Ajit Varki: Our Only Hope is Legitimate Fear-Mongering

OK Now You Can Panic

Dr. Ajit Varki, the scientist who inspired this blog with his book, published a paper for a new book today, which expands on his Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory.

Varki, in the past, has been self-critical of his 2013 book feeling that it did not receive the time and polish that his theory deserved. It is clear that Varki set out to remedy the defects of his book with this paper because it’s beautifully written, concise, logically structured, and well referenced. I encourage you to read the paper in full here, or you can download a pdf here.

What follows are a few excerpts from the paper that I thought were noteworthy, and some new ideas from Varki. I also discuss any points where Varki and I differ.

Did Human Reality Denial Breach the Evolutionary Psychological Barrier of Mortality Salience? A Theory that Can Explain Unusual Features of the Origin and Fate of Our Species

Some aspects of human cognition and behavior appear unusual or exaggerated relative to those of other intelligent, warm-blooded, long-lived social species––including certain mammals (cetaceans, elephants, and great apes) and birds (corvids and passerines). One collection of such related features is our remarkable ability for ignoring or denying reality in the face of clear facts, a high capacity for self-deception and false beliefs, overarching optimism bias, and irrational risk-taking behavior (herein collectively called “reality denial”). Such traits should be maladaptive for reproductive success when they first appear as consistent features in individuals of any species. Meanwhile, available data suggest that self-awareness (knowledge of one’s own personhood) and basic theory of mind (ToM, also termed mind-reading, intentionality etc.) have evolved independently several times, particularly in the same kinds of species mentioned above. Despite a long-standing opportunity spanning tens of millions of years, only humans appear to have gone on to evolve an extended ToM (multilevel intentionality), a trait required for optimal expression of many other unusual cognitive attributes of our species, such as advanced linguistic communication and cumulative cooperative culture. The conventional view is that extended ToM emerged gradually in human ancestors, via stepwise positive selection of multiple traits that were each beneficial. A counterintuitive alternate possibility is that establishment of extended ToM has been repeatedly obstructed in all other species with the potential to achieve it, due to a “psychological evolutionary barrier,” that would arise in isolated individuals of a given species that develop the genetic ability for extended ToM. Such individuals would observe deaths of conspecifics whose minds they fully understood, become aware of mortality, and translate that knowledge into mortality salience (understanding of personal mortality). The resulting conscious realization and exaggeration of an already existing intrinsic fear of death risk would have then reduced the reproductive fitness of such isolated individuals (by favoring personal survival over reproduction). This “psychological evolutionary barrier” would have thus persisted until hominin ancestors broke through, via a rare and unlikely combination of cognitive changes, in which two intrinsically maladaptive traits (reality denial and extended ToM) evolved in the minds of the same individuals, allowing a “mind over reality transition” (MORT) over the proposed barrier. Once some individuals broke through in this manner, conventional natural selection could take over, with further evolution of beneficial aspects of the initial changes. This theory also provides a unifying evolutionary explanation for other unusual features of humans, including our recent emergence as the dominant species on the planet, and replacement of all other closely related evolutionary cousins, with limited interbreeding and no remaining hybrid species. While not directly falsifiable by experiment, the MORT theory fits with numerous facts about humans and human origins, and no known fact appears to strongly militate against it. It is also consistent with most other currently viable theories on related subjects, including terror management theory. Importantly, it has major implications for the human condition, as well as for many serious current issues, ranging all the way from lack of personal health responsibility to ignoring anthropogenic global climate disruption, which now threatens the very existence of our species.

The yaksha asked: “What is the greatest surprise?” Yudhisthira replied: “People die every day, making us aware that men are mortal. Yet we live, work, play, plan, etc., as if assuming we are immortal. What is more surprising than that?”

—The Mahabharata

Perhaps because I’m an electrical engineer who specialized in operating system design, rather than a life sciences practitioner, I’ve never been totally comfortable with MORT’s focus on the evolution of an extended theory of mind (ETOM).  There are many unique properties of the human brain, in addition to ETOM, such as symbolic language and advanced intellectual abilities.

It feels more accurate to speak about a barrier to evolving a brain with higher computing power. We all know that a more powerful desktop computer can do more advanced things like speech recognition and video editing. Ditto for a biological CPU. A more powerful brain can better understand the thoughts of others AND extrapolate its own mortality AND implement complex speech AND read symbolic text AND calculate quantum mechanics AND fly to the moon AND invent technologies to dominate all other species.

This more general way to think about MORT does not change or invalidate Varki’s thesis because it’s the same mortality awareness barrier, but provides a clearer explanation of what probably happened when we broke through the barrier, or at least it does for this cranky old engineer.

I think reality denial unlocked nature’s ability to evolve a more powerful CPU, with the first enhancement being an extended theory of mind, and subsequent enhancements being other uniquely human intellectual capabilities.

In case you doubt that 1-200,000 years is enough time to evolve sufficient computing power to figure out the laws of physics and fly to the moon, recall that we created a Chihuahua from a wolf in about 32,000 years.

I also want to mention that there is another complementary theory for the evolutionary requirement that high brain power co-evolve with reality denial.

All life must obey the Maximum Power Principle (MPP) because life at its core is replicators competing for finite energy.

Any evolved behavior that might tend to override MPP, such as sufficient intelligence to understand Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons, with wisdom to constrain offspring and consumption, will be weeded out by selection pressures. Put more succinctly, free will on behaviors relevant to overshoot, cannot exist.

If true, this means it is impossible for high intelligence to exist without reality denial, and MORT is one solution evolution has discovered to implement this. On another planet, evolution by natural selection might discover a different means of unlocking high intelligence with reality denial.

Varki has created several new graphics to help explain his theory. I particularly like this one:

Mind Over Reality Transition Extended View


I was pleased to see that Varki now draws a link between his theory and that of Trivers’ theory of self-deception:

It is also noteworthy that the ability to hold false beliefs, self-deception, optimism, and confidence might support a successful mating strategy, especially for males. This suggestion is congruent with Trivers evolutionary theory of self-deception that includes denial of ongoing deception, self-inflation, ego-biased social theory, false narratives of intention, and a conscious mind that operates via denial and projection to create a self-serving world.

Varki makes an interesting case that human physiological ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny in that postnatal development mirrors the expected transitions to an extended theory of mind:

Human Psychological Ontogeny Recapitulate Phylogeny


I was pleasantly surprised to find that Varki, perhaps due to my encouragement, has drawn a stronger link between religion and his MORT theory:

Depending on the lens through which it is studied, one aspect of religion can also be considered as strong evidence in support of MORT. Most human behaviors exist in other species on a continuum of development, as one would expect from evolution. But religion appears to be a well-established near universal only in human cultures and there are many obvious fitness advantages that have been discussed by others. But most of these advantages should not require a belief in life after death. Nevertheless, almost all religions have at their core some form of such afterlife beliefs, which would serve as another mechanism to blunt the impact of mortality salience. Of course, atheists do not live in constant fear of their mortality, so the underlying reality denial appears to be the primary mechanism.

Not having to worry about farting in a sandbox filled with kids I have to play with every day, I go a step further and assert that MORT created God.

I also make a stronger claim that all religions, not just most religions as stated by Varki, have at their core a belief in life after death.

It is also a theory that appears to fit with all known relevant information, and is not apparently negated by any other facts, but also cannot be definitively falsified at this time by an experiment.

For me, MORT will be be falsified if we can find a single religion anywhere in time or place that does not believe in some form of life after death.

I love that Varki draws a link between MORT and the many peculiar things humans do to distort reality:

…could the well-known human craving for mind-altering substances also be partly due to the need to escape reality? Could the same be true of the positive value of meditation methods that focus on mindfulness of the present, or the shutting out of irksome reality? Conversely, could episodic panic attacks represent a sudden failure of the neural mechanisms of reality denial?

Varki introduces a new and very interesting idea that reality denial first emerged in males and an extended theory of mind in females, and that it took considerable time for the alleles to mix and stabilize:

MORT Gender Features

Assuming that such an evolutionary transition did occur, what might have been the contributions of sex and gender? As illustrated in the very speculative Fig. 8, human males are at greater risk of autism spectrum disorders, more prone to selective reality denial, systematizing, optimism bias, and risk-taking behavior. Conversely, human females are more prone to empathy, cooperation, theory of mind, depressive realism, and major depressive disorder. Considering these sex and gender differences (which are of course on a continuum, and affected by many cultural and genetic factors), could it be that the original evolutionary transition involved mating of males with a complex genotype manifesting as maladaptive reality denial––with females having an equally complex genotype, suffering from mortality salience due to an enhanced theory of mind? Although we cannot know for certain, could such mating have generated an unusual collection of alleles, as an explanation for the origin of humans? Assuming that generating and stabilizing the optimal combination of such alleles were was difficult, perhaps it took a very long time. Perhaps there was a prolonged interim state of recurrent cognitive instability, with ongoing dangers resulting from reality denial and/or existential angst, and possibly even high rates of suicide. Could this difficult transition explain the >100,000-year gap between the genetic origin of modern humans and archeological evidence suggesting our emergence in Africa and then elsewhere?

I personally think it slightly more likely that the 100,000 year gap can be explained by the time it took natural selection to evolve a more powerful CPU once the MORT barrier was breached.

I chuckled at Varki’s awareness of the reality that his theory will not be acknowledged as true in his lifetime, and I admire his self-confidence that it will be acknowledged after he’s dead:

The theory is also consistent with all known facts, compatible with all other related theories, and not negated by any currently known facts. On the other hand, it is not directly testable by experimental reproduction and not directly falsifiable by experimental approaches. Given also the counterintuitive nature and unusual origins of this theory, as well as the lack of expertise of the originators in many relevant disciplines, MORT is very likely to be attacked from many quarters, and resolution is unlikely during the lifetime of this author. Only the passage of time will tell if MORT is as important as plate tectonics or as completely fanciful as “phlogiston” (or something somewhere in between). Fortunately, concern for posthumous legacy is a largely meaningless exercise.

“I cannot possibly believe that a false theory would explain so many classes of facts as I think it certainly does explain…..on these grounds I drop my anchor, and believe that the difficulties will slowly disappear.”—Charles Darwin, letter to Asa Gray, shortly after Origin of Species was published.

I’m less confident MORT will ever be acknowledged as true because denial of denial is and must be the strongest form of denial. If denial is ever acknowledged by the herd, the whole house of cards that defines us will collapse. Of course it’s going to collapse eventually regardless, thanks to the laws of thermodynamics. But it’s too bad, tragic in fact, because with MORT awareness we could reduce future suffering, and retain more of our best accomplishments.

