By Tim Morgan: The need for new ideas



This latest post by Tim Morgan may be my new all-time favorite essay because it discusses the topics that are near and dear to my heart:

  1. Growth is over due to surplus energy depletion.
  2. We are denying 1. with debt.
  3. Viable debt requires growth.
  4. We are denying 3. with printed money and low interest rates.
  5. We are denying the dangerous implications of 4.
  6. We should be acting to minimize harm, instead we are maximizing harm.
  7. We can’t address 6. until we confront our genetic denial.

I don’t think Morgan is aware of Varki’s MORT theory, but denial is central to the essay and reinforces my belief that the first step to developing a rational response to our predicament must be broader awareness of our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities.

I’ve extracted a few noteworthy paragraphs below but the whole essay is worth your time to read carefully. There is nothing more important for citizens to understand, except of course denial.


This article explores an issue that is always at or near the centre of where the economy is going. Worldwide, the long years of growing prosperity are over, and this change fundamentally invalidates many things that government, business and the public have always taken for granted.

The reason why growth is over, of course, is that we no longer have access to cheap energy. Where geographical expansion and economies of scale once drove down the cost of accessing energy, the driving factor now is depletion, which is pushing costs upward, and is doing so in an exponential way.


Thus far, and in spite of all the accumulating evidence, we haven’t recognised that growth in prosperity is over. Rather, we’ve tried to delude ourselves, by using cheap and easy debt, and latterly ultra-cheap money as well, to pretend that perpetual growth remains alive and well.


But prosperity in the developed West, already in decline, is set to deteriorate steadily. Comparing 2030 with 2016, prosperity is likely to be 7% lower in the United States, for example, and 10% lower in Britain. These projected declines are in addition to the deterioration that has already happened – prosperity has already peaked in the US, Canada, Australia and most European countries.


Worldwide, we’re subsidising an illusory present by cannibalising an already-uncertain future. We’re doing this by creating debt that we can’t repay, and by making ourselves pension promises that we can’t honour. So acute is this problem that our chances of getting to 2030 without some kind of financial crash are becoming almost vanishingly small.

Finally, any ‘business as usual’ scenario suggests that we’re not going to succeed in tackling climate change. This is an issue that we examined recently. Basically, each unit of net energy that we use is requiring access to more gross energy, because the energy consumed in the process of accessing energy (ECoE) is rising. This effect is cancelling out our efforts to use surplus(net-of-cost) energy more frugally.

The exponential nature of the rise in ECoEs is loading the equation ever more strongly against us. This is why “sustainable development” is a myth, founded not on fact but on wishful thinking.


The lure of denial

These considerations present us with a conundrum. With prosperity declining, do we, like Pollyanna, try to ignore it, whistling a happy tune until we collide with harsh reality? Or do we recognise where things are heading, and plan accordingly?

There are some big complications in this conundrum. Most seriously, if we continue with the myth of perpetual growth, we’re not only making things worse, but we may be throwing away our capability to adapt.

You can liken this to an ocean liner, where passengers are beginning to suspect that the ship has sprung a leak. The captain, wishing to avoid panic, might justifiably put on a brave face, reassuring the passengers that everything is fine. But he’d be going too far if he underlined this assurance by burning the lifeboats.


We know that supplies of petroleum are tightening, that the trend in costs is against us, and that burning oil in cars isn’t a good idea in climate terms. Faced with this, the powers-that-be could do one of two things. They could start to wean us off cars, by changing work and habitation patterns, and investing in public transport. Alternatively, they can promise us electric vehicles, conveniently ignoring the fact that we don’t, and won’t, have enough electricity generating capacity to make this plan viable, and that we’d certainly need to burn in power stations at least as much oil as we’d take out of fuel tanks. At the moment, every indication is that they’re going to opt for the easy answer – not the right one.

This is just one example, amongst many, of our tendency to avoid unpalatable issues until they are forced upon us. The classic instance of this, perhaps, is the attitude of the democracies during the 1930s, who must have known that appeasement was worse than a cop-out, because it enabled Germany, Italy and Japan to build up their armed forces, becoming a bigger threat with every passing month. Hitler came to power in 1933, and could probably have been squashed like a bug at any time up to 1936. By 1938, though, German rearmament reduced us to buying ourselves time.

