two books.

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He looks like a promising author, happy to have found him through you. Enjoy the read!

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May 26Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

When there is enough for everyone and there is the technology and means for everyone to have a life of quality i never understand why there is always a drive for growth. growth requires more consumption... what is wrong with the constancy of enough? I am so deeply pessimistic about the strength of the acquisitive minority that drive the world's economies, protect their domains and build apetites for consumption. They somehow always rise to the top.

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Our economic system works only if growth is involved. I'm not an economist and I don't know how this could be changed, but it's something worth exploring especially in fiction. It's probably also a good starting point because we want things to get better in the world but at the same time we don't want to give up a level of comfort as human beings. I think this can be achieved without the kind of growth we pursue today. But how exactly? It's something that remains to be explored and I'll give it a shot in my next novel.

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Good article! And I must say that you do write well:)

There are only two things which I did not like about this article:

i) that you regard Romania as having been communism. It seems to me that you have some misconceptions about what communism is supposed to be. Some reading on the topic will probably solve those misconceptions.

ii) that you consider EU's goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 commendable.

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Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment.

Where do you come from? In which country did you grow up?

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If you are wondering if I grew up in Romania, the answer is no. But growing up in a country does not necessarily mean that the one who has grown up there knows more about it, particularly about topics such as politics, etc. It also does not mean they are more capable to assess those things.

That people in Romania, or more specifically those who were in power, liked to call themselves communists does not mean that they were indeed communists. People can think of themselves all sorts of things, but that doesn’t necessarily make them true.

I’m pretty sure that you have some empirical knowledge of what Romania’s politics and economy was. If you do get some knowledge on the topics of socialism and communism, though, my bet is that you will stop perceiving Romania as having been communist too.

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I appreciate your willingness to rehabilitate the meaning of the word communism. However, you will not be able to do that by admonishing people like me. As someone who studied languages and culture my advice is to just look for a word less tainted by history. I agree that we need a better social system. Please don’t call it communism.

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I’m not trying to rehabilitate the meaning of the word communism. I simply spotted a mistake in your article and thought you would want to know it. You can either look it up, based on my suggestion, and realise it yourself or simply ignore my message and keep repeating it.

This is why I referred to the EU’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 too. I regard it as a mistake, if one wants to stay under 1.5C. Therefore, I don’t think it is particularly commendable.

Thank you for writing the article.

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Thanks for reading.

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Exactly this: "Ultimately, it won’t be technology alone that saves our species from disaster, but a shift in mindset." Thank you for writing this piece, Claudia. I'm writing a near-future science fiction novel about the "polycrisis" and how the world might respond to a number of civilizational threats. Many threats appear to be intractable permanent problems because human nature is immutable, and the pleasures progress offers are so irresistible. But I have to keep reminding myself that the future is unknowable—a fact that can give us a different kind of hope, albeit a very uncomfortable kind.

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Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, John. Your fiction project sounds very interesting and it is worth exploring how we could potentially respond to crisis. I try to explore the aftermath of the crisis going towards hope in my current fiction writing.

I agree that human nature poses a great obstacle on the path to change and that there will always be destructive elements no matter what society we live in. But looking at our past, I would say that we lived already in wildly different societies with values, beliefs and lifestyles that don’t resemble ours. We have the celts who helped green the planet after the last ice age, we have the indigenous communities around the equator that developed the seeds for our food over thousands of years. I would like to explore more past societies that left us a wealth of natural resources and lived with a different mentality on this planet and let them inspire us to live a better future.

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Are you aware that the temperature impact of a fixed addition of CO2 diminishes as the atmospheric level rises. Consider a 100 billion ton addition of CO2 to a initial level 300, 400, 500 and 600 ppm. Assuming a 2.5 C climate sensitivity, these additions would increase equilibrium temperature by 0.15, 0.12, 0.092 and 0.077 deg C, respectively.

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Thanks for reading and for your comment. May I ask what this means in plain terms?

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Mar 25Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

It means that the temperature impact of a given increase in emissions falls as the CO2 level rises. Your figure 5 suggests global emissions have flattened out. If this continues for a period of time, the rate of temperature rise will slow. Before this flat period, the emissions rose each year. A rising rate translates to a roughly constant rate of temperature rate. This is what we have seen since 1975. If you extrapolate that linear trend forward you get about 2.5 C of warming by 2100. If CO2 emissions remain constant, the temperature rise will slow as the century progresses and the temperature in 2100 will be less than 2.5 C. That is a good thing. When I first looking into this stuff 15 years ago the projections were for 3 C. Now they may end up around 2 C, and with serious action, projected to begin around the end of this decade (see below) it might not even get to 2 C by 2100.

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My projection for when people get serious about global warming is based on tobacco. It took 30 years for the discovery than cigarettes cause cancer in the 1930's and government response to the issue (cigarette TV ads banned), and about 40 years after that before effective action was taken to restrict the places where one can smoke.

Global warming became accepted theory in 1967. About 20 years after than (1988) it was officially announced as a problem and people became aware of it. I expect effective action will start being taken around 40 years later, as was the case with tobacco.

The mechanism I propose responsible for the delay is the time it takes for people who came of age after 1988 become a majority in the top positions in society (i.e. the "pre-global warming" generations will have aged out).

I have written a couple of posts on the development of the science and a toy model for global warming:

https://mikealexander.substack.com/p/how-global-warming-became-scientific

https://mikealexander.substack.com/p/a-simple-math-model-for-global-warming

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The International Energy Agency did suggest that there could be a peak, however I know very little about what this peak could mean for global warming on the long term. I would need to read more to share my take on this. Perhaps it's another article for the future. Thanks for sharing your research.

