First Man (2017 documentary)

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I watched this video today. It’s a dramatization of human evolution using actors in makeup and is quite well done. They covered quite a bit of detail on what is known about human evolution over the last few million years.

It was in the last 5 minutes of the 90 minute documentary that I became disappointed. They acknowledged that something important happened 100,000 years ago in one small group of hominids in Africa, and that group quickly displaced all of its many close relatives around the world, and then took over the planet. But unlike with other earlier important events like walking, running, hunting, tools, fire, and cooking, they did not even speculate what happened. Nor did they seem to appreciate its significance.

It’s amazing how many people miss the forest for the trees.

This documentary was ripped by MVGroup and is available at the usual torrent places, or you can pay for it here.

https://www.nilaya.fr/en/programs/first-man

Thirty million years ago a new group of creatures appeared on planet Earth: the great apes. From their ranks arose one family, gifted with exceptional skills: our protagonists.

This family would change the face of our world forever.

Moving upright in the trees, they were then lords of the canopy, reigning supreme over limitless forests stretching from Europe to Asia. They founded a new social way of life. They created a language. They invented education as a way of passing on knowledge to their children.

But the day came when the forest no longer sufficed to feed them. Little by little, they ventured onto the ground where they developed hunting skills, and tools to improve their skills.

This early family expanded in number, producing the need to become collectively organized. Politics reared its head. Power structures and warfare soon followed.

Some now decided to risk liberating themselves for good from the world of the trees.

Our ancestors were hungry for freedom. But on the savannah, the predators were absolute kings. So our ancestors invented weapons. And, for the first time, challenged the supremacy of the big cats. A new era had begun.

Man’s early ancestors set off to conquer the world, to explore the unknown, to adapt to every environment. And one day, to conquer fire – a discovery that made them invincible.

They built shelters. They transformed their environment. But still this did not slake their thirst for more. They sought to fathom Nature’s mysteries. They invented stories to explain the inexplicable. Now, they are Men.

Here, for the very first time in television history, is the saga of our origins, told through the story of one single family – an epic journey upon which the latest scientific discoveries shine an exciting new light.

By Richard Heinberg: Saudis and Trump: Gambling Bigly

If you’re like me, you find the Middle East difficult to understand with its many tribal, religious, energy, and geopolitical themes.

This essay by Richard Heinberg does a nice job of explaining what’s going on in the Middle East today. Because our civilization depends on Middle East oil, it is an important topic worth understanding.

http://www.postcarbon.org/saudis-and-trump-gambling-bigly/

Imagine a hypothetical Middle Eastern monarchy in which:

  • Virtually all wealth comes from the extraction and sale of depleting, non-renewable, climate changing petroleum;
  • Domestic oil consumption is rising rapidly, which means that, as long as this trend continues and overall oil production doesn’t rise to compensate, the country’s net oil exports are destined to decline year by year;
  • The state has a history of supporting a radical version of Sunni Islam, but the people who live near its oilfields are mostly Shiite Muslims;
  • Power and income have been shared by direct descendants of the royal founder of the state for the past 80 years, but the thousands of princes on the take don’t always get along well;
  • Many of the princes have expatriated the wealth of the country overseas;
  • Population is growing at well over two percent annually (doubling in size every 30 years), and, as a result, 70 percent of the country is under age 30 with increasing numbers in need of a job;
  • Roughly 30 percent of the population consists of immigrants—many of whom are treated terribly—who have been brought into the country to perform labor that nationals don’t want to do;
  • A sizeable portion of the nation’s enormous wealth has been spent on elaborate weapons systems and on fighting foreign wars;
  • A powerful Shia Muslim nation located just a couple of hundred miles away has gained geopolitical advantage in recent years; and,
  • For the past three years oil prices have been too low to enable the kingdom to meet its obligations, so it has rapidly been spending down its cash reserves.

Now, ask yourself: What could possibly go wrong here?

We are, of course, discussing Saudi Arabia, which has been much in the news lately.

