Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Perfect Storm World Simulation: Peak Oil, Climate Change, Economic Collapse

Enough economics for awhile. All two of you, besides myself, that read this blog already know what I think on that. Other facets of The Perfect Storm need some attention. I'd like to look at the big picture with an eye toward solutions.

The problem is simple: Anthropogenically-forced Climate Change (ACC), Peak Oil (PO), economic collapse, etc., are in the early stages of potentially remaking our world in ways we really would like to avoid, but there is almost nothing being done about any of it in any real sense when you consider the massive changes that are needed to deal with all these problems. If you think a bit on how long it takes to change the way a few billion people live, it's clear we have nearly run out of time to find solutions and implement them.

Robert Hirsch, et al., determined in a study done in 2005 that mitigating PO with minimal effects would require starting twenty years before the peak. Starting ten years before would lead to serious issues, but could be done. Waiting until peak would result in serious problems. Peak appears to have come in 2008.


Then there's ACC. A recent poll of climate scientists shows they are far more worried about ACC than is generally understood. But for James Hansen, they tend to be pretty quiet and conservative in their pronouncements on climate. This is (intellectually) understandable. They are scientists and are expected to state what they can prove, not what they know to be true. But aren't we past the point of this little luxury? Are not the dire consequences of no action or too little action being taken - a world 2 to 6C warmer - too great to risk? Well, finally some are speaking out... anonymously. (Way to put your necks out there, Profs!)

World will not meet 2C warming target, climate change experts agree

Guardian poll reveals almost nine out of 10 climate experts do not
believe current political efforts will keep warming below 2C

The poll of those who follow global warming most closely exposes a widening gulf between political rhetoric and scientific opinions on climate change.

While policymakers and campaigners focus on the 2C target, 86% of the experts told the survey they did not think it would be achieved.

...60% of respondents argued that, in theory, it was still technically and
economically possible to meet

...global warming of 2C

... But 39% said the 2C target was impossible.

...84 of the 182 specialists (46%) who answered the question said it would reach 3-4C by the end of the century; 47 (26%) suggested a rise of 2-3C, while a handful said 6C or more. While 24 experts predicted a catastrophic rise of 4-5C, just 18 thought it would stay at 2C or under.

Geewillickers... You gotta see some quotes from here:

Climate change experts reveal their hopes and fears

  • By 2100 I seriously fear there will be civilization collapse and chaos.
  • We should also be mindful that temperature sensitivity of the planet... has been grossly underestimated... We are in extremely dangerous territory.
  • Nothing short of a major restructuring of the energy generation system will see us limiting climate change to a 2C rise.

Now, don't you feel all warm and fuzzy? No? It gets worse.

To meet climate goal, cut fossil fuels use: study

The paper, published by the British journal Nature, implies only a revolution in energy use can achieve the aim of limiting warming to less than two degrees Celsius (3.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

To achieve the objective -- embraced by the European Union (EU) and many scientists -- means that only 1,000 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) can be emitted between 2000 and 2050, it said.

By comparison, the world has emitted a third of that amount in just nine years.

"If we continue burning fossil fuels as we do, we will have exhausted the carbon budget in merely 20 years, and global warming will go well beyond two degrees," said the study's lead author, Malte Meinshausen of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Berlin.

So, how much carbon have you cut out of your life today? None? Well! We're moving right along, aren't we! Look around you. Other than cuts caused by the recession, do you see people really changing how they use energy?

Paradoxically, PO will both helping us reduce our use of Fossil Fuels and make it harder to do so. To wit:

  1. Crude oil production likely peaked in 2008.
  2. On one hand, the use of oil will fall over the next few decades. On the other, if renewable forms of energy can't replace crude oil, then tar sands and coal will. Both are much greater emitters of CO2 than crude oil is.
  3. Having run out of hands, now use your feet to factor in the economic hit of declining oil production. (In both recessions in the '70's, the percentage drop in crude oil production and the drop in GDP were about the same, e.g.)
  4. As the "recession" begins to abate, the economic hit from PO will most likely stop it in its tracks.
  5. Investments for renewable energies will almost certainly be reduced by the economic crash.

To make matters ever-so-much better, what do Americans think about climate change? Not much.

Only 34% blame humans for global warming

Just one-out-of-three voters (34%) now believe global warming is caused by human activity, the lowest finding yet in Rasmussen Reports national surveying. However, a plurality (48%) of the Political Class believes humans are to blame.

Forty-eight percent (48%) of all likely voters attribute climate change to long-term planetary trends, while seven percent (7%) blame some other reason. Eleven percent (11%) aren’t sure.

These numbers reflect a reversal from a year ago when 47% blamed human activity while 34% said long-term planetary trends.

If you're feeling like kicking the dog or drinking your way through every bar between you and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, hold on a second. I have a plan. Really.

Below is an e-mail (modified for this post) I sent not long ago to someone I thought, based on previous work, might be interested in modeling global solutions to The Perfect Storm. Sadly, no response. Maybe someone will stumble across it here and find a kernel of a good idea in it.

