The un-Denial Decision Tree

This post was inspired by a comment from reader Kira. She asked if denying climate change was the same as denying death. I answered as follows:

“I suspect there are 2 main groups of people:

One group is the 95% of the population that doesn’t really understand the science or the severity of the problem. They see bad things happening with the weather, but they also hear on the news that countries have signed an agreement to prevent the temperature from rising more than 2 degrees, and they see neighbors buying solar panels and electric cars, which they’re told by experts are solutions to climate change, so their optimism bias that comes from genetic reality denial leads them to conclude that the climate problem is being addressed, and they put it out of mind.

The other group is the 5% that does understand the science and the severity of climate change. These people have enough intelligence and education to conclude that we are already screwed regardless of what we do, and that any effective mitigation effort must involve a rapid decrease in population and/or per capita consumption. It is within this group that genetic denial of unpleasant realities is operating in full force. Most of these experts genuinely believe that climate change can be safely constrained, and economic growth can continue, by replacing fossil energy with solar/wind energy and by using machines to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. These beliefs are so absurd, and so contrary to basic high school level science, that there can be no other explanation than genetic realty denial. In this group, maybe it is death that is the main thing being denied.”

Kira said she agreed and then suggested it might be better to let people, and especially young people, remain in blissful ignorance so that they do not become depressed and lose a sense of purpose.

I thought about it and created the following decision tree of possible paths to answer her question.

  1. Humans are in serious trouble
    1. Disagree (I believe in God or Steven Pinker)
      • path: Carry on and oppose anything that threatens your beliefs and lifestyle
    2. Agree (I believe my eyes)
      1. It’s too late to do anything useful (nature’s forces now dominate human forces)
        1. Agree (a reasonable position given the data, but only if you think other species don’t matter, and 8 billion suffering humans is no worse than 8 billion minus 1 suffering humans)
          • path: Try not to think about it and enjoy the good days that remain and/or do some prepping to extend your good days
        2. Disagree (there’s still time to make the future less bad, even if all we do is reduce harm to other species and/or total human suffering)
          1. Humans can’t or won’t change their behavior in time
            1. Agree (most of history says we only change when forced, and the coming debt/energy/climate collapse will be too severe for any good to come of it)
              • path: Try not to think about it and enjoy the good days that remain and/or do some prepping to extend your good days
            2. Disagree (I believe Sapolsky that behavior is plastic and we have enough energy left to build a softer landing zone)
              1. Genetic reality denial blocks any useful change
                1. Disagree (I deny that I deny reality)
                  • path: Make yourself feel good by recycling your garbage, shopping with reusable bags, buying an electric car, and voting Green
                2. Agree (it’s not possible to act optimally without understanding reality)
                  1. Awareness of genetic realty denial will increase awareness of reality
                    1. Disagree (most people just want to pay their bills and watch TV)
                      • path: Try not to think about it and enjoy the good days that remain and/or do some prepping to extend your good days
                    2. Agree (most people want to learn)
                      1. Awareness of reality will cause positive behavior changes
                        1. Disagree (if the majority understood reality it would be Mad Max)
                          • path: Try not to think about it and enjoy the good days that remain and/or do some prepping to extend your good days
                        2. Agree (most people want to do the right thing, especially if pain is shared fairly)

This tree of (usually subconscious) decisions a person must make to decide which path to take about human overshoot results in 7 possible paths.

Six of the paths do not improve the outcome. One of the paths might improve the outcome, but has a very low probability of success because it’s currently occupied by a single old uncharismatic antisocial engineer.

Most people who really understand our overshoot predicament would probably discard my complicated decision tree and focus on a single issue: humans can’t or won’t change.

This view was recently voiced by reader Apneaman in a comment:

But can’t/wont. Have not.

Why? Like Sabine says…………

Now, some have tried to define free will by the “ability to have done otherwise”. But that’s just empty words. If you did one thing, there is no evidence you could have done something else because, well, you didn’t. Really there is always only your fantasy of having done otherwise.

No plan, no matter how spiffy & technically feasible, or logical argument can convince me that the humans are capable of collective change. I’ll need to see it to believe it. Same as God. Only Jesus floating down from the firmament & performing 10 miracles that are so spectacular they would make illusionist David Copperfield blush could convince me of the supernatural.

While true that it’s difficult to cause people to collectively do things they find unpleasant, or that conflict with the MPP objectives of their genes, it’s not impossible and not without precedent. I gave the following examples:

When the Canadian government says to its citizens:

  • Everyone must pay about 50% of their income as tax to operate the country.
    • Most citizens comply, and those that don’t are usually caught and forced to pay an extra penalty.
  • Germany has attacked our friend and we need our young men to risk their lives by fighting a war on a different continent.
    • Most eligible young men volunteered.
  • A virus threatens to overrun our healthcare system and we need citizens to stay at home except for essential activities which must be conducted with a mask.
    • Most citizens will comply.

Now if the Canadian government said to its citizens the combined threats of climate change and diesel depletion threaten our food security within 10 years, so we are putting in place incentives to encourage local food production and processing, and to decrease food imports, I think most citizens would support the plan.

If then after a couple years of further study and communication on the threat, the government said we don’t think there will be enough food to support our population in 10 years so we are stopping immigration and requiring families to have no more than one child, I think most citizens would comply.

The issue of course is that the Canadian government is not going to acknowledge or act on our overshoot threat in this manner.


