You know you are in trouble when…

Examples of denial are both profound and unacknowledged.

The short-term solution to our problems is the long-term cause of our problems: economic growth

The long-term solution to our problems is the short-term cause of our problems: reduced consumption

All political parties in all countries and almost all citizens, including the few citizens that understand our predicament, reject our best course of action: austerity

Most citizens have no idea how fortunate they are to be alive at this point in history: A Guide to Being Human in the 21st Century

The only problems society does not acknowledge, or discuss, or act on, are the only problems that matter: species extinction, limits to growth, debt, peak oil, overshoot, resource depletion, climate change, sea level rise, fisheries collapse & ocean acidification, nitrogen imbalance & tree decline 

There is evidence that feedback loops are taking over and causing some problems to go exponential: climate change, CO2 emissions, ice loss, sea level rise, debt

The previous year’s worst case predictions are tending to become this year’s most likely prediction: sea level rise

Actions that improve the long-term worsen the short-term: air pollution masks 0.5C of warming, austerity and debt reduction, renewable energy, population reduction 

The only possible permanent solution is rejected by the belief systems of 90+% of citizens: population reduction

The only possible permanent solution is too slow to avoid the worst problems: population reduction laws

Countries fortunate to have a low birth rate often cancel their good fortune with immigration: Canada

Citizens have wildly different beliefs about our predicament: there is no problem; there is a problem but it’s not caused by humans; I don’t want to think about it; technology will save us; it’s in the hands of God; I’ve already done enough; someone else needs to do something first; my actions won’t make a difference; someone else will consume whatever I give up; it’s too late to do anything

Despite wildly different beliefs about our predicament, there is one thing that almost everyone agrees on: I don’t want to change my behavior

The few people who understand the severity of our problems do not set good examples in their personal lives: leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists

The quality of our leaders is declining because those people with high intelligence, wisdom, and integrity do not want to be in charge of our predicament, and because citizens are feeling the impact of overshoot, do not understand what is going on, and are angry: Trump and Clinton

The leader of the free world denies science and issues daily, jaw-dropping, cringe-inducing tweets: Trump

The one world leader that did understand the problem and spoke out was rejected by the citizens and no longer speaks out: Jimmy Carter

We do not acknowledge that the world’s economic problems began with the peaking of a key non-renewable resource: conventional oil

Low energy prices have led citizens to believe we have a glut of fossil energy when in fact: all types of energy have peaked

Citizens believe the exact opposite of reality: technology creates wealth and energy rather than energy creates wealth and technology

Every country has similar economic problems and not one leader anywhere in the world connects the dots and publicly acknowledges the root cause, even after they leave office: energy extraction cost + debt

We do not discuss or act on economic history research that shows countries always get into serious trouble when they permit an important ratio to exceed a threshold we long passed: debt to GDP

Bankers, the creators of money, do not understand the one thing that creators of money should understand: thermodynamics of wealth

The professionals with the most influence on public policy use models that violate the most trusted laws of physics: economists

The scientific theory that explains the relationship between the economy, energy, and climate is ignored by everyone that should understand it: Tim Garrett

The people who deserve the most respect and admiration get the least: scientists

The people who deserve the least respect and admiration get the most: celebrities

All types of non-fossil energy do not provide a substitute for the only energy we can’t live without: diesel for trucks, trains, ships, tractors, and combines, and mining machines; plus natural gas for fertilizer

People who think the shale revolution will make America prosperous and energy independent ignore one thing: facts

Intelligent people who understand the climate change threat, like James Hansen and Bill Gates, and who want business as usual to continue, know that nuclear energy is the only option: peak uranium

If climate deniers continue to win elections and try to maintain the existing electric grid they’ll find that strategy may not work for long: peak coal

Citizens most vulnerable to a fragile global supply chain with only a few days of inventory experience the strongest illusion of abundance and security: inhabitants of rich cities

Most citizens are not even vaguely aware of the invention that enabled their existence and created about 50% of the nitrogen in their bodies: Haber-Bosch conversion of natural gas to fertilizer

