By Raúl Ilargi Meijer: Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity


This essay by Ilargi will break your heart, if you have the courage to read it.

He calls it insanity. I call it evolved denial. Same thing.


We killed 58% of all vertebrate wildlife just between 1970 and 2012, and at a rate of 2% per year we will have massacred close to 70% of it by 2020, just 4 years from now. So what does it matter who’s president of just one of the many countries we invented on this planet? Why don’t we address what’s really crucial to our very survival instead?


Two thirds of our world is gone, and it’s we who have murdered it, and what’s worse – judging from our lifestyles- we seem to have hardly noticed at all. If we don’t stop what we’ve been doing, this can lead to one outcome only: we will murder ourselves too. Our perhaps biggest problem (even if we have quite a few) in this regard is our ability and propensity to deny this, as we deny any and all -serious, consequential- wrongdoing.


We treat this entire extinction episode as if it’s something we’re watching from the outside in, as if it’s something we’re not really a part of. I’ve seen various undoubtedly very well-intentioned ‘green people’, ‘sustainable people’, react to the WWF report by pointing to signs that there is still hope, pointing to projects that reverse some of the decline, chinook salmon on the North American Pacific coast, Malawi farmers that no longer use chemical fertilizers, a giant sanctuary in the Antarctic etc.

That, too, is a form of insanity. Because it serves to lull people into a state of complacency that is entirely unwarranted. And that can therefore only serve to make things worse. There is no reversal, there is no turnaround. It’s like saying if a body doesn’t fall straight down in a continuous line, it doesn’t fall down at all.

The role that green, sustainability, conservationist groups play in our societies has shifted dramatically, and we have failed completely to see this change (as have they). These groups have become integral parts of our societies, instead of a force on the outside warning about what happens within.

Conservationist groups today serve as apologists for the havoc mankind unleashes on its world: all people have to do is donate money at Christmas, and conservation will be taken care of. Recycle a few bottles and plastic wrappings and you’re doing your part to save the planet. It is utterly insane. It’s as insane as the destruction itself. It’s denial writ large, and in the flesh.


Every species that finds a large amount of free energy reacts the same way: proliferation. The unconscious drive is to use up the energy as fast as possible. If only we could understand that. But understanding it would get in the way of the principle itself. The only thing we can do to stop the extinction is for all of us to use a lot less energy. But because energy consumption provides wealth and -more importantly- political power, we will not do that. We instead tell ourselves all we need to do is use different forms of energy.


Our inbuilt talent for denying and lying (to ourselves and others) makes it impossible for us to see that we have an inbuilt talent for denying and lying in the first place. Or, put another way, seeing that we haven’t been able to stop ourselves from putting the planet into the dismal shape it is in now, why should we keep on believing that we will be able to stop ourselves in the future?


After all, if destroying 70% of wildlife is not enough for a call to action, what would be? 80%? 90? 99%? I bet you that would be too late. And no, relying on conservationist groups to take care of it for us is not a viable route. Because that same 70% number spells out loud and clear what miserable failures these groups have turned out to be.


We ‘assume’ we’re intelligent, because that makes us feel good. Well, it doesn’t make the planet feel good. What drives us is not reason. What drives us is the part of our brains that we share in common with amoeba and bacteria and all other more ‘primitive forms of life, that gobbles up excess energy as fast as possible, in order to restore a balance. Our ‘rational’, human, brain serves one function, and one only: to find ‘rational’ excuses for what our primitive brain has just made us do.

On Religion and Denial

Let’s pretend an alien came to earth to study the evolution and behavior of humans. What would it observe and conclude?

The alien observed that every human group, in every location of the planet, throughout all of human history, has had some form of religion. The alien logically concluded that religions must be associated with a reproductive fitness advantage.

The alien observed that the human species succeeds in large part due to social cooperation, and that religions serve to define, unite, govern, and entertain groups, and (especially in times of scarcity) define outside groups as enemies. The alien then understood that the reproductive fitness advantage of religions is to increase the probability of survival through enhanced social cooperation.

