You know you are in trouble when…

Examples of denial are both profound and unacknowledged.

The short-term solution to our problems is the long-term cause of our problems: economic growth

The long-term solution to our problems is the short-term cause of our problems: reduced consumption

All political parties in all countries and almost all citizens, including the few citizens that understand our predicament, reject our best course of action: austerity

Most citizens have no idea how fortunate they are to be alive at this point in history: Blindspots and Superheroes

Despite wildly different beliefs about our predicament, there is one thing that almost everyone agrees on: I don’t want to change my behavior

The only problems society does not acknowledge, or discuss, or act on, are the only problems that matter: species extinction, limits to growth, debt, peak oil, overshoot, resource depletion, climate change, sea level rise, fisheries collapse & ocean acidification, nitrogen imbalance & tree decline 

Every country has similar economic problems and not one leader anywhere in the world connects the dots and publicly acknowledges the root cause, even after they leave office: declining energy surplus a.k.a. energy extraction cost + debt

Citizens believe the exact opposite of reality: technology creates wealth and energy rather than energy creates wealth and technology

Citizens misunderstand the root cause of social unrest and wars because the media presents these conflicts as political or economic problems and ignores their underlying forces: biophysical constraints

There is evidence that feedback loops are taking over and causing some problems to go exponential: climate change, CO2 emissions, ice loss, sea level rise, debt

The previous year’s worst case predictions are tending to become this year’s most likely prediction: sea level rise

Actions that improve the long-term worsen the short-term: air pollution masks 0.5C of warming, austerity and debt reduction, renewable energy, population reduction 

The only possible permanent solution is rejected by the belief systems of 90+% of citizens: population reduction

The only possible permanent solution is too slow to avoid the worst problems: population reduction laws

Countries fortunate to have a low birth rate often cancel their good fortune with immigration: Canada

The few people who understand the severity of our problems do not set good examples in their personal lives: leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists

History suggests that the consequence of not voluntarily contracting our economies as non-renewable resources deplete is an unthinkable war, so we don’t think about it: nuclear weapons

The quality of our leaders is declining because those people with high intelligence, wisdom, and integrity do not want to be in charge of our predicament, and because citizens are feeling the impact of overshoot, do not understand what is going on, and are angry: Trump

The leader of the free world denies science and issues daily, jaw-dropping, cringe-inducing tweets: Trump

The one world leader that did understand the problem and spoke out was rejected by the citizens and no longer speaks out: Jimmy Carter

We do not acknowledge that the world’s economic problems began with the peaking of a key non-renewable resource: conventional oil

Low energy prices have led citizens to believe we have a glut of fossil energy when in fact: all types of energy have peaked

We do not discuss or act on economic history research that shows countries always get into serious trouble when they permit an important ratio to exceed a threshold we long passed: debt to GDP

Bankers, the creators of money, do not understand the one thing that creators of money should understand: thermodynamics of wealth

The professionals with the most influence on public policy use models that violate the most trusted laws of physics: economists

The scientific theory that explains the relationship between the economy, energy, and climate is ignored by everyone that should understand it: Tim Garrett

The people who deserve the most respect and admiration get the least: scientists

The people who deserve the least respect and admiration get the most: celebrities

All types of non-fossil energy do not provide a substitute for the only energy we can’t live without: diesel for trucks, trains, ships, tractors, and combines, and mining machines; plus natural gas for fertilizer

People who think the shale revolution will make America prosperous and energy independent ignore one thing: facts and more facts

Intelligent people who understand the climate change threats, like James Hansen and Bill Gates, and who want business as usual to continue, know that nuclear energy is the only option, but they ignore a problem: peak uranium

If climate deniers continue to win elections and try to maintain the existing electric grid they’ll find that strategy may not work for long: peak coal

A key component of our infrastructure appears durable but is not: reinforced concrete

Citizens most vulnerable to a fragile global supply chain with only a few days of inventory experience the strongest illusion of abundance and security: inhabitants of large cities

The “green” revolution, which increased food production to enable 7+ billion humans, was and is entirely dependent on fossil energy, and has long-term consequences that will make a return to traditional agriculture very difficult.

