End of Neoliberal Era

SUBHEAD: However big we’re thinking about the effects of this pandemic, we can think bigger.

By Jeremy Lent on 3 April 2020 for Resilience -
(https://www.resilience.org/stories/2020-04-03/coronavirus-spells-the-end-of-the-neoliberal-era-whats-next/)


Image above: Detail of painting of the sack of Rome in 410 titled "Barbarians at the Gate" by Thomas Cole in his series of five paintings of Roman history entitled "The Course of Empire". From (https://medium.com/@robertos/the-fall-of-the-roman-empire-81eae500bdc0).

Think Bigger

Whatever you might be thinking about the long-term impacts of the coronavirus epidemic, you’re probably not thinking big enough.

Our lives have already been reshaped so dramatically in the past few weeks that it’s difficult to see beyond the next news cycle. We’re bracing for the recession we all know is here, wondering how long the lockdown will last, and praying that our loved ones will all make it through alive.

But, in the same way that Covid-19 is spreading at an exponential rate, we also need to think exponentially about its long-term impact on our culture and society. A year or two from now, the virus itself will likely have become a manageable part of our lives—effective treatments will have emerged; a vaccine will be available.

But the impact of coronavirus on our global civilization will only just be unfolding. The massive disruptions we’re already seeing in our lives are just the first heralds of a historic transformation in political and societal norms.

If Covid-19 were spreading across a stable and resilient world, its impact could be abrupt but contained. Leaders would consult together; economies disrupted temporarily; people would make do for a while with changed circumstances—and then, after the shock, look forward to getting back to normal.

That’s not, however, the world in which we live. Instead, this coronavirus is revealing the structural faults of a system that have been papered over for decades as they’ve been steadily worsening.

Gaping economic inequalities, rampant ecological destruction, and pervasive political corruption are all results of unbalanced systems relying on each other to remain precariously poised. Now, as one system destabilizes, expect others to tumble down in tandem in a cascade known by researchers as “synchronous failure.”

The first signs of this structural destabilization are just beginning to show. Our globalized economy relies on just-in-time inventory for hyper-efficient production.

As supply chains are disrupted through factory closures and border closings, shortages in household items, medications, and food will begin surfacing, leading to rounds of panic buying that will only exacerbate the situation.

The world economy is entering a downturn so steep it could exceed the severity of the Great Depression.

The international political system—already on the ropes with Trump’s “America First” xenophobia and the Brexit fiasco—is likely to unravel further, as the global influence of the United States tanks while Chinese power strengthens.

Meanwhile, the Global South, where Covid-19 is just beginning to make itself felt, may face disruption on a scale far greater than the more affluent Global North.

The Overton Window

During normal times, out of all the possible ways to organize society, there is only a limited range of ideas considered acceptable for mainstream political discussion—known as the Overton window. Covid-19 has blown the Overton window wide open.

In just a few weeks, we’ve seen political and economic ideas seriously discussed that had previously been dismissed as fanciful or utterly unacceptable: universal basic income, government intervention to house the homeless, and state surveillance on individual activity, to name just a few. But remember—this is just the beginning of a process that will expand exponentially in the ensuing months.

A crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic has a way of massively amplifying and accelerating changes that were already underway: shifts that might have taken decades can occur in weeks.

Like a crucible, it has the potential to melt down the structures that currently exist, and reshape them, perhaps unrecognizably. What might the new shape of society look like? What will be center stage in the Overton window by the time it begins narrowing again?
The Example of World War II

We’re entering uncharted territory, but to get a feeling for the scale of transformation we need to consider, it helps to look back to the last time the world underwent an equivalent spasm of change: the Second World War.

The pre-war world was dominated by European colonial powers struggling to maintain their empires. Liberal democracy was on the wane, while fascism and communism were ascendant, battling each other for supremacy.

The demise of the League of Nations seemed to have proven the impossibility of multinational global cooperation. Prior to Pearl Harbor, the United States maintained an isolationist policy, and in the early years of the war, many people believed it was just a matter of time before Hitler and the Axis powers invaded Britain and took complete control of Europe.

Within a few years, the world was barely recognizable. As the British Empire crumbled, geopolitics was dominated by the Cold War which divided the world into two political blocs under the constant threat of nuclear Armageddon.

A social democratic Europe formed an economic union that no-one could previously have imagined possible. Meanwhile, the US and its allies established a system of globalized trade, with institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank setting terms for how the “developing world” could participate.

The stage was set for the “Great Acceleration”: far and away the greatest and most rapid increase of human activity in history across a vast number of dimensions, including global population, trade, travel, production, and consumption.

If the changes we’re about to undergo are on a similar scale to these, how might a future historian summarize the “pre-coronavirus” world that is about to disappear?

The Neoliberal Era

There’s a good chance they will call this the Neoliberal Era. Until the 1970s, the post-war world was characterized in the West by an uneasy balance between government and private enterprise. However, following the “oil shock” and stagflation of that period—which at the time represented the world’s biggest post-war disruption—a new ideology of free-market neoliberalism took center stage in the Overton window (the phrase itself was named by a neoliberal proponent).

The value system of neoliberalism, which has since become entrenched in global mainstream discourse, holds that humans are individualistic, selfish, calculating materialists, and because of this, unrestrained free-market capitalism provides the best framework for every kind of human endeavor. Through their control of government, finance, business, and media, neoliberal adherents have succeeded in transforming the world into a globalized market-based system, loosening regulatory controls, weakening social safety nets, reducing taxes, and virtually demolishing the power of organized labor.

The triumph of neoliberalism has led to the greatest inequality in history, where (based on the most recent statistics) the world’s twenty-six richest people own as much wealth as half the entire world’s population. It has allowed the largest transnational corporations to establish a stranglehold over other forms of organization, with the result that, of the world’s hundred largest economies, sixty-nine are corporations.

The relentless pursuit of profit and economic growth above all else has propelled human civilization onto a terrifying trajectory. The uncontrolled climate crisis is the most obvious danger:

The world’s current policies have us on track for more than 3° increase by the end of this century, and climate scientists publish dire warnings that amplifying feedbacks could make things far worse than even these projections, and thus place at risk the very continuation of our civilization.

But even if the climate crisis were somehow brought under control, a continuation of untrammeled economic growth in future decades will bring us face-to-face with a slew of further existential threats. Currently, our civilization is running at 40% above its sustainable capacity. We’re rapidly depleting the earth’s forests, animals, insects, fish, freshwater, even the topsoil we require to grow our crops. We’ve already transgressed three of the nine planetary boundaries that define humanity’s safe operating space, and yet global GDP is expected to more than double by mid-century, with potentially irreversible and devastating consequences.

In 2017 over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued an ominous warning to humanity that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late,” they wrote, “to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

They are echoed by the government-approved declaration of the UN-sponsored IPCC, that we need “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to avoid disaster.

In the clamor for economic growth, however, these warnings have so far gone unheeded. Will the impact of coronavirus change anything?

Fortress Earth

There’s a serious risk that, rather than shifting course from our failing trajectory, the post-Covid-19 world will be one where the same forces currently driving our race to the precipice further entrench their power and floor the accelerator directly toward global catastrophe.

China has relaxed its environmental laws to boost production as it tries to recover from its initial coronavirus outbreak, and the US (anachronistically named) Environmental Protection Agency took immediate advantage of the crisis to suspend enforcement of its laws, allowing companies to pollute as much as they want as long as they can show some relation to the pandemic.

On a greater scale, power-hungry leaders around the world are taking immediate advantage of the crisis to clamp down on individual liberties and move their countries swiftly toward authoritarianism.

Hungary’s strongman leader, Viktor Orban, officially killed off democracy in his country on Monday, passing a bill that allows him to rule by decree, with five-year prison sentences for those he determines are spreading “false” information.

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu shut down his country’s courts in time to avoid his own trial for corruption. In the United States, the Department of Justice has already filed a request to allow the suspension of courtroom proceedings in emergencies, and there are many who fear that Trump will take advantage of the turmoil to install martial law and try to compromise November’s election.

