Grid Beam is Minecraft for real life

SUBHEAD: Grid Beam is a kind of LEGO, or Erector Set, for grownups who want to build real things.

By Kirsten Dirksen on 17 September 2017 for -
(https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDsElQQt_gCZ9LgnW-7v-cQ)


Image above: A computer workstation built by the Jergensons using the wooden Grid Beam system. Still frame from video below.

[IB Publishers note: The Unistrut metal framing system similar in application to the metal Grid Beam system. Unistrut was invented around 1920 by Charles Attwoodand is still widely used in the building industry for everything from hanging pipes above ceilings to framing out engineering projects. There are a myriad of components built for the 1 5/8" Unistrut beams. The big difference is unlike Grid Beam you cannot make the Unistrut beams is a home shop.]

Grid Beam is a kind of LEGO, or Erector Set, for grownups who want to build real things.

Its creators, brothers Phil and Richard Jergenson, have used it to create tiny houses, furniture, electric vehicles, bicycles and even a solar train car that made a 44-mile run on working rail.

The Jergensons grew up playing with modular toys- LEGOs, Meccano, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs- and wanted to apply this technology to help people construct their own environments, whether car, bike or bed.

Phil’s daughter, Rona, grew up with a set of Grid Beam (then called Box Beam) and constantly re-modeled her room.

“My bed, I changed it out every week, my dad would come in and one time I would have a bunk bed with a slide, the next day I”d say I don’t really want another bed let me put a desk underneath it.”

The Grid Beam brothers operate an off-grid, solar-powered shop in Willits, CA (Mendocino County) where they manufacture and sell the hardware: 2x2 wood (or aluminium) beams with holes drilled through every 1 ½ inches, as well as, standard furniture bolts and accessories like wheels, bicycle pedals or feet for tiny houses.



Video above: A 28 minute video explaining Grid Beam system and examples of things the Jergenson brothers have constructed with it. From (https://youtu.be/PIMESt9iLYg).

And given the consistent pattern of the Grid Beams, designs are easily replicated.

“If you just count the holes you can duplicate these frames just by looking at a couple of photos,” explains Phil.

“You can do anything for a fraction of the price. I see people being able to build their own tiny house and tiny electric car for easily 2 or 3 thousand dollars because that’s the cost of the components,” argues Phil.

“And when you build it yourself, if something should go wrong, you are the specialist and you are the one who can fix it.”

Visit:
http://www.gridbeam.com/

Read:
“How to Build with Grid Beams” https://www.amazon.com/How-Build-Grid...

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How (not) to run on renewables

SUBHEAD: How will we be able to rely on renewable solar and wind power to run our society.

By Kris De Decker on 15 September 2017 for Low Tech Magazine -
(http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2017/09/how-to-run-modern-society-on-solar-and-wind-powe.html)

[IB Publisher's note: There are graphs and other images in the original article that are not reproduced in this posting]


Image above: Windmill in Moulbaix, Belgium, 17th/18th century. Photo by Jean-Pol GrandMont. From original article.

While the potential of wind and solar energy is more than sufficient to supply the electricity demand of industrial societies, these resources are only available intermittently.

To ensure that supply always meets demand, a renewable power grid needs an oversized power generation and transmission capacity of up to ten times the peak demand. It also requires a balancing capacity of fossil fuel power plants, or its equivalent in energy storage.

Consequently, matching supply to demand at all times makes renewable power production a complex, slow, expensive and unsustainable undertaking.

Yet, if we would adjust energy demand to the variable supply of solar and wind energy, a renewable power grid could be much more advantageous. Using wind and solar energy only when they're available is a traditional concept that modern technology can improve upon significantly.

100% Renewable Energy
It is widely believed that in the future, renewable energy production will allow modern societies to become independent from fossil fuels, with wind and solar energy having the largest potential.

An oft-stated fact is that there's enough wind and solar power available to meet the energy needs of modern civilisation many times over.

For instance, in Europe, the practical wind energy potential for electricity production on- and off-shore is estimated to be at least 30,000 TWh per year, or ten times the annual electricity demand. [1] In the USA, the technical solar power potential is estimated to be 400,000 TWh, or 100 times the annual electricity demand. [2]

Such statements, although theoretically correct, are highly problematic in practice. This is because they are based on annual averages of renewable energy production, and do not address the highly variable and uncertain character of wind and solar energy.
Annual averages of renewable energy production do not address the highly variable and uncertain character of wind and solar energy
Demand and supply of electricity need to be matched at all times, which is relatively easy to achieve with power plants that can be turned on and off at will. However, the output of wind turbines and solar panels is totally dependent on the whims of the weather.

Therefore, to find out if and how we can run a modern society on solar and wind power alone, we need to compare time-synchronised electricity demand with time-synchronised solar or wind power availability. [3][4] [5] In doing so, it becomes clear that supply correlates poorly with demand.

The Intermittency of Solar Energy

Solar power is characterised by both predictable and unpredictable variations. There is a predictable diurnal and seasonal pattern, where peak output occurs in the middle of the day and in the summer, depending on the apparent motion of the sun in the sky. [6] [7]

When the sun is lower in the sky, its rays have to travel through a larger air mass, which reduces their strength because they are absorbed by particles in the atmosphere. The sun's rays are also spread out over a larger horizontal surface, decreasing the energy transfer per unit of horizontal surface area.

When the sun is 60° above the horizon, the sun's intensity is still 87% of its maximum when it reaches a horizontal surface. However, at lower angles, the sun's intensity quickly decreases. At a solar angle of 15°, the radiation that strikes a horizontal surface is only 25% of its maximum.

On a seasonal scale, the solar elevation angle also correlates with the number of daylight hours, which reduces the amount of solar energy received over the course of a day at times of the year when the sun is already lower in the sky. And, last but not least, there's no solar energy available at night.

Likewise, the presence of clouds adds unpredictable variations to the solar energy supply. Clouds scatter and absorb solar radiation, reducing the amount of insolation that reaches the ground below. Solar output is roughly 80% of its maximum with a light cloud cover, but only 15% of its maximum on a heavy overcast day. [8][9][10]

Due to a lack of thermal or mechanical inertia in solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, the changes due to clouds can be dramatic.

For example, under fluctuating cloud cover, the output of multi-megawatt PV power plants in the Southwest USA was reported to have variations of roughly 50% in a 30 to 90 second timeframe and around 70% in a timeframe of 5 to 10 minutes. [6]
In London, a solar panel produces 65 times less energy on a heavy overcast day in December at 10 am than on a sunny day in June at noon.
The combination of these predictable and unpredictable variations in solar power makes it clear that the output of a solar power plant can vary enormously throughout time.

In Phoenix, Arizona, the sunniest place in the USA, a solar panel produces on average 2.7 times less energy in December than in June. Comparing a sunny day at midday in June with a heavy overcast day at 10 am in December, the difference in solar output is almost twentyfold. [11]

In London, UK, which is a moderately suitable location for solar power, a solar panel produces on average 10 times less energy in December than in June. Comparing a sunny day in June at noon with a heavy overcast day in December at 10 am, the solar output differs by a factor of 65. [8][9]

The Intermittency of Wind Energy
Compared to solar energy, the variability of the wind is even more volatile. On the one hand, wind energy can be harvested both day and night, while on the other hand, it's less predictable and less reliable than solar energy.

During daylight hours, there's always a minimum amount of solar power available, but this is not the case for wind, which can be absent or too weak for days or even weeks at a time. There can also be too much wind, and wind turbines then have to be shut down in order to avoid damage.

On average throughout the year, and depending on location, modern wind farms produce 10-45% of their rated maximum power capacity, roughly double the annual capacity factor of the average solar PV installation (5-30%). [6] [12][13][14] In practice, however, wind turbines can operate between 0 and 100% of their maximum power at any moment.

For many locations, only average wind speed data is available. However, the chart above shows the daily and hourly wind power output on 29 different days at a wind farm in California.

At any given hour of the day and any given day of the month, wind power production can vary between zero and 600 megawatt, which is the maximum power production of the wind farm. [6]

Even relatively small changes in wind speed have a large effect on wind power production: if the wind speed decreases by half, power production decreases by a factor of eight. [15] Wind resources also vary throughout the years. Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark show a wind speed inter-annual variability of up to 30%. [1] Yearly differences in solar power can also be significant. [16] [17]

How to Match Supply with Demand?
To some extent, wind and solar energy can compensate for each other. For example, wind is usually twice as strong during the winter months, when there is less sun. [18] However, this concerns average values again.

At any particular moment of the year, wind and solar energy may be weak or absent simultaneously, leaving us with little or no electricity at all.

Electricity demand also varies throughout the day and the seasons, but these changes are more predictable and much less extreme. Demand peaks in the morning and in the evening, and is at its lowest during the night. However, even at night, electricity use is still close to 60% of the maximum.
At any particular moment of the year, wind and solar energy may be weak or absent simultaneously, leaving us with little or no electricity at all.
Consequently, if renewable power capacity is calculated based on the annual averages of solar and wind energy production and in tune with the average power demand, there would be huge electricity shortages for most of the time. To ensure that electricity supply always meets electricity demand, additional measures need to be taken.

First, we could count on a backup infrastructure of dispatchable fossil fuel power plants to supply electricity when there's not enough renewable energy available.

Second, we could oversize the renewable generation capacity, adjusting it to the worst case scenario.

Third, we could connect geographically dispersed renewable energy sources to smooth out variations in power production. Fourth, we could store surplus electricity for use in times when solar and/or wind resources are low or absent.

As we shall see, all of these strategies are self-defeating on a large enough scale, even when they're combined. If the energy used for building and maintaining the extra infrastructure is accounted for in a life cycle analysis of a renewable power grid, it would be just as CO2-intensive as the present-day power grid. ]

Strategy 1: Backup Power Plants

Up to now, the relatively small share of renewable power sources added to the grid has been balanced by dispatchable forms of electricity, mainly rapidly deployable gas power plants.

Although this approach completely "solves" the problem of intermittency, it results in a paradox because the whole point of switching to renewable energy is to become independent of fossil fuels, including gas. [19]

Most scientific research focuses on Europe, which has the most ambitious plans for renewable power.

For a power grid based on 100% solar and wind power, with no energy storage and assuming interconnection at the national European level only, the balancing capacity of fossil fuel power plants needs to be just as large as peak electricity demand. [12] In other words, there would be just as many non-renewable power plants as there are today.

Such a hybrid infrastructure would lower the use of carbon fuels for the generation of electricity, because renewable energy can replace them if there is sufficient sun or wind available.

However, lots of energy and materials need to be invested into what is essentially a double infrastructure. The energy that's saved on fuel is spent on the manufacturing, installation and interconnection of millions of solar panels and wind turbines.

Although the balancing of renewable power sources with fossil fuels is widely regarded as a temporary fix that's not suited for larger shares of renewable energy, most other technological strategies (described below) can only partially reduce the need for balancing capacity.

Strategy 2: Oversizing Renewable Power Production
Another way to avoid energy shortages is to install more solar panels and wind turbines. If solar power capacity is tailored to match demand during even the shortest and darkest winter days, and wind power capacity is matched to the lowest wind speeds, the risk of electricity shortages could be reduced significantly.

However, the obvious disadvantage of this approach is an oversupply of renewable energy for most of the year.

During periods of oversupply, the energy produced by solar panels and wind turbines is curtailed in order to avoid grid overloading.