The alien observed that there are thousands of different religions, each with a unique story, and that each religion thinks it is the only (or most) true religion. The alien logically concluded that all religions are human created stories.

The alien then noticed something very odd.

The one and only thing common to the thousands of religions is that they each have some form of life after death story. Religions can and do tell every conceivable story, but religions do not need a life after death story to define, unite, govern, and entertain a group. It might be reasonable for a few random religions to include life after death in their stories, but it is not reasonable that every religion has a life after death story.

Unless, observed the wise alien, the need for a life after death story has an important genetic foundation.

The historical record suggests that religions with their life after death stories emerged at the same time that humans with enhanced intelligence and an extended theory of mind emerged. The alien concluded that the two must be linked. The alien reconfirmed this conclusion by observing that no other species has an extended theory mind, and no other species has a religion.

The alien was stumped to explain the link but knew that there were a few good human scientists so it went to the library and found a book on human evolution by Ajit Varki and Danny Brower. The alien learned that a mutation for an extended theory of mind, which enables an individual to understand the mind of another, would be advantageous to a social species, and would have enabled an individual through normal daily observations to understand her own mortality. All mammals have a useful inherited fear of injury and therefore mortality awareness would have caused the individual to become depressed and less likely to take the risks necessary for survival and reproduction. The mutation for an extended theory of mind would therefore not fix in the gene pool.

Varki went on to explain that if a mutation for an extended theory of mind occurred simultaneously with a mutation for denial of reality, then what was a reproductive fitness disadvantage would become a powerful fitness advantage, and the two mutations would fix in the gene pool.

The probably of two rare mutations occurring simultaneously is small and the alien now understood why other social species like dolphins, elephants, crows, and chimpanzees, which would also benefit from an extended theory of mind, had not evolved one.

The alien saw that inherited denial of mortality reality would have caused each human group to believe a life after death story, which over time through transmission errors, became a unique religion.

The alien observed that denial of mortality reality is a very strong inherited behavior. Groups frequently devote all of their surplus wealth to constructing structures to please and communicate with gods in the after life. Pyramids and cathedrals being two of many examples. The alien also observed that the behavior remains strong in modern times because new religions, like Scientology, continue to have life after death stories.

Varki went on to explain that the mechanism within the brain for denying reality would be relatively simple to create by mutating the fear suppression module used by mammals when they need to fight, but by necessity of how it works, is quite broad in scope. This means that humans not only deny their own mortality, but also tend to deny anything they find unpleasant which creates an optimism bias that is useful when not facing limits to growth, but harmful with limits to growth, and harmful with lifestyle choices like insufficient exercise and nicotine.

Ah, said the alien, now I understand why almost no humans acknowledge or discuss or act on their severe state of overshoot. And why climate scientists frequently fly long distances to conferences where they criticize fossil energy use, promote green growth, and never mention population reduction.

The alien was finally able to tie up the loose ends that had been troubling it.

The alien saw, on the one hand, an intelligent species capable of impressive intellectual feats such as visiting the moon, and on the other hand, a species in a severe state of overshoot dependent on rapidly depleting non-renewable resources that was destroying the habitat it needed for survival.

The alien had been perplexed at how such an intelligent species could be in such peril without acknowledging, discussing, or acting on its predicament.

The alien now understood and concluded its report with “Denial created humans, and denial will destroy humans.”

As it boarded its ship for home, the alien reflected on how lucky it was to have come from a planet where life had evolved without the need for death and therefore was able to evolve intelligence without denial.

The human brain, the God it believes in, and the overshoot it enabled and denies, all resulted from the same improbable genetic mutation that occurred about 100,000 years ago.

By Nate Hagens: The Speech that should have been given at the Republican National Convention

Greetings conservatives, Americans and conservative Americans.