Even in those countries that avoid an authoritarian takeover, the increase in high-tech surveillance taking place around the world is rapidly undermining previously sacrosanct privacy rights. Israel has passed an emergency decree to follow the lead of China, Taiwan, and South Korea in using smartphone location readings to trace contacts of individuals who tested positive for coronavirus.

European mobile operators are sharing user data (so far anonymized) with government agencies. As Yuval Harari has pointed out, in the post-Covid world, these short-term emergency measures may “become a fixture of life.”

If these, and other emerging trends, continue unchecked, we could head rapidly to a grim scenario of what might be called “Fortress Earth,” with entrenched power blocs eliminating many of the freedoms and rights that have formed the bedrock of the post-war world.

We could be seeing all-powerful states overseeing economies dominated even more thoroughly by the few corporate giants (think Amazon, Facebook) that can monetize the crisis for further shareholder gain.

The chasm between the haves and have-nots may become even more egregious, especially if treatments for the virus become available but are priced out of reach for some people.

Countries in the Global South, already facing the prospect of disaster from climate breakdown, may face collapse if coronavirus rampages through their populations while a global depression starves them of funds to maintain even minimal infrastructures.

Borders may become militarized zones, shutting off the free flow of passage. Mistrust and fear, which has already shown its ugly face in panicked evictions of doctors in India and record gun-buying in the US, could become endemic.

Society Transformed

But it doesn’t have to turn out that way. Back in the early days of World War II, things looked even darker, but underlying dynamics emerged that fundamentally altered the trajectory of history. Frequently, it was the very bleakness of the disasters that catalyzed positive forces to emerge in reaction and predominate.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—the day “which will live in infamy”—was the moment when the power balance of World War II shifted.

The collective anguish in response to the global war’s devastation led to the founding of the United Nations. The grotesque atrocity of Hitler’s holocaust led to the international recognition of the crime of genocide, and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Could it be that the crucible of coronavirus will lead to a meltdown of neoliberal norms that ultimately reshapes the dominant structures of our global civilization? Could a mass collective reaction to the excesses of authoritarian overreach lead to a renaissance of humanitarian values? We’re already seeing signs of this.

While the Overton window is allowing surveillance and authoritarian practices to enter from one side, it’s also opening up to new political realities and possibilities on the other side. Let’s take a look at some of these.

A fairer society. The specter of massive layoffs and unemployment has already led to levels of state intervention to protect citizens and businesses that were previously unthinkable. Denmark plans to pay 75% of the salaries of employees in private companies hit by the effects of the epidemic, to keep them and their businesses solvent.

The UK has announced a similar plan to cover 80% of salaries. California is leasing hotels to shelter homeless people who would otherwise remain on the streets, and has authorized local governments to halt evictions for renters and homeowners. New York state is releasing low-risk prisoners from its jails. Spain is nationalizing its private hospitals.

The Green New Deal, which was already endorsed by the leading Democratic presidential candidates, is now being discussed as the mainstay of a program of economic recovery. The idea of universal basic income for every American, boldly raised by long-shot Democratic candidate Andrew Yang, has now become a talking point even for Republican politicians.

Ecological stabilization. Coronavirus has already been more effective in slowing down climate breakdown and ecological collapse than all the world’s policy initiatives combined. In February, Chinese CO2 emissions were down by over 25%.

One scientist calculated that twenty times as many Chinese lives have been saved by reduced air pollution than lost directly to coronavirus. Over the next year, we’re likely to see a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions greater than even the most optimistic modelers’ forecasts, as a result of the decline in economic activity.

As French philosopher Bruno Latour tweeted: “Next time, when ecologists are ridiculed because ‘the economy cannot be slowed down’, they should remember that it can grind to a halt in a matter of weeks worldwide when it is urgent enough.”

Of course, nobody would propose that economic activity should be disrupted in this catastrophic way in response to the climate crisis.

However, the emergency response initiated so rapidly by governments across the world has shown what is truly possible when people face what they recognize as a crisis. As a result of climate activism, 1,500 municipalities worldwide, representing over 10% of the global population, have officially declared a climate emergency.

The Covid-19 response can now be held out as an icon of what is really possible when people’s lives are at stake. In the case of the climate, the stakes are even greater—the future survival of our civilization. We now know the world can respond as needed, once political will is engaged and societies enter emergency mode

The rise of “glocalization.” One of the defining characteristics of the Neoliberal Era has been a corrosive globalization based on free market norms. Transnational corporations have dictated terms to countries in choosing where to locate their operations, leading nations to compete against each other to reduce worker protections in a “race to the bottom.”

The use of cheap fossil fuels has caused wasteful misuse of resources as products are flown around the world to meet consumer demand stoked by manipulative advertising.

This globalization of markets has been a major cause of the Neoliberal Era’s massive increase in consumption that threatens civilization’s future. Meanwhile, masses of people disaffected by rising inequity have been persuaded by right-wing populists to turn their frustration toward outgroups such as immigrants or ethnic minorities.

The effects of Covid-19 could lead to an inversion of these neoliberal norms. As supply lines break down, communities will look to local and regional producers for their daily needs. When a consumer appliance breaks, people will try to get it repaired rather than buy a new one. Workers, newly unemployed, may turn increasingly to local jobs in smaller companies that serve their community directly.

At the same time, people will increasingly get used to connecting with others through video meetings over the internet, where someone on the other side of the world feels as close as someone across town.

This could be a defining characteristic of the new era. Even while production goes local, we may see a dramatic increase in the globalization of new ideas and ways of thinking—a phenomenon known as “glocalization.”

Already, scientists are collaborating around the world in an unprecedented collective effort to find a vaccine; and a globally crowdsourced library is offering a “Coronavirus Tech Handbook” to collect and distribute the best ideas for responding to the pandemic.

Compassionate community. Rebecca Solnit’s 2009 book, A Paradise Built in Hell, documents how, contrary to popular belief, disasters frequently bring out the best in people, as they reach out and help those in need around them. In the wake of Covid-19, the whole world is reeling from a disaster that affects us all.

The compassionate response Solnit observed in disaster zones has now spread across the planet with a speed matching the virus itself. Mutual aid groups are forming in communities everywhere to help those in need.

The website Karunavirus (Karuna is a Sanskrit word for compassion) documents a myriad of everyday acts of heroism, such as the thirty thousand Canadians who have started “caremongering,” and the mom-and-pop restaurants in Detroit forced to close and now cooking meals for the homeless.

In the face of disaster, many people are rediscovering that they are far stronger as a community than as isolated individuals. The phrase “social distancing” is helpfully being recast as “physical distancing” since Covid-19 is bringing people closer together in solidarity than ever before.

Revolution in Values

This rediscovery of the value of community has the potential to be the most important factor of all in shaping the trajectory of the next era. New ideas and political possibilities are critically important, but ultimately an era is defined by its underlying values, on which everything else is built.

The Neoliberal Era was constructed on a myth of the selfish individual as the foundational for values. As Margaret Thatcher famously declared, “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.” This belief in the selfish individual has not just been destructive of community—it’s plain wrong.

In fact, from an evolutionary perspective, a defining characteristic of humanity is our set of prosocial impulses—fairness, altruism, and compassion—that cause us to identify with something larger than our own individual needs. The compassionate responses that have arisen in the wake of the pandemic are heartwarming but not surprising—they are the expected, natural human response to others in need.

Once the crucible of coronavirus begins to cool, and a new sociopolitical order emerges, the larger emergency of climate breakdown and ecological collapse will still be looming over us.

The Neoliberal Era has set civilization’s course directly toward a precipice. If we are truly to “shift course away from our failing trajectory,” the new era must be defined, at its deepest level, not merely by the political or economic choices being made, but by a revolution in values.

It must be an era where the core human values of fairness, mutual aid, and compassion are paramount—extending beyond the local neighborhood to state and national government, to the global community of humans, and ultimately to the community of all life.