 

The centerpiece of “Vision 2030” is the proposal for a purpose-built city, Neom, that would be powered by solar panels and busied by cutting-edge industries like artificial intelligence, biotechnology, IoT, and robotics; its water would be supplied by desalination plants and its food grown hydroponically. Neom, if ever actually built, would most likely either be an enormous waste of billions of dollars and untold amounts of natural resources that can never be used for better purposes (as in hundreds of Chinese “ghost cities”), or would lead to an even uglier and more extreme version of haves vs. have-nots than already exists in Saudi Arabia. Add continued rapid population growth and the whole exercise becomes transparently futile.

A cheaper and more sensible plan (though likely not as popular) would be to end population growth, slash overall consumption, reduce economic inequality, make peace in the region, and aim for home-grown development of intermediate technology. Not as glamorous, not as attractive to an ambitious risk taker. But practical nonetheless.

However, even this plan comes with substantial risks, as climate change could foreclose on any progress by 2100 with deadly high temperatures that make much of the Middle East uninhabitable by humans. If the region still has a window for peaceful adaptation, it is small and quickly narrowing.

Awareness of Death

The central idea behind Varki’s Mind Over Reality Transition theory (MORT) is that awareness of death creates a barrier to evolving a more powerful brain, and humans are the only species so far to have broken through this barrier, about 100,000 years ago, by simultaneously evolving denial of reality. Two maladaptive behaviors, awareness of death enabled by an extended theory of mind and denial of reality, when improbably combined, become highly adaptive, and in a geologic blink, humans dominated all other life.

This elegant theory fits all known data, and no known data slays it. For curious students of odd human behaviors that conflict with rational intelligence, like denial of overshoot and religion, and other hard to explain human evolutionary singularities, the MORT theory is deeply satisfying. I listed my reasons for MORT enthusiasm here.

In March 2017 the Center for Academic Research & Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA) held a symposium on awareness of death at which Dr. Varki presented his theory. Included in the symposium documents was a compilation of quotations on awareness of death which I found interesting and therefore present here.

What we have here are observations by some smart people on the profundity of human awareness of death, yet none of them were able to devise a scientific theory to explain their observations.

Just as with evolution by natural selection, which in hindsight seems obvious but required Darwin to explain it, someday Mind Over Reality Transition will seem obvious and Varki will be recognized for a great leap forward in science.

Unless of course the implications of the theory prevent the theory from being understood. 🙂

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By Tim Morgan: Will things go bang soon?

Tim Morgan continues to impress.

Here he explains what caused the 2008 financial crisis, why it will happen again soon, why it will be much worse this time, and what will probably trigger it.

I challenge you to find a single example from mainstream journalism with such intelligent explanatory clarity.

It is so refreshing to find a mutant not in denial.

https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/112-will-things-go-bang-soon/

We may not be clear yet about when the next crash will come, but we understand a very great deal about the mechanism that will make it happen. Put another way, we have a narrative that puts all the pieces in the right places.

This narrative is telling us that a crash is highly likely – and that it may happen a lot sooner than we think.

Let’s start with the fundamentals. Contrary to conventional thinking, the economy isn’t really a monetary system at all, but a surplus energy dynamic. What drives the output of goods and services is the quantity of energy we can access, less the energy consumed in the access process. If the available quantity is constrained – or the energy cost of accessing it increases – the output of the economy will decrease.

Money, having no intrinsic worth, has value only as a “claim” on the output of the real economy, which means, ultimately, that money is a claim on surplus energy. Debt, as a ‘claim on future money’, is really a claim on future energy.

For more than two centuries, there has been sustained growth in available surplus energy. This has enabled total financial claims – the aggregate of money and credit – to increase as well, without toppling the financial system.

What we’ve been witnessing since the turn of the century, though, has been an increase in the energy cost of energy (ECoE), combined with emerging constraints on the quantity of accessible energy. This process makes the continued growth in aggregate money and credit dangerous, because we are creating claims that the real economy will not be able to meet.

