Removing the Safety Valves

Pressure Cooker

Something big has recently changed in our culture.

We no longer accept any unpleasant reality, no matter the costs of denying it, nor the benefits it might return in the long run.

For example, parents who do not permit their children to play unsupervised for fear of a scuff. And school teachers who no longer fail anyone and mark all students as above average. And high schools that fly their students to Europe rather than make them sweat on the West Coast trail. And universities that have dumbed-down their curriculums. And citizens who refuse to accept election results and blame fictional demons rather than questioning their own beliefs. And environmentalists who promote green growth rather than austerity and population reduction.

Recessions function like the safety valves on a pressure cooker that prevent a dangerous explosion. Recessions used to be viewed as a normal event that purged malinvestments and poor performers thus allowing healthy re-growth in the next cycle.

Today we are unwilling to accept any downturn. As soon as the markets start to drop the central banks step in to prop them up. Extraordinary measures have become ordinary. The absurd has become normal.

We’ve removed most of the safety valves and the pressure is building. Soon the pressure will be so high that we’ll be forced to remove the last safety valve and start handing out printed money to citizens, thus triggering a repeat of the Weimar event and its terrible consequences.

It’s not like we need to abandon capitalism and free markets. To the contrary, all we need to do is let markets function the way we pretend they function.

I understand all the thermodynamic reasons that we might not want to let a recession take root, but I ask you, how is delaying the inevitable going to make things better? It’s not. It’s going to make things much worse.

Our only choices are do we want to fall from a higher elevation later, or climb down from a lower elevation sooner?

Where are the adults?

The Fed Stops Pretending by Peter D. Schiff

The elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge is that the “unconventional” policies that were introduced to fight a “once in a century” crisis are now the conventional policies of choice to combat the normal fluctuations of the business cycle. But zero percent interest rates and quantitative easing only worked a decade ago because people thought they were temporary. If they knew that the policies were permanent, the dollar may have plummeted and the resulting inflation may well have overwhelmed any benefits the stimulation delivered. But the naïve belief that the Fed could reverse course, unwind its bloated balance sheet and normalize interest rates, kept the game going and kept the dollar strong. Now that the illusion may about to be shattered, the dollar may not survive the next round of enhanced QE and ZIRP.

QE4 will have to be larger than the three earlier rounds combined, as the annual Federal budget deficits could exceed 3 trillion. However, while China, Russia, and many emerging market nations were eager buyers of Treasuries during those initial rounds, they may likely be sellers of Treasuries during the next round. That means none of the inflation created to finance QE would be exported. So the big price increases next time may take place in the supermarket rather than the stock market. Americans would finally be forced to deal with the adverse effects of inflation that we have been spared for the past 10 years. It’s not going to be pretty.

https://www.fxstreet.com/analysis/the-fed-stops-pretending-201906100556

Hat tip to Panopticon for his excellent daily posts on the economy and climate.

https://climateandeconomy.com/2019/06/10/10th-june-2019-todays-round-up-of-economic-news/

Saving the World by Recycling My Garbage

 

Recylcing

A year ago I wrote an essay that tried to capture the depth and breadth of our predicament, and that offered a simple idea for increasing awareness, gratefulness, and temperance.

If you’re not an engineer the essay may be a painful read because my goal was to communicate maximum content with minimum words in a single sentence, and it thus reads like a computer program.

Nevertheless I like the essay because it touches on, and integrates, every topic that citizens should understand, but almost none do.

The essay did not get much traction when it was published, so I’m recycling it today for the pleasure and enlightenment of the millions of new readers that now follow this blog.

I make the bold claim that this essay holds the all-time world’s record for the highest number of important ideas in a single sentence, and the highest ratio of important ideas to words in any essay, with 86 important ideas and 1290 words it’s ratio is 6.6%.

I’m confident that readers will not be able to find another essay that unseats my world record, however if I’m proven wrong, I will publicly admit that I have the same denial genes as the rest of you monkeys.

Here’s the link to my world record essay….

On Burning Carbon: The Case for Renaming GDP to GDB

Mashup

Keep Calm and Carry On It's Just a Mashup Mix

 

Notice the tight correlation between CO2 emissions per person and standard of living:

That’s not a coincidence as physicist Tim Garrett has explained:

https://un-denial.com/?s=Tim+Garrett%3A

So if we ever decide to do something effective about climate change (assuming it’s not already too late due to self-reinforcing feedback loops) then that solution must include some combination of a lower standard of living and a lower population.

When was the last time you heard a leader or climate scientist speak with such clarity?

Probably never because most are in denial as explained by Ajit Varki’s theory:

https://un-denial.com/denial-2/theory-short/

Unfortunately, reducing our standard of living is not as simple as tightening our belts because of the large amount of debt we use to support our lifestyles and economy.

Contraction means a depression at best, and more likely some form of crash:

https://un-denial.com/2016/01/30/why-we-want-growth-why-we-cant-have-it-and-what-this-means/

So the choice is severe economic hardship from a voluntary contraction, or collapse and possible extinction from climate change.

But it’s not so simple.