I think it’s due to our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities, whenever we can get away with it.

Taxes, war, and viruses are very unpleasant, but they’re in your face and impossible to deny.

Food shortages 10 years out are easy to deny.

How do we change this?

It has to start with discussing and trying to understand our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities. Hence the path I’ve personally chosen in the above tree.

202 thoughts on “The un-Denial Decision Tree”

    1. I think Tverberg’s argument can be used as the basis of a global solution to the reality of Peak Energy, as long as a couple of unstated presumptions can be cleverly thought through and then put aside altogether.

      The argument pretty much starts from the presumption that there is a fixed relationship between energy prices and the health of the economy. It states that one way to boost energy prices would be “a truly booming world economy. This is what raised prices in the 1970s and in the run up to 2008.”

      The boom over that period was fuelled by two factors, oil and debt. The oil part of the equation expanded the real economy, but most of the expansion was not creating useful real world capital, but in overconsumption which destroys real world capital. The debt part of the equation expanded a giant bubble of speculation and asset price inflation, which persists to this day, even after the near crash of the GFC. This financial bubble has no benefit whatsoever to the real world or the real sector of the economy, it only serves the parasites that feed on the bubble from the inside.

      The boom was a dud. It was a completely inefficient use of available resources to produce something with no lasting value. The last thing we should want is to return to such recklessness and waste. But the first piece of good news is that the boom can not be restored anyway. The consumerised societies which do the vast majority of overconsumption, and therefore deplete most of the world’s resources, are already saturated with debt. The debt fuelled portion of growth is pushing up against real constraints.

      Also, real world capital has been depleted and destroyed to such an extent that the exploitation of real world capital comes with diminishing returns, and threatens a total collapse of natural processes and systems that keep the biosphere stable. So the oil fuelled portion of growth is also pushing up against real constraints, because nature no longer has the capacity to expel the excessive heat trapped in the biosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels.

      So the relationship between energy prices and economic activity is nowhere near as simple or fixed as the starting presumption would have it. It is certainly not linear, and almost approaches chaos as we push the system closer to the limits to growth.

      Oil prices will indeed rise as more and more excess money comes into the system as banks create debt, as long as that debt is funding real world activity. If instead debt is created for the sake of speculation and the search for marginal yields in the financial sector, then the new money entering the system does not push oil prices upwards.

      The second piece of good news is that we can have control over the amount of money and debt coming into the system, if we are willing and able to change the model of finance, from one that presumes infinite growth is possible, to one that remains stable through periods of economic contraction. In other words, if we go from an insane model of finance that pretends that there will always be enough future growth that no level of indebtedness is a problem, to a sane model of finance where only enough money and debt are created to serve the needs of the real and productive sector of the economy.

      The third piece of good news that we can also have much greater control over the energy efficiency of the industrial system, by placing a penalty price on the consumption of fossil fuels equal to the cost of reversing the carbon emissions involved. The enormous revenues collected would fund a competitive global carbon sinking industry.

      Such a price would change everything. People might need to really slow down and think about it before the magnitude of this point is truly understood and appreciated.

      This is exceedingly important, because it will become crystal clear that all other arguments about what can and should be done, for the economy and for the planet and the human civilisation that it supports, become either redundant or excessively trivial.

      A price on carbon emissions fully funding a price on carbon sinking would completely transform the world, not just the economy but also how the industrial system interacts with the natural systems of the planet. It constitutes a fundamental realignment of the most powerful forces acting on Earth, and makes them finally all push in the same direction, which if we set the goals correctly means towards prosperity and sustainability.

      See an outline of how the system would work and how it would completely transform the outcomes markets generate here:

      So, this concept of a global carbon sinking industry is a great opportunity for all of us to see how our situation can be radically improved. Essentially there seem to be just two presumptions that prevent otherwise capable people like Tverberg from seeing what is possible: (1) That we have to work within the model of finance that we have now. And (2) That we have no power to control what markets do.

      Both of these are not necessarily true. There are no rules of physics, or thermodynamics, or economics that stand in the way of a sensible model of finance and control of market outcomes using pricing signals.

      Yes there are enormous psychological and political barriers to these fundamental system improvements, but they are only virtual barriers, which can be overcome with vision, argument, and building of political support for reform.

      All I am asking is that those who are willing and able to zoom out to the bigger picture, and to question some of the fundamental presumptions that generally leave us powerless to change the system, at least have a read and a think about it. It just might expand your perspective and improve your outlook.


      1. Today we are emitting carbon ten million times faster than its natural sinking time. Thus Brandon’s plan would entail something like slashing emissions by a factor of ten and boosting the natural sinking time by a factor of a million. To make that reality we would have to skip 90% of our meals or 90 % of population would have to switch to breatharianism. (There are ten calories of fossil fuels behind every calorie of our food.) We should also plant each year 180 billion km2 of new forests which is over a thousand times the land surface of the planet. (Today we are losing 180,000 km2 of tree cover each year.)

        That way we would become carbon neutral. However, global warming would unfortunately continue because there is already too much carbon in the atmosphere. Maybe switching to negative food and planting even more trees would do the trick.


        1. Clearly you are overlooking Nature’s tremendous power to sink carbon via natural carbon sinks and agricultural soils. The reality is more like a 5% decrease in total emissions coupled with a 5% increase in carbon sinking in order to stabilise the climate at net zero emissions, and with a 10% increase in carbon sinking to reverse the accumulation of heat in the system and drive significant negative net emissions.

