By Jack Alpert: Why a One Child Policy is Not Sufficient

Alpert on Civilization

Jack Alpert here explains that a one-child policy will not reduce our population fast enough to avoid the starvation of over 8 billion people this century.

Our survival is totally dependent on rapidly depleting non-renewable resources, especially oil and other fossil energy, but also aquifer water, and minerals.

Our survival also depends on over-exploited and rapidly depleting renewable resources like soil, fish, and forests.

In addition, the wastes created by our large population are disrupting the earth systems required for our survival like the climate, and the carbon and nitrogen cycles.

To avoid unimaginable suffering, in our children’s lifetimes, we need to support and vote for a birth lottery in which anyone wanting a child must apply for a permit, and then once a year, a sustainable number of birth permits will be randomly allocated to applicants.

Only about 1 out of 140 women will be permitted to have a child because our overshoot predicament is so severe. This will be very sad for the unlucky 139 couples, but the good news is we only need the birth lottery for about 50 years after which our population of about 100 million people will be permitted to have as many children as they wish, because the natural birth rate of prosperous advanced civilizations is sustainable.

While at first glance Alpert’s plan may seem bat shit crazy, but when you consider the alternatives, his plan is the only fair and feasible solution to a very nasty problem.

In summary, our choices are:

1. Continue business as usual for a decade or so more and then experience unimaginable suffering as more than 8 billion people starve to death this century, leaving the survivors with a lifestyle at best equivalent to medieval times on a very sick planet.

2. Vote for a birth lottery which will disappoint the majority of people desiring children for the next 50 years, after which people may have as many children as they wish and continue to enjoy the advantages of a healthy planet and a prosperous advanced civilization, like a stable climate, forests, biodiversity, abundant food, health care, education, and technology.

If we can somehow muster the strength and wisdom to break through our inherited tendency to deny unpleasant realities, the correct choice seems obvious.

Thirty years of research by Jack Alpert in support of the above can be found here, and other work I’ve posted by Jack Alpert can be found here.

By Gail Zawacki: Why Are Climate Scientists Less Than Truthful?

what's a tipping point

Gail Zawacki is an important thinker, activist, and chronicler of human overshoot. You can find my favorite work by Gail here, and all of Gail’s work at her blog Wit’s End.

Gail’s largest contribution has been to bring attention to the worldwide decline of tree health due to the rising concentration of ground level ozone caused but most forms of industrial combustion.

Gail has also tackled many other topics including climate change. Eight years ago she wrote a leaflet to shame some climate change deniers, and to protest the dishonesty of climate scientists. Anyone with a functioning pair of eyes can see the dishonesty today, but eight years ago it was much less clear.

Today, despite increasingly ominous warnings from the scientists, we’re not taking climate change seriously. In fact, we’re making things much worse and doing absolutely nothing to reduce the threat.

Now layer on this the fact that climate scientists are still not being fully honest about the gravity of our situation and you will begin to understand my fascination with our tendency to deny unpleasant realities.

If the majority of us were somehow magically able to see the severity of our predicament, the required responses of austerity, conservation, and population reduction would not only seem reasonable, they would be the obvious things to do.

Unfortunately genetic behavior is a very powerful force.

Following is Zawacki’s protest leaflet extracted from an excellent essay she wrote about her experience attending a conference of climate change deniers.


If you suspect that climate scientists aren’t being truthful, you would be correct. They are not leveling with us. Are they part of an alarmist conspiracy to embezzle government grants…furthering a plot to regulate, tax and destroy the American way of life?

Not exactly. (For one thing, the amount of money spent on climate research is trivial compared to the profits of the international oil, gas, coal and biofuel industries which are primarily causing climate change – and have oodles left over to fund a well-organized cadre of opposition.)

So, what secrets *are* those pesky climate scientists withholding?

Like doctors reluctant to diagnose a fatal cancer…THEY AREN’T TELLING US HOW BAD THE PROGNOSIS ACTUALLY IS. And why not? They have several inhibitions:

Reason #1. Scientists don’t want to jeopardize their careers by being branded hysterical or unprofessional. Traditional scientific reticence limits predictions researchers can prudently risk when their calculations are subject to complex uncertainties. Because they can’t accurately model the timing of delayed effects from system inertia, or the precise influences from positive amplifying feedbacks, they simply DON’T INCLUDE the most important variables and tipping points in consensus reports – like the albedo effect, and temporary aerosol cooling – even though they know climate change is provoking extremely violent storms, sea level rise, and desertification. And oops…they’ve completely left out of the equation the ramifications of ocean acidification leading to near total extinction of sea life (which produces much of our oxygen!).