Once understood, this process makes sense of what has been happening. Between 2000 and 2008, credit creation soared, but debt-financed growth drove up energy demand in a way that eventually brought the system to the brink of collapse. In 2001, when prices averaged $24/bbl, OECD consumers spent about $430bn on oil, of which around $240bn went on imports. By 2008, when oil averaged $97/bbl, these numbers had increased to $1,700bn and $1,050bn. Oil was now costing OECD customers $1,270bn more than it had just seven years earlier – and $810bn of that increase was being spent on the higher cost of imports.

Moreover, these huge liquidity drains are only those related to oil. Other forms of energy also soared in cost, as did energy-intensive commodities such as minerals and foodstuffs.

This was what brought the debt-financed party to an end.

Looking a little more closely at this, the increase in the cost of oil to the OECD quadrupled between 2001 and 2008. The increase in ECoE over the same period was much smaller than this. According to SEEDS, global ECoE for all energy sources rose from 4% in 2001 to 5.4% in 2008, a rise of one-third.

So the rise in market prices vastly over-cooked the underlying trend in ECoEs. In relation to this fundamental benchmark, oil was underpriced in 2001, and overpriced in 2008.

This tells us that something else was going on.

That ‘something else’ was supply constraint.

Just as westerners were bingeing on credit, emerging market economies (EMEs) were consuming more energy and other commodities, notably as exports ramped up. Rising energy demand was colliding with more pedestrian growth in supply. Investment in supply tracked market prices higher. When demand dropped after 2008, the ensuing fall in prices became inevitable.

In retrospect, we “got away with it” in 2008, for three main reasons.

First, governments’ balance sheets were strong enough for them to bail out the banks without forfeiting their own credibility, and that of their currencies.

Second, the authorities bought time by adding monetary adventurism to the established credit adventurism.

Third, the cooling of the economy took the heat out of energy markets.

To know when and if a second crash may happen, and what its results are likely to be, we need to test these three “get-outs” as they now are.

First, government balance sheets. On the basis of amounts owed (rather than the market value of bonds), the aggregate debt of advanced country governments was 67% of GDP in 2007. Now it is 102%, and still rising. Bailing out the banks now would be a lot harder than it was back in 2008. Not only are government balance sheets weaker, but bank exposure has increased as global debt has grown. To be sure, reserves ratios are higher now than they were back in 2007. But, because banks borrow short and lend long, no amount of reserving can render them immune from the consequences of a loss of faith.

Second, “monetary adventurism”. Back in 2008, typical rates were 5.25% in the United States and 4.3% in the European Union. Now, the equivalent numbers are around 1% and -0.25%. There’s no scope, then, for further monetary adventurism, unless central banks are prepared to go for deeply negative nominal rates, a policy which would be barking mad, even if it didn’t, very probably, necessitate helicopter money and the banning of cash.

So that leaves us with our third component, which is energy. Essentially, a big rise in oil prices would crash the system.

Is this likely? On balance, it is. Oil demand is growing at around 1.4 mmb/d each year. Supply has kept pace, mainly thanks to increased shale and other unconventional output, plus an increase in supply from OPEC. Neither may be sustainable. Shales are extremely capital intensive, because of the “drilling treadmill” caused by ultra-rapid decline rates. Few OPEC countries have much scope to deliver increased supplies. Underlying ECoE, SEEDS says, is 42% higher now than it was in 2007.

Put this higher ECoE together with the slump in investment caused by the fall in crude prices, and the implication is that crude prices could spike, and do so rather more quickly than is generally expected.

That, then, is what we should be watching for when looking out for another crash. All the other conditions are in place, including excessive debt, weak underlying growth (reflecting rising ECoEs), overstretched government balance sheets, and an inability to repeat the monetary adventurism of 2008-09.

All that we’re waiting for is an oil price spike, and a trigger equivalent to the “Lehman moment”.