Dear X,
My wife and I have had an idea in our minds for quite some time for a massively interactive virtual reality world/MMPRPG/global climate model/global energy model/global economic model: The Perfect Storm World Simulation: Peak Oil, Climate Change, Economic Collapse.

The idea started from a simple question we, as teachers, asked ourselves: How could we do outreach on the issues of Climate Change, Peak Oil and the Economic Crash - what I call a Perfect Storm? (E.g. my blog is aperfectstormcometh.blogspot.com.) We needed something that would integrate everything we faced, but do it at the personal level and governmental level. We needed a synthesis of both to help get change going since government moves too slowly and grassroots movements alone are not going to manage the massive changes needed - though I think grassroots movements like Transition Towns, the Post-Carbon Institute and the Relocalization movement will be the primary players in the end since the changes start and end with what we do, what we buy, how we live day-to-day.

The answer was an on-line game. Rather, a live modeling project that would both inform people (nearly half of all Americans still have significant doubts about Climate Change and far less know about Peak Oil) about the issues and help find a collaborative solution.From there we brainstormed and by the time we were done had an idea that was so massively beyond our skill sets we knew we were hopelessly over matched. We envisioned something with the following components or characteristics:

- It would be huge, along the lines of MMPRPGs, but necessarily bigger than any before it. This needs to be international in scope since any solutions must also be, and must offer realistic simulations.

- It would include participation of individuals from all levels of society, i.e., gov't. officials and orgs, non-profits, NGO's and, most importantly, the public.

- It would preferably have an interface like virtual reality game.

- It would have real climate models attached, or at least data from models as part of the data so people can see climate effects of their own actions as they happen in the game.

- It would would include energy decline reality.

- It would include other resource constraints (water, fisheries, farming, etc.)

- It would include real-world economic data.

- It would allow for new models of governance, economic systems and societal structures to be tried and tested, such as Steady State economic models (1, 2, 3), barter economies, etc.

- Perhaps multiple runs/games going simultaneously, much like Global Climate Models. Maybe individuals could start up their own runs and people could jump in if they liked the parameters set by the originator?

- Perhaps dummy nodes/agents coded to model the averages for given regions/cities/countries to get the numbers up as high as possible.


I started research on what was already out there. The RPG idea was clear enough. Such things as The Sims, SecondLife, World Without Oil, etc., already exist.

My research found possible components for other elements. Purdue University has SEAS. It has been used for gov't simulations before. The software team codes a scenario and real people are agents in the game. There are other nodes (agents) that are run as part of the model and represent people. It's been used for some disaster planning, etc. The goal, of course, is to have millions of real people actually acting in the simulations. They may already have that, but my impression is that only gov't officials and first responders actually participate. It might be a good foundation for the basic structure - or not. I *believe* they have a virtual presentation like an MMPRPG.

A second is the T21 program out of the Millennium Institute.

T21-North America User Interface Released!
Arlington, VA, October 18, 2007

The T21-North America (T21-NA) model user interface was released today. The user interface allows the model to be open, modified and simulated on any Windows-based computer.

The T21-NA model project is a collaboration with Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas-USA and State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry to examine energy issues in the context of an integrated framework that incorporates the relations of the energy sector to the broader economic, social, and environmental framework. The project is part of ASPO-USA’s Global Energy Modeling project.

Their software is a package run by programmers, so far as I can tell. That is, it is not an MMPRPG-, SEAS- or Alternate Reality-style package that real people are involved in; it's based on a few people inputting what they think is important rather than real people acting as they, hopefully, would in reality. I think.

A third choice might be the World3 program used by for Limits to Growth. Delores Garcia is developing/has developed an updated version of this program:

Abstract: An updated systems model of global climate, resources, and energy extending the original World3 (“Limits to Growth”) model by inclusion of climate change and it's interaction with resources and energy. Outcomes are derived for total energy resources, human population, nutrition, consumption, economic activity and other parameters. Long-term outcomes are derived for a 1900 C.E. to 2100 C.E. time sequence, with human population decline.

The weakness here is, of course, that it is not a live simulation, but a model dependent solely on inputs from the programmer. It does, however, represent a good bit of the breadth we need as it includes energy, food production, climate, etc., as noted above, and may be the closest of the three to what we are thinking of.

It may well be that something this complex and wide-ranging needs to be built from scratch. Having worked in the documentation department of a main frame software company, I can appreciate the difficulties encountered trying to integrate software not designed to work together.

As for implementation, I'd be hoping to have this made available world-wide for free so there are no restrictions. Ideally, we'd capture the imagination of some important people and be able to make a big deal of the launch and subsequent modeling with an eye toward 1. raising awareness of how serious the times are and 2. actually modelling a solution or two that might be viable, or at least move us towards some solutions.

This approach also, and perhaps most importantly, takes the policy, research and data input out from behind the closed doors and gilt halls of TPTB and gets them into the hands of the public at large.

Time is short. People need to wake up to the serious problems we face and we need a workable solution yesterday. I believe The Perfect Storm World Simulation: Peak Oil, Climate Change, Economic Collapse can both raise awareness and model possible solution scenarios.



Comments appreciated, but be polite; I like to edit.