By Nate Hagens: Reality 101: What every student (and citizen) should know

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens just released a new video course titled “Reality 101” that he produced for honors freshman at the University of Minnesota where he teaches.

The course is backed by 15 years of research by Nate into our overshoot predicament created by the interaction of human behavior, energy, economy, and ecology, and distills his 45 hour university course of the same name into 4 hours of video.

I’ve followed Nate for many years and have posted some of his work here.  Nate is a rare multidisciplinary dot connector, and has one of the best big picture understandings of our predicament.

Nate differs from others doing similar research in that he retains hope and offers positive advice to young people for how they might help make the future a more desirable place to live.

I suspect this new video course will become a go-to resource for people seeking enlightenment on vitally important topics that are usually ignored, and when occasionally broached, are almost always misunderstood or denied by most educators, leaders, and news sources.

Nate can be found on both Twitter and Facebook.

Nate’s Facebook announcement of the video course:

I’ll be putting the entire Reality 101 course content (two 500 page books co-written w DJ White plus related content and videos) online for free this spring. In the meantime, the Honors Program at U of Minnesota asked for a ‘hologram’ of that material that could be watched in 4-5 hours (instead of ~150 hours of the course) for the Nexus One experience for all freshmen. They’ll watch this in 3 pieces: 1) Brain/behavior 2) Energy/economy and 3) Ecology/Earth systems/what to do/how to live during these times. The Energy videos (link below) are ‘finished’ (with a bunch of small errors to fix when I get time), The 12 videos are 1 hour 45 minutes total – as usual both too long for most peoples attn spans but too short to really get into some important nuances. Our culture is energy blind. This new choreography outlines the story of humans, growth, energy and the future in the most comprehensive way I could envision for a short(ish) summary. (thanks to Katie Fischer and Keegan L Robinson for tireless help and suggestions and to Katie for doing great work on the tech side)

Reality 101 full course description:

How is the economy like a hurricane? Where does money come from? Will economic growth last forever? What is wealth? How many hours would it take you to generate the same amount of energy in a gallon of gasoline? Why are you so confident in your own beliefs? Why do you spend so much time on social media? Why do we want “more” than our neighbors? What do all of these questions have to do with the environment? With your future? And what if our most popular societal beliefs about these issues turn out to be myths?

Reality 101 will delve into these questions and unify them as they apply to the major challenges humanity faces this century, among them: slow economic growth, poverty, inequality, addiction, pollution, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, and war. The seminar will provide students with broad exposure to the foundational principles central to addressing these interrelated issues. The readings and lectures will cover literature in systems ecology, energy and natural resources, thermodynamics, history, anthropology, human behavior, neuroscience, environmental science, sociology, economics, globalization/trade, and finance/debt with an overarching goal to give students a general understanding of how our human ecosystem functions as a whole. Such a systems overview is necessary to view the opportunities and constraints relevant to our future from a realistic starting point. Though the hard science relating to sustainability will be surveyed, few answers will be presented and it is hoped that creativity and group dialogue will lead to emergent ideas on how these big themes fit together. While the class material is daunting and intense (reflecting our world situation), the course itself will be enlightening and deeply informative, with an open, engaging, and entertaining class atmosphere.

Dr. Nathan John Hagens worked on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers and Salomon Brothers and closed his own hedge fund in 2003 to pursue interdisciplinary knowledge about the bigger picture of modern society. Nate was the lead editor of the online web portal theoildrum.com, and is currently President of the Bottleneck Foundation and on the Boards of the Post Carbon Institute, Institute for Energy and Our Future, and IIER.

 

 Section 1 – Brain & Behavior

Click here to play all 10 parts in sequence.

Part 1: Evolution, Natural Selection, and the Agenda of the Gene

 

Part 2: Sexual Selection and Social Status

 

Part 3: Dopamine, Supernormal Stimuli and Consumerism, Part 1

 

Part 4: Dopamine, Supernormal Stimuli and Consumerism, Part 2

 

Part 5: Our Social Natures, Part 1 (Groups and Tribes)

 

Part 6: Our Social Natures, Part 2 (The Superorganism and Culture)

 

Part 7: Self-Blindness, Part 1 (Cognitive Biases)

 

Part 8: Self-Blindness, Part 2 (Cognitive Biases)

 

Part 9: Time Biases

 

Part 10: From Self Blindness to Self Awareness

 

Section 2 – Energy & Economy

Click here to play all 16 parts in sequence.

