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”
I haven’t had time to write a new essay, and I wanted a new post so newcomers don’t assume un-Denial.com has shifted its focus to Covid, which is a confusing space populated by crazy people assigning complex global conspiracies to a bunch of incompetent and sometimes corrupt leaders.
Thank you to reader Frank White for providing a good reason for a quick post with a new video by Neil Halloran on climate change.
It’s my first exposure to Halloran and I’m really impressed. He targets people that are skeptical of climate change and does an amazing job of leading them to conclude we are in serious trouble and must act.
I left this comment on his YouTube channel:
Brilliant content and production! This is best video I’ve seen for persuading climate change skeptics that we are in serious trouble. Thank you.
Your next step should be to address the human genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities.
Brilliant new talk by my favorite alien engineer, Jean-Marc Jancovici.
If you only have 90 minutes to spare, and you want to understand everything that matters about how the world works, and the nature of our overshoot predicament, and what we need to do to minimize future suffering, then this talk is the best use of your time.
Jean-Marc Jancovici is an advisor to the French government on climate change and energy as part of the French High Council for Climate. He is a founding partner of Carbon 4, a Paris-based data consultancy specializing in low carbon transition and the physical risks of climate change (www.carbone4.com). He is also the founder and president of The Shift Project, a Paris-based think tank advocating for a low carbon economy (www.theshiftproject.org). Jean-Marc Jancovici also serves as an associate professor at Mines ParisTech.
The thermo-industrial development of our society has been possible due to resource extraction and the transformation of our environment. Unfortunately, it has led to severe environmental consequences that humanity is experiencing around the globe: shifting and unpredictable climate, extreme weather events, and biodiversity collapse. Humanity is paying the consequences for technical and technological progress. Thus, can technology still save us from climate change?
Jean-Marc Jancovici will address this question through the paradigm of energy. He will first detail how modern society is structured around thermal and nuclear energies, and will then discuss the impact of this structure on global climate and society. Finally, Jean-Marc Jancovici will conclude by exploring the trade-offs between economic growth and sustainable climate stewardship.
Thank you to X for finding this new talk by professor Tim Garrett.
Garrett has developed the most significant and useful theory for explaining the relationship between climate change and the economy.
In this talk, Garrett explains his theory and tears a strip off climate scientists for their unscientific beliefs.
Garrett, in the Q&A, discusses the disgraceful manner that climate scientists have responded to his theory. I think the fact that almost all climate scientists ignore or deny Garrett’s theory is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence in support of Varki’s MORT theory.
Paraphrasing Garrett, an educated person would not infer from the above plot that human agency has an impact on climate trajectories. Instead, a naive person might reasonably conclude that CO2 emissions are caused by COP climate change accords. 🙂
Garrett used to summarize the conclusion of his theory as:
US$1 (1990) = 9.7 mW
Garrett is now expressing the same conclusion as:
5.8 gigawatts = US$1 trillion (2010)
Garrett observes that a single atmospheric chemist stationed on Mauna Loa would more accurately measure global GDP than the tens of thousands of idiot economists we employ.
One component of Biden’s climate change plan calls for more efficient appliances, machines, and buildings. Garrett shows that this piece of Biden’s plan will make climate change worse because the more efficient we are, the more we grow.
Garrett does not discuss it, but Biden’s plan would help if we tax away all of the savings that result from improved efficiency and use the taxes to pay down public debt. Biden of course would not have been elected if he included this in his plan.
Garrett also does not discuss the simplest solution for reducing CO2 emissions, which one person at a keyboard can implement: increase the interest rate. Garrett’s theory predicts a higher interest rate will reduce emissions because our wealth would reduce through defaults.
Garrett correctly observes that our current path of trying to switch to renewable energy will increase the combustion of fossil energy, but he doesn’t add the important caveat, until fossil energy depletion collapses our economy.
Garrett remains blind to one key piece of the puzzle: The depletion of affordable fossil energy has created a global debt bubble because the cost of extracting fossil energy is now higher than what consumers can afford. When this debt bubble pops, our wealth and CO2 emissions will decline, a lot. Curious minds want to know if the bubble will pop soon and fast enough to retain a climate compatible with a much poorer civilization.
