Dr. Ajit Varki is a co-originator of the Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory which explains why my species exists with its uniquely power intelligence, and why, despite this intelligence, is unable to see and act on its obvious state of overshoot that threatens the survival of itself and many other species.
I started this blog in 2013 to spread awareness of Dr. Varki’s theory because I believe all possible paths to reducing the coming suffering caused by overshoot must start with an understanding of MORT.
Evidence for this is that to date all environmental initiatives, climate change agreements, energy transition plans, degrowth movements, etc. have utterly failed to change our trajectory, and I’m certain will continue to fail, unless MORT is acknowledged.
It’s simply not possible to craft a useful to response to our overshoot reality until the majority becomes aware that a powerful genetic force is blocking its ability to see the reality.
Unfortunately, there’s a Catch-22: MORT predicts that MORT will be denied and therefore if MORT is correct then MORT will never be acknowledged.
Perhaps someone smarter than me will figure out a path around this Catch-22, I don’t know. Regardless, I still find value in MORT because it keeps me sane by providing a scientific explanation for why so many are so blind to so much that is so obvious.
The Catch-22 may explain why after 10 years of work I have built very little momentum and have scant few successes at spreading awareness of MORT into the 99% of citizens and leaders that aggressively deny reality.
The last interview with Dr. Ajit Varki occurred in 2017 at my prompting by Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock. Unfortunately, as predicted by MORT, Alex shortly thereafter forgot about MORT and has spent the last 6 years reporting on the coming climate disaster and wondering why we do nothing meaningful about it. If you listen to the interview you will see that Alex at the time understood the answer, then his brain subsequently blocked this understanding.
I was pleased to learn that Varki was interviewed yesterday by Rachel Donald of Planet: Critical. Thank you to Rachel for her initiative, I played no role in setting up this interview. I have been impressed by some of Rachel’s prior work such as this interview she did with Joseph Merz.
Let’s hope that Rachel’s denial genes are sufficiently defective, like mine, so that she helps to spread the MORT message on an ongoing basis. MORT is central to everything that Rachel reports on so we’ll know shortly if she has normal denial genes and is captured by the Catch-22.
In the interview Varki introduces a new idea by proposing that we put more females in positions of power. Apparently females tend to deny reality less than males, as demonstrated by their higher rate of depression, and are more empathetic, both qualities we desperately need today.
Given the 50/50 polarized nature of politics today it does not take much of a voting block to swing an outcome. Perhaps if we target females with overshoot awareness they will abandon useless left/right politics and vote as a block for female leaders that support the only policy that will reduce suffering and improve every problem we face: population reduction.
Who’s in denial now? 🙂
If you are unfamiliar with the MORT theory, this is a very nice introduction by Dr. Varki:
If you want more detail on MORT, this 2019 paper by Dr. Varki is the best source, as it expands and clarifies the ideas presented in his 2013 book.
Today’s post is by frequent un-Denial visitor and friend Monk who does a wonderful job of explaining why nuclear energy is not a useful response to overshoot.
With increasing energy prices and sanctions on Russia, people are once again considering how we can power the global industrial machine with significantly less oil and gas. Alongside this, environmentalists are getting more savvy in spotting the critical problems with the likes of wind and solar and other green hopium nonsense (green hydrogen anyone?). But for some reason, many people struggle to make the final step and admit that nuclear is not going to save us from peak oil and / or climate change.
In this article, I would like to briefly layout what I see as the high-level problems with nuclear. This is just a summary of my own personal reasons for why I’m not convinced. It is by no means a thorough technical analysis!
What I’d like us to consider is this: is it DENIAL stopping our smart and critical thinkers from admitting the problems with nuclear? People who do become aware of the problems with our system tend to jump to nuclear as a last bastion of hope. Modern commentators like to tell themselves nice stories about nuclear. This prevents them from having to seriously consider energy collapse. How often have you heard these affirmations?
Nuclear energy is cheap
Nuclear energy is safe
Nuclear energy is clean and green
Nuclear energy is a low carbon energy source
Nuclear energy can meet our energy needs when fossil fuels run out (peak oil)
New innovations will make nuclear energy better, such as micro plants, newer generations, sustained fusion etc.
We shouldn’t just believe in nuclear like it’s a fairy godmother who is going to save us from our poor energy planning. We should thoroughly interrogate claims about nuclear through the lenses of environment, energy, economy, and safety.
Nuclear energy may have a negative energy return
If we accept money (currency) as a proxy for energy units, then it is pretty clear that nuclear plants are incredibly energy expensive to plan, build, maintain, and decommission. Nuclear plants are some of the most expensive projects undertaken. The capital costs are horrendous. What that should tell you is it takes a shed load of energy just to build a nuclear power plant.
To see if this upfront energy spend is worth it, we need to see how much energy we get back. Utility providers will look at costs as a ‘cost per electricity unit’. If you compare nuclear to other electricity sources, you are spending a lot more to get nuclear. Here is an example of that type of comparison looking at just the capital cost per kilowatt:
By the time we factor in all the other costs associated with nuclear – that other electricity generation doesn’t have – I’m not convinced nuclear is generating a net return at all. If that’s true (I’m happy to be wrong), you might ask why countries continue to build them? A few possibilities include:
Accepting burning existing fossil fuels now to get longer lasting consistent electricity in the future.
To support ongoing research.
To support the military.
I often hear pro-nuclear people talk about how much energy we can get from such a small volume of uranium. I think that is disingenuous considering all the energy we have to burn in setting up a plant before we even get a single unit of energy from uranium.
Please note that net energy studies are notoriously difficult, because it’s up to the researcher how much of the supply chain and lifecycle they factor in. That’s why I find looking at currency a useful way to approximate EROEI (energy returned on energy invested). Of course, the nuclear industry will say they generate a very positive EROEI. Here’s a good example with references: https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/energy-and-the-environment/energy-return-on-investment.aspx. However, academic “meta-analysis of EROI values for nuclear energy suggests a mean EROI of about 14:1 (n of 33 from 15 publications)” (Hall et al., 2014) NB this was looking at traditional nuclear only.
Nuclear produces electricity, not liquid energy, not coal, and not gas
Our predicament is not one of electricity, but of diesel, natural gas, and coal. These are critical energy and resource sources that cannot be replaced by electricity (or at least not with a positive energy return). A couple of simple examples:
We can’t make silicon wafers or industrial steel without coal.
We can’t move stuff around or dig it out of the ground without diesel.
We also have the issue that the world vehicle fleet is already built and requires petrol or diesel for the most part. There are no longer enough minerals left to build an entirely new electric vehicle fleet – a fact that surprising few anti-car new urbanist types are unaware of.
Natural gas provides us with nitrogen fertilizer (essential for feeding billions of people in the modern agricultural system) and plastics with many uses.
Another challenge is that if nuclear was to replace all energy from fossil fuels, we would need a better way to store excess energy. Although nothing like the intermittency problems of wind and solar, nuclear has a related type of problem in that it likes to always be running and producing a steady-ish amount of electricity. Currently this doesn’t matter where nuclear is part of the total energy mix, but if it were the bulk of the energy mix, storage would become a major consideration. There are a whole lot of issues with electricity storage that have been well-explained in the issues with wind and solar, namely finite amount of materials to build batteries, expense, and battery storage capacity.
One potential upside of nuclear energy could be to replace natural gas as the main electricity generator that balances out wind and solar intermittency. But due to the costs of nuclear compared to gas this hasn’t been done. Moreover, gas generation is preferred because it is easier to switch off and on.
Nuclear is entirely dependent on fossil fuels
A nuclear power plant could not even be built without fossil fuels:
Coal to make the steel
Diesel to mine the uranium
Diesel to mine the sand for concrete
Diesel to mine the copper to make the electric components
Gas to make the plastics for componentry and systems
Gas to make the food to feed the workers
I could go on and make this a very long list, but hopefully you get the point.
Because building a nuclear power plant is impossible without fossil fuels, that also means we will not build new nuclear power plants after the end of oil. Just like wind turbines and solar panels cannot make more of themselves, neither can a nuclear reactor.
Nuclear is not zero emissions
Obviously to build a nuclear power plant you are going to need a lot of diesel-powered plant and equipment. There is also concrete to factor in, which is a massive emissions source, accounting for approximately 8% of total global emissions.
With all those fossil fuels going into making a nuclear power plant, it should be obvious that nuclear is not and will never be net “zero emissions”. The focus on operating or tailpipe emissions is pointless when you’re still making an overall net positive addition to emissions. And arguably the world already has more than enough electricity, so building nuclear is possibly a complete waste of emissions.
Inputs to nuclear power plants are also reaching peak
As the capital costs suggest, nuclear energy plants are massive construction projects. They require vast raw materials – all of which have their own supply limitations. It is not just oil that is reaching peak, but many other raw inputs from copper to even boring old sand. Yes, peak sand is a thing. If you look at a picture of a nuclear plant, you’ll see a lot of concrete. That is sand! Concrete also requires other raw materials including calcium, silicon, iron, and aluminium. Is there even enough sand left in the world to build enough nuclear power plants to meet our energy needs? And the concrete needs will still be there for a hypothetical fusion plant, or any such other “innovative” nuclear power generation.
The story is the same for any other rare (or getting rare) earth element. There’s approximately 17 years left of zinc, 21 for silver, 35 for nickel and 64 for cobalt. Even if these numbers are wrong, it still shows that physical limits are approaching. This provides a real limit to the number of nuclear plants that it is even feasible to build. Moreover, if our system is going to rely on more electrified plant and equipment, these minerals will run out much sooner.
Uranium is finite
It’s kind of ironic that some people see nuclear as a solution to peak oil when the actual feed for nuclear is also reaching peak. How much proven uranium reserves are out there is hotly debated. Really, I don’t care because if there’s 10 years left or 100 years, it’s the same result – our industrial system runs out of power. Apparently, proven uranium reserves would last 90 years at the current rate of use (Murphy., 2021 he has lots of references).
What we can know for certain is that uranium will peak at some point and then reach a diminishing point of return where it is no longer economically viable to get it out of the ground. Bear in mind, most (some?) of the value in mining it is for weapons – with electricity just being the side gig!
