Physics of Clouds & Collapse—interview w/Tim Garrett

Full length interview with Professor Tim Garrett, University of Utah. Clouds, Arctic pollution, & climate change. Energy, wealth & collapse. The life-cycle of civilizations and the electricity of brains. A wide-ranging interview, bound to be a classic.

Welcome to my third encounter with Dr. Tim Garrett from the University of Utah. Tim is an atmospheric scientist studying one of the big unknowns of our future climate: the behavior of clouds. Garrett also publishes papers on what I will call the physics of large-scale economy. He says civilization is a heat engine. The climate ramifications of that is a rabbit-hole where even confirmed preppers should shiver. Let us explore the clouds, the climate, and the Arctic with a side-order of inevitable collapse. Tim is Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at U. of Utah, and President and co-Founder of Particle Flux Analytics.

Interview covers two broad topics:

1. Up til 19:40—Tim’s work as an atmospheric scientist on understanding clouds, and in this interview, the role of clouds in the Arctic in particular

2. 19:40 onwards—The way he applies theory from physics to understand our economy and prediction of our troubled future

Show by Radio Ecoshock, reposted under CC License. Episode details at https://www.ecoshock.org/2018/10/tim-garrett-the-physics-of-clouds-collapse.html

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SHOW EXCERPT

Garrett sees “incredible parallels between civilization and clouds“, saying:

“These are complex systems that consume a lot of energy, that grow explosively, by consumer energy from their environment, and matter from their environment, and ultimately reach a point where they have consumed all that is available and die. For clouds we can see this all the time; for civilization we are still in this explosive growth phase.”

Tim explains we will consume as much matter and energy in the next 30 years as we have since 1750. As infinite growth is impossible, civilization must either decline organically or be forced to decline.

Garrett is astonished that it took us about 10,000 years to achieve current energy use, but to continue to grow, say 2.4%. We then need to double everything we have, all accumulated over 10,000 years, in just 30 years. Even if there were the energy resources to do that, including all the other resources required for that energy extraction and distribution system what happens to all that carbon waste in our atmosphere? Then, in that dependence on the growth hormone, it all needs to double again in another 30 years. In 60 years our world consumption of energy and resources would need to quadruple, during a period of intense climate heating, possibly up to 5 degrees C hotter. Garret concludes “Something has to give.”

In several places, Tim suggests we may revisit a system-wide Depression like the 1930’s. I’m not sure the 1930’s is a good analysis, or that we can reach any historical precedent from where we are now. Maybe the 1930’s will seem good or mild compare to the climate-damaged future! Or maybe humanity will squeeze into a brand new phase.

WHY “GREEN” ENERGY EITHER DOESN’T MATTER OF MAKES THE PROBLEM WORSE!

A commentator says: “the premise of his argument is that civilization is a heat engine and the source of energy to generate growth is ultimately irrelevant to the final outcome.”

Is Garrett saying that even if we manage to run civilization on solar, wind, hydro and geothermal if growth is necessary, we are still doomed to collapse? Apparently so, and he is not alone.

Tim’s Tweet of August 15 links to a New York Times article where even climate-aware Germany still depends on coal for up to 40% of it’s energy. He says, “Historically, new energy sources add to the mix rather than replace their older foundation.” That sounds pretty bleak for the future of Green energy like solar and wind. I can hear some of my listeners objecting as if our love has been insulted, our dreams broken. At 25 minutes into this show, Garrett essentially says we use green energy to build more civilization which converts more raw materials into civilization which needs more energy.

ENERGY IN THE BRAIN

Garrett tells us that the brain employs about 25 watts of electric power, about one fourth of all the energy we produce from the food we eat.

He writes “feelings and the sense of free will must require some degree of energy consumption and dissipation to exist as a process“. But are we all just a formula that can be deduced by physics? I worry Garrett may be trapped within glasses made from physics and math, and see everything through that lens. Take this example: Who cares what energy the brain and the rest of the body may be burning during a dream? Can we measure that energy in the sleeper and think we understand the dream, within a margin of error? I ask Tim directly that question in the interview.

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