It’s also sad because MORT is the most important new idea since Darwin’s evolution by natural selection for explaining the existence of an extraordinarily rare type of life in the universe. Too many people drift through life without ever appreciating how amazing their existence is.

Varki concludes the paper by discussing the implications of his theory, and says that it’s time for legitimate fear-mongering.

I observe with some irony that the existential threats, besides climate change, that Varki lists are insignificant compared to the threats he does not mention, such as human overshoot and the depletion of low-cost non-renewable resources, and other limits to growth, that are currently roiling social unrest around the globe, and creating unsustainable debt growth, zero or negative interest rates, money printing, and a widening wealth gap.

Coda: Relevance to the Current Human Condition and the Future of Our Species.

The 2007 draft of Danny Brower’s incomplete manuscript that I modified and expanded into a co-authored book (Varki & Brower, 2013) included the following prescient observations: “We are polluting the earth and changing the climate in ways that we can’t predict, and likely at some point, can’t easily reverse. If we’re so smart, why do we continue to sow the seeds for our eventual destruction? Because we are saddled with a brain that is designed by selection to cope with the ultimate disaster (death) by denying that it will occur, and so we treat other impending disasters by denying that they will ever happen ……Indeed, it is arguable that we are destined ultimately to destroy ourselves as a species.”

Although many of our follies arising from reality denial can at least theoretically be eventually reversed, there are two that definitely cannot be turned back once they occur: global nuclear holocaust and anthropogenic climate change. Although not an expert on climate, discussions with such individuals lead me to the conclusion that the human-induced climate disruption is already occurring, and that absent major changes in current human behavior and/or human intervention there is a very high probability of irreversible global catastrophic climate disruption before mid-century (Gilding, 2012; Gore, 2007, 2013; Guterl, 2012; Hansen, Sato, & Ruedy, 2012; Mann, 2012; Wallace-Wells, 2019), i.e., a “climate holocaust.”

In other words, we are putting our children on an airplane with a very high probability of a catastrophic crash (McKibben, 2019; Rich, 2019). If this theory regarding the evolutionary origins of human reality denial is true, the first step to reversing the situation would seem to be a full awareness of our genetic tendency to reality denial by the media, and by our scientific and political leaders. Sadly, it is unlikely that rational discussion or scientific details will be sufficient to sway the average human to do what is right for the future of our species, let alone leaders who are focused on near-term political and economic goals.

The only solution then may be “legitimate fear-mongering ”! It is notable that it was such fear-mongering that once brought all the nations of the world together during the Cold War, to minimize the risk of a nuclear holocaust (Caldicott, 2017). The only other hope may be to combine fear with shame and guilt, imposed upon adult humans by adolescent school children, who can better imagine the dire future we are leaving them to face (Kjeldahl & Hendricks, 2019). As the 15-year-old Greta Thunberg said to the elites at Davos: “I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.” Of course, even if we manage to avoid catastrophic climate disruption, there are the other existential threats to our species that reality denial makes us prone to, such as widespread and indiscriminate applications of artificial intelligence (Müller, 2016) to the generation of “deep fake videos” (Stover, 2018) and other gross distortions of reality at a population-wide level.

If this theory turns out to be the correct explanation for the origin of the species, it might ironically also be now sowing the seeds of our demise.


Varki’s last sentence captures the essence of this blog:

un-Denial = unmasking denial: creator and destroyer


I am very grateful, and pleasantly surprised, that Varki credited me in his paper despite the fact that this blog will probably be viewed by his colleagues as a cave for doomer whack jobs. 🙂


I Want You to Panic

77 thoughts on “Ajit Varki: Our Only Hope is Legitimate Fear-Mongering”

  1. Here is some research that seems to support Varki’s MORT theory. The paper will be published next month.

    Avi Goldstein, a senior author on the paper, said: “This suggests that we shield ourselves from existential threats, or consciously thinking about the idea that we are going to die, by shutting down predictions about the self, or categorising the information as being about other people rather than ourselves.”

    These guys seem to be studying the elliptical motion of planets without being aware of the laws of gravitation. I make a prediction, based on MORT, that the researchers will not be aware of MORT, and if made aware, will continue to ignore MORT. Let’s see if they mention MORT in their citations.



    h/t James @ http://megacancer.com


    1. This got me thinking.

      Jung’s archetype of The Shadow is made up of the good and the bad that is denied about the self.

      Studying The Shadow is studying our denial mechanism.


  2. Congratulations for being credited in Varki’s paper. I have no idea if Varki’s theory is correct or not but it seems like a good an explanation for the lack of awareness for our predicament. I am a big fan of Tim Watkins but he has joined JH Kunstler in promoting alt-right conspiracy theories in his latest post: A Curious Lack of Imagination.


  3. Today the atheist’s rock star Richard Dawkins was interviewed by Joe Rogan.

    Rogan asks Dawkins at 4:23 why every civilization has had some form of religion? Dawkins doesn’t have a clue. Obviously Dawkins has not read Varki’s book, although I’ve asked him to do so on several occasions.

    Then at 32:00 they discuss how odd it is that atheists, despite their large numbers, are the only special interest group that does not wield any political power. And how odd it is that people will vote for a gay, or a black, or a woman, but not for an atheist. And how odd it is that people will vote for someone that believes in a different god than their own god, despite both gods demanding exclusivity. They speculate that the reason for these oddities is that people think moral behavior requires a belief in god. This explanation is also odd because the gods of our most popular religious texts are anything but what we would consider moral today.

    All of this strangeness makes perfect sense in the light of Varki’s MORT theory. Religions exist primarily to support our genetic need to deny mortality. If someone does not believe in god, that person subconsciously threatens our belief in life after death, and must be marginalized. I would add that most atheists seem to retain some form of “spirituality”, which if you dig into what that means, usually rests on the bedrock of some form of spirit after death.

    Varki’s MORT theory explains much of the strange water we swim in every day, and also explains why most can’t see the water.


    1. I identify as an atheist who retains some form of spirituality. Feel free to dig into that and see if you can find anything that rests on the bedrock of some form of spirit after death. I doubt you will. The abyss of death is real to me and its presence is felt everyday, like a background noise. But at the same time I have no problem living my (I would say happy) day-to-day life. I feel this has not much to do with denial (I feel no need to plaster over the reality of death), much more a question of focus. And the incomprehensibility of death. And the living of a gift.

      I enjoy reading your blog, but when it comes to MORT, often it seems that “If all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail”. MORT explains whatever you throw at it. If people (like Dawkins) only knew what you know, they would understand much better why things are the way they are. You might be right. But you might also be wrong. Explaining human traits through the lens of evolutionary biology seems to be a modern intellectual sport. But why would every human trait have to be explicable as an evolutionary advantage?

      Doesn’t the better grasp of humans of the immediate future over the far future explain just as much? At the very least, that allows for atheists like me to exist. Something that MORT doesn’t seem to do.


      1. Fair criticism. There are many other genetic behaviors that have contributed to our overshoot and inaction. I probably don’t talk about these enough, perhaps because I think (maybe incorrectly) that these behaviors couldn’t exist in an intelligent being unless they denied reality. For example, we instinctively place a higher value on short term rewards than long term rewards. If I logically explain to someone that this is destroying our planet, they will not change their behavior, meaning that instinct dominates intelligence. But how can instinct dominate intelligence unless reality is denied?

        So yes, I do believe denial is the keystone, which is also supported by religion’s simultaneous emergence with the explosion of behaviorally modern humans 1-200,000 years ago.

        The best chronicler of other destructive behaviors is probably Nate Hagens. I have posted some of his best work here: https://un-denial.com/?s=Nate+Hagens

        Another excellent source is James with his RNA model at http://megacancer.com/.

        Another is Dave Cohen with his Flatland model at https://www.declineoftheempire.com/.

        My comment about most atheists believing in some form of life after death spirit was based on my personal conversations with a small number of people. I probably should read what the literature says on this. Ajit Varki, above, I believe cited a paper supporting my claim.

        I am curious how you think a human trait can be explained without it being an evolutionary advantage? Please provide some examples.


        1. “If I logically explain to someone that this is destroying our planet, they will not change their behavior, meaning that instinct dominates intelligence.”

          I don’t think that’s a logical conclusion. I think a true understanding of something the size of ‘our planet’ is not something any human being can have. It’s just too big. ‘Our planet’ will never be more than a concept, will never be part of our reality. As I see it, humans are optimized for short term, short distance. To illustrate: I live near the sea, and one summer evening I sat gazing at the horizon. I think I can see a stretch of horizon roughly 50 kilometers wide, and I could see the slight curvature of the earth. When I tried to imagine how big the whole planet had to be for that almost imperceptible curvature to be part of a circle, my mind just stalled. This had nothing to do with my intelligence not being sufficient, or that I deny the planet exists, but purely with a scale my mind is not made to handle.

          “I do believe denial is the keystone, which is also supported by religion’s simultaneous emergence with the explosion of behaviorally modern humans.”

          The story of life after death (which is indeed a big part of religion) no doubt arises as soon as a certain threshold of consciousness is crossed. But I don’t think people came up with those stories because they realized what was really going on and felt the need to plaster that over. The incomprehensibility of death is a void that begs to be filled, and what better candidate than a perfect version of the life on earth? As there is no empirical way to prove or disprove any afterlife stories, those stories could become the reality for believers. Not to deny something, but to fill a void and integrate a defining part of the human condition in their lives.

          “I am curious how you think a human trait can be explained without it being an evolutionary advantage? Please provide some examples.”

          I’ll say right away I’m not an expert, but depression comes to mind. I did some reading and it seems Stephen Jay Gould already argued not everything that evolved is there for a specific reason. Some things might as well be byproducts. He mentions the human chin for instance, which according to him simply is a result of smaller jaws. It has no function of itself.


          1. I respectfully disagree.

            People who refuse to change their lifestyles when presented with hard facts do not refuse to do so because they do not understand the scale of the problem. They simply do not want to change and they make up reasons to carry on. Sometimes its outright denial of the problem. Other times its denial of the reality of their “solution”, like electric cars, solar panels, or carbon credits. There are hundreds of reasons people give for not changing.

            When we make stuff up it’s not a valid argument to defend it by saying it can’t be proved or disproved. Any assertion must be testable or you can’t make it. Our ancestors did not understand the scientific method, but today there is no excuse, other than reality denial.