Both may come sooner rather than later.

By JT Roberts: On Resources and How the World Really Works

I don’t know who JT Roberts is but he is very bright and is an excellent writer. I stumbled on some comments she made in a recent post by Tim Morgan and I thought they were so good I’ve copied them here.

https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/2017/10/27/111-a-spike-to-puncture-the-bubble/

In the 70s just as US domestic oil production peaked Nixon made some unusual but very interesting moves.

  • Opened China for trade
  • Established the EPA
  • Created a Petro-Dollar deal with Saudi’s
  • Took the Dollar off Gold

I have a very difficult time believing that he, or his cabinet, or congress had any clue of the significance of those particular moves. I think that in particular they would not have understood the Limits to Growth reality, since they decided not to give ear to the findings by Meadows and Forester. US wealth had been built on abundant easily accessible energy and mineral resources. The US was the manufacturer to the world up until 1970 not because of innovation but because the world couldn’t compete on price. ( The Battle of Somme was the effective killing machine it was because of the cheap steel rails that had been supplied by the US, these latter became the light gauge system in the UK ) No other country had the combination of resources at the volumes that the US had. As these became depleted it hampered growth because of affordability. Had it only been a matter of raising the price to meet increased cost of production why didn’t that happen? Affordability is the real driver of growth not supply and demand.

By opening China it gave the US access to offshore its energy intensive industries like steel production, and mining. As well as labor intensive industries like clothing. ( A population living on rice is far less costly in energy terms then one living on hamburgers) Establishing the EPA created additional pressure to move manufacturing elsewhere. The suspension of Dollar-Gold convertibility was a necessity as there wasn’t enough gold to cover the dollars in circulation. It also hampered the ability to create currency. The risk was that dollar demand would collapse but that was countered with the Petro-Dollar arraignment effectively giving the currency a place to go rather than returning to the US to be inflated away. That move calmed the markets, because they felt that at least their dollars could now be converted to oil, which is of higher value than Gold.

Saddam Hussein, and Qaddafi threatened the stability of that system. Saddam had boycotted sales of crude to the US in 2002 and started selling his oil in Euros. For 30 days he stopped all exports in a show of force that he had control of their national petroleum system. What he didn’t understand was he was threatening to limit access to what the US needs most, energy and resources. The war was the answer to that threat. Now Iraqi oil is safely in the control of the international oil majors. Qaddafi had made a similar error since his interest wasn’t to allow the state owned system to be controlled by the oil majors. He also threatened the the Petro-Dollar by creating a competing gold currency that was being used in Africa. The French were particularly at risk as it was replacing the Franc still in use in there former colonies.

If we look closely at NAFTA we see that much of it revolves around access to resources. In exchange for easier economic trade with the US, both Canada and Mexico have agreed to unlimited access to their oil and other resources. When the USSR fell we saw the same pattern. Anglo-US corporations rushed in to gain access to whatever resources they could. Putin the patriot didn’t play ball like Yeltsin. So now he is vilified. Canada and Mexico have peaked in oil production, and now NAFTA is at risk. The UK joined the EU just as it had oil to sell and promptly left when it didn’t.

What we see is a common pattern that is larger then any political system.

Capitalism is a dissipative system out of equilibrium, as all dissipative system are. Like hurricanes Capitalism requires energy input to exist, anything that threatens that will collapse the system. It must grow or die. Within the structure, like hurricanes, there can be self organized subsystems. Tornado’s, Micro-bursts, and other elements that feed off the core. With Capitalism these are corporations and governments. In order for the core to survive the entire system must grow in aggregate. As the net energy driving the system declines the structure weakens, like a hurricane on land or cold water.

Not only is it impossible to return to a local agricultural existence. It is also impossible to decouple the elements of the system. We see that with Trump. His platform was isolation, and now its war. He has no choice he’ll make similar moves as Nixon did, but it can’t work because there is no more sweet spots to exploit.