Uranium is often in hard-to-get areas (including Russia, now embargoed). We can’t mine the uranium out of the ground once we run out of diesel, which would put the end of uranium to 40 years, not 90. The only hopium here is to hope they’ll invent some amazing electricity-powered mining plant and equipment, but then we are back to the peak mineral problem. For now, we are stuck with diesel and the associated carbon emissions.
Making nuclear power plants degrades the environment. This includes:
Mining all the materials required.
Burning all the diesel, gas, and coal in the manufacturing and construction phases.
Building all the roads and parking required for the plant.
And polluting the environment for hundreds of thousands of years with radioactive material that causes birth defects, genetic degradation, cancer, and death.
Michael Dowd regularly asks us to contend with the question of radioactive waste. What right do we present day humans have to pollute the world for thousands of years, just so we can run another dishwasher? It is highly likely that some, if not most, nuclear reactors will meltdown, because they will not have been safely decommissioned due to peak oil production. What an inheritance for our descendants, if we have any left!
What do we do with the waste?
Nuclear waste is incredibly dangerous to human health and the environment. Waste can also be utilised by terrorists (or bad state actors) to create a dirty bomb. So based on these problems, we need to be very careful where and how we store the waste. Not surprisingly, this is another thing humans seem determined to f-up. For starters, a lot is stored at or near sea level – great for getting water to keep it cool – not so great when you get a sea-based disaster. Sea water corrodes infrastructure at a faster rate, increasing the likelihood of failure of the waste containment. Plus, what happens with rising sea levels from climate change?
When digging more into this topic, you’ll see humans are running out of places to put this waste and the costs of waste-storage projects are increasing. This makes it less likely that a company will be 100% focussed on quality for a capex project that generates no returns.
Alice Friedemann has argued that burying nuclear waste should be a top priority, as after peak oil production, oil will be rationed to agriculture and other essential services. Spent fuel from nuclear lasts a very long time. According to Archer (2008): “… there are components of nuclear material that have a long lifetime, such as the isotopes plutonium 239 (24,000 year half-life), thorium 230 (80,000 years), and iodine 129 (15.7 million years). Ideally, these substances must be stored and isolated from reaching ground water until they decay, but the lifetimes are so immense that it is hard to believe or to prove that this can be done”.
Once the containment for nuclear waste starts to degrade, the waste can leak into ground water, contaminating drinking water and getting into the food system. Where waste gets into the ocean, the currents can travel it all over the globe. This is happening in our lifetime, forget about a thousand years from now.
Are nuclear plants really safe?
Taken at face value statistically, nuclear plants are very safe. But I think this is a sneaky statistic because this is old data from when nuclear plants were young and well-resourced. We really don’t know how the safety stats will hold up as the plants age out. Once they are over 40 years old, the risk of disaster is much higher. This risk is heightened by very old systems and componentry and the specialised nuclear workforce retiring and not being replaced.
Many nuclear plants are built close to the sea, exposing them to natural risks including sea level rise, tsunamis, typhons / hurricanes, and erosion. Near misses are surprisingly common, often a result of human error and the just mentioned old systems. There is evidence that significant near misses are underreported officially, leading to misconceptions about the safety risks posed.
There have been two major nuclear power plant disasters that I’m sure you are familiar with. The first is the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl where a design flaw, triggered ironically by a safety test, led to a reactor meltdown. The second was the 2011 Fukushima disaster, where an earthquake-triggered tsunami damaged the emergency diesel generators, leading to a loss of electric power. By the way, look there’s another essential use of fossil fuels in operating nuclear plants!
Here are two minor anecdotes to show you the environmental outcomes. Following the Chernobyl disaster, a farm in Scotland had all their new-born lambs born without eyes and they had to be culled. As a result of Fukushima, across the Pacific, there is plenty of scientific evidence of radioactive contamination in fish and shellfish – tasty!
When we look at total confirmed human deaths from these nuclear incidents, we are looking at around 100 people. Total deaths from COVID-19 thus far is around 6.6 million. So how can we say nuclear is unsafe? Well, what the official incident deaths don’t tell us is how many people are dying from cancers years after a nuclear incident. Moreover, there’s little incentive for a government to try and track each death that could be attributable to a nuclear disaster – that will only make them look bad. Considering nuclear waste is toxic for 100,000s of years, we can’t even account for the untold future suffering of humans and non-humans.
Maybe the initial risks of nuclear have been overstated, but what would happen if most or all of them failed? For example, a risk that you barely ever hear mentioned is if multiple reactors were hit by an EMP or solar flare? If the grid is wrecked, so are the nuclear reactors. Maybe that might never happen, but it does seem likely that most plants won’t be properly decommissioned (due to peak oil), which will see most of them melting down over this century.
Nuclear plants are a target for terrorism and potentially could be used to inflict massive damage to people and the environment. From Alice Friedemann: Plutonium waste needs to be kept away from future terrorists and dictators for the next 30,000 years. But world-wide there’s 490 metric tons of separated plutonium at military and civilian sites, enough to make more than 60,000 nuclear weapons. Plutonium and highly enriched uranium are located at over 100 civilian reactor plants. In addition, there’s 1,400 tons of highly enriched uranium world-wide. A crude nuclear bomb can be made from as little as 40 to 60 kilograms of U-235, or roughly 28,000 nuclear bombs.
Decommissioning is fraught with challenges
Decommissioning is essential as once plants age out, they become too radioactive and are likely to decay. You would then get a full or partial meltdown. Like everything else to do with nuclear, decommissioning too is a very expensive and lengthy process, often exceeding budgets. Decommissioning also requires experienced nuclear engineers who are retiring. Younger engineers no longer see nuclear as a viable career path, so the next generation of skilled nuclear workers is not there. As the nuclear plants reach the end of their design life, it will get harder and more expensive to safely decommission them. And when has a large corporate ever been good at cleaning up after itself?! Moreover, us poor taxpayers will be increasingly impoverished by peak oil economic destruction, leaving governments with less funds to pick up after the energy companies.
We might ask, where is the proof that decommissioning is happening currently and where are the government budgets put aside for decommissioning? Countries like France and the USA are also delaying decommissioning plants at the moment, possibly worried about electricity shortages and unwilling to take another source offline.
As citizens, why should we support the building of new nuclear plants when there’s barely any proof that the current ones are being safely dealt with at their end of their life?
Investors are not keen on nuclear power projects. They have a habit of blowing out budgets and timelines and failing to return investment (a big clue that they are negative EROEI). There’s also a bit of a wait of 7 to 10+ years for project completion before you can even hope to start seeing a financial return. Remember the cost of construction is only ever going to get more expensive now due to peak oil. Oh, and there are uninsurable liabilities!
Governments often need to invest in electricity infrastructure, and especially for nuclear, to make up this shortfall in private investment. Citizens quite rightly should demand proof that nuclear plants are worth spending energy on. They should demand Governments provide detailed risk management against all the criteria we’ve just discussed. Because nuclear is not popular with the average citizen, democratic governments are increasingly unwilling to invest in nuclear. Moreover, governments are encouraged by their populations to keep electricity prices affordable. Wind and solar are much more popular and tend to get more of the subsidies. They have also damaged the profitability of nuclear with wind and solar going first to sell to market (government policy in parts of Europe).
Replacing fossil fuels with nuclear energy is a pipe dream
In a 2019 Forbes article, Roger Pielke ran a thought experiment on how many nuclear plants the world would need to get to the 2050 net zero goal. “To achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, the world would need to deploy 3 [brand new] nuclear plants worth of carbon-free energy every two days, starting tomorrow and continuing to 2050. At the same time, a nuclear plant’s worth of fossil fuels would need to be decommissioned every day, starting tomorrow and continuing to 2050.”
We can already see that this just isn’t happening, and for the reasons laid out in this article it’s clear this can never happen. It looks like 2022 saw just 53 nuclear reactors under construction world-wide – that’s not finished by the way, just in some stage of construction.
But what about innovation
Honestly each ‘innovation’ to nuclear reactors could be an article all on its own. I have to confess I have a lazy heuristic: I just write off all of these as nonsense and don’t really give them fair consideration. But if I had to provide a high-level critic, this would be it. I have just noted the additional problems with these “innovations” – they still have all the same problems described elsewhere:
Fusion – The gold standard of hopium. As the idiom goes, sustained fusion is just 20 years in the future and always will be.
Breeder reactors – Recycling costs more energy than you get back. Also, more expensive than regular reactors, which are already too expensive.
Thorium – Perhaps it could have worked but looks like it’s too expensive now. That’s a good hint it would be negative EROEI. Might not be viable in reality.
And this goes for lots of things: just because something is feasible in a lab situation or theoretically possible, does not mean it will ever be a viable solution. You can do a lot if you have oodles of energy and billions of dollars to waste. We might ask, is indulging the fantasies of scientists really a good use of our last remaining surplus resources?
Well, that’s bleak, what does the future of electricity look like
Humans already have access to more electricity than we ever imagined 100 years ago. If we had a stable or reducing population (shout out to Rob), then we wouldn’t even need to worry about bringing on new electricity generation.
Categorically all forms of electricity generation have their negative drawbacks. Eventually, all the hydroelectric dams will silt up – this can take hundreds of years – and finally they will all fail. Wind turbines last for 30 years, though in reality production efficiency reduces much earlier. Coastal wind turbines will decay after 10 years due to erosion from salt water. Solar panels will last 30+ years, but the associated systems and batteries to collect and store the electricity fail much sooner and need replacement parts. Nuclear plants last for a design life of 40+ years minimum and then should be decommissioned over the following 20 years. With natural gas shortages due to the Russian Invasion, countries are delaying decommissioning their plants. Most western nuclear is aged out.
Humans could continue to produce electricity by burning coal and natural gas. There are approximately 400 years left of coal and 150 years left of natural gas. But (and it’s a big but), there is only 40 years left of oil (BP Statistical Review). Without oil we don’t have diesel powered equipment, which will make it all but impossible to extract coal and natural gas. Without coal, we can’t make industrial wind turbines, solar panels, or nuclear reactors.
