Thank you to X for finding this new talk by professor Tim Garrett.
Garrett has developed the most significant and useful theory for explaining the relationship between climate change and the economy.
In this talk, Garrett explains his theory and tears a strip off climate scientists for their unscientific beliefs.
Garrett, in the Q&A, discusses the disgraceful manner that climate scientists have responded to his theory. I think the fact that almost all climate scientists ignore or deny Garrett’s theory is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence in support of Varki’s MORT theory.
Paraphrasing Garrett, an educated person would not infer from the above plot that human agency has an impact on climate trajectories. Instead, a naive person might reasonably conclude that CO2 emissions are caused by COP climate change accords. 🙂
Garrett used to summarize the conclusion of his theory as:
US$1 (1990) = 9.7 mW
Garrett is now expressing the same conclusion as:
5.8 gigawatts = US$1 trillion (2010)
Garrett observes that a single atmospheric chemist stationed on Mauna Loa would more accurately measure global GDP than the tens of thousands of idiot economists we employ.
One component of Biden’s climate change plan calls for more efficient appliances, machines, and buildings. Garrett shows that this piece of Biden’s plan will make climate change worse because the more efficient we are, the more we grow.
Garrett does not discuss it, but Biden’s plan would help if we tax away all of the savings that result from improved efficiency and use the taxes to pay down public debt. Biden of course would not have been elected if he included this in his plan.
Garrett also does not discuss the simplest solution for reducing CO2 emissions, which one person at a keyboard can implement: increase the interest rate. Garrett’s theory predicts a higher interest rate will reduce emissions because our wealth would reduce through defaults.
Garrett correctly observes that our current path of trying to switch to renewable energy will increase the combustion of fossil energy, but he doesn’t add the important caveat, until fossil energy depletion collapses our economy.
Garrett remains blind to one key piece of the puzzle: The depletion of affordable fossil energy has created a global debt bubble because the cost of extracting fossil energy is now higher than what consumers can afford. When this debt bubble pops, our wealth and CO2 emissions will decline, a lot. Curious minds want to know if the bubble will pop soon and fast enough to retain a climate compatible with a much poorer civilization.
My take away: The only path to maintaining our wealth and reducing CO2 emissions in time to possibly prevent a climate incompatible with civilization is to switch to nuclear power more quickly than we can possibly afford. And so our wealth will decline regardless of what we do.
One path, if we somehow breakthrough our genetic tendency to deny reality, might be a managed and civil decline. The other path will be chaotic and uncivil.
You can find more work by Garrett that I’ve posted here.
P.S. I note from the title slide that economist Steve Keen was a collaborator. Steve Keen, in case you’re not aware, is one of the only economists on the planet with a clue. The behavior of economists differs from climate scientists in that idiocy explains the former and denial the latter. Here is some of Steve Keen’s work that I’ve posted.
I watched the new documentary Hot Money by Susan Kucera tonight.
An intelligent world-wise father (General Wesley Clark) and his son discuss some of the problems we face with many smart participants. I don’t think they interviewed a single idiot, which was refreshing.
They know something is seriously wrong and make an honest attempt to connect the dots. They come tantalizingly close to a complete picture of reality, but miss the all important overshoot drivers of over population and declining returns from non-renewable energy.
Which of course means they understand everything, except what matters.
Nevertheless, Hot Money is excellent and worth watching because it has a lot of intelligent substance.
I also think it indicates a growing mainstream awareness of how close we are to collapsing, and I suspect herd awareness (coupled with denial of the real causes) may be the trigger.
Some of the important points made:
the financial system is a bomb waiting to explode, climate change may be the trigger
climate change is real and very serious
droughts, floods, and fires are a big problem now
it now takes more than 3 dollars of debt to create 1 dollar of growth, it used to take less than 1 dollar of debt to create 1 dollar of growth
farmers are struggling and failing due to climate change, debt, high input costs, and low crop prices
real incomes and living standards are falling despite lower taxes than the 50’s
some young couples are not having children because they see a terrible future
it was much easier to make a profit in the good old days, doubly so if you were early enough to steal land from the aboriginals
companies now invest more money in stock buy-backs than R&D
there is no such thing as trickle down economics
the financial system is now too complex for its players to understand – it’s like trying to understand quantum mechanics when you don’t have high school physics
the planet is a finite physical system and the financial system is unbounded – the two systems are incompatible
Venezuela is a preview of where the USA is headed
if the government isn’t competent enough to deal with homelessness in L.A., how can it possibly deal effectively with COVID?
