On Free Will and the Great Barrier Reef

By Dahr Jamail – Great Barrier Reef Reaches “Terminal Stage” as CO2 Levels Rise at Record Rate

Dahr Jamail reports on the dying Great Barrier Reef and other recent casualties of climate change.

He concludes the article by blaming the denial of Trump and other leaders.

Jamail does not mention his own denial demonstrated by flying long distances to report on climate change.

Everyone, myself included, has a justification for their lifestyle.

Genes have evolved over billions of years to compete for finite energy so they can survive to replicate.

There are 7.5 billion humans in severe overshoot because their genes out-competed the genes of all other life by learning to dig up and burn ancient solar energy.

Having genes that make us smart enough to understand our mortality and the implications of our genes’ ability to exploit fossil energy requires genes that cause us to deny reality to avoid depression and a consequent decrease in reproductive fitness.

Our genes are in charge.

Free will is an illusion.

Enabled by denial of reality.

How could it be otherwise?

On the Tragedy of Trends

Tim Garrett, the world’s most under appreciated scientist, makes a persuasive case that wealth is proportional to energy consumption. More specifically, US$1 (1990) = 10 mW. This makes intuitive sense because energy is required to make and/or maintain everything that we assign a monetary value to.

Yesterday the Visual Capitalist published some charts showing energy consumption trends for the US.



In the following discussion I deliberately ignore the chart’s forecast for the future because it comes from the deeply in denial Energy Information Administration (EIA), which bases its forecasts on expected demand rather than geologic and thermodynamic reality. In other words, the EIA makes forecasts based on what we will likely desire, rather than what is likely to be available, or what we will likely be able to afford.

I also ignore changes in energy efficiency because I think we have already harvested all of the low hanging fruit and recent efficiency gains are in the noise.

By applying Garrett’s theory we can draw some illuminating conclusions:

  1. The total wealth of the US peaked around 2000 and has been in slow decline since.
  2. The wealth of individuals peaked around 2000 after 3 decades of little growth, has been in steep decline since, and today is about 15% lower on average than 1970.
  3. The contribution of renewable energy to our wealth has been and remains insignificant. Doubly so if you consider the fossil energy required to manufacture, install, and maintain renewable energy equipment.

The actual decline in wealth for the majority of citizens will be larger than these charts suggest because of the widening wealth gap, which has resulted from the low interest rates employed to offset declining net energy. Low interest rates increase the opportunity for the rich to profit from the bubbles created by low interest rates.

I expect trends in other industrialized countries will mirror those of the US, and in many cases will be worse because the US is so well-endowed with natural resources and its reserve currency.

It is clear why social unrest is increasing in most countries.

No one is to blame for these trends. They are simply a consequence of the scientific laws of geology and thermodynamics. It is true however that low and middle income citizens are carrying a disproportionate share of the impact because governments did not implement tax policies to prevent a predictable wealth gap increase caused by low interest rates.

Our inherited denial of reality prevents most people from understanding what is going on, and thus most people seek someone to blame.

Awareness and understanding could lead to cooperation and voluntary lifestyle changes.

Denial and blame will likely lead to tragedy.

Tribes Trump Reality: War is Probable

About 100,000 years ago a small tribe of hominids experienced a rare double mutation for an extended theory of mind plus denial of reality, which switched having a more powerful brain from being a reproductive fitness disadvantage into a strong advantage, thus enabling the mutations to fix in the gene pool. That species then used its unique brain to take over the planet and to grow itself into a severe state of overshoot.

This first and only extended theory of mind to emerge in a brain increased the effectiveness of social cooperation through improved morality, communication, planning, and the invention and transmission of new technologies.

The denial of reality mutation was required to mute the awareness of mortality and its negative impact on reproductive fitness that the extended theory of mind enabled. The inherited denial of mortality caused each tribe to create a life after death story. Over time these stories were elaborated into what we now call religions (and political parties) which serve to define, unite, govern, and entertain tribes.

The tribe with its story was and is central to the success of the species. For most of history it mattered not whether the story was true. Today the survival of the species has bumped up against the laws of physics and truth does matter. This is a wicked predicament because tribes can’t easily change their stories, and inherited denial of reality tends to block unpleasant truths from being added to the stories.

Today we have two angry bickering tribes within the most powerful country on earth. Each tribe comprises about 50% of the population. Neither tribe has a story grounded in reality or truth. Each thinks the other is the cause of the very real thermodynamically based pain it is experiencing. Neither understands what is going on. Inherited denial of reality blocks each from learning what is going on.

The best and perhaps only method for uniting and distracting these two tribes would be to identify a third tribe as a threat. Fighting that third tribe will unfortunately accelerate the depletion of low-cost oil which caused the pain in the first place. So it may be necessary to identify a fourth tribe as a threat. And so on.