          No need to panic about this oversight though. The answers are all already here in comments on this thread. Just look around for “Boosting Nature” and you will find a link to comprehensive resources with all the explanations.

          The link in the comment you are responding to explains the very public policy mechanism we can use to guarantee we get the outcome we want, over whatever reasonable time scale we choose.

          You are free to challenge any of the specific assertions in either argument, and that would certainly be more constructive than simply failing to absorb the arguments, and misrepresenting conclusions because of a failure to be across the details.

          You seem to have no idea about the relative scale of the problem. The excess heat being trapped within the Earth-atmosphere system is only 1% of incident solar radiation. The political task of solving climate change might seem enormous and beyond any reasonable capacity for system reform, at least at first glance, but the technical task of solving climate change is actually quite simple. Nature knows what to do, and we know exactly how we can work with nature rather than against it.


          1. Nature has indeed tremendous power to sink carbon via natural carbon sinks and agricultural soils. That’s why fossil fuels exist. But it takes a lot of time. Carbon released since 1994 equals to over 50 million years of plant growth which was needed to sequester it.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. Humans are in serious trouble – but warming is among the LEAST serious of our problems. Sure, it would be highly destructive (eventually) to our global economy, but that’s already doomed from other factors, and probably much sooner.
      It’s our ongoing and accelerating general resource destruction that’s going to trigger the crisis, and our denial and blame system is going to turn that crisis into global warfare, as we point fingers and blame the wrong things for the problems – because we are STILL in such total denial that it’s simply a consequence of overpopulation in a species incapable of adequate self-restraint.
      The problem is the same NO MATTER the ambient temperature!! A warmer world will be fine once we adjust to it – but that’s not even the issue we are facing, it’s just a distraction!


  1. Some elegant prose from James today…

    I look at the same reality and marvel at how lucky we are to have evolved a unique brain, and to be alive with it in a very narrow window of time, when it can understand its origin, and what it’s doing to the rare planet that enabled it. Except of course for those majority of brains that deny reality.

    Humans and all other life forms are the most appalling means for facilitating the creation of entropy. To achieve the electromagnetic state of maximum entropy through consuming each other is an abysmal creation of the universe. Let no tasty nugget go unmetabolized. Even after initially exhausting the energy of a primeval pool of molecules, the game was kept going by a daily dose of electromagnetic manna from heaven which eventually gave rise to algae, vascular plants and the like. Poor bastards, full of delicious and energy-packed molecules, their efforts at accelerating the passage of the sun’s rays into space was inadequate. Their bodies contained too much reducible fuel to let go unmolested. And so was born the species of gnarly-toothed grazers to accelerate their conversion into feces and heat. And so began the Lotka-Volterra two-step, a state of eternal hell. And so it went for many years with one species after another coming into being to help the universe in its on-going expansion of space and time by consuming each other. Often the appetite of the universe was so great that the component cells of a dutiful dissipative being would start a cancerous fire of self-immolation.

    And finally the universe produced the human, the greatest earthly consumer of them all. They stuffed fuel into their metabolic furnaces at the most prodigious rate and through a twist of fate, in mixing a diamond with a pearl (Kid Charlemagne style) they turned their technology on the world. “Marvelous”, said the universe. “Not only are you my top predator, you have reinvented life at a scale that will most assuredly consume everything in sight.” And so they did. They spent day and night building furnaces and conduits into which they fed all sorts of fuels. To speed things up they created money and loaned it to anyone with an idea for burning more. It was a marvelous bonfire for the insatiable Gods with each pop and crackle of the fire echoing into vast empty space. The human minions of entropy could not get enough, their portfolios of potential were vast, their homes large, their jets ready to make entropy upon demand. They even went to war and killed each other to gain access to more fuel. Their egotistical self-worth was expressed in the amount of entropic success they could achieve. But eventually, after many years of stunning radiation, there was not so much to burn. Very sad for a being whose whole life is about burning things. And as they finally depleted the potential of their gradients the universe let out a great burp of methane and hydrogen sulfide thereby marking the end of the era of humans. The sun continued burning for billions of more years until its fuel too was exhausted, having provided many more generations of unconscious and unwitting beings the spark of life to propel them along the entropic highway to nowhere.


  2. Thanks to James @ for this tip.

    Even Extinction Rebellion can’t discuss the need for rapid population reduction policies. Instead let’s pretend we’re doing something useful by being a vegan. Idiocy or denial?

    I left this comment on YouTube:

    Very good summary of the threat. Very poor understanding of what to do about it. Burning carbon is the human economy, and renewable energy depends on burning carbon. Two things must be done. First, increase the interest rate which will shrink the economy and make everyone poorer so we burn less carbon. Second, implement democratically supported rapid population reduction policies. Population reduction reduces burning carbon, but in addition, if it is too late to prevent a climate incompatible with civilization, then we will still have reduced total suffering, and perhaps saved a few other species.


    1. In the next installment, we find out how to make glass, concrete, and Teslas without fossil fuel. As an alternative, there will be substitutes that require no fossil fuel.


    1. I wouldn’t characterise it like that. I would suggest that every single challenge to my argument that is worthy of a response has been successfully addressed. My main comment on page 6 starts a long subthread that I have just continued on the latest page … so many comments that it gets awkward to navigate.


        1. Fertilizer and steel should be added to the list of important examples. But I challenge anyone to identify a single material thing in their lives that does not depend on non-renewable, finite, and depleting (low cost already depleted) fossil energy.


