"Renewable" Energies, Capitalism, Climate Change, Climate Tipping Points, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Consumerism, Corporate State, Eco-Apocalypse, Ecological Overshoot, Embodied Energy Costs, Environmental Collapse, EROEI, Externalized Environmental Costs, Extinction of Man, Greenwashing, House on the Borderland, Inverted Totalitarianism, Kevin Moore, Mass Die Off, Nuclear Energy, Peak Oil, Pedro Prieto, Professor Charles Hall, Second Law of Thermodynamics, Solar Energy, Ted Trainer, William Hope Hodgson, Wind Energy
Clinging to the Status Quo
Through my experience on this website I’ve learned that the pro-fossil fuel/climate change skeptics share something in common with the pro-renewable energy/climate change realists. Neither wants industrial civilization to fade away. This is the fatal flaw shared by both – that industrial civilization with all its toxic trappings of materialism, instant gratification, and objectification of nature can continue with perhaps a few tweaks and modifications here and there. Nothing that the capitalist free market cannot correct, right? Others even fantasize with the idea that there will be some sort of a post-crisis prosperity. So-called “renewable energies” fit nicely into the greenwashing of capitalist industrial civilization. Ignoring the fact that abrupt climate change is well under way with multiple extinction-causing feedback loops having already been set into motion, the right course of action would have been a rapid downsizing and simplification of our mode of living:
We would also have to ignore the reality of the corporate state’s all-pervasive power. With its techniques of inverted totalitarianism, the corporate state has extinguished everything but the façade of democracy. Serving as the corporate mouthpiece, the mainstream media frames public discourse on socio-economic issues in very oversimplified terms while lumping the population into a very stark, cartoon-like dichotomy of Left versus Right. Thus there is never a substantive debate about our predicament; the dominant paradigm is never questioned except in small and obscure circles whose views never see the light of day. Refusing to acknowledge that fossil fuels are causing planetary ecocide and that renewable energy will not, by any stretch of the imagination, meet the high energy consumption levels of consumer capitalism are both fatal flaws of thinking. Neither group will admit that the root cause of the disease is our way of living. To do so would undercut their belief system, the principal tenants of which are that mankind’s superior adaptive capabilities and technological innovations will carry us through. Self-delusion on such a massive scale results in strange conspiracy thinking to emerge such as the following right-wing tripe:
Never mind that our government has become nothing more than a feeding trough and revolving door for corporations seeking market control and revenue streams. The people truly latched to the teat of government are those with the money to hire armies of lobbyists, bribe officials with lucrative private sector positions, ‘buy’ government contracts and game the system fully in their favor.
The Fantasy of Energy Unicorns Rescuing Industrial Civilization
The second law of thermodynamics states that energy flows or dissipates from concentrated forms to diffuse forms. Fossil fuels are very concentrated forms of energy, but renewables like wind and solar are very diffuse and intermittent energies. According to leading energy experts like Professor Charles Hall, the EROEI of renewable energy continues to be too low when compared with fossil fuels. Thus in the free market system, the lowest-priced energy (with environmental costs externalized) will always win out and be utilized.
“2013 EIA new plant capital costs of various energy technologies and
pumped storage for balancing intermittent renewables”
As Ted Trainer has shown, claims of renewables running the industrialized world are numerous and avoid any critical evaluation of their claims:
…Unfortunately people working on renewable energy technologies tend not to throw critical light on the difficulties and limits. They typically make enthusiastic claims regarding the potential of their specific technologies.
There are now several impressive reports claiming that renewable can meet world energy demand, and almost no literature questioning the claim…” – link
“..Trainer’s general point on technology is that the extent of ecological overshoot is already so great that technology alone will never be able to solve the ecological crises of our age, certainly not in a world based on economic growth and with a growing global population… – link
Trainer and other analysts identify several factors that limit large-scale renewable energy projects:
– Transmission losses: Distant solar thermal, photovoltaic farms, and wind farms must transmit their generated energy through long distance high-voltage direct current cables. The best places for harnessing wind power are usually in remote locations far from populated areas, but solar lends itself more to a model of decentralized electricity generation which can avoid transmission losses and the high cost of transmission lines.