Reason #2. Scientists mistrust public reaction. They are fearful that if it were widely recognized how inevitably and rapidly climate destabilization is occurring (and will accelerate exponentially), the majority of people would become resigned, depressed, and lose motivation to do anything about it…or worse – succumb to collective terror and derangement; and

Reason #3. Societal consequences are not in their purview. They know that only an urgent and drastic curtailment of emissions can mitigate the worst effects on society…and that imposing such harsh measures is politically impossible. Following natural laws rather than wishful thinking means that what is required is no less than a revolutionary change in modern lifestyles, including economic systems built on nonsensical faith in unlimited growth and unsustainable resource extraction. Issues such as government energy subsidies, corporate personhood, justice for climate refugees, prevention of famine and wars are foreign to the realm of atmospheric physics, and only the rare scientist has enough courage to venture into policy implications; and

Reason #4. Scientists are human and hope for the survival of their children too. They can’t believe how absurdly awful and inconceivable it is that humans have ignored consistent warnings from decades ago that releasing 90 million tons of greenhouse gases per day means we are knowingly and unnecessarily destroying the habitability of our only home, Earth. Like the most stubborn ideological deniers, many prefer to think the destruction of an environment hospitable to agriculture must be a preposterous nightmare – and that any minute, someone will pinch them and wake them up. They themselves don’t want to admit that


What remains to be seen is how much more disastrous we allow it to become for future generations. The blog Wit’s End links to studies indicating exposure to toxic tropospheric ozone is killing trees – even faster than warming from CO2 (oh, yes indeed, no kidding – pollution is really killing trees! Go look carefully at some). We CAN and MUST stop that before the entire ecosystem that depends upon them enters irretrievable collapse.

By Tad Patzek: A Requiem for the Beautiful Earth

Tad Patzek

Tad Patzek is a professor of engineering working on the thermodynamics and ecology of human survival, and food and energy supply for humanity.

Because Patzek is an engineer, and not an economist, you can pretty much believe everything he says. 🙂

I like this essay he wrote last month, especially since he kicked it off talking about genetic reality denial.

First, let me remind you that a pessimist is an optimist who shed his delusions and denial, and educated himself. Please keep this in mind, if you continue reading. If you don’t, that’s fine too. You will remain in your blissful bubble of denial and ignorance, which are the dominant genetic traits of most denizens of the fossil superorganism. Please understand that many democratically elected governments know very well about your truth aversion and are making best use of it.

Patzek had some interesting things to say about the yellow vest uprising, and I’ve seen similar comments from other intelligent people who read between the lines, so I suspect there’s something to this speculation.

The French riots are directly related to the depletion of many resources, but specifically to the intermediate distillates (abbreviated here as the naphtha fraction) that are disappearing from the refinery feedstock crudes worldwide. The ultralight condensates produced from the US shale plays have none. Naphtha is the petroleum fraction from which diesel fuel is produced. Since almost all trucks run on diesel fuel, which one would you rather have: food and other goods in stores or an unrestricted supply of fuel to private diesel cars?

The fossil amoeba will never admit that she is limited by anything. She cannot violate her own principle of indiscriminate, eternal growth that will pay for the ginormous debt the rich took everywhere to bail themselves out. This debt is now sloshing around the world killing what remains of the healthy environment and speeding up the collapse of our civilization.

The detached Macron was manipulated into an environmentally friendly explanation: less emissions. Of course, this explanation is nonsensical, and it came on the heels of many real and perceived social injustices in France that span two decades or more. To make things worse, air quality has become so bad in most places that ships will have to use low-sulfur fuel, which will further increase demand on the heavy naphtha fraction. Aviation too is growing everywhere to move people and goods across the global economy (soon to be discontinued). Jet fuel, which is essentially diesel fuel, also competes with your poor little diesel car. Finally, please do not forget that heating oil you use to avoid freezing in winter, is diesel fuel that is a little heavier.