            1. Disagreement welcomed, but I don’t feel you have made the case that the same denial is at the heart of everything you mention any stronger.

              For MORT to be true, it has to prove that that our ancestor’s reaction to emerging consciousness of their own mortality was first and foremost denial. Without that it falls apart. And I’m not sure if that was their reaction. Have a look at old sea maps. The oceans were filled with stories. But was that to deny the reality of the unknown depths of the ocean? No, that was what humans always do with unfathomable voids: They fill them with stories.

              Knowledge of the reality of death is a pretty modern phenomenon I would say, one of the results of the enlightenment. Only when it became plausible that the void of death was really a void, that was when clinging to the stories that worked for millennia and denial of that void became a strategy. You seem to agree with that in your last sentence. I think my crucial argument is that stories came first, denial second.

              I think the denial of the reality of climate change, societal collapse, etc. have different causes than the denial of the reality of death. It has more to do with a scale the human mind is not made for, both in time and distance. Another factor is that modern humans, especially in the rich countries, have much invested in the fragile vestige of order that we call society. It keeps us safe from many of the (we would now say trivial!) dangers that threatened our ancestors, and it allows us to build personalities with rich histories and rich futures. Asking people to let go of that would be like asking you to let go of MORT 🙂


              1. “…. but I don’t feel you have made the case that the same denial is at the heart of everything you mention any stronger.”

                To be more precise: “Same denial” = That every form of denial has the same evolutionary underpinning.


              2. MORT can’t prove anything yet. It is a theory that best explains the existing facts. Someday I expect neuroscience will find the change in the brain that enabled behaviorally modern humans and I predict it will be consistent with MORT. Until then we need to look for better theories, and for any facts that slay MORT.

                MORT hypothesizes that the method evolution selected to denial mortality resulted in us denying all unpleasant realities. Denial of reality was a side effect that evolution could not easily avoid, but the advantages of denying mortality outweighed the disadvantages of denying all unpleasant realities.

                Behaviors consistent with denial of death (burial with wealth) emerged simultaneous with behaviorally modern humans. Early tribes spent all of their surplus wealth on structures related to denial of death. No other species does this. Denial of death is central and unique to humans.

                I agree our species creates stories to fill voids. Every tribe created a story (religion). When I look at these thousands of religions I see only one common denominator. They all have a life after death story. None that I can find simply says the lights go out forever.

                I wrote more about this here:



                1. Atheism says the lights go out forever. If you can, please link me to that paper Varki uses to support the claim that all atheists believe in some form of life after death. Almost all of my friends are atheist, and none of them belief that.

                  Definitely not conclusive, but I found some numbers in a research conducted for a Dutch (quality) newspaper in 2015: 25% of the participants identified as atheist, 17% as believers, and only 53% of all participants believed in life after death. According to MORT, the natural reaction to the knowledge of one’s mortality is denial. For you, that means clinging to a life after death. Unfortunately 47% of the Dutch population don’t fit into that narrative. And you’ll probably find similar numbers all over Europe.

                  MORT stands or falls with a simple question: Does knowledge of one’s own mortality automatically lead to denial of the reality of death? As far as I can see, the answer is no.


                  1. “MORT stands or falls with a simple question: Does knowledge of one’s own mortality automatically lead to denial of the reality of death? As far as I can see, the answer is no.”

                    The requirement for denial of death with mortality awareness only applies to the early years of evolved awareness when there is no cultural context or understanding of death. Only one species is aware of it’s mortality and only one species tends to deny death. MORT explains why this is the case.

                    Some people today of course accept the reality of death. Nevertheless it is fascinating that new religions, like scientology, continue to create life after death stories. Check out Wikipedia’s list of modern religions for more examples.

                    Have you read the paper by Varki that is this subject of this post? It provides the complete argument for MORT by Varki. I am not as smart as Varki, nor am I trained as a biologist, so I probably do his theory a disservice. In addition, I freely admit to focussing on aspects of the theory that I find satisfying such as explaining why most humans have whacky beliefs, and why we can drive at high speed towards an obvious cliff without noticing or discussing whether we should apply brakes. Varki focuses on the more important core of MORT which is to explain the singular emergence of a very unique species.

                    If I said that all atheists are spiritual then I stand corrected. I meant to say most. Again, this is based on limited observations in my own life, not research. Here is the relevant section from the paper:

                    But religion appears to be a well-established near universal only in human cultures and there are many obvious fitness advantages that have been discussed by others (Bering, 2011; Boyer, 2001, 2008; Churchland, 2011; Dennett, 2006; Maser & Gallup, 1990; McCauley, 2011; Norenzayan & Shariff, 2008; Schloss & Murray, 2010; Shermer, 2012; Wade, 2009; Wilson, 2002). But most of these advantages should not require a belief in life after death. Nevertheless, almost all religions have at their core some form of such afterlife beliefs, which would serve as another mechanism to blunt the impact of mortality salience. Of course, atheists do not live in constant fear of their mortality (Dawkins, 2008; Harris, 2005; Hitchens, 2009), so the underlying reality denial appears to be the primary mechanism.

                    Here is what Wikipedia says about people without religions in the US.


                    According to Mark Chaves’ review of General Social Survey data, of people who were not religious, 88% considered themselves as at least moderately spiritual.[47]


                    1. “The requirement for denial of death with mortality awareness only applies to the early years of evolved awareness when there is no cultural context or understanding of death.”

                      I think you make a classic mistake about atheism there. Atheism is not a belief system. It’s nothing more than a lack of belief in a higher power: life on earth is all we have. In that sense it’s a return to a pre-religious state (what you call the early years), not a system which is the result of some evolved cultural awareness. And it’s certainly not the result of the understanding of death, whatever that may mean. Nobody understands death, it’s out of bounds for the human mind.

                      “If I said that all atheists are spiritual then I stand corrected. I meant to say most.”

                      You said “most atheists believe in some form of life after death”. Twice. Which I think is nonsense. Now it’s “most atheists are spiritual”. That’s something different. Being spiritual does not have to mean you believe in some form of afterlife. As I said, I identify as a spiritual atheist, but that doesn’t mean I believe in anything beyond this world. I live by the lines of Mervyn Peake: To live at all is miracle enough. I think most atheists use “spiritual” for lack of a better word, not to indicate they believe in some reality beyond the tangible. My hunch is that most atheists would call themselves spiritual (for lack of a better word), but almost none of them believe in an afterlife. Which proves humans (in the Netherlands 47% of the population) can handle mortality salience without much problems. There is no need for reality denial.

                      “Nevertheless it is fascinating that new religions, like scientology, continue to create life after death stories.”

                      Of course religions have life after death stories. They’re essential. But in my opinion afterlife stories are not central to religions. Central is the ‘better world” story. Every religion at its core denounces life on earth. Earthly life means suffering, sins, work, problems, sorrow, mourning, illness, taxes, death. So they invent a higher reality where all is good. Then they add stories that describe that higher reality, and give instructions for how to reach that higher reality. Of course, that higher reality can not be reached while alive (otherwise life would be good after all), so you will have to wait after you die. But if death means you don’t exist anymore, then the whole story falls apart. So you get life after death as well, it’s an essential byproduct.

                      You could say that replacing the “afterlife” story with the “better world” story is just putting a different face on reality denial, but I don’t think it is. In my opinion, the main function of religion is not to deny the reality of death, it’s to give people hope in their day-to-day life. Hence it’s no surprise that atheism develops in a modern world where life in general is pretty comfortable. And it also follows that if our current problems turn ugly, we’ll see a huge rise in religiousness again. Not because all of a sudden people realize they have to deny death again, but because the situation asks for hope.


                    2. We seem to be using different definitions for spiritual. I define it as the belief in anything that is not supported by science, which is why I associate spiritually with reality denial. I don’t care if my definition is technically wrong, it’s consistent with the spiritual people that I observe.

                      “Nobody understands death, it’s out of bounds for the human mind.”
                      Speak for yourself. I understand fully. Maybe that’s because I’m not spiritual.

                      “Of course religions have life after death stories. They’re essential.”
                      Essential for what?

                      On whether the central point is life after death or hope for a better life I think you’re splitting hairs. Of course nobody prays for a heaven where they return as a malnourished slave.

                      “In my opinion, the main function of religion is not to deny the reality of death, it’s to give people hope in their day-to-day life. ”
                      That might be true if only unhappy struggling people believed in life after death. But we both know that happy comfortable people also believe in life after death.

                      Have you read Varki’s paper?


                2. Hello, Rob. this is my first comment post. Thank your for your outstanding efforts with MORT and the other exceptionally important topics you’ve presented, and clarified, here. I really appreciate it!

                  I don’t know if MORT will ultimately, if ever, be determined valid, but I wonder if maybe you’re conflating denial of death with belief in afterlife. These seem to me to be two different mental processes that don’t require one another for their (desired) outcomes. Denial of death isn’t necessary to want or to believe in an afterlife, is it? Isn’t it possible to not deny death, to accept it, but still to want or to believe in an afterlife? If so, MORT may need to be modified to include other potential factors. Possibly including Mike Mos’s suggestion that the need for stories (fantasies) to counter the extreme harshness of human existence may be a critical component.

                  I must also say that the vast majority of atheists I know well DON’T believe in an afterlife and readily acknowledge and accept the imminent reality of death. In fact, they mostly tell me they think that there is most likely nothing (void) after death. Most definitions of atheism indicate this as well. I, myself, am agnostic and agree with Mike that one can know nothing of death (itself, when it actually happens, and what happens (or doesn’t) afterward) as once one experiences it one will be dead and no longer able to explain or otherwise report on what it involves.

                  Again, much appreciation for all of your work here! And for guiding me to other mindblowing websites such as Surplus Energy Economics, Megacancer, and the work of Nate Hagens. I intend to continue reading un-denial and learning from, and with you, and the others commenting. 😊


                  1. Thanks for stopping by. I’ll accept there may be a lot of atheists that do not believe in life after death. It doesn’t change Varki’s thesis because he’s considering behaviors that existed 1-200,000 years ago when behaviorally modern humans emerged. Nor does it affect this blog which focusses on the fact that 99% of humans, atheist or not, deny human overshoot and are driving us off an obvious cliff.


            2. One last point:

              “People who refuse to change their lifestyles when presented with hard facts do not refuse to do so because they do not understand the scale of the problem.”

              Could you please tell me why you are so sure of this? I tried to argue that there are scales beyond human comprehension, and to me ‘our planet’ is in that realm. You simply reply that’s not true and shift the focus so that people’s inaction is once again 100% due to conscious denial. That’s not very convincing.