Problematically, curtailment has a detrimental effect on the sustainability of a renewable power grid. It reduces the electricity that a solar panel or wind turbine produces over its lifetime, while the energy required to manufacture, install, connect and maintain it remains the same.

Consequently, the capacity factor and the energy returned for the energy invested in wind turbines and solar panels decrease. [20]
Installing more solar panels and wind turbines reduces the risk of shortages, but it produces an oversupply of electricity for most of the year.
Curtailment rates increase spectacularly as wind and solar comprise a larger fraction of the generation mix, because the overproduction's dependence on the share of renewables is exponential.

Scientists calculated that a European grid comprised of 60% solar and wind power would require a generation capacity that's double the peak load, resulting in 300 TWh of excess electricity every year (roughly 10% of the current annual electricity consumption in Europe).

In the case of a grid with 80% renewables, the generation capacity needs to be six times larger than the peak load, while the excess electricity would be equal to 60% of the EU's current annual electricity consumption. Lastly, in a grid with 100% renewable power production, the generation capacity would need to be ten times larger than the peak load, and excess electricity would surpass the EU annual electricity consumption. [21] [22] [23]

This means that up to ten times more solar panels and wind turbines need to be manufactured. The energy that's needed to create this infrastructure would make the switch to renewable energy self-defeating, because the energy payback times of solar panels and wind turbines would increase six- or ten-fold.

For solar panels, the energy payback would only occur in 12-24 years in a power grid with 80% renewables, and in 20-40 years in a power grid with 100% renewables.

Because the life expectancy of a solar panel is roughly 30 years, a solar panel may never produce the energy that was needed to manufacture it. Wind turbines would remain net energy producers because they have shorter energy payback times, but their advantage compared to fossil fuels would decrease. [24]

Strategy 3: Connect Grids with Supergrids
The variability of solar and wind power can also be reduced by interconnecting renewable power plants over a wider geographical region. For example, electricity can be overproduced where the wind is blowing but transmitted to meet demand in becalmed locations. [19]

Interconnection also allows the combination of technologies that utilise different variable power resources, such as wave and tidal energy. [3] Furthermore, connecting power grids over large geographical areas allows a wider sharing of backup fossil fuel power plants.

Although today's power systems in Europe and the USA stretch out over a large enough area, these grids are currently not strong enough to allow interconnection of renewable energy sources.

This can be solved with a powerful overlay high-voltage DC transmission grid. Such "supergrids" form the core of many ambitious plans for 100% renewable power production, especially in Europe. [25]

The problem with this strategy is that transmission capacity needs to be overbuilt, over very long distances. [19]

For a European grid with a share of 60% renewable power (an optimal mix of wind and solar), grid capacity would need to be increased at least sevenfold.

If individual European countries would disregard national concerns about security of supply, and backup balancing capacity would be optimally distributed throughout the continent, the necessary grid capacity extensions can be limited to about triple the existing European high-voltage grid.

For a European power grid with a share of 100% renewables, grid capacity would need to be up to twelve times larger than it is today. [21] [26][27]
Even in the UK, which has one of the best renewable energy sources in the world, combining wind, sun, wave and tidal power would still generate electricity shortages for 65 days per year.
The problems with such grid extensions are threefold. Firstly, building infrastructure such as transmission towers and their foundations, power lines, substations, and so on, requires a significant amount of energy and other resources.

This will need to be taken into account when making a life cycle analysis of a renewable power grid. As with oversizing renewable power generation, most of the oversized transmission infrastructure will not be used for most of the time, driving down the transmission capacity factor substantially.

Secondly, a supergrid involves transmission losses, which means that more wind turbines and solar panels will need to be installed to compensate for this loss.

Thirdly, the acceptance of and building process for new transmission lines can take up to ten years. [20][25]

This is not just bureaucratic hassle: transmission lines have a high impact on the land and often face local opposition, which makes them one of the main obstacles for the growth of renewable power production.

Even with a supergrid, low power days remain a possibility over areas as large as Europe. With a share of 100% renewable energy sources and 12 times the current grid capacity, the balancing capacity of fossil fuel power plants can be reduced to 15% of the total annual electricity consumption, which represents the maximum possible benefit of transmission for Europe. [28]

Even in the UK, which has one of the best renewable energy sources in the world, interconnecting wind, sun, wave and tidal power would still generate electricity shortages for 18% of the time (roughly 65 days per year). [29] [30][31]


Image above: One hundred year old brig "Eye of the Wind" is still sailing commercially. From original article.

Strategy 4: Energy Storage

A final strategy to match supply to demand is to store an oversupply of electricity for use when there is not enough renewable energy available. Energy storage avoids curtailment and it's the only supply-side strategy that can make a balancing capacity of fossil fuel plants redundant, at least in theory. In practice, the storage of renewable energy runs into several problems.

First of all, while there's no need to build and maintain a backup infrastructure of fossil fuel power plants, this advantage is negated by the need to build and maintain an energy storage infrastructure.

Second, all storage technologies have charging and discharging losses, which results in the need for extra solar panels and wind turbines to compensate for this loss.

The energy required to build and maintain the storage infrastructure and the extra renewable power plants need to be taken into account when conducting a life cycle analysis of a renewable power grid.

In fact, research has shown that it can be more energy efficient to curtail renewable power from wind turbines than to store it, because the energy needed to manufacture storage and operate it (which involves charge-discharge losses) surpasses the energy that is lost through curtailment. [23]
If we count on electric cars to store the surplus of renewable electricity, their batteries would need to be 60 times larger than they are today
It has been calculated that for a European power grid with 100% renewable power plants (670 GW wind power capacity and 810 GW solar power capacity) and no balancing capacity, the energy storage capacity needs to be 1.5 times the average monthly load and amounts to 400 TWh, not including charging and discharging losses. [32] [33] [34]

To give an idea of what this means: the most optimistic estimation of Europe's total potential for pumped hydro-power energy storage is 80 TWh [35], while converting all 250 million passenger cars in Europe to electric drives with a 30 kWh battery would result in a total energy storage of 7.5 TWh.

In other words, if we count on electric cars to store the surplus of renewable electricity, their batteries would need to be 60 times larger than they are today (and that's without allowing for the fact that electric cars will substantially increase power consumption).

Taking into account a charging/discharging efficiency of 85%, manufacturing 460 TWh of lithium-ion batteries would require 644 million Terajoule of primary energy, which is equal to 15 times the annual primary energy use in Europe. [36]

This energy investment would be required at minimum every twenty years, which is the most optimistic life expectancy of lithium-ion batteries. There are many other technologies for storing excess electricity from renewable power plants, but all have unique disadvantages that make them unattractive on a large scale. [37] [38]

Matching Supply to Demand Overbuilds the Infrastructure

In conclusion, calculating only the energy payback times of individual solar panels or wind turbines greatly overestimates the sustainability of a renewable power grid.

If we want to match supply to demand at all times, we also need to factor in the energy use for overbuilding the power generation and transmission capacity, and the energy use for building the backup generation capacity and/or the energy storage.

The need to overbuild the system also increases the costs and the time required to switch to renewable energy.

Calculating only the energy payback times of individual solar panels or wind turbines greatly overestimates the sustainability of a renewable power grid.
Combining different strategies is a more synergistic approach which improves the sustainability of a renewable power grid, but these advantages are not large enough to provide a fundamental solution. [33] [39] [40]

Building solar panels, wind turbines, transmission lines, balancing capacity and energy storage using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels doesn't solve the problem either, because it also assumes an overbuilding of the infrastructure: we would need to build an extra renewable energy infrastructure to build the renewable energy infrastructure.

Strategy 5: Adjusting Demand to Supply

However, this doesn't mean that a sustainable renewable power grid is impossible. There's a fifth strategy, which does not try to match supply to demand, but instead aims to match demand to supply. In this scenario, renewable energy would ideally be used only when it's available.

If we could manage to adjust all energy demand to variable solar and wind resources, there would be no need for grid extensions, balancing capacity or overbuilding renewable power plants.

Likewise, all the energy produced by solar panels and wind turbines would be utilised, with no transmission losses and no need for curtailment or energy storage.

Of course, adjusting energy demand to energy supply at all times is impossible, because not all energy using activities can be postponed. However, the adjustment of energy demand to supply should take priority, while the other strategies should play a supportive role.

If we let go of the need to match energy demand for 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, a renewable power grid could be built much faster and at a lower cost, making it more sustainable overall.
If we could manage to adjust all energy demand to variable solar and wind resources, there would no need for energy storage, grid extensions, balancing capacity or overbuilding renewable power plants.
With regards to this adjustment, even small compromises yield very beneficial results. For example, if the UK would accept electricity shortages for 65 days a year, it could be powered by a 100% renewable power grid (solar, wind, wave & tidal power) without the need for energy storage, a backup capacity of fossil fuel power plants, or a large overcapacity of power generators. [29]

If demand management is discussed at all these days, it's usually limited to so-called 'smart' household devices, like washing machines or dishwashers that automatically turn on when renewable energy supply is plentiful. However, these ideas are only scratching the surface of what's possible.

Before the Industrial Revolution, both industry and transportation were largely dependent on intermittent renewable energy sources. The variability in the supply was almost entirely solved by adjusting energy demand.

For example, windmills and sailing boats only operated when the wind was blowing. In the next article, I will explain how this historical approach could be successfully applied to modern industry and cargo transportation.

Sources:
[1] Swart, R. J., et al. Europe's onshore and offshore wind energy potential, an assessment of environmental and economic constraints. No. 6/2009. European Environment Agency, 2009.

[2] Lopez, Anthony, et al. US renewable energy technical potentials: a GIS-based analysis. NREL, 2012. See also Here's how much of the world would need to be covered in solar panels to power Earth, Business Insider, October 2015.

[3] Hart, Elaine K., Eric D. Stoutenburg, and Mark Z. Jacobson. "The potential of intermittent renewables to meet electric power demand: current methods and emerging analytical techniques." Proceedings of the IEEE 100.2 (2012): 322-334.

[4] Ambec, Stefan, and Claude Crampes. Electricity production with intermittent sources of energy. No. 10.07. 313. LERNA, University of Toulouse, 2010.

[5] Mulder, F. M. "Implications of diurnal and seasonal variations in renewable energy generation for large scale energy storage." Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy 6.3 (2014): 033105.

[6] INITIATIVE, MIT ENERGY. "Managing large-scale penetration of intermittent renewables." (2012).

[7] Richard Perez, Mathieu David, Thomas E. Hoff, Mohammad Jamaly, Sergey Kivalov, Jan Kleissl, Philippe Lauret and Marc Perez (2016), "Spatial and temporal variability of solar energy", Foundations and Trends in Renewable Energy: Vol. 1: No. 1, pp 1-44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/2700000006

[8] Sun Angle and Insolation. FTExploring.

[9] Sun position calculator, Sun Earth Tools.

[10] Burgess, Paul. " Variation in light intensity at different latitudes and seasons effects of cloud cover, and the amounts of direct and diffused light." Forres, UK: Continuous Cover Forestry Group. Available online at http://www. ccfg. org. uk/conferences/downloads/P_Burgess. pdf. 2009.

[11] Solar output can be increased, especially in winter, by tilting solar panels so that they make a 90 degree angle with the sun's rays. However, this only addresses the spreading out of solar irradiation and has no effect on the energy lost because of the greater air mass, nor on the amount of daylight hours. Furthermore, tilting the panels is always a compromise. A panel that's ideally tilted for the winter sun will be less efficient in the summer sun, and the other way around.

