Energy underpins everything, from biological food webs to the human civilizations embedded within them.
As we embark on the transition away from fossil fuels, it's crucial to understand what a renewable energy regime will look like and what that will mean for the new world.
Contrary to the mainstream myth, what are being called "renewables" are anything but, and neither they nor actual renewable sources of energy can deliver anywhere close to the quantity or quality of energy as fossil fuels.
REALgnd is a U.S.-based, non-profit think tank founded in 2020 to combat this and other dangerous myths about climate change by:
Changing the story about our unsustainability crisis
from one of technology-based false hopes
to one of clear-eyed ecological realism and a deeper sense of connection with the wholeness of life.
HOW WE'RE DIFFERENT
We speak bold truths that no other organizations do and address our predicament from a truly systems thinking perspective. We face head-on a whole range of subject matter that is typically considered taboo or outside the scope of energy and sustainability, from taking a radical stance on population reduction and acknowledging the urgent need to end U.S./Western empire, to marrying the physical and non-physical, or the rational-empirical-positivistic with the domain of heart-spirit-consciousness, for a genuinely wholistic synthesis.
To best do this, we like to think about our unsustainability predicament in terms of a patient with a disease. No disease can be cured if it’s not accurately diagnosed and treated. But humanity now faces a double problem: the disease itself on top of a commonly accepted diagnosis and treatment that are wildly off base and actually making the disease worse.
Changing the Diagnosis
Climate change isn't the problem – overshoot is.
Climate change, biodiversity loss, mass extinction, resource scarcity, ecosystem degradation – all are symptoms of one underlying problem: ecological overshoot. Too many people, consuming and polluting too much, enabled by a one-off inheritance of abundant fossil energy, has resulted in a vast overreach of the planet’s carrying capacity.
The laser focus on climate change neglects this systemic nature of the bigger problem. It would have us believe we can isolate and treat individual symptoms with technological fixes while ignoring the cancer causing them in the first place. The only way to address the climate crisis is to come back down from a state of overshoot, which calls for a dramatic physical contraction of the human enterprise.
Tweaking the system won't work – it (modern techno-industrial, or MTI, civilization) is inherently harmful and unsustainable.
If life as we know it today is made possible only by a one-off inheritance of fossil energy, it naturally follows that our present way of living is unsustainable. Whether we choose to wean ourselves off fossil fuels as quickly as possible (the wise route) or they eventually become too financially and energetically costly to keep using, the simple fact remains that there are no qualitative or quantitative replacements for them. Not only that, but this one-off energy source has single-handedly enabled the gutting of the ecosphere, in the process destroying the biophysical basis of our own existence and that of all other creatures. We have to come to terms with the reality that what many people have come to mistakenly perceive as normal (growth-based MTI civilization) is actually the single most anomalous and destructive blip in human history.
The physical manifestation of the disease is rooted in a diseased collective consciousness, which calls for a radical shift not just in the way we live physically but also in the way we show up psycho-emotionally-spiritually.
This anomalous MTI blip arose because we valued human exceptionalism, self-service, and short-term physical convenience over respect for all life and long-term holistic health. It arose because we lost our way. We became disconnected. We forgot who we really were and started focusing our awareness on increasingly narrow aspects of reality. No new physical system can take root unless we expand our consciousness to move beyond separation and fear, conflict and war, short-termism and self-indulgence, and an obsession with the rational and physical, to a greater sense of oneness and love, peace and compassion, long-term well-being for all, and perception beyond the suppressed veil of what has become modern ordinary consciousness by marrying the mind and soul.
Changing the Cure
Faux renewables are faux – we have to get real about what actually constitutes renewable energy.
Solar panels, high-tech wind turbines, large-scale hydropower, nuclear, geothermal, hydrogen – every you-name-it technology that will supposedly save the day – all rely on fossil fuels at every step of their life cycle. Their construction relies on a dwindling supply of non-renewable metals and minerals, on ecological destruction and pollution, and on terrible working conditions, much of which are offshored to the Global South. At the end of their short lives, faux renewables have to be decommissioned and transported (using fossil fuels) to waste sites, only for the entire process to start all over again. Nothing about this is renewable or sustainable.