Well meaning environmentalists demand that we stop subsidizing fossil energy companies without understanding the source of all that they cherish in modern civilization: fossil energy

Well meaning environmentalists demand that we stop subsidizing fossil energy companies without realizing that many fossil energy companies are going bankrupt: ExxonMobil

A solution frequently advocated makes things worse by accelerating growth and decreasing system resilience: efficiency

The best solution for removing CO2 from the atmosphere is being harmed by the same activity that creates CO2: planting more trees which are then injured or killed by ground level ozone

All climate science models that do not predict disaster now depend on an unproven technology that we probably can’t afford and other species definitely can’t afford: BECCS (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage)

We have not acted to prevent a predictable and very dangerous side effect of trying to maintain business-as-usual with low interest rates: increasing wealth gap

We still enjoy historically vast surplus wealth that could be deployed to improve our future lives but we are squandering it: military, airports, highways, new cars, high rises, etc.

Earth with its diverse complex life and a highly intelligent species is extraordinarily rare, precious, and worth fighting to protect, yet we dream of other barren homes: colonizing Mars

The tool that could be used to unite citizens in common purpose and useful action is instead being used to create tribes that reinforce preexisting beliefs: internet

Many people are hurting and lashing out in anger because they do not understand the cause of their pain: Brexit, Trump, Syria, Venezuela, etc.

The few sources of information that understand and communicate the truth are under threat: fake news

Few people study or heed the best predictor of the future: history

None of our schools teach skills useful and relevant to our future: growing food and other forms of lower complexity life skills

The thing that enabled the evolution of our high intelligence and its ability to understand and act on problems is the same thing that causes our problems and prevents us from acting on them: denial of reality

The theory that best explains our existence and our self-destructive behavior is ignored by everyone, including those people seeking to understand our problems: Varki and Brower’s denial of reality theory

Readers are encouraged to submit additions to the list.

Coming to Our Senses

Given limits to growth there are only two possible paths forward:

  1. allow our economies to shrink, or
  2. fight over the remaining scraps and then collapse.

Here is Trump’s latest tweet…

An Election Worthy of Angst

It’s remarkable how REALLY upset many people are about the US election despite the fact that neither candidate discussed or even acknowledged any of the real issues.

Imagine if both candidates acknowledged limits to growth and offered the only two possible paths forward.

Clinton said vote for me and I will put on the brakes so that we drop CO2 emissions and become poorer (hopefully) slowly together, giving us time to adjust and (hopefully) look after the less fortunate.

Trump said vote for me and I will use debt and the military to keep business as usual going as long as possible until we either destroy the money system and crash catastrophically, or we get into a nuclear war fighting over the remaining scraps.

Now that would be an honest election worthy of angst.

Climate Change Policies: 2 required + 1 optional

Most scientists consider 2 degrees of warming to be dangerous. Common sense says 1 degree is unsafe because the recent extreme weather and loss of Arctic ice and glaciers have been caused by 1 degree of actual warming.

A new paper in the journal of Science Advances says 7 degrees is likely this century because the climate becomes more sensitive to greenhouse gases as the temperature warms.

Independent newspaper overview.

Full paper.

Interview with the author.

To be clear on the implications, 7 degrees will kill your children.

Much time and effort has been wasted establishing climate change agreements that will not work because the relationship between wealth, consumption, and CO2 has not been acknowledged or addressed.

We have not to date met any of our (ineffective) commitments because we do not understand the nature of our predicament. We cannot reduce climate change with a different type of economic growth. We must stop growing and contract.

Assuming feedback loops have not already taken over (meaning there is nothing we can do to avoid runaway climate change), here are the only 2 policies that would positively impact climate change and every other overshoot threat we face:

1) Increase the interest rate until the economy begins to contract on a sustained basis. An economic crash may or may not be avoidable but we have no choice.

2) Establish a one child policy with a penalty tax of say 25% of total income for every extra child. No exceptions. Countries with cultures that value males more than females should provide a subsidy to families with a daughter to keep the male/female ratio at about 50/50.

Wise countries will implement one additional optional policy:

3) Tax excess wealth and use the funds to pay down public debt.

