I am eager to revisit a topic close to my heart, energy and the environment, which was the primary focus of my writing for a decade. I would like to make the connection between the ancient cycle of life traditions and the modern idea of zero-waste and a circular economy. The goal at LostGoddess.IO is to demonstrate that mythical wisdom is relevant in the postmodern world.
I did a podcast episode with Bruce de Torres where we did a brief introduction. This is an important topic that I will be revisiting.
I see the Earth as a single living green organism, and that we humans are merely cells within the larger organism. In turn, our bodies contain countless microorganisms, like bacteria and viruses. This globally interconnected web of life is the Mother of us all and we have a biological and moral responsibility to protect and improve her.
This is Deep Green philosophy and I did not learn it from Western traditions, I did not learn it from my science-based Enlightenment education, though I do believe that science confirms the perspective. I certainly did not learn about the Divine Mother in Church where I was taught that God created the Earth for us and we are separate from nature.
I have been on the record for years criticizing the mainstream environmental movement for promoting a 100% renewable energy agenda, exemplified by the Green New Deal. My primary criticism has been that the goal of eliminating all fossil fuels does not work at an engineering level despite all the lofty claims made by advocates. But rather than listing all the technical details and making an empirical argument, I want to talk from a worldview perspective.
By viewing nature holistically rather than empirically, the way we are taught in school, we can reframe our environmental challenges and arrive at a different set of solutions from those of today’s zeitgeist.
My philosophy is that as a society we should try to model nature rather than fighting it and trying to bend her to our will. A baseline belief in the West is that humans are separate from nature, it is something to be feared, tamed, and generally kept at bay. “Nature” is something we keep behind a fence in a park or preserve, not something that we are integrated into.
But there are lessons that we can learn from both nature and ancient traditions that apply to our current ecological crisis. Nature is a circular system that is constantly recycling. Life, death, and rebirth, the cycle of life is always turning and through this process, nature achieves endless growth with no pollution. Nature is a zero-waste system with a circular economy, every output feeds the next input.
Our Western economies are linear. We extract resources, use them once, and then dump them as waste. So we should not be surprised when we end up with big holes in the ground to our left and piles of pollution to our right. This is what our economy is designed to do, and ecologically speaking, it is designed to fail. Our entire economy is designed to manufacture toxic waste and it does an excellent job of it. This is true of all human industries and is rooted in our cultural mindsets as we are not taught to think in circular terms.
Politically speaking, climate change and global warming have been identified as our number one environmental problem. (I would argue that species extinction is our number one problem, but that is a separate discussion). Global warming is tied to rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), that result from the burning of fossil fuels (hydrocarbons).
Therefore, the proposed solution to halt climate change is to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and replace them with renewable energy (mainly wind and solar power) which will eliminate GHG emissions and halt global warming. This simple logic has dominated the political narrative for the last 20 years. Environmental activists have focused most of their efforts on confronting the coal, oil, and natural gas industries in the vain hope of putting them out of business.
Unfortunately, there are serious technical flaws in this reasoning, starting with the fact that broad swathes of the industrial economy rely on hydrocarbons that cannot be replaced, like high-temperature manufacturing, heavy-duty transportation, and chemicals. Secondly, energy resources that are diffuse and intermittent like wind and solar are not suitable replacements for resources that are concentrated and demand that is continuous. Two decades of effort promoting renewable energy have resulted in virtually no reduction of GHG emissions globally.
But the more important problem is that eco-zeitgeist analysis fails to recognize the underlying cultural and economic incentive issues that drive the environmental destruction in the first place. It is not just our energy industries that are polluting, it is all human industries that are polluting, as a result of our underlying linear economic models and cultural values.
We have a waste problem, not an energy problem, and it is faulty logic to imagine that replacing one destructive industry with a different destructive industry will solve much of anything. Wind turbines, solar panels, and electric batteries are all destined to end up as toxic waste in a few years just like most everything else in our economy.
We are told that we must eliminate the use of fossil fuels. Why? Because we are told that they are hopelessly polluting, they are finite and going to run out, and are responsible for climate change.
What if I told you we have solutions for these problems and this solution came in one word?
And that word is methane.
Methane (CH4), which is natural gas, is one carbon atom combined with four hydrogen atoms and it is the most energy-dense molecule we have available to work with (aside from pure hydrogen, which is generally derived from CH4). Methane is also an organic, biological gas that is in all of our bodies and is an intimate part of the Earth’s cycle of life.
Methane is the primary component of natural gas, and we are told that it is a terrible greenhouse gas and we should not use it at all. We are told that methane emissions from both nature and industrial leakage are even worse than carbon dioxide for global warming. Environmental activists have been mounting campaigns for years to halt natural gas drilling and pipeline expansions.
I disagree with the environmental activist community on the issue of natural gas.
Methane is a non-toxic, wildly abundant, renewable, and cheap replacement for coal and petroleum across all industries. Methane and its derivatives like LNG, hydrogen, and synfuels, are direct replacements for coal and oil in everything from power plants to aviation to heavy industry.
Rather than trying to eliminate all fossil fuels which is not actually possible, we should optimize around methane to replace both coal and petroleum in partnership with renewables and nuclear. This will eliminate most air pollution and halt the growth of GHG emissions at roughly our current levels or lower.