              1. Most climate scientists, environmental activists, and political leaders set bad examples with high carbon discretionary lifestyles like long distance travel. No one calls for policies to reduce the population and consumption of citizens.

                These people are well educated on the threat. They do not behave badly because the scale is beyond their comprehension. I’ll concede that they might not all be in denial, it’s possible they’re hypocrites and/or simply don’t give a shit.

                During his 8 years in office, Obama, who claimed to be concerned about climate change, spent about $90 million on long distance family vacations.

                There are a few people setting good examples, like Kevin Anderson, but they are scarce.


  4. This is going to take some reading and thinking so no real comments to make. I bookmarked the Dawkins interview from a Facebook post this morning for later reading. I hope I can stay awake tonight for long enough to get through it all. I love the ‘doomer whack jobs’ comment 🙂
    I’ve noticed that while I’m not in denial about most of the big things, I can be in denial about others (generally personal issues involving other people). I’m trying to work out where that comes from.
    Dawkins’ ignorance on so much evolutionary biology stuff always throws me.


  5. Bill Gates exposes one of the most important realities that we deny: energy.

    h/t Gail Tverberg @https://ourfiniteworld.com/2019/10/24/how-renewable-energy-models-can-produce-misleading-indications/


  6. There are a few people out there that understand what’s going on with energy and the economy, like Tim Morgan, but none understand or talk about genetic reality denial.


    With the Fed now pouring tens of billions into the system on a daily basis, China apparently doing similar, the ECB seemingly paralysed like a rabbit staring into headlights, and the whole ‘unicorn’ nonsense starting to unravel, I doubt if we have enough years of tranquility/stability to operate even a three-year plan. Unrest seems to be spreading around the world, including countries that normally are pretty stable.

    The real problem is that decision-makers still don’t get it. They tried credit adventurism, and it failed. Then they tried monetary adventurism, and that is now in end-game. They still believe in the mantra of perpetual “growth”. Even those who recognise the importance of energy don’t understand its role in the economy – and seem to believe in a seamless transition to renewables.

    What we’re witnessing is incomprehension – the bafflement caused by the failure of prior assumptions. One of these is that ‘everyone keeps getting more prosperous, so nobody minds a tiny minority becoming ever richer’.

    This and similar paradigms are over – but decisions are being made in ignorance of this fact.

    h/t James @ Megacancer.com


  7. Tim Morgan again, this time with a nice analogy to explain what’s going on with depletion of low-cost energy:


    Another (if quirky) way to look at this might be to think of a person who, every morning, walks to a forest and picks 100 nuts. He then carries them home in a sack.

    But this sack is wearing out. One year, an average of two nuts fall out of the sack and are lost. Next year, five nuts fall out – and, next year, eight. He still picks 100 nuts, but his ‘prosperity’ has fallen from 98 to 92, even though we could say that his ‘productivity’ (the number of nuts picked) hasn’t.


  8. Nobody has a better handle on our global financial bubble than Doug Nolan. He writes an excellent newsletter like this once a week. And yet, if you pay attention, he has no clue what the underlying cause is. Question: How is it possible that so many smart people don’t understand limits to growth and overshoot? Answer: It’s not possible without the denial of reality explained by Varki’s MORT theory.

    Any central bank head that passes through an eight-year term without once raising rates has some explaining to do. To leave monetary policy extremely loose for such an extended period comes with major consequences (can we at least agree on that?). So, what went wrong? How did policy measures not operate as expected? With the benefit of hindsight, what could have been done differently?



  9. Tim Watkins on the hole in our bucket…

    Lotte can’t see this, of course. If the wind turbine stops working, she tells Hans, “You just have to replace it”. But Hans objects, “Where will we get the steel and the concrete for the base? Where will we get the plastic for the blades?” Lotte suggests that Hans finds a steelworks, a cement works and a plastic factory. But Hans points out that since all three were part of the oil infrastructure that we replaced; and since none of these materials can be made without the fossil fuel feedstock or the heat that only fossil fuels can generate, the only way to manufacture them is with the fossil fuels that we need to – and ultimately will have no choice but to – cease using.

    The song about Lotte and Hans was anglicised in the twentieth century, and became a nursery rhyme that most English-speaking children will have sung at some point in their upbringing. For the English version, Lotte and Hans were replaced with the American Lisa and Henry. The song – There’s a hole in my bucket – sets out precisely why too narrow an assessment of the problem can make simple – but wrong – pseudo-solutions appear plausible. Henry cannot fix the hole in his bucket because he has no straw; he can’t cut the straw because his knife is too blunt; he can’t sharpen the knife because the grindstone is too dry; and, of course, he cannot wet the grindstone because there’s a hole in his bucket…



  10. Tom Whipple is good today.

    The news from the shale oil industry continues to be gloomy. Financing is running dry for large portions of the US shale oil industry, forcing drillers into bankruptcy and threatening the industry’s growth. The financial reckoning has been a long time coming. In the aftermath of the 2014-15 oil price crash, US oil and gas producers managed to raise $56.6 billion from equity and debt capital markets in 2016. This year they have raised just $19.4 billion, even though US oil production has grown by more than a third in the past three years.

    The first- and third-largest oilfield service companies in the world saw their earnings hit in the third quarter due to the slowdown in US shale drilling. Schlumberger took a $12.7 billion impairment charge related to its North American business, a rather dramatic write-down. That led to an $11.4 billion loss for the quarter, the largest in the company’s history. Halliburton also saw its earnings hit by the slowdown in shale drilling and the oilfield services giant shifted its focus to international markets as the signs of a shale rebound do not appear to be imminent.



  11. Replying here, as it seems we’ve reached the maximum number of nested replies.

    “We seem to be using different definitions for spiritual.”

    Definitely. To choose a word that you might better understand, you could say I’m a ‘poetic’ atheist. This doesn’t even begin to capture what I refer to with ‘spiritual’, but for the sake of conversation it will have to do. Like you, I don’t believe there’s anything outside of the observable, but I quite often experience what Freud has called ‘the oceanic feeling’: A full realization of the miracle that is life, so awe-inspiring that the mind stalls and boundaries dissolve. All of this can be perfectly explained by science, just as science can explain being in love. But that doesn’t diminish the feeling. In discussions with friends who have similar experiences, we always run into the problem that the only place where we can find words to describe what we experience, is in the religious traditions. So I have no problem calling myself spiritual.

    You can define ‘spiritual’ any way you want. But the next time you read that x% of unbelievers consider themselves spiritual, don’t assume they mean ‘spiritual’ as you define it, with afterlife and all. As I said, most call themselves spiritual for lack of a better word.

    “Speak for yourself. I understand [death] fully. Maybe that’s because I’m not spiritual.”

    Just out of curiosity… Life holds no mystery for you either?

    “Of course religions have life after death stories. They’re essential.”
    Essential for what? On whether the central point is life after death or hope for a better life I think you’re splitting hairs. Of course nobody prays for a heaven where they return as a malnourished slave.

    Essential to get people to the better world, which is always located outside of time and space. Exactly where people go when they die.

    And I’m pretty sure I’m not splitting hairs. It really is a question of what comes first. And I think the afterlife is just a part of the ‘better world’ story, not the other way around. As you probably know, religions don’t just set out to solve the problem of death, their ambitions go far beyond that. Notice for instance that the basic tenet of Buddhism is “All life is suffering”. It’s not “Death needs to be conquered”. Buddhism wants to solve all suffering, not just the suffering that people feel because of death. Hence the ‘better world’, which in Buddhism is Nirvana, reached after a series of painful reincarnations. I willing to bet that a religion that only promises life after death won’t get many followers. You almost make it sound as if the rest of a religion is just there for decoration.

    “But we both know that happy comfortable people also believe in life after death.”

    “Unhappy struggling people” and “happy comfortable people” are caricatures. Nobody is only happy or unhappy. Even what you call comfortable happy people will have loved ones who die, doubt, illness, climate catastrophe, etc.

    “Have you read Varki’s paper?”

    I’ve skimmed it, but I have no intention to read it completely. Firstly, I’m not really interested in the details of evolution. And secondly, it is still a very theoretical paper, with a lot of details left to be researched. On page 116 for example, Varki talks about how it seems reasonable to assume the emergence of a full theory of mind leads to mortality salience, which may in turn result in a reduction of evolutionary fitness. This is a crucial step for MORT, but observe how there is not a single reference in that paragraph. It’s all conjecture, which needs to be further investigated. When that’s done, I might have a look.

    The thing that triggered me to react in this thread wasn’t Varki’s paper. It was the certainly with which you lambasted many subjects for not seeing that MORT explains everything. Richard Dawkins: No clue. Tim Morgan: OK, but no clue about the genetics. Doug Nolan: Excellent, but no clue. I don’t think Varki’s paper warrants such certainty.


    1. “I’ve skimmed it, but I have no intention to read it completely. Firstly, I’m not really interested in the details of evolution.”

      I think we’ve completed this conversation. This blog is for people interested in human evolution. Nice talking to you.


  12. I have that same uncomfortable feeling I had in 2007 – just a lot worse. The global financial system is self-destructing. Reckless monetary policies have inflamed late-cycle excess. I believe the scope of speculative leverage is much greater these days – on a global basis. The Fed in 2007 (and into ’08) extended a dangerous mortgage finance Bubble. Central bankers these days are prolonging catastrophic global financial and economic Bubbles. The global economy is much more fragile today, with a faltering Chinese Bubble posing an Extraordinary risk. Highly synchronized global financial Bubbles are a risk much beyond 2008. Moreover, central bankers have used precious resources to sustain Bubbles, ensuring much greater fragilities will be countered by limited policy capabilities.

    We will now await the catalyst for an inevitable bout of de-risking/deleveraging. There could be a few Lehmans lurking out there – in Asia if I was placing odds. China remains an accident in the making, with another ominous week in Chinese Credit (see “China Watch”). And near the top of my list of possible catalysts would be a surge in global yields. Sinking bond prices are problematic for highly leveraged holdings. Indeed, it is no coincidence that “repo” market issues erupted the week following a sharp reversal in market yields.



  13. This guy provides the best explanation I have seen for why nothing makes sense in the stock market today. He explains why stock prices are rising for large companies despite poor financial performance. He explains why ETFs are outperforming the best portfolio managers. He explains why the growth assumptions of pension funds are wrong. He observes that interest rates have never been this low in 5000 years, but as usual, has no clue why.

    What could go wrong?