Part 1: Energy Blindness

 

Part 2: Energy Surplus

 

3 – Energy Benefits

 

Part 4: Energy Scale

 

Part 5: Energy Impacts

 

Part 6: Energy Primacy, Part 1

 

Part 7: Energy Primacy, Part 2

 

Part 8: Energy Primacy, Part 3

 

Part 9: Energy Primacy, Part 4

 

Part 10: Energy Primacy, Part 5

 

Part 11: Energy Remoteness

 

Part 12: Energy Depletion

 

Part 13: Energy Fungibility

 

Part 14: Energy Transitions

 

Part 15: Energy and Happiness

 

Part 16: Energy and Our Future

 

Section 3 – The Big Picture

Click here to play all 8 parts in sequence.

Part 1: Intro

 

Part 2: Ecology and Systems

 

Part 3: Externalities, Part 1: Intro

 

Part 4: Externalities, Part 2: Heating and Oceans

 

Part 5: Externalities, Part 3: The Web of Life

 

Part 6: The Superorganism (short version)

 

Part 7: 8 Great Questions for our Time

 

Part 8: What to Do? (short list)

By Chris Martenson: Collapse is Already Here

Charles Mackay quote

 

Chris Martenson is a rare journalist with a wide view and deep understanding that is able to connect the dots between ecology, economy, energy, and human overshoot.

Martenson’s free video course titled “The Crash Course” is the best place to start for someone wishing to get educated on our predicament.

Martenson yesterday published an excellent essay surveying the collapse of ecosystems that is underway around the world.

https://www.peakprosperity.com/blog/114741/collapse-already-here

 

Many people are expecting some degree of approaching collapse — be it economic, environmental and/or societal — thinking that they’ll recognize the danger signs in time.

As if it will be completely obvious, like a Hollywood blockbuster. Complete with clear warnings from scientists, politicians and the media.  And everyone can then get busy either panicking or becoming the plucky heroes.

That’s not how collapse works.

Collapse is a process, not an event.

And it’s already underway, all around us.

Collapse is already here.

 

Be very skeptical when the cause of each new ecological nightmare is ascribed to “natural causes.”

While it’s entire possible for any one ecological mishap to be due to a natural cycle, it’s weak thinking to assign the same cause to dozens of troubling findings happening all over the globe.

As they say in the military: Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. But three times is enemy action.

 

Martenson covers a lot of territory in his essay:

  • million fish die-off in Australian rivers
  • one third of bats dead in Australia
  • wild horses and camels dying in Australia
  • kauri trees in New Zealand dying
  • baobab trees in Africa dying
  • squid catches collapsing in Japan
  • 98% decline of insects in Puerto Rican rainforest
  • 86% decline of Monarch butterflies in California
  • seabird collapse in the Baltic Sea
  • 50% decline of ocean phytoplankton
  • seagulls gone in Maine
  • worldwide amphibian collapse
  • depleting the Colorado river to grow cotton in a desert
  • elites denying all of the above

I’m seeing a similar ecological collapse in my front yard that I documented here.

Martenson concludes with some wise words:

The bottom line is this: We are destroying the natural world. And that means that we are destroying ourselves. 

I know that the mainstream news has relegated this conversation to the back pages (when they covered it at all) and so it’s not “front and center” for most people.  But it should be.

Everything we hold dear is a subset of the ecosphere. If that goes, so does everything else. Nothing else matters in the slightest if we actively destroy the Earth’s carrying capacity.

At the same time, we’re in the grips of an extremely dangerous delusion that has placed money, finance and the economy at the top spot on our temple of daily worship.

Any idea of slowing down or stopping economic growth is “bad for business” and dismissed out of hand as “not practical”, “undesirable” or “unwise”.  It’s always a bad time to discuss the end of economic growth, apparently.

But as today’s young people are increasingly discovering, if conducting business” is just a lame rationale for failed stewardship of our lands and oceans, then it’s a broken idea. One not worth preserving in its current form.

The parade of terrible ecological breakdowns provided above is there for all willing to see it. Are you willing?  Each failing ecosystem is screaming at us in urgent, strident tones that we’ve gone too far in our quest for “more”.

We might be able to explain away each failure individually. But taken as a whole?  The pattern is clear: We’ve got enemy action at work.  These are not random coincidences.

Nature is warning us loudly that it’s past time to change our ways.  That our “endless growth” model is no longer valid. In fact, it’s now becoming an existential threat

The collapse is underway. It’s just not being televised (yet).

 

From here, there are only two likely paths:

(1) We humans simply cannot self-organize to address these plights and carry on until the bitter end, when something catastrophic happens that collapses our natural support systems.

(2) We see the light, gather our courage, and do what needs to be done.  Consumption is widely and steeply curtailed, fossil fuel use is severely restrained, and living standards as measured by the amount of stuff flowing through our daily lives are dropped to sustainable levels.

