© 2023 Paul Mobbs; released under the Creative Commons license.
Created: 6th January 2023.
Length: ~2,000 words.
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I’m a great believer in the ‘sieve of time’: The idea that the progress of time discards the irrelevant, leaving us just the essential things that we should focus on. But if we could muster sufficient discernment to focus on those things in the here-and-now, rather than being distracted by the irrelevances that surround our lives, how much more progress might we make?
Well, for those who follow my work, that’s always what I’ve tried to do. For 2023, I thought I’d start a new series of posts and videos – a sort of regular bulletin of ‘obscure news’ – to winnow those little nuggets from the media’s rolling ‘sound and fury’, and give them some much needed publicity. And as so often when I publish a video, a new study will come out a few weeks later which adds new depth to the issues considered, this will also be a space to revisit past work with new information.
I can’t say precisely how many of these bulletins I’ll make, because I’ll do so only when I have something to say. For me, the curse of the modern media is the need to fill ‘dead air’1, which is what ultimately creates the tirade of dross that is the 24-hour rolling news cycle. There might be as many as one a month, depending upon the other pressures in my life, and how much new ‘news’ there is to comment on. You might also consider these bulletins a prologue for videos I might make in the future; so if any particular item seems interesting, please get in touch2 and I might be able to prioritise that issue in the work schedule.
And so, ‘to business’...
A month ago I released my longest and most detailed video. Notionally it was about George Monbiot3 and his presentation of ecomodernist ideas4, but dove far deeper into to what that represents in the media generally.
Thus far it’s done rather well: With over 800 views; and some truly bizarre comments by the supporters of that mindset. As expected, the man himself has remained silent, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. He has no compunction to reply, and can only dig a deeper hole by doing so. Which is entirely the point of the film: The media’s ‘green pundits’ are wholly unaccountable for the ‘quality’ of what they generate.
When we look at the research evidence popping-up every month, the environmental debate is clearly not just irrelevant to events, it’s arguably harmful to positive change. It generates ‘stasis’, by eliciting confusion and fear, as it relates seemingly insurmountable problems and power structures without defining directly enactable responses. That’s because it does not challenge the core issue that’s driving this: The lifestyle of the globally affluent 10%.
The issue is not so much George Monbiot himself, as the ‘class’ of people he represents; and why that is ‘leading’ – managerially, and politically – the environmental movement to fail so abysmally. As my film outlines, ‘Bright Green’ environmentalism doesn’t challenge ecological destruction; it props-up the current systems of inequality and exploitation in order to preserve the economic status quo. And it’s their failure to fully account for their plans, especially in terms of the resources required5 or the emissions created6 by the transition process, which renders their ‘positive’ view of change deeply flawed.
That said, I’d like to flag up a new study in Energy Economics7: ‘Assessing the effectiveness of energy efficiency measures in the residential sector gas consumption through dynamic treatment effects: Evidence from England and Wales’. Contrary to the tongue-twisting title, it’s an interesting study as it not only contradicts an awful lot of the ‘hopium’8 promoted by government and industry, but even alleged radicals such as Insulate Britain.
What it focusses on is something called the ‘rebound effect’9. The Guardian article10 on the study put this name in quotes, like it’s something astoundingly new that had just been discovered. The fact is, the rebound effect has been known about ever since it was first observed by William Stanley Jevons11 in 1865.
What the study found was that the energy savings from home improvements disappeared after a few years (I’m planning a video on this later in 2023 so I won’t get ahead of myself, as it’s complicated to explain). That’s completely unsurprising: The UK Energy Research Centre discovered similar things12 almost 20 years ago; and one of the researchers in this study published a similar paper in Nature Climate Change13 in 2021.
The point is, things like the ‘rebound effect’ strike at the idea of ‘decoupling’ – the ecomodernist’s belief that we can separate the physical actuality of our lives from the ecological footprint14 they create. This leads them to advance simplistic solutions which leave our lifestyle sacrosanct, while changing the technology around us to solve the perceived problem. Most often, though, the problem is not eliminated; and may be swapped for something qualitatively worse – such as biomass burning15.