  14. Faster and faster, in the wrong direction…

    How Scientists Got Climate Change So Wrong
    “Few thought it would arrive so quickly. Now we’re facing consequences once viewed as fringe scenarios.”


  15. New report on shale oil by David Hughes…

    Although there is no doubt that the U.S. can produce substantial amounts of shale gas and tight oil over the short- and medium-term, unrealistic long-term forecasts are a disservice to planning a viable long-term energy strategy. The best-case scenario to meet the EIA AEO2019 reference case forecast requires drilling 1,451,771 wells at a cost of $9.5 trillion over the 2017-2050 period.

    The fact that all U.S. tight oil resources would be consumed by 2050 in this best-case scenario, assuming that the EIA estimates of proven reserves plus unproved resources are correct, should be extremely troubling for long term energy security planning and policy development. And given the extremely optimistic nature of most of the EIA’s play-level forecasts, it is by no means assured that even this much oil and gas can be produced. Assuming that production will remain at high levels after 2050 is wishful thinking.

    The “shale revolution” has sparked calls for “American energy dominance”—despite the fact that the U.S. is projected to be a net oil importer through 2050, even given EIA forecasts. Although the “shale revolution” has provided a reprieve from what just 15 years ago was thought to be a terminal decline in oil and gas production in the U.S., this reprieve is temporary, and the U.S. would be well advised to plan for much-reduced shale oil and gas production in the long term based on this analysis of play fundamentals. That is without factoring in any mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or the economics of renewable energy sources. If U.S. energy policy actually reflected the need to mitigate climate change—which the international community mandated in 2016 through the Paris Agreement —the EIA’s forecasts for tight oil and shale gas production through 2050 make even less sense.


    Commentary on the report by Asher Miller…



  16. Notice that Powell does not mention thermodynamics or falling net energy. The idiots running our world don’t have a clue what’s going on and/or they’re in denial.

    Fed Chairman Jerome Powell suggested to lawmakers on Thursday that low interest rates might be a permanent part of the economic landscape.

    “We’re in a world of much lower interest rates,” he told members of the House Budget Committee. “That seems to be driven by long-run structural things and there’s not a lot of reason to think that will change.’



  17. Antonio Turiel does a nice job of dissecting this year’s World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency (IEA). It would seem that the IEA authors are deliberately trying to obscure reality.

    It’s another amazing example of how we are unable to acknowledge or discuss anything of substance related to human overshoot.

    Lots of elephants in the room, but no adults.

    It has been very disappointing, especially given that last year’s report showed very clearly that there was an urgent problem with oil. The funny thing is that this year’s data closely resembles last year’s data (the upward revision of LTO reserves does not substantially change the situation) and that, therefore, what has changed this year is not the data, but the way to present them. The WEO also shows, if you want to look, that there are problems with coal and it is intuited that also with nuclear. And there is something new: from the discussions that are introduced, it is seen that there will surely be problems in the short term with natural gas. Remember that today, between oil, coal, natural gas and uranium, 90% of all primary energy consumed on the planet is produced. If it is true that the four sources are compromised (and three of them – oil, coal and uranium – it seems clear that they already are), we will be facing in the next decade one of the most serious problems of Humanity.

    In summary, it is seen that the focus of this WEO has been to try to hide the peaks that emerge everywhere, including last year’s report. Hopefully next year the realistic team will take the reins again and a more accurate vision of what is happening will be transmitted, because the clock is still running and we are running out of time to react.



  18. Everything is speeding up.

    It took about 70 years after the great depression for us to forget everything we learned about responsible management of the financial industry.

    Now we have forgotten the lessons of 2008 in only 10 years.

    US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is reportedly open to relaxing bank regulations born from the 2008 financial crisis.


    h/t Mac10


  19. Antonio Turiel provides a nice analogy to explain peak oil…

    Imagine that you are thirsty and want to drink water.

    Possibility 1: There is a full glass of water. You take it and drink it. That is what the world did with oil from the 19th century until 1970.

    Possibility 2: Water is spilled on a smooth surface. You take a straw and, with more effort than in the previous case, end up getting the water to drink. That is what the world did with oil from 1970 to 2000.

    Possibility 3: The water is mixed with sand. You have to heat the sand in a tight container, condense the water that evaporates and ends up by a still in the glass, and then you have to wait for it to cool. The process is not perfect, part of the water never evaporates from the sand and part is lost because it comes out in the form of gas at the end of the still or evaporates from the glass because it is still quite hot, so you recover 2/3 of the glass original. In addition, the process is very slow and very hot, so you are increasingly thirsty and that process does not satisfy you. That was our world from 2000 to 2010.

    Possibility 4: There is no liquid water but I tell you that you can condense the air. It is a very slow and inefficient process, but you are thirsty and you have to get water from somewhere. The problem is that you have to keep drinking and the relative humidity of the room is going down. There is still a lot of water in the air, but each time it is extracted more slowly. You could build a mega machine to “dry all the air” at once, but you really don’t have the resources to do that, so you have to settle for what’s there. That is what is happening with oil since 2010.



  20. Fascinating interview with a repo market expert. He says something is clearly broken in the global banking system but no one, including the central bankers that we trust to fix problems, understands what’s going on. I observe that he was unable to even speculate that we might be bumping up against limits to growth.


  21. In the past I have argued that we should rename GDP to GDB (gross domestic burn) because it clarifies the source of our comforts of life.

    I’m thinking that we should also rename debt to overshoot because when facing limits to growth as we do today, it clarifies the implications of the following:

    Last week from The Institute of International Finance (IIF) (a summary from a members-only report): “Global debt overshoot has topped $250 trillion – 320% of GDP…”

    The IIF estimated that global debt overshoot would end the year at $255 TN – “nearly $32,500 for each of the 7.7 billion people on planet”



  22. Sam Mitchell interviewed Gail Tverberg today, a leading voice on the implications of energy depletion. It’s a good interview but it dances around the core issue of denial without confronting it head on.

    When discussing our climate change goal of decarbonizing the economy Gail says “One wonders what in the world people are thinking about?”.

    I’m pretty sure most people don’t think about anything of substance. The few that do deny the unpleasant bits.


    1. Monthly year over year increases in US oil production have, in 2019, gone from about 20% to a little over 8%. With rigs falling, let’s see if some month in 2020 is negative year over year. If not, it would be quite different from the fall in rigs in 2014-15.


  23. Chris Martenson interviewed oil expert Art Berman a few days ago about his talk “Tight Oil and The Willing Suspension of Disbelief”.

    I observe that most intelligent aware people usually end up discussing denial in one form or another, because once you understand what’s going on, the most fascinating thing is how is it possible that most people deny unpleasant realities?

    Too bad almost none of these intelligent aware people have studied Varki’s MORT theory because then they would have a scientific explanation for the insanity we swim in.

    Here’s the interview:

    Here are the presentation slides:

    Click to access Berman-LSU-Presentation-NOV-22-2019.pdf


  24. Another excellent talk by Dr. Hugh Montgomery.

    It took 3.5 billion years for multicelled life to appear on Earth, another 540 million for humans to evolve. By 1804, there were only 1 billion of us. There are now nearly 8 billion of us, and we now add another billion every 12-14 years. In the last 50 years, our use of natural resources has accelerated beyond the boundaries which sustain life on Earth, destroying the habitats in which ecosystems can prevail. The number of vertebrates on the planet has fallen by 70% since only 1970, and 8 species become extinct each hour. We are living through the greatest and fastest mas extinction the planet has ever seen. Now we add climate change: the greenhouse gases we add to our atmosphere retain the equivalent of 5 Hiroshima bombs of energy each second within it. Energy in an atmospheric system causes weather- and we are experiencing more frequent and more extreme weather events around the world. Polar ice is melting and sea levels rising at ever-faster rates. The threat to human health is accelerating. And this can only get worse: 1/5th of the CO2 we release today will still be warming the planet in 33,000 years time, and 70% will be doing so in 100,000 years. Immediate human survival depends upon immediate and meaningful action- but this is not happening. Hugh will discuss the implications of this torpid state.


  25. James with a nice essay today on the purpose of life.

    In other words it’s the plant’s fault (that we be). Humans in their present form are here to undo what the plants have done. The earth intercepts a tiny fraction of the sun’s energy which is meant for the great void of space and the plants use the energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. Glucose is the food for the ATP energy system and keeps the plant metabolism humming. Plant-eating animals evolved to consume the plants and burn them with oxygen to once again release carbon dioxide, water and heat which is released back into space, the same place the sunshine should have gone in the first place. Humans can either eat the plants directly or they can eat the animals that eat plants. Did plants commit the original sin? Not likely. Chemotrophic sinners existed before the plants and used other gradients (sub-sea vents?) to temporarily thwart the natural order. So what is the purpose of life? To eat the plants and the assorted animals that also eat the plants. Anything else is extra and indeed we have extra in the form of fossil fuels. We’ve also found a way (civilization/technology) to burn plant tissues sequestered millions of years ago – fossil fuels. Of course we do this at our own peril as carbon dioxide builds in the atmosphere and oceans.

    The Universe doesn’t really want us around but uses us to undo what the plants have done. And we’ve found so many things to do to get rid of plants and fossil fuels. Just look around at the kaleidoscope of wonders the humans have made. We even take over plant territory and grow our own edible plants to satisfy the human RNA that are busy using their technological tools to excavate old plant remains to burn. We even use old plant remains to fertilize new edible plant growth as we burn-up the Amazon Rainforest. We also use edible plants(ethanol) to feed our cars. It’s incredible, this frenzy of activity. But what to do when all of the old sequestered plant material is nothing more than heat on its way to a distant galaxy and the soils are depleted and ecosystem wrecked? We will no longer have a purpose for living but rather a reason to die.



  26. Tim Watkins is good today…


    The End of Civilisation will be Painted Green

    It is fairly common these days to come across somebody on social media who thinks that leaving the freezer door open or running the air conditioner outside might provide us with a means of halting global warming. And while engineers and physicists might be tempted to laugh at the suggestion, those making it are not so different to the apparently intelligent and well-educated folk who have persuaded governments to spend millions on research into technologies that suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Indeed, both ideas are fundamentally flawed for exactly the same reasons:
    – The atmosphere is vast
    – Cooling it would require massive amounts of energy and resources.

    A freezer (and an air conditioner) works by exchanging heat; drawing it from a small space (freezer compartment or apartment) and dumping the excess heat into the much larger environment. And crucially, the energy required to achieve this is itself converted to waste heat in the process. Thus, leaving the freezer door open warms to atmosphere (albeit by a miniscule fraction) rather than cooling it.