Most citizens are not even vaguely aware of the invention that enabled their existence and created about 50% of the nitrogen in their bodies: Haber-Bosch conversion of natural gas to fertilizer

Well meaning environmentalists demand that we stop subsidizing fossil energy companies without understanding the source of all that they cherish in modern civilization: fossil energy

Well meaning environmentalists demand that we stop subsidizing fossil energy companies without realizing that many fossil energy companies are going bankrupt: ExxonMobil

A solution frequently advocated makes things worse by accelerating growth and decreasing system resilience: efficiency

The best solution for removing CO2 from the atmosphere is being harmed by the same activity that creates CO2: planting more trees which are then injured or killed by ground level ozone

All climate science models that do not predict disaster now depend on an unproven technology that we probably can’t afford and other species definitely can’t afford: BECCS (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage)

We have not acted to prevent a predictable and very dangerous side effect of trying to maintain business-as-usual with low interest rates: increasing wealth gap

We still enjoy historically vast surplus wealth that could be deployed to improve our future lives but we are squandering it: military, airports, highways, new cars, high rises, etc.

Earth with its diverse complex life and a highly intelligent species is extraordinarily rare, precious, and worth fighting to protect, yet we dream of other barren homes: colonizing Mars

The tool that could be used to unite citizens in common purpose and useful action is instead being used to create tribes that reinforce preexisting beliefs: internet

Many people are hurting and lashing out in anger because they do not understand the cause of their pain: Brexit, Trump, Syria, Venezuela, etc.

The few sources of information that understand and communicate the truth are under threat: fake news

Few people study or heed the best predictor of the future: history

The majority of citizens share a common characteristic that makes the election of an intelligent and wise leader empowered to do the right thing unlikely: wacky beliefs

None of our schools teach skills useful and relevant to our future: growing food and other forms of lower complexity life skills

The thing that enabled the evolution of our high intelligence and its ability to understand and act on problems is the same thing that causes our problems and prevents us from acting on them: denial of reality

The theory that best explains our existence and our self-destructive behavior is ignored by everyone, including those people seeking to understand our problems: Varki and Brower’s denial of reality theory

Readers are encouraged to submit additions to the list.

14 thoughts on “You know you are in trouble when…”

    1. I see some leaders with empathy (Obama, Trudeau) and some without empathy (Trump, Clinton).

      What all leaders seem to have in common is that they do not have a clue what is actually going on, or they pretend to not have a clue.

      In some cases not having a clue may be caused by low intelligence, but in most cases I suspect the cause is inherited denial of reality.


  1. Excellent post. These are exactly the same thoughts that have been going through my mind for a while. We have fucked up big time.

    Any idea what a hypothetical quick and effective fix might be?


  2. Hi, Rob! Nicely laid out information here that highlights the predicament we are in. I find it likely that there is nothing that can be done for industrial society’s problems. The inertia moving the status quo forward is very, very strong. The good news is, we can choose what to do with our individual lives. We have the ability to bring people in within our sphere of influence, break through denial, and build resilient communities. It’s all we can do, now…industrial society is lost and on the decline.



  3. All true statements in my opinion, Rob. It’s as if the more obvious the path we are on is wrong, the more strongly the denial becomes entrenched. As if the mere act of denial forces systems going awry to snap back into normalcy. No, problems don’t go away and denial is no different than sweeping dust under a rug.

    I like the one about Carter no longer talking about energy the way he did in the 70’s. The denial is part of the ‘Group Think’ now and the media is part and parcel to it. Even Warren Buffett who is a master of figuring future trends of business to find the best investments is apparently in denial, saying just yesterday that people who think the US is headed for big trouble are out of their minds, as if the growth is a given no one should question.