What this means is that by the year 2060, we are looking at a world with much less electricity production and eventually moving to almost zero electricity as the hydro dams fail in the coming centuries – and no we can’t build new ones of scale without diesel. Perhaps some smart individuals can maintain rudimentary electricity where they live, but the days of large electric grids are numbered.
By the way, if you do want to dive into the technical details, I can point you in the direction of plenty of useful references. Just let me know 😊
Dr. Warm uses 5 different methods, 4 relying on economics, and 1 on thermodynamics, to predict when the end of oil production and motor vehicle production will occur. All 5 methods roughly converge on 2030 as the year when modern lifestyles end.
The essay was written in German and translated to English which explains any awkward phrasing.
Warm’s conclusion agrees with my 15 years of study of many different sources which converge on oil production being down by about 50% in 2030. Because our current system requires growth not to collapse, it is plausible that predicting a 50% decline is the same as predicting a 100% decline.
Our world is of course far too complex to make precise predictions, and unexpected events like a pandemic or nuclear war can dramatically change the outcome, however for planning purposes it seems reasonable to assume we have about 5 years left to prepare for a new way of life.
Evaluation of five data sets concerning car production, oil prices converted in energy values gives lifespan approximations for the car industry and the oil industry. The result is that the car industry will last only until 2027 and the oil industry some years more.
The author interprets the line of maxima as the oil price that the industrialized countries can afford to the maximum while maintaining their lifestyle. He interprets the line of minima as the price of oil that the producing countries need to keep their economies running. In mid-2019, the author noticed this crossroads and expected a crisis in 2020, although he was completely unclear what kind of crisis it would be. He didn’t expect Corona.
The inhabitants of the industrialized countries are now realizing that their lifestyle is at risk. The line of the maxima will reach the zero line (0%BOE) around mid-2027. From then on, the inhabitants of the industrialized countries can no longer afford oil without giving up many things of daily life. The demand of the oil producers is then 13-14 %BOE. These two values are incompatible.
Result: The extrapolation of oil prices shows that from 2022 the lifestyle in the industrialized countries will degrade, and that after 2027 the inhabitants of the industrialized countries will hardly be able to pay for oil or its products.
The fall in the price of crude oil from 2008 to 2020 with the extreme price increase since 2021 is an absolute alarm signal! Soon there will be no more crude oil affordable, no matter for which economy in the world!
Procedures 1, 2 and 4 are extrapolations of economic data of the past. Method 3 is a link between oil prices and car production. Method 5 is a calculation based on a law of physics.
The five calculation methods result in:
End of world motor vehicle production between 2031 and 2034.
End of oil production in 2027.
End of worldwide sales of motor vehicles in 2027.
End of German vehicle production in 2027.
End of oil production in 2029.
The results are not the same, but in the end the same thing comes out. All five procedures show that vehicle production and oil production will continue to collapse in the coming years. Vehicle production will disappear first. Oil production later, as the world’s existing fleet will continue to consume crude oil, even if no new vehicles are added. It is to be expected, that the crude oil production will decrease slowly until 2027, and after that very fast.
And: Oil will be extremely expensive by 2027 at the latest!
Dr. Simon Michaux’s Perspective
For those still hoping that a transition to non-fossil energy will extend our modern lifestyles, I point you to the following recent work of mining engineer Dr. Simon Michaux which shows our planet has insufficient affordable resources to implement an energy transition plan that maintains our current lifestyles.
The quantity of metal required to make just one generation of renewable tech units to replace fossil fuels, is much larger than first thought. Current mining production of these metals is not even close to meeting demand. Current reported mineral reserves are also not enough in size. Most concerning is copper as one of the flagged shortfalls. Exploration for more at required volumes will be difficult, with this seminar addressing these issues.
Simon Michaux is an Associate Professor of Geometallurgy at the Geological Survey of Finland in the Circular Economy Solutions Unit. Holding a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Physics and Geology and a PhD in Mining Engineering from the University of Queensland, Simon has extensive experience in mining research and development, circular economic principles, industrial recycling, and mineral intelligence. Through his recent publications, Simon has outlined the many challenges facing the global industrial ecosystem. He notes our world is currently energy and minerals blind and transitioning to renewable energies is not as straightforward as it appears.
We’ve been growing without care to planetary limits for too long and change is coming, whether we like it or not. We need a completely new energy paradigm to address the challenges ahead, and as Simon says, it all starts with a conversation. We cover a lot of ground in this one, so grab a notebook and strap in for an important conversation – this is one you’ll want to listen to more than once.
On this episode, we meet with Associate Professor of Geometallurgy at the Geological Survey of Finland, Dr. Simon Michaux. Why do humans ignore important mineral and material limits that will affect human futures? Dr. Michaux reveals how we are “minerals blind” — and the consequences of this myopia. To shed light on the effects of our minerals blindness, Dr. Michaux explores the disconnect between experts in renewable energy and economic and government leaders. Dr. Michaux offers individual strategies for us to overcome our energy and minerals blindness. How can we learn to adapt in order to overcome the coming challenges?
Dr. Simon Michaux is an Associate Professor of Geometallurgy at the Geological Survey of Finland. He has a PhD in mining engineering. Dr. Michaux’s long-term work is on societal transformation toward a circular economy.
BenjaminTheDonkey today nicely captures a common theme I observe everywhere in the world today: We are collectively losing our minds; perhaps because unpleasant realities are overwhelming the denial circuit in our brains?
The powers that be won’t admit
We’re heading straight to our obit;
So it isn’t strange we
Can already see
People are losing their shit.
What is its cause at the root?
Whom might we persecute?
From an objective view,
It’s logically true
The reason is just overshoot.
Today we have a heartfelt post by marromai from Germany sharing his experience of becoming overshoot aware and how he deals with the knowledge. The essay was written in German and translated to English.
Life is wonderful – sometimes at least. But most of the time it is a very monotonous thing. And the older I get, the more often I wonder about the purpose of it. Every day, every week, every year the same procedure – enjoy the little moments, but for the rest of the time, hope that it passes by as soon as possible. Most days consist of a typical routine like getting up, sitting at work for what feels like an eternity, having a short and stressful time with my family, and then either doing chores or attending social gatherings now and then. Get the house in shape on Saturdays, and on Sundays rest or do something with the family. Rinse and repeat, every day is groundhog’s day.
Although one could think I’m blessed, because I live in the best Germany ever1. I’m married to a wonderful wife – as wonderful as they can get in their late 30s – I have four adorable children whom I love very much but who often get on my last nerve, a house and a garden where there is always plenty of work to do for which I have neither time nor money nor desire, and my dream job as an electrical engineer, which nowadays is unfortunately all too often just another bureaucratic clerk who only sees the soldering iron from afar. So basically, I should be doing very well, you would think. I just sell a bit of my lifetime for money and can enjoy a decent life.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Personally, my biggest problem is this: Working as an employed engineer has lost its magic – it often doesn’t even make sense to me, it just sucks. For the most part, it consists of bureaucratic stuff that doesn’t solve any problems but is just to be done for its own sake. Consequently, I complete tasks at the last minute with minimal effort, which you can’t even call work to rule. Everyday work is dull, lacking real tinkering challenges and practical problems to solve. The “always having to be there” and the resulting disproportionate amount of wasted life time kills any motivation and makes me strongly question the purpose of the whole mumbo jumbo called “gainful employment”. Maybe work makes life sweet – but in this respect I have diabetes… Now and then I think about self-employment and alternative income possibilities, combined with more personal freedom – but the chance to earn enough money to support a family is close to zero. Especially since the difficult economic times that are looming mark a very unfavorable time for this. How nice it would be to have a 4-day half-day job, with full pay, of course. Or even better, if they would just transfer my salary to me, I would know what to do with my time, wouldn’t I?
Since a while it feels like I have no time at all for personal activities. Even on days off I don’t really know what to do with myself. Apart from the tasks on the house and garden, which absolutely have to be done, I often don’t manage to start anything, although I have so many ideas – but rarely the motivation to actually begin. Or too little time, that starting is not worth it – at least that’s what I tell myself. So, I end up just like at work, where I spend most of my time in front of a computer, trying to avoid getting bored while reading in some online forums. As it turned out afterwards, this was the point, where my problems began, resulting in a total destruction of any purpose in life.
You may ask, what is it, what one could read, that is so depressing?
Beside electronic forums (for new ideas, which I will never implement) I read mainly alternative news and discussions about current events. This made me realize a long time ago that official media are nothing but propaganda channels – and I really can’t listen to them anymore. Russia here, Ukraine there. Evil Putin will destroy us all. Corona is so dangerous, be sure to get vaccinated… I can’t understand how the majority of the population can believe this bullshit – but that’s another topic. It will soon matter little anyway, once you understand that all of this are just side effects to a superordinate set of issues I came across while browsing over some threads of my favorite forum.
Most people will dismiss the following problem as absurd and unrealistic. Some will understand it but will not feel affected by it or will not want to admit it. And the tiny remainder? They are left with no one to talk about a matter, for which the great majority will laugh at them as end-time prophets and declare them crazy. It is the realization that our entire civilization could only grow so fast with the help of fossil energy – and that we are running out of this energy source now. Not because we planned it so or think we can replace it to get a grip on the ridiculous CO2 climate change issue. (I think it is rather presumptuous and a huge farce to try to control the temperature of a whole ecosystem and save the planet by reducing a single trace gas in the atmosphere, while not being able to provide a solid weather forecast for more than 2 days.) But the decarbonization that politicians are longing for will happen anyway. Just not in the way they envision. That’s because fossil fuels currently still cover the main demand for energy, and the much-vaunted renewables can’t even replace a fraction of that. Now we have reached the limits of what our planet can provide. What we are currently experiencing with our gas and electricity prices is only the beginning of the coming shortages. The Ukrainian-Russian war, which actually is driven by the USA, is in fact an economic war – and the economy only works with energy. Without energy, all the money in the world is useless: “Our main problem is a caloric one. We can print money like hay, but not a single drop of oil”2. The coming lack of oil will tear everything apart and cost billions of people’s lives by cold and hunger.