              1. Geese mow and fertilise grass and I can cook without any fossil fuels where I am (though getting the fire going is a major pain with flint stone). Once cooked the bird falls apart.
                Thanks for the great posts you do Rob.

                Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting post this morning by Alice Friedemann on why so few people (1 in 10,000) understand peak oil (aka human overshoot).

    Dozens of peak oil aware people speculate on why limits to growth and overshoot are never discussed or acted on. Not one of them has a clue that the unique human brain exists because it evolved to deny unpleasant realties.

    So how many people understand Varki’s MORT theory? I’d guess 1 in 100,000,0000. Readers here belong to a very elite club.

    Obviously the planet is finite. We’re using many times more oil than we’re discovering, and therefore at some point global oil production will peak and decline. Yet even in 2019 this reality is denied by most, so much so that low prices after the last financial crash caused by high oil prices, has led to the public buying gas guzzling light trucks and SUVs.

    What follows are the experiences of members of several peak oil groups (energyresources, runningonempty, sfbayoil, and so on, most of them from 2000 to 2005) about their experiences of trying to tell friends and family about peak oil and limits to growth.

    If Joe-Six-pack knew about the peak; knew that everyone in authority and most of academia had been lying to him for at least 20 years; knew the best his kids could hope for was a painless death; the resultant rioting, looting, and total breakdown in infrastructure would make any solution impossible. That’s the best reason NOT to tell the public.

    FYI, I disagree with the idea that our leaders are lying to us. I think they’re as much in denial as the people they lead.


    1. Rob,
      I found all the comments on Alice’s post interesting in a very depressing sort of self-identifying way. So many of the comments consisted of the writer coming to the conclusion that we are in terminal overshoot due to easily available energy depletion (along with other industrial inputs) AND then their trying to communicate that to friends, relatives, etc. They all got rejected (denial for sure) by the people they tried to educate and for many like myself were made very lonely by the experience. I don’t think I saw anyone make the leap (perhaps there were a few?) to the conclusion that we need vastly fewer humans very rapidly. I am in a constant state of depression (maybe its the lack of sunshine in the PNW?) about this and the denial all around me. As Albert Bates stated today, McPherson is probably right about NTHE due to catastrophic climate change and even though he says there is a slight chance we could do what is necessary to avoid extinction he is not very hopeful. Bad news all around.
      Sorry to always be such a downer.


      1. Hi AJ,
        I used to be depressed but am feeling much better these days. You might try one or more of the things that have helped me:
        1) Take pleasure from understanding what others do not even see. It’s feels good not to be an idiot in denial.
        2) Be grateful for being alive at the peak of what may be possible in the universe. What other point in the life of the universe would be better to be alive?
        3) Take advantage of the near infinite free resources that are available to learn.
        4) Use your awareness to prepare for what is coming. Doing something proactive feels good.
        5) Do some hard physical labor on something useful.
        6) Walk in nature as often as possible.


  4. Gail Tverberg’s answer to a few simple but important questions…

    LWA on November 14, 2020 at 12:57 pm said:

    Hi Gail,

    I just recently began reading your blog and I think it’s really interesting. I have a couple of questions:

    1) Why do you expect total world energy consumption to plunge the next decades until 2050?

    2) Why do you think that the world population will drop to 2.8b in 2050? (The UN for example expects a population of 9.7b in 2050)

    3) Do you think it’s possible to replace fossil fuels entirely with renewable energies? Why or why not and what are the consequences for developed world societies if energy isn’t abundantly available? (This could probably be an entire blog post)

    Thank you and have a good weekend!

    Reply ↓

    Gail Tverberg
    on November 14, 2020 at 3:18 pm said:

    It is hard to explain these thing is the space of a comment.

    1) Regarding why world energy energy consumption is likely to plunge, it is only possible to use energy if we have a healthy world economy to utilize the energy. We need to have consumers who can afford to buy houses and cars. We need airlines to be operating, so people can visit far-off lands, if they choose. We need schools to be open so children can learn the things we expect them to learn, and also so that they provide “free” child care services, so that their mothers can work.

    A big issue is diminishing returns, in other word, extracting resources required more and more energy, because fossil fuels (and other mineral resources) are deeper, or are in thinner seams, or are more diluted with materials we don’t want. There is a similar problem with growing food, which is another type of energy resource. The amount of arable land doesn’t go up, but the population does. We can work around this problem by using more irrigation and soil amendments. “Fished out” oceans can be replaced by fish farms, which require fossil fuel energy to operate. Desalination can be used to provide water, if deeper wells are not sufficient.

    Because of diminishing returns, the true “cost” in terms of the energy required to keep the whole system operating keeps increasing, but the benefit we get from a given amount of resources tends to fall. Fortunately, increases technology and specialization (“complexity”) can fix the situation for a while. Added debt at ever-lower interest rates can hide the problem as well.

    Economists have convinced themselves and others that there will never be a problem. Scarcity will cause prices of energy products to rise, and we will be able to extract all of the fossil fuels that seem to be available. This is not really the way it works, however. Energy products are well-hidden within everything we buy. Except possibly for gasoline used for personal transport, the cost of energy is usually deeply buried in things we buy regularly. A great deal of oil goes into growing food, for example, and we don’t stop eating food. Oil is also used in paving roads, and we are required to pay taxes to cover this cost. <While the cost of extracting energy products rises, the price oil that the consumers of the economy can withstand at some point stops rising, and starts falling. The many poor consumers especially get “priced out” of buying discretionary goods. An important point that people miss is that energy is what allows people to have jobs that pay well. When oil consumption gets cut back, even if it is because of a government “stay at home” mandate, people (waiters and waitresses; airlines personnel) lose their jobs.

