On the Tragedy of Trends

Tim Garrett, the world’s most under appreciated scientist, makes a persuasive case that wealth is proportional to energy consumption. More specifically, US$1 (1990) = 10 mW. This makes intuitive sense because energy is required to make and/or maintain everything that we assign a monetary value to.

Yesterday the Visual Capitalist published some charts showing energy consumption trends for the US.



In the following discussion I deliberately ignore the chart’s forecast for the future because it comes from the deeply in denial Energy Information Administration (EIA), which bases its forecasts on expected demand rather than geologic and thermodynamic reality. In other words, the EIA makes forecasts based on what we will likely desire, rather than what is likely to be available, or what we will likely be able to afford.

I also ignore changes in energy efficiency because I think we have already harvested all of the low hanging fruit and recent efficiency gains are in the noise.

By applying Garrett’s theory we can draw some illuminating conclusions:

  1. The total wealth of the US peaked around 2000 and has been in slow decline since.
  2. The wealth of individuals peaked around 2000 after 3 decades of little growth, has been in steep decline since, and today is about 15% lower on average than 1970.
  3. The contribution of renewable energy to our wealth has been and remains insignificant. Doubly so if you consider the fossil energy required to manufacture, install, and maintain renewable energy equipment.

The actual decline in wealth for the majority of citizens will be larger than these charts suggest because of the widening wealth gap, which has resulted from the low interest rates employed to offset declining net energy. Low interest rates increase the opportunity for the rich to profit from the bubbles created by low interest rates.

I expect trends in other industrialized countries will mirror those of the US, and in many cases will be worse because the US is so well-endowed with natural resources and its reserve currency.

It is clear why social unrest is increasing in most countries.

No one is to blame for these trends. They are simply a consequence of the scientific laws of geology and thermodynamics. It is true however that low and middle income citizens are carrying a disproportionate share of the impact because governments did not implement tax policies to prevent a predictable wealth gap increase caused by low interest rates.

Our inherited denial of reality prevents most people from understanding what is going on, and thus most people seek someone to blame.

Awareness and understanding could lead to cooperation and voluntary lifestyle changes.

Denial and blame will likely lead to tragedy.

By Tim Morgan: Chinese Whispers


I used to admire Chinese leadership.

Unlike our idiot lawyers and economists, the Chinese selected engineers and scientists as their leaders. I observed the Chinese tended to favor the long-term rather than the short-term, and that they made wise rather than politically correct decisions. Examples being their one child policy, low military spending, and heavy investment in hydro energy, rail, and other important infrastructure.

Now of course it is clear I was naive. The Chinese are repeating all of our mistakes, but on a larger scale. It makes no difference how leaders are educated, they will eventually succumb to the inherited behaviors common to all humans.

The main difference between us and them now is that they are “borrowing to employ” and we are “borrowing to consume”.

In his blog today Tim Morgan takes a close look at the Chinese economic miracle, or more accurately, the Chinese debt bubble.


Which is the world’s largest economy? Converted at market exchange rates, China ($11tn) is smaller than the United States ($18tn) but, on the PPP (purchasing power parity) basis of conversion widely regarded as superior, China (at $21tn) now takes the top spot.

In short, if the Chinese economy were to catch a cold, the world economy would be in for a bout of influenza at best, and could well face the economic equivalent of pneumonia.

The picture that emerges is quite extraordinary. Over the ten years between 2005 and 2015, GDP grew at rates of between 9% and 14% annually, not even stumbling materially during the 2009 global downturn. But debt has grown by between 17% and 35% of GDP each year, with the exception of 2009, when debt increased by 47% of GDP.

What this means is that, over a period in which reported GDP increased by RMB 40tn, debt expanded by RMB 129tn. This is a borrowing-to-growth ratio of 3.2:1, still reasonably modest by Western standards, but a far cry from past Chinese practice – back in 2005, the trailing ten-year (T10Y) ratio was only 1.67:1.

Unlike the Western economies, whose vice-of-choice is to use debt to fund consumption and inflate property markets, the Chinese bias is towards using debt for investment in capacity. In theory, capacity investment should be “self-liquidating”, because capacity increases should increase income, and thus fund the paying off of the initial debt. (This is contradistinction to consumer borrowing, which is “non-self-liquidating”).

