By Paul Mobbs: The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics – The Gaping Hole in the Middle of the Circular Economy

Circular Economy Thermodynamics

The laws of thermodynamics govern the universe. Of all our scientific theories, thermodynamics is the least likely to change as we learn more. In other words, thermodynamics is the bedrock of science.

As a consequence, any “sustainable” solution to our overshoot predicament must first be checked to confirm that it does not conflict with the laws of thermodynamics. Unfortunately, most solutions promoted today, like renewable energy, recycling, and a circular economy, do conflict with thermodynamics and therefore are not useful strategies.

We must reduce our population and our consumption. And we will, one way or the other.

Here is a nice essay on the thermodynamics of a circular economy by Paul Mobbs.

http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/musings/2018/20180417-2nd_law_circular_economy.html

Just because renewable energy is ‘renewable’, it doesn’t mean the machines we require to harvest that energy are freed from the finite limits of the Earth’s resources[10].

There are grand schemes to power the world using renewable energy. The difficulty is that no one has bothered to check to see if the resources are available to produce that energy. Recent research suggests that the resources required to produce that level of capacity cannot currently be supplied[11].

The crunch point is that while there might be enough indium, gallium, neodymium and other rare metals to manufacture wind turbines or PV panels for the worlds half-a-billion or so affluent consumers (i.e., the people most likely to be reading this), there is not enough to give everyone on the planet that same level of energy consumption – we’d run out long before then.

 

The ‘circular economy’ is, I my opinion, a ruse to make affluent consumers feel that they can keep consuming without the need to change their habits. Nothing could be further[25] from the truth, and the central reason for that is the necessity for energy to power economic activity[26].

While the ‘circular economy’ concept admittedly has the right ideas, it detracts from the most important aspects of our ecological crisis today[27] – it is consumption that is the issue, not the simply the use of resources. Though the principle could be made to work for a relatively small proportion[28] of the human population, it could never be a mainstream solution for the whole world because of its reliance on renewable energy technologies to make it function – and the over-riding resource limitations on harvesting renewable energy.

In order to reconcile the circular economy with the Second Law we have to apply not only changes to the way we use materials, but how we consume them. Moreover, that implies such a large reduction in resource use[29] by the most affluent, developed consumers, that in no way does the image of the circular economy, portrayed by its proponents, match up to the reality[30] of making it work for the majority of the world’s population.

In the absence of a proposal that meets both the global energy and resource limitations[30] on the human system, including the limits on renewable energy production, the current portrayal of the ‘circular economy’ is not a viable option. Practically then, it is nothing more than a salve for the conscience of affluent consumers who, deep down, are conscious enough to realize that their life of luxury will soon be over as the related ecological and economic crises[31] bite further up the income scale.

On the Trans Mountain Pipeline

Trans Mountain pipeline

Many environmental groups in my province of B.C. oppose construction of a new pipeline from Alberta to the west coast. The motives of these groups include:

  • preventing dirty oil from contributing to climate change;
  • preventing environmental damage from pipeline and oil tanker spills;
  • concern for First Nation rights.

While these motives are admirable, all of the groups lack an understanding of, and/or deny, the laws of thermodynamics that govern our economy, and our overshoot predicament.

It’s true that climate change is a serious threat. In fact it’s much more serious than most environmental groups acknowledge. We are already locked into a dangerous 2C higher climate with 10m of sea level rise no matter what we do. There are no actions we can take today to solve the climate problem and avoid future suffering. Our choices today are to try to maintain our current lifestyle and increase future suffering, or reduce our population and consumption, and constrain future suffering.

It’s also true that the pipeline will create some new risks for environmental damage, but these risks pale in comparison to the damage the human footprint is already causing. Habitat loss, species extinction, soil depletion, nitrogen imbalance, pollution, deforestation, overfishing, and non-renewable resource depletion are the real threats environmental groups should focus on. As with climate change, nothing can be done about these threats unless we reduce human population and consumption.

In addition, if you want to maintain our current lifestyle, and you are concerned about the risk of oil spills, then there is a good argument to build the pipeline.

With regard to First Nations rights, all 7.6 billion humans descended from one small tribe in Africa about 100,000 years ago, meaning we’re all basically the same. Environmentalists should focus on the rights of all future generations, including First Nations.

Our standard of living is completely dependent on the burning of fossil energy, especially oil. We have already burned most of the cleaner and cheaper oil. That’s why we are mining dirty expensive oil sands, and fracking. To reduce our use of fossil energy we must reduce our standard living and our population.

Put another way, new pipelines will be built for another decade or so, until even the dirty oil is gone, unless we reduce our consumption of oil, and the only way to accomplish that is to shrink our economy, standard of living, and population.

If environmental groups want to make a difference on the issues that matter, as well as lesser issues like preventing new pipelines, they must:

  • set good examples in their personal lives (no more than one child, no long distance travel, reduced consumption of everything);
  • advocate for a global one child policy;
  • advocate for austerity, conservation, and a smaller economy (the simplest and most effective way to accomplish this would be to implement a higher interest rate).

It’s true that our choices are unpalatable, but they are reality, and there is a key point that must be understood when weighing what to do. The remaining affordable fossil energy is depleting quickly. Extraction will, in a decade or so, become too expensive for us to afford, meaning fossil energy will be gone for all intents and purposes. When this happens, our lifestyles and population will collapse, thanks to the laws of thermodynamics, no matter what we choose to do.