How it could come so far is what nobody dares to speak about: There are simply too many people on this planet who have already consumed too much raw materials and energy and always want more. It is only through coal, oil and gas that humanity has been able to multiply so enormously. But without maintaining these energy flows, the population numbers cannot be sustained. There are 10 calories of fossil energy in every calorie of food. But the soils are depleted and no longer yield anything without artificial fertilizers, agriculture is so thoroughly industrialized and complex that it can no longer be run on pure muscle power, certainly not to feed a country as densely populated as Germany. And now, of all times, we are running out of fossil energy?
The promised rescue by renewable energies is just window dressing and cannot free us from this predicament, nor can nuclear power plants. They supply only a fraction of electrical energy, but no raw materials for industry, as can be seen well in the current European gas shortage situation. No fertilizer can be produced from solar cells, and we cannot melt steel with wind energy, not even with 10 times the number of windmills. In addition to oil and gas, many other natural resources are now depleted that are required to build alternative energy sources. Fossil energy has enabled exponential population growth and unprecedented prosperity with ever increasing complexity and interconnectedness. Likewise, future energy shortages will cause an abrupt reduction in complexity – which is called collapse. And no, this will not be in a distant future, we are already in the middle of it. The coming times will be bleak. And it can go much further down very quickly when “winter is coming”, as the current situation in Europe shows.
All in all, a huge complex of topics, in whose importance I have no doubt – but the momentous realizations from it are simply devastating and destroy any further motivation and search for meaning in life – a nihilistic vicious circle of demotivation, effects see above. And the worst thing is, that one suffers all alone from this knowledge. Because the majority of people are not able to even see this unpleasant reality, let alone understand: “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.
So how to continue? One may try to convince as many others as possible of this reality and build a low-tech community. With a group of collapse-aware people, surviving could be much easier, when the crisis fully hits. Unfortunately, in Germany this is very difficult, since most people are totally brainwashed by official media. So, for me, I have decided to just try to enjoy as much free time and remaining prosperity as possible – while it’s still possible. Since I need money for this, I have to work, which is contrary to “Carpe Diem”. So I go to work, but don’t really do work – not perfect, much more like business as usual. What a shame – denying the un-denial… not knowing in the first place would have been much easier.
But as long as the hamster wheel turns and turns, you inevitably have to run with it. You have to learn to control the speed, otherwise you die of exhaustion. For someone who has recognized being in a hamster wheel, one may eventually be inclined to consider a premature exit. But that should not be a solution – especially not if you have a family, which you don’t want to leave in the lurch. Besides, aren’t you too curious to see what happens next? How bad will the crisis get? How long does such a collapse take? And what will life be like in the future? Maybe there will be challenges and problems to solve that you missed so much in your current job, for example finding food every day? Doesn’t this give you an ultimate purpose in life? You’ll probably miss the days spent in the warm office, browsing through internet forums and dreaming up gloomy fantasies about the future…
Today we have another guest post by a member of the un-Denial community, Gaia Gardener, who posted these thoughts on denial as a comment. I thought they were interesting enough to warrant promoting them to a more visible post.
Hello friends, thank you for a very interesting discussion about the realities of denial and how we humans seem to be able to manipulate all perceptions to fit our chosen narrative, whether or not we are consciously aware of our programmed beliefs however they were initialised and ingrained.
I am wondering if we can look at another subject, removed from overshoot, in which denial plays a big role in our actions/inactions so we can step back and dissect out a bit more how denial originates and becomes intrenched without us even realising our immersion in it, just like we in the small minority see happening to the masses and even polymaths in regards to overshoot denial.
The topic I think can fit the bill is the question of the ethics of eating animals, namely farmed animals which we consume in the billions every year. I won’t cover using animals for our labour and experimentation as the ethics of these actions can be construed to be justified in benefitting humankind which the majority of human beings would be in favour of. But the eating of animals in the modern world is not only unnecessary (and we can be spared the example of Inuits or other very minority population cultures who rely solely on animal products for sustenance, we do not have their situation in the least) but in fact there is convincing evidence that it is harmful to both our physical bodies and the planet, but for the sake of this argument, one need not consider either of those reasons to engage in a discussion of why we cannot eat animals nor their products if we believe we have a moral obligation to another sentient being. Let’s face it–we eat meat because we were brought up to do so and it tastes good (to most human taste buds) and it’s readily available without much effort on our part. However, the fact that animals suffer solely for our pleasure, tradition, and convenience is not enough moral ground to do so, for one can easily see how this disconnect can apply to any sentient being, including other humans, which is so obviously not an ethical choice. And yet, we are in complete denial that it is okay to eat chicken, cow, and pig but outrageously wrong to eat dog, cat, or horse. It is fine for us to imprison a member of a food species in the most horrendous conditions but we can be charged with abusing and neglecting other species we call our domestic companions. We can kill a food species animal way before their natural life span in a most horrific manner (everyone knows a slaughterhouse isn’t a happy place) so we can buy our sanitized plastic-wrapped packages of pork, beef, and healthy white meat chicken, but if we organise a dog fight and enjoy it, that is disgusting and shameful. You’re right, it’s not about education (most of us know that a live being had to be killed to get meat on the plate), or even more extreme forms of presenting the facts (how many of us would volunteer to witness what happens in a slaughterhouse, or even more tellingly, choose that as our job?). Yes, we have been lied to about happy free-range chickens or happy cows enjoying being milked on the happy dairy farm, but how many of us actually have spared more thought for what really happens in these industries, we’re only too happy ourselves to buy the more expensive organic or free-range option as if that absolves us from the guilt we still harbour knowing that no matter how happy the picture of the old MacDonald’s farm, we know this is a fantasy. Every animal still comes to an end in a way far from their natural choice and inclination.
I can sense the mounting justifications and counter-arguments–we need meat for our health or else we would get sick and die, if we didn’t raise the food animal they wouldn’t have a chance at life at all, what about if we were stuck on an island with only rabbits to eat, you can see how inane these points are, and generally stated to obfuscate the moral issue at hand. I am talking about modern day humans who now have access to a wide range of very suitable and healthful plant-based protein, and the methods we use to obtain our meatstuffs, even the question of whether or not it is our evolutionary diet (very debatable) isn’t the point here. The point is our denial of other factors which should be considered when making the choice of whether it is ethical to eat farmed animals, or even a beloved family pet lamb (just these words should put it in perspective that it isn’t but somehow we still do it–is that denial? ) What is it that keeps the majority of people still reaching for their burgers and steaks and fried chicken and bacon and eggs despite knowing what everyone should know? Is it denial of the truth because to face the ethical question front on would demand a choice and most humans just cannot overcome the continuation of pleasure, tradition, and ease of living, especially if it means realising it is a morally wrong thing to do so. So it is far easier to adopt cognitive disconnect, join the masses who are in your camp, degrade and exclude those who are not, and just keep doing what you want for one more day after day as long as it can last because at least you got to enjoy it and no one can take that away. Sound familiar? See how easy denial becomes just our way of perceiving our reality, and that is why I chose this example to prove that point. Every thought that is possibly going through your head now is a function of denial, one way or another, and none of it was even conscious before I brought this so called controversial topic up–if one can deem supporting active suffering of sentient beings just because we like it, to have any controversy attached.
I guess what I’m trying to express, which is in full agreement with what has been discussed, is that all of us have the capacity for denial (whether or not MORT is the primal reason) but we can’t see it as denial when we’re in the thick of it because that is just our chosen narrative. The way we dichotomise over overshoot, population control, Covid, Russia, just about any topic you can name, all confirm this. Only others outside that narrative (and usually the minority) can see that there is another perspective (because it’s their reality) and then call out the majority as in denial, which is exactly what the majority thinks of the outliers! It’s like that endless hall of mirrors reflecting back to you ad infinitum, whichever way one looks, there’s another image looking away from you, too, with the prime cause of the illusion being your own presence and perception of your reality. I think denial is a bit like that–it’s what holds us in our place, and helps define our sense of self by creating another version of possible self to bounce off of. I’m not saying there’s any right or wrong in this, it just seems to be how we are wired and until now, it has kept us on the survival ascendancy (that and a whole heck of fossil fuels!)
I think a good question to always be ready to ask ourselves in any situation to draw out denial is “What knowledge or understanding or different perspective that I may not have now but is available to gain or learn, would change or enhance the way I see the situation? ” Try it, it is very hard to allow oneself the possibility of overcoming our deep-rooted beliefs but yet that is precisely the attitude it will take for us to change them. Forcing education upon others doesn’t work as we have seen, it has to come from a self-directed intention to fill the knowledge gaps (isn’t that how we all arrived at our overshoot awareness and acceptance? We didn’t find this site because we were lectured into it, we found it because we sought it out) and then an even more entropy defying self push to change our actions to match our new insights. If the motivation is great enough, this can and will happen, but everyone has a different threshold before the fire is lit under our bums. Maybe that is why we need to head hell-bent towards full-on collapse, perhaps the only way to save ourselves is to first come within a nanometer of destroying ourselves. I still take comfort and security from the once inviolable Newton’s third law and trust that is will prove true for this case, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Let us pray for calamity that we will reach that opposite reaction with the same energy swinging us out of our doom as going into it, and preferably very soon!
Namaste, everyone. Thanks for bearing with another Gaia attack.
This is an essay from reader wis.dom project who describes his painful personal journey of connecting dots to achieve awareness of our overshoot predicament.
I was born in 1969, at a time when everything still seemed possible. On July 20, two people walked on the moon, which is probably the greatest technological achievement of man to this day. In my youth, I devoured novels by Asimov, Clarke, Lem, Dick and Herbert. The galaxy’s colonization seemed within reach.
45 years later, I realized that I was a victim of mass hypnosis, what I refer to today as techno-utopia – a belief in the limitless human development, genius and almost divine uniqueness of Homo Sapiens. I realized that industrial civilization, like any other dissipative structure, is doomed to inevitable collapse.
In 1972 – 3 years after my birth, a book titled The Limits to Growth was released by the Club of Rome. It was the first scientifically compiled report analyzing future scenarios for humanity. It indicated that unlimited development is not possible on a finite planet. The book was published in 30 million copies and was one of the most popular at the time. Surprisingly, despite the wide range of my readings, the book did not appear on my horizon for a long time. As if it was covered by another intellectual “Säuberung”. In fact, it was the subject of an intellectual blitzkrieg and relatively quickly evaporated from the media circulation. I experienced this myself by talking to several university professors. Every one of them dismissed the LtG concept with a shrug and an unequivocal, non-debatable conclusion that the theory had long been discredited.