If we can change the basis of our global civilization from one that is wealth-affirming to one that is life-affirming, then we have a chance to create a flourishing future for humanity and the living Earth.

To this extent, the Covid-19 disaster represents an opportunity for the human race—one in which each one of us has a meaningful part to play. We are all inside the crucible right now, and the choices we make over the weeks and months to come will, collectively, determine the shape and defining characteristics of the next era.

However big we’re thinking about the future effects of this pandemic, we can think bigger. As has been said in other settings, but never more to the point: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

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The Perfect Storm

SUBHEAD: Growing debt, resource depletion and pandemic disease is the trifecta of the future. 

By Juan Wilson on 31 March 2020 for Island Breath -
(https://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2020/03/the-perfect-storm.html)


Image above: Ninety-one-year-old Catherine Carrere sits outside her home in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. From (https://www.dailysignal.com/2015/08/27/19-stunning-pictures-of-hurricane-katrinas-aftermath/).

Humanity faces Debt, Depletion and Disease.

The Coronovirus-19 is the monkey wrench in the gears of an economy stranded in the depletion of natural resources. Their interlocking dependencies make "solutions" impossible. 

The upside of these interlocking disasters is that they are accelerating the arrival of a future on Earth that will be better balanced for life in general and specifically for the uncountable species that we will soon be extinguished if we, humans, are allowed to continue as we have since we mastered agriculture, industrialization and fossil fuel refinement.

Like the darkness that is shrouded the world of the dinosaurs after a major asteroid impact 66 million years ago, we face an intractable foe... a planet too close to being devoid of the wildness of life.

We have been greedy... and that will run its course soon. The Earth will go on and flourish in some new way - with us, or without us - But the Earth will go on.

My desire is that it can be with us - but it will have to be with much fewer of us.

We have many routes that can be takento arrive where we want to be.
  • Effective population reduction
  • Getting off fossil fuels 
  • De-industrialization 
  • Ovo-lacto vegetarianism
  • Subsistence organic farming
  • Restoring wild habitats 
The alternative is a self administered attempt at extinction.
  • Encouraging population growth
  • Burn through the last of the oil and coal
  • Continuing consumer based economies
  • Eating an animal meat based diet
  • Spreading industrialized agriculture
  • Devouring forests for resources
  • War
The current human population is about 7.8 billion people. The US CIA estimates are that at the time of Jesus of Nazareth, two thousand years ago, the human population on Earth was 150 million - less than half the population of the United States today.

Looking at the CIA map of the distribution of human settlements at that time you find little occupation of the large inner land masses of the continents. The great forests and other expansive territories were "terra igcognito" - land unknown - Thank God!

Climbing down from our perch will be difficult, frightening and painful. Some alternatives will be effective but worse than what we have... such violent religious conflicts, racial holocaust exterminations, nuclear war.

My only advise is to try to live in balance with the resources nearby and the from the work of the people that inhabit that place. Practice in important to make it work.

Eventually it will be all we have.




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A Solar Powered Website

SUBHEAD: An examination into how hard, sustainable and affordable it is to power your own site.

By Kris De Decker on 1 February 2020 for Low Tech Magazine -
(https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2020/01/how-sustainable-is-a-solar-powered-website.html)


Image above: Diagram of home solar powered website. From original article. A simple representation of the system. A charge controller powered by a 50w solar panel charges a 168wh battery that runs a server to an internet router. The voltage conversion (between the 12V charge controller and the 5V server) and the battery meter (between the server and the battery) are missing.

(IB Editor's note: I just checked Amazon. A solar charge controller that meets the needs of this home base powered website server costs $10.97 with free Prime shipping. See (https://www.amazon.com/EEEKit-Controller-Intelligent-Multi-Function-Adjustable/dp/B07R8TRJ8C). I've had one for years attached to four 110ah dee cycle marine batteries keeping the LED lighting on in my shop. I think I paid over $30 for it then.)
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Introduction
In September 2018, Low-tech Magazine launched a new website that aimed to radically reduce the energy use and carbon emissions associated with accessing its content. Internet energy use is growing quickly on account of both increasing bit rates (online content gets “heavier”) and increased time spent online (especially since the arrival of mobile computing and wireless internet).

The solar powered website bucks against these trends. To drop energy use far below that of the average website, we opted for a back-to-basics web design, using a static website instead of a database driven content management system. To reduce the energy use associated with the production of the solar panel and the battery, we chose a minimal set-up and accepted that the website goes off-line when the weather is bad.

We have been monitoring the solar powered server for 15 months now, and we have collected data on uptime, energy use, power use, system efficiency, and visitor traffic. We also calculated how much energy was required to make the solar panel, the battery, the charge controller and the server.

Uptime, Electricity Use & System Efficiency

The solar powered website goes off-line when the weather is bad – but how often does that happen? For a period of about one year (351 days, from 12 December 2018 to 28 November 2019), we achieved an uptime of 95.26%. This means that we were off-line due to bad weather for 399 hours.

If we ignore the last two months, our uptime was 98.2%, with a downtime of only 152 hours. Uptime plummeted to 80% during the last two months, when a software upgrade increased the energy use of the server. This knocked the website off-line for at least a few hours every night.

Let’s have a look at the electricity used by our web server (the “operational” energy use). We have measurements from the server and from the solar charge controller. Comparing both values reveals the inefficiencies in the system. Over a period of roughly one year (from 3 December 2018 to 24 November 2019), the electricity use of our server was 9.53 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

We measured significant losses in the solar PV system due to voltage conversions and charge/discharge losses in the battery. The solar charge controller showed a yearly electricity use of 18.10 kWh, meaning that system efficiency was roughly 50%.

During the period under study, the solar powered website received 865,000 unique visitors. Including all energy losses in the solar set-up, electricity use per unique visitor is then 0.021 watt-hour. One kilowatt-hour of solar generated electricity can thus serve almost 50,000 unique visitors, and one watt-hour of electricity can serve roughly 50 unique visitors. This is all renewable energy and as such there are no direct associated carbon emissions.

Embodied Energy Use & Uptime

The story often ends here when renewable energy is presented as a solution for the growing energy use of the internet. When researchers examine the energy use of data centers, which host the content that is accessible on the internet, they never take into account the energy that is required to build and maintain the infrastructure that powers those data centers.

There is no such omission with a self-hosted website powered by an off-the-grid solar PV installation. The solar panel, the battery, and the solar charge controller are equally essential parts of the installation as the server itself. Consequently, energy use for the mining of the resources and the manufacture of these components – the “embodied energy” – must also be taken into account.


Image above: Diagram of five servers powrf two 168wh batteries charged by two 50w solar panels a charge controller powered by two 50watt solar panels that charge two 168wh batteries.

Unfortunately, most of this energy comes from fossil fuels, either in the form of diesel (mining the raw materials and transporting the components) or in the form of electricity generated mainly by fossil fuel power plants (most manufacturing processes).

The embodied energy of our configuration is mainly determined by the size of the battery and the solar panel. At the same time, the size of battery and solar panel determine how often the website will be online (the “uptime”). Consequently, the sizing of battery and solar panel is a compromise between uptime and sustainability.

To find the optimal balance, we have run (and keep running) our system with different combinations of solar panels and batteries. Uptime and embodied energy are also determined by the local weather conditions, so the results we present here are only valid for our location (the balcony of the author’s home near Barcelona, Spain).

Uptime and Battery size

Battery storage capacity determines how long the website can run without a supply of solar power. A minimum of energy storage is required to get through the night, while additional storage can compensate for a certain period of low (or no) solar power production during the day. Batteries deteriorate with age, so it’s best to start with more capacity than is actually needed, otherwise the battery needs to be replaced rather quickly.