This will probably not end well.

It’s Time to Get Real: Trump’s a Symptom, Not the Problem

I’ve lost patience with the widespread whining about Trump.

Trump’s a symptom, not the problem.

Unless we acknowledge and respond to reality there will be many more and worse Trumps to follow.

Lower and middle class citizens around the world are angry for good reasons:

  • Their incomes have been stagnant or falling despite governments telling them the economy is strong.
  • Their cost of living for things that matter has been rising despite governments telling them inflation is low.
  • They see the upper class getting richer and not being punished for crimes.
  • They carry a high debt load and see that interest rates have nowhere to go but up.
  • For the first time in a long time they worry that the future may be worse than the present.
  • They sense that something is broken and that leaders are not speaking the truth.

Their anger has resulted in:

  • Brexit
  • Trump
  • blame of others
  • extreme parties gaining power around the world
  • social unrest in many countries
  • war drums

The economic stresses experienced by many citizens (and by most countries) are real and have been caused by the depletion of low-cost oil.

The tricks of increasing debt and lowering interest rates have reached their limits and no longer work to mask the depletion of low-cost oil.

Governments have responded with reckless financial policies that guarantee a high-speed crash into a brick wall.

There is no solution to the depletion of low-cost oil.  It is not possible to operate our civilization as currently configured without low-cost oil. There is no substitute for oil.

We need to understand and accept that there will be much less of everything in the future.

We were lucky to witness the peak of human prosperity, and unlucky to witness the beginning of its decline.

No one is to blame. It’s reality.

We need a new story to unite us.

We need new government priorities focused on ensuring the necessities of life are available in the future.

We need to slow down as we approach the brick wall.

We need to stop wasting the precious oil that remains.

We need to get real and vote for wise people who understand what is going on.

We need to break through our inherited denial of reality.

Darwin vs. Varki

– explains the creation of life by evolution
– redefines God from creator of life to creator of consciousness

– builds on Darwin’s theory to explain the singular emergence of an intelligent social species with an extended theory of mind
– explains the uniqueness of humans
– explains the success of humans
– explains human belief in life after death
– explains human optimism bias, and denial of overshoot and other unpleasant realities
– suggests similar or higher intelligence is rare and fleeting in the universe
– redefines God from creator of consciousness to genetic mutation

You know you are in trouble when…

Examples of denial are both profound and unacknowledged.

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

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

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

Most citizens have no idea how fortunate they are to be alive at this point in history: A Guide to Being Human in the 21st Century

Citizens have wildly different beliefs about our predicament: there is no problem; there is a problem but it’s not caused by humans; I don’t want to think about it; technology will save us; it’s in the hands of God; I’ve already done enough; someone else needs to do something first; my actions won’t make a difference; someone else will consume whatever I give up; it’s too late to do anything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Readers are encouraged to submit additions to the list.

Climate Change Policies: 2 required + 1 optional

Most scientists consider 2 degrees of warming to be dangerous. Common sense says 1 degree is unsafe because the recent extreme weather and loss of Arctic ice and glaciers have been caused by 1 degree of actual warming.

A new paper in the journal of Science Advances says 7 degrees is likely this century because the climate becomes more sensitive to greenhouse gases as the temperature warms.

Independent newspaper overview.

Full paper.

Interview with the author.

To be clear on the implications, 7 degrees will kill your children.

Much time and effort has been wasted establishing climate change agreements that will not work because the relationship between wealth, consumption, and CO2 has not been acknowledged or addressed.

We have not to date met any of our (ineffective) commitments because we do not understand the nature of our predicament. We cannot reduce climate change with a different type of economic growth. We must stop growing and contract.

Assuming feedback loops have not already taken over (meaning there is nothing we can do to avoid runaway climate change), here are the only 2 policies that would positively impact climate change and every other overshoot threat we face:

1) Increase the interest rate until the economy begins to contract on a sustained basis. An economic crash may or may not be avoidable but we have no choice.

2) Establish a one child policy with a penalty tax of say 25% of total income for every extra child. No exceptions. Countries with cultures that value males more than females should provide a subsidy to families with a daughter to keep the male/female ratio at about 50/50.

Wise countries will implement one additional optional policy:

3) Tax excess wealth and use the funds to pay down public debt.

As the economy and population contracts there will be a natural tendency for the wealth gap to widen which usually leads to social unrest, despots, and war. Wise countries will anticipate this and implement policies to prevent the wealth gap from widening. Collected taxes should be used to pay down public debt because this will help to stabilize our debt backed currency as the economy shrinks.

These policies will cause pain but doing anything else (or nothing) will cause a lot more pain.