Our lifestyle and economy is totally dependent on burning non-renewable fossil carbon and we have already depleted the best low-cost reserves:

https://un-denial.com/2018/02/08/on-burning-carbon/

The best minds predict we will have 50% less oil to burn in 10 years:

https://un-denial.com/2018/07/29/on-oil/

This means our lifestyles and economy will contract soon no matter what we choose to do.

So the real choice is do we want to try to control our decline in a civil and humane manner, or do we want to let nature force an uncivil and inhumane decline?

The correct choice seems obvious:

https://un-denial.com/2016/06/27/what-would-a-wise-society-do/

The correct choice is even more clear when you consider the many other negative side effects of human overshoot besides climate change:

https://un-denial.com/2017/01/06/you-know-you-are-in-trouble-when/

But of course there is no choice because we are collectively unable to acknowledge or discuss our predicament due to the denial of reality behavior that enabled our unique brain:

Which probably explains why we have found no other intelligent life in the universe:

https://un-denial.com/2015/03/25/are-we-experiencing-the-peak-of-what-is-possible-in-the-universe/

It’s also probable that complex multicellular life, like plants and animals, is extremely rare in the universe because it depends on a rare “accident” to create the eukaryotic cell:

https://un-denial.com/2016/03/29/book-review-the-vital-question-energy-evolution-and-the-origins-of-complex-life-by-nick-lane/

Which means our planet really is special.

And you reading and understanding this essay is a miracle, but we don’t need God to explain this miracle, just physics and biology, plus billions of years and trillions of planets to enable several low probability events to occur:

https://un-denial.com/2016/11/14/on-religion-and-denial

To sum all of this up, if you have the rare ability to break through the human tendency to deny reality, then you should be in awe of being alive to witness and understand this rare event in the universe, and you should be grateful for the good food and other comforts we enjoy.

https://un-denial.com/2015/11/12/undenial-manifesto-energy-and-denial/

By Tim Watkins: The Green Deal is Hopium

Hopium

Tim Watkins has emerged as one of the most accurate and articulate communicators of our predicament.

In today’s essay Watkins clearly explains both our problem and our options.

There isn’t a hint of denial here.  Well done!

http://consciousnessofsheep.co.uk/2019/03/06/the-green-deal-is-hopium/

 

To express our predicament as simply as I can, it is this:

  • In order to prevent environmental collapse bringing about the death of more than six in every seven humans on the planet, we (all of us) simply have to stop using fossil carbon fuels today.
  • But if we stop using the fossil carbon fuels that currently provide the world with 85 percent of its power, our highly complex and interconnected oil-dependent economy will crash; resulting in a global famine that will kill more than six in every seven humans on the planet anyway.

 

In the USA, meanwhile, what purports to be a debate about the environment has been largely co-opted on both sides of the growing political divide into a debate about the economics of public spending. The Democrat Party version of the green new deal is little more than a debt-based job-creation and public healthcare scheme with some windmills and solar panels providing a veneer of greenwash. The Republican Party – or at least the minority who don’t think climate change is a hoax – in contrast, seek to cut public spending and green energy subsidies in favour of carbon taxes and free market pseudo-solutions. Neither side inspires much confidence in addressing the full scope of the human impact crisis that is breaking over us.

 

As with any other oil-based technology, wind turbines and solar panels are subject to diminishing returns which leave green deals dead in the water. But resource depletion is an even greater problem simply because humanity consumed all of the cheap and easy fossil carbon and mineral resources in the two-decade long blowout of the post-war boom. Our problem is not just that we cannot improve the technologies we currently have, but also that we no longer have access to the resources to re-fight World War Two or to purposelessly launch humans anywhere beyond a low earth orbit.

 

The vain hope that by shovelling vast amounts of fiat currency at lithium ion batteries we will somehow transcend the laws of physics is a siren song that takes us even further away from even mitigating the crisis before us. Indeed, the ability of states and banks to continue to create fiat currency out of thin air is itself only possible because of the illusion that there will be sufficient additional energy and mineral resources available in future to repay the debt we are running up today. When that illusion is shattered – as it very nearly was a decade ago – the resulting stagflation will put paid to any chance of deploying a fraction of the windmills and solar panels required even to maintain the standard of living currently endured by a growing precariat in the developed states.

 

If we leave matters to Mother Nature – assuming no energy breakthrough arrives to save the day – then the collapse of the environment just as our critical infrastructure fails is going to result in a massive cull of the human population via some combination of war, plague and starvation. We might mitigate this, however, by embarking upon a managed de-growth that begins with a radical shrinking of our material consumption to bring us (in the developed economies) to the standard of living of sub-Saharan Africa. In the process, we will have to take some seriously unpleasant decisions in order to shrink the population back to a more sustainable level – for example, rationing healthcare to the under 50s (I’m 58 by the way) and enforcing birth controls far more draconian than China’s infamous one-child policy. I have no expectation that anyone is going to vote for this; I just put it forward as a slightly more benign alternative to sitting back and waiting for nature to put an end to most of our species.