Greater than 90% Uptime
First, let’s calculate the minimum energy storage needed to keep the website online during the night, provided that the weather is good, the battery is new, and the solar panel is large enough to charge the battery completely. The average power use of our web server during the first year, including all energy losses in the solar installation, was 1.97 watts. During the shortest night of the year (8h50, June 21), we need 17.40 watt-hour of storage capacity, and during the longest night of the year (14h49, December 21), we need 29.19 Wh.


Table 1: Minimum energy required to keep website on line during the night. From original article.

Because lead-acid batteries should not be discharged below half of their capacity, the solar powered server requires a 60 Wh lead-acid battery to get through the shortest nights when solar conditions are optimal (2 x 29.19Wh). For most of the year we ran the system with a slightly larger energy storage (up to 86.4 Wh) and a 50W solar panel, and achieved the above mentioned uptime of 95-98%. [1]

100% Uptime
A larger battery would keep the website running even during longer periods of bad weather, again provided that the solar panel is large enough to charge the battery completely. To compensate for each day of very bad weather (no significant power production), we need 47.28 watt-hour (24h x 1.97 watts) of storage capacity.

From 1 December 2019 to 12 January 2020, we combined the 50 W solar panel with a 168 watt-hour battery, which has a practical storage capacity of 84 watt-hour. This is enough storage to keep the website running for two nights and a day. Even though we tested this configuration during the darkest period of the year, we had relatively nice weather and achieved an uptime of 100%.

However, to assure an uptime of 100% over a period of years would require more energy storage. To keep the website online during four days of low or no power production, we would need a 440 watt-hour lead-acid battery – the size of a car battery. We include this configuration to represent the conventional approach to off-grid solar power.

We also made calculations for batteries that aren’t large enough to get the website through the shortest night of the year: 48 Wh, 24 Wh, and 15.6 Wh (with practical storage capacities of 24 Wh, 12 Wh, and 7.8 Wh, respectively). The latter is the smallest lead-acid battery commercially available.

If the weather is good, the 48 Wh lead-acid battery will keep the server running during the night from March to September. The 24 Wh lead acid-battery can keep the website online for a maximum of 6 hours, meaning that the server will go off-line each night of the year, although at different hours depending on the season.

Finally, the 15.6 Wh battery keeps the website online for only four hours when there’s no solar power. Even if the weather is good, the server will stop working around 1 am in summer and around 9 pm in winter. The maximum uptime for the smallest battery would be around 50%, and in practice it will be lower due to clouds and rain.

A website that goes off-line in evening could be an interesting option for a local online publication with low anticipated traffic after midnight. However, since Low-tech Magazine’s readership is almost equally divided between Europe and the USA this is not an attractive option. If the website goes down every night, our American readers could only access it during the morning.

Uptime and Solar Panel Size
The uptime of the solar powered website is not only determined by the battery, but also by the solar panel, especially in relation to bad weather. The larger the solar panel, the quicker it will charge the battery and fewer hours of sun will be needed to get the website through the night. For example, with the 50 W solar panel, one to two hours of full sun are sufficient to completely charge any of the batteries (except for the car battery).


Table 2:  Hours of sunlight necessary to fully charge each battery; by solar panel size. From original article.

A 5 W solar panel – the smallest 12V solar panel commercially available – is the absolute minimum required to run a solar powered website. However, only under optimal conditions will it be able to power the server (2W) and charge the battery (3W), and it could only keep the website running through the night if the day is long enough. Because solar panels rarely generate their maximum power capacity, this would result in a website that is online only while the sun shines.

Even though the combination of a small solar panel and large battery can have the same embodied energy as the combination of a large solar panel and a small battery, the system each creates will have very different characteristics. In general, it’s best to opt for a larger solar panel and a smaller battery, because this combination increases the life expectancy of the battery – lead-acid batteries need to be fully charged from time to time or they lose storage capacity.

Embodied Energy for  Batteries and Solar Panels
It takes 1.03 megajoule (MJ) to produce 1 watt-hour of lead-acid battery capacity [2], and 3,514 MJ of energy to produce one m2 of solar panel. [3] In the table below, we present the embodied energy for different sizes of batteries and solar panels and then calculate the embodied energy per year, based on a life expectancy of 5 years for batteries and 25 years for solar panels. The values are converted to kilowatt-hours per year and refer to primary energy, not electricity.

A solar powered website also needs a charge controller and of course a web server. The embodied energy for these components remains the same no matter the size of solar panel or battery. The embodied energy per year is based on a life expectancy of 10 years. [4][5]


Table 3:  Embodied Energy of Different Components (per ear of operation). From original article.

We now have all data to calculate the total embodied energy for each combination of solar panels and batteries. The results are presented in the table below.

The embodied energy varies by a factor of five depending on the configuration: from 10.92 kWh primary energy per year for the combination of the smallest solar panel (5W) with the smallest battery (15.6 Wh) to 50.46 kWh primary energy per year for the combination of the largest solar panel (50 W) with the largest battery (440Wh).

If we divide these results by the number of unique visitors per year (865,000), we obtain the embodied energy use per unique visitor to our website. For our original configuration with 95-98% uptime (50W solar panel, 86.4Wh battery), primary energy use per unique visitor is 0.03 Wh.

This result would be pretty similar for the other configurations with a lower uptime, because although the embodied energy is lower, so is the number of unique visitors.

How Sustainable is the Solar Powered Website?
Now that we have calculated the embodied energy of different configurations, we can calculate the carbon emissions. We can’t compare the environmental footprint of the solar powered website with that of the old website, because it is hosted elsewhere and we can’t measure its energy use.

What we can compare is the solar powered website with a similar self-hosted configuration that is run on grid power. This allows us to assess the (un)sustainability of running the website on solar power.

Life cycle analyses of solar panels are not very useful for working out the CO2-emissions of our components because they work on the assumption that all energy produced by the panels is used. This is not necessarily true in our case: the larger solar panels waste a lot of solar power in optimal weather conditions.

This means that fossil fuel use associated with running the solar powered Low-tech Magazine during the first year (50W panel, 86.4 Wh battery) corresponds to 3 litres of oil and 9 kg of carbon emissions – as much as an average European car driving a distance of 50 km. Below are the results for the other configurations:


Table 4:  Embodied Energy per year for different solar set-ups. From original article.

We therefore take another approach: we convert the embodied energy of our components to litres of oil (1 litre of oil is 10 kWh of primary energy) and calculate the result based on the CO2-emissions of oil (1 litre of oil produces 3 kg of greenhouse gasses, including mining and refining it). This takes into account that most solar panels and batteries are now produced in China – where the power grid is three times as carbon-intensive and 50% less energy efficient than in Europe. [6]

This means that fossil fuel use associated with running the solar powered Low-tech Magazine during the first year (50W panel, 86.4 Wh battery) corresponds to 3 litres of oil and 9 kg of carbon emissions – as much as an average European car driving a distance of 50 km. Below are the results for the other configurations:

Comparison with Carbon Intensity of Spanish Power GridNow let’s calculate the hypothetical CO2-emissions from running our self-hosted web server on grid power instead of solar power. CO2-emissions in this case depend on the Spanish power grid, which happens to be one of the least carbon intensive in Europe due to its high share of renewable and nuclear energy (respectively 36.8% and 22% in 2019).

Last year, the carbon intensity of the Spanish power grid decreased to 162 g of CO2 per kWh of electricity. For comparison, the average carbon intensity in Europe is around 300g per kWh of electricity, while the carbon intensity of the US and Chinese power grid are respectively above 400g and 900g of CO2 per kWh of electricity.

If we just look at the operational energy use of our server, which was 9.53 kWh of electricity during the first year, running it on the Spanish power grid would have produced 1.54 kg of CO2-emissions, compared to 3 - 9 kg in our tested configurations. This seems to indicate that our solar powered server is a bad idea, because even the smallest solar panel with the smallest battery generates more carbon emissions than grid power.

However, we’re comparing apples to oranges. We have calculated our emissions based on the embodied energy of our installation. When the carbon intensity of the Spanish power grid is measured, the embodied energy of the renewable power infrastructure is taken to be zero. If we calculated our carbon intensity in the same way, of course it would be zero, too.