Since then, there have been many other events that have offered an opportunity to change consciousness and thus the trajectory of industrial civilization.
On June 15, 1979, during the ongoing second oil crisis, President Jimmy Carter gave a famous speech in which he announced: “The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our Nation. These are facts and we simply must face them”. Photovoltaic panels were installed on the roof of the White House to symbolize a new trend – energy conservation and an attempt to develop alternative sources.
American people responded by choosing Ronald Reagan as the 40th president of the United States, who had the panels dismantled. Before he did so, he announced: “There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.” As a result of the use of “intelligence, imagination, and wonder” American analysts probably came to the conclusion that if we do not have the resources ourselves, they should be organized from a different source. Therefore, on his first overseas trip, Reagan traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he probably proposed the following alternative: petrodollar, protection and weapons for cheap oil… or American aircraft carriers will stay anchored in the Persian Gulf for longer – as in the Al Capone quote: “You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone”. Same logic. Following, we got post-colonial globalization with all the necessary tools like the IMF, World Bank, BIS, and Washington Consensus. Pax Americana in full release. A decade of crises had begun.
In 1980, a group of “loyal Americans” constructed Georgia Guidestones, “The American Stonehenge”. On 4 granite slabs, in 8 languages, the authors recommended 10 commandments of a healthy civilization, including limiting the global population to 500 million. This humanist monument was recently destroyed by fanatical terrorists and then demolished by the county authorities for “security reasons”.
In 1984, the publisher of George Orwell’s famous book, which regained popularity as a result of events at that time, advertised it with the slogan “maybe not 1984, but there is always 1985”. We solved the waves of hunger that engulfed African countries with “Live Aid”. The eastern block began to fall apart.
For the growth protagonists, their optimistic belief in progress was confirmed in the 1990’s, after the collapse of the Eastern bloc and another “gold rush”, this time in the oil fields of Western Siberia. Another wave of globalization had begun. The ceiling of the ecological capacity of mankind was raised again, and the extraction of natural resources accelerated to planet limits. China joined the WTO and “the sky was the limit” again.
The digital revolution restored belief in unlimited development, and Hollywood started showing “happy endings” again after years of dystopian themes. However, the honeymoon of unipolar globalization was short. In 2001, cracks started to appear. US president, George W. Bush, announced that the prosperity of the Americans was not negotiable. Invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan clearly showed the intentions of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “The Grand Chessboard” strategy. After all, the 9/11 organization required remarkable synchronization, and its presentation to the public was another masterpiece of the hypnotic power of mass communication. Undoubtedly, its organizers were aware of the challenges ahead. In 1998, Colin J. Campbell, a highly respected geologist dealing with oil field analysis for companies such as BP, Texaco, Amoco, together with Jean Laherrère published an article titled The End of Cheap Oil. Shortly after, he recalled, gentlemen from the Pentagon / CIA visited him with a proposal to cooperate. They wanted to know more about the impending peak-oil. They knew the matter was serious. Campbell’s relatively precise predictions materialized in 2006, when we reached the peak of conventional oil production.
However, also this time the convulsions of civilization were prolonged. For optimists, the shale revolution, fracking, deep and arctic oil were another confirmation of human genius and the possibility of unlimited expansion of the species. Changing the definition of oil production to ‘all liquids’ and the inclusion of bizarre products such as biofuels once again gave the impression of unlimited resources. For the more inquisitive observers, it was more like “last drops from the bottom of the barrel.” The IEA’s prediction of production scenarios, with a price of $300 per barrel, did not seem to scare the public. For some, they were another opportunity for tempting profits. The oil price reached $147 a barrel in 2007 and has yet to be beaten. However, it had far-reaching consequences in the form of a global financial and economic crisis. In November 2018, we probably achieved the final peak of production of all liquid hydrocarbons. Peak oil has become a fact.
Germany’s Bundeswehr 2010 publication on the consequences of the peak extraction of critical resources has not reached a wider audience. Instead, we got another installment of mass hypnosis in the form of such oxymorons as “renewable energies” (which for semantic precision are not renewable) and “sustainable development” (whatever that means). The energy transformation, changed by all cases, was called a revolution by its followers. Apparently, none of them noticed that revolutions are by nature bottom-up. The current attempt at energy transformation, on the other hand, is a top-down, elite-bureaucratic decree forced into the economy with an enormous organizational, financial and propaganda effort, and has nothing to do with the revolution. Except perhaps the inevitable failure.
Further memes of the Holy Grails of energy appear in the widespread public perception. From nuclear fusion projects, new categories of nuclear reactors, SMRs, large-scale energy storage to the recently very popular multicolored forms of hydrogen. Already every moderately educated inhabitant of Western countries can cite further possibilities of increasing our chance for a vacation on Mars in the near future, a vision presented by Elon, the most popular techno-utopian messiah. The knowledge on this subject is usually so shallow that it only causes confusion. After all, if all these solutions are at hand, why are we living in times of a global energy crisis? Undoubtedly, if not terrorist inclinations, this can at least provoke rage against such inept politicians. Greta is disappointed, as are her millions of unsuspecting millennials. False hope is a source of frustration expressed by aggression. This generation will inspire a wave of radicalism and eco-terrorism in the near future.
So here we are. Pandemic, wars, revolutions, hunger, migrations, financial crisis, stagflation, new cold war, de-globalization – we got a jackpot in this draw.
In 2011, a public opinion research company surveyed Western countries’ populations on the threats to human civilization. 11% expressed the opinion that events that threaten civilization will occur during their lives. I wonder what the result would be today, but I have no doubt it would be significantly higher. Still, the wider population was not frightened by the fact that in 2018 Sweden mailed instructions to its citizens on how to prepare for war, which was also a pocket prepper plan. The city of New York is preparing for a nuclear attack right now. A day like any other, nothing to see here. Yet all over the world there are no reactions, no demonstrations, no prayers for peace. The masses are hypnotized. Most of the younger generation of Western societies fear climate change. Nobody told them that the greatest threat to their welfare is, paradoxically, an end to environmental rape.
A breakthrough on the legendary World3 Model Standard Run is happening right before our eyes. Except the fall, like in Hemingway’s novel: How did you go bankrupt? Bill asked. “Two ways”, Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly”. “Gradually” was already there, now “suddenly” begins. As if we were watching Seneca Cliff live. Yet most people believe this is just a temporary stumble on the way to permanent happiness and prosperity. Almost every statement of people in the media contains hidden optimism when they make plans for 10, 20 or 30 years, visions of smart-cities, hydrogen-economy, electric cars and universal happiness. Even the so-called pessimists that see the crisis and the forthcoming World War III, believe in the following reconstruction and further progress after the victory of the only right one, i.e. OUR SIDE. Spes decedit ultimo, amorem non moritur.
The pandemic, the genesis of which should be sought in biological weapons laboratories, was presented efficiently and with amazing media synchronization as a natural zoonotic epidemic. At the same time, the health service suffered global Münchhausen’s surrogate syndrome and concluded that injecting 5 billion people with experimental gene therapy is a good idea. And this despite the fact that for the vast majority of them the disease is relatively harmless, while gene therapy turns out to be ineffective and risky. I mean, safe and effective. How the “vaccine”, which should be injected in your body 4 times in 1.5 years is effective, no one explained and few asked.
Meanwhile, the frequency of meetings between political elites, presidents, prime ministers, ministers and a whole host of other notables in various configurations has drastically increased. This could hypothetically indicate greater international cooperation, but I am betting that the number of fires to be extinguished has increased instead. And I’m afraid this is just the beginning. Groups from WEF, G7, G20, BRICS, AUKUS, NATO, B&RI, QUAD, RCEP, ASEAN, to the Bilderberg Group meet to agree current positions, preferences, transactions, exchange information and confirm alliances. The chessboard is dynamically reconfigured. Global industrial civilization, like any dissipative structure, bifurcates. The world will divide. We go back in time. Another Cold War has arrived, and as one California senator noted, the truth is its first casualty. The level of propaganda is so advanced that, as in my youth, we will soon be seeing “TV is lying” graffiti. And this is justified. The elites are trying to prepare for the coming crisis, and this requires the right tools of indoctrination, surveillance and control. We can expect more riots, protests, strikes and demonstrations. More state control. More power of brute force. More epidemic passports, debt, digital currencies, vaccinations, bankruptcies, unemployment and migrations. Less money, food, travel, vacation, products, freedoms, and rights. The polarization of opinions is growing, and the spectrum of the narrative is intensifying the schizophrenia of paradigms. Social discontent will grow. As William Gibson stated, “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed”. Sri Lanka is the proverbial canary in the mine. It’s just a matter of time before it will also show up in my neighborhood. Klaus Schwab from the WEF is supposed to keep me happy, but I only see it in the scenario of Futurological Congress. I can handle “less meat” with pleasure, but a lack of property is a fresh implementation of techno-fascism based on the proven model of CCP. National Socialism has the same imperative regardless of the flag. Klaus’ pupils, the prime ministers of the Netherlands and Canada, are already eagerly implementing the plan heading straight towards Soylent Green. The new techno-utopian prophet Yuval Noah Harari (Noah is quite symbolic in this context) and at the same time faithful to the Great Reset sect defines the challenges facing humanity as, among other things, providing adequate entertainment for these billions of “useless people”. 4th industrial revolution – biotechnology, automation, geoengineering, brain-computer interface, remote control, complete elimination of privacy, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, transhumanism and singularity will save us. In which metaverse, Mr. Harari? Techno-fascism? It looks more like smart-depopulation than smart-dictatorship.
Meanwhile, the war in Europe became a breeding ground for hysterical psychosis, in which a billion people of the Western world decided that preparations for WW3 should begin. Europe has been organizing Seppuku type economic crises on an unprecedented scale since 1929, followed by the depopulation scenario of the anonymous white intelligence agency deagel.com. These two events are another masterful operations on the open brain of global population. Simultaneously the UN forecasts the size of the human population by 2300, and the optimistic scenario predicts 36.4 billion inhabitants of the planet. Are they already implementing Stanislaw Lem’s scenario in their canteens? Is this a pilot?
