On Jordan Peterson


I recently started paying attention to Jordan Peterson.

This Canadian professor of psychology has built a huge international following, and his YouTube videos have millions of views.

Peterson is filling a hole in our culture about the importance of individuals taking personal responsibility for living an ethical life, and how this is the only path to a fulfilling life, and a healthy society, despite the reality that life is filled with malevolence and suffering.

Although Peterson is highly intelligent and well read, he appears unaware of overshoot and its many imminent threats.

Peterson also appears unaware of Varki’s MORT theory, which I suspect he would find interesting because Peterson is a dot connector and seeker of deep truth.

Nevertheless, Peterson offers fresh, inspiring, and wise advice useful for people, and especially young people, trying to navigate the coming storms.

I am reading Peterson’s new book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos“, and may have more to say when done.

I so wish wise intellectual leaders like Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Nick Lane, and Noam Chomsky were overshoot aware. Their intellect and influence could then be applied to the issues that matter.

The fact that most of the smartest people in the world are not overshoot aware, despite obvious elephants in the room, provides strong support in favor of Varki’s MORT theory.

This recent interview with Peterson is an excellent introduction to his work.


By Nate Hagens: Energy, Money and Technology: From the Lens of the Superorganism

Nate Hagens gives the best big picture talks, hands down.

What differentiates Nate is his wide and deep understanding of the economy, energy, ecology, and human behavior that he weaves into a coherent realty based description of our predicament.

Nate also does an admirable job of illuminating positive aspects of, and constructive personal responses to, the coming much smaller and less complex world we will all experience in the not too distant future.

Here is his latest talk, a keynote give January 23, 2018, at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.

This talk is a refinement of similar talks by Nate I have previously posted. In addition to being more succinct and polished, this version benefits from high quality professional recording.

I’m looking forward to reading Nate’s new book which he said here will be published and made available for free in the next month or two.

Here are some comments Nate posted on his Facebook page.

Back from Saudi Arabia -was a short and great trip – the new King Abdullah University for Science and Technology is one of the richest schools in the world (something approaching $40 billion in endowment and as of yet only 1,000 students). My first trip to Middle East reasserted my belief that people the world over are pretty much the same (duh – we come from same place) – there are crazies and assholes in every country but most people are kind, warm, and pro-social. I had great conversations with taxi drivers, students, janitors, store clerks etc. I met a guy from Tunisia at airport and we laughed about all the world problems and what a time it was to be alive. Most humans just want to spend quality time w family and friends, tell stories and listen to music, play with their dog, do meaningful interesting work, and be free. It gives me hope that despite being African, Asian, European or American, despite being Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Atheist, there is a growing group that transcends these tribal boundaries towards thinking about and working on the future transition. (another of a handful of silver linings facing some serious global storm clouds)

Below is the video of the keynote I gave – I finally condensed the relevant aspects of what we face into less than an hour, but had to speak pretty fast to do it. If you haven’t watched one of my talks for a while this would be the best one to watch (plus their technology was amazing, 5 cameras, etc.) (the 2nd talk The 40 Flawed Assumptions Underpinning Modern Civilization, was in a different venue and not filmed)



An interview with Nate was also recorded at the conference. I really like the thoughtful questions and responses, as well as it’s unhurried pace.

The Great Story (A Reality Based Religion led by Michael Dowd)


Michael Dowd recently introduced himself in a comment on one of my blog posts. Reviewing his large body of work has been a pleasant surprise because I thought I was aware of most of the thinkers and activists in the overshoot space, and Dowd has some excellent fresh ideas.

We seem to share a few things in common. We were born within 7 days of each other. We have been deeply influenced by many of the same great minds. We have come to similar conclusions about the severity of human overshoot. And we both would like to find some path to making the future less bad.

I’ve long thought there might only be two possible paths to pulling humanity back from the precipice. All of our destructive behaviors were created in the crucible of evolution when daily survival was paramount and overshoot was a distant future problem. Any “solution” must acknowledge the genetic underpinning of our behaviors and find a way to shift those behaviors in a positive direction.

One possible path is to acknowledge the genetic disposition for spirituality in humans, and the power religions have had throughout history to influence behavior, and to create a new religion with an overshoot harm reduction agenda. This is the path it seems Dowd has chosen.

Dowd leads a new religion grounded in science and reality that worships the universe and life, and that acknowledges the special responsibility our species has because of its rare and possibly unique ability to understand how the universe and life were created, and how our behaviors are placing us and other species in peril.

Here are the ten commandments:


This is the third of a three-part series of videos Dowd recommended as an overview of his movement. I think this sermon is excellent and worth your time.

Dowd thinks that religions are stories created by humans to explain the reality they currently live in. Our reality today is much different from the reality 2000 years ago. Today we understand the science of lightning and floods and famine and plagues and life and death. Dowd says we need to update our religious stories to reflect our current understanding of the world. He makes a persuasive case that this new story is much more majestic and inspiring than any of the old stories. An example Dowd gives is that everything in the universe, including amazing brains capable of understanding this paragraph, emerged from a cloud of hydrogen that obeyed a few well understood physical laws.