Ignoring the embodied carbon emissions of the power infrastructure is reasonable when the grid is powered by fossil fuel power plants, because the carbon emissions to build that infrastructure are very small compared to the carbon emissions of the fuel that is burned. However, the reverse is true of renewable power sources, where operational carbon emissions are almost zero but carbon is emitted during the production of the power plants themselves.

To make a fair comparison with our solar powered server, the calculation of the carbon intensity of the Spanish power grid should take into account the emissions from the building and maintaining of the power plants, the transmission lines, and – should fossil fuel power plants eventually disappear – the energy storage. Of course, ultimately, the embodied energy of all these components would depend on the chosen uptime.

Possible Improvements
There are many ways in which the sustainability of our solar powered website could be improved while maintaining our present uptime. Producing solar panels and batteries using electricity from the Spanish grid would have the largest impact in terms of carbon emissions, because the carbon footprint of our configuration would be roughly 5 times lower than it is now.

What we can do ourselves is lower the operational energy use of the server and improve the system efficiency of the solar PV installation. Both would allow us to run the server with a smaller battery and solar panel, thereby reducing embodied energy. We could also switch to another type of energy storage or even another type of energy source.

Server
We already made some changes that have resulted in a lower operational energy use of the server. For example, we discovered that more than half of total data traffic on our server (6.63 of 11.16 TB) was caused by a single broken RSS implementation that pulled our feed every couple of minutes.

Fixing this as well as some other changes lowered the power use of the server (excluding energy losses) from 1.14 watts to about 0.95 watts. The gain may seem small, but a difference in power use of 0.19 watts adds up to 4.56 watt-hour over the course of 24 hours, which means that the website can stay online for more than 2.5 hours longer.

System Efficiency
System efficiency was only 50% during the first year. Energy losses were experienced during charging and discharging of the battery (22%), as well as in the voltage conversion from 12V (solar PV system) to 5V (USB connection), where the losses add up to 28%. The initial voltage converter we built was pretty suboptimum (our solar charge controller doesn't have a built-in USB-connection), so we could build a better one, or switch to a 5V solar PV set-up.

Energy Storage
To increase the efficiency of the energy storage, we could replace the lead-acid batteries with more expensive lithium-ion batteries, which have lower charge/discharge losses (small-scale compressed air energy storage system

(CAES). Although low pressure CAES systems have similar efficiency to lead-acid batteries, they have much lower embodied energy due to their long life expectancy (decades instead of years).

Energy Source
Another way to lower the embodied energy is to switch renewable energy source. Solar PV power has high embodied energy compared to alternatives such as wind, water, or human power. These power sources could be harvested with little more than a generator and a voltage regulator – as the rest of the power plant could be built out of wood. Furthermore, a water-powered website wouldn’t require high-tech energy storage. If you’re in a cold climate, you could even operate a website on the heat of a wood stove, using a thermo-electric generator.

Solar Tracker
People who have a good supply of wind or water power could build a system with lower embodied energy than ours. However, unless the author starts powering his website by hand or foot, we’re pretty much stuck with solar power. The biggest improvement we could make is to add a solar tracker that makes the panel follow the sun, which could increase electricity generation by as much as 30%, and allow us to obtain a better uptime with a smaller panel.

Let’s Scale Things Up !
A final way to improve the sustainability of our system would be to scale it up: run more websites on a server, and run more (and larger) servers on a solar PV system. This set-up would have much lower embodied energy than an oversized system for each website alone.


Table 5: Different solar setups includes embobied energy of the server and charge controller. From original article.

Solar Webhosting Company
If we were to fill the author’s balcony with solar panels and start a solar powered webhosting company, the embodied energy per unique visitor would decrease significantly. We would need only one server for multiple websites, and only one solar charge controller for multiple solar panels.

Voltage conversion would be more energy efficient, and both solar and battery power could be shared by all websites, which brings economies of scale.

Of course, this is the very concept of the data center, and although we have no ambition to start such a business, others could take this idea forward: towards a data center that is run just as efficiently as any other data center today, but which is powered by renewables and goes off-line when the weather is bad.

Add More Websites
We found that the capacity of our server is large enough to host more websites, so we already took a small step towards economies of scale by moving the Spanish and French versions of Low-tech Magazine to the solar powered server (as well as some other translations).

Although this move will increase our operational energy use and potentially also our embodied energy use, we also eliminate other websites that are or were hosted elsewhere. We also have to keep in mind that the number of unique visitors to Low-tech Magazine may grow in the future, so we need to become more energy efficient just to maintain our environmental footprint.

Combine Server and Lighting
Another way to achieve economies of scale would give a whole new twist to the idea. The solar powered server is part of the author’s household, which is also partly powered by off-grid solar energy. We could test different sizes of batteries and solar panels – simply swapping components between solar installations.

When we were running the server on the 50 W panel, the author was running the lights in the living room on a 10W panel – and was often left sitting in the dark. When we were running the server on the 10 W panel, it was the other way around: there was more light in the household, at the expense of a lower server uptime.

Let’s say we run both the lights and the server on one solar PV system. It would lower the embodied energy if both systems are considered, because only one solar charge controller would be needed.

Furthermore, it could result in a much smaller battery and solar panel (compared to two separate systems), because if the weather gets bad, the author could decide not to use the lights and keep the server online – or the other way around. This flexibility is not available now, because the server is the only load and its power use cannot be easily manipulated.

Energy Use in the Network
As far as we know, ours is the first life cycle analysis of a website that runs entirely on renewable energy and includes the embodied energy of its power and energy storage infrastructure. However, this is not, of course, the total energy use associated with this website.

There’s also the operational and embodied energy of the network infrastructure (which includes our router, the internet backbone, and the mobile phone network), and the operational and embodied energy of the devices that our visitors use to access our website: smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops. Some of these have low operational energy use, but they all have very limited lifespans and thus high embodied energy.

Energy use in the network is directly related to the bit rate of the data traffic that runs through it, so our lightweight website is just as efficient in the communication network as it is on our server. However, we have very little influence over which devices people use to access our website, and the direct advantage of our design is much smaller here than in the network.

For example, our website has the potential to increase the life expectancy of computers, because it’s light enough to be accessed with very old machines. Unfortunately, our website alone will not make people use their computers for longer.

That said, both the network infrastructure and the end-use devices could be re-imagined along the lines of the solar powered website – downscaled and powered by renewable energy sources with limited energy storage.

Parts of the network infrastructure could go off-line if the local weather is bad, and your e-mail may be temporarily stored in a rainstorm 3.000 km away. This type of network infrastructure actually exists in some countries, and those networks partly inspired this solar powered website. The end-use devices could have low energy use and long life expectancy.

Because the total energy use of the internet is usually measured to be roughly equally distributed over servers, network, and end-use devices (all including the manufacturing of the devices), we can make a rough estimate of the total energy use of this website throughout a re-imagined internet.

For our original set-up with 95.2% uptime, this would be 87.6 kWh of primary energy, which corresponds to 9 litres of oil and 27 kg of CO2. The improvements we outlined earlier could bring these numbers further down, because in this calculation the whole internet is powered by oversized solar PV systems on balconies.

Authors: Kris De Decker, Roel Roscam Abbing, Marie Otsuka
llustrations by Diego Marmolejo.

Thanks to Kathy Vanhout, Adriana Parra and Gauthier Roussilhe.

World after the COVID-19 Pandemic

SUBHEAD: The pandemic will changes the world. Here are the thoughts of several global thinkers.

By contributors to Foreign Policy Magazine on 20 March 2020 -
(https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/20/world-order-after-coroanvirus-pandemic/)


Image above: Illustration of fight against 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic. From original article.

Like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the coronavirus pandemic is a world-shattering event whose far-ranging consequences we can only begin to imagine today.