[12] Schaber, Katrin, Florian Steinke, and Thomas Hamacher. "Transmission grid extensions for the integration of variable renewable energies in europe: who benefits where?." Energy Policy 43 (2012): 123-135.

[13] German offshore wind capacity factors, Energy Numbers, July 2017

[14] What are the capacity factors of America's wind farms? Carbon Counter, 24 July 2015.

[15] Sorensen, Bent. Renewable Energy: physics, engineering, environmental impacts, economics & planning; Fourth Edition. Elsevier Ltd, 2010.

[16] Jerez, S., et al. "The Impact of the North Atlantic Oscillation on Renewable Energy Resources in Southwestern Europe." Journal of applied meteorology and climatology 52.10 (2013): 2204-2225.

[17] Eerme, Kalju. "Interannual and intraseasonal variations of the available solar radiation." Solar Radiation. InTech, 2012.

[18] Archer, Cristina L., and Mark Z. Jacobson. "Geographical and seasonal variability of the global practical wind resources." Applied Geography 45 (2013): 119-130.

[19] Rugolo, Jason, and Michael J. Aziz. "Electricity storage for intermittent renewable sources." Energy & Environmental Science 5.5 (2012): 7151-7160.

[20] Even at today's relatively low shares of renewables, curtailment is already happening, caused by either transmission congestion, insufficient transmission availability, or minimal operating levels on thermal generators (coal and atomic power plants are designed to operate continuously). See: “Wind and solar curtailment”, Debra Lew et al., National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2013. For example, in China, now the world's top wind power producer, nearly one-fifth of total wind power is curtailed. See: Chinese wind earnings under pressure with fifth of farms idle, Sue-Lin Wong & Charlie Zhu, Reuters, May 17, 2015.

[21] Barnhart, Charles J., et al. "The energetic implications of curtailing versus storing solar- and wind-generated electricity." Energy & Environmental Science 6.10 (2013): 2804-2810.

[22] Schaber, Katrin, et al. "Parametric study of variable renewable energy integration in europe: advantages and costs of transmission grid extensions." Energy Policy 42 (2012): 498-508.

[23] Schaber, Katrin, Florian Steinke, and Thomas Hamacher. "Managing temporary oversupply from renewables efficiently: electricity storage versus energy sector coupling in Germany." International Energy Workshop, Paris. 2013.

[24] Underground cables can partly overcome this problem, but they are about 6 times more expensive than overhead lines.

[25] Szarka, Joseph, et al., eds. Learning from wind power: governance, societal and policy perspectives on sustainable energy. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

[26] Rodriguez, Rolando A., et al. "Transmission needs across a fully renewable european storage system." Renewable Energy 63 (2014): 467-476.

[27] Furthermore, new transmission capacity is often required to connect renewable power plants to the rest of the grid in the first place -- solar and wind farms must be co-located with the resource itself, and often these locations are far from the place where the power will be used.

[28] Becker, Sarah, et al. "Transmission grid extensions during the build-up of a fully renewable pan-European electricity supply." Energy 64 (2014): 404-418.

[29] Zero Carbon britain: Rethinking the Future, Paul Allen et al., Centre for Alternative Technology, 2013

[30] Wave energy often correlates with wind power: if there's no wind, there's usually no waves.

[31] Building even larger supergrids to take advantage of even wider geographical regions, or even the whole planet, could make the need for balancing capacity largely redundant. However, this could only be done at very high costs and increased transmission losses. The transmission costs increase faster than linear with distance traveled since also the amount of peak power to be transported will grow with the surface area that is connected. [5] Practical obstacles also abound. For example, supergrids assume peace and good understanding between and within countries, as well as equal interests, while in reality some benefit much more from interconnection than others. [22]

[32] Heide, Dominik, et al. "Seasonal optimal mix of wind and solar power in a future, highly renewable Europe." Renewable Energy 35.11 (2010): 2483-2489.

[33] Rasmussen, Morten Grud, Gorm Bruun Andresen, and Martin Greiner. "Storage and balancing synergies in a fully or highly renewable pan-european system." Energy Policy 51 (2012): 642-651.

[34] Weitemeyer, Stefan, et al. "Integration of renewable energy sources in future power systems: the role of storage." Renewable Energy 75 (2015): 14-20.

[35] Assessment of the European potential for pumped hydropower energy storage, Marcos Gimeno-Gutiérrez et al., European Commission, 2013

[36] The calculation is based on the data in this article: How sustainable is stored sunlight? Kris De Decker, Low-tech Magazine, 2015.

[37] Evans, Annette, Vladimir Strezov, and Tim J. Evans. "Assessment of utility energy storage options for increased renewable energy penetration." Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 16.6 (2012): 4141-4147.

[38] Zakeri, Behnam, and Sanna Syri. "Electrical energy storage systems: A comparative life cycle cost analysis." Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 42 (2015): 569-596.

[39] Steinke, Florian, Philipp Wolfrum, and Clemens Hoffmann. "Grid vs. storage in a 100% renewable Europe." Renewable Energy 50 (2013): 826-832.

[40] Heide, Dominik, et al. "Reduced storage and balancing needs in a fully renewable European power system with excess wind and solar power generation." Renewable Energy 36.9 (2011): 2515-2523.

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On the Road to Extinction

SUBHEAD: The devastating consequences of human superiority over Nature are abundantly clear.

By Elizabeth West on 12 September 2017 for Common Dreams -
(https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/12/road-extinction-maybe-its-not-all-about-us)


Image above: Illustration of "Betrayal" by Mario Sanchez Nevado. From (http://quotesgram.com/img/manipulation-betrayal-quotes/8638506/).

It is crystal clear—unlike the smoky skies where I live--to most of us who are willing to consider the facts: this summer’s ‘natural’ disasters have been seeded anthropogenically.

Wildfires in the northwestern United States and Canada, in Greenland, and in Europe are often referred to in the media as ‘unprecedented’ in size and fury.

Hurricanes and monsoons, with their attendant floods and destruction, are routinely described as having a multitude of ‘record-breaking’ attributes.

No one reading this is likely to need convincing that humans –our sheer numbers as well as our habits—have contributed significantly to rising planetary temperatures and thus, the plethora of somehow unexpected and catastrophic events in the natural world.

I’d like to include earthquakes, particularly those in Turkey (endless) and Mexico (massive), in this discussion, and while intuition tells me that there is a connection between them and climate change, research to support this supposition is just emerging, so for the nonce I will leave the earthquakes out of it.

Our proclivity for advancing our own short-term interests has made a mess of things from the beginnings of this current iteration of civilization.

Irrigating the Fertile Crescent, which was not very fertile prior to the ingenious innovation of bringing water from the mountains down into the dusty plains, opened the way for a massive increase in food production and a concomitant population rise. Cities grew and became kingdoms.

After a reasonably good run, though, irrigation led to salination of the soil and ultimately left it sterile and useless (for agriculture) once again. Many people and their livestock starved or were forced to migrate in large numbers. Great idea, irrigation.

The internal combustion engine seemed a brilliant response to the need to move more commodities more efficiently as the Industrial Revolution created both increased product and demand.

Though not necessarily so intended, the automobile initially offered humans wildly expanded freedom and ease.

It also led to pumping the innards out of the Earth, filling the atmosphere with CO2, and oil-grabbing wars that left hundreds of thousands of people dead. Another great idea with a few minor issues that did not get worked out ahead of time.

Plastic. Now there is an incredible invention. Tough, pliable, lightweight, eternal...this stuff filled a myriad of needs.

And conveniently, it could be produced using the fossil fuels we were already extracting for those internal combustion engines.

Sadly, we never imagined it would come to microscopic plastic filaments in our drinking water, our sea salt, and even our beer. Not to mention in the bellies of just about anything that lives in the Earth’s oceans.

The list of creative inventions designed to make our lives better is long and varied, but almost inevitably, given enough time, our interference (or improvements, if you prefer) upon the natural state of things comes back to bite us. And hard.

Fukushima could easily head up that list; most of us would have no trouble adding to the tally of follies flowing from Homo sapiens’ clever life hacks.

If you delve into the motivation behind these ‘advances’ there is generally a desire on the part of people to make life safer or more comfortable or easier in one way or another.

Maybe for themselves and their tribe, or their class, or their nation, but still—the impetus does not tend to flow from a place of malignity.

We simply use our big brains to see what is adversely impacting our species (or sub-group thereof) and devise a fix for it. How could that possibly go so wrong?

Hindsight, they say, is always more acute than foresight. Could this be because we do not understand fully how our world works? Is it possible that we lack a lot of critical information about the ways in which this planet’s life forms and forces are interwoven and connected?

Maybe our superior intelligence, while it has been billed as a powerhouse in the problem-solving department, does not really have the scope of vision that would ensure that problems—solved--stay solved?

Hmmm…might there be an issue with hubris here? And how do we solve that?

What appear to be straightforward challenges that should yield to linear corrections are in fact predominantly multifaceted and many layered. We see only what we see—because we do have limits in terms of perception-- and we act upon that.

No real fault there.

But you do something over and over and over and get consistent results, you keep being bitten by your brilliant solutions. Quick gains, long-term disasters: this is a pretty common human story.

Are we capable of examining it? Even acknowledging it?

 Of recognizing that our anthropocentrism and self-assurance may be doing us more harm than good despite (or possibly because of) our fêted cognitive capacities?

So here we are: the summer of 2017 with the arctic ice melting, the temperatures rising, the oceans rising and acidifying, our non-human companions on the planet going extinct like nobody’s business. We thought about ourselves from the get-go.

 From the beginning of known human history, we wanted better lives, longer lives, happier lives. For ourselves.

We used our gifts to reach for what we wanted, like toddlers, with no sense of the bigger world around us, no notion of the consequences of our actions.

No awareness of the unfathomable complexity and the perfection of balance represented by the environment we inhabit.

Or, no will to act from that awareness. Because in all fairness, someone has always pointed to it. Not everyone thought situating nuclear power plants on earthquake faults was a bright idea.

And no doubt there was someone back in Sumer who advised stridently against the moving of mountain waters to the fields in the valley.

But the collective, or the powers that own the collective, were not interested in anything that thwarted short-term gains.

We have careened along, from one improvement to another, many of them requiring their own fix a bit down the road. Now we look at super-storms and mega-fires and what do we see?

Unfortunately, as is almost always the case, we see our own interests and little else.

I have been perusing reports and commentary from a wide variety of sources and there is a lot of factual information: the size of the fire, how many miles per hour the winds are blowing, how many acres are still uncontained, or in thrall to the winds and rain.

Then, there are stories about losses. Photos and videos and details about homes destroyed, businesses wiped off the map, human injury and death.

But do we talk about the other life forms affected by these human-accelerated events in nature? In nature, I repeat. Do we read or talk or hear about the animals who die? The trees lost? The sea life and habitat ruined?

Yup, there are bits and pieces about the animals that belong to us, which are, like our houses and businesses and automobiles, more possessions.

Pets, livestock, even zoo animals are considered. How do we shelter the cheetah at the Miami Zoo?

Or what about the Cuban dolphins airlifted out of danger to a safe place on the opposite side of the island? Heartwarming, I suppose, and good for those dolphins, but what happened to the wild ones in the sea?

Here is the thing: we helped make these disasters because we always thought about ourselves and neglected to consider the balance of life. Because our needs were far and away more important to us than the spotted salamanders’.

And maybe that is true. Maybe our lives are more valuable than all the other lives. Who am I to say? I too am human and subject to the same hubris and shortsightedness as everyone else.

