Dr. Ajit Varki is a co-originator of the Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory which explains why my species exists with its uniquely power intelligence, and why, despite this intelligence, is unable to see and act on its obvious state of overshoot that threatens the survival of itself and many other species.
I started this blog in 2013 to spread awareness of Dr. Varki’s theory because I believe all possible paths to reducing the coming suffering caused by overshoot must start with an understanding of MORT.
Evidence for this is that to date all environmental initiatives, climate change agreements, energy transition plans, degrowth movements, etc. have utterly failed to change our trajectory, and I’m certain will continue to fail, unless MORT is acknowledged.
It’s simply not possible to craft a useful to response to our overshoot reality until the majority becomes aware that a powerful genetic force is blocking its ability to see the reality.
Unfortunately, there’s a Catch-22: MORT predicts that MORT will be denied and therefore if MORT is correct then MORT will never be acknowledged.
Perhaps someone smarter than me will figure out a path around this Catch-22, I don’t know. Regardless, I still find value in MORT because it keeps me sane by providing a scientific explanation for why so many are so blind to so much that is so obvious.
The Catch-22 may explain why after 10 years of work I have built very little momentum and have scant few successes at spreading awareness of MORT into the 99% of citizens and leaders that aggressively deny reality.
The last interview with Dr. Ajit Varki occurred in 2017 at my prompting by Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock. Unfortunately, as predicted by MORT, Alex shortly thereafter forgot about MORT and has spent the last 6 years reporting on the coming climate disaster and wondering why we do nothing meaningful about it. If you listen to the interview you will see that Alex at the time understood the answer, then his brain subsequently blocked this understanding.
I was pleased to learn that Varki was interviewed yesterday by Rachel Donald of Planet: Critical. Thank you to Rachel for her initiative, I played no role in setting up this interview. I have been impressed by some of Rachel’s prior work such as this interview she did with Joseph Merz.
Let’s hope that Rachel’s denial genes are sufficiently defective, like mine, so that she helps to spread the MORT message on an ongoing basis. MORT is central to everything that Rachel reports on so we’ll know shortly if she has normal denial genes and is captured by the Catch-22.
In the interview Varki introduces a new idea by proposing that we put more females in positions of power. Apparently females tend to deny reality less than males, as demonstrated by their higher rate of depression, and are more empathetic, both qualities we desperately need today.
Given the 50/50 polarized nature of politics today it does not take much of a voting block to swing an outcome. Perhaps if we target females with overshoot awareness they will abandon useless left/right politics and vote as a block for female leaders that support the only policy that will reduce suffering and improve every problem we face: population reduction.
Who’s in denial now? 🙂
If you are unfamiliar with the MORT theory, this is a very nice introduction by Dr. Varki:
If you want more detail on MORT, this 2019 paper by Dr. Varki is the best source, as it expands and clarifies the ideas presented in his 2013 book.
Today we have a heartfelt post by marromai from Germany sharing his experience of becoming overshoot aware and how he deals with the knowledge. The essay was written in German and translated to English.
Life is wonderful – sometimes at least. But most of the time it is a very monotonous thing. And the older I get, the more often I wonder about the purpose of it. Every day, every week, every year the same procedure – enjoy the little moments, but for the rest of the time, hope that it passes by as soon as possible. Most days consist of a typical routine like getting up, sitting at work for what feels like an eternity, having a short and stressful time with my family, and then either doing chores or attending social gatherings now and then. Get the house in shape on Saturdays, and on Sundays rest or do something with the family. Rinse and repeat, every day is groundhog’s day.
Although one could think I’m blessed, because I live in the best Germany ever1. I’m married to a wonderful wife – as wonderful as they can get in their late 30s – I have four adorable children whom I love very much but who often get on my last nerve, a house and a garden where there is always plenty of work to do for which I have neither time nor money nor desire, and my dream job as an electrical engineer, which nowadays is unfortunately all too often just another bureaucratic clerk who only sees the soldering iron from afar. So basically, I should be doing very well, you would think. I just sell a bit of my lifetime for money and can enjoy a decent life.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Personally, my biggest problem is this: Working as an employed engineer has lost its magic – it often doesn’t even make sense to me, it just sucks. For the most part, it consists of bureaucratic stuff that doesn’t solve any problems but is just to be done for its own sake. Consequently, I complete tasks at the last minute with minimal effort, which you can’t even call work to rule. Everyday work is dull, lacking real tinkering challenges and practical problems to solve. The “always having to be there” and the resulting disproportionate amount of wasted life time kills any motivation and makes me strongly question the purpose of the whole mumbo jumbo called “gainful employment”. Maybe work makes life sweet – but in this respect I have diabetes… Now and then I think about self-employment and alternative income possibilities, combined with more personal freedom – but the chance to earn enough money to support a family is close to zero. Especially since the difficult economic times that are looming mark a very unfavorable time for this. How nice it would be to have a 4-day half-day job, with full pay, of course. Or even better, if they would just transfer my salary to me, I would know what to do with my time, wouldn’t I?
Since a while it feels like I have no time at all for personal activities. Even on days off I don’t really know what to do with myself. Apart from the tasks on the house and garden, which absolutely have to be done, I often don’t manage to start anything, although I have so many ideas – but rarely the motivation to actually begin. Or too little time, that starting is not worth it – at least that’s what I tell myself. So, I end up just like at work, where I spend most of my time in front of a computer, trying to avoid getting bored while reading in some online forums. As it turned out afterwards, this was the point, where my problems began, resulting in a total destruction of any purpose in life.
You may ask, what is it, what one could read, that is so depressing?
Beside electronic forums (for new ideas, which I will never implement) I read mainly alternative news and discussions about current events. This made me realize a long time ago that official media are nothing but propaganda channels – and I really can’t listen to them anymore. Russia here, Ukraine there. Evil Putin will destroy us all. Corona is so dangerous, be sure to get vaccinated… I can’t understand how the majority of the population can believe this bullshit – but that’s another topic. It will soon matter little anyway, once you understand that all of this are just side effects to a superordinate set of issues I came across while browsing over some threads of my favorite forum.
Most people will dismiss the following problem as absurd and unrealistic. Some will understand it but will not feel affected by it or will not want to admit it. And the tiny remainder? They are left with no one to talk about a matter, for which the great majority will laugh at them as end-time prophets and declare them crazy. It is the realization that our entire civilization could only grow so fast with the help of fossil energy – and that we are running out of this energy source now. Not because we planned it so or think we can replace it to get a grip on the ridiculous CO2 climate change issue. (I think it is rather presumptuous and a huge farce to try to control the temperature of a whole ecosystem and save the planet by reducing a single trace gas in the atmosphere, while not being able to provide a solid weather forecast for more than 2 days.) But the decarbonization that politicians are longing for will happen anyway. Just not in the way they envision. That’s because fossil fuels currently still cover the main demand for energy, and the much-vaunted renewables can’t even replace a fraction of that. Now we have reached the limits of what our planet can provide. What we are currently experiencing with our gas and electricity prices is only the beginning of the coming shortages. The Ukrainian-Russian war, which actually is driven by the USA, is in fact an economic war – and the economy only works with energy. Without energy, all the money in the world is useless: “Our main problem is a caloric one. We can print money like hay, but not a single drop of oil”2. The coming lack of oil will tear everything apart and cost billions of people’s lives by cold and hunger.
How it could come so far is what nobody dares to speak about: There are simply too many people on this planet who have already consumed too much raw materials and energy and always want more. It is only through coal, oil and gas that humanity has been able to multiply so enormously. But without maintaining these energy flows, the population numbers cannot be sustained. There are 10 calories of fossil energy in every calorie of food. But the soils are depleted and no longer yield anything without artificial fertilizers, agriculture is so thoroughly industrialized and complex that it can no longer be run on pure muscle power, certainly not to feed a country as densely populated as Germany. And now, of all times, we are running out of fossil energy?
The promised rescue by renewable energies is just window dressing and cannot free us from this predicament, nor can nuclear power plants. They supply only a fraction of electrical energy, but no raw materials for industry, as can be seen well in the current European gas shortage situation. No fertilizer can be produced from solar cells, and we cannot melt steel with wind energy, not even with 10 times the number of windmills. In addition to oil and gas, many other natural resources are now depleted that are required to build alternative energy sources. Fossil energy has enabled exponential population growth and unprecedented prosperity with ever increasing complexity and interconnectedness. Likewise, future energy shortages will cause an abrupt reduction in complexity – which is called collapse. And no, this will not be in a distant future, we are already in the middle of it. The coming times will be bleak. And it can go much further down very quickly when “winter is coming”, as the current situation in Europe shows.