As the economy and population contracts there will be a natural tendency for the wealth gap to widen which usually leads to social unrest, despots, and war. Wise countries will anticipate this and implement policies to prevent the wealth gap from widening. Collected taxes should be used to pay down public debt because this will help to stabilize our debt backed currency as the economy shrinks.

These policies will cause pain but doing anything else (or nothing) will cause a lot more pain.

By Chris Martenson: Get Ready… Change Is Upon Us

I’ve read quite a few good commentaries on the election of Trump but this piece by Chris Martenson is the best as it points to many of the other good articles, and ties them together with a coherent story based on human behavior, economics, and thermodynamics.

I agree with everything that Chris said and have only three points to add.

First, it is true that most cities voted for Clinton and most rural areas voted for Trump. But another more illuminating way to describe this divide is the center vs. the periphery. As the total wealth of a country decreases, the remaining wealth shifts to the centers because that’s where the power is. The result is a widening wealth gap and increasing social unrest.

Second, the total wealth of all countries in the world will decrease a lot over the next decade due to falling net energy. There is nothing that can be done to avoid this. What can be done are policies from enlightened and brave leadership to prevent a widening wealth gap. It remains to be seen if Trump will be enlightened and brave.

Third, in case you haven’t noticed, interest rates are starting to rise. It’s a REALLY big deal if they continue to rise because they will negatively impact just about everything, including Trump’s plan for infrastructure investment. This sets up an interesting natural experiment as central banks know that rising interest rates will implode the system and so will do everything in their power to prevent rates from rising. Many people think central banks have total control of interest rates. I think not. Soon we will know the truth.

The political upheaval of Donald Trump is best understood through the lens of economic erosion suffered by the vast majority of people.  If a democracy is measured in how well it serves the interests of the majority, the United States is not a democracy at all.

Of course, nearly everyone already knows this. But it’s been all but unspeakable in polite circles to say so.

Now, it is finally becoming okay to voice.

By Nate Hagens: The Speech that should have been given at the Republican National Convention

Greetings conservatives, Americans and conservative Americans.

Welcome to Cleveland!

There are many speakers here this week who will tell us what we want to hear, because it fires us up and makes us feels good. I’m going to give a different speech, one that lays out the context of our reality if we want to Make America Great Again. Suffice it to say we are no longer a shining beacon on the hill, to those in other countries or to other generations in our own.

America has been great before, but if was under a different era, different culture, and different physical backdrop. When our great Constitution was signed we had a little over 2 million citizens – now we have over 2 million people who work at the Post Office! and our population is 325 million. Though this is about 4% of the total global population, we use 25% of the oil, 50% of the toys and 50% of the medical prescriptions. We now have more bartenders and waitresses than manufacturing employees. Most people are miserable and just hanging on. 50% of our citizens would be totally broke within 3 months if they lost their jobs. We have the highest prison population in the world. For the first time in our countries history parents expect their children will not have as good of lives as they did. I expect Mr. Trump will highlight some of these problems – the list of scary facts is pretty long so it could be a long night.

There will be those here that blame these things on President Obama, or the Muslims, or foreigners or Wall St. bankers or white cops or black men. There will be those here who will shout that Hillary Clinton will make things worse and that a Republican is our only chance. I’m sure that next week at the DNC the people there will be blaming us for our nations problems, and plead that a Democratic President is our only hope. They are wrong. Just like we are wrong. That’s what humans do – when our circumstances are worse than the recent past, we look to put the blame on others. Sure there are some unsavory characters on Wall St, in the Democratic party, and in Iran – but so too are there such types in our own party and even in this building.

If you look closely at the demographics of Democrats and Republicans you discover a basic truth: we are all quite similar in caring about the things that matter: our children, safety of our neighborhoods, clean air to breathe and water to drink, and meaningful educations and vocations. Instead we tend to focus on how we are different than the other party and rally and get fired up about our superiority and better ideas. We are – pretty much all of us – angry, frustrated, and scared about the future, but deep down we are also able to work hard, sacrifice, help each other and be the good people that Americans can be. But in our blaming of others we miss the real reasons for our malaise, and thus are pursuing the wrong pathways if we are to ‘make America great again’.