The advantages of choosing to voluntarily contract today are threefold. First, we would constrain future suffering caused by climate change. Second, we could use some of our remaining wealth to prepare a softer landing zone and to orchestrate a fairer and more humane descent. Third, we might leave some oil in the ground for our grandchildren so they can enjoy some of the comforts we take for granted. The alternative of doing nothing until thermodynamics forces the issue is chaos, war, and much more suffering for all species, including humans.

This article today suggests that environmental groups may have succeeded in preventing construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline:

https://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/Disaster-Hits-Canadas-Oil-Sands.html

Kinder Morgan said it would halt nearly all work on a pipeline project that is crucial to the entire Canadian oil sands industry, representing a huge blow to Alberta’s efforts to move oil to market.

Here is what I predict will happen:

  1. Environmentalists will continue to deny reality and focus on the wrong things.
  2. We will not voluntarily contract the economy.
  3. We will not implement a one child policy.
  4. The Trans Mountain pipeline will be built, provided that our luck persists at avoiding an accidental crash caused by the instability we have created by using extreme debt to maintain an illusion of economic growth.

Let’s check back in a year to see if I am correct.

By Ajit Varki: Why are there no persisting hybrids of humans with Denisovans, Neanderthals, or anyone else?

Denisovan Family Tree

Ajit Varki wrote a letter to PNAS in April 2016 asking a question that is supportive of his Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory.

http://www.pnas.org/content/113/17/E2354

Here is my crude attempt to paraphrase Varki’s letter in simpler language:

Behaviorally modern humans successfully bred, in more than one geographic location, with our close relatives the Denisovans and Neanderthals. All of our cousins subsequently went extinct and we, the 7.6 billion offspring from interbreeding, have retained a relatively small number of genes from our cousins, mostly related, if I recall correctly, to disease immunity. The interesting fact is that no full hybrid species persisted.

This strongly suggests that there was some unique and complex combination of genes that gave behaviorally modern humans a strong cognitive advantage over their cousins.

Here is the original text:

The tour-de-force report of Sawyer et al. (1) on genomes of two Denisovans and the accompanying editorial and figure (2) support the notion of “a web of now-extinct populations linked by limited, but intermittent…gene flow” (3): involving multiple hominin lineages for thousands of years, before the mysterious disappearance of all taxa other than us “behaviorally modern humans” (BMHs). Although attention focuses on rare introgressions of non-BMH alleles facilitating adaptation of invading BMHs to ecological challenges, there is a bigger elephant in the room.

Current genomic and archaeological data indicate that BMHs arose in Africa ∼100,000–200,000 y ago and spread across the planet (including the rest of Africa), encountering other extant hominins like Neanderthals, Denisovans, archaic African hominins, and possibly other lineages from earlier diasporas of Homo erectus. Although genomic evidence indicates interbreeding, the number of functional genes incorporated is limited, resulting in a “leaky replacement” (3), without persistence of true hybrids. Thus, our single BMH (sub)species was the “winner” in every contact/replacement event, spanning tens of thousands of years. I cannot find any other example wherein a single (sub)species from one geographic origin completely replaced all extant cross-fertile (sub)species in every planetary location, with limited introgression of functional genetic material from replaced taxa, and leaving no hybrid species. Typically, one instead finds multiple cross-fertile (sub)species, with hybrid zones in between.

Although this apparent one-of-a-kind phenomenon could have occurred by chance, the singularity allows one to posit a uniquely complex genetic/biological/cultural transition of BMHs. As Pääbo suggested (3), adaptive accumulation of an “explosive constellation” of genetic variants (alleles) could have endowed BMHs with an unparalleled combination of cognitive features, guaranteeing success at every subsequent encounter with other hominins.

Why did hybrid species not persist, at least at the geographical extremes of BMH expansion? Assuming that hundreds of new alleles comprised the BMH genotype, F1hybrids with other hominins would likely lack the complete cognitive package required to compete for mating within BMH groups. Tellingly, 10 of 10 non-BMH mitochondrial sequences are outside the current BMH range (1), suggesting that mating of BMH males with non-BMH females generated progeny that were not included within BMH groups. In contrast, progeny of female BMHs and non-BMH males may have had the opportunity to survive within BMH groups, with sufficient mating success rates to allow transmissions of a few alleles valuable to the newcomers, but related to ecological adaptation, not cognition.

Such “human exceptionalism” is currently frowned upon, as are extraordinary explanations of evolutionary events. However, unless there are other clear examples of such complete replacement of all related taxa by one single (sub)species, BMHs may indeed be a rare exception. Although environmental factors such as climate or infectious disease (4) could have generated the initial African bottleneck, the critical BMH phenotype was likely cognitive. This fits ecocultural models predicting Neanderthal extinction through competition with modern humans (5) and suggests an improbable BMH transition through a long-standing “psychological evolutionary barrier”––possibly involving initially maladaptive features such as reality denial and mortality salience, which conspired to generate the winning combination (6).

 

Note: Ajit Varki sent me this letter when he published it but I thank reader Derek Peter Carne for reminding me about it.

By Tim Garrett: Linking Wealth, Energy Demand, CO2 and Climate Change

Tim Garrett

Tim Garrett is the scientist with the best understanding of the relationship between energy and the economy, which means he has the best understanding of what can and cannot be done to mitigate the climate change threat.

Don’t take my word for this, read his papers and explore his site.