All in all, a huge complex of topics, in whose importance I have no doubt – but the momentous realizations from it are simply devastating and destroy any further motivation and search for meaning in life – a nihilistic vicious circle of demotivation, effects see above. And the worst thing is, that one suffers all alone from this knowledge. Because the majority of people are not able to even see this unpleasant reality, let alone understand: “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.
So how to continue? One may try to convince as many others as possible of this reality and build a low-tech community. With a group of collapse-aware people, surviving could be much easier, when the crisis fully hits. Unfortunately, in Germany this is very difficult, since most people are totally brainwashed by official media. So, for me, I have decided to just try to enjoy as much free time and remaining prosperity as possible – while it’s still possible. Since I need money for this, I have to work, which is contrary to “Carpe Diem”. So I go to work, but don’t really do work – not perfect, much more like business as usual. What a shame – denying the un-denial… not knowing in the first place would have been much easier.
But as long as the hamster wheel turns and turns, you inevitably have to run with it. You have to learn to control the speed, otherwise you die of exhaustion. For someone who has recognized being in a hamster wheel, one may eventually be inclined to consider a premature exit. But that should not be a solution – especially not if you have a family, which you don’t want to leave in the lurch. Besides, aren’t you too curious to see what happens next? How bad will the crisis get? How long does such a collapse take? And what will life be like in the future? Maybe there will be challenges and problems to solve that you missed so much in your current job, for example finding food every day? Doesn’t this give you an ultimate purpose in life? You’ll probably miss the days spent in the warm office, browsing through internet forums and dreaming up gloomy fantasies about the future…
Today we have another guest post by a member of the un-Denial community, Gaia Gardener, who posted these thoughts on denial as a comment. I thought they were interesting enough to warrant promoting them to a more visible post.
Hello friends, thank you for a very interesting discussion about the realities of denial and how we humans seem to be able to manipulate all perceptions to fit our chosen narrative, whether or not we are consciously aware of our programmed beliefs however they were initialised and ingrained.
I am wondering if we can look at another subject, removed from overshoot, in which denial plays a big role in our actions/inactions so we can step back and dissect out a bit more how denial originates and becomes intrenched without us even realising our immersion in it, just like we in the small minority see happening to the masses and even polymaths in regards to overshoot denial.
The topic I think can fit the bill is the question of the ethics of eating animals, namely farmed animals which we consume in the billions every year. I won’t cover using animals for our labour and experimentation as the ethics of these actions can be construed to be justified in benefitting humankind which the majority of human beings would be in favour of. But the eating of animals in the modern world is not only unnecessary (and we can be spared the example of Inuits or other very minority population cultures who rely solely on animal products for sustenance, we do not have their situation in the least) but in fact there is convincing evidence that it is harmful to both our physical bodies and the planet, but for the sake of this argument, one need not consider either of those reasons to engage in a discussion of why we cannot eat animals nor their products if we believe we have a moral obligation to another sentient being. Let’s face it–we eat meat because we were brought up to do so and it tastes good (to most human taste buds) and it’s readily available without much effort on our part. However, the fact that animals suffer solely for our pleasure, tradition, and convenience is not enough moral ground to do so, for one can easily see how this disconnect can apply to any sentient being, including other humans, which is so obviously not an ethical choice. And yet, we are in complete denial that it is okay to eat chicken, cow, and pig but outrageously wrong to eat dog, cat, or horse. It is fine for us to imprison a member of a food species in the most horrendous conditions but we can be charged with abusing and neglecting other species we call our domestic companions. We can kill a food species animal way before their natural life span in a most horrific manner (everyone knows a slaughterhouse isn’t a happy place) so we can buy our sanitized plastic-wrapped packages of pork, beef, and healthy white meat chicken, but if we organise a dog fight and enjoy it, that is disgusting and shameful. You’re right, it’s not about education (most of us know that a live being had to be killed to get meat on the plate), or even more extreme forms of presenting the facts (how many of us would volunteer to witness what happens in a slaughterhouse, or even more tellingly, choose that as our job?). Yes, we have been lied to about happy free-range chickens or happy cows enjoying being milked on the happy dairy farm, but how many of us actually have spared more thought for what really happens in these industries, we’re only too happy ourselves to buy the more expensive organic or free-range option as if that absolves us from the guilt we still harbour knowing that no matter how happy the picture of the old MacDonald’s farm, we know this is a fantasy. Every animal still comes to an end in a way far from their natural choice and inclination.
I can sense the mounting justifications and counter-arguments–we need meat for our health or else we would get sick and die, if we didn’t raise the food animal they wouldn’t have a chance at life at all, what about if we were stuck on an island with only rabbits to eat, you can see how inane these points are, and generally stated to obfuscate the moral issue at hand. I am talking about modern day humans who now have access to a wide range of very suitable and healthful plant-based protein, and the methods we use to obtain our meatstuffs, even the question of whether or not it is our evolutionary diet (very debatable) isn’t the point here. The point is our denial of other factors which should be considered when making the choice of whether it is ethical to eat farmed animals, or even a beloved family pet lamb (just these words should put it in perspective that it isn’t but somehow we still do it–is that denial? ) What is it that keeps the majority of people still reaching for their burgers and steaks and fried chicken and bacon and eggs despite knowing what everyone should know? Is it denial of the truth because to face the ethical question front on would demand a choice and most humans just cannot overcome the continuation of pleasure, tradition, and ease of living, especially if it means realising it is a morally wrong thing to do so. So it is far easier to adopt cognitive disconnect, join the masses who are in your camp, degrade and exclude those who are not, and just keep doing what you want for one more day after day as long as it can last because at least you got to enjoy it and no one can take that away. Sound familiar? See how easy denial becomes just our way of perceiving our reality, and that is why I chose this example to prove that point. Every thought that is possibly going through your head now is a function of denial, one way or another, and none of it was even conscious before I brought this so called controversial topic up–if one can deem supporting active suffering of sentient beings just because we like it, to have any controversy attached.
I guess what I’m trying to express, which is in full agreement with what has been discussed, is that all of us have the capacity for denial (whether or not MORT is the primal reason) but we can’t see it as denial when we’re in the thick of it because that is just our chosen narrative. The way we dichotomise over overshoot, population control, Covid, Russia, just about any topic you can name, all confirm this. Only others outside that narrative (and usually the minority) can see that there is another perspective (because it’s their reality) and then call out the majority as in denial, which is exactly what the majority thinks of the outliers! It’s like that endless hall of mirrors reflecting back to you ad infinitum, whichever way one looks, there’s another image looking away from you, too, with the prime cause of the illusion being your own presence and perception of your reality. I think denial is a bit like that–it’s what holds us in our place, and helps define our sense of self by creating another version of possible self to bounce off of. I’m not saying there’s any right or wrong in this, it just seems to be how we are wired and until now, it has kept us on the survival ascendancy (that and a whole heck of fossil fuels!)
I think a good question to always be ready to ask ourselves in any situation to draw out denial is “What knowledge or understanding or different perspective that I may not have now but is available to gain or learn, would change or enhance the way I see the situation? ” Try it, it is very hard to allow oneself the possibility of overcoming our deep-rooted beliefs but yet that is precisely the attitude it will take for us to change them. Forcing education upon others doesn’t work as we have seen, it has to come from a self-directed intention to fill the knowledge gaps (isn’t that how we all arrived at our overshoot awareness and acceptance? We didn’t find this site because we were lectured into it, we found it because we sought it out) and then an even more entropy defying self push to change our actions to match our new insights. If the motivation is great enough, this can and will happen, but everyone has a different threshold before the fire is lit under our bums. Maybe that is why we need to head hell-bent towards full-on collapse, perhaps the only way to save ourselves is to first come within a nanometer of destroying ourselves. I still take comfort and security from the once inviolable Newton’s third law and trust that is will prove true for this case, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Let us pray for calamity that we will reach that opposite reaction with the same energy swinging us out of our doom as going into it, and preferably very soon!
Namaste, everyone. Thanks for bearing with another Gaia attack.
In my last post I speculated that covid was a plan orchestrated by the heads of the important central banks to provide cover for printing a gazillion dollars to head off an imminent economic collapse, and to implement tools like digital currencies and lockdown mechanisms that will be useful for maintaining social order when money printing eventually fails and the economy collapses.