Americans live under the illusion that they are different and could never descend into the savagery they’ve witnessed elsewhere in the world
the Kosovo genocide was committed by and against people with homes, refrigerators, cars, kids in college, and who spoke the same language
people are turning on each other because the capitalist system is breaking down and climate change is causing scarcity
there will be a billion displaced people within 30 years
it’s unlikely the Romans could give us advice on how to avoid collapse
the wealth gap increases as a civilization collapses
many nest eggs will be wiped out when insurance companies won’t insure homes because of sea level rise
much of the oil industry’s infrastructure is at risk from sea level rise
rich people are not investing enough in renewable energy because they can make better returns elsewhere
governments must step up to invest in what needs to be done
most authorities think we have 30 years to act before civilization collapses, some people think it’s already too late
the most valuable thing in the world is oil reserves in the ground, but the damage burning oil causes is even higher – we must tax carbon energy
we need a cultural change to accept less – but that’s hard
nothing comes for free, everything costs energy
renewable energy cannot replace fossil energy and satisfy our greed, but it can help us survive
the food system is a huge consumer of energy (lots of interesting detail here)
our energy system is highly dependent on water which is being disrupted by climate change
we need to democratize the electric grid to accelerate renewable energy, but that requires a long range plan which we don’t have
we should tax pollution and use the funds to improve the grid and to pay farmers to sequester carbon
we will not be able to re-order our system until it crashes, but if we wait until we crash we’ll be too poor to fight climate change – it’ll be like asking Somalia to fight climate change
the final scene has the son arguing that we’re not facing reality; and the father arguing that we can use our democracy to solve the problems, fade to “The End?”
there is no one driving the bus, our leaders don’t have a plan
no mention of population reduction or peak oil, not even a whisper
P.S. Ugo Bardi is featured in a couple clips discussing the collapse of the Roman empire, how we may be starting down a Seneca cliff, and the viability of renewable energy.
P.P.S. My favorite central banker, Canadian Mark Carney, has a clip in which he says the main role of central banks is to pull wealth from the future into the present.
P.P.P.S The cost of insurance for the small farm I assist more than doubled this year to over $6,000, I suspect due to climate change. We have to sell a lot of lettuce to earn $6,000. 😦
With wit, satire, and historical context, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General Wesley Clark and his son Wes Clark Jr. take us on a journey through the financial circulatory system connecting farmers, homeowners, bankers, academics, and business professionals in a tale that explains the knot of economic forces that can lead to collapse and how to untie it.
SYNOPSIS Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General Wesley Clark and his son Wes Clark Jr. take us on a journey through the complicated realities of our financial system and its profound exposure to climate change. Hot Money outs the whole game, the whole charade, the whole crapshoot of the money system with all the humor and intelligence of a New Yorker cartoon. Combined with the wisdom of international business experts and academics, Hot Money is rich with historical context. It severs the knot of economic and political forces that may lead to societal collapse.
DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT I met General Clark and his son Wes Jr. while filming Living In the Future’s Past, then met the General again at a speaking engagement two years later and the kernel of a film planted itself in my mind – a conversation between a father and son on how climate change will affect our financial system. It seemed logical to follow up to the introspective Living In The Future’s Past with a nuts and bolts view of how the machinery of our money system contributes and reacts to climate change. We lined up a broad and diverse cast of experts who’ve spent their lives doing the work. What we could see emerging was an easy to understand story whose depth is masked by its light-hearted breeziness. The Covid 19 pandemic cut short our filming and I turned to a New Yorker cartoonist to visualize concepts so somebody like me, who doesn’t have an MBA or ever worked in finance, can be simultaneously entertained and enlightened about one of the prime forces driving our world – debt.
Hot Money is an important film for right now as America stands on the brink of conflict. Many people lack context interpreting the world and this documentary delivers it. Conversations taped more than a year ago about wildfires making homes impossible to insure and the ripple effect that will roar through the financial system seem as startlingly prescient as the scenes describing populist breakdown in a country like Venezuela and how it can happen here. Hot Money offers a glimpse into our future and a chance to avoid the dangerous course we are on. To solve a problem we have to understand it.
Thanks to friend and retired blogger Gail Zawacki at Wit’s End for bringing this excellent new talk by professor William Rees to my attention.