Lets be honest. The phrase ‘the American dream’ has seeped into our psyche. We are a special people – driven, ambitious, hardworking, creative, etc. But without discovering and having access to the most resource rich country in the world, our attributes alone would have attained less lofty outcomes. 1 barrel of oil, which we currently only have to pay $50 for, contains the work potential of a strong American man working for 10 years. The united states has used more oil in the last 10 years, the last 50 years and since the dawn of time than any other nation. If we add natural gas and coal which have similar properties, 90% of the work done in our society is actually done by fossils – but these fossils are not unlimited and the easiest and best have long been found, pulled out and burned. The cost that our energy companies pay to extract these has been going up 17% a year for almost 2 decades. One-third of oil production is now unconventional and is dependent on high prices >$80/barrel. In the period from 2005 to 2013, oil and gas investments increased by 60% yet the oil supply increased by only 6%.

We certainly have a lot of it left – but its more costly, and since we use so much of it, this cost increase ripples through our societies and reduces wages, increases the cost of basic goods and makes our economy grow slower. You might think that technology is more important than energy. Technology has given us some amazing things – but almost all of them need to be plugged in. Without energy, the great technology just sits there. Without technology but with plenty of energy, well that puts us squarely back in the 19th century.

We have used the first half? The first 2/3? of Americas energy endowment. Wind and solar are viable and mature technologies but a world run on renewable tech will look very different than today’s world. Instead of the natural conservative response to this situation being…well, ‘conservation’ we are eager to drill more holes and pull out every last hydrocarbon molecule hiding near the source rock, which is what we are doing with the shale oil and gas technology. We are feeding our faces with our seed corn resources, Republicans and Democrats alike, not worrying about being able to pay the bill, or what we will build the future with. Basically, the American Dream has been predicated on high quality, inexpensive natural resources, particularly fossil energy. Given the natural resource reality of the world – and our nation at present – we need to send some of the great thinkers in this room into a sweat lodge on a Vision Quest!

Finally, before I am booed off the stage, let me bring up what, as conservatives, we should be caring about and shouting about and being active about way more than Hillary Clinton and the democrats. Eleven score and seven years ago, our Constitution came into being. It was a fresh set of guidelines for a new country, full of open lands and resources, bright and independent spirits, and people yearning to be free. Our Constitution came much later than the Magna Carta, which came much later than the 10 Commandments, which came much much later than the Code of Hammurabi, the first known document dealing with rules and principles for humans to get along with other humans. Nowhere in any of these great historical documents is any language that protects the future, other species, other generations, or our common ecosystems. At the dawn of the agricultural revolution, human beings, our pets and our livestock comprised less than 1/10 of 1% of terrestrial biomass. Now we are over 98%! We are losing animal and insect species faster than any time of our planets history. 40% of insects – gone in last 40 years. Since I’ve been alive, we now have 50% fewer wild animals than when I was born. What a terrible thing to state at a convention where we should be celebrating our values and our accomplishments. And these facts do not even factor in the impacts to oceans and ecosystems from the additional carbon we are putting in the air from the burning of our fossil wealth.

Most of our own people deny or downplay this is happening, because it requires difficult choices, bold thinking, sacrifice and creativity. Can we rally around those traits, or instead be led by fear, apathy and ignorance? For, my fellow republicans and citizens of this great nation, that is what it comes down to. We face unprecedented challenges, to growth, to safety, to our environment, our children and to our future. Instead of leading by example, sharing, caring, going the extra mile to help our neighbor, and tightening our belts, we have become complacent, surly, and occasionally violent, expecting that if only the “other people” will change their ways that things will get back to the way they were. I have news for you my friends who are alive with me at this wondrous and perilous time. There’s an intermediate step if we want to make America great again. We first have to Make America Good.