In that post I asked the key question:
What force is powerful enough to synchronize senior leaders in most countries to do the wrong thing on almost every covid action without assuming every leader is evil and/or stupid?
I stated that those of us paying attention and not listening to the official narrative know that nothing about covid makes sense.
Here is a brief summary of the covid facts and actions that do not make sense and that together suggest there is an objective other than public health in play:
no investigation or consequences for China and it’s Wuhan lab that engineered the virus
no investigation or consequences for the funders of the Wuhan lab work
Fauci kept in the most powerful healthcare position in the world, despite his involvement in funding the virus research and the subsequent coverup
no gain of function research policy changes to prevent a recurrence
no consequences for grossly incompetent WHO policies that encouraged global spread of the virus in the early days
suspiciously short and record time to develop a novel vaccine technology
all 4 vaccine manufacturers use the same (probably bad idea) mRNA code
suspicious vaccine patent history
probable fraudulent vaccine approval process and attempt to hide it for 75 years
insufficient testing to determine mRNA longevity and locations of activity in the body
willingness to rapidly deploy a novel insufficiently tested vaccine technology to billions at low risk from the disease including pregnant women
confident claims that vaccines are safe and effective despite being unwillingly to unconditionally approve the vaccines
indemnification of vaccine manufacturers
aggressive censorship of covid policy debate
aggressive character assassination and career destruction of dissenting experts
no updates to mRNA vaccines despite being ineffective against current variants
boosters recommended despite risks of infection, hospitalization, and adverse reactions increasing with each subsequent shot
elimination of non-mRNA vaccines from the market
ignoring 50 years of knowledge and discounting the risk of promoting vaccine resistant and/or more virulent strains by vaccinating in the middle of a pandemic with a non-sterilizing vaccine
no cost benefit analysis on lockdown policies
testing methods that grossly overstated the prevalence of disease
reporting methods that grossly overstated the severity and risk of disease
data manipulation that grossly overstated the effectiveness of vaccines
passports required for vaccines that are ineffective at preventing transmission
no passports given to people with naturally acquired immunity
zero promotion of effective disease prevention methods like vitamin D and weight loss
aggressive promotion of ineffective disease prevention methods like mask policies that did not prevent and probably encouraged disease spread
blocking of all effective early treatments including those profitable for pharma
strong arming countries like India & Japan that developed successful prophylaxis and early treatment protocols from disclosing what they did
preventing doctors from treating patients by blocking fulfillment of prescriptions
ignoring record numbers of adverse reactions confirmed by different systems in different countries
avoiding autopsies to determine causes of suspicious deaths
gaslighting and not supporting those suffering from adverse reactions
no adjustment to policies or admission or error regardless of evidence
I argued that if we assume that most of our leaders are not evil and/or stupid then the only plausible explanation for their behavior is that they are working as a team to prevent harms worse than those being caused by their covid policies.
Those of us that study human overshoot know that 8 billion people depend for survival on rapidly depleting non-renewable, non-substitutable resources, and that the only reason our global growth dependent system functions today is that we deny limits to growth by accelerating the use of unrepayable debt, and we know that emerging inflation will soon force a day of reckoning via an economic reset.
This day of reckoning will harm many people. Most citizens will be surprised and unprepared. If citizens respond with violent social unrest then the harms will be magnified. Hence the urgent need for tools to manage a collapse such as:
lockdown tools to prevent rioting
lockdown tools to reduce consumption of energy and other scarce resources
digital currencies to enable a negative interest rate so debt can continue to grow
digital currencies to enable fair and effective rationing of scarce resources like food and energy
digital currencies to prevent panics from destroying the financial system
I argued that the real purpose of our otherwise irrational and obsessive focus on vaccines as a response to covid was to prepare the behaviors and infrastructure necessary for lockdown policies and digital currencies.
While I still think this hypothesis is plausible and probable there is a fact that bothers me because it is inconsistent with the assumption that our leaders are not evil or stupid.
That is the recent push to vaccinate children. This policy makes no sense in the context of the above hypothesis because:
vaccinating children for covid is 100% risk and 0% benefit
any sane, non-evil person knows that protecting children from harm should be a top priority
young children do not need to participate in the economy with digital currencies
children can be vaccinated at a later and safer age when they need to participate in the economy
I do not understand what’s going here. I suppose you could argue that our leaders really are evil and/or stupid, although that seems improbable given the large number of cooperating leaders.
Another possible explanation is that my hypothesis that covid is cover for collapse preparation is incorrect.
What other purpose might there be for our insane covid policies?
Just for fun, let’s go all dark and crazy and speculate the mRNA has some function that has not yet been deployed, and our leaders want it to be injected in everyone before pushing the on button.
Perhaps our leaders have employed, or stolen the ideas from, Jack Alpert to mastermind a humane population reduction plan.
I say humane, by which I mean no suffering or violence, because we’re still assuming here that our leaders are not evil.
Alpert has developed the only feasible plan in existence for retaining a modern technologically advanced civilization after we have depleted most of the economically recoverable fossil energy. His idea is to rapidly reduce our population to about fifty million people concentrated in 3 regions of world with adequate hydro electricity and other necessary natural resources. By keeping the population low and constant, but still large enough to sustain advanced technology and manufacturing, and by aggressively recycling materials and forgoing impossibly wasteful luxuries like air travel and personal vehicles, it might be possible to sustain our science and technologies long enough to make fusion work, before the hydro dams inevitably silt in.
Because of the rapid rate that fossil energy is depleting, and the total dependence of our food supply on that energy, there is insufficient time for a one-child policy and/or family planning education to get the population down to a sustainable level without massive suffering.
A very aggressive plan for reducing the population is required to avoid unimaginable suffering and probable civilization ending nuclear resource wars.
Jack’s idea is to vaccinate everyone on the planet with a genetically engineered substance that causes sterility and that can be reversed with an antidote.
Any couple desiring a child must apply for a birth permit. Once a year a carefully calculated number of permits will be randomly awarded to applicants and those lucky people will be relocated to one of the 3 regions established for humanity’s permanent civilizations and issued the sterility antidote.
If our leaders are indeed implementing Alpert’s plan with a time delayed sterility inducing vaccine, this would explain why children are being targeted for vaccination. It would be imperative that as many child bearing, and soon to be child bearing, people be vaccinated as quickly as possible because once word of the plan gets out, either via a leak or via impossible to ignore evidence, then no further vaccinations will be possible.
If true, this thankfully means our leaders are brilliant heroes rather than evil idiots.
And it gives “The Great Reset” a whole new meaning!
Go Jack go!!!
P.S. I would like to make the above list of covid things that don’t make sense as complete as possible. If I missed anything, please let me know and I will add it.
I’m worried that a future visitor who does not know me will will read this post and conclude that I’m a wack job and therefore should discount everything else I’ve written. This is a statement to clarify what I actually believe is going on with covid.
If we assume that our leaders are not evil and/or stupid then there is overwhelming evidence to suggest there’s an agenda other than public health in play for covid policies.
I believe that some of our most senior leaders with the power to influence lower level leaders are using covid as an excuse to implement tools that will be helpful for maintaining social order during an economic collapse.
I do not know if these senior leaders deliberately released an engineered virus, or if they are just taking advantage of a mistake made at the Wuhan lab.
All of the evidence I see supports this “covid is cover for collapse prep” theory, EXCEPT the push to vaccinate children which I cannot explain if we continue to assume our leaders are not evil and/or stupid.
I proposed above, tongue in cheek, that perhaps the child vaccination push could be explained by a humane population reduction agenda, which I think would be a brilliant thing for our leaders to do, because population reduction is the only path to reducing the suffering that is coming due to human overshoot.
The problem with this population reduction hypothesis is that I don’t think are leaders are aware or smart or brave enough to try it.
So to be clear, I do NOT think there is a population reduction agenda in play.
Which means our leaders must be evil and/or stupid.
I’m pretty sure Fauci and his gang are corrupt, but I do not think all the collaborating leaders in the world are evil.
Which leaves stupidity as the only viable explanation for what’s going on with children.
Stupid behavior can have causes other than a low IQ.
Stupid behavior can result from our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities, like for example, doubling down because “I can’t possibly have supported the biggest blunder in human history”, or from a mass formation al la Mattias Desmet that causes temporary insanity.
July 13, 2022 Addition
Thank you to a reader for bringing to my attention a list of bad covid decisions compiled by Dr. Vinay Prasad.