Patzek also provided a nice take on “You know you are in trouble when…

Meanwhile, at every step, humanity has become more destructive to Earth’s ecosystems. I see no trend that we are solving more problems than we are creating. When the techno-optimists hail future “solutions,” I’m reminded that all the problems we face today are the results of earlier “solutions,” and all the solutions of today are creating new problems.

I know you know all this, but it’s worth saying: There are no significant ecological trend lines that are getting better for the ecosystems:

  • Human population is growing, getting worse
  • Human livestock population is growing, getting worse
  • Human consumption is increasing, getting worse for all but the consumers
  • Human ecological and war-victim refugees are increasing, getting worse
  • Toxin load in biological systems is growing, getting worse
  • Wild flora / fauna diversity is shrinking, getting worse
  • Aquifers, and all freshwater resources  are shrinking, getting worse
  • CO2 content in atmosphere is increasing, getting worse for existing biodiversity
  • Acid content of oceans is increasing, getting worse
  • Human economic unpayable debt load (fake energy, fake “growth”) is increasing, getting worse
  • Quality and availability of every critical resource are shrinking, making these resources more expensive and more destructive to recover
  • Net energy from energy resources is shrinking
  • Habitats and food for wild fauna are shrinking
  • Carbon and nutrient content of arable soils are shrinking
  • Nitrogen and Phosphorus cycles are disrupted and concentrated, creating dead lakes and dead ocean zones
  • Coral bed sea-life nurseries are shrinking
  • Tropical forest terrestrial nurseries are shrinking
  • Estuaries are shrinking
  • Ponzi schemes, stock swindles, and scams are increasing in frequency and monetary value
  • Forest fires and violent storms are increasing with CO2 and heating
  • War budgets are increasing,  etc.

And what, pray-tell, is offsetting this Earth balance sheet asset collapse? Windmills? Solar panels? Carbon capture? Artificial intelligence? A few rich humans getting richer? Computer chip processing speeds increasing? Video conferences?  “Smart” bombs?

No, whenever I doubt we are right about collapse, I take stock of this large-scale Earth balance sheet and must conclude again that human enterprise itself is a giant Ponzi scheme, plundering the mother that gave birth to us, high-grading every resource, squandering the riches for idle pleasures, and leaving behind a smoldering, toxic trail.

There’s more good stuff in his essay so you should check out the whole thing.

But wait, there’s more…

Here’s Patzek explaining why industrial agriculture (i.e. our food supply) will collapse within a few decades…

Here’s Patzek speaking about the unpleasant reality of climate change…

Here’s Patzek talking about how we could and should make do with less…

Here’s Patzek discussing authentic recycling…


By Tom Lewis: It’s Too Late to Brace for Impact

Abrupt Climate Change

A succinct climate change status report by Tom Lewis…

Here, in the 18th year of the New Millennium, the 28th Year of Our Internet (delivering unlimited information to all), and the 30th year of the Great Harangue over Climate Change (dating it from James Hansen’s testimony to the Senate), this is where we are:

  • The world’s emissions of greenhouse gases — the kinds of pollution that trap solar radiation like greenhouse windows and heat the climate — not only increased in 2018, but increased faster, setting a new all time record — despite the wildly hyped growth of “renewable” energy sources — according to two new studies published last week. Scientists said the emissions’ growth and the resulting acceleration of climate change, resembles a “speeding freight train.”  
  • The world’s people bought more cars, and drove them farther, in 2018 than in any year in history, driving oil consumption up for the fifth consecutive year despite the advent of hybrid and electric vehicles.
  • In November the Trump White House published findings by 13 Federal agencies and hundreds of scientists concluding that climate change is well under way and will cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century. Never mind the millions of deaths, the migrations, the homelessness, the dislocations — we have to put a dollar value on it to pay any attention to it. Asked what he thought of the report, President Trump said “I don’t believe it.”
  • In October the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an alarming report warning that greenhouse gas emissions are rising so fast that they will cause widespread food shortages, wildfires, coastal flooding and population displacement, not by the end of the century, but by 2040. One of the latest studies — the “speeding freight train” one — says all those effects may be seen by 2030. That would be just over 11 years from now
  • Last week, the Climate Change Conference meeting in Poland — this is among other things the conference of 200 nations that agreed to and is trying to implement the Paris Agreement on how to combat climate change — refused to adopt the October IPCC report on objections by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait. Thus what one major international UN organization had concluded about the facts of climate change were deliberately ignored by another major international UN organization working on climate change.
  • Last week, France cancelled a planned increase in taxation of fossil fuels, part of a four year effort to reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming. Carbon taxes have long been advocated as one of the few effective things government could do to reduce emissions. The prospect of this tax ignited violent protests by thousands of so-called “yellow vest” demonstrators who threatened to destabilize the country, and continue to do so after the cancellation of the fuel tax.