The process of absorbing this knowledge was painful. The closest analogy is DABDA (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the book On Death and Dying (also published in 1969). In her description, the stages of dying may occur many times, and their sequences are individual for each person becoming aware of their own mortality. I saw it myself in my loved ones who passed away. This happened to me also in relation to the revelation that industrial civilization is dying. Such awareness is an extremely difficult experience. In addition to its own emotional consequences, it also brings deep alienation. It becomes a natural need to share your knowledge with others, including your loved ones. As much as I could, I tried to avoid it, knowing from the descriptions of others who had previously had such experiences. Sharing such information brings only isolation, mockery, and being labelled as a “depressive-manic supporter of conspiracy theories”. Despite my sincere desire, I did not avoid ostracism and contempt, like many others before me. Kassandra, the social nickname that had been given to me half-jokingly in my social circle, turned out to be only a sign of intellectual gaps of my friends. After all, Kassandra was right in predicting the fall of Troy. I was doomed, like her, to a consciousness that no one would accept. No wonder, eschatology has a long history and the list of Armageddon prophets is long.
As part of my personal DABDA I am trying to decipher the history and its mechanisms. The question “how did this happen?” is lingering. How is it possible that we have brought our species and the planet to the brink of collapse? And there is the question of who was responsible.
The story leading to the LtG conclusions seems quite obvious from my current perspective. David Attenborough provides the simplest explanation:
We have a finite environment— the planet. Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.
After 30 years of studying economics, I came to a similar conclusion. Modern mainstream economics is a scholastic sect that created pseudo-science describing economic mechanisms without considering any environmental factors in their models. Economists rationalized that any limitations related to demographics, resources and pollution will be resolved by the market, and ultimately by another sect – academy of scientific progress in cooperation with mammon wizards, i.e. rulers of the financial system. I am writing this with great respect and admiration for thousands of great scientists. We are also a brilliant species after all. Without them, we would still be jogging through the Central African savannahs. And probably the debt-engineers also deserve gratitude, because as Lloyd Blenkfein, president of Goldman Sachs said at the height of the previous global GFC financial crisis, “I’m doing God’s Work”. In fact, I cannot disagree. Without sophisticated debt magic the pyramid of industrial civilization would have collapsed much sooner.
The population of the planet grew exponentially, and we just recently surpassed 8 billion people on the planet for a while. Paul R. Ehrlich published The Population Bomb in 1968. The book received similar intellectual reception to LtG and was recognized as a Malthusian propagation of fear and defeatism.
In 1959, Aldous Huxley published New World 30 years later: The divergence report. Even then he feared the consequences of overpopulation. His conclusions are being realized before our eyes. The mixture of Orwell’s 1984 and the original Brave New World is more and more obvious, only the proportions change. Orwell is increasingly dominating though, and “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength” is increasingly evident in current mass media hypnosis.
So who was responsible?
Politicians? People with sociopathic narcissistic disorders voted in to solve short-term problems? The Kissinger Report was published in 1974 for the President Nixon administration reads:
23. The central question for world population policy in the year 1974, is whether mankind is to remain on a track toward an ultimate population of 12 to 15 billion – implying a five to seven-fold increase in almost all the underdeveloped world outside of China – or whether (despite the momentum of population growth) it can be switched over to the course of earliest feasible population stability – implying ultimate totals of 8 to 9 billions and not more than a three or four-fold increase in any major region.
24. What are the stakes? We do not know whether technological developments will make it possible to feed over 8 much less 12 billion people in the 21st century. We cannot be entirely certain that climatic changes in the coming decade will not create great difficulties in feeding a growing population, especially people in the LDCs who live under increasingly marginal and more vulnerable conditions. There exists at least the possibility that present developments point toward Malthusian conditions for many regions of the world.
The politicians knew perfectly well, at least the well-informed ones. As Deng Xiaoping, chairman of the Communist Party of China and architect of modern China, probably concluded that if China does not join the global economy relatively quickly, it will no longer have a chance to end the Age of Humiliation and “take a central position on the world stage”. In 1992, Fidel Castro delivered this speech at the Rio Environmental Conference.
Humanity? Each of us with internet access had the opportunity to find this knowledge. Some of us, however, preferred to watch cute cats or modern gladiators running on the trimmed lawn. Panem et circenses.
Philosophers? After all, philosophy, as a love of wisdom, was perhaps the most responsible for the awareness of human destiny. The philosophers were proto-scientists, only with progressing specialization migrated to the role of provincial humanists with an inclination to determine the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin. They also failed. As a result, most of humanity lives in Plato’s cave, waiting for the looming vengeance of Thomas Malthus, the first professor of political economy. What an irony.
Or maybe nobody is to blame, and humanity – as in the Greek tragedy – was destined to follow this last journey of Icarus from the beginning?
Buried in the comments of the last post we discussed human overshoot and what should be done about it. I proposed our goal should be to minimize suffering and that the best path to achieving this goal is awareness of Ajit Varki’s Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory.
My view, in summary, is that when fully aware of the reality and implications of human overshoot, our best personal and collective responses become self-evident and require no coercion to implement. Conversely, when overshoot is denied, all of our best personal and collective responses are vehemently rejected as assaults on our rights and entitlements.
Unfortunately, our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities, as explained by MORT, blocks overshoot awareness. Therefore any progress in a good direction requires an understanding of MORT.
Put more bluntly, all environmental activists, climate changers, peak oilers, Gaia lovers, population reducers, etc. should be focused with Zen-like precision on MORT, and any other activity is a complete waste of time, as demonstrated by our zero progress on any substantive issue over the last 50 years since Limits to Growth was published.
Reader Gaia Gardener responded with some beautiful prose that I thought was a good reason to clear the decks and create this new post.
For useful background, the comment thread that motivated the following essay by Gaia Gardener begins here.
Upon gazing up at the starry night sky thoughts like these come to my mind–there must be some sentient life form and civilization somewhere in this vast universe that broke through this barrier of denial that causes suffering to self, other life forms, and their ultimate destruction of their planetary home. Just being able to internalize this gives me much peace and acceptance of my infinitesimally small but still conscious being. If I keep gazing, sometimes I can lose sense of self completely and just melt into a time/space/no and every mind. Fermi’s paradox may be the most probable explanation for our seemingly unique manifestation but in a near infinite cosmos, there is still a chance that we may not understand everything!
If we are not here, or even if we were never here, the vastness of the universe continues to be, the ultimate laws of physical construct still stand as foundational building blocks to all matter and life, and life forms will continue to evolve even if given the most minute opportunity. In light of these critical truths, our knowledge of it is an ego awareness and recognition of what always was and will be and which has been already recognized by eons of cultures in their own way of expression. From creation myths to quantum equations, it is all a finger pointing at the moon, a way of reaching the untouchable but the real mystery and awe lies in the experience of just being. I suppose what is most tragic to our species is that we may lose our own consciousness to reflect back on our understandings of our world, in a word, annihilation. But can we take solace in the knowledge that we are elemental stardust to begin with and will return to that state, and since our guiding laws tell us matter and energy are constantly changing form, that is what we must be also, moment by moment, if even there is something called time. Then it is not a far reach for me to accept death, but suffering is another matter. Our ability to experience suffering ourselves is the prerequisite of consciousness and to be aware of suffering in others and make a choice for relief is the core of our humanity.
I have of late, at this crossroad of our civilization, find myself asking “Has it all been worth the suffering?” The knowledge gained, the art expressed, the structures erected, the technology exploded, has it been worth what we have also wrought with the same force and energy, the destruction and injustice to our planet and other life forms, starting with our own species, closer kin than any other stardust in this vastness of space. For example, for JS Bach to be born and for us to experience the incomparable beauty of his music, was it worth whatever else had to pass for our civilization to bring forth such genius? Can another member of our Homo sapiens family, in destitution and hunger for generations oppressed, can they say our enjoyment of our highest pinnacle achievements was worth their suffering and their ancestors suffering and their children’s suffering at the hands of our dominant culture? What of their choice to relieve suffering if only we had used our energy in a different way that may have allowed them to reach their own developmental potential? I cannot lie to a deepest truth that it is only my judgment that deems one being more worthy than another, the universe has none. If we are uberconscious, then we will also know that the universe has no judgment on our beingness or existence, it is only us looking at and contemplating ourselves in the mirror for this briefest of constructs called space and time. But since we have developed this mind and we have created our microuniverse within the macro, it is our responsibility to finish what we began, on every level. Overshoot and its repercussions is the stage set for our generations, we cannot shirk from finishing the show we have written, directed, and acted in. But there is also more to our human existence, and from the earliest times our inner desire has been to find our meaning and place in this cosmos. The present is the only time we ever have to continually seek and refine for ourselves what resonates, only now it seems of greatest urgency, at least to me. Maybe being born in the age of overshoot collapse has refocussed this for all of us here. And I do agree that reduction of suffering is a noblest goal and can manifest in myriad ways; kindness is always our choice.
I’m a longtime fan of Dr. Rees and consider him to be one of the most aware and knowledgeable people on the planet.
This is, I believe, the best talk I’ve seen by Dr. Rees and he covers all of the important issues, including topics like overpopulation that most of his peers avoid.
Presentations like this will probably not change our trajectory but nevertheless I find some comfort knowing there are a few other people thinking about the same issues. This can be a very lonely space.
The Q&A is also very good. I found it interesting to hear how much effort Dr. Rees has made to educate our leaders about what we should be doing to reduce future suffering. He was frank that no one to date, including the Green party, is open to his message. Not surprising, but sad. Also inspiring that someone of his stature is at least trying.
Climate-change and other environmental organizations urge governments to act decisively/rapidly to decarbonize the economy and halt further development of fossil fuel reserves. These demands arguably betray:
– ignorance of the role of energy in the modern economy;
– ill-justified confidence in society’s ability to transition to 100% green renewable energy;
– no appreciation of the ecological consequences of attempting to do so and;
– little understanding of the social implications.
Without questioning the need to abandon fossil fuels, I will argue that the dream of a smooth energy transition is little more than a comforting shared illusion. Moreover, even if it were possible it would not solve climate change and would exacerbate the real existential threat facing society, namely overshoot.