    I was in SF yesterday and the view of the skyline has two giant skyscrapers with massive cranes on top rising into the sky. SF use to be somewhat growth of giant buildings restrictive, not having apparently taken off the gloves and given carte’ blanche to super tall buildings once again.

    I’ve also noticed something else that’s quite disturbing, increasing levels of reckless, high speed driving. On the east bay roads of the bay area yesterday headed east on the Bay Bridge, when it got to where there were many more lanes, drivers suddenly went wild changing lanes and accelerating to speeds of 80-90 miles an hour with two near collisions. And that kind of racing, wildly changing lanes bit was everywhere we went. It’s like people have hit some kind of speed button in their heads, as if they had suddenly gone mad. Maybe it’s the same reason Trump got elected.


      1. Persian (Sufi) saying: ‘The minority of the Wise has long since been replaced by the majority of the foolish.’

        And it’s just got worse since that was coined at least 1,000 years ago.

        The conception of over-shoot leading to collapse is actually embodied in the old Persian legends, in the story of the First Shepherd who managed through technology to extend carrying capacity several times over, until eventually the gods told him it wasn’t going to work this time, and to get ready to hide from the Great Winter that was coming to overwhelm all living things.

        Someone was wise enough to write that…….

        Today in Iran, they are set to lose at least 40% of their agricultural land due to erosion, over-use of chemicals, and exhaustion of water sources caused by fossil-fuel-powered pumps.


  4. This is an outstanding post, greatly enjoyed it!

    And because Americans are bat-shit crazy, there’s no solution, because American’s see it as their right to believe whatever the hell they please, no matter how nutty it is. Here’s the opening of my post “What percent of Americans are rational?” at

    I was inspired to write this post by the best book I’ve ever on American’s nutty beliefs from evangelistic Christianity to astrology, Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland: How America went Haywire: a 500-year history”. But it is much more than that — it’s also one of the best history books you will ever read. You’ll learn many startling episodes from the past, and even if they are not new to you, they are summarized with such original insights that they seem new.

    The basic premise of this book is:
    “What’s problematic is going overboard, letting the subjective entirely override the objective, people thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings were just as true as facts. The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, every individual free to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control. More than the billion or two other people in the rich world, we Americans believe—really believe—in the supernatural and miraculous, in Satan on Earth now…and a several-thousand-year-old story of life’s instantaneous creation several thousand years ago. ..We believe the government and other co-conspirators are hiding all sorts of monstrous truths from us concerning assassinations, extraterrestrials, the genesis of AIDS, the 9/11 attacks, the dangers of vaccines, and so much more….we have passed through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. America has mutated into Fantasyland”.

    Andersen estimates that only a third of us are more or less solidly reality-based.

    The polls below show that he may be too kind. It may be only 27%, or even less, as you’ll see below in the surveys listing paranormal and supernatural beliefs, conspiracy theories, and National Science Foundation questions (26% of Americans think the sun revolves around the Earth, only 48% know that human beings developed from earlier species of animals).

    What would be interesting is if a survey were done testing all nutty beliefs, not just certain segments of them.


    1. Thanks for the kind words Alice. I added above the following link to your excellent essay:

      “The majority of citizens share a common characteristic that makes the election of an intelligent and wise leader empowered to do the right thing unlikely: wacky beliefs”


  5. Very grateful to have received such a sane and realistic inventory of our collective denial…Although these insights, in themselves, don’t change much, what they’ve done is explain to me why Ive been experiencing sooooo much stress trying to encourage the people in my life to at least begin the conversations we need to have. These ‘denial lists’ also explain the weird responses Ive been receiving to a Resilience Self Assessment Questionnaire that I offer to anyone I meet: Its from by Chris Martenson. It has 100 simple questions to answer YEs/No to regarding ones preparedness for disruptions in our energy, economy, environment cycles. More people refuse to do the questionnaire than those willing…and those of us who have filled it in have all achieved less than a 50% rating! Many rivers to cross.
    Thankyou for waking up!
    xoxo Love and resilience,
    Lesley Gillett, Brisbane, Australia.


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