Coal and petroleum are both dirty, filthy fuels, and burning them produces the vast majority of toxic, deadly air pollution around the world as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Methane on the other hand is clean enough to burn indoors and cook your food on. Simply switching out dirty fuels for clean fuels is the most effective method we have for slashing air pollution as it is generally an easy, cost-effective switch that also improves mechanical performance.
Pure electric is even better ecologically as there are no emissions at all, but pure electric does not actually work in all use cases. We should use electric solutions as much as possible, but we still need to maintain the baseline use of fuels, just let them be clean fuels. As a rule of thumb, any fuel that is clean enough to burn indoors to cook food should be considered a clean fuel, and methane is the gold standard.
Methane is completely biological and all-natural, it is as green as green can be. Our bodies produce methane in our digestion and nature produces methane in massive amounts all day every day. Methane is renewable and it is common to build industrial anaerobic digesters that convert organic wastes into methane (RNG - renewable natural gas).
Methane is by far our most abundant fossil fuel and our most productive renewable fuel. There are vast quantities of frozen methane available offshore in the seafloor hydrate formations. We will never run out of methane, we even find it abundantly in space.
Methane and renewable energy are a perfect pair, as natural gas provides flexible and reliable baseload power while renewables enable natural gas to be used as efficiently as possible. Hybrid methane-electric is an ideal solution for flexible micro-grids.
When methane is cooled and converted into liquefied natural gas (LNG), it is incredibly safe as it does not burn in liquid form and it is completely non-toxic. I have written on methane’s outstanding safety and environmental performance here.
So what about the GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions? Methane and carbon dioxide are considered to be the primary variables in rising global temperatures and lowering GHG emissions is a focus of government policy around the world. Unfortunately, it has proven to be quite difficult to make anything more than marginal shifts in GHG emissions while maintaining robust industrial economies.
The experience of the Energiewende policies in Germany demonstrates that renewables are not sufficient to power heavy industry. Despite all their investments in wind and solar, Germany still needs to build the massive NordStream2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to maintain energy security.
What if we don’t really need to lower GHG emissions much to achieve environmental sustainability?
Methane and CO2 are natural parts of the Earth’s biological processes. Both molecules are major components of the atmosphere and both have a direct role in the global cycle of life along with oxygen and water. Greenhouse gases are life cycle gases.
As it turns out, the Earth has a massive carbon cycle that is much bigger than human emissions. Humans inject around 9 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere every year with 5 gigatons reabsorbed into oceans and vegetation according to UN Climate reports. The 4 gigatons of carbon that accumulate in the atmosphere are enough to throw the cycle out of balance and drive global warming.
But the broader carbon cycle is much larger, plant respiration and photosynthesis cycle more than 120 gigatons of carbon up and 120 gigatons down every year. Global vegetation contains around 550 gigatons of stored carbon while soils contain 2300 gigatons. These cursory numbers indicate that if we could harness the carbon cycle to our advantage we could readily bury all of our excess GHG emissions in soils and vegetation.
This solution may be simple and elegant but there is an obvious problem, which is that humans are busy destroying our ecosystems around the world, which also releases GHGs instead of absorbing them. As a global society, we are systematically ruining the carbon cycle on both ends. We are sending too much carbon up when burning fossil fuels, and simultaneously destroying the capacity to absorb those emissions by sacrificing our ecosystems to make farms, ranches, and commercial developments.
We need to solve both the problem of land use and GHG emissions to halt climate change, and I would argue that land use is the more important and challenging issue. Land use and loss of habitat is also the primary cause of species extinctions.
In theory, it is possible to replace both coal and petroleum today with methane, we have all the technology, infrastructure, and resources already in place.
Converting all petroleum and coal usage to clean fuels would effectively eliminate air pollution and avoid oil spills, while also ensuring robust energy supplies are available all over the world, reducing resource conflict.
In theory, the GHG emissions could then all be absorbed into the Earth’s ecosystems if they were healthy and robust, which they are not.
This would be a circular economy, zero-waste, clean fuels model that is modeled on nature. This model embraces the Earth’s carbon cycle rather than trying to fight it.
I have proposed using the revenues from a carbon tax to fund ecosystem renewal. A carbon tax is a fee paid on GHG emissions that is supposed to raise costs and drive emissions down. Carbon taxes are a popular idea among environmental economists but debates remain on how to use the revenues raised.
Depending on the rates set, ~$1 trillion could be raised annually and used to fund large-scale projects to restore wildlands and habitats. The more diverse and robust the ecosystem, with more animal life, the more carbon it would absorb and sequester.
This revenue stream could incentivize farmers and ranchers to change their methods so that they systematically restore the soils rather than depleting them. Farming and ranching can be both be a part of the land degradation problem or part of the solution depending on the land management techniques they use.
Currently, there are no economic incentives in place to improve soil, but under this proposal, landowners would be encouraged to protect natural lands as they could get paid for the ecosystem services.
This Deep Green scenario would require more than just a change of laws, it would require a deep-seated change of values, morals, and ethics. Our entire society would need to shift its psychology, particularly regarding our notions of private property and land use.
If we are serious about halting climate change then we need to pursue continental-scale ecosystem renewal with religious zeal and align our economic incentives to match.
If we collectively decided that it is a moral priority to restore our ecosystems we could do it, there is nothing but our own choices preventing us.
But is it really possible to change our values?
Yes, but it would require a reformation.
Put life first.
Love your Mother.
- Edward Dodge