I then explore some of the consequences and implications of (the necessary) abandonment of fossil fuels in the absence of adequate substitutes, and how governments and MTI society should be responding to these unspoken biophysical realities.
Dr. William Rees is a population ecologist, ecological economist, Professor Emeritus, and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning.
His academic research focuses on the biophysical prerequisites for sustainability. This focus led to co-development (with his graduate students) of ecological footprint analysis, a quantitative tool that shows definitively that the human enterprise is in dysfunctional overshoot. (We would need five Earth-like planets to support just the present world population sustainably with existing technologies at North American material standards.)
Frustrated by political unresponsiveness to worsening indicators, Dr. Rees also studies the biological and psycho-cognitive barriers to environmentally rational behavior and policies. He has authored hundreds of peer reviewed and popular articles on these topics. Dr. Rees is a Fellow of Royal Society of Canada and also a Fellow of the Post-Carbon Institute; a founding member and former President of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics; a founding Director of the OneEarth Initiative; and a Director of The Real Green New Deal. He was a full member of the Club of Rome from 2013 until 2018. His international awards include the Boulding Memorial Award in Ecological Economics, the Herman Daly Award in Ecological Economics and a Blue Planet Prize (jointly with his former student, Dr. Mathis Wackernagel).
I left the following comment on YouTube:
I’m a fellow British Columbian and longtime admirer of Dr. Rees. Thank you for the excellent presentation.
I agree with Dr. Rees’ prescription for what needs to be done but I think there’s a step that must precede his first step of acknowledging our overshoot predicament.
Given the magnitude and many dimensions of our predicament an obvious question is why do so few people see it?
I found a theory by Dr. Ajit Varki that provides a plausible explanation, and answers other important questions about our unique species.
The Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory posits that the human species with its uniquely powerful intelligence exists because it evolved to deny unpleasant realities.
If true, this implies that the first step to any positive meaningful change must be to acknowledge our tendency to deny unpleasant realities.
Canadian author and journalist Andrew Nikiforuk addressed our overshoot reality on November 17, 2021 at the University of Victoria.
It’s a brilliant must watch talk that touches on every important issue, except unfortunately Ajit Varki’s MORT theory and our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities. Nikiforuk does acknowledge that denial is an important force in our predicament.
It’s refreshing to find a journalist that understands what’s going on and that speaks plainly about what we must do.
Nikiforuk introduced a new idea (for me), the “technological imperium”:
…our biggest problem is a self-augmenting, ever-expanding technosphere, which has but one rule: to grow at any cost and build technological artifacts that efficiently dominate human affairs and the biosphere. The technological imperium consumes energy and materials in order to replace all natural systems with artificial ones dependent on high energy inputs and unmanageable complexity.
Nikiforuk seems to be implying that technology is the core problem and is driving the bus. Maybe. I think more likely advanced technology emerges as a consequence of unique intelligence (explained by MORT) coupled with fortuitous buried fossil energy, driven by a desire for infinite economic growth that arises from evolved behaviors expressing the Maximum Power Principle (MPP), all enabled by our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities, which causes us to ignore the costs of growth and technology. Regardless of which is the chicken and which is the egg, Nikiforuk is correct that technology has made our society very fragile, and is harming our social fabric.
An example Nikiforuk provided of the technological imperium is British Columbia’s trend of replacing sustainable natural salmon runs in rivers with fish farms that are totally dependent on non-renewable fossil energy and advanced technology. I’ve witnessed this first hand on the coast of Vancouver Island and it makes me sick to my stomach. I also witnessed how hard it is to oppose the technological imperium when a political party here was elected on a promise to close fish farms and then reneged after being elected.
As an aside, the technological imperium idea gave me a new insight into the covid mass psychosis of most rich countries and their obsession with a single high tech “solution” to covid while aggressively opposing all other less energy intensive, less risky, and lower tech responses.
Nikiforuk began his talk with a quote I like from C.S. Lewis:
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
I observe sadly that this must watch video has only 160 views, 3 of which are mine. 😦
Here are a few other ideas and quotes I captured while watching the talk:
“We have all but destroyed this once salubrious planet as a life support system in fewer than 200 years mainly by making thermodynamic whoopee with fossil fuels.” – Kurt Vonnegut
“Our political class is in a complete state of denial and will not act until things get much worse. You can expect more blah blah blah.”
“Energy spending determines greenhouse gas emissions. We only want to talk about emissions, we need to talk about energy spending.”
“We must contract the global economy by at least 40%.”
“We can choose a managed energy decent, something few civilizations have ever achieved, or we can face collapse.”
“People who do not face the truth turn themselves into monsters”. – James Baldwin
“In sum, expect extreme volatility and political unrest in the years ahead along with atmospheric rivers, heat domes, and burning forests.”
“We are now at revolutionary levels of inequality everywhere.”
“We are being fed 5 green lies because we do not want to discuss economic growth and population:
dematerialize the economy;
direct air capture;
carbon capture and storage;
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert
Conversations we avoid or deny:
“There is no problem on earth that does not become easier to manage with fewer people. We don’t want to admit this, we don’t want to talk about this.”
We are currently using up the renewable resources of 1.7 earths and unless things change we’ll need 3 earths by 2050.
Our energy is so cheap and convenient it has blinded us to its true ecological, political, and social costs.
“Energy has always been the basis of cultural complexity and it always will be.” – Joseph Tainter
A single tomato today requires 10 tablespoons of diesel to grow it.
An energy dissipating superorganism that destroys natural systems and replaces them with artificial systems dependent on high energy technologies.
Wild salmon running in rivers are replaced with fish farms.
Wetlands are replaced with water filtration projects.
Old growth forests are replaced with tree plantations.
Technology is to this civilization what the catholic church was to 14th century France, the dominant institution that controls every aspect of your life.
“A major fact of our present civilization is that more and more sin becomes collective, and the individual is forced to participate in collective sin.” – Jacques Ellul
“A low energy policy allows for a wide choice of lifestyles and cultures. If on the other hand a society opts for high energy spending its social relations must be dictated by technocracy and will be equally degrading whether labelled capitalist or socialist.” – Ivan Illich
Civilizations Do Collapse
Life is a cycle, it is not a linear path.
We have peaked and are now entering a phase of incredible volatility.
Every citizen needs to know the consequences of bad policy. Percent death on the Titanic by class was:
39% first class
58% second class
What should you do with this awareness?
Withdraw from the fray of the Technosphere.
Do something to help preserve the natural world.
Get your hands dirty doing real work in nature.
Insist that creation has a value beyond utility.
“Think, less” – Wendell Berry
Build refuges and prepare for the storms ahead.
Wake each morning and ask yourself what you can give to this world rather than what you can take.
Comments and answers from the Q&A:
“The worst thing about the pandemic was that so many people and so many children were forced to spend so much time with colonizing machines.”
“We have to get a political conversation going about contracting the economy.” This won’t happen at the central government level but might happen within individual communities.
“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
“The only way we can get out of this mess without sacrificing millions and millions of people is to power down.”
Two weeks later, Nikiforuk reflected on his talk and responded to questions:
Two weeks ago, I gave a talk at the University of Victoria arguing that our morally bankrupt civilization is chasing dead ends when it comes to climate change and energy spending.
I argued that by focusing on emissions, we have failed to acknowledge economic and population growth as the primary driver of those emissions along with the unrestrained consumption of natural systems that support all life.
I added that people plus affluence plus technology make a deadly algorithm that is now paving our road to collective ruin.
As Ronald Wright noted in his book A Short History of Progress, civilization is a pyramid scheme that depends on cancerous rates of growth.
I also explained that many so-called green technologies including renewables, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage are not big solutions. Because they require rare earth minerals and fossil fuels for their production and maintenance, these technologies shift problems around.
In addition these green technologies cannot be scaled up in time to cut emissions or require too much energy to make any difference at all.
I also emphasized that our biggest problem is a self-augmenting, ever-expanding technosphere, which has but one rule: to grow at any cost and build technological artifacts that efficiently dominate human affairs and the biosphere. The technological imperium consumes energy and materials in order to replace all natural systems with artificial ones dependent on high energy inputs and unmanageable complexity.
This technological assault on the biosphere and our consciousness has greatly weakened our capacity to pay attention to what matters, let alone how to think. The result is a highly polarized and anxious society that can’t imagine its own collapse let alone the hazards of its own destructive thinking.
The best response to this constellation of emergencies is to actively shrink the technosphere and radically reduce economic growth and energy spending. Our political class can’t imagine such a conversation.
At the same time, communities and families must re-localize their lives, disconnect from the global machine and actively work to restore degraded ecosystems such as old-growth forests. Anyone who expects an “easy fix” or convenient set of solutions has spent too much time being conditioned by digital machines.
My cheerful talk generated scores of questions. There wasn’t time to answer them, so I selected five representative queries submitted via Zoom in the interest of keeping this heretical conversation going.
Growth in population tied to consumption is a big problem
Many listeners expressed disquiet about population growth being an essential part of the problem. “I am disappointed that once again Malthus has entered the room when the difference between per capita emissions for GHGs between the Global North and Global South are significant. Isn’t it how we live not how many of us there are?” asked one.
The real answer is uncomfortable. How we live and consume matters just as much as the growing density of our numbers combined with the proliferation of our machines that devour energy on our behalf. (Roads and cell phones all consume energy and materials too.) All three demographic issues are increasing at unsustainable rates and feed each other to propel more economic growth, more emissions and more fragility.
The world’s current population is 7.9 billion and grows by 80 million a year. It has slowed down in recent years because the affluent don’t need the energy of children as much as the poor. Even so civilization will add another billion to the planet every dozen years. Redistributing energy wealth (and emissions) from the rich to the poor will not avert disaster if human populations don’t overall decline.
Our numbers also reflect a demographic anomaly that began with fossil fuels, a cheap energy source that served as Viagra for the species. Prior to our discovery of fossil fuels, the population of the planet never exceeded one billion. Our excessive numbers are purely a temporary artifact of cheap energy spending and all that it entails — everything from fertilizer to modern medicine.
Isn’t capitalism the real threat?