Just as the shale play is a high cost desperate act of a dying industry. (Shale was well know in the 70s but as uneconomical as it remains today) The US will attempt to turn back time with it’s military machine as it has in the past. The problem is they can’t return affordability so the system will simply grind to a halt.

I guess Adam Smith was right about an Invisible Hand.

 

Without energy to drive real growth all you have left is moving money around. I think most mistake the symptom for the cause. The lax regulations are needed to increase debt which increases money supply. So strangely the corruption is part of the system.

For example it has been documented that the primary money laundering economies are US and U.K. So for all their show as the bastions of freedom and democracy the reality is they benefit from corrupt dictators that stuff their ill gotten gains in the western banking and real estate system.

With Trump it’s just irrelevant he’s neither good or bad. He is no different then any other elected president. He is limited to the resources at his disposal and won’t accomplish anything beyond that. Basically a symptom not a cause.

The Appolo success if we so call it really needs to be considered in context. If you compare the energy production of the US with the USSR it becomes clear that technology wasn’t the key to the space race. In actuality the Soviet rocket engines were 20% more efficient and more powerful. They dared to pipe oxygen rich exhaust from the turbos into the primary engine. But it was done because of necessity they couldn’t afford to waste the fuel. It also constrained their ability to test run the engines. Instead they choose to test them at launch.

The arrow all points in the same direction. Without the resources that the US had access to the USSR could not compete. But it had nothing to do with technology because they were winners with technology.

AK 47 is another example.

I sum it up this way. If you have wood you cook with wood. If you have coal you cook with coal. If you have oil you cook with oil. If you have gas you cook with gas. If you have a lot of it you have trains, planes, and automobiles. I might add rockets. With a little of it you cook.

Technology is a function of abundance not the cause of it.

It’s interesting to note the Roman Empire grew in wealth through military conquest. Then it started developing schools of higher learning in imitation of the Greeks.

Education has never preceded empire. So the thought that education or technology are the source of wealth is false. It has always been resources. It will always be. So in that regard it is no coincidence that the US military is larger then the next 10 militaries combined. So the military industrial complex was also a necessity.

Ironically the competitive economic system, communism thought that they could only find success within a highly educated society. Lenin targeted Germany for that reason. But educated people make poor soldiers. Ignorant religious zealots make far better soldiers. Which system promoted religious freedom and zealotry? For God and Country. God save the Queen. In God we trust. One nation under God.

So in many places Americans are hated because of their ignorance. But perhaps their ignorance has been their strength all along. In this regard we might want to watch closely the current US administration.

War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength

Reality Denial Harm Prevention: A Proposal for Screening and Licensing

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All 7 billion humans originated from one small tribe of hominids in Africa about 100,000 years ago. Despite their close relatedness individuals are born with considerable genetic variation in physical and mental characteristics. Examples of genetic variation include height, weight, strength, speed, eyesight, intelligence, aptitudes, demeanour, sexual orientation, dietary tolerance, disease susceptibility, addiction tendency, mental health, and longevity.

The laws and practices of most countries have acknowledged that genetic variation exists and that certain levels of variation can be harmful to society, or may prevent the individual from performing certain tasks. Examples include:

  • Most professions such as engineering, medicine, science, and law implicitly screen candidates for adequate intelligence and aptitude with challenging university entrance and degree requirements, exams, and professional certifications.
  • Airline pilots, air traffic controllers, train engineers, and truck drivers are required to have vision acuity and color vision above a minimum level.
  • Law enforcement, firefighting, and some military roles require adequate strength and agility to perform the work.
  • Many professional sports require a minimum speed, height, weight, or strength.
  • Many employers screen for substance abuse which is known to have a genetic predisposition.

A recent scientific breakthrough by Varki and Brower shows that the behaviorly modern human brain was enabled about 100,000 years ago by a simultaneous mutation for an extended theory of mind and denial of reality.