My take away: The only path to maintaining our wealth and reducing CO2 emissions in time to possibly prevent a climate incompatible with civilization is to switch to nuclear power more quickly than we can possibly afford. And so our wealth will decline regardless of what we do.
One path, if we somehow breakthrough our genetic tendency to deny reality, might be a managed and civil decline. The other path will be chaotic and uncivil.
You can find more work by Garrett that I’ve posted here.
P.S. I note from the title slide that economist Steve Keen was a collaborator. Steve Keen, in case you’re not aware, is one of the only economists on the planet with a clue. The behavior of economists differs from climate scientists in that idiocy explains the former and denial the latter. Here is some of Steve Keen’s work that I’ve posted.
Thanks to friend and retired blogger Gail Zawacki at Wit’s End for bringing this excellent new talk by professor William Rees to my attention.
Rees discusses our severe state of ecological overshoot and the behaviors that prevent us from taking any useful action to make the future less bad.
Rees thinks there are two key behaviors responsible for our predicament:
Base nature, which we share with all other species, to use all available resources. Most people call this the Maximum Power Principle.
Creative nurture. Our learned culture defines our reality and we live this constructed reality as if it were real. “When faced with information that does not agree with their [preformed] internal structures, they deny, discredit, reinterpret or forget that information” – Wexler.
I don’t disagree with Rees on the existence or role of these behaviors, but we also need Varki’s MORT theory to explain how denial of unpleasant realties evolved and is symbiotic with our uniquely powerful intelligence, and other unique human behaviors, such as our belief in gods and life after death.
Some interesting points made by Rees:
The 2017 human eco-footprint exceeds biocapacity by 73%.
Half the fossil fuels and many other resources ever used by humans have been consumed in just the past 30 years.
Efficiency enables more consumption.
The past 7 years are the warmest 7 years on record.
Wild populations of birds, fish, mammals, and amphibians have declined 60% since 1970. Populations of many insects are down about 50%.
The biomass of humans and their livestock make up 95-99% of all vertebrate biomass on the planet.
Human population planning has declined from being the dominant policy lever in 1969 to the least researched in 2018.
The annual growth in wind and solar energy is about half the total annual growth in energy. In others words, “renewable” energy is not replacing fossil energy, it’s not even keeping up.
The recent expansion of the human enterprise resembles the “plague phase” of a one-off boom/bust population cycle.
50 years, 34 climate conferences, a half dozen major international climate agreements, and various scientists’ warnings have not reduced atmospheric carbon concentrations.
We are tracking to the Limit to Growth study’s standard model and should expect major systemic crashes in the next 40 to 50 years.
This is the new “age of unreason”: science denial and magical thinking.
Climate change is a serious problem but a mere symptom of the greater disease.
Apneaman is one of the brightest lights illuminating the handful of blogs that discuss reality. Unfortunately he does not have his own blog and so his unique insights are usually buried in a sea of less significant comments.
We were discussing here new evidence that the virus was engineered and Apneaman wrote a comment that deserved it’s own post, so I promoted it here.
From day 1ish, I never saw a problem with the possibility of it coming from a lab & that it was toyed with (gain of function). Why? Because unlike 99%+ of the population, I have had an interest in & done a shit load of reading the last 35 years on infectious diseases, history, science & their effects on societies, armies & humans. A bunch of it covers the modern era including bio warfare research, gain of function, thousands of incidences of lab accidents & escapes, criminal experimentation by gov, whistle blowing & a steady stream of scientists warning that gain of function + sloppy-reckless lab practices has the potential to cause a catastrophe & the same if used as a weapon. IMO, it appeared there was circumstantial evidence & cause for further investigation, but always remembering that circumstantial evidence is not ‘proof’ – just ask those hundreds of poor bastards that were convicted of a serious crime based on circumstantial evidence only to be set free 10-40 years later based on DNA proof of their innocence. A lot of humans don’t seem to know the difference & lately some highly intelligent ones that did know the difference between proof & circumstantial evidence seem to have lost the ability to make that distinction. Another thing I’m always remembering is Carl Sagan’s rule that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.