As far as I can tell, Garrett is ignored by all other climate scientists, and everyone that formulates climate change policies.

Think about that for a moment. Our experts ignore the one person they should not ignore.

Now you know why I am so fascinated by the human tendency to deny any reality we do not like. This tendency afflicts almost everyone, including our best and brightest.

I missed this excellent interview with Garrett when it was first broadcast in October 2017 although I have read and listened to almost everything previous he has done.

http://environmentalprofessionalspostulating.libsyn.com/ep-012-a-discussion-with-professor-tim-garrett

Paraphrasing a few quotes from the interview:

It is now generally accepted that a 5 degree rise in temperature will collapse civilization. At our current economic growth rate we can expect 5 degrees in 50 or 60 years from now. The only way to avoid this is to collapse civilization now.

 

I doubt there are solutions but if there are solutions we won’t get at them by imagining fairy tales like improved efficiency and renewable energy.

 

We need to start thinking now about the most humane way to deal with a collapsing civilization because we know from history that our tendency is to not behave well in such situations.

 

Interviewer: Why is your work so unknown?

Garrett: Humans have a deep-seated need for optimism and a belief that solutions exist.

Me: aka denial

 

 

By xraymike79: Evolutionary Dead-Ends

37009944474_1d0be6f93d_b

Xraymike79 doesn’t write very often anymore, but when he does it’s always worth your time because he’s one of the best, if not the best, big-picture chroniclers of human overshoot.

Here are a few excerpts from his latest essay but I recommend you read the whole thing:

https://collapseofindustrialcivilization.com/2018/03/19/evolutionary-dead-ends/

“It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” ~ Elizabeth Kolbert

Have things improved since I wrote my last essay a year ago for this blog? Have we miraculously transformed our entire energy system into one that does not poison and degrade the natural world? Have we slowed the onslaught of plastic pollution choking the planet’s rivers, lakes, and oceans? Have we done anything meaningful to halt the deterioration of the planet’s biodiversity toward mass extinction? Has this global, hi-tech civilization done anything significant to avert its own demise? Despite a constant flow of warnings from the scientific community and even a letter signed by more than 20,000 scientists, the simple answer is no. We have failed to address the complexity of our rising population and a degrading environment. Yes, we are self-conscious and thus able to recognize the fact that we are destroying the only home we have, but will the end result differ much from a population overshoot of bacteria in a Petri dish? Dependent on a continuous stream of finite resources imported from across the globe, modern megacities contain the seeds of their own destruction and that of all other life forms upon which humanity depends for its survival. The exponential growth of modern civilization ensures that one of the next doubling times will produce an absolute increase in overshoot that tips the world into unavoidable collapse. Enough damage may well have already been done; we’re just waiting for inertia to catch up to the impacts.

 

2017 set a global record for the most skyscrapers built in a single year and 2018 is predicted to eclipse it. The fossil fuel energy spent to construct those concrete and steel buildings translates into a melting cryosphere. Not to mention the fact that the carbon footprint of some of the world’s biggest cities is 60% bigger than previously estimated. “Renewable energy” still only comprises a tiny fraction of global energy consumption and plans for a total transition will take decades, if it’s even possible. Any growth in ‘renewable energy’ has been offset by increased consumption of fossil fuels in the developing world. 2017 marked a new record high in CO2 emissions with 2018 set to break that record. Global CO2 emissions have yet to peak, and the UN has warned that we are on course for a 3C world. It doesn’t help that the current U.S. administration plans to cut funding for alternative energy R&D, with the Energy Department expecting no drop in the U.S. carbon footprint through 2050. Having embedded itself in the U.S. government over a century ago, the fossil fuel industry has consistently worked to block climate change action and undermine environmental laws. A UK shipping executive recently admitted his industry is guilty of doing the same to protect their bottom line. The utilities companies knew the dangers as well. Like most corporations, the viability of their business model depends on perpetuating an unsustainable way of life. With warnings ignored since the late 1800s starting with the work of Svante Arrhenius, it should be obvious by now that intelligence without sapience has produced deadly results. A new study finds “the most accurate climate change models predict the most alarming consequences.” The recently released U.S. National Climate Assessment has similar findings:

While climate models incorporate important climate processes that can be well quantified, they do not include all of the processes that can contribute to feedbacks (Ch. 2), compound extreme events, and abrupt and/or irreversible changes. For this reason, future changes outside the range projected by climate models cannot be ruled out (very high confidence). Moreover, the systematic tendency of climate models to underestimate temperature change during warm paleoclimates suggests that climate models are more likely to underestimate than to overestimate the amount of long-term future change (medium confidence). (Ch. 15)

In a new ominous research finding, the evil twin of climate change(ocean acidification) is threatening the base of the marine food chain by disrupting the production of phytoplankton. This is yet another positive feedback loop increasing the rate of global warming. Climate feedback loops and ice sheet modeling are two weak areas of climate science, which means many unpleasant surprises. This is why researchers are constantly astonished. Adaptation is not a luxury most organisms have at the present rates of change. Techno-fixes are but a pipe dream.

 

Humans share two behavioral traits with all other species that are critically important to (un)sustainability. Numerous experiments show that unless or until constrained by negative feedback (e.g., disease, starvation, self-pollution) the populations of all species:

• Expand to occupy all accessible habitats.

• Use all available resources.

Like mindless bacteria bent on their own success, humans are victims of their own DNA and ingenuity. Any civilization that develops energy harvesting technologies allowing for rapid population growth will generate entropy which will in turn almost certainly have strong feedback effects on the planet’s habitability. Our exponentially growing economy is on a collision course with an immovable ecosphere.