Still…if something is not working, I ask: why keep doing it? Even if you have no natural affinity for the pine martens who die in the fires or the sandpipers who are flung to their deaths in the monsoons, pragmatism would suggest a change in practice.

We can’t prevent the suffering and dying of wild life, and the Earth herself, when confronted by the unleashed forces of fire and water, but we can include them in our assessment of the cost. We might even grieve for them.

Their losses are indeed ours, and if we do not see them or their importance to our lives, if we continue to either ignore and/or dominate all other life on this planet, it won’t be long till we join them.

This piece of writing is, in a ridiculously small way, an attempt to acknowledge those losses that have gone unseen.

It isn’t much, but I invite you to join me in taking a few minutes to honor and mourn those who have died in this summer’s conflagrations and deluges.

We won’t know much about most of them, but we do know that they lived and we know that they died. And that we are all diminished by their deaths.

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Walking on Lava

SUBHEAD: Promotion of collected writing from the Dark Mountain project by one of its editor's.

By Charlotte Du Cann on 11 September 2017 for Open Democracy -
(https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/charlotte-du-cann/under-volcano)


Image above: Writer and artist Robert Leaver in his performance ‘Crawling Home’ in New York. Photo by Larrey Fessenden. From original article.

On a mountain in Wales in the teeming rain, we sit in a yurt packed with people, the five of us, on hay bales, dressed in black suits and bowler hats. One of us has a pack of cards up his sleeve, another an African folktale, another a guitar and a song by Nick Drake from the 1970s.

I have oak leaves in my hatband to signify an instruction circa 600 BC from the Sibyl who once guarded the door to the Underworld in the ‘Campi Flegrei’ outside Naples.

A link to the pre-patriarchal ‘uncivilised’ world, she guides a lineage of poets to the territory under the volcano where all deep transformations take place: Virgil, Dante, T.S. Eliot, Mary Shelley, Sylvia Plath. Denied immortal youth by the autocratic Apollo, her desiccated body kept in a jar, only her voice is still left for us to follow.

One of us, Dougie, stands up and invites the audience to take part in a demonstration of two figures from the ancient world: one is Chronos, the inexorable march of linear time; the other is a young man with a lock of hair over his forehead, who intervenes and interrupts him. His name is Kairos, and sometimes ‘Possibility.’

We’re giving a performance called ‘Testaments of Deep Time’ to introduce the work of The Dark Mountain Project—itself an intervention into the linear narrative about ecological and social calamity. As the rational world attempts to control the consequences of its dominant storyline, cracks have begun to appear.

Through those cracks, archaic, indigenous knowledge, hidden for safekeeping against Roman and other empires, slips through, and fleeting glimpses of another future reveals itself.

This encounter, we know, is what changes everything.

Dark Mountain was launched in 2009 to challenge the contemporary lack of response by culture makers to ecological overshoot in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Its manifesto was called simply Uncivilisation.

Many people picked up this gauntlet, recognising it, not as a challenge to a duel but as an invitation to explore a territory yet unmapped.

This invitation has led to collaborations with writers, musicians and artists; 12 books and five festivals; a year-long theatre workshop in Sweden; teaching encounters in the mountains of Spain and the moors of the West Country; and performances built around the celebrations of the solar year by the River Thames and the ancestral wilderness of Scotland—and now in Wales.

What distinguishes Dark Mountain from grassroots Earth-defending organisations and progressive movements is that it is a creative response to prevailing crises—and lacks an evangelical agenda to fix them.

The project’s manifesto can act as a frame, but there is no drive to act in the space that frame creates—no pressure to shut down power stations or convince your neighbour to stop flying, or your community to reduce its carbon emissions.

Instead, it provides a space that has room and time in it, where the 24/7 broadcast of progress can be switched off and other voices apart from the mainstream can be heard; it gives an opportunity to look at things differently, and for other slower realisations to occur—for interactions, connections and deep thought as a reader, listener or contributor.

‘Are you against environmental activism?’ I was asked recently by a television researcher. ‘No,’ I said ‘We’re not against anything. It’s a conversation not an argument. We’re a creative network.’
‘If this manifesto has travelled further than we imagined, one explanation is that it has helped people to get their bearings in a world where the thin, shiny surface of prosperity has cracked. Trying to make sense of our own experience it seems that we put words to a feeling that others shared... a feeling that there is no way through the mess we find ourselves that doesn’t involve facing the darkness, and being honest about the scale of the unravelling that is under way, and the uncertainty as to where it will end. A feeling that it is time to look down.’  Dougald Hine from the Introduction to the 2014 edition of Uncivilisation.
This rallying point, the agreement to ‘look down’ and acknowledge that we sit on a crater’s edge rather than a firm foundation, not only creates a different literature but also nurtures a very different feeling towards that literature and those who write it.

If there is one shared response to the contacts made by people towards the project it is the sense of relief and comradeship in a world where a possible eruption of the status quo is manifestly denied.

However there is no mantra or belief system to take refuge in here. Dark Mountain is a collective work-in-progress, initiated by ‘recovering journalists’ disillusioned by the green movement and its timid approaches toward change.

It doesn’t offer a road map for a sustainable future but can offer you a place by the fire, an opportunity to dig beneath the distracting surface of industrial late capitalism; to produce work that asks the question, ‘how can we reclaim the voice and body of ourselves that has been suppressed by civilisation for millennia. The deadline is never far away.

The fact is we all know that “the boat is leaking and the captain lied” as Leonard Cohen once sang; we know the statistics about climate change and acidified oceans and decapitated mountains. The news that the numbers of kittiwakes on St Kilda have plummeted or that the ancient trees of Sheffield have been felled pains us. We don’t numb out that pain, nor do we indulge it in the see-saw of hope and despair.

We know the Earth is not an abstract concept of environment or ‘nature’ and requires a very different relationship, one that wrests the material of life out of the hands of the ‘quants’ and economists and gives it due respect.

The question we face is always: what do you do when you know, when you allow yourself to see and feel what is shut out by the broadcast of progress? You can’t keep writing conventional love stories and detective novels, hoping that Hollywood will get in touch.

What kind of literature and art does this awareness produce? A diverse body of work that does not fit neatly into a monocultural, corporate bookshelf or gallery wall.

Inspired by the inhumanist poetry of Robinson Jeffers, its voices do not come out of a narcissistic and alienated highbrow culture, discussed by the chattering classes of Boston or London, but from a library of stones, from the desert and forest hermitage, from conversations around convivial fires.

This space is existentialist, ringed as it is by urgent questions about what kind of human being can be so numb or so dumb in the face of catastrophe; its tone is elegiac rather than triumphant.

In many ways it returns the artist and writer to their original function, as people who push the edge and keep the door of possibility open. People who embody and stand by their words, for whom those fiery brimstone fields are home.

It’s in this spirit that we’ve created a new work called Walking on Lava, taken from our first ten hardback journals as a showcase introduction. Following their shape it is made of work of contrasting voices and genres—poetry, flash fiction, essays, artworks, photography and interviews—and structured around the manifesto’s ‘Eight Principles of Uncivilisation.’

Here are Robert Leaver crawling along Broadway in New York on his hands and knees; Christos Galanis shooting a thrift store copy of the Iliad in the New Mexico desert; and Emily Laurens sweeping the brown sands of the Welsh peninsula in honour of the disappeared passenger pigeon and the millions of species now becoming extinct—testimony, encounter, protest art and praise song of a different kind.
‘I imagine the people I have seen on Broadway, and maybe the world over, feeling a weight on their backs, in their hearts and souls. Maybe this weight is the burden on modern life, the burden on being conscious in a world gone mad. Crawling seemed to be a way to maybe show compassion or solidarity, to make a metaphor of this collective burden we all share. Instead of crawling I could have curled up in a foetal position in perfectly chosen locations. But this crawl was never about surrendering. I went down and kept moving, kept pressing on as so many humans are doing every day. The idea has always been to keep on, to get through this journey, to make it home safe and sound.’ Robert Leaver – Crawling Home.
What happens when you get bitten by a squirrel, or when you return to your homeland now crawling with bulldozers and fracking trucks?

When the story you were told by your teachers and parents is broken, when the Earth makes contact with you, you may stumble upon art with a different kind of attention: a feral stew of roots and road killed pheasant in the highlands of Scotland, a dreaming woman carrying a horse in her womb in Cornwall, a meditation on graphite in the winter-wet Cumbrian hills.

Kairos, the daemon of opportunity, had a shaved head, meaning that you had to grasp the moment that faced you, for once the light-footed one had disappeared the chance to see in all-at-once-time had also gone also.

There are only so many opportunities to sense the volcano that rumbles beneath us. Rarely do we find the way to the cave where the Sibyl sits, or pay heed to those who struggle to return from the darkness of the Stygian lake.

We live, as Marshall McLuhan once noted, in a third world war of narratives, of competing controlled ways of perceiving the world, all of them hostile to people and planet. In the quiet, in the depths, in the wild places, in the struggle of our hearts, writers and artists—those who have always kept a true link to the wider, wilder world—are forging another story.

We hope that Walking on Lava will show how some of that new collective tale is unfolding.

Walking on Lava – Selected Work for Uncivilised Times is edited by Charlotte Du Cann, Dougald Hine, Nick Hunt and Paul Kingsnorth and published by Chelsea Green.

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America Can’t Afford to Rebuild

SUBHEAD: The grand credit/debt experiment is on its last legs, even with ultra low rates.

By Raul Ilargi Meijer on 9 September 2017 for the Automatic Earth -
(https://www.theautomaticearth.com/2017/09/america-cant-afford-to-rebuild/)


Image above: Mobile homes damaged in Naples, Florida, by hurricane Irma on 9/12/17. From (http://hamodia.com/2017/09/11/floridians-return-storm-shattered-homes-irma-hits-georgia/).

A number of people have argued over the past few days that Hurricane Harvey will NOT boost the US housing market. As if any such argument would or should be required. Hurricane Irma will not provide any such boost either.

News about the ‘resurrection’ of New Orleans post-Katrina has pretty much dried up, but we know scores of people there never returned, in most cases because they couldn’t afford to.

And Katrina took place 12 years ago, well before the financial crisis. How do you think this will play out today? Houston is a rich city, but that doesn’t mean it’s full of rich people only. Most homeowners in the city and its surroundings have no flood insurance; they can’t afford it. But they still lost everything. So how will they rebuild?

Sure, the US has a National Flood Insurance Program, but who’s covered by it? Besides, the Program was already $24 billion in debt by 2014 largely due to hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

With total costs of Harvey estimated at $200 billion or more, and Irma threating to cause far more damage than that, where’s the money going to come from?

It took an actual fight just to push the first few billion dollars in emergency aid for Houston through Congress, with four Texan representatives voting against of all people. Who then will vote for half a trillion or so in aid? And even if they do, where would it come from?

Trump’s plans for an infrastructure fund were never going to be an easy sell in Washington, and every single penny he might have gotten for it would now have to go towards repairing existing roads and bridges, not updating them -necessary as that may be-, let alone new construction.

Towns, cities, states, they’re all maxed out as things are, with hugely underfunded pension obligations and crumbling infrastructure of their own. They’re going to come calling on the feds, but Washington is hitting its debt ceiling.

All the numbers are stacked against any serious efforts at rebuilding whatever Harvey and Irma have blown to pieces or drowned.