Either path means enormous changes are coming, probably for you and definitely for your children and grandchildren.

By Tad Patzek: A Requiem for the Beautiful Earth

Tad Patzek

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

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

http://patzek-lifeitself.blogspot.com/2018/12/a-requiem-for-beautiful-earth.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait, there’s more…

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

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

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

Here’s Patzek discussing authentic recycling…

 

By Gail Zawacki: Diva of Doom Interview

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

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

Enjoy every good day that remains.

 

Eat the rich, save the planet?

Eat the Rich

A cursory look at human history or the genetic behavior of monkeys confirms that it is unwise for societies to permit the wealth gap between the rich and the majority to become too wide. Especially when the standard of living of the majority is falling.

Brexit, Trump, and the yellow vests are examples of increasing social unrest. Anecdotally I’m also seeing a meme emerge on the internet that can be summarized as “eat the rich, save the planet”. This meme is supported by some intellectuals like Kevin Anderson who argue that climate change can be addressed by focusing on reducing CO2 emissions from the rich.

We’ve been warned that to maintain a climate compatible with civilization we have 10 years to cut our CO2 emissions in half and 30 years to reduce them to zero. As Tim Garrett has shown, CO2 emissions are proportional to wealth, so to reduce CO2 emissions we must reduce the total wealth of civilization.

Many other important planks of our ecosystem’s health are sick and getting sicker, primarily due to the high consumption needed to support our collective wealth.

We also know (here and here) that the net return from our energy sources is declining due to the depletion of low-cost non-renewable reserves which means our productivity and thus ability to grow wealth is declining and this decline will accelerate.

Governments have responded to declining economic growth by reducing interest rates and increasing debt. This has deferred the reduction in our standard of living necessary to balance the books, but has also increased the wealth gap because low-interest rates have created a bubble in the value of most assets, and the rich own a disproportionate share of assets.

An individual cares primarily about their own wealth, not the total wealth of civilization. We could in theory keep individuals comfortable and maintain a healthy(er) planet by reducing our population without reducing our per capita wealth. Unfortunately, reproduction is the primary goal of our genes and we therefore don’t even discuss the obviously optimal solution of population reduction. To be fair on its potential effectiveness, we should have reduced our population back in 1970 when we were warned by our experts. It’s never too late to do the right thing but given that even the Green party doesn’t have a population reduction platform it is probable that any population reduction will be involuntary rather than voluntary.

The uniquely powerful human brain exists because it evolved to deny unpleasant realities. Topics don’t become much more unpleasant than overshoot so we collectively have not acknowledged, and do not discuss, and do not act, on any of the issues associated with overshoot.

To summarize:

  • The total wealth of civilization must decrease to maintain a planet compatible with civilization.
  • The total wealth of civilization will decrease due to the depletion of non-renewable resources (especially energy).
  • We are doing everything possible to prevent the decline of total wealth but our actions have increased the wealth gap and social unrest.
  • We do not discuss or act on the only “good” solution, population reduction.
  • We aggressively deny our overshoot predicament.

Governments react to pressure from their citizens, they do not lead their citizens. I sense some bubbling optimism about the yellow vest movement from people who seek fundamental change. A key question then is are movements like the yellow vests good or bad for our future prospects?

Put more succinctly, will eating the rich save the planet?

The answer lies in how we close the wealth gap.

If we close the wealth gap by taxing the rich and redistributing their wealth to the less fortunate we will temporarily reduce social unrest but will worsen our overshoot predicament. This is because the poor will tend to spend the liquidated assets of the rich which will increase the total consumption of energy and other resources.

In addition, the spending of liquidated assets will increase inflation because there are far more paper assets than real assets in our economy, and this inflation will be a new source of social unrest.

While it is true that total wealth will decrease no matter what we do, there are two paths we can take. The first path is deflation which means people have less money but the money is still worth something. The second path is inflation which means people have money but it is worth less. I think inflation is more corrosive to the social fabric than deflation. Inflation caused a modern civilized country to blame and exterminate 6 million members of a minority tribe.

If on the other hand, we close the wealth gap by taxing the rich and paying down public debt, then we benefit everyone, rich and poor, by helping to stabilize the currency in a shrinking economy. This is important because all modern currencies are debt-backed fractional reserve systems that tend to become unstable without growth.

So to answer our question, will eating the rich save the planet, we need to know what the yellow vests marching in the streets want.

Do they want the rich to be pulled down to their level?

Or do they want to be pulled up closer to the rich?

I suspect they want the latter. If true, this means the yellow vests are acting to worsen our overshoot predicament.

