The Green Mind

Finding the human place in nature

Facing the Specter of Environmental Doom

According to a NASA-funded study, industrial civilization may soon collapse: the social and ecological systems our lives depend on may suddenly fail on a massive scale due to overuse of resources, global climate change, and social inequality. Only by facing this possibility earnestly and fully—overcoming our collective denial without panic—can we avert it from happening Read More

NASA had nothing to do with the study.

"NASA officials released this statement on the study today (March 20): 'A soon-to-be published research paper, 'Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY): Modeling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies' by University of Maryland researchers Safa Motesharrei and Eugenia Kalnay, and University of Minnesota's Jorge Rivas, was not solicited, directed or reviewed by NASA. It is an independent study by the university researchers utilizing research tools developed for a separate NASA activity. As is the case with all independent research, the views and conclusions in the paper are those of the authors alone. NASA does not endorse the paper or its conclusions.'"

You were punked.

Is that relevant?

Dear Reader,

Thank you for your comment.

I read NASA's statement about the study and news reports about that statement carefully before writing this post.

If you've been in the academic world for a while, you see such statements from funders routinely in response to studies with findings that may be controversial. NASA's statement is a routine disclaimer that they are not responsible for the findings of the study, which the agency itself implies was done using tools developed for/by NASA, as I also imply in my post.

You'll notice that NASA says nothing about the validity of the study, which has been accepted for publication in a serious peer-reviewed journal.

It's especially understandable that NASA might seek to clarify its relationship to these findings since their own funding (currently up for debate) depends on the will of US congresspeople, many of whom would object to such findings on the grounds that, if true, they imply the need for political response, which many such congresspeople, particularly conservative ones (see my previous post), are ideologically set against.

But the bottom line is that none of this is particularly important or central to my post. The findings of this peer-reviewed study carried out by respected scientists and about-to-be-published in a peer-reviewed journal ARE important, regardless of whether NASA had a role in them.

Ken Worthy

PS "Punked" implies intent on the part of someone. I don't think there's any evidence of intent to deceive by the journalist, report authors, or NASA. Nor is there evidence that the report findings are even suspect.

I'm not in the academic world at all . . .

. . . but for you to pass on the incorrect information that a NASA study predicted doom for the planet is not what I consider responsible academic behavior.

I happen to agree with the certainty that we are headed for global catastrophe if we don't address the climate issue immediately, but let's be truthful, instead of reaching for attention grabbing headlines.

If you weren't punked, and purposely passed on incorrect information, no matter why, then your error is even more egregious.

Re: Not in the academic world

Dear reader,

Please note that nowhere do I say this is a NASA study. The confusion may come from a distinction that may not be clear outside the world of academic research: NASA is an agency that does a lot of engineering and science itself, and it also provides funds (as does the NSF and other government agencies) to scientists not in its employ for them to carry out independent research. The latter situation is what I am referring to and which pertains to the study I discuss.

The fact that some such funded scientists came up with findings that NASA (I think rightly, for political reasons) cannot necessarily espouse or promote doesn't change the fact that NASA (and NSF) money supported this research, directly and in the development of models that the authors of the study used.

The references to NASA and NSF certainly give more credibility (rightly so, I think) to these scientists than if they had no support whatsoever from such agencies, so I think it's relevant.

best wishes,


this is all well and good, but...

The problem isn't so much denial, rather it's what we do about it. The unfortunate truth is that with our current technology, it is very difficult for a democracy to cut back its use of fossil fuels to the extent needed to seriously slow the increase in CO2. Politicians who implement sufficiently strict measures will get voted out of office due to the economic impact.

Conservation efforts are helpful, but in the long run we have no choice but to hope for and work towards technology breakthroughs which will make green energy cheaper and more practical than fossil fuels. Then the problem takes care of itself.

Re: this is all well and good, but..

Dear reader,

The idea that technology will save us is a longstanding assumption in the modern world, but it's also one that may lead to our demise.

We make choices all the time about lifestyle; we're not forced to live beyond the means of the planet to support us. Technology mustn't be used as a way of avoiding changing our lifestyles, in my view.

best wishes,


true, but...

Technology has already saved us. We couldn't reliably produce and deliver the food, medicine to prevent rampant epidemics, etc. to 7 billion people without technology.

What you say about changing our lifestyles is correct. However, I think it's a pipe dream to think you can get the vast majority of people to dial back their lives sufficiently to go green enough to reduce CO2 levels worldwide at this point. Doing it just for the US won't be enough. You have to convince India, China, and many other developing countries. Conservation methods can put a dent in it, but nothing close to what is needed to reverse CO2 levels at this point.

Just as an example of a breakthrough, we know from high school chemistry how carbon combustion works, and how photosynthesis is the reverse. It is theoretically possible that there is a nanotechnology molecular pathway that's simpler than biological photosynthesis and its supporting biology. However, that level of molecular construction is beyond our design capability at present. But, for example, such an approach could theoretically allow for solar arrays in the Arizona desert to produce synthetic gasoline from mere sunlight, water, and the carbon dioxide in the air. In which case we wouldn't even need to go to electric cars, etc. Then you would have a sustainable energy cycle using our current fossil fuel energy infrastructure.