Rees discusses our severe state of ecological overshoot and the behaviors that prevent us from taking any useful action to make the future less bad.
Rees thinks there are two key behaviors responsible for our predicament:
Base nature, which we share with all other species, to use all available resources. Most people call this the Maximum Power Principle.
Creative nurture. Our learned culture defines our reality and we live this constructed reality as if it were real. “When faced with information that does not agree with their [preformed] internal structures, they deny, discredit, reinterpret or forget that information” – Wexler.
I don’t disagree with Rees on the existence or role of these behaviors, but we also need Varki’s MORT theory to explain how denial of unpleasant realties evolved and is symbiotic with our uniquely powerful intelligence, and other unique human behaviors, such as our belief in gods and life after death.
Some interesting points made by Rees:
The 2017 human eco-footprint exceeds biocapacity by 73%.
Half the fossil fuels and many other resources ever used by humans have been consumed in just the past 30 years.
Efficiency enables more consumption.
The past 7 years are the warmest 7 years on record.
Wild populations of birds, fish, mammals, and amphibians have declined 60% since 1970. Populations of many insects are down about 50%.
The biomass of humans and their livestock make up 95-99% of all vertebrate biomass on the planet.
Human population planning has declined from being the dominant policy lever in 1969 to the least researched in 2018.
The annual growth in wind and solar energy is about half the total annual growth in energy. In others words, “renewable” energy is not replacing fossil energy, it’s not even keeping up.
The recent expansion of the human enterprise resembles the “plague phase” of a one-off boom/bust population cycle.
50 years, 34 climate conferences, a half dozen major international climate agreements, and various scientists’ warnings have not reduced atmospheric carbon concentrations.
We are tracking to the Limit to Growth study’s standard model and should expect major systemic crashes in the next 40 to 50 years.
This is the new “age of unreason”: science denial and magical thinking.
Climate change is a serious problem but a mere symptom of the greater disease.
I think the reaction to COVID-19 is part of how a self-organizing system works. People were looking for a reason to cut back/shut down. The illness provided this.
I do not believe in most conspiracy theories, but I do believe that crises are frequently used to implement plans that would be impossible without a crisis. The responses to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, 9/11, and the 2008 GFC are good modern examples.
Perhaps the virus has provided (mostly subconscious) cover for:
citizens tired of commuting 2 hours a day to a stressful job so they could keep up with their neighbor’s latest unnecessary status symbol purchase
citizens who intuited they should reduce discretionary spending and pay down credit card debt, which interestingly declined in 2020, rather than increasing as it did during the 2008 GFC
leaders that sensed we should voluntarily throttle back, because we’d soon be forced by limits to growth
leaders that understood we needed to rapidly reduce CO2 emissions, and the only way to achieve this is by contracting the economy
leaders that needed an excuse to restrict freedoms to maintain civil order in preparation for a significant contraction of our energy/economic system
central banks that understood we had hit limits to growth and that needed an excuse for massive corporate bailouts to prevent a catastrophic economic collapse, and for MMT to keep citizens fed
Perhaps this helps to explain why our responses to the virus have not been intelligent or optimal:
effective means of containing the spread were ignored or procrastinated in the crucial early days
existing cheap and effective preventative measures are ignored and not promoted; new preventative measures are not researched
promising cheap and effective treatments are ignored and/or aggressively undermined
some lock-down measures lack logic or good judgement
the source of the virus is not being aggressively investigated to better understand appropriate responses, and to prevent a reoccurrence
To be clear, I am not suggesting a conspiracy to release a virus. I think the most probable explanation is that the virus was engineered in a lab with good intentions, and that it escaped by accident, as explained here:
I am suggesting that people at all levels of our society appear to be using the virus as an excuse to make changes that were impossible to make prior to the crisis. Some of these plans may have been well thought out and sitting on a shelf waiting for the right circumstances, like for example MMT, and other responses, like for example citizens paying down credit card debt, may be an instinctual response to anticipated scarcity.
Jay Hanson, who died in 2018, was one of the greatest thinkers about human overshoot. I wrote more about Hanson here:
Hanson concluded that civilization was doomed due to genetic human behaviors that were unlikely to change, and that it would probably end with a nuclear war, as discussed in this 2008 interview with Jason Bradford:
In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful abuses. — Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1762
(What follows is not meant to be a comprehensive description of a new society, but only presents some conceptual ideas for consideration.)