Welcome to Cleveland!

There are many speakers here this week who will tell us what we want to hear, because it fires us up and makes us feels good. I’m going to give a different speech, one that lays out the context of our reality if we want to Make America Great Again. Suffice it to say we are no longer a shining beacon on the hill, to those in other countries or to other generations in our own.

America has been great before, but if was under a different era, different culture, and different physical backdrop. When our great Constitution was signed we had a little over 2 million citizens – now we have over 2 million people who work at the Post Office! and our population is 325 million. Though this is about 4% of the total global population, we use 25% of the oil, 50% of the toys and 50% of the medical prescriptions. We now have more bartenders and waitresses than manufacturing employees. Most people are miserable and just hanging on. 50% of our citizens would be totally broke within 3 months if they lost their jobs. We have the highest prison population in the world. For the first time in our countries history parents expect their children will not have as good of lives as they did. I expect Mr. Trump will highlight some of these problems – the list of scary facts is pretty long so it could be a long night.

There will be those here that blame these things on President Obama, or the Muslims, or foreigners or Wall St. bankers or white cops or black men. There will be those here who will shout that Hillary Clinton will make things worse and that a Republican is our only chance. I’m sure that next week at the DNC the people there will be blaming us for our nations problems, and plead that a Democratic President is our only hope. They are wrong. Just like we are wrong. That’s what humans do – when our circumstances are worse than the recent past, we look to put the blame on others. Sure there are some unsavory characters on Wall St, in the Democratic party, and in Iran – but so too are there such types in our own party and even in this building.

If you look closely at the demographics of Democrats and Republicans you discover a basic truth: we are all quite similar in caring about the things that matter: our children, safety of our neighborhoods, clean air to breathe and water to drink, and meaningful educations and vocations. Instead we tend to focus on how we are different than the other party and rally and get fired up about our superiority and better ideas. We are – pretty much all of us – angry, frustrated, and scared about the future, but deep down we are also able to work hard, sacrifice, help each other and be the good people that Americans can be. But in our blaming of others we miss the real reasons for our malaise, and thus are pursuing the wrong pathways if we are to ‘make America great again’.

Lets be honest. The phrase ‘the American dream’ has seeped into our psyche. We are a special people – driven, ambitious, hardworking, creative, etc. But without discovering and having access to the most resource rich country in the world, our attributes alone would have attained less lofty outcomes. 1 barrel of oil, which we currently only have to pay $50 for, contains the work potential of a strong American man working for 10 years. The united states has used more oil in the last 10 years, the last 50 years and since the dawn of time than any other nation. If we add natural gas and coal which have similar properties, 90% of the work done in our society is actually done by fossils – but these fossils are not unlimited and the easiest and best have long been found, pulled out and burned. The cost that our energy companies pay to extract these has been going up 17% a year for almost 2 decades. One-third of oil production is now unconventional and is dependent on high prices >$80/barrel. In the period from 2005 to 2013, oil and gas investments increased by 60% yet the oil supply increased by only 6%.

We certainly have a lot of it left – but its more costly, and since we use so much of it, this cost increase ripples through our societies and reduces wages, increases the cost of basic goods and makes our economy grow slower. You might think that technology is more important than energy. Technology has given us some amazing things – but almost all of them need to be plugged in. Without energy, the great technology just sits there. Without technology but with plenty of energy, well that puts us squarely back in the 19th century.

We have used the first half? The first 2/3? of Americas energy endowment. Wind and solar are viable and mature technologies but a world run on renewable tech will look very different than today’s world. Instead of the natural conservative response to this situation being…well, ‘conservation’ we are eager to drill more holes and pull out every last hydrocarbon molecule hiding near the source rock, which is what we are doing with the shale oil and gas technology. We are feeding our faces with our seed corn resources, Republicans and Democrats alike, not worrying about being able to pay the bill, or what we will build the future with. Basically, the American Dream has been predicated on high quality, inexpensive natural resources, particularly fossil energy. Given the natural resource reality of the world – and our nation at present – we need to send some of the great thinkers in this room into a sweat lodge on a Vision Quest!

