By Nate Hagens: Reality 101: What every student (and citizen) should know

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens just released a new video course titled “Reality 101” that he produced for honors freshman at the University of Minnesota where he teaches.

The course is backed by 15 years of research by Nate into our overshoot predicament created by the interaction of human behavior, energy, economy, and ecology, and distills his 45 hour university course of the same name into 4 hours of video.

I’ve followed Nate for many years and have posted some of his work here.  Nate is a rare multidisciplinary dot connector, and has one of the best big picture understandings of our predicament.

Nate differs from others doing similar research in that he retains hope and offers positive advice to young people for how they might help make the future a more desirable place to live.

I suspect this new video course will become a go-to resource for people seeking enlightenment on vitally important topics that are usually ignored, and when occasionally broached, are almost always misunderstood or denied by most educators, leaders, and news sources.

Nate can be found on both Twitter and Facebook.

Nate’s Facebook announcement of the video course:

I’ll be putting the entire Reality 101 course content (two 500 page books co-written w DJ White plus related content and videos) online for free this spring. In the meantime, the Honors Program at U of Minnesota asked for a ‘hologram’ of that material that could be watched in 4-5 hours (instead of ~150 hours of the course) for the Nexus One experience for all freshmen. They’ll watch this in 3 pieces: 1) Brain/behavior 2) Energy/economy and 3) Ecology/Earth systems/what to do/how to live during these times. The Energy videos (link below) are ‘finished’ (with a bunch of small errors to fix when I get time), The 12 videos are 1 hour 45 minutes total – as usual both too long for most peoples attn spans but too short to really get into some important nuances. Our culture is energy blind. This new choreography outlines the story of humans, growth, energy and the future in the most comprehensive way I could envision for a short(ish) summary. (thanks to Katie Fischer and Keegan L Robinson for tireless help and suggestions and to Katie for doing great work on the tech side)

Reality 101 full course description:

How is the economy like a hurricane? Where does money come from? Will economic growth last forever? What is wealth? How many hours would it take you to generate the same amount of energy in a gallon of gasoline? Why are you so confident in your own beliefs? Why do you spend so much time on social media? Why do we want “more” than our neighbors? What do all of these questions have to do with the environment? With your future? And what if our most popular societal beliefs about these issues turn out to be myths?

Reality 101 will delve into these questions and unify them as they apply to the major challenges humanity faces this century, among them: slow economic growth, poverty, inequality, addiction, pollution, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, and war. The seminar will provide students with broad exposure to the foundational principles central to addressing these interrelated issues. The readings and lectures will cover literature in systems ecology, energy and natural resources, thermodynamics, history, anthropology, human behavior, neuroscience, environmental science, sociology, economics, globalization/trade, and finance/debt with an overarching goal to give students a general understanding of how our human ecosystem functions as a whole. Such a systems overview is necessary to view the opportunities and constraints relevant to our future from a realistic starting point. Though the hard science relating to sustainability will be surveyed, few answers will be presented and it is hoped that creativity and group dialogue will lead to emergent ideas on how these big themes fit together. While the class material is daunting and intense (reflecting our world situation), the course itself will be enlightening and deeply informative, with an open, engaging, and entertaining class atmosphere.

Dr. Nathan John Hagens worked on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers and Salomon Brothers and closed his own hedge fund in 2003 to pursue interdisciplinary knowledge about the bigger picture of modern society. Nate was the lead editor of the online web portal, and is currently President of the Bottleneck Foundation and on the Boards of the Post Carbon Institute, Institute for Energy and Our Future, and IIER.


 Section 1 – Brain & Behavior

Click here to play all 10 parts in sequence.

Part 1: Evolution, Natural Selection, and the Agenda of the Gene


Part 2: Sexual Selection and Social Status


Part 3: Dopamine, Supernormal Stimuli and Consumerism, Part 1


Part 4: Dopamine, Supernormal Stimuli and Consumerism, Part 2


Part 5: Our Social Natures, Part 1 (Groups and Tribes)


Part 6: Our Social Natures, Part 2 (The Superorganism and Culture)


Part 7: Self-Blindness, Part 1 (Cognitive Biases)


Part 8: Self-Blindness, Part 2 (Cognitive Biases)


Part 9: Time Biases


Part 10: From Self Blindness to Self Awareness


Section 2 – Energy & Economy

Click here to play all 16 parts in sequence.