I don’t find the claim the virus came from a lab to be extraordinary for reasons I already mentioned.
I do consider that other claim, ‘Plandemic’ extraordinary & hugely suspicious given the parties pimping it & the pretext for it.
The vast majority of Plandemic pimps are western, white, male & conservative with the majority of them being American & there is big conservative money, political-business, funding much of the ‘grassroots movements’ (astroturfing) & leaders (shills) – like Anti-maskers fer freedum-liberty-patriotism-family values-the children-the troops-Mom-&-warm cuddly puppies.org
Most of these same people: conspiracy generators, politicians, think tanks, PR & image management firms & legion of true believer useful idiots have been denying & poisoning the water with: Climate change, industry pollution, consumer pollution, human population, mass extinction, any & all limits to growth with extra effort on energy denial. Many of them are hardcore/want violence racists too. They’ve been doing it for months, years to decades. What’s different this time is seeing doomers, who have previously debunked & dismissed these denier ideologues, join them for plandemic that is framed & sold with the same amateurish jumping to conclusions, cherry picking, false comparison et al logical fallacies, rhetoric, fear fear fear, spin & falsehoods as they’ve used to attack anyone or thing that challenges their dogma.
I find the pretext for plandemic, steal our freedom by enacting control measures, to be very shaky. It’s debatable if most of us are or have ever been free to begin with & to put it correctly it’s enacting MORE control measures on top of the stack they’ve been enacting since we were born & immediately assigned a number. Some of us even had our prints (foot) taken, like a person charged with a crime, before we left the hospital. In recent years parents willing give the authorities their kids DNA. Ya know, in case they get abducted (mega lotto odds).
Again it’s the same denier crew of (mostly) Americans moaning about loss of freedom & I say it’s a delusion about freedoms they never had. The major difference between now & then is they can watch & record more of what we do more of the time & corporations gather as much data as BIG GOV & share it with them. Sometimes the gov, like the California DMV sell their/your data to marketing businesses.
Many say if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about, but free people should not have to hide things from their gov that they do that don’t hurt others. But they still need to & do.
Back in the day, if the FBI suspected you of being a communist they would follow you, open a file on you. Check your bank records, library books, etc. They did the same thing to civil rights & anti war (Vietnam) activists in the 60’s & 70’s. & many others who crossed Power’s lines. They never stopped. Now everything is on a hard drive in gargantuan Gov and/or Corp server farms. So where’s the freedom? You’re free from being tagged & watched as long as you stay between the lines power has laid down as acceptable – go to our schools & follow our rules & we will allow you to drive a car, consume approved goods (alcohol & cigarettes OK, weed & Cocaine NO WAY). If you are born in the right class & posses enough intelligence & discipline you can choose among a variety of better paying employment & status options. You can vote, but not/never commie or socialist/never against the interests of BAU & Power.
No doubt tptb are using the pandemic as cover to hasten their surveillance-police state plans, long in the works. Plandemic pimps are trying to spin it as some freedom losing tipping point when it’s BAU. Just a progression of what’s been happening for over a century – using the new tech for surveillance & control. The progression is usually at a slow crawl, but never let a good crisis go to waste has been in the rulers play-book since day 1. There is no singular freedom losing event, there never has been one & trying to find one is equivalent to looking for a transition species. Missing links are for narrative seekers – looking for something that don’t exist to play a part in a primitive emotionally satisfying story. This is what humans do to make sense & deal. It’s a form of control.
I don’t have proof that there was no plandemic, but the onus is not on me, it’s not impossible, but all I’ve seen is bad evidence & twice as much emotion & dogma. If I was to believe most of what this largely right-wing American conspiracy denier crew believes then I’d be believing everything bad that happens in history that happens to challenge their ideology, didn’t just happen – IT WAS PLANNED (always by their nemesis – “The Left). To believe what they do is to believe in the mother of all coincidences, not to mention a level of self centeredness, self flattery & tribal specialness that makes them the neo chosen ones. What irony coming from conspiracists who claim most not to believe in coincidences. Ever notice they don’t have any conspiracy that exclusively fucks over the left? They’ve never been targeted? Only the right? Great underdog narrative that.