Finally, before I am booed off the stage, let me bring up what, as conservatives, we should be caring about and shouting about and being active about way more than Hillary Clinton and the democrats. Eleven score and seven years ago, our Constitution came into being. It was a fresh set of guidelines for a new country, full of open lands and resources, bright and independent spirits, and people yearning to be free. Our Constitution came much later than the Magna Carta, which came much later than the 10 Commandments, which came much much later than the Code of Hammurabi, the first known document dealing with rules and principles for humans to get along with other humans. Nowhere in any of these great historical documents is any language that protects the future, other species, other generations, or our common ecosystems. At the dawn of the agricultural revolution, human beings, our pets and our livestock comprised less than 1/10 of 1% of terrestrial biomass. Now we are over 98%! We are losing animal and insect species faster than any time of our planets history. 40% of insects – gone in last 40 years. Since I’ve been alive, we now have 50% fewer wild animals than when I was born. What a terrible thing to state at a convention where we should be celebrating our values and our accomplishments. And these facts do not even factor in the impacts to oceans and ecosystems from the additional carbon we are putting in the air from the burning of our fossil wealth.

Most of our own people deny or downplay this is happening, because it requires difficult choices, bold thinking, sacrifice and creativity. Can we rally around those traits, or instead be led by fear, apathy and ignorance? For, my fellow republicans and citizens of this great nation, that is what it comes down to. We face unprecedented challenges, to growth, to safety, to our environment, our children and to our future. Instead of leading by example, sharing, caring, going the extra mile to help our neighbor, and tightening our belts, we have become complacent, surly, and occasionally violent, expecting that if only the “other people” will change their ways that things will get back to the way they were. I have news for you my friends who are alive with me at this wondrous and perilous time. There’s an intermediate step if we want to make America great again. We first have to Make America Good.

In 5 months Obama will no longer be President, something many of you have been waiting for, for a long time. But whether Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton wins, their job will primarily be to put out short-term fires (and in the process create new longer term ones). Real change in the next 4 years will not come from a new president but from a new outlook, new ethic and new strength of our citizenry. We cannot see this clearly yet, our gut tells us this is so. Vote for whoever you want to in November. But then come home and be the change you want to see in your homes, in your cities, at your jobs and with your families. Games over gadgets, nature over neglect, family over Facebook, conservation over consumption.

Lets Make America Good.


One portion of the population doesn’t believe there is a problem and therefore sees no need to change their lifestyles.

Another portion is vaguely aware of a problem but prefers not to think about it nor possible changes to their lifestyles.

Another portion believes overshoot is real but thinks others need to change their lifestyles first.

Another portion thinks we have a problem but it is not caused by humans so there is no need to change.

Another portion thinks everything is in the hands of God so there is no need to change.

Another portion thinks they’ve already done enough by recycling, buying a new fuel-efficient car, and reusing grocery bags.

Another portion believes renewable energy, carbon capture, and other technologies will prevent them from having to change.

Another portion understands the problem but decided not to change because they do not believe their sacrifices will make a difference.

The balance of the population thinks it’s too late to do anything and therefore see no need to change.

The only thing everyone agrees on is that there is no need to change.

We Are So Fucked.

By Nate Hagens: A Guide to Being Human in the 21st Century: Resource Depletion, Behavior and the Environment

Nate Hagens gives the best big picture talks on how fortunate we are to be alive at this point in history, and on the challenges we face.

Here is his latest talk given this week at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.

If you search this site you will find other work by Nate.

Overshoot Awareness: The Pros and Cons

I want to discuss the pros and cons of broad public awareness of our overshoot predicament.

Disadvantages of Overshoot Awareness

Sooner Economic Contraction

Today’s global economy is a massive bubble waiting to pop.