The secretary general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, told the climate change conference in Poland now in session, “We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change.” He went on to say, as hundreds of scientists and bureaucrats before him have said, that we are not doing enough. But he’s dead wrong about that. We are not doing anything. We are making it worse, faster. In part by jetting hundreds and thousands of people hither and yon around the world to conduct endless air-conditioned meetings on what we might think about doing, if we were ever going to do anything.

Here’s how I would put it: forget Brace for Impact, it’s way too late for that. What we need to do now, collectively, is bend over, take a firm grip on our knees, and …. well, you know the rest.

h/t Ian Graham & Kevin Hester

By Antonio Turiel: The Sunset of Oil (2018 Edition)

Oil Realistic Net Energy

Antonio Turiel reads between the lines of the latest official IEA data to provide his annual forecast on oil availability.

He predicts that in 2040 we will have less than half the oil we enjoy today.

I consider this a best case scenario because when economic contraction overwhelms our ability to mask reality with debt, many other actors will conspire to disrupt the complex technology network we depend on.

Like hungry people rioting in the streets, trucks with empty diesel tanks, no letters of credit for trade, and war.

P.S. Economists are idiots.


For readers who have just arrived at this blog , that graph will probably be quite impressive. Basically, it is telling us that the net energy that we can most realistically expect to receive from oil will fall from 69 Mboe / d in 2015 to 33.3 Mboe / d in 2040, that is, a fall of more than 50 % in a period of 25 years. It is certainly an ominous prospect, but it is similar to what we have obtained in other years and in fact this year’s is slightly better (0.9 Mb / d more in 2040) than last year.


With each passing year, the IEA is forced to make a new return on its forecasts regarding the production of liquid hydrocarbons. This year for the first time it has shown two graphs that anticipate a very unpleasant scenario in terms of oil production, something that seems to be already beginning to notice with the possible arrival of the peak of diesel production. As the years go by and the production data are known, it shows that the trends that we anticipated a few years ago are beginning to consolidate. More importantly, something that radically changes the situation has not just appeared, but rather the opposite: investment in exploration and development of new deposits falls worldwide except in the US, to the extent that currently North America , which produces less than 20% of all the world’s oil, it invests more than 50% in exploration and development.


And in the USA, the myth of fracking as a great revolution is increasingly exposed: the Financial Times questions the quality of the hydrocarbon extracted by fracking (it can not be used to produce diesel because it would be very expensive, among other things ); and a few days ago Art Berman showed that, contrary to the myth of ever decreasing exploitation costs, it turns out that in the last year and a half they have experienced an appreciable increase.


The classical economists, who only look at the price of oil, consider that there is nothing to worry about because right now the price is low. They have not understood the price volatility , they do not understand the effects of the energy spiral . The analysis of the production data, on the contrary, shows us a very complex situation ahead, forecast that as the years pass it seems to be confirmed.

By Gail Zawacki: Diva of Doom Interview

I’m a long-time admirer of the intellect and work of Gail Zawacki, the self-described Diva of Doom. You can find some of my favorites by Gail that I’ve posted here, and all of Gail’s work at her blog Wit’s End.

Here in a new 60 minute interview with Sam Mitchell, Gail provides an articulate description of the what and why of our overshoot predicament, and concludes with some wise advice on what to do about it:

Enjoy every good day that remains.


By Tim Watkins: Climbing Everest in High Heels (aka “It’s the overshoot, stupid”)

It's the economy, stupid

Tim Watkins today published a superb essay on our overshoot predicament. It’s enough to temporarily restore one’s faith in humanity to find someone who thinks and writes as clearly as Watkins.

Britain has – apparently – been thrown into crisis overnight.  Meanwhile across the channel, French president Macron is desperately trying to extinguish the flames of another weekend of mass protests that have now spread to Belgium and Holland.  In Eastern Europe the hard-right are gaining support; even undermining the previously untouchable Angela Merkel’s power base in the former East Germany.  Across the Atlantic meanwhile, the lines between deranged Democrats and MAGA nationalists are being drawn in readiness for America’s second civil war.  We are surely living through the greatest crisis in modern history.