– Embodied Energy Costs: The energy to produce the steel, mine the minerals and raw material, and manufacture the wind turbines and solar panels, then deliver and install them, and later repair and maintain them, finally disposing of them. In a recent study, Charles Hall and Pedro Prieto have found that such costs have been unaccounted for in the estimates of solar PV’s EROEI. Spain’s boom and subsequent bust in solar energy production was found to have generated an abysmal EROEI of 2.45 thermal units of energy output for 1 thermal unit invested, as poor as biofuels.
Just to make the silicon used to trap the sun’s rays on manufactured wafers requires the melting of silica rock at 3,000 Fahrenheit (1,649 Celsius). And the electricity of coal-fired plants or ultrapurified hydrogen obtained from fossil sources provide the heat to do that. It also takes a fantastic amount of oil to make concrete, glass and steel for solar modules…
…Prieto calculates, for example, that to replace all electricity made by nuclear and fossil fuels in Spain would take a solar module complex covering 6,000 sq. km of the country at the cost the entire Spanish budget (1.2 billion Euros in 2007). It would also require the equivalent of 300 billion car batteries to store the energy for night-time use.
Prieto is not alone in reaching such sobering conclusions. A 2013 Stanford University report, for example, calculated that global photovoltaic industry now requires more electricity to make silicon wafers and solar troughs than it actually produces in return. Since 2000 the industry consumed 75 per cent more energy than it put onto the grid and all during its manufacturing and installation process.
Moreover it won’t pay off this energy debt or energy consumed in its construction until 2016. As a consequence, ramping up of industrial solar production produces more greenhouse gases than it saves for nearly a decade… – link
– Plant Lifetime: 20 years is estimated for wind (Sharman, 2012) and 35 years for photovoltaic. To quote Kevin Moore, “Gaia pulverises everything in the long-term and converts it all into sediment (except certain partially degraded plastics, which seem destined to drift in the oceans for eternity).” Another factor perhaps not discussed much is the effect climate change will have on the variability and volatility of weather patterns where solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects are constructed. Wind, cloud, and rain patterns will be altered, rendering energy plants ill-suited to their originally targeted sites. The world’s energy infrastructure will be increasingly vulnerable to the ravages of climate chaos with more intense flooding, droughts, and shifting weather patterns. Hydroelectric power, solar farms, nuclear plants, and biofuel plantations are dependant on water to run and cool the turbines, clean the solar panels and mirrors, mine the uranium as well as cool the reactor core and spent fuel rods, and grow the biomass. Hotter temperatures will tax the electric grid because of increased electricity demand for cooling in the summer, reduction in the performance and capacity of transformers and above-ground transmission lines, and infrastructure damage from wildfires. Sea level rise will also wreak havoc with coastal erosion, storm surges and flooding.
Creation is Subject to the Bondage of Decay
Excerpt from House on the Borderland…
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I need to read this again as it is very good. One thing that stands out are the terms “industrial civilization .” All the word civilization has come to mean is conformity and oppression.
Mel Strawn said:
Boxed in—the now dominant fossil fuel-based enterprise balance sheet excludes “externalities”; its real costs are tragically far higher than Wall Street, et al, project. Seemingly, and just as sadly, the renewable energy system promise is, at least in the short term, developmental-installation stage, economically not good competition for the status quo, business as usual disaster we have. Impasse?
Perhaps Guy McPherson has it right….but our tattered moral obligation doesn’t rest easy with waving white flags. I join Diogenes.
Another great read.
I read the first paragraph twice & came to a conclusion. I may have to give up many things but as an Entitled,Exceptional American I will fight to my last breath to defend my right to “instant gratification”. I want it all.I want it now. I don’t want to put forth any effort.
Can anyone recommend a good psychiatrist? How about a practicing realist? SOS,SOS,… LOL
How long will it be before most of the world ask, What have we done to ourselves?
Paul F Getty said:
“Don’t talk to me about sustainability. You want to question my lifestyle, my impact, my ecological footprint? There is a monster standing over us, with a footprint so large it can trample a whole planet underfoot, without noticing or caring. This monster is Industrial Civilization. I refuse to sustain the monster. If the Earth is to live, the monster must die. This is a declaration of war.
What is it we are trying to sustain? A living planet, or industrial civilization? Because we can’t have both.