I respect Dr. Prasad’s fairness and integrity by only listing those items for which a functioning brain looking at evidence available at the time would know was wrong.
“Lots of people commented about COVID-19. Some were more right than others. It isn’t fair to judge people by facts not known at the time. Instead here is a list of issues where a person who read actively, and whose brain was working (aka not riddled with anxiety) could be right in the moment.
The evidence for community cloth masking was awful, nonexistent, negative and poor and we should have run cluster RCTs. This view was obvious based on reading pre-pandemic literature and is why the CDC, WHO and Tony Fauci himself initially advised against masking. Instead, in the weeks that followed many lied about the evidence of cloth masking to push this intervention. It was propaganda, not science. It was shameful how real scientists lied and exaggerated and virtue signalled, all of which prevented randomized trials.
Without embellishment, I will think it’s ok to have supported cloth masking initially, but smart people understood the residual uncertainty and wanted cluster RCTs. Unfortunately, they were defeated by zealots, and we have zero cluster RCTs in high income countries. Aka we learned nothing. This is embarrassing.
Masking kids 2-4 and mandates (oh, of course, except when they nap for 2 hours in the same room!) was a stupid policy and it’s hard to understand how anyone whose brain was working would support it. They napped together in the same room unmasked! Use your brain! How could that possibly work? Moreover, the World Health Organization advised against doing it.
School closure in the spring of 2020 was arguable, but closure any time after Aug 2020 was clearly wrong. Enough data had accumulated by then to know it was a fools errand. Most Western European nations had returned in person by then. Liberal American cities remained the last hold outs. They paid lip service to vulnerable children, but their policies crushed their future.
Vaccinating 20 year old health care workers and teachers and ‘first responders’ before the elderly was clearly stupid. It only happened because anxious first responders are more powerful lobbying force than old people. Society, particularly America, does not value the elderly. Anyone who could do basic arithmetic would know this would cost lives. Even assuming first responders were much more likely to get the virus, the IFR by age was so steep, it could not be overcome by exposure. Wise nations didn’t do it. You only needed a calculator and 2 seconds to realize how stupid it was.
When J&J was found to cause VITT, it was obvious the product should be pulled from the market. Bad policy makers analogized it to DVT after oral contraceptives. They apparently did not understand the difference between the cerebral sinus, and the leg. Or a simple clot and runaway platelet activation. Alternatives were available. The FDA and CDC kept the product for one more year and many people were harmed.
Mandating the mRNA shot was always a stupid idea. First, remember mandating a medical intervention is not done to protect the person getting the intervention. We don’t mandate you take your blood pressure pills. And you’re allowed to decline life-saving therapies. Mandates only exist when there is sufficient benefit to third parties that the intrusion on autonomy is justified. It has to clear a high bar. In the beginning, it looked like the vaccine provided massive individual level protection. Thus, it didn’t matter if someone else didn’t get the shot, you were protected. Modeling studies suggested that thousands of people would have to be excluded to avert one acquisition of COVID. It was clear that many people would be angered, a few would not comply, and there was no justifiable case that coercive vaccination benefited third parties. If a third party was worried, they could get vaccinated themselves. Later, by the fall of 2021, when it was abundantly clear that vaccines were unable to halt novel variants and breakthrough was inevitable, then vaccine mandates were unethical because vaccines could not protect a third party from transmission anyway. Ironically, vaccine mandates were always unethical because they never conferred sufficient benefit to 3rd parties. Instead, some people argued that protecting someone from their own choice was a valuable use of coercion. These people are ignorant of medical history, and do not see the fact that there is no end to this principle. You can mandate people to get any medical intervention by this logic. Moreover, they are aloof from Americans. Americans would never tolerate such an intrusion.
Wearing a mask after vaccination. Or distancing. Or avoiding weddings or avoiding other things. After vaccination, there was nothing more you could do to lower your individual risk. Weight loss, optimizing medical issues, and vaccination by the only three risk reducing interventions. Before it was evident that breakthrough was inevitable, there’s no point to take precautions after vaccination because you were very well protected. The moment it was evident that breakthrough was inevitable, there was no point to take precautions after vaccination because if you live long enough, you’ll eventually get the virus. So what’s the goal of delaying?
Testing testing, testing. The United States not for 1 minute was able to control the virus through test, trace, isolate. The seed load or initial preconditions in 2020 made it impossible to do that. The idea we could test our way halting the virus and his tracks was delusional. Someday Congress should pass a bill asking testing companies to release the names of doctors and epidemiologists who they paid. Once you see the money trail, you will understand why people pushed testing.
After adult vaccination, the idea that wide scale testing was necessary or desirable was a delusion. Testing kids and quarantining them was massively disruptive. The loss of educational alone offset any potential gains. And the final outcome will be inevitable. 93 to 98% breakthrough.
The idea kids need a vaccine to return to normal– was insane. This was absolutely a crazy point of view. Proof that it was not true is that many nations had very high sero prevalence prior to the debut of vaccines. The United Kingdom was nearly 100%. The US was at least over 70% but probably much higher, due to terrible data collection. If kids got COVID anyway prior to vaccine all the restrictions hurt them with no possibility of benefit.
Children never faced an emergency. The regulatory use of emergency use authorization for kids was unjustified. Their drug products should have come through traditional marketing pathways. The IFR in children was too low to constitute an emergency. Moreover, by the time kids vaccines arrived it was clear that breakthrough was inevitable. Ergo vaccinating kids would not protect anyone else. The abuse of expedited pathways benefits companies, but does not benefit people. This abuse has continued in cancer drugs for years. COVID makes people scared, which pharmaceutical companies use to enrich themselves with scant data.
Giving paxlovid to young vaccinated people. Anyone who knows the history of medicine knows that extrapolating data from very sick individuals to milder versions of disease is never a good idea. It’s always better to run a randomized trial before you spend $5 billion dollars treating your anxiety.
Anyone who ever said the word zero COVID is an idiot. Because the opportunity for zero COVID ended in early December 2019, and firmly closed by March of 2020. Anyone who still thought it possible, particularly in 2021, should be muted and ignored.
By June 2022, anybody who thinks the United States should do anything to control infections is wrong. Such a person must be living under a rock to not notice the fact that 200 million plus Americans have returned to complete normal. Moreover, it is not biologically possible. These should be too good reasons for these people to stop.
Travel bans. Border closure. Testing to cross borders. It was evident that these measures could do nothing to stop spread. It’s unbelievable we repeated that until 2022.
Long COVID: If you were very ill with COVID-19, if you were hospitalized, if you were intubated, if you were on death’s door, it is entirely possible that you will have a prolonged recovery. You may never be the same. This has always been the case with respiratory viruses. Or any illness for that matter. But if you had a mild infection, if you didn’t even know you were sick, then it would be astonishing that you would have serious long-term sequela. The burden of proof that this is due to COVID should be very high. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t take you seriously. Doctor should always take patients seriously. And if a person feels bad, we should run studies to determine what makes them better. But that’s very different than advising people that asymptomatic Long Covid is a big problem, and that we should try to control infections in perpetuity. Those are bold policy maneuvers. It requires extraordinary evidence. That evidence has never been met. The best study from the Annals of internal medicine compares patients with milder Covid to those without milder Covid and finds no differences in any of dozens of dozens of biological tests. That finding is astonishing. And should be replicated in larger sample size. But if it holds true, a serious rethinking of long COVID is needed.
Saying in 2022 we need to control infections to prevent mutations. Serious science writers are saying this. In top magazines. It’s totally delusional. There is no political buy-in. Even if there were, you’d have to weld door shut like Shanghai to achieve it. That’s not possible in free society. It’s living in a fairy tale confusing it for reality.
Saying healthcare workers will mask forever. Before you institute a sweeping change in healthcare, don’t you want to run a randomized trial to know it works? Evidence-based medicine is dead when people propose such changes without evidence. I’m pretty confident now that many people didn’t understand it.
And the biggest way to know somebody doesn’t know what they’re talking about: when somebody suggests school reopening benefits rich and privileged kids. It benefits poor, underserved, minority kids. How clueless are you?
I forgot to mention boosting 12-year-olds, yearly booster, and a load of other things. That’s for another column.
These were issues that were not just obvious in retrospect but at the time. A simple test for who knows what they’re talking about.”
What force is powerful enough to synchronize every leader in almost every country to do the wrong thing on almost every covid action without assuming every leader is evil and/or stupid?
Why has no one figured out what’s going on, including normally intelligent alt-media?