MY KEY DEFINITIONS
GLOBAL PROBLEMATIC (after The Club of Rome, 1972): Global tragedy of the commons because people are genetically programmed to more-than-reproduce themselves and make the best use of their environments.
COMMONS: “A commons is any resource treated as though it belongs to all. When anyone can claim a resource simply on the grounds that he wants or needs to use it, one has a commons.” 
NEEDS: Human “needs” have a scientific basis which is defined by human biology. 35,000 years ago, three million hunter-gatherers “needed” community, shelter, health care, clean water, clean air, and about 3,000 calories a day of nutritious food. Today, people still “need” the same things that hunter-gatherers “needed” then (except fewer calories).
eMergy: eMergy (with an “M”) is the solar energy used directly and indirectly to make a service or product. In other words, eMergy is the “cost” of a service or a product in units of solar energy. Why eMergy? In reality, the economy is nothing but a monstrous, energy-gulping Rube Goldberg machine to deliver “needs” to people. But each of those three million hunter-gatherers was the energy-using counterpart of a common dolphin, whereas each of today’s 280 million Americans matches the energy use of a sperm whale. Obviously, the “economy” is incredibly inefficient at delivering “needs” to people. No doubt my statement will stick in the economist’s craw, because after all, isn’t “efficiency” what economics is all about? The problem with “economic efficiency” is that “money” is not a measure of anything in the real world (like, say, BTUs). Money is power because money “empowers” people to buy and do the things they want — including buying and doing other people (politics). Thus, “economic efficiency” is properly seen as a “political” concept that was designed to preserve political power for those who have it. For over a century, theorists have sought ways of integrating economics and environmental accounting, often using energy as a common measure. But these efforts met with limited success because different kinds of available energy are not equivalent. The measure of “eMergy” allows us to compare commodities, services and environmental work of different types. “Transformity” – the eMergy per unit energy – allows us to compare different kinds of available of energy. So we need to totally junk the present economic system and replace it with a new one that minimizes eMergy costs (not money costs ) and delivers basic needs (not Cadillacs) to everyone in a sustainable way.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: Sustainable development both improves quality of life and retains continuity with physical conditions; it requires that social systems be equitable and physical systems circular (industrial outputs become industrial inputs).
AUTHORITY: Goals (or ideals) are not produced by a consensus of the governed, rather a qualified authority determines goals. For example, physical goals for sustainable development must come from “scientific” authority — because no one else knows what they must be. All contemporary political systems are “authoritarian” with the moneyed class ruling the pseudo democracies.
COERCION (politics): To “coerce” is to compel one to act in a certain way — either by promise of reward or threat of punishment. Two obvious examples of coercion are our system of laws and paychecks.
THE ONE-AND-ONLY HUMANE SOLUTION: “Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.”  A global system of coercion — laws, police, punishments and rewards. In principle, the global commons can only be managed at the global level by people who understand the physical systems involved: scientists. Global coercion can be seen in the worldwide reactions to ozone depletion and global warming. Remarkably, even economists find that authoritarian coercion can make them “better off”:
A group of economists had gathered at my house for dinner. While we were waiting for the food in the oven to finish cooking, I brought a large bowl of cashew nuts into the living room where people were having cocktails. In a few minutes, half the bowl of nuts was gone, and I could see that our appetites were in danger. Quickly, I seized the bowl of nuts and put it back in the kitchen (eating a few more nuts along the way, of course). When I returned, my fellow economists generally applauded my quick action, but then we followed our natural inclinations which was to try to analyze the situation to death. The burning question was: how could removing an option possibly have made us better off? After all, if we wanted to stop eating cashews, we could have done that at any time. 
Besides laws and paychecks, coercion can take many forms:
It is not necessary to construct a theory of intentional cultural control. In truth, the strength of the control process rests in its apparent absence. The desired systemic result is achieved ordinarily by a loose though effective institutional process. It utilizes the education of journalists and other media professionals, built-in penalties and rewards for doing what is expected, norms presented as objective rules, and the occasional but telling direct intrusion from above. The main lever is the internalization of values. 
Step one would be to establish a global government of some sort with the authority to protect the global commons — our life-support system — as well as protecting universal human rights. This government would also oversee the “clean” manufacturing of “repairable” and “reusable” energy-efficient appliances and transportation systems. It would also insure the sustainable production of staples like wheat, rice, oats, and fish.