Somewhere along the way the environmental movement – based on a desire to protect the Earth, was largely eaten by the sustainability movement – based on a desire to maintain our comfortable lifestyles. When did this happen, and why? And how is it possible that no-one noticed? This is a fundamental shift in values, to go from compassion for all living beings and the land, to a selfish wish to feel good about our inherently destructive way of life.”
What’s eating the Earth…
“…For years, the Robinson family was “consumed” by the hunt for Beanie Babies. With a collection for each of the five sons, Robinson’s father would spend weekends recruiting anyone he could—his kids, neighborhood kids, and even friends of his wife—to buy new releases for him. Since shops often limited each family to one purchase, he would warn his sons to pretend not to know one another in the store. Once they were home, days were spent cataloguing and packaging the Beanie Babies, which he organized by species and color in plastic cases. “He described it as kind of like a drug addiction,” Robinson told Marketplace.
In his documentary, Robinson’s mother says that the idea wasn’t a bad one—but that like those Dutch tulip merchants, the Robinsons failed to cash out in time. For about the first six months, she says, they could have made a nice profit. But they missed that window. “When we first started collecting them,” She said, “we knew that they were valuable, because they were kind of at their peak—but we didn’t know that part.”…
This post was reblogged by an intelligent reader at DemocraticUnderground:
Some interesting comments there.
I gleaned this :
The hysterical mewlings of Guy McPherson & Co. about near term extinction no longer seem at all far-fetched. I think we’re out of time.
People are catching up.
Paul F Getty said:
Documentary about consuming:
“We’re beginning to doubt our motivations and we’re predicting environmental destruction. In understanding human nature our current concerns look smaller, more transient, with, potentially, a solution.
We’ve all got this weird mental illness called consumerism. We’ve all kind of gone collectively psychotic. Chasing status, in public, with people who don’t really care and neglecting your own lovers and friends and neighbours and kids.”
Kevin Moore said:
Good to see continuing commentary firmly grounded in proper analysis, Mike
The ‘Zeitgeist’ series opened quite a lot of people’s eyes to the reality of corruption, manipulation and lies in high places, but then pointed viewers in completely the wrong direction by promoting ridiculous fantasies, based on 1960s/1970s thinking centred around ‘Venus Project’ construction of concrete and steel ‘eco-cities’.
I watched this documentary series about the American revolution just recently. I was struck by their technological capabilities as in the size of the buildings, making cannons and guns and melting metal to make bullets, ships ferrying thousands of troops and supplies across the ocean as well as communications back and forth, abilities to produce food and supplies. All this before fossil fuels.
Now I realize, of course, very probably Europeans were already overextending themselves in Europe and over populating there, which is why they had to come to America. Still, it shows one what can be done. Living as they were back then, they probably thought they already were at some pinnacle of human capacity, technologically speaking. And I believe they were. If you think about it, hardened steel to make an edge with, glass, cast-iron and advanced agriculture; this is all you really need for a pretty decent life. You just can’t have too many people of course.
In regards to this blog post, I would say this: okay, we see what the problem is, we have to live more simply. Okay, who’s going to go first? Who’s going to show/live the example?
I think this is a legitimate question. I don’t think we or anyone can simply say to everyone else (don’t you see, we have to live more simply) without being willing to actually do it oneself. I think we completely overlook the effect living the example would have. But of course, I believe for people to actually take notice, that example of simpler living somehow has to look like (a better deal) than what they have going for them now.
How could this possibly be a better deal? I don’t believe it will be or can be living as we have in the past or are now, basically as individual family units. The way we would have to do it, I believe, and achieve a better quality of life, albeit simpler and with less would be to do it in some sort of cooperative/communal way. To go for self-sufficiency first where practical and it makes the most sense and trade for the rest, the specialty and extras.
Calling the alarm and educating whoever’s willing to listen is important, but I think living the example is just as, if not even more important.
Hey don’t spoil the party. We’re watching the global meltdown on HD TV.
Roger Ramjet said:
Your question is curious. The answer is no one is going to do anything in any meaningful numbers. Capitalism is like a snow ball. You roll it down the hill and it gets bigger and bigger and doesn’t stop until eventually it crashes into a rock. Unfortunately when you understand all the layers of the problem you come to realise that there is no stopping the snow ball. It’s been rolled. I don’t say this lightly. I’ve researched this for a long time. Our best bet as I posted below is a mass die off due to disease. Something that takes out 85% of the world population. It sounds horrendous until you understand the problem and how bad it’s going to be if that doesn’t happen!