As for individual Americans, two-thirds of them don’t have enough money to pay for a $500 emergency, let alone to rebuild a home. Most will have a very hard time lending from banks as well, because
  1. They’re already neck-deep in debt, and
  2. Because the banks will get whacked too by Harvey and Irma. For one thing, people won’t pay the mortgage on a home they can’t afford to repair. Companies will go under. You get the picture.
There are thousands of graphs that tell the story of how American debt, government, financial and non-financial, household, has gutted the country. Let’s stick with some recent ones provided by Lance Roberts. Here’s how Americans have maintained the illusion of their standard of living. Lance’s comment:
This is why during the 80’s and 90’s, as the ease of credit permeated its way through the system, the standard of living seemingly rose in America even while economic growth rate slowed along with incomes. Therefore, as the gap between the “desired” living standard and disposable income expanded it led to a decrease in the personal savings rates and increase in leverage. It is a simple function of math. But the following chart shows why this has likely come to the inevitable conclusion, and why tax cuts and reforms are unlikely to spur higher rates of economic growth.
There’s no meat left on that bone. There isn’t even a bone left. There’s only a debt-ridden mirage of a bone. If you’re looking to define the country in bumper-sticker terms, that’s it.

A debt-ridden mirage. Which can only wait until it’s relieved of its suffering. Irma may well do that.

A second graph shows the relentless and pitiless consequences of building your society, your lives, your nation, on debt.
It may not look all that dramatic, but look again. Those are long-term trendlines, and they can’t just simply be reversed. And as debt grows, the economy deteriorates. It’s a double trendline, it’s as self-reinforcing as the way a hurricane forms.

Back to Harvey and Irma. Even with so many people uninsured, the insurance industry will still take a major hit on what actually is insured. The re-insurance field, Munich RE, Swiss RE et al, is also in deep trouble. Expect premiums to go through the ceiling. As your roof blows off.

We can go on listing all the reasons why, but fact is America is in no position to rebuild. Which is a direct consequence of the fact that the entire nation has been built on credit for decades now.

Which in turn makes it extremely vulnerable and fragile.

Please do understand that mechanism. Every single inch of the country is in debt. America has been able to build on debt, but it can’t rebuild on it too, precisely because of that.

There is no resilience and no redundancy left, there is no way to shift sufficient funds from one place to the other (the funds don’t exist). And the grand credit experiment is on its last legs, even with ultra low rates.

Washington either can’t or won’t -depending on what affiliation representatives have- add another trillion+ dollars to its tally, state capitals are already reeling from their debt levels, and individuals, since they have much less access to creative accounting than politicians, can just forget about it all.

Not that all of this is necessarily bad: why would people be encouraged to build or buy homes in flood- and hurricane prone areas in the first place? Why is that government policy? Why is it accepted?

Yes, developers and banks love it, because it makes them a quick buck, and then some, and the Fed loves it because it keeps adding to the money supply, but it has turned America into a de facto debt colony.

If you want to know what will happen to Houston and whatever part of Florida gets hit worst, think New Orleans/Katrina, but squared or cubed -thanks to the 2007/8 banking crisis.


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In the Dark

SUBHEAD: The value of money and the cost of borrowing money are, at last, completely detached from reality.

By James Kunstler on 10 September 2017 for Kunstler.com -
(http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/in-the-dark/)


Image above: An SUV moves through the darkened streets of Miami as Irma hits. From (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-11/car-drives-in-hurricane-irma-in-miami/8890806).

[IB Publisher's note: Kunstler wrote this piece before we knew exactly where and how badly it would strike Florida. As it turned out it wasn't as apocalyptic as expected. But that does not mean the situation is not dire.]

The stock market is zooming this morning on the news that only 5.7 million people in Florida will have to do without air conditioning, hot showers, and Keurig mochachinos at dawn’s early light Monday, Sept 11, 2017.

I’m mindful that the news cycle right after a hurricane goes kind of blank for a day or more as dazed and confused citizens venture out to assess the damage.

For now, there is very little hard information on the Web waves. Does Key West still exist?

Hard to tell. We’ll know more this evening.

The one-two punch of Harvey and Irma did afford the folks-in-charge of the nation’s affairs a sly opportunity to get rid of that annoying debt ceiling problem. This is the law that established a limit on how much debt the Federal Reserve could “buy” from the national government.

Some of you may be thinking: buy debt?

Why would anybody want to buy somebody’s debt?

Well, you see, this is securitized debt, i.e. bonds issued by the US Treasury, which pay interest, and so there is the incentive to buy it. Anyway, there used to — back in the days when the real interest rate stayed positive after deducting the percent of running inflation. This is where the situation gets interesting.

The debt ceiling law supposedly set limits on how much bonded debt the government could issue (how much it could borrow) so it wouldn’t go hog wild spending money it didn’t have.

Which is exactly what happened despite the debt limit because the “ceiling” got raised about a hundred times though the 20th century into the 21st so that the accumulated debt stands around $20 trillion.

Rational people recognize this $20 trillion for the supernatural scale of obligation it represents, and understand that it will never be paid back, so, what the hell?

Why not just drop the pretense, but keep on working this racket of the government borrowing as much money as it wants, and the Federal Reserve creating that money (or “money”) on its computers to infinity.

Seems to work so far.

Rational people would also suspect that at some point, something might have to give.

For instance, the value of the dollars that the debt is issued in. If the value of dollars goes down, then the real value of the bonds issued in dollars goes down, and as that happens the many various holders of bonds already issued — individuals, pension funds, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds of foreign countries — will have a strong incentive to dump the bonds as fast as possible.

Especially if backstage magic by the Fed and its handmaidens, the “primary dealer” banks, keeps working to suppress the interest rates of these bonds at all costs.

Would the Federal Reserve then vacuum up every bond that others are dumping on the market? They would certainly try. The Bank of Japan has been doing just that with its own government’s bonds to no apparent ill effect, though you kind of wonder what happens when a snake eating its own tail finally reaches its head.

What’s left, exactly, after it eats that, too? My own guess would be three words: you go medieval. I mean literally. No more engines, electric lights, central heating….

In this land, we face a situation in which both the value of money and the cost of borrowing money would be, at last, completely detached from reality — reality being the real cost and value of all goods and services exchanged for money. Voila: a king-hell currency crisis and the disruption of trade on the most macro level imaginable.

Also, surely, a massive disruption in government services, including social security and medicare, but extending way beyond that. And then we go medieval, too. The mule replaces the Ford F-150. And The New York Times finds something to write about besides Russia and trannies.

The value of money and the cost of borrowing it is about as fundamental as it gets in a so-called advanced economy. You can screw around with a lot of things running a society, but when that goes, you’re flirting seriously with anarchy.

In the meantime, we’ll see how the social glue holds things together in those parts of Florida that are entering a preview of medieval attractions in the electrical blackout days ahead.

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13 Years of Permaculture

SUBHEAD: A video showing what 13 years of permaculture can do to in Ireland.

By Colette Oneil on 16 June 2017 for Bealtaine Cottage -
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9T4T-LqQJk)


Image above: An opening frame from a video tour of an Irish permaculture homestead. From (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9T4T-LqQJk).

From a monoculture field, to Permaculture abundance and ultimately Goddess Permaculture Eden, all planted and tended by one woman over 13 years in Ireland...Curious...

Is there anyone else out there in Ireland who is practising Permaculture without woofers/helpers on more than 1 acre? Pics/videos? No, that is not weed at 23... and read on for more info...

To see what it looked like in the beginning, drop by the website below...or even read the book!


Video above: A tour of Bealtaine Cottage after 13 years of permculture practice. From (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9T4T-LqQJk).

See also:
The Book... https://bealtainecottage.com/a-cottag...
The Website... https://bealtainecottage.com/
The Goddess Gardens... https://www.facebook.com/GoddessGardens/
The Tweets... https://twitter.com/PermaGoddess

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You are Facebook's product


SUBHEAD: Zuckerberg at his keyboard after a few drinks creating a website to compare people’s appearance.

By John Lanchester on 17 August 2017 for London Review of Books -
(https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n16/john-lanchester/you-are-the-product)
(http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-09-02/facebook-exposed-you-are-product


Image above: Mark Zuckerberg and wife kicking back in Hanalei on Kauai after purchasing a large oceanfront property. From (https://hawaiibusinessonline.com/mark-zuckerberg-responds-to-news-about-kauai-land-deal/).

At the end of June, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had hit a new level: two billion monthly active users. That number, the company’s preferred ‘metric’ when measuring its own size, means two billion different people used Facebook in the preceding month. It is hard to grasp just how extraordinary that is.

Bear in mind that thefacebook – its original name – was launched exclusively for Harvard students in 2004.

No human enterprise, no new technology or utility or service, has ever been adopted so widely so quickly. The speed of uptake far exceeds that of the internet itself, let alone ancient technologies such as television or cinema or radio.

Also amazing: as Facebook has grown, its users’ reliance on it has also grown. The increase in numbers is not, as one might expect, accompanied by a lower level of engagement. More does not mean worse – or worse, at least, from Facebook’s point of view. On the contrary.

In the far distant days of October 2012, when Facebook hit one billion users, 55 per cent of them were using it every day. At two billion, 66 per cent are.

Its user base is growing at 18 per cent a year – which you’d have thought impossible for a business already so enormous. Facebook’s biggest rival for logged-in users is YouTube, owned by its deadly rival Alphabet (the company formerly known as Google), in second place with 1.5 billion monthly users.

Three of the next four biggest apps, or services, or whatever one wants to call them, are WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram, with 1.2 billion, 1.2 billion, and 700 million users respectively (the Chinese app WeChat is the other one, with 889 million).

Those three entities have something in common: they are all owned by Facebook. No wonder the company is the fifth most valuable in the world, with a market capitalisation of $445 billion.

Zuckerberg’s news about Facebook’s size came with an announcement which may or may not prove to be significant. He said that the company was changing its ‘mission statement’, its version of the canting pieties beloved of corporate America. Facebook’s mission used to be ‘making the world more open and connected’.

A non-Facebooker reading that is likely to ask: why? Connection is presented as an end in itself, an inherently and automatically good thing. Is it, though?

Flaubert was sceptical about trains because he thought (in Julian Barnes’s paraphrase) that ‘the railway would merely permit more people to move about, meet and be stupid.’

You don’t have to be as misanthropic as Flaubert to wonder if something similar isn’t true about connecting people on Facebook. For instance, Facebook is generally agreed to have played a big, perhaps even a crucial, role in the election of Donald Trump.

The benefit to humanity is not clear. This thought, or something like it, seems to have occurred to Zuckerberg, because the new mission statement spells out a reason for all this connectedness.

It says that the new mission is to ‘give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together’.

Hmm. Alphabet’s mission statement, ‘to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’, came accompanied by the maxim ‘Don’t be evil,’ which has been the source of a lot of ridicule: Steve Jobs called it ‘bullshit’. Which it is, but it isn’t only bullshit. Plenty of companies, indeed entire industries, base their business model on being evil.

The insurance business, for instance, depends on the fact that insurers charge customers more than their insurance is worth; that’s fair enough, since if they didn’t do that they wouldn’t be viable as businesses.

What isn’t fair is the panoply of cynical techniques that many insurers use to avoid, as far as possible, paying out when the insured-against event happens.

Just ask anyone who has had a property suffer a major mishap. It’s worth saying ‘Don’t be evil,’ because lots of businesses are. This is especially an issue in the world of the internet. Internet companies are working in a field that is poorly understood (if understood at all) by customers and regulators.