This much is certain: Just as this disease has shattered lives, disrupted markets and exposed the competence (or lack thereof) of governments, it will lead to permanent shifts in political and economic power in ways that will become apparent only later.

To help us make sense of the ground shifting beneath our feet as this crisis unfolds, Foreign Policy asked 12 leading thinkers from around the world to weigh in with their predictions for the global order after the pandemic.



A World Less Open, Prosperous, and Free

By Stephen M. Walt

The pandemic will strengthen the state and reinforce nationalism. Governments of all types will adopt emergency measures to manage the crisis, and many will be loath to relinquish these new powers when the crisis is over.

COVID-19 will also accelerate the shift in power and influence from West to East. South Korea and Singapore have responded best, and China has reacted well after its early mistakes. The response in Europe and America has been slow and haphazard by comparison, further tarnishing the aura of the Western “brand.”

What won’t change is the fundamentally conflictive nature of world politics.

Previous plagues—including the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919—did not end great-power rivalry nor usher in a new era of global cooperation. Neither will COVID-19. We will see a further retreat from hyperglobalization, as citizens look to national governments to protect them and as states and firms seek to reduce future vulnerabilities.

In short, COVID-19 will create a world that is less open, less prosperous, and less free. It did not have to be this way, but the combination of a deadly virus, inadequate planning, and incompetent leadership has placed humanity on a new and worrisome path.



The End of Globalization as We Know It

By Robin Niblett

The coronavirus pandemic could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back of economic globalization.

China’s growing economic and military power had already provoked a bipartisan determination in the United States to decouple China from U.S.-sourced high technology and intellectual property and try to force allies to follow suit.

Increasing public and political pressure to meet carbon emissions reduction targets had already called into question many companies’ reliance on long-distance supply chains. Now, COVID-19 is forcing governments, companies, and societies to strengthen their capacity to cope with extended periods of economic self-isolation.

It seems highly unlikely in this context that the world will return to the idea of mutually beneficial globalization that defined the early 21st century. And without the incentive to protect the shared gains from global economic integration, the architecture of global economic governance established in the 20th century will quickly atrophy.

It will then take enormous self-discipline for political leaders to sustain international cooperation and not retreat into overt geopolitical competition.

Proving to their citizens that they can manage the COVID-19 crisis will buy leaders some political capital. But those who fail will find it hard to resist the temptation to blame others for their failure.



A More China-Centric Globalization

By Kishore Mahbubani

The COVID-19 pandemic will not fundamentally alter global economic directions. It will only accelerate a change that had already begun: a move away from U.S.-centric globalization to a more China-centric globalization.

Why will this trend continue? The American population has lost faith in globalization and international trade. Free trade agreements are toxic, with or without U.S. President Donald Trump. By contrast, China has not lost faith.

Why not?

There are deeper historical reasons. Chinese leaders now know well that China’s century of humiliation from 1842 to 1949 was a result of its own complacency and a futile effort by its leaders to cut it off from the world. By contrast, the past few decades of economic resurgence were a result of global engagement.

The Chinese people have also experienced an explosion of cultural confidence. They believe they can compete anywhere.

Consequently, as I document in my new book, Has China Won?, the United States has two choices. If its primary goal is to maintain global primacy, it will have to engage in a zero-sum geopolitical contest, politically and economically, with China.

However, if the goal of the United States is to improve the well-being of the American people—whose social condition has deteriorated—it should cooperate with China. Wiser counsel would suggest that cooperation would be the better choice. However, given the toxic U.S. political environment toward China, wiser counsel may not prevail.



Democracies Will Come out of Their Shell

By G. John Ikenberry

In the short term, the crisis will give fuel to all the various camps in the Western grand strategy debate. The nationalists and anti-globalists, the China hawks, and even the liberal internationalists will all see new evidence for the urgency of their views.

Given the economic damage and social collapse that is unfolding, it is hard to see anything other than a reinforcement of the movement toward nationalism, great-power rivalry, strategic decoupling, and the like.

But just like in the 1930s and ’40s, there might also be a slower-evolving countercurrent, a sort of hardheaded internationalism similar to the one that Franklin D. Roosevelt and a few other statesmen began to articulate before and during the war. The 1930s collapse of the world economy showed how connected modern societies were and how vulnerable they were to what FDR called contagion.

The United States was less threatened by other great powers than by the deep forces—and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character—of modernity. What FDR and other internationalists conjured was a postwar order that would rebuild an open system with new forms of protection and capacities to manage interdependence.

The United States couldn’t simply hide within its borders, but to operate in an open postwar order required the building of a global infrastructure of multilateral cooperation.

So the United States and other Western democracies might travel through this same sequence of reactions driven by a cascading sense of vulnerability; the response might be more nationalist at first, but over the longer term, the democracies will come out of their shells to find a new type of pragmatic and protective internationalism.



Lower Profits, but More Stability

By Shannon K. O’Neil

COVID-19 is undermining the basic tenets of global manufacturing. Companies will now rethink and shrink the multistep, multicountry supply chains that dominate production today.

Global supply chains were already coming under fire—economically, due to rising Chinese labor costs, U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war, and advances in robotics, automation, and 3D printing, as well as politically, due to real and perceived job losses, especially in mature economies.

COVID-19 has now broken many of these links: Factory closings in afflicted areas have left other manufacturers—as well as hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets, and retail stores—bereft of inventories and products.

On the other side of the pandemic, more companies will demand to know more about where their supplies come from and will trade off efficiency for redundancy. Governments will intervene as well, forcing what they consider strategic industries to have domestic backup plans and reserves. Profitability will fall, but supply stability should rise.



This Pandemic Can Serve a Useful Purpose

By Shivshankar Menon

It is early days yet, but three things seem apparent. First, the coronavirus pandemic will change our politics, both within states and between them. It is to the power of government that societies—even libertarians—have turned.

Government’s relative success in overcoming the pandemic and its economic effects will exacerbate or diminish security issues and the recent polarization within societies

Either way, government is back. Experience so far shows that authoritarians or populists are no better at handling the pandemic. Indeed, the countries that responded early and successfully, such as Korea and Taiwan, have been democracies—not those run by populist or authoritarian leaders.

Secondly, this is not yet the end of an interconnected world. The pandemic itself is proof of our interdependence.

But in all polities, there is already a turning inward, a search for autonomy and control of one’s own fate. We are headed for a poorer, meaner, and smaller world.

Finally, there are signs of hope and good sense. India took the initiative to convene a video conference of all South Asian leaders to craft a common regional response to the threat. If the pandemic shocks us into recognizing our real interest in cooperating multilaterally on the big global issues facing us, it will have served a useful purpose.



American Power Will Need a New Strategy

By Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

In 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a new national security strategy that focuses on great-power competition. COVID-19 shows this strategy to be inadequate. Even if the United States prevails as a great power, it cannot protect its security by acting alone.

As Richard Danzig summarized the problem in 2018: “Twenty-first century technologies are global not just in their distribution, but also in their consequences.

Pathogens, AI systems, computer viruses, and radiation that others may accidentally release could become as much our problem as theirs. Agreed reporting systems, shared controls, common contingency plans, norms, and treaties must be pursued as means of moderating our numerous mutual risks.”

On transnational threats like COVID-19 and climate change, it is not enough to think of American power over other nations. The key to success is also learning the importance of power with others. Every country puts its national interest first; the important question is how broadly or narrowly this interest is defined. COVID-19 shows we are failing to adjust our strategy to this new world.



The History of COVID-19 Will Be Written by the Victors

By John Allen

As it has always been, history will be written by the “victors” of the COVID-19 crisis. Every nation, and increasingly every individual, is experiencing the societal strain of this disease in new and powerful ways.

Inevitably, those nations that persevere—both by virtue of their unique political and economic systems, as well as from a public health perspective—will claim success over those who experience a different, more devastating outcome.

To some, this will appear as a great and definitive triumph for democracy, multilateralism, and universal health care. To others, it will showcase the clear “benefits” of decisive, authoritarian rule.