Does this new global government sound repressive or restrictive? Not at all. A great deal of freedom is possible — in fact, far more than we have now.
eMERGY CERTIFICATES Step two would be to replace the organizing principle of “avarice” with the principle of “sloth”; break out of the money-market-advertising-consumption death trap. The Society of Sloth would not be based on money because that would be inherently unsustainable. Instead, it would be based on “eMergy Certificates”. 
Global government would determine the “needs” of the public, set industrial production accordingly, and calculate the amount of eMergy used to meet these needs. Government would then distribute purchasing power in the form of eMergy certificates, the amount issued to each person being equivalent to his pro rata share of the eMergy cost of the consumer goods and services.
eMergy certificates bear the identification of the person to whom issued and are non-negotiable. They resemble a bank check in that they bear no face denomination, this being entered at the time of spending. They are surrendered upon the purchase of goods or services at any center of distribution and are permanently canceled, becoming entries in a uniform accounting system. Being non-negotiable they cannot be lost, stolen, gambled, or given away because they are invalid in the hands of any person other than the one to whom issued.
Lost eMergy certificates would be easily replaced. Certificates can not be saved because they become void at the termination of the two-year period for which they are issued. They can only be spent.
Insecurity of old age is abolished and both saving and insurance become unnecessary and impossible. eMergy Certificates would put absolute limits on consumption and provide people with a guaranteed stream of “needs” for life.
With modern technology, probably less than 5% of the population could produce all the goods we really “need”. A certain number of “producers” could be drafted and trained by society to produce for two years. The rest can stay home and sleep, sing, dance, paint, read, write, pray, play, do minor repairs, work in the garden, and practice birth control.
SELF-DETERMINATION Any number of cultural, ethnic or religious communities could be established by popular vote. Religious communities could have public prayer in their schools, prohibit booze, allow no television to corrupt their kids, wear uniforms, whatever. Communities of writers or painters could be established in which bad taste would be against the law. Ethnic communities could be established to preserve language and customs. If someone didn’t like the rules in a particular community, they could move to another religious, cultural, or ethnic community of their choosing.
In short, the one big freedom that individuals would have to give up would be the freedom to destroy the commons (in its broadest sense) — the freedom to kill. And in return, they would be given a guaranteed income for life and the freedom to live almost any way they choose.”
ZeroHedge, the successful bad boy financial news reporting site, is shifting to a subscription model.
I might subscribe if ZeroHedge knew what the fuck was going on in the world, but they’re as much in denial about human overshoot as the mainstream news outlets.
Granted, ZeroHedge is at least willing to report on the daily insanities of our monetary and financial systems, which everyone else conveniently ignores, and I do value some of their observations, but they assume some evil cabal of elites is plotting to enrich themselves, rather than understanding that we’ve hit limits to growth caused by non-renewable energy depletion (and soon other non-negotiable constraints like climate change), and central banks are desperately printing money and using every slight of hand they can think of to extend and pretend a little longer our system that requires growth not to collapse.
Basically ZeroHedge doesn’t have a clue, and they make a living by feeding the conspiracy hungry crowd that congregates there. Not only do they not make the world a better place, they foment social unrest to make it a worse place.
So no, I won’t be subscribing.
Where can you go for intelligent apolitical reality based news?
It’s very hard to find.
Nobody important talks about what matters, and I guess they wouldn’t be important if they did, because most people don’t want to know the truth.
When this website launched 12 years ago, little did we know – or expect – that it would grow to become one of the most popular and trafficked financial blogs, let alone websites, in the world. Since then, ZeroHedge has expanded from being focused on purely esoteric concepts in finance and capital markets to covering geopolitics, social, political (and recently, healthcare) matters (if for no other reason than the central bank takeover of markets has made discussing centrally-planned “markets” borderline absurd and often painfully boring).
In those twelve years we have had the pleasure of sharing hundreds of thousands of notable news items, events and market absurdities with you, our readers, creating a magnificent support base of millions of fans who – for one reason or another – come to this site daily, sometimes dozens of times. In that period we have, of course, also spawned countless critics and haters, and that’s perfectly normal: that’s what free speech is all about – the ability to exchange opinions, often in a less than glorified manner, in order to reach a consensus or optimal conclusion. After all, that is one of the anchors that made America great.