Part 1: Energy Blindness


Part 2: Energy Surplus


3 – Energy Benefits


Part 4: Energy Scale


Part 5: Energy Impacts


Part 6: Energy Primacy, Part 1


Part 7: Energy Primacy, Part 2


Part 8: Energy Primacy, Part 3


Part 9: Energy Primacy, Part 4


Part 10: Energy Primacy, Part 5


Part 11: Energy Remoteness


Part 12: Energy Depletion


Part 13: Energy Fungibility


Part 14: Energy Transitions


Part 15: Energy and Happiness


Part 16: Energy and Our Future


Section 3 – The Big Picture

Click here to play all 8 parts in sequence.

Part 1: Intro


Part 2: Ecology and Systems


Part 3: Externalities, Part 1: Intro


Part 4: Externalities, Part 2: Heating and Oceans


Part 5: Externalities, Part 3: The Web of Life


Part 6: The Superorganism (short version)


Part 7: 8 Great Questions for our Time


Part 8: What to Do? (short list)

23 thoughts on “By Nate Hagens: Reality 101: What every student (and citizen) should know”

  1. I will go with the Mad Max scenario. But if not, how much would we have to reduce energy use? I would start with 6% per year for the next quarter century.


    1. Hope is compatible with and is possibly a prerequisite for teaching young people.

      Aware intelligent people can assign different probabilities to the possible outcomes of our predicament. I’ve debated with Nate and we disagree on the severity of climate change but I’m not certain that I am correct due to the complexity of the system.

      Nate retains hope because he thinks depletion of oil and the resulting economic contraction will prevent the worst case climate change scenarios. I think his view is compatible with mainstream climate science and the IPCC in the sense that they do not think self-reinforcing feedback loops have yet taken over. The scientists that I follow, and my own eyes, disagree.

      Regardless of who is right, I think there are degrees of bad and we can still act to make the future less bad. In particular, getting our population down quickly would improve every problem we face, except the need for more economic growth.


  2. Jason Bradford, a wise and aware biologist turned farmer, has authored a new report titled “The Future is Rural: Food System Adaptations to the Great Simplification”.

    Jason makes the following acknowledgement in his report:

    “Nate Hagens gets credit for instigating this report as he wanted something to use in his Reality 101 class
    at the University of Minnesota.”

    Alex Smith of Radio EcoShock interviewed Jason today about his report:


  3. Hi Rob. I just completed the 5-hour version of Nate’s course after watching the 1 hour version, both from your site. I do not even where I just heard about the courses, or how I got to your site to find them, but I am thrilled I did.

    I have been sending them out to friends and posted this link on the Deep Adaptation facebook group and in other places. I have been tutoring my 16 year old nephew, who is a senior in high school next year. I intend to “assign” this to him this summer.

    I have to believe that since Nate worked at Oil Drum as did Gail Tverberg, who I have been reading for 10 years, I am now certain that this work has made its way into Gail’s work.

    The course is a great way to introduce this big topic to honors freshmen. I wish it were taught at every University and college in the world, and the one hour version used in high school to introduce every student to the topic.

    Thanks for posting.


    1. Thanks for leaving a note.

      Nate has many strengths but one of them is not promoting and making accessible his large library of work.

      I think a course on the laws of thermodynamics should be a prerequisite for graduating from high school. You could cancel just about any other course without consequence to make room. Everything that matters is driven by energy and most citizens have no clue about the laws of energy.

      I agree Nate’s course should be a prerequisite for graduating with a Bachelors degree from all universities. We might then have some leaders that understand what’s going on.


      1. I think some leaders & high ranking bureaucrats, civilian & military, understand what’s going on, but they wish to keep their jobs/status, so they’re leaving the Jimmy Carter sweater in the closet.


          1. Merkel knows her science, physics, chemistry & biology. None will come out & say it, if they ever do, until after they retire. Say it while still in office & they’ll retire you -make sure you don’t get re elected in the next act of their stupid political theater election. Scientists too.

            After retirement or just before. For example:

            Humans will be extinct in 100 years says eminent scientist

            “( — Eminent Australian scientist Professor Frank Fenner, who helped to wipe out smallpox, predicts humans will probably be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction and climate change.