The end of the world is coming for the naked ape, not by a cabal of bankers or any sort of cockamamie conspiracy tale like chemtrails, but by us –the entire human race– and the economic system we have developed. We have become hostages to complex structures, and ever more intricate specialization, to exploit diminishing resources. Pollution and waste are of little concern for capitalism until they become a significant drain on overall profitability and new frontiers to exploit are exhausted. When profitability on a global scale is finally threatened by climate change, it will be far too late. The response will be militarized and authoritarian.

 

The crisis of civilization is planet-wide this time. We’ve turned a utopian world of plenty into a dystopian world of fascist-leaning governments, industrial disasters, collapsing ecosystems, and technological addiction. We have a Commander in Chief who tweets bizarre debunked conspiracies at 3 am, gets his intel briefings from right-wing TV shows, dismantles any remaining hindrances to unbridled capitalism, and doesn’t know the difference between weather and climate. Public discourse has been dumbed down to the level of Fox news talking points and tribal groupthink. Those who can discern actual ‘fake news’ from scientific fact are left to watch in horror as mainstream scientific projections continue to prove overly optimistic. Not only are regulations being cut left and right, they are not being enforced. Government science advisors are being purged and replaced with mouthpieces for industrial polluters. In fact, this administrations is actively working to delegitimize and destroy government institutions. A sizable population of low information voters supports such actions, but it’s only to their own detriment. Of course, both major parties are under the sway of corporate power, but Trump and company represent an exceptionally predatory class of people. The Union of Concerned Scientists is monitoring the current administration’s war on science and public health; their latest report is here:

The administration’s one-year record shows an unprecedented level of stalled and disbanded scientific advisory committees, cancelled meetings, and dismissed experts. The consequences for the health and safety of millions of Americans could be profound.

 

We live in an age of unparalleled technological advancement, while at the same time we turn a blind eye to the disintegrating natural world that gave birth to us, having forgotten that our destiny lies in our relationship with the earth. Like Icarus who, in his exuberance, ignored his father’s warnings and flew too close to the sun, modern man with his technology has ascended to great heights without heeding sound advice.

“We’ve arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster.” ~ Carl Sagan

By Raúl Ilargi Meijer: 10 Years Automatic Earth

central-bank-balance-sheet
Chart by Charles Hugh Smith @ https://www.oftwominds.com/blogjan18/CB-conflict1-18.html

Here is a nice 10 year recap on the work of Nicole Foss and Raúl Ilargi Meijer, with a refresher on where we are today, and why almost everything you read in the popular media today is pure fantasy.

Note that belief in fantasy is yet another way to describe denial of reality.

The 20 trillion (that’s 20 thousand billion) dollars Meijer refers to is the amount of new debt (aka. printed money) that central banks worldwide have created since we “recovered” from the 2008 financial crisis. That’s a really really big number that should worry anyone with a functioning brain.  And it’s also a pretty good proxy for how much we’ve increased human overshoot since 2008.

https://www.theautomaticearth.com/2018/01/10-years-automatic-earth/

What has changed, and increased, a lot over the past decade is the media. They have moved, more than before, into a kind of la la land where narratives are invented and presented with the express intention of keeping people feeling good about themselves in the face of all the distortion and disasters they face.

The big move in energy is not so much peak oil, but a meme of moving away from oil. ‘Renewable energy’ is all the fad, and it works, because it holds the promise that we can maintain our levels of energy consumption, and our lifestyles in general, pretty much up to some undefined moment in the future. For all you know, a seamless transition.

It’s a nonsense narrative, which originates not just in wishful thinking, but much more than that in widespread ignorance about what energy actually is and does, and what qualities oil and gas bring to the table that no other energy source can.

We must have written a hundred articles about such themes as energy return on energy invested (EROEI), and that the EROEI on renewables doesn’t allow for our present complex societies to continue as they are. Renewables are not useless by any means, but switching to them from oil will mean a huge simplification from our present lives. More than anything, probably, we have to ask if that would be such a bad thing.

But that is a question we avoid at all costs, because it is a threatening one. It implies we may have to do with less, and that’s not what we’re hardwired to do. Like any other species, we always want more. This is so ingrained in our world that our economies depend squarely on a perpetual need to strive for more tomorrow than we have today. Not as individuals, perhaps, but certainly as a group.

More trinkets, more gadgets, more energy. And for a -relatively- long time, more people. Relatively, because population growth is a recent phenomenon. It started at the very moment we began to have sources of ‘free’ or ‘surplus’ energy. Give any species a source of ‘surplus’ energy, and it will use it up as fast as it can, and proliferate to achieve that, until the surplus is gone. We are no different.

Of course, as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics holds, the use of energy produces waste. More energy use produces more waste. One source may be slightly less polluting than another, but it’s thermodynamics that dictates the limits here. No energy source is fully renewable, and clean energy is just an advertizing term. And with an energy return too low to run complex societies on, those are hard limits. The only way out is to use less energy, but our economic models are geared towards the opposite, as are our brains.

Meanwhile, we’re saddling our children with the consequences of our prolific use of energy. Species extinction runs a hundred or a thousand times faster than is ‘natural’, ever more of our arable land is too polluted or wasted to produce food, and the grand mass of plastics in our oceans exceeds that of the living creatures that fed us for a very long time, taking the numbers of these creatures down so fast our grandchildren will have to eat jellyfish.