Which is why what troubles us most, far more than the Fed’s vain and futile attempt to control the business cycle and plan markets (for the eventual outcome, see USSR), are the creeping attempts by various multinational entities and corporations to quash free speech, both elsewhere and here. It started with Facebook, which in May 2019 became the first “social network” to ban ZeroHedge, only to reverse shortly after (admitting it had made a mistake); this was followed a little over half a year later by Twitter, which “permanently” banned our account, only to admit 6 months later that it had “made a mistake” and reinstated us. But barely had the digital ink on these “mistaken” attempts to censor free speech dried, when the world’s biggest online advertising monopoly, Google, took the unprecedented step of demonetizing the website (following a similar step taken by PayPal). Why? Because it disapproved of the language in our comments (how or why it picked on this website’s comment section as opposed to millions of others, we will never know). To avoid a shutdown, and against our wishes, we were forced to implement comment moderation as the alternative was insolvency. Also, contrary to occasional laughable rumors, we don’t and have never had access to outside capital – be it political or financial – and have been reliant on the same advertising model we have used since inception.
Needless to say, whether due to “mistakes” or overt attempts to demonetize us, the writing on the wall was clear: while they may be entirely within their rights to do whatever they want as “private” companies, pardon monopolies, the ‘social’ and ad-based gatekeepers of online content – the twitters, the googles, the facebooks of the world – had launched an overt crusade to upend the uncensored internet, to snuff out independent thought, contrarian views, and inconvenient opinions and create one giant echo chamber of consent straight out of George Orwell. To do that they would use any and every tool they have access to, and unfortunately we had to comply with the whims of these monopolies which nobody in Congress has the guts to challenge directly and to strip them of their too-big-to-question powers.
When Google suspended us in June we said that a standalone website was in the works, one which is funded not by advertising – and is thus beholden to the biased internet titans of the world – but by you, our readers.
We are launching that website today, call it ZeroHedge Premium for lack of a better word.
Here’s what will happen next.
We will maintain the traditional zerohedge.com website as is, without a paywall and with ads… but since it has ads, it will also maintain the comment moderation – that, as we explained in June, was a prerequisite demand by Google. But parallel with that we are launching a “premium” website, where subscribers will not only never again have to see one more ad but more importantly will have access to a fully unmoderated comment section.
Our hope is to eventually have enough subscribers so we can do away with advertising altogether – call it a real-time experiment in media for the censorship age. Because “mistakes” and events in the past several years have made it clear to us – and we hope to you – that there is no such thing as free speech any more; if you really want “free speech” you have to pay for it (in the case of ZeroHedge, the premium subscription will be $1/day – less than the proverbial cup of coffee). We also hope that enough people sign up allowing us to aggressively grow our team and expand our coverage, both thematically and geographically, so we can provide you with better content, better coverage, better everything.
I recently purchased a 6 piece queen sheet set for my bed and marveled at how something so useful, and so difficult to make myself, could be so inexpensive, costing only $30, or about 2 hours of my labor at minimum wage.
I did a little digging and found this video on how fabric was made before fossil energy:
And this video on how fabric is made today with fossil energy:
A podcast I monitor serendipitously had an episode today on the history of fabric making.
Author and journalist Virginia Postrel talks about her book The Fabric of Civilization and How Textiles Made the World with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Postrel tells the fascinating story behind the clothes we wear and everything that goes into producing them throughout history. The history of textiles, Postrel argues, is a good way of understanding the history of the world.
For those who prefer video:
For those who prefer audio:
Postrel described the process required to make fabric products:
grow plants or breed sheep
harvest plants or sheer sheep
transport fiber to spinner
spin fiber into thread
stretch and twist
transport thread to weaver
weave fiber into fabric
set up warp threads
pass weft thread through alternate warp threads
cut and hem edges
transport fabric to manufacturer
manufacture final product
transport product to consumer
Postrel also provided some interesting data:
A single pair of jeans requires 10 Km of thread.
The fastest pre-fossil energy manual spinners in the world could produce 100m of thread per hour taking 13 x 8 hour days to produce enough thread for one pair of jeans.
A modern fossil energy spinning plant can produce 10 Km of thread in a few seconds.
Postrel did not provide data on how long it took to manually weave thread into denim for a pair of jeans, but the video above gives a pretty good idea.
A pair of jeans today costs me $15 or about 1 hour of my labor at minimum wage.
A basic twin sheet requires 46 Km of thread or 59 x 8 hour days for a fast pre-fossil manual spinner.
Again, no data on the weaving time.
Linen was, until the industrial revolution, a valuable family asset.