Denial of reality is therefore central to the behavior of most humans, and is characterized by a tendency to deny the reality of anything unpleasant, regardless of evidence or science. As with other genetic characteristics like color blindness, the level and type of reality denial varies widely in the population from benign to dangerous.

Benign forms of reality denial may benefit or harm the individual, but rarely do serious harm to society, future generations, or other species. Examples of benign reality denial include:

  • Belief in a god that promises life after death.
  • Unhealthy lifestyles and diets.
  • Use of mind altering substances.
  • Wacky beliefs like miracles, fate, luck, conspiracy theories, and UFOs.

Dangerous forms of reality denial, on the other hand, often benefit the individual or society in the short-term, but cause severe mid and long-term harm to society, future generations, and other species. Examples of dangerous reality denial include:

  • Denial of human overshoot.
  • Denial of species decline and extinction, and damage to ecosystems.
  • Denial of climate change severity, actions required to make the future less bad, and personal responsibility.
  • Denial of many limits to growth, including some imminent threats like low-cost oil depletion.
  • Denial of the implications of excessive debt and low interest rates.

Clearly, the risks and potential harm from genetic variation associated with reality denial, which for example could cause the collapse of civilization or extinction of many species, far exceed the risks and potential harm from the already regulated genetic variations, like vision accuracy, which could cause a fatal surgery mistake or a plane to crash.

We should therefore urgently act on the recent discovery of Varki and Brower and pass laws to screen and license people before they are permitted to function in roles inappropriate for certain levels of reality denial.

Upon reaching the legal age of consent, all citizens should be assessed for their inherited level of reality denial using a scale from 0 to 6 as follows:

  • full reality acceptance (0)
  • benign reality denial: low (1), medium (2), high (3)
  • dangerous reality denial: low (4), medium (5), high (6)

The screening process would include a review of activities in the community, social media, interviews with teachers and acquaintances, and a written examination.

The process would focus on assessing the strength of the following beliefs:

  • There are no limits to growth.
  • Green growth is better.
  • Technology is the solution to all problems including energy.
  • There are two sides to the climate change debate.
  • We must increase food production to keep pace with population growth.
  • iPhones, the internet, and Tesla are more important innovations than Haber-Bosch, concrete, and the diesel engine.
  • I’ve already done enough by shopping with a reusable bag.

In the future as brain scanning technologies improve, it is expected that the screening process will be replaced with a quick and inexpensive brain scan that will detect activity in the region of the brain responsible for reality denial.

Upon completion the individual will be issued an official government identification card stating the level of reality denial that they were born with.

Critical occupations and activities in society may not be filled or conducted by anyone exceeding a specified level of reality denial. Examples of maximum allowed levels include:

  • right to vote (3)
  • right to run for elected office (2)
  • right to make political donations (3)
  • senior position in any company (3)
  • senior position in government (2)
  • teachers and professors (1)

Please contact your elected representatives and make them aware of the new science associated with reality denial and lobby for this vital extension to existing harm prevention laws and practices.

By James Hansen: Scientific Reticence

Here is the latest (draft) paper from James Hansen, the world’s best climate scientist.

In summary, the situation is much worse than you’re being led to believe.

We argue that global warming of 2°C, or even 1.5°C, is dangerous, because these levels are far above Holocene temperatures and even warmer than best estimates for the Eemian, when sea level reached 6-9 meters (20-30 feet) higher than today. Earth’s history shows that sea level adjusts to changes in global temperature. We conclude that eventual sea level rise of several meters could be locked in, if rapid emission reductions do not begin soon, and could occur within 50-150 years with the extraordinary climate forcing of continued “business-as-usual” fossil fuel emissions.

The 2 C goal set by our governments is not an appropriate goal because it is clearly dangerous, and despite this, we are almost certainly not going to achieve the goal.

It’s not like we tried and failed. We’ve done nothing except talk and deny the science.

Hansen laments here that even scientists are denying the science.

Where are the adults?

Clipboard-20171026

 

http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2017/20171026_ScientificReticence.pdf