The stuff they’re doing, if they’re any good at all, is by definition new. In that overlapping area of novelty and ignorance and unregulation, it’s well worth reminding employees not to be evil, because if the company succeeds and grows, plenty of chances to be evil are going to come along.

Google and Facebook have both been walking this line from the beginning. Their styles of doing so are different.

An internet entrepreneur I know has had dealings with both companies. ‘YouTube knows they have lots of dirty things going on and are keen to try and do some good to alleviate it,’ he told me. I asked what he meant by ‘dirty’. ‘Terrorist and extremist content, stolen content, copyright violations.

That kind of thing. But Google in my experience knows that there are ambiguities, moral doubts, around some of what they do, and at least they try to think about it.

Facebook just doesn’t care. When you’re in a room with them you can tell. They’re’ – he took a moment to find the right word – ‘scuzzy’.

That might sound harsh. There have, however, been ethical problems and ambiguities about Facebook since the moment of its creation, a fact we know because its creator was live-blogging at the time. The scene is as it was recounted in Aaron Sorkin’s movie about the birth of Facebook, The Social Network.

While in his first year at Harvard, Zuckerberg suffered a romantic rebuff. Who wouldn’t respond to this by creating a website where undergraduates’ pictures are placed side by side so that users of the site can vote for the one they find more attractive? (The film makes it look as if it was only female undergraduates: in real life it was both.) The site was called Facemash. In the great man’s own words, at the time:
I’m a little intoxicated, I’m not gonna lie. So what if it’s not even 10 p.m. and it’s a Tuesday night? What? The Kirkland dormitory facebook is open on my desktop and some of these people have pretty horrendous facebook pics. I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of some farm animals and have people vote on which is the more attractive … Let the hacking begin.
As Tim Wu explains in his energetic and original new book The Attention Merchants, a ‘facebook’ in the sense Zuckerberg uses it here ‘traditionally referred to a physical booklet produced at American universities to promote socialisation in the way that “Hi, My Name Is” stickers do at events; the pages consisted of rows upon rows of head shots with the corresponding name’.

Harvard was already working on an electronic version of its various dormitory facebooks. The leading social network, Friendster, already had three million users.

The idea of putting these two things together was not entirely novel, but as Zuckerberg said at the time, ‘I think it’s kind of silly that it would take the University a couple of years to get around to it. I can do it better than they can, and I can do it in a week.’

Wu argues that capturing and reselling attention has been the basic model for a large number of modern businesses, from posters in late 19th-century Paris, through the invention of mass-market newspapers that made their money not through circulation but through ad sales, to the modern industries of advertising and ad-funded TV.

Facebook is in a long line of such enterprises, though it might be the purest ever example of a company whose business is the capture and sale of attention. Very little new thinking was involved in its creation. As Wu observes, Facebook is ‘a business with an exceedingly low ratio of invention to success’.

What Zuckerberg had instead of originality was the ability to get things done and to see the big issues clearly. The crucial thing with internet start-ups is the ability to execute plans and to adapt to changing circumstances.

It’s Zuck’s skill at doing that – at hiring talented engineers, and at navigating the big-picture trends in his industry – that has taken his company to where it is today. Those two huge sister companies under Facebook’s giant wing, Instagram and WhatsApp, were bought for $1 billion and $19 billion respectively, at a point when they had no revenue.

No banker or analyst or sage could have told Zuckerberg what those acquisitions were worth; nobody knew better than he did. He could see where things were going and help make them go there. That talent turned out to be worth several hundred billion dollars.

Jesse Eisenberg’s brilliant portrait of Zuckerberg in The Social Network is misleading, as Antonio García Martínez, a former Facebook manager, argues in Chaos Monkeys, his entertainingly caustic book about his time at the company.

The movie Zuckerberg is a highly credible character, a computer genius located somewhere on the autistic spectrum with minimal to non-existent social skills. But that’s not what the man is really like.

In real life, Zuckerberg was studying for a degree with a double concentration in computer science and – this is the part people tend to forget – psychology. People on the spectrum have a limited sense of how other people’s minds work; autists, it has been said, lack a ‘theory of mind’. Zuckerberg, not so much.

He is very well aware of how people’s minds work and in particular of the social dynamics of popularity and status. The initial launch of Facebook was limited to people with a Harvard email address; the intention was to make access to the site seem exclusive and aspirational. (And also to control site traffic so that the servers never went down. Psychology and computer science, hand in hand.)

Then it was extended to other elite campuses in the US. When it launched in the UK, it was limited to Oxbridge and the LSE.

The idea was that people wanted to look at what other people like them were doing, to see their social networks, to compare, to boast and show off, to give full rein to every moment of longing and envy, to keep their noses pressed against the sweet-shop window of others’ lives.

This focus attracted the attention of Facebook’s first external investor, the now notorious Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. Again, The Social Network gets it right: Thiel’s $500,000 investment in 2004 was crucial to the success of the company. But there was a particular reason Facebook caught Thiel’s eye, rooted in a byway of intellectual history.

In the course of his studies at Stanford – he majored in philosophy – Thiel became interested in the ideas of the US-based French philosopher René Girard, as advocated in his most influential book, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World. Girard’s big idea was something he called ‘mimetic desire’. Human beings are born with a need for food and shelter.

Once these fundamental necessities of life have been acquired, we look around us at what other people are doing, and wanting, and we copy them. In Thiel’s summary, the idea is ‘that imitation is at the root of all behaviour’.

Girard was a Christian, and his view of human nature is that it is fallen. We don’t know what we want or who we are; we don’t really have values and beliefs of our own; what we have instead is an instinct to copy and compare.

We are homo mimeticus. ‘Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and who turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.’

Look around, ye petty, and compare. The reason Thiel latched onto Facebook with such alacrity was that he saw in it for the first time a business that was Girardian to its core: built on people’s deep need to copy.

‘Facebook first spread by word of mouth, and it’s about word of mouth, so it’s doubly mimetic,’ Thiel said. ‘Social media proved to be more important than it looked, because it’s about our natures.’

We are keen to be seen as we want to be seen, and Facebook is the most popular tool humanity has ever had with which to do that.



The view of human nature implied by these ideas is pretty dark. If all people want to do is go and look at other people so that they can compare themselves to them and copy what they want – if that is the final, deepest truth about humanity and its motivations – then Facebook doesn’t really have to take too much trouble over humanity’s welfare, since all the bad things that happen to us are things we are doing to ourselves.

For all the corporate uplift of its mission statement, Facebook is a company whose essential premise is misanthropic. It is perhaps for that reason that Facebook, more than any other company of its size, has a thread of malignity running through its story. The high-profile, tabloid version of this has come in the form of incidents such as the live-streaming of rapes, suicides, murders and cop-killings.

But this is one of the areas where Facebook seems to me relatively blameless. People live-stream these terrible things over the site because it has the biggest audience; if Snapchat or Periscope were bigger, they’d be doing it there instead.

In many other areas, however, the site is far from blameless. The highest-profile recent criticisms of the company stem from its role in Trump’s election.

There are two components to this, one of them implicit in the nature of the site, which has an inherent tendency to fragment and atomize its users into like-minded groups. The mission to ‘connect’ turns out to mean, in practice, connect with people who agree with you.

We can’t prove just how dangerous these ‘filter bubbles’ are to our societies, but it seems clear that they are having a severe impact on our increasingly fragmented polity. Our conception of ‘we’ is becoming narrower.

This fragmentation created the conditions for the second strand of Facebook’s culpability in the Anglo-American political disasters of the last year. The portmanteau terms for these developments are ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’, and they were made possible by the retreat from a general agora of public debate into separate ideological bunkers.

In the open air, fake news can be debated and exposed; on Facebook, if you aren’t a member of the community being served the lies, you’re quite likely never to know that they are in circulation. It’s crucial to this that Facebook has no financial interest in telling the truth.

No company better exemplifies the internet-age dictum that if the product is free, you are the product. Facebook’s customers aren’t the people who are on the site: its customers are the advertisers who use its network and who relish its ability to direct ads to receptive audiences.

Why would Facebook care if the news streaming over the site is fake? Its interest is in the targeting, not in the content.

This is probably one reason for the change in the company’s mission statement. If your only interest is in connecting people, why would you care about falsehoods?

They might even be better than the truth, since they are quicker to identify the like-minded. The newfound ambition to ‘build communities’ makes it seem as if the company is taking more of an interest in the consequence of the connections it fosters.

Fake news is not, as Facebook has acknowledged, the only way it was used to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. On 6 January 2017 the director of national intelligence published a report saying that the Russians had waged an internet disinformation campaign to damage Hillary Clinton and help Trump.

‘Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations – such as cyber-activity – with overt efforts by Russian government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls”,’ the report said.

At the end of April, Facebook got around to admitting this (by then) fairly obvious truth, in an interesting paper published by its internal security division. ‘Fake news’, they argue, is an unhelpful, catch-all term because misinformation is in fact spread in a variety of ways:

Information (or Influence) Operations – Actions taken by governments or organised non-state actors to distort domestic or foreign political sentiment.

False News – News articles that purport to be factual, but which contain intentional misstatements of fact with the intention to arouse passions, attract viewership, or deceive.

False Amplifiers – Co-ordinated activity by inauthentic accounts with the intent of manipulating political discussion (e.g. by discouraging specific parties from participating in discussion, or amplifying sensationalistic voices over others).

Disinformation – Inaccurate or manipulated information/content that is spread intentionally. This can include false news, or it can involve more subtle methods, such as false flag operations, feeding inaccurate quotes or stories to innocent intermediaries, or knowingly amplifying biased or misleading information.
The company is promising to treat this problem or set of problems as seriously as it treats such other problems as malware, account hacking and spam. We’ll see.

One man’s fake news is another’s truth-telling, and Facebook works hard at avoiding responsibility for the content on its site – except for sexual content, about which it is super-stringent.

Nary a nipple on show. It’s a bizarre set of priorities, which only makes sense in an American context, where any whiff of explicit sexuality would immediately give the site a reputation for unwholesomeness. Photos of breastfeeding women are banned and rapidly get taken down. Lies and propaganda are fine.

The key to understanding this is to think about what advertisers want: they don’t want to appear next to pictures of breasts because it might damage their brands, but they don’t mind appearing alongside lies because the lies might be helping them find the consumers they’re trying to target.

In Move Fast and Break Things, his polemic against the ‘digital-age robber barons’, Jonathan Taplin points to an analysis on Buzzfeed: ‘In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News and others.’ This doesn’t sound like a problem Facebook will be in any hurry to fix.

The fact is that fraudulent content, and stolen content, are rife on Facebook, and the company doesn’t really mind, because it isn’t in its interest to mind. Much of the video content on the site is stolen from the people who created it.

An illuminating YouTube video from Kurzgesagt, a German outfit that makes high-quality short explanatory films, notes that in 2015, 725 of Facebook’s top one thousand most viewed videos were stolen.

This is another area where Facebook’s interests contradict society’s. We may collectively have an interest in sustaining creative and imaginative work in many different forms and on many platforms. Facebook doesn’t. It has two priorities, as Martínez explains in Chaos Monkeys: growth and monetization.

It simply doesn’t care where the content comes from. It is only now starting to care about the perception that much of the content is fraudulent, because if that perception were to become general, it might affect the amount of trust and therefore the amount of time people give to the site.

Zuckerberg himself has spoken up on this issue, in a Facebook post addressing the question of ‘Facebook and the election’.