Bubbles are created when many people believe that the price of an asset will go up and use debt to purchase the asset. This creates a self-fulfilling positive feedback loop as purchases bid up the price which increases collateral for more debt to fund more purchases.

Assets inflated by a bubble do not generate sufficient wealth to justify their price. Bubbles are accidents waiting to happen because an unpredictable shift in belief towards realism or pessimism will cause a collapse in price as the market unwinds its debt leverage, usually oscillating below fair value and damaging innocent bystanders in the process.

Bubbles have been common throughout history but today’s bubble differs in that instead of one asset class such as dot-com or tulip mania, all asset classes are inflated and its size relative to GDP, and especially future GDP, is unprecedented.

A few examples:

1) The quantity of government debt and other obligations exceeds the servicing ability of future taxpayers, doubly so when interest rates rise in response to the risk of default. Government economic models assume more growth than is physically possible with depleting fossil energy. This means all currencies are over-valued. Currencies have retained their value because most people still believe what their governments tell them.

2) The quantity of corporate and private debt exceeds the servicing ability of realistic future income. This bubble has not yet popped because governments have held interest rates at near zero for 8 years. When interest rates start to rise, as they must when default risks become impossible to deny, this house of cards will collapse in defaults.

3) Stock prices have been inflated by cheap debt and the majority’s belief in infinite growth. Companies have used debt to buy back stocks to falsely improve their appearance to investors. Speculators have used debt to profit from stocks. Central banks have used debt to manipulate stock prices up to create the facade of economic well-being. A rational analysis of stock prices relative to future earnings, especially in light of declining net energy, and an eventual increase in interest rates, would show that stocks are a massive bubble waiting to pop.

4) Real estate is over priced. In the long run the average price of a home must equal the average income’s ability to obtain and service a mortgage. Incomes are falling and will continue to fall as energy depletes. When interest rates rise, many mortgages will become unaffordable and real estate prices will drop. Furthermore, the availability of mortgages, which are needed to support real estate prices, is dependent on a financial system that can create generous credit, which in turn is dependent on reasonable economic growth, which is not possible with declining energy.

Central banks have done a surprisingly good job over the last 8 years of not permitting the bubbles to collapse. Their ability to continue supporting the bubbles is highly dependent on public sentiment. If the majority loses faith in the central bank’s ability to stimulate growth then it is game over and the economy will experience a large correction.

A disadvantage of overshoot awareness is that it would trigger an economic correction sooner than letting the random vagaries of belief take their course, or letting mathematics and physics force the correction.

The larger a bubble gets the more pain it causes when popped because its deflation usually swings below the mean on the way to reality, and more innocent bystanders get hurt.

It’s best to avoid a bubble in the first place, and although we’re well past that point, the sooner we remove the bandage the better off we’ll be in the long run.

Put more succinctly, there is no free lunch.

Hoarding and Shortages

We live in a very efficient world. Companies use just-in-time delivery to minimize inventory and waste. Citizens no longer have root cellars or put up preserves for winter consumption because grocery stores are so abundant and convenient. Grocery stores have about 3 days stock on hand and depend on a complex network of credit, energy, and technology to operate.

Resilience to shocks is improved by building buffers and redundancies. A probable outcome of broad overshoot awareness would be buffer building induced shortages of important staple goods.

This risk could be mitigated by rationing policies as were used during World War II.

Mental Health Problems

Acknowledging overshoot forces one to question and overturn several hundred years of growth based culture, religion, education, and deeply held beliefs by the majority. The adjustment can be traumatic.

To succeed in today’s society you must contribute to overshoot. An aware person knows they can be happy with less consumption, but choosing a frugal lifestyle often makes you a failure in the eyes of an unaware majority.

There is no “happy” solution to overshoot. The future will be painful for most. The best possible outcome is a lot of hard work to make the future less bad. It is difficult to be motivated with this awareness.

