Our Mission

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 just how much energy can be supplied from renewables alone.

Renewables simply can't deliver the same quantity and versatility of energy as fossil fuels, but how much energy can they generate, and what will that mean for what the new world will look like?

REALgnd Project is a U.S.-based non-profit think tank setting out to:

 

We're setting out to:

Replace the fantasy narrative of a technological fix with the realistic narrative of scale-back and transformation.

Concretely understand which renewable technologies are viable, how much energy they can supply, and what those supplies will mean for the type of world that's possible.

 

All within the context of restoring a thriving, biodiverse habitat for Earth's non-human creatures and fair, egalitarian social structures for its people.

How We're Different

We recognize that the climate crisis is but one symptom of our underlying overshoot crisis.

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.

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 within the context of our overshoot crisis, which calls for a dramatic contraction of the human enterprise.

We call for a complete abolition of fossil fuels, not "net zero."

 

Net zero says that we should reduce CO2 emissions as much as possible, and where we “can’t” (in “hard-to-treat” sectors such as aviation and manufacturing), we can remove CO2 from the atmosphere either through engineered or natural means. Engineered means include carbon capture and storage (CCS), bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and direct air capture (DAC), and natural means include afforestation, reforestation, and soil sequestration.

Notwithstanding the energetic, resource, and ecological problems with engineered means, we view a total cessation of fossil fuels as a prerequisite for sustainability. The environmental impacts of extracting and transporting them and the moral-political consequences of vying for them are too severe to warrant their continued usage, not to mention their precariously low net energy and monetary returns. Natural means should be undertaken less to act as utilitarian mitigation banks than as part of a greater strategy to begin restoring our degraded ecosystems.

We recognize it's crucially important to understand which renewable technologies are viable before embarking on the transition.

The renewable energy technologies commonly put forth as solutions (which don’t constitute all possible options) present serious problems for sustainability and social justice.

 

They rely on fossil fuels for their entire life cycle, diminished stocks of non-renewable metals and minerals, and ecologically destructive industrial processes. Mining (largely in the Global South) involves terrible working conditions, and manufacturing and waste disposal exposes workers to toxins.

It’s unfathomably short-sighted to advocate for a wholesale switch-out of energy regimes for all of civilization without understanding the viability of the new regime in the first place.

We recognize the inescapable reality of total societal scale-back and transformation.

 

If overshoot is enabled by the unprecedented supply of fossil energy, then the path back down to the safe territory of living within ecological limits will be, in part, paved by the simple reality that renewables can't come close to matching the abundance or versatility of this one-off inheritance.

 

The energy descent future will entail a total restructuring of life as we know it. The question is whether we ourselves will manage the descent thoughtfully and humanely or Nature will force it upon us more painfully.

 

We seek to concretely understand the biophysical constraints we're up against, how those constraints will shape a world without fossil fuels, and how we can get there.

Commitment to the Truth

REALgnd Project is unprecedented not just in scale and breadth, but in facing head-on subject matter that is typically considered taboo, uncomfortable, or outside the scope of energy and sustainability. A commitment to systems thinking and a genuine concern for the Earth and all its inhabitants requires nothing less than a full, honest look at the trut​h. We'll address:

overpopulation

ending U.S. empire

restoring democracy while shifting to new political systems​ that match the decentralized future we face

economic de-growth

what aspects of modern life can be retained in an energy de-intensified world

taking action outside the system now

To borrow from a shaman's description of the hard realities of their work, approaching the task before us with new age ideas of light and love will be shredded in moments. The love that motivates us must be a deep, resounding love for all aspects of life. It must require an intimate relationship with the dark, the uncomfortable, the messy. And it must require an understanding of limits and the paradoxical truth that freedom arises out of constraint.

Demanding the Impossible

We are not naive about the predicament in which humanity finds itself. The extent of civilizational complexity and decay, the level of corruption, the lack of widespread understanding about where we are and what we face after fossil fuels, the limited amount of time left in which to act, and the sheer scale and magnitude of action required, all collude to present obstacles so formidable that a managed contraction of the human enterprise seems highly improbable.

 

As Lawrence Lessig has said about our crisis of democracy, “I’m actually not convinced that there is a happy story to tell here. But…we have to try. Regardless of what we think is possible, we have to act as if success is possible and give this fight everything we can. We must commit every ounce of energy to the battle.”

 

We share that sentiment and believe in the moral imperative of fighting for what is right, regardless of the odds of success or the seeming impossibility of the task before us.

Replace the fantasy narrative of a technological fix with the realistic narrative of scale-back and transformation.

Concretely understand which renewable technologies are biophysically viable, how much energy they can supply, and what those supplies will mean for the type of world that's possible.

 

All within the context of restoring thriving, biodiverse ecosystems for Earth's non-human inhabitants and fair, egalitarian social structures for its people.

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