“no one is going to do anything in meaningful numbers”
If 150 or 300 people actually did something truly different and together and succeeded, meaning everyone was really happy and healthy; this could make a huge difference. People love to get in on and imitate a good thing.
Now you could say the Hutterites have been living communally for a few hundred years and no one is imitating them. My response would be: it must be a secular communal example and it must honor individual freedom as well. “Communal” by itself is no answer per se. After all, everything about our present society screams of communal agreements. It is the ethics and goals that make the difference.
I come to this website and others like it to get confirmation or reasons why we need to be doing something different. What I’m coming to see is the NTE mindset is, in a sense, the perfect excuse for not doing anything. The reasons for living very differently have been with us for hundreds if not thousands of years and so, I suppose, have the reasons why it’s impossible to do anything else but pursue one’s own self-interest regardless of the consequences.
What’s interesting (or depressing) are the numbers of people who hold true the ethics and goals which would make all the difference and yet are incapable of actually coming together (or refused to) with those others to actually live in a peaceful, just and sustainable way.
Roger Ramjet said:
Interesting. You disagree with me. Argue a few points and it seems ultimately conclude that I’m right? I’m not being negative. I’m a realist. “If 150 or 300 people actually did something truly different and together and succeeded” Are you for real ?! Think about the system. It’s not designed to be switched off. Every means of en masse communication is ultimately controlled by the system. The system employs us, feeds us, supposedly educates us. So exactly how do you fight it. If a million people woke up tomorrow morning and ceased being sheeple it wouldn’t make the slightest difference. Our global population is already unsustainable. Reality will catch up soon enough. One thing everyone should realise now. There is no solution with 7 Billion people. You are seriously delusional if you think otherwise and have no understanding of physics or how really dependent we are on fossil fuels. So you ask us to do something? What exactly should I do. Ask people to commit suicide? The die is cast and that is a pun.
It’s too complicated to explain in a few paragraphs. Also, I kind of view discussions that are not geared toward some sort of unity and action sort of pointless and frustrating. Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy philosophic bantering, I do to some degree. So, thanks for the bantering, but without an actual example you’re right, it’s just hard to conceive, hard to believe it’s for “real”.
communalsolution says: …it’s just hard to conceive, hard to believe it’s for “real”.
We have links on this site explaining why you can’t believe. Here’s one for starters…
Thanks for the link to that interesting article, but actually I misspoke. What I was referring to with the (real thing) was the general consensus amongst NTE folks that a single example of cultural shift (as in a large, rural, mostly self-sufficient commune) could have any effect. To make the case that it is possible is just beyond the scope of blog dialogue. Besides which, there is such a conviction that nothing can be done at this point, so one meets nothing but resistance-not fun.
I would just say that any criticism of this culture, of capitalism must include a specific suggestion for an alternative. Is it nationstate socialism? Then which socialist nation would one hold up as an example? If not nationstate socialism, then what, exactly? If it’s some sort of low carbon, low resource use way of life, then what would that look like? And so on and so forth.
There’s a lot of unity on this site about NTE and unity always feels good. I agree with this very real possibility, but to accept it as inevitable (even if that is the logical conclusion) seems to me defeatist and premature and ultimately, really, quite close to how the (ignorant masses?) think. As I’ve said before, quite a number of the “masses” believe the end is inevitable and even close, and many more simply don’t care-given that this way of life is actually so anti-life, they actually want it to end. NTE might be hard for many to conceive, to talk about, but what might actually be even harder is to be honest with oneself about how happy one is (really) with the way things are, or even too, to face one’s own shallowness and participation in the general state of things.
What I’m coming to see is the NTE mindset is, in a sense, the perfect excuse for not doing anything.
This is simply not correct, communal solution. If you had followed the discussion and thinking of the people on NBL you’d have known that many, most, have been involved in such ventures and continue to be, e.g.
However, it becomes impossible to ignore the reality, that such ventures are FUTILE because the larger dominant systems – industrial civilisation, capitalism – continue to wreck the planet, and now we have climate chaos and the irreversible positive feedback loops. That means, for those of us who accept this analysis, that we get NTE.