Well, yes indeed we are.  But everything set out in the first paragraph is no more than the froth on the beer.  These political spasms are merely the outward manifestation of a human catastrophe that has been decades in the making.


The use of the term “climate change” to describe these catastrophes is deceptive.  If we were looking at our predicament in totality, we would include these crises alongside climate change as a series of (often interacting) sub-sets of a much greater problem… let’s call it the “human impact crisis.”

Crucially, by focussing solely on a changing climate, we can exercise a form of psychological denial in which human civilisation is able to continue chasing infinite growth on a finite planet while yet-to-be-invented technologies are deployed to magically heal the damage that our over-consumptive lifestyles are having on the human habitat.

The focus on climate change also permits us to avoid any examination of those human activities that increasingly stand in the way of the bright green technological future we keep promising ourselves.  Shortages in a range of key resources, including several rare earths, cobalt, lithium, chromium, zinc, gold and silver are very likely to materialise in the next decade if Western countries get anywhere close to their targets for switching to renewable electricity and electric cars (even though even these are just a fraction of what would be required to decarbonise the global economy).

Energy is an even bigger problem.  For the first time since the dark ages, humanity is switching from high-density energy sources (nuclear, coal, gas and oil) to ultra-low density energy sources (tide, wind, wave and solar).  We are – allegedly – choosing to do this.  However, because we have depleted fossil fuels on a low-hanging fruit basis, it is costing us more in both energy and money to maintain the energy needed to power the global economy.  As more of our energy has to be channelled into energy production (e.g. the hugely expensive Canadian bitumen sands and the US fracking industry) ever less energy is available to power the wider economy. This has forced us into a crisis I refer to as “Schrodinger’s renewables,” in which the technologies being deployed supposedly to wean us off fossil fuels end up merely being added in order to maintain sufficient economic growth to prevent the entire civilisation collapsing.


This, of course, brings us back to the increasingly heated debates in the US Congress, the UK Parliament and the streets of 100 French towns and cities.  Economic growth is the fantasy that almost everyone is buying into as a solution to our predicament.  Sure, some call it “green growth,” but it isn’t.  In reality it is, and always was central bank growth.  Why?  Because every unit of currency in circulation in the West was created with interest attached.  In such a system, we either grow the economy or we inflate the value currency back to something more in line with the real economy.  The former is impossible and the latter is devastating… which is why central bankers around the world have been quietly panicking for the best part of a decade.


The broader problem, however, is that the proposed solutions from the populists are no more likely to result in another round of economic growth simply because western civilisation is already well past the point of overshoot.  China – the place where most of the jobs went and where most of the stuff we consume is made – already consumes half of the world’s coal, copper, steel, nickel and aluminium.  It also consumes nearly two-thirds of the world’s concrete.  To grow at just 3.5 percent would require that China consume all of the world’s reserves of those resources by 2038 – at which point it would also be consuming a quarter of the world’s oil and uranium and half of the world’s grain harvest.  The impossibility of this is what people mean when they use the word “unsustainable” to describe our situation.

Nevertheless, even supposedly green parties cling to the promotion of economic growth as an electoral strategy.  Rather than admit the impossibility of further growth, however, they reach instead for some mythical “green growth” that will supposedly follow the industrial scale deployment of non-renewable renewable energy harvesting technologies like wind turbines and solar panels that require fossil fuels in their manufacture , and for which the planet lacks sufficient material reserves.  Promising de-growth is, however, politically toxic in the current climate.


Politics matter, of course.  In a future of economic contraction it is far better to be governed consensually by people who understand the predicament and who plan a route to deindustrialisation that has as few casualties as possible on the way down… one reason not to keep voting for parties that dole out corporate welfare at the top while driving those at the bottom to destitution.  That road tends to end with guillotines and firing squads.

For all of its passion and drama, however, the role of politics in our current predicament is somewhat akin to the choice of footwear when setting out to climb a mountain.  Ideally you want to choose a pair of stout climbing boots; but nobody is offering those.  For now the choice is between high heels and flip-flops to climb the highest mountain we have ever faced.  If we are lucky, the political equivalent a half decent pair of training shoes might turn up, but while the world is focussed on economic growth; that is the best we can hope for… and we still have to climb the mountain whatever shoes we wear.