    Carbon capture suffers a similar problem. While the amount of human-produced carbon dioxide can be measured in billions of tons per year, it remains a tiny fraction of the total atmosphere – currently around 408 parts per million (a little above 0.04 percent). This renders any attempt to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere a non-starter:

    “… any machine that is going to attempt the task – even assuming 100 percent efficiency – would need to hoover up 2,470 tons of atmosphere to capture just 1 ton of carbon dioxide; and it would have to do this roughly a thousand times a second to keep up with our ongoing emissions.”

    Moreover, such a machine would require a vast amount of energy to operate; energy that – given our current energy mix – will come primarily from the very carbon-emitting fossil fuels that caused the problem to begin with.

    It is our collective failure to even begin to understand the scale of the global warming problem that leads us into faulty analyses that verge on conspiracy theory. Consider this statement by Andy Stone at Forbes, writing on the eve of the latest IPCC conference:

    “Yet at this juncture it’s important to recall that we live during a unique point in history in which we humans have the power to do harm to the planet on a scale previously unimagined and, at the same time, pull ourselves back from the brink. The last is a truth that’s easy to forget as the window to keep warming below the 2 degrees Celsius Paris threshold narrows.”

    In fact, this human “power to do harm” is greatly overstated. This is not to deny that our collective efforts over the last 300 years have not wreaked havoc upon the habitat that we and millions of other species depend upon; but rather to note that it has taken the full 4,683,704.29 TW/h of fossil fuel energy that humanity has burned since 1800 to raise the planetary temperature by less than two degrees. Sure, if we keep doing what we have been doing, and continue to grow or economy in line with recent trends, we will build in 4, 5 or 6 degrees of warming that will take millennia to reverse. Nevertheless, human agency in this is far more limited than Stone suggests.

    The 4,683,704.29 TW/h of fossil fuel energy burned since 1800 is a miniscule fraction of the solar energy reaching the Earth every week. Indeed, in a single month, 18 times more solar energy reaches the Earth’s surface than all of the fossil fuel energy humans have ever consumed. All that humans have actually achieved is to prevent a tiny fraction of that solar energy from radiating back into space; so that every day a miniscule amount of heat is retained; almost imperceptibly warming the planet.

    As with removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or having every western household open their freezer doors, the processes envisaged to keep temperature increases below two degrees require more energy than was required to raise the temperature in the first place. Solar energy might be (for all practical purposes) renewable; but the technologies required to concentrate it and convert it into a useable form depend upon massive volumes of fossil fuel energy to manufacture, deploy, maintain and replace. Excluding hydroelectricity, so-called “renewables” (in reality non-renewable renewable energy-harvesting technologies) currently make up less than 5 percent of global energy production. More than four-fifths still comes from burning fossil fuels – a percentage that has barely shifted (87%-86%) since the Kyoto conference in 1997. Indeed, just the additional fossil fuels burned since 2015 is greater than all of the renewable energy we have added to the mix.

    In short, the scale of the problem is massive and the laws of physics ensure that any attempt at reversing the problem while maintaining even a semblance of business as usual must require greater energy consumption than was required to produce it. Since all low-carbon energy generation depends upon fossil fuels for manufacture, deployment and maintenance, and since fossil fuels continue to account for 86 percent of our primary energy, even slowing the rate of warming is likely beyond us. Simply asserting that humans have agency does not change this.

    Global warming is, of course, just one dimension of our predicament. Global resource depletion is likely to prove far more devastating in the short-term. The US fracking boom (which accounts for almost all of the global increase in the past decade) is coming to an end; and when it does – most likely in the early 2020s – it will take a Herculean effort (and a great deal of economic chaos) to prevent global oil production from falling. Mineral resources – including those like cobalt, zinc and chromium which are essential to the proposed transition to a low-carbon economy – have been depleting for decades. As ore grades degrade, so ever more energy is required to maintain current volumes. The levels of consumption required to build and deploy the non-renewable renewable energy-harvesting technologies needed to replace the 86 percent of our energy we currently get from fossil fuels would see key minerals become unavailable within a matter of months.

    The potential non-technological solutions/mitigations to our predicament – dramatically shrinking the economy and/or massively reducing the human population to something equivalent to the 1500s – are barely more palatable than the predicted effects of global warming itself. Pretending that humankind has far more agency than is actually the case, on the other hand at least allows us to enjoy (in the developed states) one final “Green New Deal” blowout before the 300 year experiment of industrial civilisation comes crashing down.


  27. Excellent 2012 interview with Dennis Meadows, one of the wisest men on the planet.
    h/t James @ megacancer.com

    3/6/2012 FORMAT interviews Dennis Meadows, author of “The Limits to Growth”, about the shocking position of the planet. 40 years ago, Dennis Meadows presented the best seller “The Limits to Growth”. In it, he predicted, not the exact date of the apocalypse, but the U.S. researchers showed by means of computational models, that by mid-century, the resources of planet Earth will be depleted.

    The book sold 30 million copies and Meadows is now regarded as the most famous “Sunset prophet” of the world. FORMAT’s writer Rainer Himmelfreundpointner met Meadows on a visit to Vienna for an exclusive interview. The message of the nearly 70-year-old is now no more optimistic as then, and is not for the faint of heart.

    FORMAT: Mr. Meadows, according to the Club of Rome, we are currently facing a crisis of unemployment, a food crisis, a global financial and economic crisis and a global ecological crisis. Each of these is a warning sign that something is quite wrong. What exactly?

    Meadows: What we meant in 1972 in “The Limits to Growth”, and what is still true, is that there is simply no endless physical growth on a finite planet. Past a certain point, growth ceases. Either we stop it … by changing our behaviour, or the planet will stop it. 40 years later, we regret to say, we basically have not done anything.

    FORMAT: In your 13 scenarios the end of physical growth begins – that is, the increase in world population, its food production, or whatever else they produce or consume – between 2010 and 2050. Is the financial crisis part of that?

    Meadows: You cannot compare our current situation that way. Suppose you have cancer, and this cancer causes fever, headaches and other pain. But those are not the real problem, the cancer is. However, we try to treat the symptoms. No one believes that cancer is being defeated. Phenomena like climate change and hunger are merely the symptoms of a disease of our earth, which leads inevitably to the end of growth.

    FORMAT: cancer as a metaphor for uncontrolled growth?

    Meadows: Yeah. Healthy cells at a certain point stop growing. Cancer cells proliferate until they kill the organism. Population or economic growth behave exactly the same. There are only two ways to reduce the growth of humanity: reduction in the birth rate or increase the death rate. Which would you prefer?

    FORMAT: No one wants to have to decide.

    Meadows: I don’t either. We have lost the opportunity of choice anyway. Our planet will do it.

    FORMAT: How?

    Meadows: Let’s stay on diet. Do the mathematics, take food per person since the 90s. The production is growing, but the population is growing faster. Behind every calorie of food that comes to the plate, ten calories of fossil fuels or oil are used for its production, transportation, storage, preparation and disposal. The less oil reserves and fossil fuels, the more the increase in food prices.

    FORMAT: So it’s not just a distribution problem?

    Meadows: Of course not. If we share it equitably, nobody would starve. But the fact is, it needs fossil fuels such as oil, gas or coal for food production. But those supplies are running low. Whether or not new shale oil and gas reserves are exploited, peak oil and peak gas are past. This means tremendous pressure on the entire system.

    FORMAT: According to your models the population, which in 2050 will be around 9.5 billion people, even with a stagnation of food production for another 30, 40 years.

    Meadows: And that means that there will be a lot of very poor people. Considerably more than half of humanity. Today we can not feed a large portion of humanity sufficiently. All the resources that we know of are declining. One can only guess where this will lead. There are too many “ifs” for the future: If people are smarter, if there is no war, if we make a technological advancement. We are now already at the point where we cannot cope with our problems, how we should do it in 50 years, when they are bigger?

    FORMAT: And blame is our way of doing business?

    Meadows: Our economic and financial system, we do not just get something. It is a tool that we have developed and that reflects our goals and values. People do not worry about the future, but only about their current problems. That is why we have such a serious debt crisis. Debt is the opposite of that, worrying about the future. Anyone who takes on debt says: I do not care what happens. And when for many people the future does not matter, they will create an economic and financial system that destroys the future. You can tweak this system as long as you want. As long as you do not change the values of the people, it will continue. If you give someone a hammer in his hand and he uses it, and it kills his neighbour, it helps nothing to change the hammer. Even if you take away the hammer, it remains a potential killer.

    FORMAT: Systems that organise the kind of coexistence of people come and go.

    Meadows: But man remains the same. In the U.S., we have a system in which it’s okay that a few are immensely rich and many are damned poor, yes even starve. If we find this acceptable, it does not help to change the system. The dominant values are always the same result. This value is reflected in climate change enormously. Who cares?

    FORMAT: Europe?

    Meadows: China, Sweden, Germany, Russia, the United States all have different social systems, but in each country rising CO2 emissions, because the people really don’t care. 2011 was the record. Last year there was more carbon dioxide produced than in all of human history before. Although all want it to decrease.

    FORMAT: What is going wrong?

    Meadows: Forget the details. The basic formula for CO2 pollution consists of four elements. First, the number of people on Earth. Multiplied by the capital per person, so how many cars, houses and cows per man, to come to Earth’s standard of living. This in turn multiplied by a factor of energy use per unit of capital, ie, how much energy it takes to produce cars, build houses and to supply or to feed cows. And finally multiply that by the amount of energy derived from fossil sources.

    FORMAT: Approximately 80 to 90 percent.

    Meadows: Approximately. If you want the CO2 burden to decline, the overall result of this multiplication must decline. But what do we do? We try to reduce the share of fossil energy as we use more alternative sources like wind and solar. Then we work to make our energy use more efficient, insulate homes, optimise engines and all that. We work only on the technical aspects, but we neglect the population factor completely and believe that our standard of living is getting better, or at least stays the same. We ignore population and the social elements in the equation, and focus totally on just trying to solve the problem from the technical side. So we will fail, because growth of population and living standards are much greater than we would save through efficiency and alternative energy. Therefore, the CO2 emissions will continue to rise. There is no solution to the climate change problem as long as we do not address the social factors that count.

    FORMAT: You mean the Earth will take things into its own hands?

    Meadows: Disasters are the way to solve all the problems of the planet. Due to climate change, sea levels will rise because the ice caps are melting. Harmful species will spread to areas where they do not meet enough natural enemies. The increase in temperature leads to massive winds and storms, which in turn affects precipitation. So, more floods, more droughts.