It does not mean that we DO NOTHING. But it means we have to face this reality and not deny it or pretend that it is not happening.
How we respond to this appalling situation is the subject of intense and anguished discussion, and each person has to come to their own conclusion. But to suggest that it provides ‘a perfect excuse’ is crazy. The perfect excuse is provided by the pretence that everything can just continue as it is, which is what the MSM try to put across every day.
A few thoughts:
1. That example you cite in England, what I would call intentional family, is hardly more than how 1 million quite conventional Arkansas families are living right now and have been for many generations (10 adults and five children) achieving quite a bit of self-sufficiency, but some family members probably doing some work in town as well. What’s making this example in England “futile” is not the “larger dominant systems-industrial civilization and capitalism” but rather the hippie landowner charging rent. This scene and situation is typical, as I’ve followed it my whole life. It’s way too small in numbers of people, as most of these attempts are. Also, there has to be an awful lot of transparency to make any claims that a different kind of culture is being created. And when people think they are doing the “right” thing for a good thing, they are hardly likely to agree to critical analysis.
2. I think you’re right, this conviction that extinction is inevitable is not an excuse to do nothing. It’s not because they never has been an interest in doing anything different. Sure, I read lots about criticizing capitalism and the system, but I see no discussion about how we should be living or what that would look like. Surely that would come up, even an interest in doing it, if it had ever been there at all.
3. Something I’ve been meaning to mention, it seems in some ways this club thinks it’s some sort of miniscule minority that thinks the world is about to come to the end, when in fact massive amounts of people think this. The extreme Christians for example with their belief in Armageddon come to mind, not to mention an awful lot of other folks. Maybe not a majority, but a lot. What’s interesting to me isn’t so much that so many people think were living in end times, but the fact that so many are looking forward to it or are welcoming it. You don’t get this in casual conversation, one has to dig deep or read between the lines, but people are not all that happy these days.
4. I don’t think we humans have a problem with death, with dying, we have a problem with living, with life. And in particular, living in a way where others mattered. I think we would do something (live differently), even if it looked hopeless, if this were the case, if we really felt human life was precious and worth preserving.
5. Maybe I shouldn’t post this, but I put together so I guess I will. I really don’t mean to find fault with others. Really, I need to do this, I need to get to work, myself, on this. The thing is, I suppose, that ultimately the kind of changes necessary are social not just individual. And this makes it particularly challenging.
There is a huge irony in all this. With all our ideas and collective knowledge. With all our technology, we could, if we could just control ourselves, all live very happy easy lives in harmony with our planet. Enter the greed/profit motive. Unfortunately that destroys everything. Then it’s wealth for the few and screw the rest of you. More people = more production and consumption. Happiness for the greedy elite. We know where that is heading. When I first watched Mad Max I thought it was pretty lame. Now I think it was visionary. Probably the best description of how the prelude to collapse will look. BUT The primary problem is obvious and there is no getting around it. Too many people. The solution is just as obvious. Do we really think the ruling elite don’t know this?
Roger Ramjet said:
I get your point. I’m doing a lot of reading on pre-industrial technology. It’s amazing the stuff that was done (with a lot less people around). However you are incorrect. They used huge amounts of coal which is a fossil fuel. The industrial revolution kicked off before electricity but as a direct result of coal and the steam engine in the mid eighteenth century. Amazing stuff existed in medieval and renaissance times too, however the expanding use of charcoal foundries for smelting iron led to laws being passed protecting Royal forests!
Life is a Gas said:
The Climate Denial Koch Suckers Venue vs the Ready for Prime Time Gang Green Posse reminds me of the ‘conservative’ vs ‘liberal’ Punch and Judy show which is the central distraction of the MSM’s role as bread and circus vendors.
The sustainability crowd are so co-opted to the ‘green progress’ meme they can’t see the Reality of the situation through their green-tinted granny glasses.
Pointing out the EROEI of the Green Machine will get you truly crazed reactions from True Green Believers. They will secretly want to gouge your eyes out with a hand carved organic wooden spoon. You will have ‘harshed their mellow’, a capital offense in their mind space.
For years I brought up how the nuclear industry has negative EROEI when all the costs and externalities are included, now the solar stuff ‘joins the club’ (bites the bullet)
Oh the humanity!