What we need is green vests marching in the streets demanding that our governments acknowledge our overshoot predicament and manage the required and inevitable decline in a fair and humane manner.

This of course requires citizens to understand what’s going on.

And that requires us to find some way to break through our tendency to deny reality.

And that requires us to study and communicate Varki’s MORT theory.

 

 

By Hugh Montgomery: Are Humans Like a Virus on Planet Earth?

Hugh Montgomery is a respected physician and scientist who discovered the first gene related to fitness. His side interests apparently include running 100 km ultra marathons, authoring children’s books, and climate change activism.

In this talk he provides a superb big picture summary of the human overshoot predicament.

This was my first exposure to Montgomery and I’m really impressed. He’s intelligent, articulate, and refreshingly direct.

One of his many insightful comments stood out for me:

Without climate change we are in terrible terrible trouble.

If you add in climate change our situation becomes absolutely desperate.

But wait, there’s more.

Montgomery does not mention the depletion of affordable oil, nor our (related) rapidly growing debt bomb.

So I’m wondering, what adjective comes after “absolutely desperate”?

Perhaps WASF.

In the Q&A session Montgomery confides that he thinks civilization is done and laments that we are not fighting to survive.

Where are the adults?

 

 

I Remember…

Orcas

This article on the decline of Orcas is close to home and painful.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/09/science/orcas-whales-endangered.html

Orcas of the Pacific Northwest Are Starving and Disappearing

For the last three years, not one calf has been born to the dwindling pods of black-and-white killer whales spouting geysers of mist off the coast in the Pacific Northwest.

Normally four or five calves would be born each year among this fairly unique urban population of whales — pods named J, K and L. But most recently, the number of orcas here has dwindled to just 75, a 30-year-low in what seems to be an inexorable, perplexing decline.

The biggest contributing factor may be the disappearance of big king salmon — fish more than 40 inches long. “They are Chinook salmon specialists,” said Brad Hanson, team leader for research at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center here, part of NOAA. “If they could, they would eat Chinook salmon 24/7.” Orcas gobble 30 a day. Hunting enough smaller prey requires a lot more energy.

 

I live on a beach with a reef at Kye Bay on the east coast of Vancouver Island. I began regular visits here as a child in 1960 and have witnessed a steady decline of its ecosystem.

I remember abundant kelp, seagrass, barnacles, oysters, clams, geoducks, dungeness crabs, kelp crabs, hermit crabs, shore crabs, shrimp, sand dollars, sand collars, snails, starfish, flatfish, bullheads, dogfish, and more. Every single species on that list is mostly gone. Like a desert, sand and rocks remain.

I remember many small fish and crabs being trapped in pools waiting for the tide to come back in. Now there is only sand.

I remember after a summer storm seaweed and kelp would wash in and fill the bay to a depth of several feet, then rot and stink keeping the damn tourists away for a few weeks. Now it is uncommon to see a few inches of seaweed washing in.

I remember picking oysters from the reef with everyone else which no doubt contributed to their decline.

I remember large flocks of shorebirds. For several years I assisted someone who has conducted shorebird counts here for over 40 years. She showed me her notebooks with clear evidence that almost every species of shorebird is in severe decline.

I remember sitting out at dusk and watching the bats fly overhead. The bats are gone.

I remember abundant grasshoppers, June beetles, butterflies, moths, sand wasps, and other insects. Most are gone.

I remember when the dwellings that line the bay were small summer cabins set in amongst large fir trees. Now most of the trees have been felled and the cabins razed to build large year-round homes.

I remember my hometown Campbell River 50km north of here being called the salmon capital of the world because anyone with a boat could easily catch their limit of salmon. And they did until they couldn’t. Now fisherman must drive 2 hours and boat another 1 hour to the west coast of Vancouver Island for fishing that is still decent but in rapid decline.

I remember when fish were bigger. Much bigger.

I remember when dogfish were treated like a pest species. Now you never see them.

I remember when it was common to have a killer whale surface next to the boat you were fishing in.

I remember abundant sea lions on the rocks of the west coast. The sea lions are mostly gone now because fisherman shoot them because they compete for dwindling salmon stocks.

I remember political parties that promised to close the fish farming industry because of harm they do to wild fish stocks and when elected change their mind because the economy is more important than ecology.

I remember being optimistic. I visited the local fisheries office to ask if there was anything residents could do to restore the keystone kelp beds. They were not helpful and more or less said it was a waste of time because human pressure and climate change will continue to degrade ocean health.

I remember when we used to discuss over-population. The population of this valley has grown by more than 3 times (300%) since we had those conversations.

I remember being in denial like most people.