In the end, we are going to go with Mills’ option simply because it is the only one that fits with our underlying quasi-religion of progress. If material science provides us with the hoped for technological breakthrough – most likely one that unlocks the full potential of the atom (simply because of the vast potential energy within the nucleus as opposed to that released by breaking electron bonds) – then the kind of technologies available to future humans will be about as puzzling to us as a smartphone or a GPS satellite would have been to our Neolithic ancestors. If, as is far more likely, the technological breakthrough fails to put in an appearance, then irrespective of how many windmills and solar panels we manage to erect before our resources run out, this civilisation and possibly our entire species is done.

By Tim Morgan: Primed to Detonate (O O Canada)

Maple Leaf Falling

Today’s essay by Tim Morgan is a must read.

https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/147-primed-to-detonate/

Morgan has developed new metrics for measuring the health of economies that are grounded in an understanding of the energy that drives our civilization.

Here he considers 4 risk factors:

  1. Debt: Instead of using the conventional debt to GDP ratio Morgan backs out the portion of GDP created by the spending of borrowed money to obtain a ratio of debt to prosperity that better represents the actual debt risk.
  2. Credit Dependency: This is the ratio of incremental debt to incremental growth and represents the “ponziness” of an economy.
  3. Systemic Exposure: This metric takes a broader view of risk by considering an economy’s dependence on its financial sector and is calculated as the ratio of financial assets to prosperity.
  4. Acquiescence Risk: This metric represents the change in discretionary prosperity and is a good measure of expected social unrest when the next financial crisis occurs.

Morgan compares these risk factors for various countries and concludes that Canada is among the top 6 riskiest countries on the planet.

SEEDS risk matrix, end-2018

Other observations include:

  • China is a ponzi bomb waiting to detonate.
  • Ireland, Holland, Britain, Japan and China are accidents waiting to happen.
  • Ireland is the craziest country on the planet.
  • France has the highest social unrest today for good reason.

By Tad Patzek: On Human Overshoot

Tad Patzek

Tad Patzek, a professor of petroleum engineering and physicist, gave a talk on January 16, 2019 at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia.

His talk is titled “How Can We Salvage Our Global Civilization?” however Patzek does not answer his own question. Instead he reviews the brief history of humans and shows that we are in a severe state of overshoot with a population that exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet by about 30 times thanks to fossil energy, which he predicts will soon rapidly decline due to depletion. In the Q&A that follows the talk, Patzek advocates for population reduction policies. Also in the Q&A, Patzek gets quite aggressive with audience members who argue that technology will save us. He concludes that we will probably use nuclear war to correct overshoot. I wonder if he’ll be invited back next year? 🙂

You can find other work I’ve posted by Patzek here.

Thanks to Nate Hagens for bringing this talk to my attention.

 

 

Here are some notes I took while viewing the talk:

  • Continued exponential growth of human population is suicidal and will stop one way or another.
  • Humans have only one chance of survival by drastically limiting population and consumption.
  • Patzek quotes from Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress, my all-time favorite lecture series, to make the point that humans, the fire apes, have been setting fires continuously from our origin until today when many of the world’s tropical forests are being burned to make way for agriculture and plantations.
  • Patzek does a nice job of explaining that humans have existed for an extremely short period in the context of geologic time. For example, if we call January 1 the start of the Silurian period 444 million years ago when multicellular life first appeared on land, then behaviorally modern humans emerged 70 minutes before midnight on December 31, our first civilization began 9 minutes before midnight, and the industrial civilization we currently enjoy began 20 seconds before midnight. The explosion of human population to 8 billion began 7 seconds before midnight on December 31, and was enabled by the Haber Bosch industrial process that converts natural gas into nitrogen fertilizer.
  • At 3 seconds before midnight on December 31, half of the US’s top soil had been washed into the sea, having taken only 9 seconds to accomplish this feat.
  • For an example of what 10,000 years of agriculture does to the earth, look at Iraq with its complete environmental devastation.
  • We only have one shot at the global civilization, and it shall never be repeated again.
  • Sending colonies to Mars is complete nonsense because there are not enough resources to send them.
  • None of our overshoot issues are captured by our economic models.
  • Our planet can support a maximum of 8 million humans making a living as hunter gatherers.
  • The earth might support 2.5 billion people assuming an 1800’s equivalent life expectancy (32 years) , lifestyle, slavery, and conflict. If we assume today’s life expectancy (71 years) the maximum drops to 1.1 billion people. Adjusting for our increased standard of living decreases the maximum to 500 million people. If we assume a peaceful life without wars the maximum sustainable population drops to 250 million people. This means we have overshot by the 30 times the carrying capacity of the planet by using fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Later in the Q&A, Patzek clarifies that if we assume an American or German lifestyle, the maximum sustainable population is 90 million without fossil energy.
  • I note that Patzek’s estimate of the maximum sustainable population aligns nicely with Jack Alpert’s plan to preserve our modern civilization with rapid population reduction.
  • Patzek shows that population is proportional to power production. Recall that Tim Garrett has also shown that wealth is proportional to power production. Energy is therefore central to our predicament as Nate Hagens elaborates in his video course.

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)