    Once prices fall too low for energy producers, this tend to lead to a self-reinforcing system. More and more of them go out of business, because they cannot make a profit, reducing energy consumption further. More people lose their jobs, indirectly because there is not enough energy to go around. It might be because governments cannot collect enough taxes, and because of this lay off workers (or there could also be a temporary spike in energy prices that leads to cutbacks by consumers). Drilling rig companies that have gone out of business cannot easily come back, even if prices temporarily spike. The many women who were able to work because the schools provided free child care discover that they need to be at home, until their children can take care of themselves. The economy is essentially making fewer and fewer goods and services, so in the aggregate, everyone can buy less and less. The financial system cannot really handle a declining economy. Debt defaults will cause huge problems for banks.

    We know that historically, many economy have suffered from overshoot and collapse. In fact, the base model described in the book “The Limits to Growth,” by Donella Meadows et al in 1972 said that this collapse would happen about now. But this is an uncomfortable finding. No one wants to even consider this possibility, but it seems to be exactly what is happening. Pandemics were often part of prior collapses, because poor people did not get adequate diets, making them vulnerable to communicable diseases. This seems to be happening again this time.

    2) Why do you think that the world population will drop to 2.8b in 2050? We know that before fossil fuels were used extensively, world population was no more than 1.0 billion, so perhaps that might be a reasonable estimate. In the academic book, Secular Cycles, the “crisis” period seemed to go on between 20 and 50 years.

    I took the benefit of the doubt and said that perhaps we would still have quite a bit left in 2050, which would be only 30 years. This may be wishful thinking.

    3) No, I don’t think that it is possible to replace fossil fuels entirely with renewable energy. In fact, renewable energy cannot even stand on its own for very long, without fossil fuels. I suggest looking through my website for some of my many posts on this issue. Transmission lines fall down. Wind turbine parts frequently break. A whole system of roads need to be in place.

    I will leave it to your imagination as to how we deal with this mess. Current governments fail fairly early, as far as I can tell. We will need a much cheaper system, such as kings overseeing minimal local governments. International trade will shrink in importance.

    Reply ↓

    Norman Pagett
    on November 14, 2020 at 3:33 pm said:

    No matter how much fossil fuel is available, it will stay in the ground if people can’t afford to use it.


  5. I recently bought a 6 piece sheet set for my bed for $30 which is about 90 minutes of minimum wage labor. I was curious how something so useful for a comfortable life can be so inexpensive.

    This is how fabric was made before fossil energy:

    This is how fabric is made today:


    1. Rob, As someone that lurks here, I think that’s the best example I’ve ever seen of where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we’re returning to. Thanks for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wise and aware countries would move to re-localize economic activity critical to survival.

    Instead countries continue to increase their fragility because they deny the reality of energy depletion.

    China and 14 other countries agreed Sunday to set up the world’s largest trading bloc, encompassing nearly a third of all economic activity, in a deal many in Asia are hoping will help hasten a recovery from the shocks of the pandemic.


  7. Another smart guy with a very good understanding of the threat, and very deep denial of what to do about it. Worth watching for an update on what’s going on in the Arctic.

    The question is no longer if methane will be released in large volume, but when.


  8. Worth watching.

    Another smart guy that understands economic growth has stopped for some “structural” reason, but does not understand (or denies) the cause.

    How is it possible that there are no smart guys in the mainstream that understand what’s going on?

    It’s not, without Varki’s MORT theory being in play.


    1. Our universe fosters dissipative structures that maximize profit, growth, reproduction and entropy production. That’s us in a nutshell. There is no other “way of life”. If there is another way of life the universe will get rid of it in favor of one which maximizes. “We’re number one” and “I’m gonna get rich.” resonate throughout the land. All of the dissipatives like the guy above are obsessed with getting money (energy) and how much they’ll get to burn. Stocks, bonds, gold, they want to turn it into a “burn” in one way or another. They can’t question reproduction or even capitalism and conveniently ignore and deny the perils of climate change. To facilitate even greater profit and growth the evolving Big Tech even wants to upgrade its RNA (that’s us). It’s no longer possible to be a human, we must be functionally changed to eliminate those parts of humanity that do not contribute to profit and growth. A good example is concentration on STEM programs in colleges. More science, more engineers, more growth, faster, faster……………………….

      There are over a trillion dissipating stars in the Andromeda Galaxy. The universe does not need our contribution to entropy and technological race to nowhere.


  9. So we are in very deep denial of what to do about this nice mess. But does it matter if we are in denial or not? Should we vote? Rob says he votes no more because it doesn’t matter. Indeed, according to physicists, we are nothing but ephimenomenal collections of elementary particles that obey only the four laws of physics. So to be a denialist or not to be a denialist, that is surely a question, but it is a poor question asked by an idiot. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. Cheers!


    1. If I said voting does not matter I misspoke. Voting matters very much, provided rapid population reduction policies are on the menu of choices.

      If it’s important I understand the poetry you’ll have to translate it for me. To me poetry is a word salad created by someone being obtuse to appear intelligent, rather than simply saying what they want to say with a few clear words.