This is the ‘danger’ of pundits like George Monbiot: Fixating on a certain technology that will ‘save us’, while the ‘elephant in the room’, our lifestyle, goes unchallenged.
In mid-December, there was an article in Nature16 on degrowth17, making similar points to my criticisms here. That articles flags the problem of ‘economic growth’, and why eliminating that core assumption is the key to making any progress on ecological issues. Humans have had technology to amplify our own physical bodies ever since we started banging rocks together. Where that million-year process18 underwent a step-change was when we started, almost simultaneously, settled agriculture and metallurgy 12,000 years ago. How we step back from the literal world-changing implications of that process29 today, while minimising the seemingly Biblical-level of ‘fall’ that would entail, is the reason why so many seemingly sensible people spin such wondrous tales in order to remain oblivious to the facts.
There are many possible solutions to our present predicament. What unites the best of those is to accept, a priori, that your life as you have known it is over; that it was never viable in the first place, especially after scientists pointed that out19 in the 1970s, but everyone denied that obvious fact to preserve their economic advantage. That said, what we need to be exploring are the options for simplification, degrowth, and taking the technology out of our lives20. Right now, though, that discussion cannot take place in the open because the figures who dominate the environmental media refuse to seriously explore that – and will not make way for those who will.
“US scientists confirm ‘major breakthrough’ in nuclear fusion”, trumpeted The Guardian21. Thing is, it wasn’t, and arguably was never meant to be.
I’ve been following fusion since the early 1990s – courtesy of the fact that Europe’s leading fusion research centre at Culham22 is a little over thirty miles from my home. Like many journalists and writers, I maintain a conveyor belt of stories which I slowly develop over time, adding more and more information and references, until they reach ‘critical mass’ and a story or video can be created. I’ve been working to produce a video on fusion since Jeff Bezos announced23 he wanted to build his fusion project at Culham in June 2021. I might finish that later in the year.
When I saw The Guardian headline, one quick speed-read made it clear to me that this was all hype – because the ‘reality’ was not being stated at any point in the story. The downfall came with this statement:
“In the latest experiment, researchers pumped in 2.05 megajoules of laser energy and got about 3.15MJ out – a roughly 50% gain and a sign that fusion reactions in the pellet were driving further fusion reactions.”
As physicist Sabine Hossenfelder24 elegantly outlined in her science news bulletin, the ‘energy gain’ of the experiment is an illusion because it only measures the laser energy hitting the target, and then the energy re-radiated back out again. Powering the lasers to create that reaction took 400 megajoules, and so in reality the ‘energy gain’ is a fraction of one percent of the energy it took to create it.
Even that is not the ‘full’ story here, though: As others have argued25, the point of this experiment is not necessarily to produce energy for power generation, it’s to create bigger bombs. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s ‘National Ignition Facility’26 is not primarily designed as a power-generating experiment. It was set-up to research improved designs for thermonuclear bombs27, controlling their yield by increasing the efficiency of the fusion component of the ‘hydrogen bomb’. Fusion power is just a ‘greenwash’28 the facility applies to its work to justify the funding.
In reality, the arguments against fusion power – ignoring link to nuclear weapons production – are many, and quite probably insurmountable. That’s what I hope to outline in a video later this year on the ‘whole system’ required to deliver the nuclear fusion process; not simply the, ‘sticking atoms together’, part of it. What is key here is that many of those critical arguments get zero investigation in the mainstream media. Our society fetishises technology, and as The Guardian’s article demonstrates, that means eliminating any objective sense from the discussion, instead focussing on a hyper-real abstraction of it in order to titillate our desire for ‘progress’.
That’s it for this first edition of ‘Ramblins’. I’ll hopefully be back with more in the near future, and I welcome any feedback2 that you have on it.
Finally, as I always say: It would really help to promote this work if you could ‘like’, ‘subscribe’, and most importantly, ‘share’ this video. In today’s digital analytics popularity contest, all that button-pressing means something in this messed-up world.