Many questions revolved around the nature of capitalism. “Wouldn’t it be more accurate to denounce the capitalist organization of technology rather than technology as such for problems like polarization and fragmentation?”
No, it would not. Technology emphasizes growth and concentrates power regardless of the ideology.
Capitalism, like socialism and communism, is simply a way to use energy to create technologies that structure society in homogeneous ways. Removing capitalism from the equation would not change the totalitarian nature of technology itself. Or the ability of technologies to colonize local cultures anywhere.
Every ideology on Earth, to date, has used technologies to strengthen their grip on power by enmeshing their citizens in complexity and reducing humanity to a series of efficiencies. All have supported digital infrastructure to monitor and survey their citizens. As the sociologist Jacques Ellul noted long ago ideologies don’t count in the face of technological imperative.
What comes next?
Many listeners asked if “there is a sequel to the energy-rich market economy?” I have no crystal ball but here is my response.
There will always be some kind of sequel and it is not written. But there is no replacement for cheap fossil fuels and their density and portability. They made our complex civilization what it is. As fossil fuel resources become ever more expensive and difficult to extract (a reality the media ignores), the “rich market economy” will experience more volatility, inequality, disruptions, corruption and inflation. It is rare for any civilization to manage an energy descent without violence let alone grace.
“Can you say more about the connection between the technosphere and totalitarian societies?” asked one listener. “How do you see connections between dictatorships and the technosphere?”
This is a subject for a much longer essay. The technosphere, by definition, offers only one system of thinking and operating (triumph of technique over all endeavors) and has been eroding human freedoms for decades. It simply creates dependents or inmates. Social influencers now tell its residents what to buy and how to behave. As such the technosphere has become an all-encompassing environment for citizens whether they be so-called democracies or totalitarian societies.
The major difference between the two is simply the degree to which techniques have been applied to give the state more total control over its citizens. In both democratic societies and totalitarian ones, technical elites actively mine citizens for data so that information can be used to engineer, monitor and survey the behavior of their anxious and unhappy citizens in a technological society. (You can’t live in a technological society without becoming an abstraction.) The Chinese state does not hide its intentions; the West still clings to its illusions of freedom.
The technosphere corrupts language
One listener wanted to know “more about the empty language” employed by the technosphere as I mentioned in my talk.
Just as the technosphere has replaced bird song with digital beeps, the technological imperium has increasingly replaced meaningful language with techno-speak.
A world dominated by reductionist and mechanistic thinking has produced its own Lego-like language completely divorced from natural reality. Decades ago the German linguist Uwe Poerksen called this new evolving language “plastic words.”
They include words like environment, process, organization, structure, development, identity and care. All can be effortlessly combined to convey bullshit: “the development of the environment with care is a process.” This modular language creates its own tyranny of meaningless expression.
Experts, technicians, politicians and futurists employ this plastic language to baffle, confuse and obfuscate. Poerksen notes these words are pregnant with money, lack historical dimension and refer to no local or special place. This language, divorced from all context, does to thinking what a bulldozer does to a forest. It flattens it.
Hope is not a pill you take in the morning or a crumb left at the table
Last but not least many listeners asked how do we maintain hope in the face of so many emergencies, abuses and appalling political leadership?
“How do you get up in the morning?” typically asked one.
This frequent question confounds and puzzles me. My humble job as a journalist is not to peddle soft soap or cheerlead for ideologies and futurists. My job is not to manufacture hope let alone consent. I have achieved something small if I can help readers differentiate between what matters and what doesn’t and highlight the power implications in between.
Yet in a technological society most everyone seeks an easy, canned message pointing to a bright future. I cannot in good conscience tell anyone, let alone my own children, that the days ahead will be happy or bright ones. To everything there is a season and our civilization has now, step by step, entered a season of discord and chaos. History moves like life itself in a cycle of birth, life, death and renewal.
Jacques Ellul, who wrote prophetically about the inherent dangers of technological society, also addressed the need for authentic hope because it does not reside in the technosphere. The technosphere, a sterile prison, may promise to design your future with plastic words, but what it really offers is the antithesis of hope.
Ellul, a radical Christian, wrote deeply much about hope and freedom. He noted that hope never abandons people who care about a place and are rooted outside the technosphere for they will always know what to do by their real connection to real things. He adds that hope cannot be divorced from the virtues of faith and love. Like all virtues they must be quietly lived, not daily signalled.
For Ellul, hope was a combination of vigilant expectation, prayer and realism. “Freedom is the ethical expression of the person who hopes,” he once wrote.
Hope is living fully in a place you care about and acting against the abuse of power every day. Hope, in other words, is using every initiative “to restore the possibility of people making their own decisions.”
P.S. This talk inspired me to make my first donation to a news source, The Tyee, for which in 2010 Nikiforuk became its first writer in residence.
Ecologists Eric R. Pianka (University of Texas) and Laurie J. Vitt (University of Oklahoma) provide a scientific summary of the overpopulation crisis facing humanity and itemize its many consequences, including climate change (global warming), conservation biology, economic systems, energy and resource shortages, human instincts, immigration conflicts, politics, pollution, poverty, technological problems, and solutions needed. Their underlying thesis is that denial and delusion work synergistically to undermine our ability to confront these serious issues, and unless we undertake proactive measures now, overpopulation and its impact on resource competition and climate change will ultimately lead to the collapse of civilization.
In Road to Survival 70 years ago, William Vogt tried to call attention to the human overpopulation crisis, but failed. Paul Ehrlich raised this issue again 20 years later but was also widely ignored. We wish to re-open this long overdue and much needed discussion about population, a toxic topic that politicians globally avoid. We have written a book “Our One and Only Spaceship:Denial, Delusion and the Population Crisis.” We are two well-known ecologists Eric R. Pianka (University of Texas) and Laurie J. Vitt (University of Oklahoma).
We have edited and written books together, both scientific and semi-popular. Using fact-based analyses, we make the case that human population size and growth is the greatest threat to human survival, and that most if not every major global problem (including spread of AIDS and other communicable diseases, wars and other conflicts, climate change and in particular global warming, food water and energy shortages, poverty, political unrest, pollution, extinctions, etc.) are all direct results of overpopulation. Our birth rate far exceeds our death rate and the current global population of 7.7 billion in itself is unsustainable even without additional growth. This has put us on a collision course with disaster. It is perilous to remain in denial about all of the threats emanating from overpopulation.
As we become ever more and more desperate in trying to provide resources necessary to meet critical demands, our environmental problems will only worsen as we continue to deregulate thus allowing increased exploitation of dwindling natural resources. The thin skin of life on our planet is seriously threatened by the actions of a single species, Homo sapiens. Remarkably, even with our putative high intelligence, we don’t seem to be able to even admit that the problem is population such that discussions can begin on how to stop population growth. One thing is certain, it must and will stop—either we can do it through a series of logical steps (educating the public, coming up with a global plan, implementing the plan), or it will occur as the result of a combination of wars over resources, spread of infectious disease, or even famine. Such a discussion will have a greater impact on human survival than any of the many news stories currently dominating our media.
Overpopulation has only one outcome, and we have all seen it when mold takes over an orange—unlike mold growing on an orange, we do not have another “orange” to which we can send our offspring (There is no planet B). We are fully aware that discussions on population are “politically incorrect” and will be extremely sensitive to many people (especially religious groups) who take up arms in response to any discussion to limit reproduction. The ultimate biological reason for this response is simply that our genes control much of what we do, and reproduction is the currency of future generations. A more proximate reason is simply that our hormonal systems kick in when we reach puberty and all reason is washed away in the maelstrom of hormonal activity pushing us to reproduce. We must do something — ignoring our pressing problem and expecting it to go away is like hoping in vain to win the mega-lottery.
This is my brief review of the book, “Our One and Only Spaceship” subtitled “Denial, Delusion and the Population Crisis” written by Drs. Eric Pianka and Laurie Vitt. Copyright 2019.
I came across this book through one of the comments on your website. Since it was one of the few books that concerned population (in the title) I decided to buy it and read it.
The authors are ecologists. Dr. Eric Pianka is a Professor at UT Austin and Dr. Laurie Vitt is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. The forward was by Paul & Anne Ehrlich.
I overall liked the book. My feeling is that it is somewhat like Tom Murphy’s book and was intended for an intro college course in ecology/sustainability (without the math). That said I never had the impression that the authors were talking down to the reader.
There is some hope in this book. “This generation will be the last with decision-making powers to save our spaceship for all future earth-lings, including human beings.” But as the authors state in the Prologue, “The problem can be easily framed in three words, population, population, and population.” Human civilization is in overshoot and that we in the west are living far beyond the carrying capacity of the planet is covered in detail. So, the problem is both overshoot and population.
There is an acknowledgement that denial and optimism bias are part of our problem. But, I think that the authors are also in a little denial, “If humans are to survive into the next century, we need to reduce population growth, convert to renewable energy sources, use much less energy overall, and develop a plan for the future this is based on fact and not on fiction.” Their opinion is that we can maintain much of our technology (through “green” tech transition) and slowly reduce population with education and enlightenment. I don’t know if they really believe this or like Tom Murphy need to give students something positive to live for in the face of a depressing predicament.
Don’t get me wrong. This book touched all the right notes and I only disagreed with a tiny bit of it. I thought that the preface/into to the last chapter was perhaps the best quote I have seen on our place in the universe (other than Rob’s quote):
“Man did not have forever to harness the forces of the sun and stars. The Sun was an elderly light, long past the turbulent heat of youth, and would some day join the senile class of once-luminiferous bodies. In some incredibly remote time a chance collision might blow it up again into incandescent gas and start a new local cosmic cycle, but of man there would be no trace. In Balfours’s terms, he “will go down into the pit, and all his thoughts will perish. The uneasy consciousness, which in this obscure corner has for a brief space broken the contented silence of the universe, will be at rest. Matter will know itself no longer. ‘Imperishable monuments’ and ‘immortal deeds,’ death itself, and love stronger than death, will be as though they had never been. Nor will anything that IS be better or worse for all that labour, genius, devotion and suffering of man have striven through countless generation to effect.” –Homer Smith (1952) “Man and His Gods” and Earl Balfour (1895) “Foundations of Belief”