  10. “Our universe fosters dissipative structures that maximize profit, growth, reproduction and entropy production. That’s us in a nutshell.” Sounds reasonable. That’s something easy to understand, like wrestling and Ronald McDonald. But what exactly is “our universe”? According to Erwin Schrödinger, a founding father of quantum physics, there is no such thing and there is no such thing as “we”. We’re all hypnotized. My experience with engineers (I have a MSc in Chem. Eng) is that they are arrogant and stupid. What if the engineering brain is wrong? I could write about this on and on but no one is interested. I’m on my own.

    Click to access What-is-Life.pdf


    1. “What if the engineering brain is wrong?”

      What point are you making? If you think there is a better explanation than Varki’s MORT theory for the emergence of the uniquely powerful human brain, and it’s denial of everything that is important, then please state what it is so we can discuss.


      1. I’m in still in a stalemate and so are you. Here’s our stalemate: In our contemporary neurobiology and much of the philosophy of mind post Descartes we are classical physics machines and either mindless, or mind is at best epiphenomenal and can have no consequences for the physical world. If we are mindless, then we are zombies and have no consequences for the physical world. If our mind is epiphenomenal, it can have no consequences for the physical world. In either case, Varki’s MORT theory has absolutely zero causal powers and there is nothing less useless than his MORT theory. Dr Kauffman is one of those who tried to solve this ancient problem, perhaps without much success.


        1. I was about to dismiss your comment as woo-woo but decided to give you the benefit of the doubt and I dug into Kauffman to find that he is controversial but not an idiot.

          I do not share your views or his. I don’t think there’s any big mystery about consciousness. And I do think Varki’s MORT theory, while maybe not helpful for our overshoot predicament as my efforts to date have shown, does explain much about the uniqueness of the human brain, and the insanity we swim in, which is of value to those interested in understanding why high intelligence is so selective about what it understands.


          1. So you don’t think there’s any big mystery about consciousness. However, science does not at all understand what is consciousness. Does it have causal powers? Can it bend spoons? In that case consciousness should be written in the laws of physics, but it is not there and spoons just sometimes bend, usually in the factory. I hate woo-woo too and I don’t want to spoil this thread. Perhaps we could discuss these things in a new ‘consciousness’ thread? If not then I will begin my long silence. I agree with physicist Mensky who says that there is a single quantum world that consists of a huge set of alternative classical worlds that are described by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. These coexisting parallel classical worlds are separated by (I think singular) consciousness so that subjectively the illusion appears of only a single world existing. Here’s his woo-woo, but is it really woo-woo?


  11. Alice Friedemann rocks today. You go girl!!

    Overshoot is THE issue.

    Climate change is one of many symptoms of overshoot.

    Climate Change dominates news coverage at expense of more important existential issues

    I’ve noticed that in the half dozen science magazines and several newspapers I get practically the only environmental stories are about climate change. Yet there are 8 other ecological boundaries (Rockstron 2009) we must not cross (shown in bold with an asterisk below) and dozens of other existential threats as well.

    Global peak oil production may have already happened in October of 2018 (Will covid-19 delay peak oil? Table 1). It is likely the decline rate will be 6%, increasing exponentially by +0.015% a year (see post “Giant oil field decline rates and peak oil”). So, after 16 years remaining oil production will be just 10% of what it was at the peak.

    If peak oil happened in 2018, then CO2 ppm levels may be under 400 by 2100 as existing and much lower emissions of CO2 are absorbed by oceans and land. The IPCC never even modeled peak oil in their dozens of scenarios because they assumed we’d be exponentially increasing our use of fossils until 2400. They never asked geologists what the oil, coal, and natural gas reserves were, assumed we’d use methane hydrates, and many other wrong assumptions.

    Meanwhile, all the ignored ecological disasters will become far more obvious. They’re papered over with fossils today. Out of fresh water? Just drill another 1,000 feet down. Eutrophied water? Build a $500 million dollar water treatment plant. Fisheries collapsed? Go to the ends of the earth to capture the remaining schools of fish.

    The real threat is declining fossil production, yet climate change gets nearly all the coverage. And I’ve left out quite a few other threats, such as “nuclear war” with 17,900 results since 2016 in

    Table 1 shows that in all of scholarly literature, NON-climate change issues comprise just 1.2% of research, USA Today 11%, WSJ 9%, & NYT 6.8%.

    The rant continues. The reason I am so annoyed with the attention to Climate Change is that it became THE PROBLEM and THE SOLUTION was to generate electricity with wind and solar power to lower emissions. But as we all know, there have been no closures of fossil fuel plants (coal plants were replaced with natural gas plants double their size) because of lack of energy storage for renewables, the inability of wind and solar to scale up, and because fossil plants still supply two-thirds of generation and peak power. Since rebuildables require fossils every single step of their life cycle, they were never were a solution. They were simply a distraction from reality.

    If the actual problem is that finite fossil fuels power our civilization and their peak production is near at hand, then carrying capacity will be far less. Pimentel (1991) estimated 40 to 100 million without fossil fuels in the U.S. So we should have been reducing LEGAL immigration to far less than the one million a year since the 1960s, made birth control and abortion free and easy to get, and have high taxes on more than 1 child.