Burying one’s head in the sand is actually a very much older phenomenon than that. The English happily paid Danegeld without, it seems, realising that each such bribe made the invaders stronger. It’s quite possible that the French court could have defused the risk of revolution by granting the masses a better deal well before 1789. The Tsars compounded this mistake when they started a reform process and then slammed it into reverse. History never repeats itself, but human beings do repeat the same mistakes, and then repeat their surprise at how things turn out.


Needed – vision and planning

The aim here is simple. There is an overwhelming case for preparation.  With this established, readers can then discuss what might constitute a sensible plan, and try to work out how any plan at all is going to be formulated in a context of ignorance, denial and wishful thinking.


As the cost of energy rises, economic growth gets harder. We’ve come up against this constraint since about 2000, and our response to it, thus far, has been gravely mistaken, almost to the point of childish petulance. We seem incapable of thinking or planning in any terms that aren’t predicated on perpetual growth. We resort to self-delusion instead.


Since the global financial crisis (GFC), we’ve added monetary adventurism to the mix. In the process, we’ve crushed returns on investment, crippling our ability to provide pensions. We’ve accepted the bizarre idea that we can run a “capitalist” economic system without returns on capital. We’ve also accepted value dilution, increasingly resorting to selling each other services that are priced locally, that add little value, and that, in reality, are residuals of the borrowed money that we’ve been pouring into the economy.

We seem oblivious of the obvious, which is that money, having no intrinsic worth, commands value only as a claim on the output of a real economy driven by energy. When someone hands in his hat and coat at a reception, he receives a receipt which enables him to reclaim them later. But the receipt itself won’t keep him warm and dry. For that, he needs to exchange the receipt for the hat and coat. Money is analogous to that receipt.


The first imperative, then, is recognition that the economy is an energy system, not a financial one, in which money plays a proxy role as a claim on output. In this sense, money is like a map of the territory, whereas energy is the territory itself – and geographical features can’t be changed by altering lines on a map.

It’s fair to assume that the reality of this relationship will gain recognition in due course, the only question being how many mistakes and how much damage has to happen before we get there. No amount of orthodoxy can defy this reality, just as no amount of orthodoxy could turn flat earth theories into the truth.

With the energy dynamic recognised, we’ll need to come to terms with the fact that growth cannot continue indefinitely. Rather, growth has been a chapter, made possible by the bounty of fossil fuels, and that bounty is losing its largesse as the relationship between energy value and the cost of access tilts against us.

In one sense, it’s almost a good thing that this is happening. If we suddenly discovered vast oil reserves on the scale of another Saudi Arabia, we would probably use them to destroy the environment.


Meanwhile, the invalidation of the growth assumption will have profound implications for debt, and may indeed make the whole concept unworkable. If borrowing and lending ceased to be a viable activity, the consequences would be profound.

To understand this, we need to recognise that debt only works when prosperity is growing. For A to borrow from B today, and at a future date repay both capital and interest, A’s income must have increased over that period. Without that growth, debt cannot be repaid.

There are two routes to the repayment of capital and the payment of interest, and both depend on growth. First, if A has put borrowed capital to work, the return on that investment both pays the interest, and also, hopefully, leaves A with a profit. Alternatively, if A has spent the borrowed money on consumption, A’s income has to increase by at least enough to for him to repay the debt, and pay interest on it.

In an ex-growth situation, both routes break down. Invested debt isn’t going to yield a sufficient return, because purchases by consumers have ceased to expand. A’s income, on the other hand, won’t have increased, because prosperity has stopped growing.

This scenario – in which repayment of debt becomes impossible – isn’t a future prediction, but a current reality, and a reality that is already in plain sight.

We need to be clear that the slashing of rates to almost zero happened because earning enough on capital to be able to pay real rates of interest has become impossible.

Businesses which aren’t growing cannot – ever – pay off their debts, and neither can individuals whose prosperity is deteriorating.


Financial exercises in denial (including escalating debt, ultra-cheap money and the impairment of pension provision) have already created a stark division between “haves” and “have-nots”. Essentially, the “haves” are those who already owned assets before the value of those assets was driven upwards by monetary policy. The “have-nots” are almost everyone else, especially the young.


A logical conclusion, then, is that we need a new form of politics, just as much as we need a new understanding of economics, new models for business and a new role for finance. Co-operative systems might succeed where corporatism – both the state-controlled and the privately-owned variants – have failed.

All of these new ideas need to be grounded in reality, not in wishful thinking, denial or ideological myopia. But reality becomes a hard sell when it challenges preconceived notions – and no such notion is more rooted in our psyche than perpetual growth.