Ironically (and there’s lots of irony in the story of our tragic species), we produce more food per capita today than ever before, but its distribution is so warped that one group of us throw away more than we consume, while another goes hungry. And to top it off, much of what we eat lacks nutrition, and is often even downright toxic for us; it makes us fat and it makes us sick.

Then again, our entire environment is also fast becoming toxic. We’re a bloated, obese, asthmatic, allergic and cancer-riddled species, and yet we call ourselves a success. It’s all about the narrative.

But as Nicole and I said 10 years ago, and still do, it’s finance that will be the first crisis to hit. It will hit so hard it’ll make any other crises, environment and energy, feel like an afterthought. Pension plans across the board will prove to be a Ponzi, housing will collapse, shares will crumble, scores of people will lose all their savings and their jobs, their homes.

This is because, in an ostensible effort to ‘save’ our societies and economies, our -central- bankers and politicians decided to put everything on red, and loaded another $20 trillion into the upper shelf of the financial world, the very shelf that was most rotten to begin with in more than one sense of the word. And they’re not the ones paying the heftiest price for this stupidest bet of all times, you are.

All in all, the only possible conclusion we can draw is that in the past 10 years, things have indeed changed. Thing is, they have changed for the worse. Much worse. And the recovery narrative can’t and won’t hold. Question is who realizes this, and what they are planning to do with the knowledge.

On Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons

Tragedy of the Commons, Lacks Dialogue

“Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.”

“The maximum is not the optimum.”

“We can’t cure a shortage by increasing the supply.”

“Birth control does not equal population control.”

“Exponential growth is kept under control by misery.”

– Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin (1915-2003) was a respected ecologist and philosopher who warned on the dangers of overpopulation. He wrote a famous 1968 paper titled “The Tragedy of the Commons” which you can download or view in full here.  More information on Garrett’s accomplishments and beliefs can be found at the Garrett Hardin Society site.

The central idea of the tragedy of the commons is that the collective effect of individuals making independent, well-intentioned, rational decisions regarding the use of a shared resource, leads to the degradation of the resource such that it can no longer support the individuals that depend upon it.

Tragedy of the Commons, Pasture and Climate

The classic example, and one we have repeated many times since we came to depend on agriculture 10,000 year ago, is the overgrazing of a pasture shared by herdsman.

A more modern example is someone who emits large quantities of CO2 into the atmospheric commons by flying long distances on a regular basis to spend quality time with family members whose lives will soon be harmed by climate change.

Tragedy of the Commons, Drivers

I was familiar with the concept of the tragedy of the commons but I was not aware that Garrett Hardin was the first modern scientist to write on the topic until a friend recently brought his paper to my attention. I read the paper, learned quite a bit, and recommend it to others.

I was particularly impressed with Hardin’s clear and direct thinking on the threat of over-population and what must be done to prevent it. Here are a few noteworthy excerpts from his essay.

The tragedy of the commons is involved in population problems in another way. In a world governed solely by the principle of “dog eat dog”–if indeed there ever was such a world–how many children a family had would not be a matter of public concern. Parents who bred too exuberantly would leave fewer descendants, not more, because they would be unable to care adequately for their children. David Lack and others have found that such a negative feedback demonstrably controls the fecundity of birds. But men are not birds, and have not acted like them for millenniums, at least.

If each human family were dependent only on its own resources; if the children of improvident parents starved to death; if, thus, overbreeding brought its own “punishment” to the germ line–then there would be no public interest in controlling the breeding of families. But our society is deeply committed to the welfare state, and hence is confronted with another aspect of the tragedy of the commons.

In a welfare state, how shall we deal with the family, the religion, the race, or the class (or indeed any distinguishable and cohesive group) that adopts overbreeding as a policy to secure its own aggrandizement? To couple the concept of freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action.

Unfortunately this is just the course of action that is being pursued by the United Nations. In late 1967, some 30 nations agreed to the following:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.

It is painful to have to deny categorically the validity of this right; denying it, one feels as uncomfortable as a resident of Salem, Massachusetts, who denied the reality of witches in the 17th century. At the present time, in liberal quarters, something like a taboo acts to inhibit criticism of the United Nations. There is a feeling that the United Nations is “our last and best hope,” that we shouldn’t find fault with it; we shouldn’t play into the hands of the archconservatives. However, let us not forget what Robert Louis Stevenson said: “The truth that is suppressed by friends is the readiest weapon of the enemy.” If we love the truth we must openly deny the validity of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even though it is promoted by the United Nations.

It is a mistake to think that we can control the breeding of mankind in the long run by an appeal to conscience. Charles Galton Darwin made this point when he spoke on the centennial of the publication of his grandfather’s great book. The argument is straightforward and Darwinian.

People vary. Confronted with appeals to limit breeding, some people will undoubtedly respond to the plea more than others. Those who have more children will produce a larger fraction of the next generation than those with more susceptible consciences. The difference will be accentuated, generation by generation.

In C. G. Darwin’s words: “It may well be that it would take hundreds of generations for the progenitive instinct to develop in this way, but if it should do so, nature would have taken her revenge, and the variety Homo contracipiens would become extinct and would be replaced by the variety Homo progenitivus”.

Perhaps the simplest summary of this analysis of man’s population problems is this: the commons, if justifiable at all, is justifiable only under conditions of low-population density. As the human population has increased, the commons has had to be abandoned in one aspect after another.