Dowd thinks the genetic underpinning of religion is the brain’s propensity to give human characteristics to non-human things in our world. I do not disagree with Dowd that the brain has this behavior but I would explain it differently. The human brain is a computing machine that creates models to explain and predict reality. We create new models using fragments of models we already have to explain what we see and to influence what we hope will happen. Some of these models (or stories) have evolved over time into thousands of religions and gods.

So far so good. Where we may disagree is that I think Varki’s MORT theory points to a deeper and more important genetic foundation of religion, denial of mortality. There is much evidence to this claim which I explored here and here. An important point being that if religions were mainly about explanatory stories and not about denial of mortality we would expect to see a few random religions with life after death stories, but not as we observe, a life after death story central to every single one of the thousands of religions, including new religions like Scientology. As a famous comedian/actor whose name we may no longer speak once said, “I don’t want to live on in the minds of my fans, I want to live on in my apartment”.

The reproductive fitness of an intelligent social species is often improved by a more powerful brain. Therefore there is evolutionary pressure in some species to become smarter. As a brain evolves increased computing power it reaches a point at which it can understand its own mortality. The MORT theory rests on the assumption, which I believe to be true, that the human brain is the only brain on our planet that has evolved this level of power. MORT explains that sufficient brain power to understand mortality, on its own, lowers reproductive fitness through reduced risk taking and depression because all complex species have evolved behaviors to avoid injury and death. Thus there is a barrier to increased brain power that can only be crossed by simultaneously evolving denial of mortality. Crossing this barrier requires an improbable evolutionary event, analogous to the energy per gene barrier that blocked complex life for 2 billion years until a rare endosymbiosis (merging) of prokaryotes (simple cells) created the eukaryotic cell.

Humans are the only species, so far, on our planet to have crossed the barrier. Several other intelligent social species like elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, and crows may be blocked at the barrier. It seems likely we outcompeted or killed all of our many hominid cousins that were blocked at the barrier for over a million years.

Evolution appears to have implemented denial of mortality in humans by tweaking the fear suppression module in our brain, which resulted in behavior that manifests as broad denial of all unpleasant realities, including mortality.

This then leads to the second promising path for trying to make the future less bad.  I believe it is our inherited denial of reality that is the most important obstacle to shifting human behavior in a positive direction.

There are several encouraging examples that suggest broad awareness of a harmful inherited behavior can shift society’s average behavior in a positive direction. I plan to explore these examples in a later essay.

So my chosen path is to try to increase awareness of our strong genetic tendency to deny the behaviors that cause overshoot, and to deny the imminent dangers of overshoot.

I nevertheless applaud Dowd’s chosen path and wish him well. It will be interesting to see if a religion can succeed that conflicts with the underlying goals of our genes, namely to maximize replication by competing for finite resources.

It must have been so much easier 2000 years ago when the message of religions was to go forth, multiply, and exploit the earth’s bounty that God created for the exclusive benefit of his chosen people.

I know from experience that a message of no more than one child, austerity, and conservation is a tough sell.

I recommend you spend some time at Dowd’s site The Great Story. It has a deep library of wisdom from many great minds relevant to our predicament.

Dowd has invested a large amount of time creating audio versions of important books and documents. I’m currently re-reading his audiobook version of William R. Catton, Jr.’s seminal 1980 book Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change.

By Jacob Freydont-Attie: The Cross of the Moment


This excellent 2015 documentary is a series of bright minds discussing the human predicament from different insightful perspectives.

Most of the big issues like over-population, fossil energy dependence, climate change, and species extinction are discussed with honesty and an absence of denial.

I particularly like how the director Jacob Freydont-Attie set the ominous tone by opening with a discussion of the Fermi Paradox.

A couple of participants made the common uniformed claim that we can easily continue business as usual without emitting carbon, and no one commented on how odd it is for such an intelligent species to deny it’s predicament, but on balance I think this is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen on human overshoot.

Thanks to GailZ for bringing this to my attention.

Here is some information from the home site:

A deep-green, deep-time, highly cerebral discussion of the environmental crisis, The Cross of the Moment attempts to connect the dots between Fermi’s Paradox, climate change, capitalism, and collapse. Interviews with top scientists and public intellectuals are woven together into a narrative that is challenging, exhausting, and often depressing as it refuses to accept the easy answers posited by other overly-simplistic climate change documentaries. No fancy graphics or distracting introductions detract from what is essentially an 80 minute constructed conversation among a group of highly informed experts on the most important topic in human history; will our species survive catastrophic climate change?

The film is divided into seven chapters that start from the widest perspective, why do we appear to be alone in the galaxy, and slowly narrows its focuses through a series of topics including Rare Earth Theory, human impact on the biosphere, potential solutions, structural barriers to implementation, the possibility of the collapse of civilization, and a final call for immediate engagement at all levels of society.