The non-technology route you seem to favor is not impossible either. But first I think it simply means a substantial reduction in the human population, combined with the conventional conservation methods which are now employed.

But I submit that the conservation-alone approach is politically impossible to implement to a sufficient degree, while the technology approach has real potential over the next decades.

Just because this is a longstanding assumption doesn't make it invalid. And just because technology may be mankind's demise in the long run, also has no bearing on the fact that technology is really the only politically practical solution in the next few decades.

Re: true, but...

Dear reader,

Technology vs. non-technology is a false choice--technology is part of humanity. We can't exist without it.

The only question then is what is meant by technology. Today, the exuberance of the rapid development of all sorts of "high" technologies leads people to equate that with technology, a mistaken assumption. The main characteristic of that kind of technology is that it's mostly capital driven.

I'm all in favor of _appropriate_ technologies. An example is intercropping combined with integrated pest control techniques, which mimic nature and can produce very high outputs. The counterexample is genetic engineering of crops, which has been successful at producing superweeds and concentrating control of agriculture into a handful of corporations.

Using nano-technology to produce gasoline is certainly a sexy idea, but often such attractive ideas, with their flashy upsides, deflect our attention from all of the downsides. Nano-technology in particular is infusing our environments with nanoparticles, the health and environmental effects of which are a huge mystery.

I'm afraid this could turn into a very long side discussion and divert attention to my interest here, which is more along the lines of the psychology (and then the politics) of why silver-bullet technological changes are so much more appealing than coming to terms with the limitations of being human and then developing technologies that take into account the full human and ecological context and are thus more benevolent and sustainable.

Ken Worthy

in summary

Good points, there are always tradeoffs. So my main points are that conserving to the degree that is needed to turn around the situation is not politically possible in a democracy.

And I don't think eliminating denial will do much to help the problem either. Believing there's a problem and actually doing the heavy lifting required through conservation are two different things. I've always been amused by the young idealistic people knocking on my door to sign whatever environmental partition, supposedly people who are not in denial. And then I look out at the road and see the car they drove in -- typically a big gas guzzler. Gee, couldn't you guys just make the token showing of driving at least a Prius, if not a plug-in electric?

Everybody loves lots of talk and it doesn't impress me.

can't spell

Petition, of course, not partition.

Yeah, so what car do you drive Kenneth? :)

We need sustainable energy

We need sustainable energy policies, Ban Fracking and implement a California Residential Feed in Tariff.

Roof top Solar is the new mantra for Solar Leasing Companies with Net-Metering which allows them to replace One Utility with Another, we need to change this policy with a Residential Feed in Tariff that will level the playing field and allow all of us to participate in the State mandated 33% Renewable Energy by 2020.

Alliance for Solar Choice is a group of Solar Leasing Companies that with Net-Metering enable One Utility to Replace Another SLC, Why should a Hard Working, Tax Paying, Voting, Home Owning Citizen not be able to participate in the State mandated 33% Renewable Energy by 2020 ? We need a Ca. Residential Feed in Tariff and a National One.

The Utilities, The Big Boys (Solar Farms in the Desert) and Third party Leasing Companies all fight over the Renewable Portfolio Standards, allocating a percentage of the electrical generation to Renewable Energy for the State, No one is Fighting for the Hard Working, Tax Paying, Voting, Home Owner. We can change that.

Globally we are emitting 40-44 Billion tons of Green House Gases annually, in the United States we emit over 7,075.6 million tons a year, here in California we emit 446 million tons of Carbon Dioxide a year, 1,222,000 Toxic Tons a Day.

"Tell the California Public Utility Commission: No new dirty gas plants!
Every year, more than 70,000 California kids are rushed to the hospital because they can’t breathe, due to air pollution in Calfiornia.

Unfortunately the Governor and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) are considering huge new gas-fired power plants to replace the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Dirty gas plants will make our Air, Water and Soil, worse and just aren't needed.

We can't sit by and let our Air, Water, and Soil, get dirtier and our kids even sicker, when we've got cheaper, cleaner, safer options like Renewable Energy." Sierra Club.

California, there is enough Residential Solar to power 2.25 San Onofres, couple that with a Residential and Commercial Feed in Tariff and we can solve some of these environmental and electrical generating problems.

The Southwest is in the midst of a record drought, some 14 years in the making, which means the water supply for many Western states - California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada - is drying up. Last month the Bureau of Reclamation announced they're cutting the flow of water into Lake Mead, which has already lost 100 feet of water since the drought began.

What happens if the Southwest drought does not end soon ?

Will we keep using 3 to 6 million gallons of Clean Water per Fracked well, to extract natural gas ?

This petition will ask the California Regulators and Law makers to allocate Renewable Portfolio Standards to Ca. Home Owners for a Residential Feed in Tariff, the RPS is the allocation method that is used to set aside a certain percentage of electrical generation for Renewable Energy in the the State.

The State of California has mandated that 33% of its Energy come from Renewable Energy by 2020.

The state currently produces about 71% of the electricity it consumes, while it imports 8% from the Pacific Northwest and 21% from the Southwest.