But the self-liquidating characteristic of business investment depends on capacity expanding without depressing margins, something which happens when expansion creates major capacity surpluses. It is abundantly clear that Chinese PNFC borrowing has followed the course of excess, depressing returns in the process.

As a result, much of the Chinese business sector earns returns which appear to be well below the cost of debt capital. In this situation, an obvious remedy is to convert debt into equity. This, however, seems to have been tried, and failed, because it showed clear tendencies to crash the equity market.

The final sting in the tail of this analysis is that, if underlying GDP is a lot lower when stripped of the borrowing effect, debt ratios are correspondingly higher. On the SEEDS basis of computation, aggregate debt already stands at 385% of GDP (rather than the reported 246%), and is growing a lot more quickly than publicly available numbers indicate, adding around 43% of GDP (rather than 20%) annually.

With the export-based model faltering, and with a great deal of economic activity dependent on borrowing, China may have ceased to be the powerful engine of growth that is so customarily assumed.

By Geoffrey Chia: What you should not say in public…

Although there are no solutions to our predicament, I wrote a list of things a wise society would do here. I concluded the essay by acknowledging that our inherited denial of reality would probably prevent us from doing any of them.

Today Dr. Geoffrey Chia wrote a list of things a wise society would do and ended with a similar conclusion.


I am due to speak at the Griffith Ecocentre on 9 March and will run through the usual gamut of why things are fiendishly rotten in the state of Denmark and what to expect in the near future. “Denmark” is of course the metaphor for our besieged planetary ecosphere. It is a commentary familiar to Diners: why global warming will have consequences far worse than the mainstream population have been led to believe (but will NOT cause NTHE by 2026) and why the depletion of “easy” oil guarantees that the collapse of industrial civilisation will be complete within 20 years (a conservative estimate, based on falling EROEI and the ELM). However the fraud pervading our banks and sharemarkets will cause financial and economic collapse and the demise of our global industrial system much sooner. Not to mention all the other fun stuff ahead like mass human die-off, mass extinctions of other species, the rise of fascist extremists around the world, increasing conflicts between nations, increasing risk of global nuclear war, the possibility of pandemics etc. This is all old hat to Diners, but not to the general public. My purpose will not be misery mongering and nihilism however, but to encourage members of the audience to set up their own remote, climate resilient, off-grid homesteads to weather the coming storms. They must not look for salvation from without, but from within. Not everyone will succeed but some will.

I expect the majority will find my commentary repugnant and reject it. I expect the Q&A session will throw up the usual predictable questions such as “how can we fix these problems?” or “surely technofix A can solve problem B?” The standard answer, which Diners are familiar with, is that the issues we face are not problems for which there are solutions, but are predicaments (or conundrums) for which there are no solutions. The correct question at this late stage is not “how can we fix these problems?“, but “what can we do in anticipation of these events?“. Given the more than century long build up to these events, the sapients realise that global industrial collapse is unavoidable, as has been amply demonstrated by even the most optimistic scenarios modelled by the updated Limits to Growth analyses. We have fallen off the cliff and even though we may feel “fine” now, we will not feel so good when we inevitably and excruciatingly smash into the ground. Gravity is a bitch and there is no prospect we can invent an anti-gravity device before impact, or indeed ever.

Not satisfied with such an answer, there is usually the odd tenacious audience member who attempts to pose the same question in a different manner, such as “if you were King of the world and had unlimited policy power, what would you do to tackle these predicaments?” The unstated expectation behind such a question is that a benevolent “philosopher king / ecosystems guru” can find ways to keep 7.5 billion people alive, solve climate change, find a replacement for petroleum etc, etc. Well I ain’t no King and I ain’t no Guru, but for the sake of argument, let us play along with such fantasy based wishful thinking and imagine we can enforce the following:

  1. Abolish all nation states. Demobilise all military forces everywhere and re-employ all ex-military personnel for the refurbishment and maintenance of essential domestic infrastructure, for civil defence and for disaster relief. All nuclear weapons to be dismantled, all weapons manufacturers to be eliminated.
  2. Equitable redistribution of resources, which will require that people in the rich parts of the world give up their luxuries to allow poorer people to survive. This will also require that refugees from climate ravaged and war torn parts of the world be allowed to emigrate to more climate favoured areas.
  3. Impose a moratorium on all human reproduction for the next 30 years, following which we allow only one child per couple until the global population falls to perhaps 100 million and thereafter allow only for replacement reproduction rates. Draconian? Yes, but far preferable to chaotic die-off which could trigger nuclear war.
  4. Transform the existing predatory rapacious capitalist system to a steady state ecology based economic system which penalises polluters and “closes the loop” – to treat and use all waste as a resource.
  5. Stop all unnecessary “economic” activity which will include the cessation of all fossil fuel based tourism and the entire process of globalisation. Limit activities to essential ones such as the production and distribution of food and clean fresh water and the construction and maintenance of dwellings. Localise all economic activities, although international trade in non perishable goods can still occur by use of sailing vessels.
  6. Educate everyone that the main “solution” to our looming energy shortfall must be energy efficiency and conservation, not new whizbang technowizardry such as fusion energy. Cease all fossil fuel electricity generation and change electricity provision to decentralised renewable energy systems such as solar PV for individual dwellings or microgrids. Let the central grid rot or better still, cannibalise it for materials. Pursue research to determine whether we can manufacture and maintain renewable energy generators and batteries using only renewable energy sources.
  7. Phase out all industrial scale monocrop agriculture (which is doomed anyway as fossil fuel based fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and the petroleum to run mass agriculture will eventually become unavailable). Reduce meat and seafood consumption by more than 90%. Food security to be achieved by the establishment of hundreds of millions of local permaculture smallholdings providing a plant based diet with abundant protein from peas, beans and nuts and supplementary protein from eggs, dairy products, aquaponics and even farmed insects.

What is the likelihood of achieving even one of the above? We are, on the whole, moving in directions away from each and every one of the measures indicated above. So get real. Even if they could all be done, the following issues will remain:

  1. Additional global warming from existing GHGs in the atmosphere is already locked in place but is yet to fully manifest and will render most of the planet uninhabitable. All existing coastal cities will eventually (perhaps in 200 years) be submerged under at least 23 metres of seawater.
  2. We have no liquid transport fuel to replace “easy” oil at scale, which means that industrial civilisation as we know it is still doomed.
  3. Enforcement of the policies outlined above can only be carried out through edict and coercion. External imposition of policies on an ignorant and resistant populace will fail to address the primary underlying reason for all our planetary travails: the possession of advanced, destructive technology in the hands of a “trumped up” (pun intended) species of ape governed by their reptile brain. Cleverness without wisdom. This means that even if all the predicaments above could magically be made to vanish and we could magically reset human society and our planetary ecosphere back to, say 1950 before overshoot began in earnest, we will merely repeat the same patterns over and over again, in the absence of restraint and wisdom. Groundhog day with no hope of redemption, no matter how many times the scenario is replayed.

Semi-sapient people must abandon childish fantasy notions of what we would like happen, grow up and accept the reality of what is going to happen.

The bottom line is this, and I have said it before: the only hope for the continuation of our benighted species is that the survivors who emerge at the other end of this genetic bottleneck are truly sapient and adopt the principles of restraint (in resource consumption and reproduction) and vigorously protect any viable ecohabitats remaining (and cultivate new ones as icebound areas of the planet melt). It is possible, although by no means certain, that the impending cull of the global population may result in just such an outcome, especially if the sapient 0.01% of the population can be encouraged to save themselves NOW. The sapients should be advised not to grieve as future events unfold and they observe, from a safe distance, the morbid spectacle of billions of clueless sheeple killing each other, egged on by the 0.1% psychopathic sheeple herders who had promised to make them great again. Such is the nature of a cull.

13-Mar-2017 addition: Here is Geoffrey Chia’s talk…



By Robert Marston Fanney: Antarctic Sea Ice Hits New All-Time Record Low

Greatest hits from the Arctic continue, and now Antarctica is also starting to create greatest hits.

Meanwhile climate scientists still do not understand Garrett’s US$1 (1990) = 10mW.

That’s equivalent to a rocket scientist not understanding F=M*A, or a farmer not understanding NPK.

Denial is amazing!


Varki’s MOR vs. Jaynes’ Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

I am reading Julian Jaynes‘ “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” and am trying to understand how it relates to Varki’s Mind Over Reality (aka Denial of Reality) theory.