    FORMAT: For example?

    Meadows: The land which today grows 60 percent of wheat in China will be too dry for agriculture. At the same time it’s going to rain, but in Siberia, and the country will be more fruitful there. So a massive migration from China to Siberia will take place. How many times have I told people this in my lectures in Russia already. The older people were concerned. But the young elite has merely said: Who cares? I just want to be rich.

    FORMAT: What to do?

    Meadows: If I only knew. We come into a period that calls for a dramatic change in practically everything. Unfortunately, changing our society or government system is not done quickly. The current system does not work anyway. It did not stop climate change, or prevent the financial crisis. Governments are trying to solve their problems by printing money, which will almost certainly result in a few years of very high inflation. This is a very dangerous phase. I just know that a person has, whenever he in uncertain times, has the choice between freedom and order, and chooses order. Order is not necessarily right or justice, but life is reasonably safe, and the trains run on time.

    FORMAT: Do you fear an end of democracy?

    Meadows: I see two trends. On the one hand, the disruption of states into smaller units, such as regions such as Catalonia, and on the other hand a strong, centralised superpower. Not a state, but a fascist combination of industry, police and military. Maybe there will be in the future even both. Democracy is indeed a very young socio-political experiment. And it does not currently exist. It produced only crises that it cannot solve. Democracy contributes nothing at the moment to our survival. This system will collapse from within, not because of an external enemy.

    FORMAT: You talk of the “tragedy of the commons”

    Meadows: This is the basic problem. If in a village everyone grazes his cows on the lush meadow – called in old England “Commons” – the short term benefit goes most to those who choose to have more cows. But if that goes on too long, all the grass dies, and all the cows.

    FORMAT: So you have here an agreement, such as the best use of the meadow. That can be democracy at its best.

    Meadows: Maybe. But if the democratic system can’t solve this problem on a global level, it will probably try a dictatorship. After all, it’s about issues such as global population controls. We are now 300,000 years on this planet and we have ruled in many different ways. The most successful and effective was the tribe or clan system, not dictatorships or democracies.

    FORMAT: Could a major technological development to save the earth?

    Meadows: Yes. [But] Technologies need laws, sales, training, people who work with them – see my above statement. Moreover, technology is just a tool like a hammer or a neoliberal financial system. As long as our values are what they are, we will [try to] develop technologies that meet them.

    FORMAT: All the world currently sees salvation in a sustainable green technology.

    Meadows: This is a fantasy. Even if we manage to increase the efficiency of energy use dramatically, use of renewable energies much more, and painful sacrifices to limit our consumption, we have virtually no chance to prolong the life of the current system. Oil production will be reduced approximately by half in the next 20 years, even with the exploitation of oil sands or shale oil. It just happens too fast. Apart from that you can earn more than non oil with alternative energy. And wind turbines can be operated, with no planes. The World Bank director (most recently responsible for the global airline industry) has explained to me, the problem of peak oil is not discussed in his institution, it is simply taboo. Whoever will try to anyway, is fired or transferred. After all, Peak Oil destroys the belief in growth. You would have to change everything.

    FORMAT: Especially with airlines the share of fossil fuels is very high.

    Meadows: Exactly. And that is why the era of cheap mass transport by air will end soon. This will only be affordable in large empires or countries. With a lot of money you might buy the energy, and cause food shortages. But you can not hide from climate change, which affects both the poor and the rich.

    FORMAT: Do you have solutions to these mega miseries?

    Meadows: This would change the nature of man. We are basically now just as programmed as 10,000 years ago. If one of our ancestors could be attacked by a tiger, he also was not worried about the future, but his present survival. My concern is that for genetic reasons we are just not able to deal with such things as long-term climate change. As long as we do not learn that, there is no way to solve all these problems. There’s nothing we could do. People always say again: We need to save our planet. No, we do not. The planet is going to save itself already. It always has done. Sometimes it took millions of years, but it happened. We should not be worried about the planet, but about the human species.

    Dennis Meadows, 70, shattered the belief in progress on a sustainable basis with his study, commissioned by the Club of Rome, “Limits to Growth” 40 years ago . The economist has been Director of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a visiting lecturer in the world and has taught at Dartmouth College and at the University of New Hampshire, where he now teaches.


  28. Presentation last year by Dennis Meadows, coauthor of the 1972 Limits to Growth study, and one of my favorite humans on the planet. He politely explains, again, why we’ve done nothing to avoid collapse since he warned us 50 years ago to control our population and consumption. h/t Lidia17


  29. Richard Reese on total war….

    Becoming present in reality transforms you into a peculiar weirdo. The herd will move away from you, as you move away from it. Congratulations! You are outside the fence, outside the cult, outside the mass hysteria. You can think for yourself, question everything, and begin unlearning all the garbage that has been poured into your brain over the years. You can seek better paths.

    A week ago, I snapped. I read the latest paper by William E. Rees, the professor who was co-creator of the ecological footprint concept. He warns us that we are deep into overshoot, and idiotically hippity-hopping down the path to catastrophe. “Half the fossil energy ever used (and half the fossil CO2 ever produced), has been burned (emitted) in just the past 35 years!” This is not a path with a long future. Rees has come to the conclusion that humans are not “primarily a rational species.” I agree.



  30. Impressive new paper by Nate Hagens. Unfortunately he still does not see the forest for the trees in that he does not accept that MPP+MORT are, by far, the dominant behaviors that created our predicament, and block any constructive action. Nothing will improve unless we confront head on our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities.


    A bunch of mildly clever, highly social apes broke into a cookie jar of fossil energy and have been throwing a party for the past 150 years. The conditions at the party are incompatible with the biophysical realities of the planet. The party is about over and when morning comes, radical changes to our way of living will be imposed. Some of the apes must sober up (before morning) and create a plan that the rest of the party-goers will agree to. But mildly clever, highly social apes neither easily nor voluntarily make radical changes to their ways of living. And so coffee and stimulants (credit, etc.) will be consumed during another lavish breakfast, but with the shades drawn. It’s morning already.

    It is likely that, in the not-too-distant future, the size, complexity, and (literal) `burn rate’ of our civilization will be much reduced by forces other than human volition. This paper suggests that we will not plan for this outcome – but we could react to it with airbags, social cohesion, an ethos and prepared blueprints based on intelligent (and wise) foresight.

    What aspects of our current world can and should be preserved? What can we do to make the path ahead less painful? How can we nurture ecosystems and species, as well as the great body of human culture and knowledge, so that they can, as far as possible, survive the bottlenecks of the 21 st century? What really, could we aspire to become as a species? Can we use science to guide us from mildly clever to moderately wise? Can we tap into our wiring for group cooperation to align ourselves with a purpose beyond turning trillions of barrels of fossils into microliters of dopamine? What sort of economics will help us ask, research and inform these questions?

    Thirty years ago, ecological economics pioneered a systems approach to economics, but unfortunately became dominated by a narrow, micro-focus on ecosystem services, monetary valuation and conventional economics (Plumecocq, 2014). Whatever we’ll call it, we are desperately in need of a set of guideposts and principles that include not only ecology but also biology, psychology, physics and emergent behaviors. This discipline will focus at least as much on ‘what we’ll have to do’ as on ‘what we should do’. And it will apply the evolving knowledge of experts with a view to the maps and charts made by generalists. Ecological economics was shaped as a next step from earlier classical ideologies so as to consider the inclusion of sources and sinks. Over the next 30 years, ecological economics must be both torchbearer for a systems economics and midwife to a smaller flame.


  31. Tim Morgan on trends for 2020…


    The first of the two narrative-shaping issues that I’m anticipating for 2020 is a marked slowdown in the emerging market (EM) economies.

    The second critical issue is financial disequilibrium, and the ‘devil or the deep blue sea’ choice that it poses.

    Here’s an example of what this ‘disequilibrium’ means. In nominal terms, the value of equities around the World increased by 139% in a decade (2008-18) in which nominal World GDP expanded by 33%. Applying inflation to both reduces the numbers, of course, but it leaves the relationship unchanged. What’s true of equities is also true, to a greater or lesser extent, of the prices of other assets, including bonds and property.

    What matters here is the relationship between asset prices and incomes, with ‘incomes’ embracing everything from wages and pensions to dividends, corporate earnings and coupons from bonds.

    This divergence is, of course, a direct result of monetary policy. But the effect has been to stretch the relationship to a point from which either surging inflation (by driving up nominal incomes), or a crash in asset prices, is a necessary element of a return to equilibrium.

    We may have to choose between these, with inflation the price that might need to be paid to prevent a collapse in asset markets.

    The critical point going forward is the inevitability of a return to equilibrium, meaning that the relationship between incomes and asset values must revert back towards past norms.

    You see, if equilibrium isn’t restored – if incomes don’t rise, and prices don’t fall – markets cease to function. Property markets run out of ‘first-time buyers’; equity markets run out of private or institutional new participants; and bond markets run out of people wishing to park some of their surplus incomes in such instruments.

    To be sure, markets might be kept elevated artifically, even in a state of stasis, without new money being put into them from the earnings of first-time buyers and new investors. But the only way to replace these new income streams would be to print enough new money to cover the gap – and doing that would destroy fiat currencies.

    This means either that incomes – be they wages, bond coupons or equity dividends – must rise, or that asset prices must fall.

    My conclusions on this are in two parts.

    First, the authorities will indeed do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop an asset price collapse (and they might reckon, too, that the ‘soft default’ implicit in very high inflation is the only route down from the pinnacle of the debt mountain).

    My second conclusion is that it won’t work. Investors, uncomfortably aware that only the Fed and ‘unconventional’ monetary policy stand between them and huge losses, might run for the exits.

    They know, of course, that when everyone rushes in a panic for the door labelled ‘out’, that door has a habit of getting smaller.


  32. I like this guy’s YouTube channel. He walks around cities with a video camera. It’s a great way to get an authentic feel for a place. Today he did the town of Kaolack in Senegal. I’m very grateful for being born in Canada.


  33. Doug Nolan provides a nice historic perspective on our modern monetary system. He doesn’t go so far, but one can rationally argue that industrial civilization is by definition a bubble inflated by fossil energy. Today the bubble wants to naturally deflate but we are resisting by pumping it with printed money trying to make it larger. One way or the other the bubble will be a lot smaller soon.