After a certain amount of boilerplate bullshit (‘Our goal is to give every person a voice. We believe deeply in people’), he gets to the nub of it.
‘Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 per cent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.’
More than one Facebook user pointed out that in their own news feed, Zuckerberg’s post about authenticity ran next to fake news. In one case, the fake story pretended to be from the TV sports channel ESPN.

When it was clicked on, it took users to an ad selling a diet supplement. As the writer Doc Searls pointed out, it’s a double fraud, ‘outright lies from a forged source’, which is quite something to have right slap next to the head of Facebook boasting about the absence of fraud.

Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter and founder of the long-read specialist Medium, found the same post by Zuckerberg next to a different fake ESPN story and another piece of fake news purporting to be from CNN, announcing that Congress had disqualified Trump from office.
When clicked-through, that turned out to be from a company offering a 12-week program to strengthen toes. (That’s right: strengthen toes.) Still, we now know that Zuck believes in people. That’s the main thing.



A neutral observer might wonder if Facebook’s attitude to content creators is sustainable. Facebook needs content, obviously, because that’s what the site consists of: content that other people have created. It’s just that it isn’t too keen on anyone apart from Facebook making any money from that content.

Over time, that attitude is profoundly destructive to the creative and media industries. Access to an audience – that unprecedented two billion people – is a wonderful thing, but Facebook isn’t in any hurry to help you make money from it. If the content providers all eventually go broke, well, that might not be too much of a problem.

There are, for now, lots of willing providers: anyone on Facebook is in a sense working for Facebook, adding value to the company. In 2014, the New York Times did the arithmetic and found that humanity was spending 39,757 collective years on the site, every single day. Jonathan Taplin points out that this is ‘almost fifteen million years of free labor per year’. That was back when it had a mere 1.23 billion users.

Taplin has worked in academia and in the film industry. The reason he feels so strongly about these questions is that he started out in the music business, as manager of The Band, and was on hand to watch the business being destroyed by the internet.

What had been a $20 billion industry in 1999 was a $7 billion industry 15 years later. He saw musicians who had made a good living become destitute.

That didn’t happen because people had stopped listening to their music – more people than ever were listening to it – but because music had become something people expected to be free.

YouTube is the biggest source of music in the world, playing billions of tracks annually, but in 2015 musicians earned less from it and from its ad-supported rivals than they earned from sales of vinyl. Not CDs and recordings in general: vinyl.

Something similar has happened in the world of journalism. Facebook is in essence an advertising company which is indifferent to the content on its site except insofar as it helps to target and sell advertisements.

A version of Gresham’s law is at work, in which fake news, which gets more clicks and is free to produce, drives out real news, which often tells people things they don’t want to hear, and is expensive to produce.

In addition, Facebook uses an extensive set of tricks to increase its traffic and the revenue it makes from targeting ads, at the expense of the news-making institutions whose content it hosts. Its news feed directs traffic at you based not on your interests, but on how to make the maximum amount of advertising revenue from you.

In September 2016, Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of the Guardian, told a Financial Times conference that Facebook had ‘sucked up $27 million’ of the newspaper’s projected ad revenue that year. ‘They are taking all the money because they have algorithms we don’t understand, which are a filter between what we do and how people receive it.’

This goes to the heart of the question of what Facebook is and what it does. For all the talk about connecting people, building community, and believing in people, Facebook is an advertising company.

Martínez gives the clearest account both of how it ended up like that, and how Facebook advertising works. In the early years of Facebook, Zuckerberg was much more interested in the growth side of the company than in the monetization. That changed when Facebook went in search of its big payday at the initial public offering, the shining day when shares in a business first go on sale to the general public.

This is a huge turning-point for any start-up: in the case of many tech industry workers, the hope and expectation associated with ‘going public’ is what attracted them to their firm in the first place, and/or what has kept them glued to their workstations. It’s the point where the notional money of an early-days business turns into the real cash of a public company.

Martínez was there at the very moment when Zuck got everyone together to tell them they were going public, the moment when all Facebook employees knew that they were about to become rich:
I had chosen a seat behind a detached pair, who on further inspection turned out to be Chris Cox, head of FB product, and Naomi Gleit, a Harvard grad who joined as employee number 29, and was now reputed to be the current longest-serving employee other than Mark.

Naomi, between chats with Cox, was clicking away on her laptop, paying little attention to the Zuckian harangue. I peered over her shoulder at her screen. She was scrolling down an email with a number of links, and progressively clicking each one into existence as another tab on her browser. Clickathon finished, she began lingering on each with an appraiser’s eye. They were real estate listings, each for a different San Francisco property.
Martínez took note of one of the properties and looked it up later. Price: $2.4 million. He is fascinating, and fascinatingly bitter, on the subject of class and status differences in Silicon Valley, in particular the never publicly discussed issue of the huge gulf between early employees in a company, who have often been made unfathomably rich, and the wage slaves who join the firm later in its story. ‘The protocol is not to talk about it at all publicly.’

But, as Bonnie Brown, a masseuse at Google in the early days, wrote in her memoir, ‘a sharp contrast developed between Googlers working side by side. While one was looking at local movie times on their monitor, the other was booking a flight to Belize for the weekend. How was the conversation on Monday morning going to sound now?’

When the time came for the IPO, Facebook needed to turn from a company with amazing growth to one that was making amazing money. It was already making some, thanks to its sheer size – as Martínez observes, ‘a billion times any number is still a big fucking number’ – but not enough to guarantee a truly spectacular valuation on launch.

It was at this stage that the question of how to monetize Facebook got Zuckerberg’s full attention. It’s interesting, and to his credit, that he hadn’t put too much focus on it before – perhaps because he isn’t particularly interested in money per se. But he does like to win.

The solution was to take the huge amount of information Facebook has about its ‘community’ and use it to let advertisers target ads with a specificity never known before, in any medium. Martínez:
‘It can be demographic in nature (e.g. 30-to-40-year-old females), geographic (people within five miles of Sarasota, Florida), or even based on Facebook profile data (do you have children; i.e. are you in the mommy segment?).’ Taplin makes the same point:
If I want to reach women between the ages of 25 and 30 in zip code 37206 who like country music and drink bourbon, Facebook can do that. Moreover, Facebook can often get friends of these women to post a ‘sponsored story’ on a targeted consumer’s news feed, so it doesn’t feel like an ad. As Zuckerberg said when he introduced Facebook Ads, ‘Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.’
That was the first part of the monetization process for Facebook, when it turned its gigantic scale into a machine for making money.

The company offered advertisers an unprecedentedly precise tool for targeting their ads at particular consumers. (Particular segments of voters too can be targeted with complete precision. One instance from 2016 was an anti-Clinton ad repeating a notorious speech she made in 1996 on the subject of ‘super-predators’.

The ad was sent to African-American voters in areas where the Republicans were trying, successfully as it turned out, to suppress the Democrat vote. Nobody else saw the ads.)

The second big shift around monetization came in 2012 when internet traffic began to switch away from desktop computers towards mobile devices. If you do most of your online reading on a desktop, you are in a minority.

The switch was a potential disaster for all businesses which relied on internet advertising, because people don’t much like mobile ads, and were far less likely to click on them than on desktop ads. In other words, although general internet traffic was increasing rapidly, because the growth was coming from mobile, the traffic was becoming proportionately less valuable.

If the trend were to continue, every internet business that depended on people clicking links – i.e. pretty much all of them, but especially the giants like Google and Facebook – would be worth much less money.

Facebook solved the problem by means of a technique called ‘onboarding’. As Martínez explains it, the best way to think about this is to consider our various kinds of name and address.

For example, if Bed, Bath and Beyond wants to get my attention with one of its wonderful 20 per cent off coupons, it calls out:

Antonio García Martínez
1 Clarence Place #13
San Francisco, CA 94107

If it wants to reach me on my mobile device, my name there is:
38400000-8cfo-11bd-b23e-10b96e40000d

That’s my quasi-immutable device ID, broadcast hundreds of times a day on mobile ad exchanges.

On my laptop, my name is this: 07J6yJPMB9juTowar.AWXGQnGPA1MCmThgb9wN4vLoUpg.BUUtWg.rg.FTN.0.AWUxZtUf

This is the content of the Facebook re-targeting cookie, which is used to target ads-are-you based on your mobile browsing.

Though it may not be obvious, each of these keys is associated with a wealth of our personal behaviour data: every website we’ve been to, many things we’ve bought in physical stores, and every app we’ve used and what we did there …
The biggest thing going on in marketing right now, what is generating tens of billions of dollars in investment and endless scheming inside the bowels of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, is how to tie these different sets of names together, and who controls the links. That’s it.
Facebook already had a huge amount of information about people and their social networks and their professed likes and dislikes.

After waking up to the importance of monetisation, they added to their own data a huge new store of data about offline, real-world behaviour, acquired through partnerships with big companies such as Experian, which have been monitoring consumer purchases for decades via their relationships with direct marketing firms, credit card companies, and retailers.

There doesn’t seem to be a one-word description of these firms: ‘consumer credit agencies’ or something similar about sums it up.

Their reach is much broader than that makes it sound, though Experian says its data is based on more than 850 million records and claims to have information on 49.7 million UK adults living in 25.2 million households in 1.73 million postcodes.

These firms know all there is to know about your name and address, your income and level of education, your relationship status, plus everywhere you’ve ever paid for anything with a card. Facebook could now put your identity together with the unique device identifier on your phone.

That was crucial to Facebook’s new profitability. On mobiles, people tend to prefer the internet to apps, which corral the information they gather and don’t share it with other companies. A game app on your phone is unlikely to know anything about you except the level you’ve got to on that particular game.

But because everyone in the world is on Facebook, the company knows everyone’s phone identifier. It was now able to set up an ad server delivering far better targeted mobile ads than anyone else could manage, and it did so in a more elegant and well-integrated form than anyone else had managed.

So Facebook knows your phone ID and can add it to your Facebook ID. It puts that together with the rest of your online activity: not just every site you’ve ever visited, but every click you’ve ever made – the Facebook button tracks every Facebook user, whether they click on it or not. Since the Facebook button is pretty much ubiquitous on the net, this means that Facebook sees you, everywhere.

Now, thanks to its partnerships with the old-school credit firms, Facebook knew who everybody was, where they lived, and everything they’d ever bought with plastic in a real-world offline shop. All this information is used for a purpose which is, in the final analysis, profoundly bathetic. It is to sell you things via online ads.

The ads work on two models. In one of them, advertisers ask Facebook to target consumers from a particular demographic – our thirty-something bourbon-drinking country music fan, or our African American in Philadelphia who was lukewarm about Hillary.

But Facebook also delivers ads via a process of online auctions, which happen in real time whenever you click on a website.

Because every website you’ve ever visited (more or less) has planted a cookie on your web browser, when you go to a new site, there is a real-time auction, in millionths of a second, to decide what your eyeballs are worth and what ads should be served to them, based on what your interests, and income level and whatnot, are known to be.

This is the reason ads have that disconcerting tendency to follow you around, so that you look at a new telly or a pair of shoes or a holiday destination, and they’re still turning up on every site you visit weeks later. This was how, by chucking talent and resources at the problem, Facebook was able to turn mobile from a potential revenue disaster to a great hot steamy geyser of profit.

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind.

It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does.

What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality.

Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them.

Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.



I’m left wondering what will happen when and if this $450 billion penny drops. Wu’s history of attention merchants shows that there is a suggestive pattern here: that a boom is more often than not followed by a backlash, that a period of explosive growth triggers a public and sometimes legislative reaction.