  1. Is Varki a prerequisite for Jaynes, or does Jaynes stand on its own?
  2. Does Jaynes answer questions not answered by Varki?
  3. Does Jaynes conflict with Varki?
  4. Do the two theories offer different explanations for:
    1. the singular emergence of a brain with an extended theory of mind;
    2. the singular emergence of a brain capable of advanced physics;
    3. the singular emergence and universality of religion in the cultures of behaviorally modern humans;
    4. the reason that belief in life after death is the only common denominator between thousands of human religions;
    5. the reason that otherwise intelligent humans deny all aspects of their overshoot and the severe damage they are doing to the ecology that sustains them.

If there are any readers that have pondered these questions I would love to hear your thoughts.

I intend to write a summary and offer answers to the above questions after I finish the book.

Jaynes is quite a dense and unintuitive book so it may require several readings before I have the confidence to tackle a summary.

Shame On Them

It’s been about 7 years since Tim Garrett published a paper that explains everything anyone needs to know about the cause of climate change: US$1 (1990) = 10mW.

Or in words, wealth is proportional to energy consumption, and since 90+% of energy is fossil carbon, and since all “renewable” energy depends on fossil carbon, climate change is proportional to total human wealth.

Almost all climate scientists ignore this vital relationship and pretend we can address climate change without shrinking the economy, our lifestyles, and our population.

Now with this recent paper we see a hint that climate scientists may be just starting to understand reality.

Climate scientists have wasted many years by not speaking the truth about our predicament. Most don’t even set good examples in their personal lives.

Shame on them.

Maybe in another 7 years they will understand the equally important relationship between net energy, economic growth, and debt. Although I suspect they won’t due to inherited denial of reality.


Titled “Modeling Sustainability: Population, Inequality, Consumption, and Bidirectional Coupling of the Earth and Human Systems“, the paper describes how the rapid growth in resource use, land-use change, emissions, and pollution has made humanity the dominant driver of change in most of the Earth’s natural systems, and how these changes, in turn, have critical feedback effects on humans with costly and serious consequences, including on human health and well-being, economic growth and development, and even human migration and societal conflict. However, the paper argues that these two-way interactions (“bidirectional coupling”) are not included in the current models.

The Oxford University Press’s multidisciplinary journal National Science Review, which published the paper, has highlighted the work in its current issue, pointing out that “the rate of change of atmospheric concentrations of CO2, CH4, and N2O [the primary greenhouse gases] increased by over 700, 1000, and 300 times (respectively) in the period after the Green Revolution when compared to pre-industrial rates.” See Figure 1 from the Highlights article, reproduced below.

“Many datasets, for example, the data for the total concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases, show that human population has been a strong driver of the total impact of humans on our planet Earth. This is seen particularly after the two major accelerating regime shifts: Industrial Revolution (~1750) and Green Revolution (~1950)” said Safa Motesharrei, UMD systems scientist and lead author of the paper. “For the most recent time, we show that the total impact has grown on average ~4 percent between 1950 and 2010, with almost equal contributions from population growth (~1.7 percent) and GDP per capita growth (~2.2 percent). This corresponds to a doubling of the total impact every ~17 years. This doubling of the impact is shockingly rapid.”

Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, who was not a co-author of the paper, commented: “We cannot separate the issues of population growth, resource consumption, the burning of fossil fuels, and climate risk. They are part of a coupled dynamical system, and, as the authors show, this has dire potential consequences for societal collapse. The implications couldn’t be more profound.”

By Nick Lane: Why is life the way it is?

Nick Lane, my favorite science writer, recently gave an updated version of his talk on the origin of life and why life is the way it is. This talk summarizes his most recent book “The Vital Question” which I reviewed here.

The big ideas are:

  • The emergence of life is probable and simple single-cell life, like bacteria, is probably common throughout the universe.
  • Complex life, like plants and animals, resulted from a one-time “accident” 2 billion years ago, and will be rare in the universe.
  • Increased energy played a key role in the emergence of complex life, as it does for human domination of the planet.

When you layer on top of this Varki’s theory, which explains the improbable singular emergence of the powerful human brain, our existence and its ability to understand this paragraph, becomes something to revere and protect.

The tragic irony is that we are not fighting to protect our special place in the universe because of the same mutation that enabled the emergence of our brain: denial of reality.