Ebook: An Age of Limits — 1

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Overview

This 82 page ebook is the first in a series that supplement the book A New City of God and other publications, including the videos that we have prepared. It is available as a .pdf file, and can be purchased for $9.99 (U.S.) here.

The chapter titles and a summary of the their contents are shown below. The complete Table of Contents as a .pdf file can be downloaded here.

An Age of Limits

The following is taken from the Introduction to the ebook.


Our society is entering a time when we are encountering limits in many different areas, some of which are shown in the sketch.

Elements of the Age of Limits

Our national and international leaders are not providing the needed leadership to make the necessary transitions, partly because they generally do not have an in-depth understanding as to what is taking place, and also because any effective action will require that people make a substantial sacrifice in their standard of living. No elected politician is going to make this call.

Before deciding what actions to take the church needs to develop a theology that matches the times in which we live. It is suggested that the following points, as described in A New City of God, can provide a basis for such a theology.

  1.  Understand and tell the truth
  2.  Accept and adapt
  3.  Live within the biosphere, both spiritually and materially.

Chapter Overview

Alice and the Red Queen

red queen alice symbolizing peak oil peak waterThe fossil fuel industry, particularly the oil business, faces two basic challenges. The first is that it is increasingly difficult to find new sources of oil and other hydrocarbons to replace the oil and gas that is currently being used. The second challenge is to do with Energy Returned on Energy Invested (ERoEI). Increasing amounts of energy are needed just to find, extract and refine new sources of oil and natural gas. Moreover, ERoEI problems apply to other sources of energy such as solar and wind power.

Like the Red Queen in Through the Looking-Glass, the oil companies have to run faster and faster just to stay in the same place.

Rearranging the Deckchairs on the Episcopalian Titanic

Deckchairs Titanic symbolic of church actions

For many years, churches have been consumed by decisions to do with gender equality, same-sex marriage and cultural diversity. These are important topics, but, in an Age of Limits, they should not be given priority. Our society is running into existential difficulties related to climate change, resource depletion and the other topics shown in the Introduction. How we react to these predicaments, and how the church can provide leadership in increasingly difficult times, should be the focus of our efforts.

Denial

Inconvenient truth – reassuring lie
Bennett — Reproduced with permission

Much of the information and analysis provided in books such as this is well-established and is based on thorough scientific research; it really should not be all that controversial. Which raises the question as to why so many people seem to deny or ignore the looming situation given that it is so important? Some of the reasons for denial are described here.

Some level of denial comes from the unwillingness that we all feel to “think the unthinkable”. Many of the issues discussed in this book/video series are disturbing, even scary. We are talking about wrenching changes to our way of life, with many of those changes leading to a reduced standard of living. Therefore, it is human nature to put off talking about the issues.

It is important to understand that ‘denial’ is not just a simple us-and-them situation. All of us, to some extent, either deny what is going on, or at least adjust our perception so as to fit the facts with our pre-conceived beliefs.

The Green New Deal

Green New Deal Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez

The ‘Green New Deal’ is a political statement published in the year 2019. It advocates a rapid transition from an economy based on fossil fuels to one that uses primarily renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power.

Although the document has impressive aspirations, it falls down in a number of areas. Broadly, it does not comprehend project management realities — it is simply not possible to transform the whole of society in such a short time frame. A more subtle problem with the document is that it calls not just for a ‘green economy’ – a huge goal in and of itself — it also proposes social justice goals that are equally aspirational. Having two such goals detracts from the focus of the document.

Jevons Paradox

Industrial factories jevons paradox
William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882) lived at a time when Great Britain was going through a phase of rapid industrialization. The Industrial Revolution, which had started about 150 years earlier, was kicking into high gear. In the year 1865 he published The Coal Question; An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal Mines (they went in for long book titles in those days). Even though he was writing 150 years ago, the words he wrote in that book are as relevant now as they were then — merely substitute the word ‘oil’ for ‘coal’.

Personality Types

Briggs-Myers Isabel INTJ
Isabel Myers-Briggs (1897-1980)

Those who are interested in issues such as resource depletion and climate change are often puzzled as to why their concerns seem mostly to fall on deaf ears. After all, these issues are of the highest importance, given that we may be looking at the demise of our current civilization with many unpleasant features such as a drastic and rapid reduction in the world’s population. One reason for the lack of response may be to do with personality types — only a small fraction of the population have a mental make-up that drives them to be interested in these issues.

Thermodynamics

Homer Simpson laws of thermodynamics

Many of the issues discussed in this book/video series can be understood in terms of the laws of thermodynamics. These issues include the following.

  • Energy neither be created nor destroyed. Hence any proposal to “save energy” cannot work. Nor can energy be “renewed”. We can transform energy from one form to another. For example, we can burn gasoline in an automobile engine to create forward motion. But the total amount of energy involved remains the same (leaving aside nuclear power options).
  • Whenever energy is converted from one form to another waste heat that has to be discarded is created. This means that nothing that we do is “sustainable” — everything that we do leads to an increase in overall entropy. It also means that no machine can have “zero emissions”.
  • There is really no such thing as “clean energy”. Energy is simply energy. Some ways of transforming energy into useful work create generate less entropy than others. But none of them are “clean”.
  • No system — including a “green” person’s lifestyle — is thermodynamically sustainable.

Stoicism

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013). A stoic.

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react that matters.