Wu’s first example is the draconian anti-poster laws introduced in early 20th-century Paris (and still in force – one reason the city is by contemporary standards undisfigured by ads).

As Wu says, ‘when the commodity in question is access to people’s minds, the perpetual quest for growth ensures that forms of backlash, both major and minor, are all but inevitable.’ Wu calls a minor form of this phenomenon the ‘disenchantment effect’.

Facebook seems vulnerable to these disenchantment effects. One place they are likely to begin is in the core area of its business model – ad-selling. The advertising it sells is ‘programmatic’, i.e. determined by computer algorithms that match the customer to the advertiser and deliver ads accordingly, via targeting and/or online auctions.

The problem with this from the customer’s point of view – remember, the customer here is the advertiser, not the Facebook user – is that a lot of the clicks on these ads are fake. There is a mismatch of interests here. Facebook wants clicks, because that’s how it gets paid: when ads are clicked on.

ut what if the clicks aren’t real but are instead automated clicks from fake accounts run by computer bots?

This is a well-known problem, which particularly affects Google, because it’s easy to set up a site, allow it to host programmatic ads, then set up a bot to click on those ads, and collect the money that comes rolling in. On Facebook the fraudulent clicks are more likely to be from competitors trying to drive each others’ costs up.

The industry publication Ad Week estimates the annual cost of click fraud at $7 billion, about a sixth of the entire market. One single fraud site, Methbot, whose existence was exposed at the end of last year, uses a network of hacked computers to generate between three and five million dollars’ worth of fraudulent clicks every day. Estimates of fraudulent traffic’s market share are variable, with some guesses coming in at around 50 per cent; some website owners say their own data indicates a fraudulent-click rate of 90 per cent.

This is by no means entirely Facebook’s problem, but it isn’t hard to imagine how it could lead to a big revolt against ‘ad tech’, as this technology is generally known, on the part of the companies who are paying for it. I’ve heard academics in the field say that there is a form of corporate groupthink in the world of the big buyers of advertising, who are currently responsible for directing large parts of their budgets towards Facebook. That mindset could change.

Also, many of Facebook’s metrics are tilted to catch the light at the angle which makes them look shiniest.

A video is counted as ‘viewed’ on Facebook if it runs for three seconds, even if the user is scrolling past it in her news feed and even if the sound is off. Many Facebook videos with hundreds of thousands of ‘views’, if counted by the techniques that are used to count television audiences, would have no viewers at all.

A customers’ revolt could overlap with a backlash from regulators and governments. Google and Facebook have what amounts to a monopoly on digital advertising. That monopoly power is becoming more and more important as advertising spend migrates online. Between them, they have already destroyed large sections of the newspaper industry.

Facebook has done a huge amount to lower the quality of public debate and to ensure that it is easier than ever before to tell what Hitler approvingly called ‘big lies’ and broadcast them to a big audience. The company has no business need to care about that, but it is the kind of issue that could attract the attention of regulators.

That isn’t the only external threat to the Google/Facebook duopoly. The US attitude to anti-trust law was shaped by Robert Bork, the judge whom Reagan nominated for the Supreme Court but the Senate failed to confirm. Bork’s most influential legal stance came in the area of competition law.

He promulgated the doctrine that the only form of anti-competitive action which matters concerns the prices paid by consumers.

His idea was that if the price is falling that means the market is working, and no questions of monopoly need be addressed. This philosophy still shapes regulatory attitudes in the US and it’s the reason Amazon, for instance, has been left alone by regulators despite the manifestly monopolistic position it holds in the world of online retail, books especially.

The big internet enterprises seem invulnerable on these narrow grounds. Or they do until you consider the question of individualised pricing. The huge data trail we all leave behind as we move around the internet is increasingly used to target us with prices which aren’t like the tags attached to goods in a shop.

On the contrary, they are dynamic, moving with our perceived ability to pay. Four researchers based in Spain studied the phenomenon by creating automated personas to behave as if, in one case, ‘budget conscious’ and in another ‘affluent’, and then checking to see if their different behaviour led to different prices. It did: a search for headphones returned a set of results which were on average four times more expensive for the affluent persona.

An airline-ticket discount site charged higher fares to the affluent consumer. In general, the location of the searcher caused prices to vary by as much as 166 per cent. So in short, yes, personalised prices are a thing, and the ability to create them depends on tracking us across the internet.

That seems to me a prima facie violation of the American post-Bork monopoly laws, focused as they are entirely on price. It’s sort of funny, and also sort of grotesque, that an unprecedentedly huge apparatus of consumer surveillance is fine, apparently, but an unprecedentedly huge apparatus of consumer surveillance which results in some people paying higher prices may well be illegal.

Perhaps the biggest potential threat to Facebook is that its users might go off it. Two billion monthly active users is a lot of people, and the ‘network effects’ – the scale of the connectivity – are, obviously, extraordinary.

But there are other internet companies which connect people on the same scale – Snapchat has 166 million daily users, Twitter 328 million monthly users – and as we’ve seen in the disappearance of Myspace, the onetime leader in social media, when people change their minds about a service, they can go off it hard and fast.

For that reason, were it to be generally understood that Facebook’s business model is based on surveillance, the company would be in danger. The one time Facebook did poll its users about the surveillance model was in 2011, when it proposed a change to its terms and conditions – the change that underpins the current template for its use of data.

The result of the poll was clear: 90 per cent of the vote was against the changes. Facebook went ahead and made them anyway, on the grounds that so few people had voted.

No surprise there, neither in the users’ distaste for surveillance nor in the company’s indifference to that distaste. But this is something which could change.

The other thing that could happen at the level of individual users is that people stop using Facebook because it makes them unhappy. This isn’t the same issue as the scandal in 2014 when it turned out that social scientists at the company had deliberately manipulated some people’s news feeds to see what effect, if any, it had on their emotions.

The resulting paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was a study of ‘social contagion’, or the transfer of emotion among groups of people, as a result of a change in the nature of the stories seen by 689,003 users of Facebook.

‘When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.’

The scientists seem not to have considered how this information would be received, and the story played quite big for a while.

Perhaps the fact that people already knew this story accidentally deflected attention from what should have been a bigger scandal, exposed earlier this year in a paper from the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The paper was titled ‘Association of Facebook Use with Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study’. The researchers found quite simply that the more people use Facebook, the more unhappy they are.

A one percent increase in ‘likes’ and clicks and status updates was correlated with a 5 to 8 per cent decrease in mental health. In addition, they found that the positive effect of real-world interactions, which enhance well-being, was accurately paralleled by the ‘negative associations of Facebook use’.

In effect people were swapping real relationships which made them feel good for time on Facebook which made them feel bad.

That’s my gloss rather than that of the scientists, who take the trouble to make it clear that this is a correlation rather than a definite causal relationship, but they did go so far – unusually far – as to say that the data ‘suggests a possible trade-off between offline and online relationships’.

This isn’t the first time something like this effect has been found. To sum up: there is a lot of research showing that Facebook makes people feel like shit. So maybe, one day, people will stop using it.?



What, though, if none of the above happens? What if advertisers don’t rebel, governments don’t act, users don’t quit, and the good ship Zuckerberg and all who sail in her continues blithely on? We should look again at that figure of two billion monthly active users.

The total number of people who have any access to the internet – as broadly defined as possible, to include the slowest dial-up speeds and creakiest developing-world mobile service, as well as people who have access but don’t use it – is three and a half billion. Of those, about 750 million are in China and Iran, which block Facebook.

Russians, about a hundred million of whom are on the net, tend not to use Facebook because they prefer their native copycat site VKontakte. So put the potential audience for the site at 2.6 billion.

In developed countries where Facebook has been present for years, use of the site peaks at about 75 per cent of the population (that’s in the US). That would imply a total potential audience for Facebook of 1.95 billion.

At two billion monthly active users, Facebook has already gone past that number, and is running out of connected humans. Martínez compares Zuckerberg to Alexander the Great, weeping because he has no more worlds to conquer. Perhaps this is one reason for the early signals Zuck has sent about running for president – the fifty-state pretending-to-give-a-shit tour, the thoughtful-listening pose he’s photographed in while sharing milkshakes in (Presidential Ambitions klaxon!) an Iowa diner.

Whatever comes next will take us back to those two pillars of the company, growth and monetization. Growth can only come from connecting new areas of the planet.

An early experiment came in the form of Free Basics, a program offering internet connectivity to remote villages in India, with the proviso that the range of sites on offer should be controlled by Facebook. ‘Who could possibly be against this?’

Zuckerberg wrote in the Times of India. The answer: lots and lots of angry Indians. The government ruled that Facebook shouldn’t be able to ‘shape users’ internet experience’ by restricting access to the broader internet.

A Facebook board member tweeted that ‘anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?’ As Taplin points out, that remark ‘unwittingly revealed a previously unspoken truth: Facebook and Google are the new colonial powers.’

So the growth side of the equation is not without its challenges, technological as well as political. Google (which has a similar running-out-of-humans problem) is working on ‘Project Loon’, ‘a network of balloons travelling on the edge of space, designed to extend internet connectivity to people in rural and remote areas worldwide’.

Facebook is working on a project involving a solar-powered drone called the Aquila, which has the wingspan of a commercial airliner, weighs less than a car, and when cruising uses less energy than a microwave oven.

The idea is that it will circle remote, currently unconnected areas of the planet, for flights that last as long as three months at a time. It connects users via laser and was developed in Bridgwater, Somerset. (Amazon’s drone program is based in the UK too, near Cambridge.

Our legal regime is pro-drone.) Even the most hardened Facebook sceptic has to be a little bit impressed by the ambition and energy. But the fact remains that the next two billion users are going to be hard to find.

That’s growth, which will mainly happen in the developing world. Here in the rich world, the focus is more on monetization, and it’s in this area that I have to admit something which is probably already apparent. I am scared of Facebook.

The company’s ambition, its ruthlessness, and its lack of a moral compass scare me. It goes back to that moment of its creation, Zuckerberg at his keyboard after a few drinks creating a website to compare people’s appearance, not for any real reason other than that he was able to do it.

That’s the crucial thing about Facebook, the main thing which isn’t understood about its motivation: it does things because it can.

Zuckerberg knows how to do something, and other people don’t, so he does it. Motivation of that type doesn’t work in the Hollywood version of life, so Aaron Sorkin had to give Zuck a motive to do with social aspiration and rejection.

But that’s wrong, completely wrong. He isn’t motivated by that kind of garden-variety psychology.

He does this because he can, and justifications about ‘connection’ and ‘community’ are ex post facto rationalizations. The drive is simpler and more basic. That’s why the impulse to growth has been so fundamental to the company, which is in many respects more like a virus than it is like a business. Grow and multiply and monetize. Why? There is no why. Because.

Automation and artificial intelligence are going to have a big impact in all kinds of worlds. These technologies are new and real and they are coming soon. Facebook is deeply interested in these trends.

We don’t know where this is going, we don’t know what the social costs and consequences will be, we don’t know what will be the next area of life to be hollowed out, the next business model to be destroyed, the next company to go the way of Polaroid or the next business to go the way of journalism or the next set of tools and techniques to become available to the people who used Facebook to manipulate the elections of 2016.

We just don’t know what’s next, but we know it’s likely to be consequential, and that a big part will be played by the world’s biggest social network. On the evidence of Facebook’s actions so far, it’s impossible to face this prospect without unease.


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