Interviewees are Don Brownlee, Roger Carasso, Robin Hanson, Mark Jacobson, Derrick Jensen, David Klein, Bill McKibben, Guy McPherson, Bill Patzert, Gary Snyder, Jill Stein, Peter Ward, and Josh Willis. Some of these are household names, other are more obscure scientists working in academia or for government institutions such as NASA. What they all share is a pressing concern for the future of our planet. Certainly more demanding on its audience than similar films, there is also present here a layer of humor and, more importantly, a deep sense of humanity. By the end the audience has not just explored our current crisis from a variety of thoughtful perspectives, but also become acquainted with these highly original intellectuals as people seeking truth as we all are.

The film takes its title from a stanza of W. H. Auden’s poem The Age of Anxiety, published in 1947.


First Man (2017 documentary)


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

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

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

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


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

This family would change the face of our world forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Vaclav Smil: Energy Revolution? More like a Crawl

Vaclav Smil is an intelligent, wise, and knowledgeable expert on a wide range of scientific and social topics related to energy. He is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, and is a respected author of many books.

In this September 2015 talk at McGill University he touches on many important topics including:

  • We are a fossil fuel civilization and will remain so for a long time.
  • Over the last 25 years we have reduced our dependence on fossil energy by only 3%.
  • Power density is critical when comparing energy alternatives.
  • Renewable energy is not renewable and does not have the density to replace fossil energy.
  • Green products are not green.
  • Nuclear energy is dead. What’s left is being developed in the wrong places.
  • CO2 capture is not a solution for climate change.
  • Developed countries do not use energy rationally. Canada (and the U.S.) are the worst offenders in the world.
  • Food and energy have never been cheaper and we should expect to pay a lot more in the future.
  • The solution to reducing waste and energy consumption is higher prices.
  • Innovation is an overvalued and exaggerated topic. All of the critical technologies civilization depends on were invented over 100 years ago.
  • There are more important issues to worry about than peak oil including water scarcity, money printing, low interest rates, and high youth unemployment.
  • Most big events in history were unexpected. We can expect surprises in the future.
  • Reasons for hope include the peaceful breakup of the Soviet Union, and the fact that we can have comfortable lives at a much lower level of consumption.

I agree with almost all of Smil’s points except:

  • Smil believes we are unable to accurately predict the effect of rising CO2 and therefore he is not worried about climate change. I’ve done enough reading of climate science to be confident we should be very worried.  While we are not able to precisely predict the outcome, the probable outcome of our current path ranges from dangerous to catastrophic.
  • Smil believes that with fracking and other technology improvements we will have plentiful oil for at least a hundred years. I think we will have energy shortages within 10 years. Our different views are probably rooted in different assumptions about the link between energy and the economy. Smil thinks any oil shortages will increase the price of oil thus enabling new and more expensive sources. I think rising oil prices will reduce worker productivity and incomes which will make more expensive oil unaffordable and therefore supply will reduce in an escalating feedback loop as inexpensive oil is depleted. I also think that oil depletion and consequent rising production costs are the main cause of rising debt, money printing, and low interest rates that Smil worries about.

This lecture is a must watch for people seeking to understand the issues that really matter to our experiment with civilization.

video review: Crude: The Incredible Journey of Oil by Richard Smith


I’ve watched a lot of good documentaries but this one produced in 2007 by Richard Smith for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is among the very best.



Usually, the more important a non-fiction work is, the more scientific disciplines the author integrates into a coherent story. In this case, Richard Smith does a remarkable job of weaving geology, chemistry, biology, thermodynamics, climate, history, and economics into a fascinating story that follows a carbon atom as it moves about the planet over the last 200 million years.

I often marvel at, and wonder how we were blessed with such a large quantity of crude oil which we have used to build an amazing civilization. This documentary does a very nice job of explaining how crude oil was formed 160 million years ago on a hot greenhouse planet with near dead and toxic oceans. The photosynthetic bacteria that converted CO2 and sunlight into the carbohydrates that later became crude oil acted to remove CO2 from the atmosphere thus cooling the planet and returning it to a healthy environment for complex oxygen breathing life like ourselves.

Humans are now reversing this process by burning fossil carbon and returning the CO2 to the atmosphere which may return the planet to an environment incompatible with civilization. Unless, ironically, we run out of oil first, which will also cause our civilization to collapse.

What’s different this time is that humans are doing in a hundred years what took geology thousands or millions of years in the past. This speed makes the outcome more difficult to predict but common sense suggests it’s unlikely to be good.

Given that 10 years have elapsed since the documentary was produced it’s a credit to Richard Smith that it’s still relevant and accurate, although it’s a concern to see how far we have unraveled in 10 years with melting poles, record temperatures, stalled economic growth, zero interest rates, money printing, failing oil companies, and global social unrest.

It’s also a concern, but expected in light of Varki’s theory on denial, that we collectively have not yet acknowledged our predicament, let alone taken any steps to make the future less bad.

Highly recommended!

If you’d like a higher quality version than what’s available on YouTube it has been recently ripped in HD and available as a torrent here.