    Most importantly, by far, is that since peak fossils is the problem, rather than CC, we need to return to organic farming and stop using pesticides, build up the soils with composting and cover crops, plant windbreaks so that soil on thousands of square miles can’t wash and blow away so easily, stockpile phosphate, start growing multiple crops everywhere locally, and so on. We need to train the youngest generation how to do this, since eventually 90% of Americans will be farmers. And anyone who can grow a victory garden should be doing it since less consumption will lower standards of living until a new economic system not dependent on endless growth develops.

    There needs to be less consumption across the board, and very high taxes on the top 1% to redistribute wealth.

    There needs to be a year or two of mandatory service after high school to do infrastructure and other worthwhile projects in agriculture, irrigation, and more to prepare for a low energy world and to lessen the need to create private sector jobs in an economy that is shrinking.

    Planting of hardwood trees and no more export of forests to Europe to burn for their “renewable” energy since we’ll need a lot of trees when we return to biomass as our main source of energy and infrastructure for ships, buildings, and charcoal to make bricks, metal, ceramics, glass, etc.

    Just look at and transition towns for ideas, the reason for their existence.

    Climate change efforts have done nothing and distracted us away from what needs to be done. CC activists didn’t even try to lower the speed limit or ration gasoline usage or days when people could drive or mandate less consumption, and just about every single paper on anything to do with energy was how to lower emissions rather than energy efficiency.

    I’ve collected reasons for why people deny a future energy crisis in “Telling others about peak oil and limits to growth”. Here’s an excerpt:

    1. It’s impossible because whad’ya mean energy crash, never heard of it.
    2. Because we’re doing fine. Just some hiccups in the supply.
    3. Because they know what they’re doing and would have told us by now.
    4. Because I haven’t got time for an energy crash right now.
    5. Even if I had time, I couldn’t afford one. Look at my credit card.
    6. The oils wells have never run dry before, so they never will.
    7. Rain refills water wells. For oil wells: acid rain or something.
    8. Because oil wells are big slot machines, put money in, get oil out.
    9. Because they’ll think of alternatives-ha-ha-silly-billy.
    10. The oil companies have things up their sleeve they’re going to bring in.
    11. Because God looks after me.
    12. I need a car for work so it’s impossible.
    13. Impossible because you’re just trying to scare us.
    14. It’s impossible because you’re crazy.
    15. It’s impossible because ya have to stay positive.

    No wonder everyone preferred Climate Change. With windmills and solar panels we could continue our lifestyle and be squeaky clean and green.

    Meanwhile, we’ve wasted decades of preparation on Climate Change instead of the energy crisis.


    1. Rob,
      I read this and was somewhat confused by her statement, “If peak oil happened in 2018, then CO2 ppm levels may be under 400 by 2100”. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the concern right now that we have tripped positive feedback loops in the Arctic (albedo, methane release, ocean temp.) that no matter if civilization collapsed today and literally all fossil fuel emissions ceased we would still be looking at NTHE in the near future? My deficient understanding(??) is those feedback loops have never been incorporated into IPCC modeling??
      I agree with her basic premise that there are other biological/physical constraints that we are pushing that can collapse civilization but unsure if she is giving sufficient weight to climate.


      1. Yes, I glossed over that possible (probable?) mistake.

        She’s in the same camp as Nate Hagens that believes peak oil will prevent the worst climate change scenarios from happening.

        I’m not a NTHE guy. I think the data says the future will be bad no matter what now, but we may still have some influence on how bad. Emphasis on “may”.

        On the other hand, I know with certainty that if we reduce the human population we will reduce total human suffering, and harm to other species.


    2. “Meanwhile, we’ve wasted decades of preparation on Climate Change instead of the energy crisis.”

      Alice is a typical deluded American. Who is this we & what/where is all this preparation? Talk is not preparation.

      Windmills (wind turbines) and solar panels have fuck all to do with AGW. Just another capitalist venture along with bio fuel, wood pellets & NatGas as a ‘bridge fuel’ (bridge over the river Styx).

      American denial – nobody does it better.

      South Dakota emergency-room nurse says some patients insist COVID-19 isn’t real even as they’re dying from it

      ‘When they should be spending time FaceTime-ing their families, they’re just filled with anger and hatred. I just can’t believe those are their last words,’ says nurse Jodi Doering

      “‘The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine and that Joe Biden is going to ruin the USA. All while gasping for breath on 100% Vapotherm. They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that “stuff” because they don’t have COVID because it’s not real.’ ”

      “Some patients are so convinced the virus does not exist that, when they test positive, they insist it must be flu, pneumonia or even lung cancer, said Doering.

      Nurses, for their part, are watching patients get sick in the same ways, receive the same hospital treatment and then die in the same way — and then the nurses come back the next day as the cycle repeats. “It’s like a movie where the credits never roll,” Doering said.

      The Dakotas are currently the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic with the fastest moving per capita case numbers, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University and the states’ own health departments. Experts says the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which took place with the encouragement of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem in August, was likely a superspreader event, as about half a million bikers are reported to have attended and many gathered closely in bars and restaurants without wearing face masks.”

      Thanks be to the exceptional people from the exceptional nation for providing me with so many exceptional schadenfreude moments. Keep up the good work.


  12. Today’s roundup of climate news from Panopticon was a doozy. One sample follows.

    Greenland’s largest glaciers are currently melting at levels close to what scientists had previously expected under a future “worst-case scenario”, a study has found.

    Using a combination of aerial photographs and field data, the study found that current rates of mass loss from Greenland’s three largest glaciers are higher than once thought.