            Fenner, who is emeritus professor of microbiology at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, said homo sapiens will not be able to survive the population explosion and “unbridled consumption,” and will become extinct, perhaps within a century, along with many other species.”



            Wildlife biologist Neil Dawe says he wouldn’t be surprised if the generation after him witnesses the extinction of humanity

            “All around him, even in a place as beautiful as the Little Qualicum River estuary, his office for 30 years as a biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Service, he sees the unravelling of “the web of life.” “It’s happening very quickly,” he says.”

            “People will focus on the extinction of a species but not “the overall impact,” he says. When habitat diversity is lost, “it changes the whole dynamic.”

            “Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology,” he says. “Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. “If we don’t reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us.” He isn’t hopeful humans will rise to the challenge and save themselves. “Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things,” he says. “Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid.”


            “Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid.”

            Indeed. I only see a mass die-back or extinction for the humans. I doubt any will be around to usher in the next century. I’ll have been in misanthrope heaven for decades when the last human takes their last breath.

            Frank & Neil spoke freely because there was no risk of being fired anymore & it would be a PR disaster if their former employers tried to mess with their pensions & benefits, so they just ignored them along with the other 99.999%.

            What about you, Rob, we’re you still working in your profession when you started this blog?


            1. Thanks. I’m aware of a few scientists not in denial. I have not seen any political leaders anywhere that understand what’s going on.

              When I was a senior executive at a large advanced technology product development company I was in total denial of our predicament. A sabbatical with time and curiosity to study what was going on in the world changed me, pretty much overnight. I still remember the day when I internalized the implications of peak oil. It was like someone hit me with a 2×4. I signed up for a small scale farming course and started working on farms shortly thereafter.


    2. Hey Jim

      The course is a great way to introduce this big topic to anyone willing to look & learn. Nate is more optimistic than I am. On climate change, Gail is, well, umm…she says pray – whatever works eh?

      Another decent primer is Chris Martenson’s Crash Course (2014)

      There’s much heavier stuff, but it’s better for any newbie’s psyche if they crawl first.

      I also recommend reading Paul Chefurka’s writings. Below is a link to Paul’s blog. When you get there scroll down the page and first read: Climbing the Ladder of Awareness

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh what a difference a century (and the 49th parallel?) makes.


    U.S. Declares a Vaccine War on the World

    “Donald Trump launched a new vaccine war in May, but not against the virus. It was against the world. The United States and the UK were the only two holdouts in the World Health Assembly from the declaration that vaccines and medicines for COVID-19 should be available as public goods, and not under exclusive patent rights. The United States explicitly disassociated itself from the patent pool call, talking instead of “the critical role that intellectual property plays”—in other words, patents for vaccines and medicines.”


    Insulin Patent Sold for $1

    About the sale of the patent of insulin for $1 Banting reportedly said, “Insulin belongs to the world, not to me.”

    “On January 23rd, 1923 Banting, Best, and Collip were awarded the American patents for insulin which they sold to the University of Toronto for $1.00 each.”

    “Now was the task of figuring out how to mass produce insulin to get it to individuals with Type 1 diabetes. The University of Toronto was a school not a pharmaceutical production facility so they had to find help. U of T allowed Eli Lilly and Co., an American pharmaceutical company, to produce insulin in exchange for a one year distribution monopoly. Connaught Labs continued to produce insulin in Canada. They needed to figure out how to distribute the built up supply of insulin to Canadians and find space to expand their insulin facilities. Connaught Labs bought U of T’s former Y.M.C.A building that was slated to be demolished and established a new laboratory there. They reported that this new “insulin factory” overseen by Charles Best would allow the Connaught Labs to supply insulin for all Canadians at a reduced price. By November 1923, with the completion of the new lab Connaught was able to produce 250,000 units of insulin weekly (the average person with Type 1 averaged 15–20 units a day). This increased production allowed them to drop the price from 5 cents to 2 cents per unit.”

    “The price of insulin in 2018 is an extremely controversial issue. According to the American Diabetes Association between 2003 and 2012 the price of insulin in the U.S.A tripled. This has made this life-saving medication difficult and sometimes impossible to afford for those with Type 1 diabetes.”


    1. Nice story. We did some good things back then. And some crazy things like sending young prairie farm boys to be killed in wars fought between foreign countries on another continent.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s