Either way, this crisis will reshuffle the international power structure in ways we can only begin to imagine. COVID-19 will continue to depress economic activity and increase tension between countries.

Over the long term, the pandemic will likely significantly reduce the productive capacity of the global economy, especially if businesses close and individuals detach from the labor force. This risk of dislocation is especially great for developing nations and others with a large share of economically vulnerable workers.

The international system will, in turn, come under great pressure, resulting in instability and widespread conflict within and across countries.



A Dramatic New Stage in Global Capitalism

By Laurie Garrett

The fundamental shock to the world’s financial and economic system is the recognition that global supply chains and distribution networks are deeply vulnerable to disruption. The coronavirus pandemic will therefore not only have long-lasting economic effects, but lead to a more fundamental change.

Globalization allowed companies to farm out manufacturing all over the world and deliver their products to markets on a just-in-time basis, bypassing the costs of warehousing. Inventories that sat on shelves for more than a few days were considered market failures

Supply had to be sourced and shipped on a carefully orchestrated, global level. COVID-19 has proven that pathogens can not only infect people but poison the entire just-in-time system.

Given the scale of financial market losses the world has experienced since February, companies are likely to come out of this pandemic decidedly gun-shy about the just-in-time model and about globally dispersed production.

The result could be a dramatic new stage in global capitalism, in which supply chains are brought closer to home and filled with redundancies to protect against future disruption. That may cut into companies’ near-term profits but render the entire system more resilient.



More Failed States

By Richard N. Haass

Permanent is not a word I am fond of, as little or nothing is, but I would think the coronavirus crisis will ​at least for a few years lead most governments ​to turn inward, focusing on what takes place within their borders rather than ​on what happens beyond them.

I anticipate greater moves toward selective self-sufficiency (and, as a result, decoupling) given supply chain vulnerability; even greater opposition to large-scale immigration; and a reduced ​willingness or commitment to tackle regional or global problems (including climate change) given the perceived need to dedicate resources to rebuild at home and deal with economic consequences of the crisis​.
I would expect many countries will have difficulty recovering from the crisis, with state weakness and failed states becoming an even more prevalent feature of the world. The crisis will likely contribute to the ongoing deterioration of Sino-American relations and the weakening of European integration.

On the positive side, we should see some modest strengthening of global public health governance. But overall, a crisis rooted in globalization will weaken rather than add to the world’s willingness and ability to deal with it.



The United States Has Failed the Leadership Test

By Kori Schake


The United States will no longer be seen as an international leader because of its government’s narrow self-interest and bungling incompetence.

The global effects of this pandemic could have been greatly attenuated by having international organizations provide more and earlier information, which would have given governments time to prepare and direct resources to where they’re most needed.

This is something the United States could have organized, showing that while it is self-interested, it is not solely self-interested. Washington has failed the leadership test, and the world is worse off for it.



In Every Country, We See the Power of the Human Spirit

By Nicholas Burns

The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest global crisis of this century. Its depth and scale are enormous. The public health crisis threatens each of the 7.8 billion people on Earth. The financial and economic crisis could exceed in its impact the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Each crisis alone could provide a seismic shock that permanently changes the international system and balance of power as we know it.

To date, international collaboration has been woefully insufficient. If the United States and China, the world’s most powerful countries, cannot put aside their war of words over which of them is responsible for the crisis and lead more effectively, both countries’ credibility may be significantly diminished.

If the European Union cannot provide more targeted assistance to its 500 million citizens, national governments might take back more power from Brussels in the future. In the United States, what is most at stake is the ability of the federal government to provide effective measures to stem the crisis.

In every country, however, there are many examples of the power of the human spirit—of doctors, nurses, political leaders, and ordinary citizens demonstrating resilience, effectiveness, and leadership. That provides hope that men and women around the world can prevail in response to this extraordinary challenge.

The Great Pause

SUBHEAD: While we can never fully go back, if we try something approaching normalcy will return.

By Albert Bates on 22 March 2020 for The Great Change -
(http://peaksurfer.blogspot.com/2020/03/the-great-pause.html)


Image above: Selfie by Albert Bates holding up in Mexico and wearing mask. From original article.

Fifteen years ago, when I began blogging, I called my page “The Great Change.” My premise was that the world was at the cusp of a phase shift in civilization.

The era of cheap oil had passed, and with it was gone the abundant energy that had created the growth-imperative economics everyone was so accustomed to.

Homo sapiens was going to be graduating, after a rite of passage, from an adolescent species, ever-expanding its niche by out-competing all others, to a mature adult species engaged in complex relationships to build a more stable steady-state within which to gracefully inhabit Earth.

What is coming will be wonderful, I said.

The manipulation of the price of energy — essentially issuing future government debt (to nature) to hide the real price of a commodity (shale, tar sands, or deep offshore crude oil, and fracked gas), using unbelievably expensive and wasteful corporate, military and clandestine means — fascism by definition — allowed our happy-go-lucky, motoring, consumerist society to keep on its merry way until dramatically catastrophic climate alteration began forcing us to notice what we were doing.

By then, we had overdrafted accounts with the planet to such an extent that foreclosures were cascading — floods, hurricanes, droughts, climate refugees, biodiversity crashes, fracking Ponzi busts, reactionary governments, and Coronageddon, to name a few.

The Great Change, over the course of all those years, gradually migrated from giving advice about prepping for the coming economic hardship (including recipes for tasty meals from your organic garden) to tracking changes in the weather, and then proposing solutions (biochar) that could increase the nutrient density of those homecooked meals while turning down the atmospheric thermostat over the course of the next century, employing a novel curative program we called the Cool Lab.

Enter Covid-19.

Those who have been following our recommended steps and have full pantries of canned goods, know where their water and power comes from and their sewage and plastics go, tend gardens even in winter, and have stockpiled books, DVDs, and a good assortment of sharp and well-oiled tools, will have little difficulty now sheltering in place, homeschooling their children, and caring for elderly relatives. 

For sure, the pandemic will be an emotional roller coaster for the next few years, and then we will all be trying to return to some semblance of normalcy. And, while we can never fully go back, with enough people trying, something approaching normalcy will return. Until we summit the coaster track and it plummets again.

It will be a roller-coaster if for no other reason than that it is now evident that full-on lockdowns, envisioned by government emergency committees as lasting a few weeks, or maybe a month, cannot realistically be extended for a year and beyond. 

That strategy is neither socially nor economically viable, even if it may be pandemic-control-appropriate from a medical standpoint. What may happen instead is that regional lockdowns will open and close as Covid cases rise and fall.

One bright spot: the discovery that smart thermometers build big datasets that allow rapid medical intervention, hotspot to hotspot, days or weeks before hospital admissions spike enough to advise CDC, WHO, or others attempting to monitor the outbreak. That technology is a real blessing. Smart thermometers should be distributed free-of-charge to every family and used daily. 

They can be uploading their data to number-crunching epidemiology centers that can dispatch health workers to the right places at just the right moments. Lockdowns, if needed, can follow in those discrete areas.

There is an assumption that immunity is conferred upon those who survive this disease. This has not been proven and nor has the notion that the disease cannot be spread by those who had the disease and then got well again.

Because of this uncertainty, we don’t know whether Covid-19 is a passing virus or one that will be with us until such time as an effective vaccine can be developed and tested, and hopefully, also, safe and effective treatments emerge. That will be at least a year from now and possibly much longer.

Anthropogenic aerosols in the atmosphere — the products of our industry that we exhaust to the air— bounce sunlight back to space. It is generally thought by science that this effect contributes a net cooling of between two-tenths and one-and-a-half degrees centigrade to the world’s average surface temperature.

In this video, Paul Beckwith provides some calculations for the temperature impact of the coronavirus closures as aerosol pollution is reduced.


Video above:Paul Beckwith talks about effects of coronavirus on climate-change. Part I of III. From (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y5X182LqFU).