The most important aspect of necessity that we must now recognize, is the necessity of abandoning the commons in breeding. No technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation. Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all. At the moment, to avoid hard decisions many of us are tempted to propagandize for conscience and responsible parenthood. The temptation must be resisted, because an appeal to independently acting consciences selects for the disappearance of all conscience in the long run, and an increase in anxiety in the short.

The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon. “Freedom is the recognition of necessity”–and it is the role of education to reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed. Only so, can we put an end to this aspect of the tragedy of the commons.

I summarize Hardin’s position as follows:

  • Failure to control population growth will result in ruin.
  • Population control via appeal to reason or conscience, or threat of shame, will not work, and will in fact make the situation worse. Population can only be effectively controlled by coercion, that is, laws with penalties for overbreeding.
  • The key to passing population control laws is to educate citizens on the reality that if they do not relinquish the freedom to breed they will lose all of their freedoms, including eventually the freedom to breed.

Garrett Hardin was a wise and prescient man who attempted to warn his fellow citizens of a serious threat to their well being, and most importantly, told them what they needed to do and why.  Other great people have attempted to do the same, for example, Dennis Meadows and his collaborators on the 1972 Limits to Growth study.

Hardin’s essay was written 50 years ago when the world’s population was 3.5 billion, a level already far in excess of what can be sustained without abundant, affordable, non-renewable, finite, and depleting fossil energy.

Over the last 50 years the population more than doubled to 7.6 billion and many new overshoot threats backed by solid scientific understanding have emerged like climate change, net energy decline, and ground level ozone.

There’s been plenty of information and (opportunity for) education. We can therefore conclude that Hardin’s assumption that education is the key to preventing overshoot is wrong.

As readers of this blog know, I think the key impediment to changing human behavior in a positive direction is the fact that humans evolved to denial reality, as explained by Varki’s MORT theory.

How can a majority emerge to support a contentious law to control breeding when the vast majority of the 7.6 billion people on the planet deny the existence of overshoot?

Much has been written by many people on the tragedy of the commons. Commentators typically fall into one of two groups:

The first group appreciates the centrality of the commons problem to human existence and spends much energy arguing how best to address the problem with the usual divisive, inconclusive, and unproductive positions of right vs. left, private vs. public, capitalism vs. socialism, libertarian vs. autocratic , etc.

The second group denies a commons problem exists, or thinks innovation and technology will solve any problems.

Where is the most important and missing third group?

That would be the group searching for an understanding of how an otherwise uniquely intelligent species can deny its obvious predicament. Brief reflection leads to the obvious conclusion that until we understand the genetic basis for our ability, on the one hand, to understand highly complex topics, like the laws of  physics that explain the creation of the universe and life, and on the other hand, to selectively deny much simpler and plainly obvious facts, like human overshoot and our own mortality, we have no hope of addressing the tragedy of the commons, or any of the other behaviors that threaten our species.

A few people have achieved some insight into our tendency to deny reality but I observe that they usually soon thereafter drop their pursuit of understanding.  I find this very curious because if you have a deep understanding of the human predicament there is nothing more import to understand and to raise awareness of than reality denial.

If you deny the existence or implications of overshoot, then it is logical to embrace one or more of the many arguments against a one child law, austerity, and conservation. On the other hand, if you embrace the reality of overshoot, then a one child law, austerity, and conservation not only become perfectly reasonable, they become the most important, ethical, moral, and rational things we must do.

There is an exciting (for me) passage in Hardin’s essay that hints he may have  understood or anticipated at least a portion of the MORT theory.

…the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another…  But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

Some would say that this is a platitude. Would that it were! In a sense, it was learned thousands of years ago, but natural selection favors the forces of psychological denial (8). The individual benefits as an individual from his ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole, of which he is a part, suffers.

Education can counteract the natural tendency to do the wrong thing, but the inexorable succession of generations requires that the basis for this knowledge be constantly refreshed.

Hardin demonstrated a flash of denial insight by correctly identifying the key issue, but then neglected to explore further in his tragedy of the commons essay.  Unfortunately the reference for his comment on denial is the book “Population, Evolution, and Birth Control“, which is a collection of essays by different authors that Hardin published in 1964, in which Hardin himself contributed an essay titled “Denial and the Gift of History”, and is not available on the internet. I would be grateful if a reader has a hard copy of this book and would be kind enough to provide a summary of his essay.

My expectation is that Hardin did not elaborate on denial of reality because there was ample opportunity for him to do so in his other books, papers, and interviews that I downloaded and searched.

I did find this one excerpt from an interview but it is not very insightful and he clearly thinks the solution is more education:

RUSSELL: Okay. The idea of statistics and the population–I have no reason to really go over that. The other one, of denial and the gift of history, which was a fascinating idea. Our view of working at it, our immortality.

HARDIN: Yes. Well, I think everybody, as he grows older and accumulates more experience and more observation of other people–of himself, too–is impressed with how often we try to fool ourselves. It’s an inescapable human tendency. This is part of original sin, trying to fool ourselves, and always to make things look better than they are. The question is, since we’re so ingenious at pulling the wool over our own eyes, what contrary measures can be taken? It seemed to me that this is one of the great apologies for teaching history: when you see other people in the past, people with whom you have no connection, making the same mistakes, then you can, I think, be more objective about yourself, and say, “Well, maybe I’m just repeating what this guy did two- or three-hundred years ago.” And this, I think, is one of the great gifts of history. It gives us long arms for holding instructive examples far enough from our eyes.