I can’t write a post without drawing a connection to reality denial.
In this case, Russ Roberts, a relative rocket scientist as far as mainstream economists go, never once in the interview drew a connection with non-renewable rapidly depleting fossil energy.
There was a long discussion on the economics of applying “technology” to textile production. But zero awareness of the link between technology and non-renewable energy.
Roberts did draw a connection between food and textiles in that he observed only 2% of the population are now farmers. Again, no apparent awareness of the centrality of natural gas for fertilizer and diesel for tractors and combines.
I’ve added Russ Roberts to my list of famous polymaths in denial, although I probably should have added instead “all economists except Steve Keen”.
This post was inspired by a comment from reader Kira. She asked if denying climate change was the same as denying death. I answered as follows:
“I suspect there are 2 main groups of people:
One group is the 95% of the population that doesn’t really understand the science or the severity of the problem. They see bad things happening with the weather, but they also hear on the news that countries have signed an agreement to prevent the temperature from rising more than 2 degrees, and they see neighbors buying solar panels and electric cars, which they’re told by experts are solutions to climate change, so their optimism bias that comes from genetic reality denial leads them to conclude that the climate problem is being addressed, and they put it out of mind.
The other group is the 5% that does understand the science and the severity of climate change. These people have enough intelligence and education to conclude that we are already screwed regardless of what we do, and that any effective mitigation effort must involve a rapid decrease in population and/or per capita consumption. It is within this group that genetic denial of unpleasant realities is operating in full force. Most of these experts genuinely believe that climate change can be safely constrained, and economic growth can continue, by replacing fossil energy with solar/wind energy and by using machines to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. These beliefs are so absurd, and so contrary to basic high school level science, that there can be no other explanation than genetic realty denial. In this group, maybe it is death that is the main thing being denied.”
Kira said she agreed and then suggested it might be better to let people, and especially young people, remain in blissful ignorance so that they do not become depressed and lose a sense of purpose.
I thought about it and created the following decision tree of possible paths to answer her question.
Humans are in serious trouble
Disagree (I believe in God or Steven Pinker)
path: Carry on and oppose anything that threatens your beliefs and lifestyle
Agree (I believe my eyes)
It’s too late to do anything useful (nature’s forces now dominate human forces)
Agree (a reasonable position given the data, but only if you think other species don’t matter, and 8 billion suffering humans is no worse than 8 billion minus 1 suffering humans)
path: Try not to think about it and enjoy the good days that remain and/or do some prepping to extend your good days
Disagree (there’s still time to make the future less bad, even if all we do is reduce harm to other species and/or total human suffering)
Humans can’t or won’t change their behavior in time
Agree (most of history says we only change when forced, and the coming debt/energy/climate collapse will be too severe for any good to come of it)
path: Try not to think about it and enjoy the good days that remain and/or do some prepping to extend your good days
Disagree (I believe Sapolsky that behavior is plastic and we have enough energy left to build a softer landing zone)
Genetic reality denial blocks any useful change
Disagree (I deny that I deny reality)
path: Make yourself feel good by recycling your garbage, shopping with reusable bags, buying an electric car, and voting Green
Agree (it’s not possible to act optimally without understanding reality)
Awareness of genetic realty denial will increase awareness of reality
Disagree (most people just want to pay their bills and watch TV)
path: Try not to think about it and enjoy the good days that remain and/or do some prepping to extend your good days
Agree (most people want to learn)
Awareness of reality will cause positive behavior changes
Disagree (if the majority understood reality it would be Mad Max)
path: Try not to think about it and enjoy the good days that remain and/or do some prepping to extend your good days
Agree (most people want to do the right thing, especially if pain is shared fairly)
This tree of (usually subconscious) decisions a person must make to decide which path to take about human overshoot results in 7 possible paths.
Six of the paths do not improve the outcome. One of the paths might improve the outcome, but has a very low probability of success because it’s currently occupied by a single old uncharismatic antisocial engineer.
Most people who really understand our overshoot predicament would probably discard my complicated decision tree and focus on a single issue: humans can’t or won’t change.
This view was recently voiced by reader Apneaman in a comment:
But can’t/wont. Have not.