By Ugo Bardi: Are We Decoupling?


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!

Dam Denial

Site C Dam Contruction aerial.

The Site C dam in my province of British Columbia has been approved and our leaders who approved it are not even aware of the issues they should have weighed in the decision.

The effect of this decision will be to keep our planet destroying population and lifestyles going for a little longer, as other non-renewable energy resources deplete.

I do not know if the dam will be good or bad for climate change, but I suspect bad given the CO2 that will be released building it, and its short (20-30 year) operating life due to the need for diesel to maintain it and the grid.

No consideration was given to the correct policies of population reduction, austerity, and conservation.

Denial is amazing!

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.


By Bjørn Lomborg: On Renewables

Lomborg gets it right until the punchline in which he neglects to mention that we need to either repeal the laws of physics and chemistry, or reduce our population and consumption.

Denial is amazing.

We need to get real on renewables. Only if green energy becomes much cheaper – and that requires lots of green R&D – will a renewables transition be possible.




No, renewables are not taking over the world anytime soon.

We have spent the last two centuries getting off renewables because they were mostly weak, costly and unreliable. Half a century ago, in 1966, the world got 15.6% of its energy from renewables. Today (2016) we still get less of our energy at 13.8%.

With our concern for global warming, we are ramping up the use of renewables. The mainstream reporting lets you believe that renewables are just about to power the entire world. But this is flatly wrong.

The new World Energy Outlook report from the International Energy Agency shows how much renewables will increase over the next quarter century, to 2040. In its New Policies Scenario, which rather optimistically expects all nations to live up to their Paris climate promise, it sees the percentage increase less than 6 percentage points from 13.8% to 19.4%. More realistically, the increase will be 2 percentage points to 15.8%.

Most of the renewables are not solar PV and wind. Today, almost 10 percentage points come from the world’s oldest fuel: wood. Hydropower provides another 2.5 percentage points and all other renewables provide just 1.6 percentage points, of which solar PV and wind provide 0.8 percentage points.

Neither will most renewables in 2040 come from solar PV and wind, as breathless reporting tends to make you believe. 10 percentage points will come from wood. Hydropower provides another 3 percentage points and all other renewables provide 6 percentage points, of which solar PV and wind will (very optimistically) provide 3.7 percentage points.

Oh, and to achieve this 3.7 % of energy from solar PV and wind, you and I and the rest of the world will pay – according to the IEA – a total of $3.6 trillion in subsidies from 2017-2040 to support these uncompetitive energy sources. (Of course, if they were competitive, they wouldn’t need subsidies, and then they will be most welcome.)

Most people tend to think about electricity for renewables, but the world uses plenty of energy that is not electricity (heat, transport, manufacture and industrial processes).

Actually, if the world miraculously could make the *entire* global electricity sector 100% green without emitting a single ton of greenhouse gasses, we would have solved just a third of the total global greenhouse gas problem.

As Al Gore’s climate adviser, Jim Hansen, put it bluntly: “Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and [the] Tooth Fairy.”

We need to get real on renewables. Only if green energy becomes much cheaper – and that requires lots of green R&D – will a renewables transition be possible.

Data for graph: “A brief history of energy” by Roger Fouquet, International Handbook of the Economics of Energy 2009; IEA data DOI: 10.1787/enestats-data-en, and World Energy Outlook 2017, unfortunately not free,

Hansen quote:…/mail…/2011/20110729_BabyLauren.pdf

The world emitted 49Gt CO₂e in 2014, and all electricity/heat came to 15Gt or less than a third,


By Tim Morgan: Death of a High-Fashion Model (aka Sustainable Development)


Tim Morgan proves here that sustainable development is a myth, and that economic growth is incompatible with addressing climate change. This means that all of our international climate change agreements are pure nonsense and nothing more than vehicles to help us deny reality.

Nate Hagens, another person I respect, states this reality as: There is no green, without lean.

Morgan also suspects our extreme use of debt to create growth will crash the system and thus prevent CO2 from climbing to catastrophic levels. My understanding of the science is that CO2 is already at a level incompatible with civilization, but I agree a crash will make the future less bad, assuming we don’t go to war fighting over the remaining energy scraps.


Between 2001 and 2016, recorded GDP grew by 65%, adding $47tn to output. Over the same period, however, and measured in constant 2016 PPP dollars, debt increased by $135tn (108%), meaning that each $1 of recorded growth came at a cost of $2.85 in net new borrowing.