A search also suggested that no one else in 50 years thought Hardin’s comment on reality denial was worth discussing. Many people saw and see merit in Hardin’s work, but all seem to have missed his most important point, including perhaps Hardin himself.

I also note that Ajit Varki, the only surviving author of the MORT theory, is no longer researching, or attempting to spread awareness of his theory. Varki is instead leading some research on Glycobiology, which with time, will prove to be insignificant compared to MORT.

Because we understand the dangers, we do not permit alcoholics, or epileptics, or schizophrenics, or blind people to fly our planes.

If we understood our genetic tendency to deny reality, we might not permit reality deniers, which by the way are very easy to detect, to run for elected office.

Many impressive scientists and leaders are working hard to shift the needle on human overshoot. All have failed, and all will continue to fail, if they do not embrace the MORT theory.

We need some scientists and leaders of stature to step up and push awareness of the MORT theory.

A cranky old retired electrical engineer writing a blog doesn’t cut it.

It is too late to avoid a lot of suffering, but with awareness of our predicament we could reduce future suffering, and we might avoid harmful emotional reactions like nuclear war or revolutions.

If we have a hope, MORT awareness might be our only hope.

Catch-22: On New Year’s Resolutions

quote-there-was-only-one-catch-and-that-was-catch-22-orr-would-be-crazy-to-fly-more-missions-and-sane-if-joseph-heller-82622

Question:  How serious is climate change and other aspects of human overshoot?
Answer:  Far worse than most can imagine. Your grandchildren and maybe your children are at risk. The evidence is obvious and everywhere, if you care to look.

Question:  What should we do?
Answer:  There is no “solution” to our predicament. But we can and should take action to reduce future suffering. Any effective response must include population reduction and reduced per capita consumption.

Question:  How many of earth’s 7,600,000,000 people have a New Year’s resolution to reduce their lifestyle and promote a one child policy?
Answer:  Almost zero. Most want a larger lifestyle.

Question:  How is this possible?
Answer:  The MORT theory explains that humans evolved to deny reality.

Question:  That’s profoundly important. How come almost no one discusses denial of reality?
Answer:  The behavior prevents us from acknowledging the behavior.

Question: I’m skeptical about the MORT theory.  What first principles support it?
Answer:

Life is chemical replicators competing for finite resources to maximize replication.

Therefore all life obeys the Maximum Power Principle (MPP).

Therefore all life will go into overshoot if it evolves the means or discovers a windfall resource like fossil energy.

Any intelligence capable of understanding and mitigating its own overshoot would conflict with the MPP.

Therefore intelligence cannot (initially?) exist without denial of overshoot.

MORT is one mechanism evolution discovered to resolve this Catch-22.

Question:  Is it possible that everyone is acting rationally because they know someone else will consume whatever they give up?
Answer:  No. If this was true we would see elections where the Green Party says “We are in overshoot and need to put on the brakes, impose austerity and conservation fairly on everyone, and prepare a soft landing zone.”, and the Business As Usual Party says “We agree we are in overshoot but the best strategy is to maximize growth so we are the last country standing”.  The reality we observe is no debate, no discussion, and no mention of the word overshoot in elections, or anywhere else that matters.

Question:  If you’re right, what are the implications?
Answer:  Intelligence is probably rare and fleeting in the universe.

Question:  I understand. I must be a mutant.  What should I do?
Answer:  Savor every day you are alive and able to understand what you observe, and try to increase public awareness of our inherited denial of reality.

D051-928
Seal Bay park, December 30, 2017.

By Ugo Bardi: Are We Decoupling?

energygdp2017

http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.ca/2017/12/are-we-decoupling-not-really-but-happy.html

When driving at speed towards a brick wall should you accelerate or brake? The laws of physics prevent you from going through the brick wall, but you can influence the condition of your health at the brick wall.

This essay by Ugo Bardi shows that our standard of living is totally dependent on non-renewable resources that emit carbon. If we continue with monetary strategies to maintain business as usual we will experience a brick wall at speed when debt accumulates to a level that makes it ineffective at supporting the extraction of high cost fossil energy, and prior to the crash, we will continue to push the climate from an already unsafe state to something worse.

A wise society would acknowledge its denial of a dire predicament, set a goal to maximize well-being at the brick wall, and step on the brake to manage a fair and civil contraction of the economy via population reduction, austerity, and conservation.

Decoupling looks like an obvious idea, isn’t it? After all, isn’t that true that we are becoming more efficient? Think of a modern LED light compared with an old lamp powered by a whale oil. We are now hundreds of times more efficient than we were and we also saved the whales (but, wait, did we…..?). So, if we can do the same things with much less energy, then we could grow the economy without using more energy, solving the climate problem and also the depletion problem. It is part of the concept of “dematerialization” of the economy. Then we paint everything in green and all will be well in the best of worlds.
But there has to be something wrong with this idea, because it is just not happening, at least at the global scale. Just take a look at the above image.
In the end, society needs energy to function and the idea that we can do more with less with the help of better technologies seems to be just an illusion. If we reduce energy consumption, we’ll most likely enter a phase of economic decline. Which might not be a bad thing if we were able to manage it well. Maybe. Calling this “a challenge” seems to be a true euphemism, if ever there was one. But, who knows? Happy 2018, everybody!