This is how we generate our electricity in 2011, natural gas was burned to make 45.3% of electrical power generated in-state. Nuclear power from Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County accounted for 9.15%, large hydropower 18.3%, Renewable 16.6% and coal 1.6%.

There is 9% missing from San Onofre and with the current South Western drought, how long before the 18.3% hydro will be effected ?

Another generator of power that jumps out is natural gas, 45.3%, that is a lot of Fracked Wells poisoning our ground water, 3 to 6 million gallons of water are used per well.

If Fracking is safe why did Vice Pres Cheney lobby and win Executive, Congressional, and Judicial exemptions from:

Clean Water Act.

Safe Drinking Water.

Act Clean Air Act.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Emergency Planning Community Right to Know Act.

National Environmental Policy Act.

"Americans should not have to accept unsafe drinking water just because natural gas is cheaper than Coal. the Industry has used its political power to escape accountability, leaving the American people unprotected, and no Industry can claim to be part of the solution if it supports exemptions from the basic Laws designed to ensure that we have Clean Water and Clean Air" Natural Resources Defense Council.

We have to change how we generate our electricity, with are current drought conditions and using our pure clean water for Fracking, there has to be a better way to generate electricity, and there is, a proven stimulating policy.

The Feed in Tariff is a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in Renewable Energy, the California FiT allows eligible customers generators to enter into 10- 15- 20- year contracts with their utility company to sell the electricity produced by renewable energy, and guarantees that anyone who generates electricity from R E source, whether Homeowner, small business, or large utility, is able to sell that electricity. It is mandated by the State to produce 33% R E by 2020.
FIT policies can be implemented to support all renewable technologies including:


Photovoltaics (PV)

Solar thermal




Fuel cells

Tidal and wave power.

There is currently 3 utilities using a Commercial Feed in Tariff in California Counties, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, and Sacramento, are paying their businesses 17 cents per kilowatt hour for the Renewable Energy they generate. We can get our Law makers and Regulators to implement a Residential Feed in Tariff, to help us weather Global Warming, insulate our communities from grid failures, generate a fair revenue stream for the Homeowners and protect our Water.

The 17 cents per kilowatt hour allows the Commercial Business owner and the Utility to make a profit.

Commercial Ca. rates are 17 - 24 cents per kilowatt hour.

Implementing a Residential Feed in Tariff at 13 cents per kilowatt hour for the first 2,300 MW, and then allow no more than 3-5 cents reduction in kilowatt per hour, for the first tier Residential rate in you area and for the remaining capacity of Residential Solar, there is a built in Fee for the Utility for using the Grid. A game changer for the Hard Working, Voting, Tax Paying, Home Owner and a Fair Profit for The Utility, a win for our Children, Utilities, and Our Planet.

We also need to change a current law, California law does not allow Homeowners to oversize their Renewable Energy systems.

Campaign to allow Californian residents to sell electricity obtained by renewable energy for a fair pro-business market price. Will you read, sign, and share this petition?

Do not exchange One Utility for Another (Solar Leasing Companies) "Solar is absolutely great as long as you stay away from leases and PPAs. Prices for solar have dropped so dramatically in the past year, that leasing a solar system makes absolutely no sense in today's market.

The typical household system is rated at about 4.75 kW. After subtracting the 30% federal tax credit, the cost would be $9,642 to own this system. The typical cost to lease that same 4.75 kW system would be $35,205 once you totaled up the 20 years worth of lease payments and the 30% federal tax credit that you'll have to forfeit when you lease a system. $9,642 to own or $35,205 to lease. Which would you rather choose?

If you need $0 down financing then there are much better options than a lease or PPA. FHA is offering through participating lenders, a $0 down solar loan with tax deductible interest and only a 650 credit score to qualify. Property Assessed Clean Energy loans are available throughout the state that require no FICO score checks, with tax deductible interest that allow you to make your payments through your property tax bill with no payment due until November 2014. Both of these programs allow you to keep the 30% federal tax credit as well as any applicable cash rebate. With a lease or PPA you'll have to forfeit the 30% tax credit and any cash rebate, and lease or PPA payments are not tax deductible.

Solar leases and PPA served their purpose two years ago when no other viable form of financing was available, but today solar leases and PPAs are two of the most expensive ways to keep a solar system on your roof." Ray Boggs.

gas vs. coal

As much as natural gas plants produce CO2, I'm not impressed with people who want to shut them down and don't offer solutions which aren't more expensive. Because if you don't want natural gas plants, a lot of that energy now gets replaced by coal, which generates energy by producing pure CO2, rather than the mix of water and CO2 that burning natural gas does.

Basically, I'm not impressed by anyone suggesting NOT building and shutting down something unless they offer reasonable, affordable, and technologically viable options to at least equal the generating capacity they propose to eliminate. Otherwise, they are nothing but hot air -- of the greenhouse gas producing kind at that.

car process deal

Please let me know if youre looking for a author for your weblog.
You have some really great Residential Solar Los Angeles
articles and I feel I would be a good asset.

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Kenneth Worthy, Ph.D., author of Invisible Nature, is a research associate at the University of California, Santa Cruz.


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