This relationship between borrowing and growth makes it eminently reasonable to conclude that much of the apparent “growth” has, in reality, been nothing more substantial than the spending of borrowed money. Put another way, we have been boosting “today” by plundering “tomorrow”, hardly an encouraging practice for anyone convinced by “sustainable development” (or, for that matter, sustainable anything).


As we have seen, then, the very strong likelihood is that real growth in global economic output over fifteen years has been less than 1.6% annually, slower than growth either in energy consumption (2.2%) or in CO² emissions (2.1%). In compound terms, growth in underlying GDP seems to have been about 26% between 2001 and 2016, appreciably less than increases in either energy consumption (+40%) or emissions (+37%).

At this point, some readers might think this conclusion counter-intuitive – after all, if technological change has boosted efficiency, shouldn’t we be using less energy per dollar of activity, not more?

There is, in fact, a perfectly logical explanation for this process. Essentially, the economy is fuelled, not by energy in the aggregate, but by surplus energy. Whenever energy is accessed, some energy is always consumed in the access process. This is expressed here as ECoE (the energy cost of energy), a percentage of the gross quantity of energy accessed. The critical point is that ECoE is on a rising trajectory. Indeed, the rate of increase in the energy cost of energy has been rising exponentially.


As we have seen, a claimed rate of economic growth (between 2001 and 2016) that is higher (65%) than the rate at which CO² emissions have expanded (37%) has been used to “prove” increasing efficiency. It is entirely upon these claims that the viability of “sustainable development” is based.

But, as we have also seen, reported growth has been spurious, the product of unsustainable credit manipulation, and the unwinding of provision for the future. Real growth, adjusted to exclude this manipulation, is estimated by SEEDS at 26% over that period. Crucially, that is less than the 37% rate at which CO² emissions have grown.

On this basis, a claimed 17% “improvement” in the amount of CO² per dollar of output reverses into a deterioration. Far from improving, the relationship between CO² and economic output worsened by 9% between 2001 and 2016. In parallel with this, the amount of energy required for each dollar of output increased by 11% over the same period.


In short, if growth continues, rising ECoEs dictate that both energy needs, and associated emissions of CO², will grow at rates exceeding that of economic output.

We are back where many have argued that we have been all along. The pursuit of growth seems to be incompatible with averting potentially irreversible climate change.

There is a nasty sting-in-the-tail here, too. The ECoE of oil supplies is rising particularly markedly, and there seems a very real danger that this will force an increased reliance on coal, a significantly dirtier fuel. A recent study by the China University of Petroleum predicted exactly such a trend in China, already the world’s biggest producer of CO². As domestic oil supply peaks and then declines because of higher ECoEs, the study postulates a rapid increase in coal consumption to feed the country’s voracious need for energy. This process is most unlikely to be confined to China.


The central contention here is that the case for “sustainable development” is fatally flawed, because the divergence between gross and net energy needs is more than offsetting progress in greening our energy mix and combatting emissions of harmful gases. “Sustainable development” is a laudable aim, but may simply not be achievable within the laws of physics as they govern energy supply.

If this interpretation is correct, it means that growth in the global economy can be pursued only at grave climate risk. A (slightly) more comforting interpretation might that the super-heated rate of borrowing, and the seemingly disastrous rate at which pension capability is being destroyed, might well crash the system before our obsession with ‘growth at all costs’ can inflict irreparable damage to the environment.”

By James Hansen: Scientific Reticence

Here is the latest (draft) paper from James Hansen, the world’s best climate scientist.

In summary, the situation is much worse than you’re being led to believe.

We argue that global warming of 2°C, or even 1.5°C, is dangerous, because these levels are far above Holocene temperatures and even warmer than best estimates for the Eemian, when sea level reached 6-9 meters (20-30 feet) higher than today. Earth’s history shows that sea level adjusts to changes in global temperature. We conclude that eventual sea level rise of several meters could be locked in, if rapid emission reductions do not begin soon, and could occur within 50-150 years with the extraordinary climate forcing of continued “business-as-usual” fossil fuel emissions.

The 2 C goal set by our governments is not an appropriate goal because it is clearly dangerous, and despite this, we are almost certainly not going to achieve the goal.

It’s not like we tried and failed. We’ve done nothing except talk and deny the science.

Hansen laments here that even scientists are denying the science.

Where are the adults?