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

In my lifetime, the world's population has increased by over 300%; yes, I'm in my 80s. So, it's unsurprising that people and nations need more energy to increase prosperity. The long-term good news is that experts predict the world's population will decline.

Our hope is to couple a decline in energy demand with technological advances and a realistic approach to transitioning from fossil fuels to new energy sources.

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Hi Ray, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's amazing that you've witnessed such a population increase during our lifetime. It would be interesting to know how you experienced the world when there was three times less population. Did it feel different? It looks like it went up from 4.4 to 7.8 billion in my lifetime. I don't know if I feel any difference. Maybe because I moved from a small city to a bigger city and I think it's normal to have more people around.

I think that a decline in energy demand needs to be coupled with a new way of life. We are too focused on material possessions. We are too obsessed with getting rich. With having stuff. Is it not possible to be technologically advanced but have other life aspirations?

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Claudia, when my father came home from WW II, we lived in a small East Hartford, Connecticut community. It was the best; people knew their neighbors, the focus of everyone I knew was the family, religion was important, and there was pride in America and being American.

With advancing technology, America prospered, which was a good thing. But I don't recognize today's America. Climate change is just one of our problems. Americans have lost faith and trust in government agencies, journalism, politics, and politicians. Distrust severely hampers the way we deal with problems. Unfortunately, climate change, a global issue, is becoming a political problem without a solution.

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Excellent essay, though I'm much more optimistic than you are I think. Two hundred years is a lot of time in which to make huge technological strides that we cannot conceive right now.

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Thanks for reading, Terry and for your comment. I don't think it's a matter of being pessimistic or optimistic, it's a matter of looking at the numbers. As long as our collective efforts don't move the needle, we haven't done anything. Hope is beautiful, but it cannot change reality. I'm sure things will change but not in the way we hope today. It will take a massive shift in everything that we believe and stand for.

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Good essay! I think I’m a bit more optimistic than you are, which is surprising, considering how pessimistic I am. With the way things are progressing in renewable and clean energy, I think we probably can get to a real net zero in 200 years, but probably not by 2050 (just my completely non-technical opinion). But with the way scientists are freaking out over last year’s global temperatures and ice melt, we probably don’t have that much time.

A couple of questions: I’m intrigued by the idea of “digitalizing” the grid, but I’m not sure what it means. Something like a Nest thermostat? And why does it have to include blockchain? Is there a form of blockchain that doesn’t consume vast amounts of energy? (Taken together, AI, the cloud, and crypto are going to consume so much energy that our individual choices hardly matter - except maybe swearing off using Dall-E.)

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Oops, I just noticed that the image at the top may be AI-generated. I didn’t mean that last bit as any kind of personal dig.

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Hi Larry, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I wouldn't say that I am pessimistic but I do like to look at the numbers. If we're taking action but nothing is happening the logical conclusion is that we must change our strategy. Can we advance technologically but cut energy consumption in other areas? Like fashion? Shipping food around the world? And yes, generating images with Midjourney like I just did (and I will have to do some research on how much energy that costs).

The amount of energy generated needs to always match the energy demand otherwise the transmission line get overloaded and this can lead to a blackout. For this, the grid needs to get information about energy consumption every 15 minutes to balance the load by adjusting the energy generation. With fossil fuels it's easy to control the energy regeneration. But with renewable energy it's harder: the production is distributed and unstable as it depends on the time of the day, the seasons, the sun wind conditions. The grid needs to be able to communicate with all these distributed energy producers to balance the load. There is blockchain technology that is very economic in terms of energy consumption. But it's not sure if every country will use blockchain. Austria is currently discussing what technology to use for digitalising its grid. This is the only EU country that created a legal framework for energy communities and it still hasn't started digitalizing its grid! If there's interest, I could write something about this. I've also only scratched the surface so far, I'm not an electrical engineer. 😅

Is AI as bad as crypto in terms on energy consumption?

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

Thanks for the reply! I think I knew about the need for load-balancing but didn’t know there was a term for it. A post explaining it and how blockchain comes into it would be most welcome!

On AI, I think the server farms do use lots of energy. Sam Altman said something about needing an energy revolution to keep AI going. Not sure where I read it in the information tsunami that is Substack, but I’ll try to find it.

Obviously, the biggest increase in GHGs in recent years has come from China. Shouldn’t we be encouraged by all the renewables they’re putting in? I have to think that will lead to them getting rid of some of those coal plants, if only for the health of their own people.

And one of the links you posted covered the prediction that we could be nearing peak CO2 emissions. Isn’t that some progress?

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Mar 24Liked by Claudia Befu Ibarra

I couldn’t find the article with the quote from Altman, but I did find this on the interwebs: https://spectrum.ieee.org/ai-energy-consumption

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Thanks a lot, Larry. Another topic to research.

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I am not sure what nearing peak emissions means. Can we continue releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere and nothing will happen? I don't think so. There are also so many systems on this planet that have compensated our CO2 emissions by absorbing and processing part of those emissions. However, these systems are nearing their capacity of doing so. What will happen at that point? Also, if we don't do anything by the time we're nearing peak emissions, will global warming continue to increase? Because of all these questions, I cannot call that progress.

China is the biggest emitter but historically speaking it's second after the USA. In the end, it probably doesn't matter. But I think that it's sobering up who know who the top polluters are historically and in recent years.

I did a quick research on AI and energy consumption and it looks bad...

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