Let’s assume that most of our leaders are normal people, of average intelligence, with good intentions, and they care about the future of their children.
By normal I mean they are decent people with flaws, just like you and I.
By average intelligence I mean they probably have some high school level science, have read a few popular books, and maybe watched a few documentaries, but are not well grounded in the laws of physics, and their mathematics skills are modest at best. Like most people, they do not have a good understanding of energy and its relationship with everything, nor do they have a good grasp of what is technically feasible.
By good intentions I mean they want to do a good job for the people that elected them, while of course making a living, and perhaps providing some extras for their family if a benign opportunity arises, just as you or I would.
By caring about their children I mean they are genuinely worried about:
The threat of an economic crash caused by unsustainable debt and its associated everything bubble that is now flashing red and impossible to ignore.
The reality and threat of climate change that is now obvious to anyone that has been alive for more than a few decades.
Limits to growth. Our leader’s understanding of energy depletion is probably a mixed bag, as it is with our next door neighbors. Most leaders probably understand that fossil energy growth is no longer desirable, some may understand that fossil energy growth is no longer possible, most probably still hope the green energy story is true but are getting worried it may be false, and a tiny minority may understand the reality of peak oil and its implications.
Overlaying all of the above, our leaders, like most humans, have a genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities, which manifests as an optimism bias, and an inability to grasp the reality and implications of human overshoot. We can be fairly certain that none of our leaders have defective denial genes, which would permit them to see overshoot, because that would have prevented them from winning their election.
Given these assumptions about our leaders, which are probably true, what would we expect them to do?
Let’s start with what they’ve done to date:
Increased the debt and lowered the interest rate to buy time for someone to think of something.
Signed free trade agreements to squeeze more efficiency out of the global economy.
Subsidized surplus corn to stretch gasoline with ethanol.
Subsidized green energy and electric cars in the hope it would reduce fossil energy use. They don’t understand why, but they can see this strategy is not helping.
Invested a lot of money into nuclear fusion returning zero prospects of success.
Agreed with good intentions to many climate change protocols and subsequently learned it is impossible to fulfill those agreements without damaging the economy.
Continued heavy military spending, just in case.
I expect our leaders now understand that:
We are between a rock and a hard place. They don’t fully understand why we have reached limits to growth, nor can they due to their normal denial genes, but they do understand something must change soon.
Debt is a bomb waiting to explode. They can see the end of the runway with rising inflation.
Climate change is a really nasty problem. Consumption must go down, but that will crash the economy. Even with CO2 reductions, it’s too late to avoid refugees and starvation.
Avoiding damaging social unrest, and mitigating/reducing the coming suffering will require sacrifice and sharing between countries, which will require some form of global cooperation with tight control over citizens.
Those of us that have paid attention and not listened to the official narrative know that nothing about covid makes sense. To be blunt, almost every action and policy has been wrong, in almost every country, and all of our leaders are synchronized, including their political opposition, almost without exception. How can this be? It’s simply not possible that all of our leaders are evil and/or stupid.
What force is powerful enough to have caused a diverse group of big ego leaders from many countries to cooperate on a secret plan that no one discusses? What force is powerful enough to have caused them to do things that under normal circumstances would have been blocked by their good ethics and character?
We know the various central banks have been working as a team since at least the 2008 GFC to keep the global wheels on. Recall that in the 2008 aftermath it was disclosed that we were hours away from a collapse of the banking system had the US congress not approved the bailout. The stresses and pressures in the system today are MUCH higher than they were in 2008 because we fixed a too much debt problem by adding a lot more debt.
In 2019 something in the global plumbing was beginning to break and it came to a head in September with a crisis in the repo market. The central banks together decided what needed to be done and the head of each central bank sat down with the leader of their country and spelled out the reality that an imminent “recession”, if not averted, would likely take out modern civilization due to the global debt bubble and lack of growth.
I imagine they said something like, “we need an excuse to print a gazillion dollars, and we’re going to need a digital currency soon that restricts many freedoms, and we might fail so you should think about a plan B for controlling social unrest. We think a not so serious global pandemic exaggerated into a panic is the perfect cover to accomplish all of this.”
No other force is powerful enough to explain the behavior we observe. It explains everything, including why no one talks about it, because if they did it would cause panic in the markets, which would harm themselves and their children. This also thankfully means we can continue to assume that most (not all) of our leaders are decent people like you and I.
The covid pandemic provided:
A reason for everyone from all political persuasions to support printing and handing out trillions of dollars to avoid a “recession”.
A means via lockdowns of reducing energy and materials consumption, and restricting freedom of movement and assembly, that can be invoked as needed without causing the panic that disclosing the end of growth would cause.
A reason for creating the infrastructure and social behaviors necessary for a digital currency via vaccine passports. A digital currency will be very helpful for implementing negative interest rates needed to avoid a Minsky Moment, and for rationing food and energy, and for preventing bank runs. The path they chose was to require all citizens to be injected with a substance and to carry proof via a vaccine passport. I expect they hoped the injected substance would be harmless with some tangible benefit but it appears their hopes have been dashed by Murphy’s Law and inadequate time for testing.
Most powerful countries agreed to this plan. The US, EU, Japan, Canada, and Australia are all on board. As is China who engineered the virus with funding from the US, and which influenced the WHO to ensure global spread of the virus in the early days.
Russia refused to join the plan, perhaps after calculating that with its healthy ratio of natural resources to population, modest debt, food self-sufficiency, and citizens capable of enduring some hardship, they will be better off charting an independent path.
The collaborating leaders viscerally hate Putin for not being a team player and are attempting to cause a regime change in Russia by provoking Russia into an expensive war and by applying economic sanctions. As with covid, it seems this plan is failing so we should expect a Plan B soon.
A new repo crisis began in 2022 and so Monkeypox was introduced just in case another pandemic is required to get the financial system under control.
Finally, we can now answer another burning question:
Why has no one figured out what’s going on, including normally intelligent alt-media?
Because to understand requires acceptance of the end of growth and overshoot, and that’s not possible for most people due to our species’ tendency to deny unpleasant realities as explained by Varki’s MORT theory.
For those that don’t believe the official covid narrative, it’s ok to blame corrupt pharma, or a scheming WEF, but it’s not ok to blame overshoot.
Let’s hope Plan B does not involve nuclear weapons but does have something to do with humane population reduction.
Buried in the comments of the last post we discussed human overshoot and what should be done about it. I proposed our goal should be to minimize suffering and that the best path to achieving this goal is awareness of Ajit Varki’s Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory.
My view, in summary, is that when fully aware of the reality and implications of human overshoot, our best personal and collective responses become self-evident and require no coercion to implement. Conversely, when overshoot is denied, all of our best personal and collective responses are vehemently rejected as assaults on our rights and entitlements.
Unfortunately, our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities, as explained by MORT, blocks overshoot awareness. Therefore any progress in a good direction requires an understanding of MORT.
Put more bluntly, all environmental activists, climate changers, peak oilers, Gaia lovers, population reducers, etc. should be focused with Zen-like precision on MORT, and any other activity is a complete waste of time, as demonstrated by our zero progress on any substantive issue over the last 50 years since Limits to Growth was published.
Reader Gaia Gardener responded with some beautiful prose that I thought was a good reason to clear the decks and create this new post.
For useful background, the comment thread that motivated the following essay by Gaia Gardener begins here.
Upon gazing up at the starry night sky thoughts like these come to my mind–there must be some sentient life form and civilization somewhere in this vast universe that broke through this barrier of denial that causes suffering to self, other life forms, and their ultimate destruction of their planetary home. Just being able to internalize this gives me much peace and acceptance of my infinitesimally small but still conscious being. If I keep gazing, sometimes I can lose sense of self completely and just melt into a time/space/no and every mind. Fermi’s paradox may be the most probable explanation for our seemingly unique manifestation but in a near infinite cosmos, there is still a chance that we may not understand everything!
If we are not here, or even if we were never here, the vastness of the universe continues to be, the ultimate laws of physical construct still stand as foundational building blocks to all matter and life, and life forms will continue to evolve even if given the most minute opportunity. In light of these critical truths, our knowledge of it is an ego awareness and recognition of what always was and will be and which has been already recognized by eons of cultures in their own way of expression. From creation myths to quantum equations, it is all a finger pointing at the moon, a way of reaching the untouchable but the real mystery and awe lies in the experience of just being. I suppose what is most tragic to our species is that we may lose our own consciousness to reflect back on our understandings of our world, in a word, annihilation. But can we take solace in the knowledge that we are elemental stardust to begin with and will return to that state, and since our guiding laws tell us matter and energy are constantly changing form, that is what we must be also, moment by moment, if even there is something called time. Then it is not a far reach for me to accept death, but suffering is another matter. Our ability to experience suffering ourselves is the prerequisite of consciousness and to be aware of suffering in others and make a choice for relief is the core of our humanity.