    The melting of these three glaciers added the equivalent of around 8mm to global sea levels from 1880 to 2012, according to the research.

    Previous research had estimated that the same three glaciers would contribute 9-15mm to global sea levels by 2100 under a “worst-case scenario”.


  13. Tim Watkins today on greenwashing…

    It is for this reason – and despite the likely personal hardship – that I am hoping that for once the Daily Express prediction of a Big Freeze comes true. As we found out during the pandemic, we – the public, media and politicians – only take crises seriously when we have to cope with them for real. Simply issuing warnings and running table-top emergency planning exercises are not enough. And so, with the UK now dangerously over-dependent upon wind power, only a 1982 type of cold snap in which temperatures plunge below zero for several weeks as the cold air above the country refuses to budge, will bring home to the proponents of the race to green Never Never Land just how many technical problems have to be resolved before we can even begin to implement the transition away from fossil fuels.

    Perhaps, after we have collectively shivered in the dark (maintaining strict social distancing, of course) for a couple of weeks, with intermittent access to everything from television and the internet through to food and… dare I say it… toilet paper, we can at least have a debate about the feasibility of green growth, and whether we might need to do far more to shrink our energy dependence and de-grow a large part of our economy.

    It’s a vain hope. As I said, climate change has more or less ended the prospect of the kind of winter that was common a lifetime ago. Wishing for a prolonged cold snap is likely to be about as fruitful as wishing for politicians brave enough to tell the public uncomfortable truths about the unsustainability of our current way of life. Nevertheless, sooner or later the lights will indeed be going out across Europe. And unlike a century ago, they may not come back on again.


  14. Yet another brilliant polymath in denial of everything that matters.
    “The Selfish Gene” is actually the “The Denial Gene”.


  15. Nice exchange on Megacancer today…

    James: “It seems like going forward with “progress” is untenable and going backwards without losing many people will be like tip-toeing through a minefield. After the first mine goes off everyone panics and starts running willy-nilly, the system breaks down and very few make it to safety.”

    JMS: “Very good, but ah … individuals, that’s such a rare item in this world. In fact people able to affirm the truth as they perceive it against their group’s illusions and pressures are so rare that it makes us suspect that they suffer from some genetic malfunction or mutation (or maybe a curse!).

    The fact is most people like to be liked, and an easy way to achieve this is undoubtedly to support the consensual ideology in your community.

    Going against the flow, just because it seems to be the path of truth, only brings frustration, disillusionment, loneliness and lower returns than would be obtained by following the flow. It’s not a healty occupation. To say the least.

    The only compensations available to critical minds are psychological. For example, the awareness of being a large foot closer to the truth than the herd. But inquiring and suspicious minds cannot simply do it other way. They are driven to “think against themselves” (E. Cioran), against their own interests (ie the interests of their genes).”

    James: “Being a money-grubbing, true-believer is akin to painting life’s picture with white-wash using a broad brush. On the other hand, a wide selection of colors, mixed and matched, applied with fine brushes can result in a masterpiece. When the group thinkers look inside what do they see? A pile of gold? A replay of a job that robbed them of most of their life? When the individual looks inside what do they see? A spellbinding revelation of nature in shadow and light that lays to rest any doubt that they should have done anything else with their life.

    We’re here to serve the Master, the Universe, in creating entropy and most people do just that, slavishly running on hamster wheels, stacking gold, and burning gradient in as many ways as possible. The final destination, death, is hidden from consciousness less they fail in their sacred mission which is followed shortly thereafter with collapse and oblivion.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dave Lysak: I would probably say that there is no recognizable “purpose” in any of this. I would also probably say that both entropy and life are simply consequences of an expanding, decaying, universe. however, of the two, life and entropy, entropy is universal, and life is rare. so, if there is a universal “purpose” it is to create entropy, in order to achieve equilibrium. life is a minor side show.

      “life is rare”

      And eukaryotic life is rarer.

      And having a brain with an extended theory of mind that (must) deny reality is even rarer.

      And having this brain with an improbable store of fossil energy to leverage is even rarer.

      And having this brain at the peak of complexity when the fossil energy extraction rate starts to decline due to depletion is even rarer.

      And having this brain with a defect that has enabled it to break through its tendency to deny reality and to discuss all of this on is even rarer.

      What a priveledge to be alive here and now!

      What other point in the life of the universe would be better to be alive and aware?



    The Incredibly Spiking US National Debt has soared by $3.75 trillion since March 1, powered by stimulus and bailouts, and by $4.2 trillion over the past 12 months, to $27.3 trillion, after having already spiked by $1.4 trillion in the final 12 months of the Good Times. Trillions are zooming by so fast it’s hard to even see them.

    In Q3, the Fed added $240 billion to its Treasury holdings, bringing the pile to $4.44 trillion (blue line, left scale), a record of 16.5% of the Incredibly Spiking US National Debt (red line, right scale). This is the portion of the US debt that the Fed has monetized. Over the 12-month period, the Fed added $2.4 trillion in Treasuries to its holdings, most of it since March, doubling its pile, and increasing its share of the US debt from 9.3% in Q1 to 16.5% in Q3.


      h/t Panopticon

      The coronavirus crisis pushed global debt levels to a new high of over $272 trillion in the third quarter, the Institute for International Finance said, as it warned of the “attack of the debt tsunami.”

      The institute said global debt would break new records in the coming months to reach $277 trillion by the end of the year. This would represent a debt-to-GDP ratio of 365%.


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