By Tim Morgan: The Way Ahead

Perfect Storm

Tim Morgan, author of the seminal report Perfect Storm: Energy, Finance and the End of Growth, from which I extracted the above image, just published a nice year end essay.

I’ve highlighted in red Morgan’s references to denial, although I don’t think he is yet aware of Varki’s MORT theory.

https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/116-the-way-ahead/

What we know

Based on the SEEDS platform, and helped enormously by reader input, we’ve reached a point at which our understanding of issues is very comprehensive, and can be considered leading-edge in providing interpretations unavailable to conventional methodologies. The system has proved itself a very effective predictor – so much so that some very general projections are made later in this discussion.

First, though, it’s well worth reminding ourselves quite how much we now know.

We know that the economy is an energy system, with a parallel financial economy attached to it in a subservient role. Most of us had long suspected that this might be the state of affairs, but we have now gone a long way towards demonstrating it. We can claim that our ability to predict has become superior to that of conventional thinking. The much-vaunted V-shaped recovery after 2008 hasn’t happened, and massive stimulus hasn’t restored robust growth. The surplus energy perspective always suggested that neither of these consensus expectations was likely to be proved right.

We have known for some time that, in the developed economies of the West, prosperity is deteriorating, something about which the consensus view is still in deep denial. Some of the consequences of waning prosperity have already become apparent, most notably in politics, where events such as “Brexit” and the election of Donald Trump were wholly predictable on the basis of adverse trends in prosperity. Some other logical consequences, in business and finance as well as in politics, are eminently predictable, even though they still lie in the future.

Energy-based analysis, and recognition of the proxy nature of the financial system, have enabled us to understand policy, and its failures, over an extended period. We know that real or “organic” growth began to fade after 2000, and, because we understand energy dynamics, we know why this happened.

We can identify two phases in a process of denial-response to this basic reality. The first was the period of credit adventurism, a policy of unfettered and irresponsible debt creation between 2000 and 2008.

The second, beginning in 2008-09 and still ongoing, is monetary adventurism, and comprises the addition of the recklessness of ‘cheap money’ to the debt recklessness of the earlier chapter.

Just as credit adventurism led to the 2008 banking crash, monetary adventurism is highly likely to create a second and an even more serious (and potentially existential) financial crisis, this time extending far beyond banking, and into the fiat currency system. We know that this must have political and social as well as economic and financial consequences, and we know that the destruction of pension viability – a direct consequence of the crushing of returns on capital – will play a big part as this unfolds. Just as importantly, the conventional thinking which didn’t see 2008 coming is now in blissful ignorance about what is likely to happen next. This ignorance isn’t simply hubris or blinkered thinking. It reflects the breakdown of established paradigms.

Finally – for now – we know that the case for “sustainable development”, as it is generally understood, lacks demonstrated viability, and is a matter of assumption rather than analysis. In short, it is wishful thinking. We know this because energy-based economics, with its distinction between the real and the purely financial, requires us to understand the dynamics of credit, money and “growth”. This process strips away the claims made for growth upon which, in turn, are predicated assumptions about climate change.

 

Looking ahead

From this body of understanding, backed up by statistics, we are able to make some projections with high levels confidence about predictive accuracy. This article isn’t the place for detailed predictions, but there are a number of broad outlines which are worth noting.

Critically, prosperity in the developed economies will continue to deteriorate. This trend appears irreversible and, in some countries, is being exacerbated by mistaken policies. ‘Prosperity’, in this context, means average discretionary incomes – that is, the spending power of individuals and households, after the cost of essentials has been deducted from their resources.

We also know that this waning prosperity will be accompanied by further balance sheet deterioration, meaning that debt will continue to increase faster than economic output, and that provision for the future (most obviously, pensions) will continue to be undermined. The “global pension time-bomb”, for example, cannot be defused without the adoption of policies which would have crippling near-term effects. It seems highly likely that the public will, sooner rather than later, come to understand that their chances of enjoying a comfortable retirement are being destroyed. This recognition is likely to become a political factor of immense importance.

In a political climate characterised by deteriorating prosperity, worsening insecurity and growing resentment over perceived unfairness, the centre-right can expect to get the blame, and it can only make its defeat all the more comprehensive if it argues for more, rather than less, of failed policies like privatisation and deregulation. “Popular” or “populist” politicians can expect to make further gains, though this does not mean that their policies will always be implemented. Donald Trump’s budget, and the growing likelihood of “BINO” – meaning “Brexit In Name Only” – illustrate the determination of the elites to frustrate popular demands. These are promising conditions for the political Left, once it has purged its ranks of the “new” or “centrist” wings perceived by activists to have “sold out” to “liberal” economics in the recent past.

All of this has profound implications for business and finance. The established model, which remains built around the promotion of volume expansion despite deteriorating consumer circumstances, is going to come under increasing pressure. Any business whose strategy is founded on low wages, reduced security of employment, globalisation or the deregulation of consumer and employee protections is in urgent need of a “plan B”. Meanwhile, the near-certainty of a second financial crisis requires a rethink from financial institutions, whose assumptions about another taxpayer bail-out are, very probably, dangerously complacent.

Finally, public tolerance of wealth and income inequalities seems certain to deteriorate still further. Sooner rather than later, either Left or “populist” leaders are going to start asking quite how much money any individual actually needs. The ultra-wealthy might need to dust-off those plans for flight, though it seems increasingly likely that they can forget about New Zealand as a bolt-hole.