I have of late, at this crossroad of our civilization, find myself asking “Has it all been worth the suffering?” The knowledge gained, the art expressed, the structures erected, the technology exploded, has it been worth what we have also wrought with the same force and energy, the destruction and injustice to our planet and other life forms, starting with our own species, closer kin than any other stardust in this vastness of space. For example, for JS Bach to be born and for us to experience the incomparable beauty of his music, was it worth whatever else had to pass for our civilization to bring forth such genius? Can another member of our Homo sapiens family, in destitution and hunger for generations oppressed, can they say our enjoyment of our highest pinnacle achievements was worth their suffering and their ancestors suffering and their children’s suffering at the hands of our dominant culture? What of their choice to relieve suffering if only we had used our energy in a different way that may have allowed them to reach their own developmental potential? I cannot lie to a deepest truth that it is only my judgment that deems one being more worthy than another, the universe has none. If we are uberconscious, then we will also know that the universe has no judgment on our beingness or existence, it is only us looking at and contemplating ourselves in the mirror for this briefest of constructs called space and time. But since we have developed this mind and we have created our microuniverse within the macro, it is our responsibility to finish what we began, on every level. Overshoot and its repercussions is the stage set for our generations, we cannot shirk from finishing the show we have written, directed, and acted in. But there is also more to our human existence, and from the earliest times our inner desire has been to find our meaning and place in this cosmos. The present is the only time we ever have to continually seek and refine for ourselves what resonates, only now it seems of greatest urgency, at least to me. Maybe being born in the age of overshoot collapse has refocussed this for all of us here. And I do agree that reduction of suffering is a noblest goal and can manifest in myriad ways; kindness is always our choice.
It’s rare to encounter a new and constructive idea for addressing human overshoot that is not fatally flawed by a lack of understanding of either thermodynamic and geophysical constraints, or the strong genetic behavior to deny unpleasant realities that enabled the human species to emerge and dominate the planet.
For anyone still looking for technically feasible solutions that have a non-zero probability of success for reducing harms from human overshoot I recommend the most recent Planet: Critical podcast in which Rachel Donald interviews Joseph Merz.
There are no easy solutions to the climate crisis—most governments admit their hope lies in technology which doesn’t even exist yet. Science and “visionaries” propose increasingly mad ideas, like refreezing the Arctic, or sending humans to live in Space. But given the urgency of the situation, would we be mad not to consider these mad ideas?
Joseph Merz thinks we’ve run out of time to ask questions. He founded the Merz Institute to combat the climate crisis, gathering some of the world’s best scientists to establish what is going wrong and how to fix it. He says the answer is behavioural change—and they’re developing a programme that would manipulate mass behaviour on a subconscious level.
How? Well, using the same techniques as the advertising industry.
Key points made include:
It is too late to avoid suffering caused by human overshoot.
There may still be time to make the future less bad.
All actions we might take to reduce future suffering require changes in human behavior to consume less and have fewer children.
Information and education to date have proven completely ineffective at changing human behavior in a positive direction, and we are out of time to try new methods of education.
The advertising industry has developed technologies that are very effective at manipulating people to desire and acquire things they do not need to be happy, and in many cases cannot afford.
Merz proposes to redeploy these proven marketing technologies to manipulate people to desire happiness associated with lower consumption and fewer children.
Neither Rachel Donald or Joseph Merz appear aware of Varki’s Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory but I’m thinking that Merz’s proposal might sidestep the fatal flaw in most other overshoot harm reduction proposals that require humans to first acknowledge the reality of their predicament, which appears to be impossible because of MORT.
The beauty of Merz’s plan is that it does not require reality awareness because it will manipulate humans at a subconscious level.
It will be interesting to see if the marketing technologies are powerful enough to override the Maximum Power Principle (MPP) which is another powerful genetic behavior that pushes us in an overshoot direction. I’m thinking (without any evidence or data) that it might be possible to override the MPP because we are such a strong social species.
Godspeed to Merz and screw the ethics.
P.S. I doubt it is true, but I observe that if you assume the WEF Great Reset has good intentions grounded in overshoot awareness, it is possible they are thinking along the same lines as Merz with their “you will own nothing and be happy” campaign. The WEF campaign does seem rather clumsy compared to say associating happiness with a Corona beer on a high-carbon long distance vacation. I think it is more likely the WEF is trying to prepare citizens for a Minsky moment in which much asset ownership will transfer to the state.
P.P.S. It’s fascinating that so many overshoot aware people are active in the small country of New Zealand.
I’m a longtime fan of Dr. Rees and consider him to be one of the most aware and knowledgeable people on the planet.
This is, I believe, the best talk I’ve seen by Dr. Rees and he covers all of the important issues, including topics like overpopulation that most of his peers avoid.
Presentations like this will probably not change our trajectory but nevertheless I find some comfort knowing there are a few other people thinking about the same issues. This can be a very lonely space.
The Q&A is also very good. I found it interesting to hear how much effort Dr. Rees has made to educate our leaders about what we should be doing to reduce future suffering. He was frank that no one to date, including the Green party, is open to his message. Not surprising, but sad. Also inspiring that someone of his stature is at least trying.
Climate-change and other environmental organizations urge governments to act decisively/rapidly to decarbonize the economy and halt further development of fossil fuel reserves. These demands arguably betray:
– ignorance of the role of energy in the modern economy;
– ill-justified confidence in society’s ability to transition to 100% green renewable energy;
– no appreciation of the ecological consequences of attempting to do so and;
– little understanding of the social implications.
Without questioning the need to abandon fossil fuels, I will argue that the dream of a smooth energy transition is little more than a comforting shared illusion. Moreover, even if it were possible it would not solve climate change and would exacerbate the real existential threat facing society, namely overshoot.
I then explore some of the consequences and implications of (the necessary) abandonment of fossil fuels in the absence of adequate substitutes, and how governments and MTI society should be responding to these unspoken biophysical realities.
Dr. William Rees is a population ecologist, ecological economist, Professor Emeritus, and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning.
His academic research focuses on the biophysical prerequisites for sustainability. This focus led to co-development (with his graduate students) of ecological footprint analysis, a quantitative tool that shows definitively that the human enterprise is in dysfunctional overshoot. (We would need five Earth-like planets to support just the present world population sustainably with existing technologies at North American material standards.)
Frustrated by political unresponsiveness to worsening indicators, Dr. Rees also studies the biological and psycho-cognitive barriers to environmentally rational behavior and policies. He has authored hundreds of peer reviewed and popular articles on these topics. Dr. Rees is a Fellow of Royal Society of Canada and also a Fellow of the Post-Carbon Institute; a founding member and former President of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics; a founding Director of the OneEarth Initiative; and a Director of The Real Green New Deal. He was a full member of the Club of Rome from 2013 until 2018. His international awards include the Boulding Memorial Award in Ecological Economics, the Herman Daly Award in Ecological Economics and a Blue Planet Prize (jointly with his former student, Dr. Mathis Wackernagel).
I left the following comment on YouTube:
I’m a fellow British Columbian and longtime admirer of Dr. Rees. Thank you for the excellent presentation.
I agree with Dr. Rees’ prescription for what needs to be done but I think there’s a step that must precede his first step of acknowledging our overshoot predicament.
Given the magnitude and many dimensions of our predicament an obvious question is why do so few people see it?
I found a theory by Dr. Ajit Varki that provides a plausible explanation, and answers other important questions about our unique species.
The Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory posits that the human species with its uniquely powerful intelligence exists because it evolved to deny unpleasant realities.
If true, this implies that the first step to any positive meaningful change must be to acknowledge our tendency to deny unpleasant realities.
Canadian author and journalist Andrew Nikiforuk addressed our overshoot reality on November 17, 2021 at the University of Victoria.
It’s a brilliant must watch talk that touches on every important issue, except unfortunately Ajit Varki’s MORT theory and our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities. Nikiforuk does acknowledge that denial is an important force in our predicament.
It’s refreshing to find a journalist that understands what’s going on and that speaks plainly about what we must do.