Why? Like Sabine says…………
“Now, some have tried to define free will by the “ability to have done otherwise”. But that’s just empty words. If you did one thing, there is no evidence you could have done something else because, well, you didn’t. Really there is always only your fantasy of having done otherwise.“
No plan, no matter how spiffy & technically feasible, or logical argument can convince me that the humans are capable of collective change. I’ll need to see it to believe it. Same as God. Only Jesus floating down from the firmament & performing 10 miracles that are so spectacular they would make illusionist David Copperfield blush could convince me of the supernatural.
While true that it’s difficult to cause people to collectively do things they find unpleasant, or that conflict with the MPP objectives of their genes, it’s not impossible and not without precedent. I gave the following examples:
When the Canadian government says to its citizens:
Everyone must pay about 50% of their income as tax to operate the country.
Most citizens comply, and those that don’t are usually caught and forced to pay an extra penalty.
Germany has attacked our friend and we need our young men to risk their lives by fighting a war on a different continent.
Most eligible young men volunteered.
A virus threatens to overrun our healthcare system and we need citizens to stay at home except for essential activities which must be conducted with a mask.
Most citizens will comply.
Now if the Canadian government said to its citizens the combined threats of climate change and diesel depletion threaten our food security within 10 years, so we are putting in place incentives to encourage local food production and processing, and to decrease food imports, I think most citizens would support the plan.
If then after a couple years of further study and communication on the threat, the government said we don’t think there will be enough food to support our population in 10 years so we are stopping immigration and requiring families to have no more than one child, I think most citizens would comply.
The issue of course is that the Canadian government is not going to acknowledge or act on our overshoot threat in this manner.
I think it’s due to our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities, whenever we can get away with it.
Taxes, war, and viruses are very unpleasant, but they’re in your face and impossible to deny.
Food shortages 10 years out are easy to deny.
How do we change this?
It has to start with discussing and trying to understand our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities. Hence the path I’ve personally chosen in the above tree.
Sabine Hossenfelder today explained why we have no free will and why we shouldn’t worry about it.
She’s right but she missed an important piece of the story.
A quick summary of her essay is that our brain is a computer made of particles governed by the laws of physics that inputs our current state and calculates a decision for what we will do next. Because we don’t know the result of the calculation before it completes, we interpret this as free will, when in fact a computer has no free will.
What’s the main app in our computer? Hossenfelder says it’s to “optimize our well-being”.
Most students of human overshoot would refine Hossenfelder’s description of our main app as the Maximum Power Principle (MPP), which creates our dominant behaviors like status seeking and desiring sex/children.
Varki’s MORT theory adds an important real-time interrupt handler which terminates any calculation that produces an unpleasant result, especially those results that conflict with what the MPP app wants to do.
How else can you explain that elections never even whisper about the elephants in the room like overshoot, resource depletion, ecosystem collapse, debt bubbles, etc.
These deterministic laws of nature apply to you and your brain because you are made of particles, and what happens with you is a consequence of what happens with those particles. A lot of people seem to think this is a philosophical position. They call it “materialism” or “reductionism” and think that giving it a name that ends on –ism is an excuse to not believe it. Well, of course you can insist to just not believe reductionism is correct. But this is denying scientific evidence. We do not guess, we know that brains are made of particles. And we do not guess, we know, that we can derive from the laws for the constituents what the whole object does. If you make a claim to the contrary, you are contradicting well-established science. I can’t prevent you from denying scientific evidence, but I can tell you that this way you will never understand how the universe really works.
The reason this idea of free will turns out to be incompatible with the laws of nature is that it never made sense in the first place. You see, that thing you call “free will” should in some sense allow you to choose what you want. But then it’s either determined by what you want, in which case it’s not free, or it’s not determined, in which case it’s not a will.
Now, some have tried to define free will by the “ability to have done otherwise”. But that’s just empty words. If you did one thing, there is no evidence you could have done something else because, well, you didn’t. Really there is always only your fantasy of having done otherwise.
If it causes you cognitive dissonance to acknowledge you believe in something that doesn’t exist, I suggest that you think of your life as a story which has not yet been told. You are equipped with a thinking apparatus that you use to collect information and act on what you have learned from this. The result of that thinking is determined, but you still have to do the thinking. That’s your task. That’s why you are here. I am curious to see what will come out of your thinking, and you should be curious about it too.
Why am I telling you this? Because I think that people who do not understand that free will is an illusion underestimate how much their decisions are influenced by the information they are exposed to. After watching this video, I hope, some of you will realize that to make the best of your thinking apparatus, you need to understand how it works, and pay more attention to cognitive biases and logical fallacies.