In 5 months Obama will no longer be President, something many of you have been waiting for, for a long time. But whether Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton wins, their job will primarily be to put out short-term fires (and in the process create new longer term ones). Real change in the next 4 years will not come from a new president but from a new outlook, new ethic and new strength of our citizenry. We cannot see this clearly yet, our gut tells us this is so. Vote for whoever you want to in November. But then come home and be the change you want to see in your homes, in your cities, at your jobs and with your families. Games over gadgets, nature over neglect, family over Facebook, conservation over consumption.

Lets Make America Good.

What would a wise society do?

A wise society would choose some short-term pain in exchange for much less future pain.

A wise society would understand that the foundation of the cliff it is climbing is crumbling and that it should start climbing down to reduce future harm.

A wise society would move slowly and deliberately as it climbed down to avoid falling.

A wise society would use some of the following techniques to climb down:

  1. Educate citizens on what is going on and why.
    • The goal is to minimize responses like panic or blame that can cause a breakdown of law and order or war; and to increase social cohesion and cooperation.
  2. Implement population reduction policies.
    • The goal is to achieve a humane population reduction before nature forces an inhumane population reduction. Given the severity of human overshoot we may not be able to out-race nature however, as Albert Bartlett said, every problem on earth improves with fewer people, so we should do what we can.
  3. Hold referendums to allow citizens to set priorities for reduced government spending.
    • The goal is to engage and empower citizens in difficult decisions that will have to be made. We need to move away from traditional and divisive left vs. right politics into pragmatic resource husbandry.
  4. Reduce government spending until expenditures are a little less than tax revenues.
    • The goal is to configure a government that can function effectively through a prolonged economic contraction punctuated with occasional shocks, and that offers services its citizens can afford.
  5. Model the availability of key resources taking into account the increasing cost of production caused by depletion, and declining demand (what people can afford) caused by falling incomes, declining debt, and decreasing government spending.
    • The goal is to understand the shape of our Seneca curve which is needed for the next point.
  6. Implement policies to proactively reduce the consumption of key resources a little faster than the models predict will occur in a free market.
    • The aim is to maintain social order by controlling the decline rather than being controlled by the decline.
  7.  Prepare fair rationing policies and mechanisms.
    • The goal is to be prepared for possible supply disruptions.
  8. Increase the interest rate enough to cause a steady decline in debt.
    • The aim is to climb down to a lower and safer elevation.
  9. Hold a referendum to decide a maximum reasonable wealth gap between the average and the rich. Tax excess wealth from the rich to pay down public debt. There are 3 justifications for this policy:
    • In a shrinking economy the wealth gap between rich and poor will naturally tend to widen through no fault of the poor or skill of the rich. This is already occurring and will accelerate as the economy contracts.
    • A too wide wealth gap is unhealthy and dangerous for a society. Think French revolution.
    • Paying down public debt with excess wealth benefits everyone, rich and poor, because it helps to stabilize the money system in a shrinking economy.
    • Note that the excess wealth should not be redistributed to the poor because this will accelerate our problems by increasing inflation, resource depletion, and CO2 emissions.
  10. Implement an aggressive luxury consumption tax.
    • In our new world, conservation is good and gluttony is bad.
  11. Place a tariff on imported food and use the funds to support small-scale local food production.
    • The goal is to build resiliency to global food supply shocks that might result from a financial or energy crisis, or climate change damage to crop productivity.
  12. Prohibit the development of farm land or the sale of land to non-residents.
    • This policy recognizes that in the long run the most valuable asset a country will have is its arable land.
  13. Encourage soil restoration.
    • As fossil energy derived fertilizers become scarce we will once again have to rely on organic practices for soil fertility. We have depleted most soils. It will take time to rebuild them. We should start as soon as possible.
  14. Plant trees.
    • Planting trees is one of the few things we can do to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. In addition, wood will be a very valuable future resource.
  15. Protect and restore watersheds.
    • Water is the only thing more important to life than food.
  16. Encourage schools to teach skills required in a less complex society.
    • Much of what is taught today will not be useful at our destination.

I realize that denial and other human behaviors make it highly unlikely we will do any of the above.

I also realize that some of the ideas require more thought to ensure a good balance between increased short-term pain vs. decreased long-term pain.

I wrote this to demonstrate that we are not without means to influence the future in a positive direction.