Nikiforuk introduced a new idea (for me), the “technological imperium”:
…our biggest problem is a self-augmenting, ever-expanding technosphere, which has but one rule: to grow at any cost and build technological artifacts that efficiently dominate human affairs and the biosphere. The technological imperium consumes energy and materials in order to replace all natural systems with artificial ones dependent on high energy inputs and unmanageable complexity.
Nikiforuk seems to be implying that technology is the core problem and is driving the bus. Maybe. I think more likely advanced technology emerges as a consequence of unique intelligence (explained by MORT) coupled with fortuitous buried fossil energy, driven by a desire for infinite economic growth that arises from evolved behaviors expressing the Maximum Power Principle (MPP), all enabled by our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities, which causes us to ignore the costs of growth and technology. Regardless of which is the chicken and which is the egg, Nikiforuk is correct that technology has made our society very fragile, and is harming our social fabric.
An example Nikiforuk provided of the technological imperium is British Columbia’s trend of replacing sustainable natural salmon runs in rivers with fish farms that are totally dependent on non-renewable fossil energy and advanced technology. I’ve witnessed this first hand on the coast of Vancouver Island and it makes me sick to my stomach. I also witnessed how hard it is to oppose the technological imperium when a political party here was elected on a promise to close fish farms and then reneged after being elected.
As an aside, the technological imperium idea gave me a new insight into the covid mass psychosis of most rich countries and their obsession with a single high tech “solution” to covid while aggressively opposing all other less energy intensive, less risky, and lower tech responses.
Nikiforuk began his talk with a quote I like from C.S. Lewis:
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
I observe sadly that this must watch video has only 160 views, 3 of which are mine. 😦
Here are a few other ideas and quotes I captured while watching the talk:
“We have all but destroyed this once salubrious planet as a life support system in fewer than 200 years mainly by making thermodynamic whoopee with fossil fuels.” – Kurt Vonnegut
“Our political class is in a complete state of denial and will not act until things get much worse. You can expect more blah blah blah.”
“Energy spending determines greenhouse gas emissions. We only want to talk about emissions, we need to talk about energy spending.”
“We must contract the global economy by at least 40%.”
“We can choose a managed energy decent, something few civilizations have ever achieved, or we can face collapse.”
“People who do not face the truth turn themselves into monsters”. – James Baldwin
“In sum, expect extreme volatility and political unrest in the years ahead along with atmospheric rivers, heat domes, and burning forests.”
“We are now at revolutionary levels of inequality everywhere.”
“We are being fed 5 green lies because we do not want to discuss economic growth and population:
dematerialize the economy;
direct air capture;
carbon capture and storage;
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert
Conversations we avoid or deny:
“There is no problem on earth that does not become easier to manage with fewer people. We don’t want to admit this, we don’t want to talk about this.”
We are currently using up the renewable resources of 1.7 earths and unless things change we’ll need 3 earths by 2050.
Our energy is so cheap and convenient it has blinded us to its true ecological, political, and social costs.
“Energy has always been the basis of cultural complexity and it always will be.” – Joseph Tainter
A single tomato today requires 10 tablespoons of diesel to grow it.
An energy dissipating superorganism that destroys natural systems and replaces them with artificial systems dependent on high energy technologies.
Wild salmon running in rivers are replaced with fish farms.
Wetlands are replaced with water filtration projects.
Old growth forests are replaced with tree plantations.
Technology is to this civilization what the catholic church was to 14th century France, the dominant institution that controls every aspect of your life.
“A major fact of our present civilization is that more and more sin becomes collective, and the individual is forced to participate in collective sin.” – Jacques Ellul
“A low energy policy allows for a wide choice of lifestyles and cultures. If on the other hand a society opts for high energy spending its social relations must be dictated by technocracy and will be equally degrading whether labelled capitalist or socialist.” – Ivan Illich
Civilizations Do Collapse
Life is a cycle, it is not a linear path.
We have peaked and are now entering a phase of incredible volatility.
Every citizen needs to know the consequences of bad policy. Percent death on the Titanic by class was:
39% first class
58% second class
What should you do with this awareness?
Withdraw from the fray of the Technosphere.
Do something to help preserve the natural world.
Get your hands dirty doing real work in nature.
Insist that creation has a value beyond utility.
“Think, less” – Wendell Berry
Build refuges and prepare for the storms ahead.
Wake each morning and ask yourself what you can give to this world rather than what you can take.
Comments and answers from the Q&A:
“The worst thing about the pandemic was that so many people and so many children were forced to spend so much time with colonizing machines.”
“We have to get a political conversation going about contracting the economy.” This won’t happen at the central government level but might happen within individual communities.
“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
“The only way we can get out of this mess without sacrificing millions and millions of people is to power down.”
Two weeks later, Nikiforuk reflected on his talk and responded to questions:
Two weeks ago, I gave a talk at the University of Victoria arguing that our morally bankrupt civilization is chasing dead ends when it comes to climate change and energy spending.
I argued that by focusing on emissions, we have failed to acknowledge economic and population growth as the primary driver of those emissions along with the unrestrained consumption of natural systems that support all life.
I added that people plus affluence plus technology make a deadly algorithm that is now paving our road to collective ruin.
As Ronald Wright noted in his book A Short History of Progress, civilization is a pyramid scheme that depends on cancerous rates of growth.
I also explained that many so-called green technologies including renewables, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage are not big solutions. Because they require rare earth minerals and fossil fuels for their production and maintenance, these technologies shift problems around.
In addition these green technologies cannot be scaled up in time to cut emissions or require too much energy to make any difference at all.
I also emphasized that our biggest problem is a self-augmenting, ever-expanding technosphere, which has but one rule: to grow at any cost and build technological artifacts that efficiently dominate human affairs and the biosphere. The technological imperium consumes energy and materials in order to replace all natural systems with artificial ones dependent on high energy inputs and unmanageable complexity.
This technological assault on the biosphere and our consciousness has greatly weakened our capacity to pay attention to what matters, let alone how to think. The result is a highly polarized and anxious society that can’t imagine its own collapse let alone the hazards of its own destructive thinking.
The best response to this constellation of emergencies is to actively shrink the technosphere and radically reduce economic growth and energy spending. Our political class can’t imagine such a conversation.
At the same time, communities and families must re-localize their lives, disconnect from the global machine and actively work to restore degraded ecosystems such as old-growth forests. Anyone who expects an “easy fix” or convenient set of solutions has spent too much time being conditioned by digital machines.
My cheerful talk generated scores of questions. There wasn’t time to answer them, so I selected five representative queries submitted via Zoom in the interest of keeping this heretical conversation going.
Growth in population tied to consumption is a big problem
Many listeners expressed disquiet about population growth being an essential part of the problem. “I am disappointed that once again Malthus has entered the room when the difference between per capita emissions for GHGs between the Global North and Global South are significant. Isn’t it how we live not how many of us there are?” asked one.
The real answer is uncomfortable. How we live and consume matters just as much as the growing density of our numbers combined with the proliferation of our machines that devour energy on our behalf. (Roads and cell phones all consume energy and materials too.) All three demographic issues are increasing at unsustainable rates and feed each other to propel more economic growth, more emissions and more fragility.
The world’s current population is 7.9 billion and grows by 80 million a year. It has slowed down in recent years because the affluent don’t need the energy of children as much as the poor. Even so civilization will add another billion to the planet every dozen years. Redistributing energy wealth (and emissions) from the rich to the poor will not avert disaster if human populations don’t overall decline.
Our numbers also reflect a demographic anomaly that began with fossil fuels, a cheap energy source that served as Viagra for the species. Prior to our discovery of fossil fuels, the population of the planet never exceeded one billion. Our excessive numbers are purely a temporary artifact of cheap energy spending and all that it entails — everything from fertilizer to modern medicine.
Isn’t capitalism the real threat?
Many questions revolved around the nature of capitalism. “Wouldn’t it be more accurate to denounce the capitalist organization of technology rather than technology as such for problems like polarization and fragmentation?”
No, it would not. Technology emphasizes growth and concentrates power regardless of the ideology.
Capitalism, like socialism and communism, is simply a way to use energy to create technologies that structure society in homogeneous ways. Removing capitalism from the equation would not change the totalitarian nature of technology itself. Or the ability of technologies to colonize local cultures anywhere.
Every ideology on Earth, to date, has used technologies to strengthen their grip on power by enmeshing their citizens in complexity and reducing humanity to a series of efficiencies. All have supported digital infrastructure to monitor and survey their citizens. As the sociologist Jacques Ellul noted long ago ideologies don’t count in the face of technological imperative.