For these reasons a common outcome of overshoot awareness is depression.

Mental health problems perhaps could be minimized if overshoot awareness was accompanied by an understanding that overshoot is a natural outcome of abundant non-renewable energy and evolved human behavior. Perhaps not. A renewed belief in religion is a more likely outcome.

Having the majority and their leaders aware and working together to prepare for a low energy world, rather than individuals working in isolation, offers the best chance of minimizing mental health problems. But this outcome would require the majority to override their inherited denial of reality which makes it improbable.

Relationship Damage

Becoming aware of overshoot before friends and family become aware can damage relationships. The aware person wants to educate and warn those closest to them. Those not aware usually do not want to hear the message because most humans have an evolved tendency to deny reality. This stress can damage families and friendships.

Advantages of Overshoot Awareness

Fewer Despots and Wars

As energy depletes and the climate worsens, incomes, wealth, and abundance will decline. Eventually there will be life threatening shortages of food and other necessities.

Tribes evolved to survive in times of scarcity by fighting other tribes for resources. The most united tribes with the most warriors willing to sacrifice their lives often had the best chance of winning and surviving. This in part explains the evolutionary success of religions.

To fight effectively requires a well-defined enemy. There is thus a natural tendency to blame other groups for hardship.

In the absence of understanding what caused scarcity, the majority will support despots that blame others, and these despots will start wars.

Wars in the past often improved the lives of the winners because the most important resource was land.

Wars in the future will make things worse for both the winners and the losers because the most important resource is energy. Modern wars consume large amounts of energy and will accelerate the depletion of the resource that is being fought over, leaving less energy for everyone when the war ends. This is sometimes referred to as a resource depletion death spiral.

It is of course possible that a despot will decide to eliminate the energy-consuming population of its enemy with nuclear weapons. This scenario will also make everything worse for both the winners and the losers, for obvious reasons.

Humans would therefore be wise to avoid future wars. Awareness that overshoot is causing scarcity, that no one is to blame, and that war will make things worse, is the only reasonable path to avoiding future despots and wars.

It would be much wiser to use the remaining surplus energy to proactively reduce our population, and to create infrastructure required to survive in a low energy world.

But again, as mentioned above, we first need to break through our evolved denial of reality.

More Acceptance and Cooperation

Awareness of the underlying overshoot related causes of problems experienced by individuals would increase the acceptance and cooperation necessary to make a bad situation better.

Most viable mitigation strategies will require broad societal cooperation. These strategies include rationing of scarce resources, proactively shifting economic activity from one sector to another, progressive taxation and wealth redistribution, and generally more government involvement in all aspects of life.

More Preparedness

Although per capita energy is in decline, we still have a considerable amount of surplus energy available to do useful work. The longer we wait the less surplus energy will be available to help us prepare for a low energy world.

Broad awareness of overshoot would accelerate our preparedness for the inevitable, and reduce future pain.

Positive Behavior Changes

Although there is no “happy” solution to overshoot, a broad awareness and voluntary shift in behavior would help. For example, a lower birthrate, reduced luxury consumption, less travel, and more care of the commons would all help.

Avoiding a Chaotic and Dangerous Crash

All of the above advantages to overshoot awareness fall under the umbrella of replacing a chaotic and dangerous crash with a more orderly and planned contraction.

Many of the things that made life pleasant over the last century will be at risk in a chaotic crash. These include democracy, law and order, health care, social safety nets, peaceful trade, environmental protection, and functioning electricity, water, sewer, and communication grids.

We would be wise to preemptively release the pressures that threaten a chaotic crash.


On balance I think the advantages of overshoot awareness outweigh the disadvantages.

A society with its majority understanding overshoot, what caused it, and that no one is to blame, would help make the future less bad.

Unfortunately our evolved denial of reality is a powerful impediment to awareness.

I fear the majority will never understand what is going on.

I wrote more on this issue here.