    As the late Dr. Kurt Richebacher would often repeat, “the only cure for a Bubble is to not let it inflate.” Certainly, the longer Bubbles expand the greater the underlying fragilities – ensuring timid central bankers unwilling to risk reining in excess. This was the problem in the late-twenties and in 2006/2007. I would argue this has been a fundamental dilemma for central bankers persistently now for going on a decade. Especially after the Bernanke Fed targeted risk assets as the key system reflationary mechanism, central banks have been loath to do anything that might risk upsetting the markets. Recall the 2011 “exit strategy” – promptly scrapped in favor of another doubling of the Fed’s balance sheet to $4.5 TN (by 2014).

    From my analytical perspective, things have followed the worst-case scenario now for over three decades. Alan Greenspan’s assurances and loose monetary policy after the 1987 crash spurred “decade of greed” excesses that culminated with Bubbles in junk bonds, M&A and coastal real estate. The response to severe early-nineties bank impairment and recession was aggressive monetary stimulus and the active promotion of Wall Street finance (GSEs, MBS, ABS, derivatives, hedge funds, proprietary trading, etc.).

    Once the boom in highly speculative market-based Credit took hold, there was no turning back. The 1994 bond bust ensured the Fed was done with the type of rate increases that might actually impinge speculation and tighten financial conditions. The Mexican bailout guaranteed fledgling Bubbles would run wild in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. The LTCM/Russia market “bailout” ensured Bubble Dynamics turned absolutely Crazy in technology stocks and U.S. corporate Credit. Things took a turn for the worse following the “tech” Bubble collapse. With Wall Street cheering on, the Federal Reserve fatefully targeted mortgage Credit as the key mechanism for system reflation. A doubling of mortgage debt in just over six years was one of history’s more reckless monetary inflations. The panicked response to the collapsing mortgage finance Bubble fomented by far the greatest monetary inflation the world has ever experienced: China; EM; Japan; Treasury debt; central bank Credit; speculative leverage everywhere…

    The “global government finance Bubble” saw egregious excess break out at the foundation of finance – central bank Credit and sovereign debt. It was a “slippery slope”; no turning back. The sordid history of inflationism has been replayed: once monetary inflation commences it becomes virtually impossible to stop. There was barely a pause following the ECB’s $2.6 TN QE program before the electronic “printing presses” were fired up again. The Fed’s balance sheet inflated from less than $1.0 TN pre-crisis to $4.5 TN. After contracting to $3.7 TN this past August, it’s now quickly back above $4.0 TN. The Bank of Japan hasn’t even attempted to rein in QE, with assets at a record $5.3 TN – up from the pre-crisis $1.0 TN.


  34. Alice Friedemann pulls together in one place all of the arguments that support a rapid collapse of civilization over the next 5 to 10 years.


    Even though I’ve been reading and writing about peak everything since 2001, and the rise and fall of civilizations for 40 years, it is hard for me to believe a crash could happen so fast. It is hard to believe there could ever be a time that isn’t just like now. That there could ever be a time when I can’t hop into my car and drive 10,000 miles.

    I can imagine the future all too well, but it is so hard to believe it.

    Believe it.


  35. Antonio Turiel is manning a booth at COP25 in Madrid and discusses the absurdity of the entire affair. No one is discussing the real issues: resource depletion, overshoot, and the need for rapid contraction. The issues that are being discussed, like the Green New Deal, are pure fantasy and will not help our predicament.

    He also reminds us that diesel, the blood of our civilization, will probably contract first, and there are signs that diesel has already started to decline.



  36. Nice end of year update by Adam Taggart at Peak Prosperity.


    What we are experiencing right now is a ‘time lag’ between the collapse of the argument underlying the 10-year bull market and investors’ recognition of that.

    A full decade and some $14 Trillion in newly-printed money later, plus the cheapest interest rates in recorded history, and yet the central banks have not been able to restore growth to the global economy. The experiment has failed.

    And what do we have to show for it?

    The worst wealth gap in history. An impoverishment of future generations, who will be stuck paying off our recent debt orgy.


  37. Nice to see William Rees, a retired UBC professor that I respect, writing again.

    Part 1: Don’t Call Me a Pessimist on Climate Change. I Am a Realist

    If we divide 2018 into energy segments, oil, coal and natural gas powered the globe for 309 out of 365 days, hydro and nuclear energy gave us 41 days, and non-hydro renewables (solar panels, wind turbines, biomass) a mere 15 days. If the race is towards a decarbonized finish line by 2050, we’re still pretty much stalled at the gate.

    Fact: Despite the hype about the green energy revolution and enhanced efficiency, the global community in 2019 remains addicted to fossil energy and no real cure is on the horizon.

    Part 2: Memo from a Climate Crisis Realist: The Choice before Us

    So, where might we go from here? A rational world with a good grasp of reality would have begun articulating a long-term wind-down strategy 20 or 30 years ago. The needed global emergency plan would certainly have included most of the 11 realistic responses to the climate crisis listed below — which, even if implemented today would at least slow the coming unravelling. And no, the currently proposed Green New Deal won’t do it.

    Here, then, is what an effective “Green New Deal” might look like:

    1. Formal recognition of the end of material growth and the need to reduce the human ecological footprint;

    2. Acknowledgement that, as long as we remain in overshoot — exploiting essential ecosystems faster than they can regenerate — sustainable production/consumption means less production/consumption;

    3. Recognition of the theoretical and practical difficulties/impossibility of an all-green quantitatively equivalent energy transition;

    4. Assistance to communities, families and individuals to facilitate the adoption of sustainable lifestyles (even North Americans lived happily on half the energy per capita in the 1960s that we use today);

    5. Identification and implementation of strategies (e.g., taxes, fines) to encourage/force individuals and corporations to eliminate unnecessary fossil fuel use and reduce energy waste (half or more of energy “consumed” is wasted through inefficiencies and carelessness);

    6. Programs to retrain the workforce for constructive employment in the new survival economy;

    7. Policies to restructure the global and national economies to remain within the remaining “allowable” carbon budget while developing/improving sustainable energy alternatives;

    8. Processes to allocate the remaining carbon budget (through rationing, quotas, etc.) fairly to essential uses only, such as food production, space/water heating, inter-urban transportation;

    9. Plans to reduce the need for interregional transportation and increase regional resilience by re-localizing essential economic activity (de-globalization);

    10. Recognition that equitable sustainability requires fiscal mechanisms for income/wealth redistribution;

    11. A global population strategy to enable a smooth descent to the two to three billion that could live comfortably indefinitely within the biophysical means of nature.

    “What? A deliberate contraction? That’s not going to happen!” I hear you say. And you are probably correct. It should by now be clear that H. sapiens is not primarily a rational species.

    But in being correct you only prove me correct. Disastrous climate change and energy shortages are near certainties in this century and global societal collapse a growing possibility that puts billions at risk.


  38. Christopher Ketcham with a nice retrospective and validation of the 1972 Limits to Growth study by Dennis Meadows et. al.

    THE FALLACY OF ENDLESS ECONOMIC GROWTH: What economists around the world get wrong about the future.

    I called up Meadows to ask him what he thought about Limits to Growth 44 years after its publication. He said that he was optimistic in 1972. There was time enough to divert the ship of too-muchness from its collision course with the iceberg. But last summer he sounded depressed and somewhat cynical. Business-as-usual, he said, risks a chaotic implosion imposed by nature, followed by geopolitical turmoil and resource wars. This now seemed to be our likely path, and it was time, he said, to prepare for “system shock.”

    Meadows sees a link between limits to growth and what he calls “the authoritarian tsunami that is sweeping across Western democracies.” He believes that global society has already entered the phase where the capacity to grow, to generate real new wealth, is declining. When growth stops, tensions mount. “Adapting our institutions, population, aspirations, culture, norms, and capital to this new phase of zero and negative growth,” Meadows told me, “will entail many decades of change that most people will experience as a deterioration of order”—and thus as a mandate for more-authoritarian government.


    1. Shit is getting very, very real now Rob. This interview with Dennis Meadows, along with the Peter Carter interview you posted below, are just goddamn terrifying. I’ve been reading your blog, along with Megacancer, Tim Morgan’s, and related sites for many years and I’ve never been this immediately alarmed (though I have been very alarmed for many, many years).

      I applaud your efforts to discuss concrete, survival-focused issues because that’s what is truly needed right now. Though it’s hard to know for certain what will really work. Rice, beans, antibiotics, painkillers, guns . . . short-term solutions at best? I don’t know. But we need to discuss our options, that is certain. Thank you for more excellent posts. Please keep them coming.


  39. I love it when someone cuts through the bullshit and explains what’s going on. Something big has been going on in the repo market for a few months and I did not understand it until now. Basically the US government is borrowing more money than the market is comfortable lending. So the central bank stepped in and printed more than $430,000,000,000 to buy 90% of the US government debt over the last 3 months. If they had not done this the interest rate would have gone up and there would have been a mushroom cloud over Wall Street. So now the question is, how long can this continue before the monkeys become aware and scramble for safety?



  40. Tim Watkins illuminates the UK election results.


    Underlying all of this is the stark reality that British politics became a zero sum game back in 2005 when the UK became a net importer of oil and gas. The false prosperity between 1995 and 2005, built upon a mountain of debt underwritten by the export revenues from the North Sea was bound to come to an end, even if the entire western financial sector hadn’t imploded in 2008. In many respects, Britain is not dissimilar to any other failing oil state.

    The economic crisis documented by Tim Morgan and others is not going to go away just because a bunch of faux-populist right wing spivs and chancers are being elected around the world. Nor are our even greater resource-depletion and environmental problems going to be resolved by a retreat to nineteenth century nationalisms (although energy and resource depletion will force us to relocalise anyway). In the end, the false hope of a left wing green new deal is no more likely to reverse the collapse into a new dark age than nationalistic promises to take back control and to make countries great again.

    Personally, I would have preferred a Corbyn-led government to a Johnson-led one only because they have a (slightly) better grasp of the economic and environmental components of our predicament; and because they are (slightly) less likely to support the elite against the people when the SHTF again. But let us be clear here; the collapse and break-up of the UK that Johnson’s Tories will now preside over was going to happen whoever won yesterday’s election. And as things continue to fall apart, the scope for a government of any persuasion to take action will all but disappear.

    The best we can say about yesterday’s result – to paraphrase John Michael Greer – is that at least Britain is getting its collapse in early to avoid the rush.


  41. Dr. Peter Carter confirms that our best and brightest at COP25 continue to deny reality.

    Despite my understanding of the genetic basis for reality denial, I still find it amazing that our leaders don’t see the large elephants in the room. I get that there are no painless actions we can take, but they don’t even honestly discuss our predicament.


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