LMFAO in the peanut gallery! 😆
Good point(s) xraymike.
Seen this? It’s what’s up their sleeve!
An interesting comment left by climate hawk Colorado Bob at Scribbler’s site:
Was wondering why the NOAA stopped publishing a particular graph which I used in a post last year:
If anyone knows why, tell me. I found it a very useful ‘big picture’ tool.
Here is that graph for the year of 2012(Oh Shit!!!):
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Roger Ramjet said:
Finally someone with a brain! Excellent article. I have researched the imminent collalpse scenario for years now. I have come to two sobering conclusions and one even more sobering solution. 1. Collapse is a mathematical certainty. 2. The current death by a thousand cuts approach taken by out gutless politicians and fat greedy pig capitalists will make things a million times worse. The survivors will be left with nothing not even the will to survive. But the way capitalism is designed we new they would always take the scorched earth approach. Capitalism by it’s very form, design and definition is a one way ticket. (please don’t confuse the current form of capitalism with a small family business trying to make an honest buck. That’s different). Capitalism in it’s current form is the system. It is politics. It is economics. It’s on your TV 24/7
To even have a hope of maintaining a semblance of civilisation and a planet there is only one solution. 85%of the world population needs to die-off and it needs to happen now. The bodies will be used as fertiliser. Approximately 480,000 Gigalitres of water will be permanently released back into our atmosphere. Millions of tons of nitrates etc. will be released back into the soil. CO2 emissions will immediatly reduce dramatically. The planet will slowly recover. This does pose an interesting question though. The capitalist parasites running our planet into the ground must know this. So do you get your next flu vaccination or don’t you?
“don’t confuse the current form of capitalism with a small family business trying to make an honest buck. That’s different”
Of course I could be wrong, but I would postulate that it is precisely this, the breakup of community into small family units all vying for the best land, the most resources and individual (family) advantages that has given rise to the dilemma we find ourselves in today. Now you might say (communities/nations) might or do the same thing as families and I suppose that’s true which is why, also, a few essential ethics are necessary as well, such as population restraint, pacifism and no usury being also essential.
Everyone should watch Stefan Molyneux’s latest video titled “women, beauty, voting and tyranny”. Imperfect perhaps, but at least courageous in its attempt to dig deep. Personally, I believe only communal living of some sort could end this “tyranny” between men and women and so establish some sort of brotherhood and unity amongst men.
Jim Bob said:
Capitalism in it’s current form is a political system although it’s sold and packaged as the very essence of freedom, nothing could be further from the truth. The current form of capitalism reminds me a lot of the Doomsday machine in Dr Strangelove. Once you turn it on nothing can stop it until everything is destroyed. It’s happening already. Most people can’t see it because of all the chafe on TV. I agree with RR. I to have analysed this for a while now and arrived at the same conclusion. Our only hope is a massive die off and really soon. It may be me. C’est la vie. The alternative is what I call a scorched earth policy and to quote The Doors. “No one here gets out alive”. It’s really that simple. 85% die off now or 100% later. We have to stop the machine!
The essence of the problem is this. People in general are fundamentally stupid. Ultimately when it really matters we are no more intelligent than say a lemming or any other mammal that over shoots it’s environment. I keep watching 12 Monkeys over and over gain and keep arriving at the same conclusion. The scientist who spread the virus did the right thing. There is no question in my mind.
Just to throw more depression into the equation. Even if renewables did work and had huge EROEI ratios you still don’t solve the oil problem. Electricity is an energy delivery mechanism. It’s not energy. Oil is highly portable extremely powerful mobile energy. The key word being mobile. Electricity is not mobile. We won’t have the energy or oil to mine the millions of tons of rare earth elements required to supply the batteries to replace all the cars and trucks (if that’s even possible). Secondly, oil and gas don’t just supply energy. They supply a myriad of other products considered essential to modern civilisation. The Mammoth (much bigger than an elephant) in the room is fertiliser. Oil and Gas are directly linked to our food production. What truly scares me the most is that people think we can simply carry on business as usual. It simply will not work. The thought process is to maintain (wow, even grow!) our current level of civilisation. Talk about delusional.
How long will the trees last when the energy crunch hits home?