Although Russia Gate was mostly horse shit & the left is just as bad with their own dogma protecting denial & lies, Trump is a piece of shit & leading his crew into fascism. Not because the left says so, but because Trump is a piece of shit & leading his crew into fascism. It’s obvious. The left looks to be 1 or 2 steps behind in unleashing a US cultural revolution Mao style. I guess they need the white house. Looks like a lose lose situation to me. We’ll likely catch some spill over. It happens when the house next door is a meth lab & goes BOOM!
I’m with Carlin in that what people call freedoms & rights are just temporary privileges. I lmao at the American denier conspiracy crew because they were not just silent on what is probably the biggest plebs freedom losing piece of legislation in their country’s history, ‘Citizens United’, but many of them even supported it, which is kinda like a black slave 300 years ago cheering on the forging of his chains. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) & The Patriot Act are two other freedom stealing pieces of legislation they were also all but silent on or supported. These were all enacted in the 21st century, but were on the drawing board in the 20th.
Here is my simplified summary of Berman’s analysis:
both supply and demand for oil have recently fallen
oil demand has fallen more than oil supply
this despite an all-time record amount of debt conjured to stimulate the economy
which means the global economy is contracting and is in serious trouble
the contraction was underway before the virus – the virus accelerated but did not cause the contraction
the problem began in 1974 when oil prices increased above the level that the economy can grow without debt growing faster
we’re not going to run out of oil, we’re going to run out of people that can afford oil
the problem being geologic and thermodynamic in nature, has no business as usual fix, and will continue to worsen
Berman’s analysis is consistent with the conclusions of the other leading minds on the energy-economy relationship: Gail Tverberg, Tim Morgan, Nate Hagens, and Tim Garrett.
The most interesting question, by far, when viewed from 10,000 feet is why do none of our political or intellectual or business leaders understand the most important influence (energy) on the thing they care most about (economic growth)?
As an aside, recall that Eric Weinstein, the brilliant physicist/hedge fund manager whom I recently wrote about as a case study in denial believes correctly that economic growth and scientific advancement slowed in the late 70’s, but he doesn’t understand the cause despite thinking about it a lot. It’s no wonder that the much lesser intellects of almost all economists don’t have a clue what’s going on.
Berman believes that our economy, being a dissipative structure, will either collapse or spontaneously re-organize itself into a simpler form that uses less energy. I suppose the virus lockdown is a good example of a spontaneous lower energy re-organization. I put my money though on some form of collapse in the not too distant future. Despite a surfeit of entitled citizens, we could weather a significant reduction in living standards because we in the developed world consume so much more than we need to survive, however, the unprecedented debt bubble we have created by denying reality blocks a civil contraction.
Berman concludes that as the economy necessarily simplifies and we live much poorer lives, our energy mix will shift to lower productivity energy sources like wind and solar. My response to this is maybe. It’s more likely that Berman is denying the reality of his own analysis.
I can see solar panels being used for low power/high impact applications like, for example, LED lighting and pumping water into a gravity fed cistern. But it is unlikely and probably impossible that we will heat our homes, or cook our food, or cultivate and harvest our crops, or mine and smelt our minerals, or transport ourselves and our necessities with solar and wind.
When our solar panels and wind turbines wear out some decades in the future it is unlikely that the sophisticated factories and complex supply chains needed to manufacture and install replacements will exist. If some do exist to supply elite customers, like the military, most citizens probably won’t be able to afford their products.
I expect reality denial will prevent us from ever acknowledging peak oil and its offspring human overshoot. Instead, our consensus story all the way to a medieval lifestyle, at best, will likely be that there’s plenty of oil if the other tribes would stop using so much and we just need to elect someone tougher to deal with them and get our economy growing again.
Acknowledging our genetic tendency to deny reality would be a good thing because we might then focus on the best response to our overshoot predicament which is to rapidly reduce our population. Other wise responses can be found here.
Here’s the excerpted conclusion from Berman’s essay, but it’s definitely worth your time to read the whole thing for the data backing up these conclusions.
The Great Simplification
Energy is the economy. Money is a call on energy. Debt is a lien on future energy.
What is happening to oil markets and to the global economy is not because of a virus. The virus greatly accelerated what was already happening. Things won’t go back to normal when the virus ends.