On a basic level, truly renewable sources of energy are biomass (mostly wood), passive solar, simple mechanical power generated from water and wind, and human muscle power. We aim to eventually go beyond this ‘agrarian’ template of conceptualizing energy to explore more of an ‘ancient’ template for living harmoniously with Earth’s energies and resources.
Forget "net zero" and "decoupling" – they're shams.
Net zero says that we should reduce CO2 emissions as much as possible, and where we “can’t” (in sectors like aviation and high-heatmanufacturing), we can remove CO2 from the atmosphere either through engineered or natural means. Engineered means primarily include carbon capture and storage and direct air capture. Natural means include afforestation, reforestation, and soil sequestration.
The problem with net zero is that it:
Relies on unproven technologies that can only be manufactured through fossil fuel-based, techno-industrial processes.
Involves the injection of toxic substances into the ground.
Belies the point that ecosystem restoration is needed to heal our planet and its life support systems, not just sequester carbon.
Ignores the need to abolish fossil fuels 1) in preparation for their eventual depletion since they’ll soon become too financially and energetically costly to extract and use, 2) to avoid the continued ecological impacts of extracting, transporting, and processing them, and 3) to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
Decoupling says that we can have economic and material growth that doesn’t negatively impact the environment so long as that growth relies on “green” energy and technology. This techno-optimist, human exceptionalist view of the world forgets, or denies, that we are part of the natural world. The human enterprise is an embedded subsystem of the ecosphere – decoupling it from Nature isn’t even theoretically possible.
We need to massively reduce our material presence while expanding in mind and spirit.
If overshoot is the result of too many people consuming and polluting too much, all enabled by fossil fuels, then the remedy is fewer people consuming and polluting less, with fossil energy removed from the picture. We need to:
Dramatically reduce the size of the global population (using the perfectly fair and humane tools at our disposal) to the one billion or less people that this already much damaged Earth can support with truly renewable sources of energy.
Dramatically reduce energy and material consumption and eliminate the financial growth and consolidation imperatives that drive it.
Phase-out of fossil energy while radically restructuring society in line with the new energy and healing imperatives, involving things like setting aside half for Nature, re-localizing and re-building human settlements within their supportive ecosystems to function with genuinely renewable energy and materials, and shifting to agroecology.
As our focus on "material progress" (as commonly perceived) wanes, emphasis can shift to progress of the mind and spirit, which are unlimited. Absent fossil fuel slaves, we’ll lead more physically active lives in closer contact with each other and Nature, restoring our shattered sense of well-being and connection. We’ll return to community and learn how to live in greater harmony with the Earth and cosmos, expanding and elevating the way we show up consciously to change our physical world for the better.
WHAT DO WE THINK THE FUTURE WILL HOLD?
The questions inevitably arise: do we have enough time? Is there any hope? What can be done?
We think it’s highly unlikely that governments will do what needs to be done to avert catastrophic biophysical collapse and descend from a state of overshoot.
Even so, we still believe in the value of outlining sound prognoses and solutions that a) might inspire politicians or governments to receptivity as they awaken to the great unravelling, and b) can serve as guidance for individuals looking to chart life anew on the ground.
In short, we think it’s probable that MTI civilization will collapse catastrophically but that pockets of people with a rising level of consciousness and awareness of our eco-predicament will survive and act as the seeders of a new world.
Some people think humanity is fatally doomed, while others see only a positive shift towards an elevated way of being. But it’s our contention that each perspective misses the other half of the whole. In their focus on darkness and despair, the ‘doomer’ crowd fails to see that oftentimes that which isn’t in the best and highest has to die so that something better can be re-born in its place. And in their focus on the upsides of an expanding consciousness, the ‘spiritual’ crowd often fails to see that an inevitable period of ugly biophysical collapse will likely play out as the new is being ushered in.
We bring together both yin and yang to present a realistic – pleasant and unpleasant, light and dark – forecast of what we think is on the horizon. Our work seeks to integrate both aspects of this forecast, offering prescriptions for what might be done to navigate an intelligent biophysical contraction of the human enterprise while engaging with diverse aspects of a heart-based, expanded way of ushering in a New Earth.