Beckwith explains that the most widely cited estimates for the global dimming effect are between 0.25 and 0.5°C. Because coronavirus closures do not completely remove dimming (air traffic is reduced but coal plants still run), the reduction might be something like 0.03°C. According to ScienistsWarning.org:
There is also some question as to how long regional impacts might take to show up in the average global temperature (AGT) data. In any case, it is not likely that the temperature increase would be as much as 1.0°C. This is the number often given by those who exaggerate this effect. Paul Beckwith has called this a “completely absurd number.”
ScientistsWarning.org further cautions against putting too much faith in the 9/11 effect:
A US study by Dr Gang Hong of Texas A&M University has found that daily temperature range (DTR) variations of 1.0°C during September aren’t all that unusual and that the change in 2001 was probably attributable to low cloud cover.
Whether the virus affects the temperature or not, we are due for more extreme weather, and we could well see new high temperatures this summer and more global weirding next winter.

After sending my latest book, The Dark Side of the Ocean, off to my publisher, I had gone to Belize at the beginning of March to run a 2-week permaculture design course and continue work on the Cool Lab prototype planned for a small Mayan village there. When borders started closing, particularly singling out USAnians in the case of Guatemala and Mexico, I became concerned and cut my intended stay short.

Masked and gloved, I crossed the border into Mexico and retreated to my winter office off the north coast of the Yucatan. From this location I had authored The Post Petroleum Survival Guide in 2005 and thus it has always been well stocked with my prepper supplies, medicines, books and DVDs, and is a relatively secure place to self-quarantine for the next little while. Who knows? I may even write another book now.

In Albert Camus’ The Plague, written in 1947, Camus describes life under quarantine in a small village. With a well-founded fabric of trust, life was manageable, even joyful. What we should not lose under any circumstances, he said, is the decency that binds us.

Many unscrupulous officials will try to use this moment to stir passions against foreigners — Chinese and Europeans this month, USAnians next month, if you find yourself abroad like me

Camus said that after observing the misery, generosity, fear and nobility that people experience during quarantine, that “in the midst of so many afflictions” what one learns is that “in man there are more things worthy of admiration than of contempt.”

On January first, just as the virus was enveloping Wuhan, I reached the end of my 73rd year and embarked upon year 74.

They say it is not the years that get you but the miles, and in my case I have no shortage of scars and pains gathered from an active life, among them 3 of the 5 conditions that signal an elevated risk of mortality should a Covid cell lodge in one of my lungs.

Because of that, my intention now is to #StayHome and self-quarantine as best I can. If the internet gods smile upon this small thatched palapa, I should be able to keep posting from here, otherwise the blog may go silent for a spell. In either event, I wish everyone good luck, safe shelter, and all the benefits of this pause for reflection and renewal.
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Banks are about to drown

SUBHEAD: The entire world has completely ‘misunderestimated’ the Corona Virus.

By Simon Black for Soverignman on 18 March 2019 -
(https://www.sovereignman.com/trends/banks-are-going-to-drown-in-an-ocean-of-defaults-27537/)


Image above: Banking district in lower Manhattan in a simulated rise in water in New York Harbor. From (https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/can-new-york-be-saved-in-the-era-of-global-warming-240454/).

On November 6, 2000, then US presidential candidate George W. Bush told a crowd of cheering supporters, “they misunderestimated me.”

Now, if English is not your native language, allow me to clear the air: ‘misunderestimate’ is not a word. But then again, George W. Bush was legendary for hilarious slip-ups like this.

There are entire books dedicated to his ‘Bushisms,’ the ridiculous made-up words and incomprehensible sayings that became routine for the 43rd US President.

‘Misunderestimate’ seems to be a conflation of the words ‘misunderstand’ and ‘underestimate’. And while that was utterly hysterical 20 years ago when Bush first said it, ‘misunderestimate’ may be the most appropriate word of today.The entire world has completely ‘misunderestimated’ the Corona Virus.

In terms of misunderstand– that’s obvious. There’s so much that we don’t know about the virus (officially known as SARS-CoV-2) and the disease that it causes (COVID-19).

For example, a group of researchers published a “peer-reviewed” research paper earlier this month stating that the virus had split into multiple strains.

(Peer-reviewed is a type of self-regulation among academics; it means the paper had been evaluated by other experts before it was published.)

But other specialists in the field strongly disagreed with the paper’s conclusions.

Swiss biologist Richard Neher described the research as, “wrong, misleading. . . downright dangerous inferences,” while Australian virologist Ian Mackay called it a “weak paper and poor science.”

Another peer-reviewed study released in the Journal of Medical Virology concluded that the virus originated from snakes. But plenty of experts disagreed with that assertion too.

The scientific community has learned so much about SARS-CoV-2 since it first surfaced a few months ago.

But there’s still so much that’s unknown– and that makes perfect sense given that this virus is brand new. They’re trying to figure it out as quickly as possible, but that’s naturally going to lead to some disagreements and conflicting conclusions.

But then the Internet takes over, and suddenly everyone’s an expert. People who have no background in medicine and biology Tweet with a level of certainty about the virus that’s just plain silly.

US television personality Jimmy Kimmel joked about this last week, saying, “I speak [about the virus] as if I’ve been a professor of immunology at Stanford for 35 years…”

There’s still so many things that the experts don’t understand, or don’t agree on. The answers are coming, but it’s still early days.

But in addition to misunderstanding, the world has also totally underestimated this virus… and continues to do so.

It started in China back in December, with the government trying to keep the outbreak quiet and taking steps to silence the first whistleblower.

As the virus began to spread, Western nations complacently shrugged it off and assumed it would remain in Asia.

Even the World Health Organization refused to call this a ‘pandemic’ until March 11… only a week ago.

Investors around the world ignored this for months, completely underestimating the massive, worldwide economic impact the virus would have.

Even now, after one of the worst stock market crashes in history, people are still woefully underestimating the effects.

And I’m not talking about the stock market (though there could easily be more losses ahead). I’m talking about something far more serious: banks.

Banks are about to drown in an ocean of defaults. I’ll talk about this a lot more in the coming days, but briefly:
  • There’s $250 TRILLION in global debt right now– mortgages, credit card debt, business loans, government debt, etc.
  • And banks own a large portion of that debt.
  • This virus crisis is going to trigger a wave of defaults from consumers, businesses, and even governments.
  • Think about it: tourism alone makes up 10% of global GDP. Revenue in that entire sector– hotels, airlines, cruise ships, etc. has collapsed, and many of those companies aren’t going to survive.
  • The crash in oil prices is going to wipe out countless oil companies.
  • Many large retail chains, which were already struggling in the age of e-commerce, will likely declare bankruptcy.
  • Countless businesses around the world have ‘temporarily’ closed due to public health policies, and many of them will go out of business entirely.
  • MOST of these businesses owe lots of money to the banks, whether it’s a small business working line, or the $34 billion in debt that American Airlines owes. So the defaults are going to be massive.
  • On top of that, millions of people are going to lose their jobs and be unable to make payments on their credit card debt, auto loans, and even mortgages.
  • Again, there’s $250 trillion in global debt right now. Total bank capital worldwide is less than $10 trillion.
  • So if the coming defaults trigger a mere 4% loss in total debt, it will exceed the entirety of global bank capital.
  • And this doesn’t even take into consideration the impact of the $1 QUADRILLION derivatives exposure.
Misunderestimate? Absolutely.

This looming wave of loan defaults over the next few months could spark a crisis in the global financial system that completely dwarfs what happened back in 2008.

I desperately want to be wrong.

And it’s possible that public health officials radically shift their positions in the coming weeks and tell all the young, healthy people in the world to go back to work, get infected, and start developing immunity.

They may be forced to do this to avoid destroying the global economy.

But at this point, every possible scenario is on the table. Nothing is out of the question… especially when the arithmetic is so obvious.

And continuing to misunderestimate the effects of this virus could be far more dangerous than the virus itself.

We’ll talk about this more in the coming days, along with some sensible suggestions to reduce risk.