The expansion of energy and debt have been leading toward some sort of reckoning for at least the last fifty years. That day of reckoning has been brought forward by coronavirus economic closures.
Oil prices had averaged $25 per barrel from the end of World War II until 1974 when average prices doubled (Figure 9). From 1979 through 1986, oil price soared to an average of $86 per barrel. These massive economic dislocations resulted in use of debt to maintain economic growth.
Excessive debt was the leading cause for the Financial Collapse of 2008. The crisis was resolved with more debt and monetary policies that ushered in the present era of central bank primacy in the world financial system.
Quantitative easing, near-zero interest rates and high oil prices led to the first wave of the tight oil boom. Over-investment resulted in over-supply and price collapse in 2014. By February 2016, WTI price reached $33 and investors rushed in to support the second wave of the tight oil boom.
WTI reached $72 by mid-2018 but by then, investors had begun to abandon tight oil as well as oil companies in general. The coronavirus economic closure brought monthly average prices to $17 in April, 2020—the lowest month on record. Unlike early 2016, investors weren’t writing any checks this time.
U.S. production may be 50% lower by mid-2021 than at year-end 2019. The implications for U.S. geopolitical power and balance of payments are staggering. It seems likely that the economy will weaken as government support for the unemployed decreases
I doubt that we are on the cusp of either a global energy crisis or the end of the oil age. It is more likely that both supply and demand will fall in tandem as the global economy contracts.
These observations are at odds with the mainstream view that both supply and demand are recovering. Some might concede that I am correct for the present but that things will improve and return to normal although it may some time.
Figure 10 shows credit growth and credit impulse for the United States from 1960 through the first quarter of 2020. Credit impulse is the change in flow of credit (debt) relative to economic activity (GDP).
Spikes in credit impulse correlate well with the oil-price shocks of the 1970s and 1980s. The extraordinary U.S. comparative inventory drawdown of early 2017 through the second quarter of 2018 also corresponds to credit impulse anomalies.
The chief feature of Figure 10, however, is that the magnitude of the first quarter 2020 credit impulse was more than twice as large as any previous increase. Moreover, GDP growth was either neutral or positive during previous spikes but was negative (-10%) for the first quarter of 2020. Also, oil prices were increasing during earlier periods but prices were decreasing in early 2020.
Ilya Prigogine was a chemist who won the 1977 Nobel Prize for his work on dissipative structures and self-organization. Dissipative structures are physical systems that release considerable heat as they consume ever-greater energy to support their growth and increasing complexity. A crisis occurs when growth can no longer be supported by available energy resources. The system either collapses or spontaneously re-organizes itself into a simpler form that uses less energy.
Empires, organizations and economies are dissipative structures. So is the human brain.
My friend Nate Hagens has applied some of Prigogine’s ideas to his own research about world energy, economics and ecology. He believes that we are on the cusp of something quite different from the scenarios suggested by Ahmed, and Goehring and Rozencwajg.
Hagens predicted a global economic decline in the 2020s and publicly expressed that opinion before the Covid pandemic. The main reason for decline, he stated, was too much debt undertaken to continue consuming and growing the economy. The virus has accelerated its timing and may result in contraction greater than the 30% drop during the Great Depression.
The Great Simplification will occur when the credit-supported part of the economy is removed. Economic activity will contract and less energy will be needed because it will be increasingly unaffordable to many parts of the population. People will be forced to adjust living standards downward and self-organize around energy with greater emphasis on local supply chains and regional economies.
I expect that the mix of energy sources will be similar initially. That will probably change as declines to meet the decreased carrying capacity of a society deprived of fossil energy productivity. Then, I imagine the world will move increasingly toward lower productivity energy sources like wind and solar. A viable economy may very well be created based heavily on wind and solar. It will, however, support a much poorer world than we have known for many decades in the world’s advanced economies.
Most ideas and analyses about future trends in energy and the economy fail to recognize that they are the two aspects of the same thing. That is why they are so far off the mark. This basic misalignment is painfully obvious because the energy sector represents only 2.5% of the S&P 500 valuation but underlies probably 95% of U.S. GDP.