The concise modern history of the Fire Ape, also known as Homo
Sapiens Oblivion Oblivious.
Thanks to Tim Watkins for finding this graphic.
The concise modern history of the Fire Ape, also known as Homo
Sapiens Oblivion Oblivious.
Thanks to Tim Watkins for finding this graphic.
Notice the tight correlation between CO2 emissions per person and standard of living:
That’s not a coincidence as physicist Tim Garrett has explained:
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:
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:
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:
The best minds predict we will have 50% less oil to burn in 10 years:
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:
The correct choice is even more clear when you consider the many other negative side effects of human overshoot besides climate change:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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!
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.
Felt like yelling at the TV tonight.
Watched a documentary on the GMO debate.
Both sides passionate and entrenched.
One side not trusting corporate science and worried about health risks.
The other side wanting peer-reviewed science to inform decisions.
Neither side seeing or discussing the real risks.
When oil depletion collapses the economy we’ll need seeds that are not dependent on a high technology global supply chain.
And we’ll need seeds adapted to a rapidly changing local climate.
And food will be mostly organic, regardless of preference, because there won’t be pesticides, or herbicides, or Haber-Bosch factory fertilizer available.
And we’ll be grateful for calories regardless of what they are, or how they’re grown.
And we’ll marvel at the energy we wasted on irrelevant issues as we go to bed early with sore muscles from working all day in the fields.
Xraymike79 doesn’t write very much anymore, but when he does, he’s awesome.
Here are a few excerpts from today’s essay that stood out for me, but the whole thing is worth your time.
Today’s global consumption of fossil fuels now stands at roughly five times what it was in the 1950s, and one-and-half times that of the 1980s when the science of global warming had already been confirmed and accepted by governments with the implication that there was an urgent need to act. Tomes of scientific studies have been logged in the last several decades documenting the deteriorating biospheric health, yet nothing substantive has been done to curtail it. More CO2 has been emitted since the inception of the UN Climate Change Convention in 1992 than in all of human history. CO2 emissions are 55% higher today than in 1990. Despite 20 international conferences on fossil fuel use reduction and an international treaty that entered into force in 1994, manmade greenhouse gases have risen inexorably. If it has not dawned on you by now, our economic and political systems are ill-equipped to deal with this existential threat. Existing international agreements are toothless because they have no verification or enforcement and do not require anything remotely close to what is needed to avoid catastrophe. The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Ice loss from Antarctica has sextupled since the 1970s and Greenland’s pace of ice loss has increased fourfold since 2003. The Arctic ocean has lost 95% of its old ice and total volume of ice in September, the lowest ice month of the year, has declined by 78% between 1979 and 2012. With grim implications for the future, Earth’s air conditioner —the cryosphere— is melting away.
Douglas Theobald, in his study at Brandeis University, calculated that there is less than a 1 in 102,860 chance that all life did not arise from a common ancestor. In other words, humans are related to all life on Earth and share much of their DNA with other organisms. Despite earning the title of ‘superpredator‘, humans are dependent on intact and functioning ecosystems. Our chances for long-term survival are ultimately tied to the health of the planet, yet we are carrying out ecocide on a planetary scale. Being a mere 0.01% of all life on Earth, humans have managed to destroy 50% of wild animals in just the last fifty years and 83% since the dawn of civilization around 3,000 B.C.. Who knows how many plant species have gone extinct:
Hawaii is losing plant species at the rate of one per year, when it should be roughly one every 10,000 years. “We have a term called ‘plant-blindness’… People simply don’t see them; they view greenery as an indistinguishable mass, rather than as thousands of genetically separate and fragile individuals…”
The bedrock of our food, clean water and energy is biodiversity, but its loss now rivals the impacts of climate change. Without biodiversity, our food sources, both plants and animals, will succumb to diseases. Microbes and hundreds of different life forms interact to make soils fertile. Without them, soils will be barren and unable to support life. Monocultures can only be held together through artificial means(fossil fuels, inorganic fertilizer and toxic pesticides) and are highly vulnerable to diseases, yet industrial monoculture farming continues to dominate the globe. Most Worrisome are the recent studies indicating that biodiversity loss raises the risk of ‘extinction cascades’. Insect numbers, the base of the terrestrial food chain, are in steep decline and starfish, a common keystone species in coastal ecosystems, are facing extinction due to some sort of wasting disease likely caused by climate change:
“Many of these outbreaks are heat sensitive. In the lab, sea stars got sick sooner and died faster in warmer water… A warming ocean could increase the impact of infectious diseases like this one…We could be watching the extinction of what was a common species just 5 years ago.”
These disturbing headlines indicate to me that the Sixth Mass Extinction is gathering pace and the real stock market underlying our very existence and survival is crashing before our eyes!!!
Humans recognized decades ago the threats they are now facing, yet nothing was done due to political inaction and industry malfeasance which continues to this very day. The scientists who wrote The Limits to Growth decades ago were expecting our political institutions to take action back in the 1970s, but they were met with ridicule and now we stand at the doorstep of modern civilization’s collapse. Political inaction and regulatory capture by the fossil fuel industry appear to be intractable barriers that have condemned the human race to a hellish future. Anyone waiting for some sort of seminal climate change event that is going to galvanize the world’s leaders into action will be tragically disappointed. If seeing the world’s coral reefs dying, its glaciers disappearing, permafrost melting, and the steady uptick in extreme weather events does not spur them to action, it is much too late to hope that any single event will ever do so. The time to act would have been before we were seeing all these environmental degradations and tipping points, not afterward. There is no way to put the CO2 genie back in the bottle. A myth that many uninformed people hold is that biospheric health will quickly bounce back after we humans get our act together. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much of the damage we are already seeing is irreversible on human time scales. Positive feedbacks were already occurring at less than 1°C of warming. Many carbon sinks are on the verge of becoming or have already become carbon sources. As we race toward a nightmarish future with no realistic way to stop, we leave behind a “forever legacy” that will haunt mankind for the rest of eternity.
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:
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’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.
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
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
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)