What comes next?
Many listeners asked if “there is a sequel to the energy-rich market economy?” I have no crystal ball but here is my response.
There will always be some kind of sequel and it is not written. But there is no replacement for cheap fossil fuels and their density and portability. They made our complex civilization what it is. As fossil fuel resources become ever more expensive and difficult to extract (a reality the media ignores), the “rich market economy” will experience more volatility, inequality, disruptions, corruption and inflation. It is rare for any civilization to manage an energy descent without violence let alone grace.
“Can you say more about the connection between the technosphere and totalitarian societies?” asked one listener. “How do you see connections between dictatorships and the technosphere?”
This is a subject for a much longer essay. The technosphere, by definition, offers only one system of thinking and operating (triumph of technique over all endeavors) and has been eroding human freedoms for decades. It simply creates dependents or inmates. Social influencers now tell its residents what to buy and how to behave. As such the technosphere has become an all-encompassing environment for citizens whether they be so-called democracies or totalitarian societies.
The major difference between the two is simply the degree to which techniques have been applied to give the state more total control over its citizens. In both democratic societies and totalitarian ones, technical elites actively mine citizens for data so that information can be used to engineer, monitor and survey the behavior of their anxious and unhappy citizens in a technological society. (You can’t live in a technological society without becoming an abstraction.) The Chinese state does not hide its intentions; the West still clings to its illusions of freedom.
The technosphere corrupts language
One listener wanted to know “more about the empty language” employed by the technosphere as I mentioned in my talk.
Just as the technosphere has replaced bird song with digital beeps, the technological imperium has increasingly replaced meaningful language with techno-speak.
A world dominated by reductionist and mechanistic thinking has produced its own Lego-like language completely divorced from natural reality. Decades ago the German linguist Uwe Poerksen called this new evolving language “plastic words.”
They include words like environment, process, organization, structure, development, identity and care. All can be effortlessly combined to convey bullshit: “the development of the environment with care is a process.” This modular language creates its own tyranny of meaningless expression.
Experts, technicians, politicians and futurists employ this plastic language to baffle, confuse and obfuscate. Poerksen notes these words are pregnant with money, lack historical dimension and refer to no local or special place. This language, divorced from all context, does to thinking what a bulldozer does to a forest. It flattens it.
Hope is not a pill you take in the morning or a crumb left at the table
Last but not least many listeners asked how do we maintain hope in the face of so many emergencies, abuses and appalling political leadership?
“How do you get up in the morning?” typically asked one.
This frequent question confounds and puzzles me. My humble job as a journalist is not to peddle soft soap or cheerlead for ideologies and futurists. My job is not to manufacture hope let alone consent. I have achieved something small if I can help readers differentiate between what matters and what doesn’t and highlight the power implications in between.
Yet in a technological society most everyone seeks an easy, canned message pointing to a bright future. I cannot in good conscience tell anyone, let alone my own children, that the days ahead will be happy or bright ones. To everything there is a season and our civilization has now, step by step, entered a season of discord and chaos. History moves like life itself in a cycle of birth, life, death and renewal.
Jacques Ellul, who wrote prophetically about the inherent dangers of technological society, also addressed the need for authentic hope because it does not reside in the technosphere. The technosphere, a sterile prison, may promise to design your future with plastic words, but what it really offers is the antithesis of hope.
Ellul, a radical Christian, wrote deeply much about hope and freedom. He noted that hope never abandons people who care about a place and are rooted outside the technosphere for they will always know what to do by their real connection to real things. He adds that hope cannot be divorced from the virtues of faith and love. Like all virtues they must be quietly lived, not daily signalled.
For Ellul, hope was a combination of vigilant expectation, prayer and realism. “Freedom is the ethical expression of the person who hopes,” he once wrote.
Hope is living fully in a place you care about and acting against the abuse of power every day. Hope, in other words, is using every initiative “to restore the possibility of people making their own decisions.”
P.S. This talk inspired me to make my first donation to a news source, The Tyee, for which in 2010 Nikiforuk became its first writer in residence.
The US military defines its Defense Readiness Condition (DEFCON) levels as follows:
DEFCON 5 is normal readiness.
DEFCON 4 is above normal readiness.
DEFCON 3 is the air force ready to mobilize in 15 minutes.
DEFCON 2 is all forces ready to fight in 6 hours.
DEFCON 1 is the maximum state of readiness and means nuclear war is imminent or has already started.
I have my own definitions that I use for my personal life.
I spent the first 50 years of my life at DEFCON level 5. That would be as a normal, fully in denial, culturally conforming, dopamine & status seeking, energy maximizing, member of a superorganism.
Then I had a stress related meltdown and while recovering stumbled on peak oil. After seeking and failing to find a good path forward other than population reduction, I wondered what else I was in denial about, and widened my field of view to include climate change, pollution, species extinction, unsustainable debt, etc., all of which I eventually came to understand are related and fall under the umbrella of human overshoot.
Now at DEFCON level 4, a realty based state of awareness, I began to think about making changes to my life, took a 6 month course on small scale farming, and did some volunteer work on a small organic farm.
Then the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC) occurred and I went to DEFCON level 3.
Confident that a collapse would occur within 10 years, I changed everything in my life. A new location where I’d be happy finishing my life, a simpler slower lifestyle, satisfying physical work, improved health, and thank goodness, Varki’s MORT theory to keep me sane with an explanation for the insanity all around me.
I also began to methodically plan and implement some preparations for a different world that I expected would arrive soon. The basic idea was to convert some retirement savings into things needed to survive and/or that might provide some joy in a harsher simpler world, and that won’t go bad, will never be cheaper, or better quality, or more available than today.
In hindsight I didn’t have a powerful enough imagination to predict that our leaders would loan into existence many trillions of dollars that can never possibly be repaid, to avoid having to acknowledge overshoot, and to extend and pretend business as usual a few extra years, at the expense of making our destination worse, but they did.
Then early in 2020 I saw the Chinese panicking over a virus before anyone here was discussing it, and I went to DEFCON level 2.
Now I got serious about completing most of my preps, which was an easy low stress exercise, because I already had a plan and simply had to execute it.
By the time the majority was scrambling, I was done, and completely calm and confident.
Today, two years into the pandemic, I’m seeing threats that have caused me to go to DEFCON level 1:
Many supply chains are broken and are getting worse, not better. This is a strong signal that our complex civilization is simplifying in unpredictable ways, as predicted by David Korowicz.
Energy shortages have emerged simultaneously in multiple strategically important regions. This is a big deal because fossil energy underpins everything our species depends on to survive. Net energy peaked a few years ago and we have been on a plateau made wider by unprecedented money printing, but once we fall over the edge I believe the decline will be much faster than the few percent per year that an unstressed geology and monetary system would deliver. I do not know if we’ve already fallen off the plateau, but I do know it will happen soon, and when it does, the changes will be profound, rapid, and painful. Regardless if the current energy problems prove to be temporary, they are a serious threat to an already fragile economy, civil society, and war-free world.
The Chinese economy is showing signs of stress from excess debt similar to the west’s 2008 GFC. Our vulnerability to a sick China is much greater than most assume because everything we depend on is dependent on Asian manufacturing, and a functioning global shipping system, and a functioning global banking system. This time I doubt more debt will fix an excess debt problem.
There are worrying signals that our vaccination policy is failing with health risks for both vaccinated and unvaccinated increasing, and that the boosters everyone is counting on may not work.
The leaders of the majority of countries seem incapable of absorbing and integrating evidence to improve their Covid strategy. If they are incapable of effectively managing Covid, we can be confident they will not be capable of managing the much more complex and profound implications of declining energy and the economic contraction it will cause.
All paths lead to food and we are 3 missed meals away from civil disorder. The climate seems to have shifted a gear this year and I expect this will negatively impact agricultural yields soon. Energy shortages will also negatively impact food production and distribution. As will supply chain problems. As will more Covid problems. As will a global economic depression.
DEFCON level 1 does not mean I’m expecting the end of the world, but it does mean I intend to complete everything I can think of to prepare for what I think is coming, on the assumption that we are near the end zone, and that by the time our arrival is confirmed, it will probably be too late to do anything.
There’s nothing wrong with being prepared a little early. Especially when being late means it may be impossible to prepare.
Chris Martenson is thinking along the same lines and recently produced an excellent video explaining what’s happening around the world with energy.